Thursday, December 16, 2010

bifdaf wisdom.

It was my birthday on Tuesday (14th Dec, if you're reading this at some point in the future). Because it was my last prime number birthday for a while I thought I'd impart some of the wisdom I have learned from my 37 years on this earth.

  • Kissing is really, really very nice indeed.
  • Being a geek is a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice.
  • Classical music is accessable to all if they give it a chance.
  • Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.
  • Learn stuff. Learn everything. A day in which you don't learn something new is not a good day.
  • Only boring people get bored.
  • Take time to think.
  • The thought process is not complete without articulation.
  • Balloon animals are a great audience-participation ice breaker.
  • Everybody loves home-made stuff; even if the shop-bought stuff is prettier, home-made is almost always tastier.
  • Take photos.
  • Read. Everything and often.
  • Breakfast cereal often contains too much sugar.
  • Experiment with cooking. If you think something might work, try it.
  • Many people are muppets, but that's ok.
  • Regardless of how muppety people are, treat everybody with the same level of respect as you'd like them to treat you.
  • Say yes more often.
  • Say no when it's appropriate. Don't use it as an excuse.
  • Listen to people, even if they don't listen to you.
  • Just because they may disagree with you doesn't make them wrong.
  • Being vaguely optimistic all the time is easier than being a pessimist.
  • But, being a grumpy curmudgeon can be funny. Especially over beer.
  • If someone is proposing a course of action that will hurt anybody, speak out.
  • Similarly, always try to think through the ramifications of what you're up to.

And I had a lovely day, thank you :)

Monday, November 22, 2010

FAQ about Chocolate

Dock Street Market Launch - Mike Wallis and chocolate
© Penny Andrews

The Dock Street Market launch was on Friday. After days of work, a last-minute "OMG" on my part - as in being asked to do stuff ten days in advance which isn't enough time to get ingredients sorted through my normal channels - and some rabbits being magically pulled from hats by those exceptional chaps at Riverside Sourdough and Fish&, the party was an incredible success. Lots of people had fun, and really I'm going to leave the writeups to The Guardian and Bronchia, with a side order of Ellie Snare.

What I'm going to do is talk about some of the FAQs I got on Friday evening.

1. What do we have here?
There were three basic chocolates with one having two different coatings for reasons too dull to go into here. They were Salt Caramels (described by one happy consumer as being like a really, really good quality rolo), coffee kisses, and comfit orange truffle. Nothing too fancy and they didn't really look as good as my usual standard, but that's something that will get addressed soon.

2. Can I buy them?
Not yet. I'll happily discuss orders and other enquiries as of now (feel free to email me about this), but I aim to be up and running around about mid-December.

3. What's the company name?
So far it's "Chocolates by Mike Wallis" but that'll change when we're properly up and running. It's not important. Please note that the press pack at the launch had the wrong email address for me; it's, not .com.

4. What other chocolates do you make?
Short-run bespoke chocolate is my speciality at the moment. I do limited numbers of exceptional tasting confections and the range will change almost on a weekly basis. Because I make everything with fresh cream the shelf life is no more than four weeks and is often more like six days. My specialities are citrus-based flavours and taking requests; last year I was asked to create a blackcurrant and chili based chocolate and I came up with a layered chocolate of chili jam and blackcurrant ganache that tastes divine, and very grown-up.

5. What sort of ingredients do you use?
I try to use as much fairtrade and/or organic as I can do, although with chocolate that does bump the costs up by quite a large margin. I use fresh fruit wherever possible and always, always fresh cream, even - or perhaps especially - in the caramels. I do make food with nuts, so although chocolates may not expressly contain nuts they have been made in an environment containing nut products. I do occasionally use alcohol but will make this clear on the packaging; generally speaking my chocolates are safe for kids.

6. Can I sell your chocolates in my outlet?
I'd love to discuss this with you. Please email me and we'll see what happens. Do note though that this is just me and I'm still working out how to get off the ground.

7. Are you married?
Ah, yes. But thanks for asking :)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Northern Art Pie


Last night we were lucky enough to get on a backstage tour of the Northern Art Prize, while they're still setting stuff up, thanks to the curator of Leeds City Art Gallery and Culture Vultures (who else?).

The shortlist is surprisingly good; the work on display feels like much more than what seems to pass as "art" these days, and although the exhibits were still being hung and positioned there was a bit of an excited ripple around the place when we were told - or discovered - little intricate pieces of the work that added a new layer. There is, for example, a bowl of sweets - rock - containing a poem that people can eat now or take away (but beware, rock is hygroscopic and will go soggy in your pocket!). A case of glass bottles which have, as labels, poems that indicate what the bottle originally contained (still contains? I forgot to ask). Some glass tubes that constantly play Rock, Paper, Scissors, which made me and others who knew about the RPS tournament at Interesting North chuckle. And a jaw-droppingly intricate piece made from painted jelly moulds and the tiny figures found on model railway platforms.


There are four artists, each with their own stories and backgrounds, and they'd very kindly given permission for photos to be taken for the evening; this did, of course, lead onto a discussion of rights in modern media and the debate got quite involved. It is obvious a new model of rights management needs to be brought into play, with the full consent of the artists. We don't want artists to have to become copyright lawyers in order to show their work, but in the minefield that it has become it is very hard to avoid. I'd quite like to have a chat to the artists just to see if they have a position on this, but of course it's part of a wider conversation that needs to start a ball rolling.

My favourite piece so far? Tricky to say as they're not all in position yet, but I love the work by Lubaina Himid; the whimsy and the stories it tells in micro and macro is fascinating and I look forwards to seeing the finished piece. Alec Finlay's pieces are adorable, and I do like the cabinet of remedies; again, I look forwards to seeing the finished exhibit.

The Northern Art Prize exhibit is on at the Leeds City Art Gallery from 26th November to February next year. Pop in, it's well worth a look. And the rest of the gallery is great too, especially the tiled hall where we followed the tour with the "northern art pies" competition.

Thanks to all involved! A fun event, and one I'd like to see more often. Perhaps this is the start of a sea-change in how galleries see citizen journalism...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Interesting Norf, part 2.

Mike Wallis "Baking Is Science For Hungry People"
Photo by Dan Sumption, Check out his work, it's excellent.

Part 1 of my #IntNorth experience is here.

My talk (slideshow now available on Google Docs) was about Cake, and just how awesome it is.

Feedback? Well @chrismurray0 tweeted about it and @irkafirka immortalised that tweet. I was described as "Delia Smith meets Johnny Ball" (which may go on a tshirt) and there were lots of lovely comments on the #intNorth hashtag. The official scorers were kind, too (Simon: "Mike is bobbing around in front of giant projections of cake like a demented weather man"). I know I blethered on a bit too fast, though, and some people didn't really get the talk. So, here is what I wanted to talk about, hopefully slightly more accessable than what I actually heard coming out of my mouth.

Also, I appreciate that this may be a bit TL;DR. Well, this was written as a 20-minute session, which I rattled through in what was probably closer to eight minutes, skipping over a lot of stuff quite lightly.

It was fun, though.

So, then. Cake. I just want to emphasise how important cake is; economically, sociologically, in terms of religion, history and technology. It's cruel to talk about cake when you don't have any, I know, and I'll be bombarding you with cake porn. Sorry about that.

Cake has been with us since... forever. Recently objects that are described as cakes were found in neolithic dig sites in Switzerland, and although we wouldn't describe them as being cake now, they were part of a celebratory meal, more than just your usual bread and meat. Sweetened with honey, these cakes were basically just enriched bread, risen using airborne yeast and heat. Most bread at the time would have tasted sour to us, so sweetening would have made the bread quite different to usual and hence cake as a seperate entity began to exist. During the age of Empires, like on the Greek monument shown here (slide 3), cake was sacrificed to the gods, presumably because it's cheaper and less messy than killing young ladies of a marriagable age. Or inexperienced young men, of course. Cake is still symbolically sacrificed today, too; the Chinese moon cake, for example, as well as the Christian host. Although I guess that's more of a biscuit.

So for most of history cake and bread are more or less synonymous; risen with yeasts and as yeast became more understood thanks to the baking and brewing industries around about two thousand years ago, its worth as a raising agent meant that bread gradually became more industrialised and less sour. Bakers, who were getting better quality flour thanks to milling, were looking at different ways of making cake more refined, to enhance that celebratory quality. For a very long time bakers would buy the barm, or the foam that is created during the brewing brocess. This would be skimmed off by the brewer and sold to the baker next door, who then had a lighter, airier raising agent to use in their doughs.

In Britain we do argue that bread is risen by yeast, cake by chemical raising agents or sheer bloody hard work. So things like chelsea buns (like those shown on slide 6, filled with lemon curd), pannetone, doughnuts and brioche are not cakes. By the way, Marie Antoinette never said "let them eat cake"; she may have said "let them eat brioche" but she probably never said that either as the phrase was originally written by Rousseau when Marie was very young. It was propaganda against a disliked queen, basically and unfair propaganda at that. What we can attribute to Marie was introducing the croissant to the wider world. When she moved to France she had a desire for Viennoise pastries; four bakers in Vienna made croissants, a comparatively poorly-known pastry outside the city, so she imported one of those bakers. The fashionistas of the time thought this breakfast pastry was a revelation and so the croissant became popular throughout France, and by extension, the rest of the world.

In the late 1600s someone - accounts vary - invented the egg whisk. Eggs are great; the structure and amount of protein in them means they hold bubbles really well and so you can beat bubbles into them using a wooden spoon if you have long enough. However, the whisk was an extension of bundling up twigs to beat eggs and then fishing out the broken off bits. It was possible to use something other than yeasty foam - which made cakes less dense than bread but still fairly stodgy - to make cakes rise. If you whisk eggs for long enough they form a light, airy foam which you can then add melted butter, sugar and flour to. This is known as the Genoise method and is still used in commercial kitchens today. It is a bit of a faff, though and requires plenty of time; beating eggs by hand to that stage requires a strong right arm. This (slide 9) is what happens if you don't read a recipe properly, or think you've got it right, or think you have a working oven. It's wrong. This really is a method best suited for making lots of cake in big trays in proper ovens, which is why these days we use the Victoria Sponge method at home, with chemical raising agents.

For baking powder we really only have one man to thank; Alfred Bird, an industrial chemist who married someone who was allergic to eggs and yeast. He invented custard powder that had never been near an egg, initially just for use at home; when it was accidentally served to guests he discovered a new industry, that of chemical food manufacture, and built up a company that still exists today selling custard powder that many of us have in our kitchens. Baking powder was invented so that his wife could eat bread again. Now, I love my wife dearly but this chap must have been utterly devoted to Elizabeth to invent an entirely new industry so she could have bread and custard.

Of course, baking powder revolutionised home baking. All of a sudden it was possible to make cake in reliatively small quantities and with import duties on sugar being reduced cake as we know it today started appearing more and more in tea rooms and in the homes of people who ordinarily wouldn't have had the space or money to make it themselves (and I've not even touched on oven design over the years!). As a quick aside, this phenomenon of home baking is really only common in some former parts of the Empire and Scandinavia. Even in the UK it is comparatively rare; cakes vanished during the war because of sugar rationing, and after the way industrial food manufacture took off, "convenience" being the label that sold. Prepackaged, homogeonised culture which meant that cooking food from scratch at home hit an all-time low that only started to be reversed thanks to food nuts in the 70s - thank god for Hippies - who basically made cakes not that dissimilar to the ones made by cavemen. Home baking in the UK is on the rise, but it has a long way to go, which is why I will be happy if just one of the audience who has never baked before goes home after this talk and makes a cake. So! Let's talk about making a cake.

You sort-of need all of this lot (slide 13); eggs, sugar, butter, self-raising, baking powder and vanilla. You also need baking parchment, an 8-inch tin, a decent sized mixing bowl and two spoons, one to beat the crap out of everything and one to gently turn it. An oven helps, too.

Mike Wallis "Baking Is Science For Hungry People"
Dan Sumption,

First, weigh your eggs. You have no idea how much the size of an egg can vary, and if you follow a recipe blindly which says something like "two eggs, 200g flour" you could get the proportions of liquid to solid very, very wrong and you'll end up with a horrible, dense or overflowing mess. Ok, it'll taste ok but it won't look particularly good. So you weigh the eggs and then use that weight of butter, sugar and flour; if you have 100g of egg then you use 100g of butter, 100g sugar, 100g flour.

Next, cream together the butter and sugar. It is vital that you get this bit right, as a poorly creamed start will make the cake collapse, and I'll talk about why in a moment. Creaming gets everything smooth and aligned molecularly in the bowl and gets air into the mix. If you've ever eaten a sugar sandwich you'll have a decent idea of what a blob of butter and sugar tastes like, but properly creamed it tastes totally different, smoother, cleaner, lighter. Your aim at this stage is air and smoothness. Next comes adding the egg; you can add an egg at a time or beat the two eggs together in another bowl and add it a spoon at a time, beating it in so it's properly mixed in. If you add all the egg at the same time the mix will look like it's curdled; this is fixable or even ignorable but at the expense of lightness and if you can avoid it to begin with you'll end up with a better cake. You add vanilla at this stage, if you like.

Once the egg is mixed in, fold in your flour. You were told at school that you have to fold in because you've been beating in all this air and you don't want to knock it out again; this is rubbish, frankly. You fold it in because you don't want to overwork the flour which will start to form long strands of gluten in the matrix. If gluten starts forming the cake will go doughy and breadlike and again, you'll lose lightness. Mix just until the flour is properly amalgamated, and then stop.

The thing to note here is that cake is a colloid; this is something that looks like a solution and acts like a homogeonous mass, to the extent that if you left it to stand it wouldn't separate out into its component parts of its own volition, but if you were to use a small enough filter you could force it to separate. That's the intention; a smooth, consistent matrix.

If you don't cream your butter and sugar properly, when you add the egg it looks like this (slide 19), a micrograph at 100x. In the bowl it looks like it has split, like bad mayonnaise. These large blobs are fat, which will melt and cause uneven texture and may even make the cake collapse. This next slide (20) shows what properly mixed cake batter before you add the flour looks like; you see those blobs aren't there and we've got a fairly consistent matrix of bubbles. These bubbles are important. As you heat up the mix the water inside those bubbles will turn into steam and make the bubble expand. Now, at this point those bubbles will break apart fairly easily, but when you add flour (slide 21) you can see that the walls are much thicker and can take expansion for much longer. The flour is supporting the bubble matrix, and as the cake starts to dry out the matrix can be held up under its own supporting structure. This is why it is important to keep the cake in the oven for long enough to cook through, as if these bubbles cool before drying out they'll contract and make the cake collapse.

Right, the baking medium; take a length of baking parchment, scrunch it up, unscrunch and stuff it into the tin around the base. Don't bother with greasing the tin; silicon paper will cheerfully be non-stick enough to live with here. (slide 16)

You've preheated the oven, right? I have a gas oven and GM3 is fine for me, I think it's 165C or 310F, something like that. Pop it on the middle shelf and leave it for at least 35 minutes. Don't open the door, don't knock the oven, don't do anything that might reduce the heat levels inside the oven until the cake is 90% cooked. The cake, when cooked, should be making little pops and whistles, smelling biscuitty and have a nice golden top to it. Before it's doing that don't open the oven door as it'll make the cake collapse in the way I said before. Stick a toothpick in and make sure nothing wet comes out with it, and it's done.

The lovely golden top is not caramelisation, by the way; it is a byproduct of the Maillard reaction, which involves amino acids as well as sugar. Lots of tasty chemicals are formed here, and they are what makes cake taste so nice. (slide 24)

If you do take the cake out too early then that's that; it'll collapse and there's nothing you can do about that. This (s25) is what happens, but you know what? It'll taste fine anyway, and icing covers a multitude of sins. Drizzle it in lemon juice and sugar and it'll be fine for anybody; the important thing is that you made it yourself, which always makes people smile, no matter how cynical they can be. When it comes out properly (s26) it looks like this; texture and crumb are even and look appetizing, the middle isn't sagging or undercooked and the cake holds itself up even when filled with lemon curd. Yes, again with the lemon curd; it takes two minutes to make if you're brave and I'll talk about that some other time.

Sometimes you don't need to worry about the cake collapsing; Dundee cake or Christmas cake will support its own structure because it has so much supporting flour and fat in there - a bit like laminar pastry - that it won't rise very much in the oven anyway, just dry out and let the molecular bonds form. And you don't even need to use normal sugar, sometimes; you can use good alternatives like honey or strawberry jam, which have a low moisture content and shouldn't affect the cake too much - but be careful, and don't add too much on your first outing, as it might make the cake a bit damper than you'd expect.

Finally, you know that saying, "you can't have your cake and eat it"? It's bobbins. You can have your cake and eat it, and once you have eaten it it stays with you forever, in your memories and as parts of you. Enjoy the cake, embrace it, and remember that baking is really just a science lesson for hungry people. Thank you.


There's a credits slide which is woefully underpopulated, too. Sorry about that. Some of the script is lifted from my articles at Tea and Cake and elsewhere.

Salted Caramels

Salt caramel

I've been making chocolates for an event on Friday; amongst many other things, this week has been a bit manic and I'm suffering from a serious lack of sleep so I'll apologise now for making little or no sense. Anyway! Here's my salted caramels recipe, as that terribly nice Mr Povey asked for it and I figured that more people could be interested too.

First things first: you could do with a sugar thermometer or decent temperature gauge for this. If you don't have one it's not the end of the world, but it can help.

Ingredients: 600g (1 pint, more or less) of blue-top (full fat) milk. 140g double cream, 350g sugar, 250g glucose (or honey), 1 tsp vanilla extract or a split-and-scraped vanilla pod, 20g butter, and 1 teaspoon of salt. You can add more salt if you like; I tend to use a heaped teaspoon.

Put the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla into a large, heavy bottomed saucepan and stir on a low heat until everything has dissolved. Then add the glucose (or honey) and slowly bring to the boil. When the caramel reaches 110°C it should be starting to go brown - keep the heat quite low, so it doesn't scorch - so add the butter and gently stir until it melts in. At this point fish out the vanilla pod if you're using one. Boil away until it gets to at least 117°C, but - and this is a big but - test the caramel's texture. You do this by taking a teaspoon of the mixture and dropping it into a bowl of iced water; if the caramel forms a soft ball that can hold it's shape for a couple of seconds, then it's ready. Depending on your milk/cream/sugar this can be at any point between 117 and 130°C.

When it's ready, a good golden caramel colour, add the salt, stir and pour into a baking tin lined with baking parchment.


As it cools it should do a decent job of solidifying, so you can start to mark out squares in the caramels. When it has set - and this might take overnight - you can then dip the resultant squares in melted, tempered dark chocolate and sprinkle with a few sea salt flakes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Interesting Norf, part 1.

Apparently you can't throw a brick in Sheffield without hitting a tipped-over Reliant Robin...

Saturday morning I was up early, cajoling S out of bed and packing stuff up to go to Interesting North. We were on the 8:10 train, which at Chez Nous means out of bed at 6:30. So we got on the train with Matt & Caroline and arrived at Sheff on time, and were able to walk through the city to Cutlers' Hall, which is a lovely building filled with the remnants of a city's heritage. Checked in, got our t-shirts and badges, and a bookcrossing tome (mine was some airport-thriller type that I'll be passing on!) and some other gubbins including a PDF of Eyjafjallajökull that you can cut out and turn into your very own 3D volcano model. And two newspapers; Matt's Great Engines and the Int North newspaper itself, in which I have a photo (admittedly it's a self-portrait), and it's a magazine, so I may count it as task 24.

The hall filled up, and so did twitter with the #intNorth hashtag, and a little late we started with a very smooth rolling introduction that made us all laugh. Then we had talks. Lots of talks - 20 of them, in fact - about all sorts of things. My personal highlights were:
  • Baseball Scorekeeping; basically how you can condense an entire 3-hour game into a 6x6 box, and still be a perfect recreation of the game on a stroke-by-stroke basis. When I think of cricket scoring, which requires a 3ft piece of paper, this is genuinely innovative. And invented by a Brit. It is a great way of presenting data and the speaker has done work for Information is Beautiful because of this.
  • Fiction that references Nazis in the title; very, very funny talk that did what it said on the tin. Startling ending, but the number of really quite poor works that randomly contain the word "Hitler" in the title is quite surprising.
  • Lessons from Lego; "This is my lego collection. (audience gasps) It's sorted by size but not by colour; that would be really OCD." Hilarious, and fascinating; the debates in Lego society over the colour of minifig faces, for example. Or the bluey-grey replacement for grey that was introduced a couple of years ago. Lego for girls (astonishingly poor; Lego for girls is the same as Lego for boys, it's just Lego).
  • Eyjafjallajokull; just how the volcano went pop. Brilliant, obsessive, and fascinating.
  • Five Things Rules Do was interesting - although I'm not mad on watching other people play video games - if just for the point about rules being what they are; this was neatly illustrated by referencing Train. Chilling. But there was more to the talk than this; bending the rules seemed to be a common theme, but the double die in Backgammon was referenced to great effect.
  • James Bond: architecture Critic was a brilliantly posited argument about why Fleming hated modernism. "Would Chancellor Palpatine make an iPhone app?" was an inspired line, but the really, thoroughly thought-provoking bit was referencing There's a Horse in the Apple Store. Go away and read it.

Honorable mentions to all the other speakers; none were anything less than entertaining. Some were grim, some were exciting, some were joyous, some were filled with rigorous methodology and photos of people who were asleep on public transport, all were worth listening to and engaging with. I've not really talked about my own talk here but there was so much I wanted to say but didn't - partially because we were running so, so behind time - that I want to write it up as a seperate post.

Lunch was held at the Cathedral Crypt, the Archer Project provided soup and Howies (yes, the clothing manufacturer) provided (bloody tasty) bread from their Dohboy project. Again, well worth it.

Afterwards we all went to the pub where I, and it seemed like practically everybody else who had tipped-over Robin badges, had a couple of pints of Airtight (brewed by Thornbridge, just down the road) in exceptionally pleasant company, and then we headed home, voice broken, tired, and with a head full of lovely, buzzy thoughts.

Most of the collated data from the day is on Lanyrd or the IntNorth website itself. The twitter hashtag #intNorth picked up some interesting thoughts, and Flickr is slowly filling up with photos. I'm also quite interested in the "official score card", although it sadly didn't allow for just how late everything got.

A seriously good day, and I'll be very much up for doing this again. Wonder if we could have it in Leeds...?

(part two, containing the script of what I was talking about is here)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Last night I made cinder toffee.

craggy landscape

I love cinder toffee. I'm not that much of a fan of Crunchies, though - the size of the holes is wrong - so I tend to buy quite expensive bags of chocolate-covered chunks of the stuff from small sweetshops or stalls on farmers markets. I've made my own, too, but I keep on forgetting the details and the post-it I had on the fridge with the never-fail recipe has vanished (or fallen off, which is more likely) so I had to look a recipe up.

craggy landscape

This was less simple than you'd think; I have an entire bookcase full of cookbooks and it took me whole minutes of scouring indices to find a recipe for cinder toffee, in Domestic Goddess. None of my confectionary books had one, which really surprised me. Anyway, the recipe is simplicity itself: mix 200g sugar with 4 tbsp syrup and melt over a low heat until caramel coloured. Then whisk in 1tbsp bicarb, and pour into a greased tin.

craggy landscape

So I did all of that. Except I didn't; I dropped in a tablespoon of water too, because I know that when sugar underneath melts, the sugar on the surface will just sit there and not melt, and swirling it around too much will cause crystallisation. And instead of a greased tin I used a lined silicon mould. Anyway! I did all of that and whisked in the bicarb, which seemed like quite a lot to me, and it went all foamy and threatened to overflow the pan, so I poured it into the mould where it carried on expanding and stuck to the parchment. Thankfully it settled before devouring the kitchen and so I left it to cool. Alas! The stuck bits meant that it didn't recede smoothly and I was left with a haunting, depressed landscape that turned out to be an absolute bugger to break up.

craggy landscape

It really was horrible, breaking this thing into sensibly-sized shards for dipping. And it turned out that I'd left the caramel on the heat for about ten seconds too long as it tasted slightly too burned. I know cinder toffee is supposed to taste slightly burned, but this was just a little bit over. So! Total waste of sugar, chocolate and an evening. Except it wasn't, of course; I'm quite happy with the photographs, which do seem to be a bit on the disturbing side, especially if you don't know what they depict. It's funny how many of those holes look like screaming mouths from a mass of tortured souls.

craggy landscape

Am looking for better cinder toffee recipes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Of muffins and rosehips.

Sunday I was up early, made some apple and white chocolate muffins and decided to cut back the rose bushes in the front garden and harvest the rosehips.

Ok, the muffins. Oven to GM6, or whatever the equivalent is in °C or F. Use a 12-cup muffin tin and muffin cases to fit. Peel, core and dice 2 eating apples. 250g flour, 2tsp baking powder, 2tsp mixed spice, 125g soft brown sugar, 100g white chocolate chips, all stirred together in a big bowl. In a jug, whisk together 60g milk, 100g oil, 2 eggs and 100g warm runny honey. Add the apples to the dry ingredients and stir, then pour in the liquid and mix until just combined; if you overmix the muffins will not be light and fluffy and they will stick to the cases. Divide the mix equally between the 12 cases, and bake for about 20 minutes, until the tops are golden and just a little bit crispy. Eat while still a little warm. These can be frozen and either nuked or reheated in the oven, say GM4 for 10 minutes, however if they last long enough to be frozen then you're doing well.

Note all the measurements are in grammes, including the oil. It makes life a lot easier when you're using stuff that has different densities on a scale that purports to measure ml; scales do not measure ml accurately when stuff is significantly more/less dense than water, like honey or oil. Go by weight, srsly.

There's an interesting difference between american muffins and cupcakes; the matrix in muffins is really, really fragile but firms up when cold really quickly, to the extent that it almost feels like it has gone stale in under 6 hours. This is elasticity in the gluten, but I need to do more research into why wet (runny) mix behaves so differently to cake batter.

On that note I did notice Sainsers had a digital scale that is accurate to 1g. Tempted, but... my scales are fine, and I rarely need to measure less than 5g anyway.

The dog roses in the front garden have been overgrowing for years; I think I've cut them back about twice since we moved in. So we got out the secateurs and gloves and cut them back, harvesting the rosehips as we went.



After two hours - I originally thought it would take about ten minutes - the roses were cut back to main trunks and we had 3lbs of rosehips. But what to do with them? Well, the obvious answer is rosehip syrup, so I looked at the River Cottage Hedgerow book, which was very unhelpful; 250ml water for every 150g hips, is fine. Then add 150g of sugar. No "per x ml of juice" or anything, just a flat 150g sugar. Obviously this is not brilliant but I had the always helpful "Home Preservation of Fruit and Vegetables" from the Ministry of Agriculture to hand. Seriously, if you're big on preserving hunt down a copy of this, as it is a fantastic example of taxes going towards something brilliant, and it told me exactly what to do with the hips.

In the end we got 5-and-a-bit jars of syrup (which I've not photographed yet); after top-and-tailing 3lbs of hips and simmering that lot in my big preserving pan, then straining (I discovered my camera tripod is brilliant for hanging jelly bags from), then reboiling the pulp, and straining again, and then reducing and then adding sugar and boiling some more, it had taken about 8 hours of work in total to produce them. But - and this is a big but - the results are so, so worth it. It tastes like childhood. Nothing on earth tastes like rosehip syrup and it's bloody lovely stuff. And all it cost was an afternoon of tinkering in the kitchen and a bag of sugar.

If you have rosehips in the garden it's well worth thinking about using them. They're a great source of vitamin C and if you bottle the syrup properly it'll last for ages.

Friday, September 24, 2010

turkish skiffy and freeform jaaaazzz

Last night I went off to an empty shop to see an art thing, after Elly Snare's market-bombing earlier in the week started persuading people to turn up.

I've mentioned Art in Unusual Spaces before; last night was The Man Who Saved The World. This was very odd. TK Maxx in a shopping arcade has been empty for about six months or so, and completely stripped out. So AIUS took over the space for an evening, fitted it out with dodgy lighting, ten back-projection screens and projectors, and a jazz band, and looped a bunch of clips from Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam (a Turkish piece of skiffy that is widely regarded as one of the worst films ever made, ever). Seriously, read the wiki article.


Ok, it was very, very odd. And quite well attended, although that may have been the free wine (I was driving). And oddly enough, I sort of enjoyed it. The jazz band were very good, which helped. The filmclips themselves were hilariously poor, and probably only made the film slightly more comprehensible.




So; in a disused shop with little lighting, dodgy Turkish scifi, freeform jaaazzz and a bunch of drunk arty types. That was my evening. I'm not saying I didn't enjoy it, but it was a very odd way of spending an hour. There was probably some serious commentary on the state of society being played out there, or it was the background to a long-running story arc being performed in disused mercantile meccas, but you know what? I think I would be happy just knowing that it was the result of a bunch of drunken ramblings one evening in a shared house in Hyde Park. Someone said "dudes, you've gotta see this DVD I picked up, it's awful" and from that - no long-winded coffee-fuelled ranting by beatniks about Maoism and counterculturalism involved - someone thought that for kicks and giggles this would be a funny thing to do. I really do hope that this was the case; any other - more serious - reason could probably be subject to mockery.

If the space exists, use it. But trying to shoehorn worthy reasons into ridiculous projects is - to a certain extent - self delusional. I enjoyed last night, I really did, and I just want to keep it in mind as just being a daft project that made people laugh.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What have I been up to recently

Well, what have I been up to?

1. Bettakultcha video is up. Watch me make facutal errors and wonder if I could actually talk about making lemon curd in 15 seconds.

2. I fed people at Temple Works as part of a somewhat barking Test Space Leeds project.

On that particular Saturday morning I was up very early, but not as early as my chef (who we'll call Young Dave) and his mate Dave who runs Sunshine Bakery; they'd been working in the bakery since 4 that morning. I headed down to my kitchen - at Salsa Mexicana, gawd bless you, Simon - and waited for food to arrive. And waited. And waited. It eventually turned up at 9:30, so we got it in, where I discovered we'd been given a pig's liver, heart, about a dozen tails, 4 trotters and three heads. Three. I wanted one. Cooking pigs head is not trivial; you can't just roast it off, because it's the wrong shape and the snout would be done before the ears and it takes up a huge amount of space in the oven. You have to boil it first, for about four hours, and then roast it to give it colour. So there were two spare heads, and for all I know they're still in the SM kitchen...

We also had proper food; a whole pork loin in four chunks, a whole belly, again in four. A sack of carrots, ditto onions, ditto spuds. A tray of braeburns, bramleys, tomatoes, celery, parsnips. Spices, foraged stuff, lentils, butter, flour, breadcrumbs... Oh, yes. The menu, based on authentic Victorian recipes:
  • Roast loin of pork with an apple and pork stew, game and other birds
  • Crispy roast belly of pork
  • Various cold cooked pork meats; ham, sausage &c
  • Roast potatoes, carrots, parsnips, onions,
  • Yorkshire pudding
  • lentil cutlets
  • stuffed tomatoes

The yorkshire puds were forgotten about until it was too late. Never mind. The head, trotters and tails all went into a big pot with carrots, celery and onions to do a stock. The loins were boned, bones fried off and went into another pot of stock. The loins had the fillets taken out and were put into a bit tray with some water, carrots, onions, bay and rosemary, and seasoning. Bellies, ditto. The fillets were cubed and put into a pot with the usual veg, some bramleys, and gradually topped up with stock. Spuds, more carrots & parsnips par-boiled and roasted off with seasoning, butter, more bay and rosemary. Lentils boiled for about an hour with onions, carrots, garlic, celery, marjoram, mashed together with an egg, seasoning and breadcrumbs, shaped into cutlets and fried until they held together. Mushrooms, mirepoix, tomato pulp, again fried off, mashed with an egg and breacrumbs and stuffed into tomatoes. We had game birds and chickens to do as well, again just coloured in the pan and roasted off on top of some veg.

We were done by 3. In fact, I'd cleaned down Simon's kitchen by 3. Everything was ferried up to Sunshine Bakery so I did a runner and went home for a couple of hours. When I got back to SB the two Daves were taking a breather before finishing everything off; young Dave started throwing things in the ovens and slicing and finishing dishes, I took t'other Dave to TW to assemble the eton mess, then back to SB to load up my car with meat and veg, and then all piled back down, with enough pork and apple stew to feed 60 people sloshing about in my boot, along with trays of sliced loin and belly, a head, three tails and four trotters and a mountain of crackling. We delivered the food, I took the guys back to SB to clean down their kitchen and I went back to TW to rapturous applause and all of the food GONE. I'd been away half an hour and there were a few scraps of meat left, that was it. Surprised? Good grief, yes.

There were lots of people there I knew, but was social butterfly and I only stopped to have a few words with people before doing a runner once the eton mess had been demolished. I took NO photos, but some are gradually trickling in: this one of the eton mess for example. Anyway, I couldn't have done this without Young Dave who made a brilliant chef and we just got on with the job in hand without wigging about it, or Simon for letting me make a mess of his kitchen, or Sunshine Dave who pulled everything together. Bloody brilliant fun and it made me realise that I can actually do this. But I will need to go to catering school to do it properly. The first thing a chef does when getting into the kitchen is make stock and just have a tonne of it bubbling away on a burner at the back of the stovetop, and I'd never really picked up on just how important that fact was before Saturday. I learned a lot.

I got home, realised all I'd eaten that day was an apple, and went to bed.

Reviews: Phil Kirby, Bake Lady, Rants & Ramblin, Stripey Anne, the TS facebook page.

3. As a result of the previous two things I turned up in the Leeds Guide, in two mostly unrelated articles on pages 6 and 18 of the same issue. Hee! Yes, amongst my peers this certainly doesn't make me unique, but still quite pleased by this. I shall have to send a copy to my mother.

4. We had a gas main fire around the corner. I took a photo:

5. I saw Ian Beesley, whose website is still down, talking about documenting the closure of industrial plant. This was a seriously inspirational talk.

6. I made cake for a wedding. In future, I shall not be using fluffy ganache icing on cupcakes. Ever. But even though I'm critical about individual components the overall effect wasn't too bad.
The wedding was lovely, too; two dear friends who are obviously very much in love, doing the public affirmation thing. Married because they want to be, not because it's the next logical step in the relationship. Win all round, really.

7. I have done lots of other things, too, but now I'm full of cold and wanting to hit the lemsip.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Adventures in cupcakes

Saturday started off at the Pick Your Own (PYO) at Harewood Bridge, which I've not been to for a year or two. They have tayberries, like ancestral raspberries, darker, tarter, more aromatic and when sweetened correctly much more flavoursome than regular raspberries. But they're a bugger to pick, as ripe they're large and have weak stems, and very soft berries. You can eat them straight from the bush but it's not advised - they really are sharp. Anyway, I was rained on once or twice but that was ok, and despite initial pickings being a bit light I managed to come away with about a kilo of tays. When I got home I cooked them down and strained some off to make a syrup.



The rest I cooked a bit further to make a nice thick pulp, not quite to jam stage but thick enough to support a mousse without turning the cream. Then I made cupcakes; standard cake mix, stir in some of the pulp and some whole raspberries and bake until biscuitty and golden. Then, while still hot, poke holes in with a cocktail stick and paint the reserved syrup over the top to make them nice and purpley and get more of the tay flavour in.

P1010835 P1010838

Next, mousse; whip cream, melt some white chocolate, fold that into the cream and then fold some more pulp into the ganache. No kidding, this was heaven in a bowl, rich, creamy, thick but at the same time light and fluffy and packed with flavour. There was just enough chocolate to make it set, not enough to make it go claggy. Stuff into a piping bag, swirl on top. Plonk a raspberry on, drizzle some melted dark chocolate on for contrast and to make the razzie stay on.


They had to stay in the fridge, though - they were my entry into Iron Cupcake Leeds, being held on Sunday. I didn't make them on Sunday because I was spending the day in Halifax, in a comic shop, dressed in a labcoat and moleskin trousers as part of the First First Tea Company Enlistment Fair.

Once back from there I picked up my cakes from the fridge and ran to the 'Delph, where I had a great chat with some people I'd met at similar events (including Lay The Table and Richard Bettakultcha), and failed to win anything. But the standard of competition was absurdly high and the winners were delicious; a raspberry fizz and one a bit like a berry tart were very tasty (I didn't get a chance to try the second-placed one). Really there were too many brilliant cooks all in a seriously competetive environment. I had fun, and got some lovely comments from people tasting the cakes, and will have a serious think about next month's competition!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Halifax on Sunday

Hello! I'm just mentioning that Tea & Cake will be involved in "The First First Tea Company Enlistment Fair" at Legacy Comics in the Piece Hall in Halifax on Sunday 8th.

We shall be having Events! Including blindfold tea tastings, Tunnocks Jenga, The Grand Biscuit Dunking Championship and other things besides! And Tea! Lots of tea, made the way you like it.

Please, do come along. It promises to be enormous fun. And I may well be in period costume, depending on what I can dig out of charity shops between now and then. Come and mock me!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Running up mountains

Last year, on August the 8th, I did something quite daft; I wanted to see just how fast I could make it over Pen-Y-Gent. Getting the train to Horton is really, really nice; it takes slightly less time than driving there, it's much more relaxing, a return costs about the same as petrol+parking for one (if there's two or more it's cheaper to drive, but what the hey) and it takes you through some fab countryside that normally you can't see because there's a bloody lorry ahead that's taking all your concentration. Plus lovely little towns that make you think "ooh! Can I jump off here and have a look around?". The downside is that the train departs Leeds at 6:19 am.

A couple of weeks earlier I'd gone in a group and we did it in 3h 33m, and I reckoned I could knock the 33m off if I was sure of my footing and felt like running in places. Here's my trip according to my Garmin:
See the red bits? Serious exercise moments. There's three bits on the downhill where I really was running flat out and keeping my footing, with a HR over 168bpm. I'm quite pleased with that. This time, rather than go up the steady face and down the startling bit, I decided to go up the startling face (which is a killer on the legs and lungs) and down the steady bit. I was passed by four people on the initial climb, two of which were fell runners, one was a 3-peaker (don't forget, it was only 8am) and one was a kid carrying nought but a bottle of water. On the rocky startling bit I started passing people who were having trouble (thanks to my trainers I was actually having fun), and got a few nice snaps on the way.

(yes, the summit is in cloud. That was very changeable).


And on the summit? Were the views better than last time?

But on the downhill, the cloud started lifting in a really pleasant way:
Clouds forming patterns on the fields. Lovely.

So I made it down, running for quite a lot of the way, and stopped the clock. My time? 2h 14m. I'd knocked an hour and twenty minutes off. Now, I'm very pleased with this; I would have been happy with under 3 hours, but this was excellent. However, now I know I can do it that quickly I want to knock the time down further; I want to get back to Horton under two hours; if the trains are running to time I can get off the train at 7:24 and get back on a train to Leeds at 9:21 if I'm quick enough, and be back in Leeds for 10:30. What sort of morning constitutional is that? "Just off to climb a mountain, dear. I'll be back for elevenses." As a heartstarter, I can't think of many things finer, or more civilised.

So, does anybody fancy doing the Pen-Y-Gent run that I did last year? We get a stupidly early train out of Leeds to Horton, climb a mountain, and then get the train home and be back in Leeds before lunch. The caveats are, though: this isn't a "no man gets left behind" thing, it's a "get a personal best time, and try to beat it the next time we do this" sort of affair; we're not really competing against each other, just against the clock, so it's not as cutthroat as you'd imagine, but it is still a race. Current club record (set by me, the only member of the club) is 2:14. If you think you'd like to have a go at this, let me know. I'd schedule it for the same weekend (Aug 7th), but there's both Geof's Tea Olympiad thing and Iron Cupcake on the 8th (hence a need to bake), so it'll have to be the weekend after, August 14th. All welcome!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Better Culture through bettakultcha

So! Last night was Bettakultcha, which I'm sure you're all thoroughly sick of hearing about now. 15 presenters, five minutes, twenty slides on a timed 15 second turnover. We had presentations about ideas, about narcissism in social media (which was brilliant, to be honest), about "how I got to here" from two different comedy duos (one was great, the other a total car crash, both loaded with energy and some great jokes), an interesting talk on how online communities can interface with the physical space they occupy, a really funny bloke ranting on about antienvironmentalism ("sort out the infrastructure! If you can't afford to mow a roadside bank, then don't put up a sign saying that it's a 'protected natural habitat' to tick the 'green' box!" and suchlike), a former Tory candidate talking about gig photography, an inspired talk by someone who runs a "travelling library", ie a suitcase full of books that she drags to events and people can go & borrow books from it, and many more besides. And my talk, too, about cake, which seemed to go down quite well and I got some great laughs (and an unexpected one that threw me a bit). I've made the slides available here on google docs, if anybody is interested; at some point there will apparently be video. I've already been asked to repeat the talk elsewhere, and the number of people who came up afterwards to tell me they liked it was beyond counting.

Outstanding food on the night was provided by Salsa Mexicana and Sunshine Bakery, which you heard about a couple of weeks ago, and the whole event was at Temple Works, which again I'm sure you're sick of hearing about. Frankly, for £2.50 this was a seriously top drawer evening. It also reminded me just how much I love performing in front of a live audience; it's been about 10 months since I last did something in front of people and I was seriously hungover on that occasion so didn't really enjoy it, but last night was fantastic. The buzz is awesome, and for only 5 minutes on stage I came off feeling a couple of feet taller, nerves jangling, twitchy as hell (far more than when I spent the day drinking coffee) and I can't remember half of what I said. It's an excellent feeling, and I really have to repeat it. November 18th, here we come...

Friday, July 2, 2010

Cawfee crawl, part 3.

After Glenn caught up with us at the Corn Exchange we decided it was time for lunch, so we went to Pickles & Potter in the Queens Arcade. No photos here because I was starting to feel a bit jittery and was trying to organise meeting people later on in a place with no mobile signal whatsoever - which under normal circumstances is a great big tick in the plus column, but not at that precise moment. Anyway, I had a humous roll and a black coffee; their sandwiches and cakes are legendary and a couple of years ago we reviewed it on T&C, and bless 'em they printed off part of it and stuck it in their window for months. Coffee here is weakish - although at this point that was a good thing - and a perfectly suitable cup to have with a bit of cake, which they provide on your teaspoon. Yes, you get the smallest piece of homemade cake known to humanity where most places would plonk a mass-produced biscuit, and for that reason P&P will always have a place in my heart. Coffee £1.75, with the smidgeon of cake.

Next: Jo & Glenn left me, and I wandered over to the Victoria Quarter and the Opposite stall that's there. Here I was joined by Katie as my Guatemalan coffee beans were being freshly ground. I adore Opposite's coffee, as they either have big flasks of it that were brewed not very long ago, or they will take beans, grind them and either use a ceramic filter system or an aeropress to get every last morsel of flavour out of the grounds. My (£2) coffee was put through the filter, Katie's Kenyan was put through the aeropress.
Guatemalan filter
This was a smoky, light coffee with plenty of deep flavours - light and deep at the same time, a clever trick - that really brought home to me just how much I prefer a great, complex filter coffee over what are effectively mass-made espressos topped off with water. There's an elegance about filters, somehow. Maybe it's in the roasting; espresso roasts are always stronger and deeper than for other beans. This was a great cup of coffee, only beaten by Alex's at Bottega Milanese, and only by the finest of fine margins.

But it was also my last full cup of coffee for the day. I thought I'd had enough, the taste was starting to coat my mouth in much the same way that is described in Philip Marlowe tales, so decided to bring in the backup team - that would be Katie and Sarah - to drink the coffee, and I'd just have tasters from this point on. And I needed a break; so rather than go to the University coffee shops - which I can do at any time, really - we jumped on a bus and headed up to Chapel Allerton.

So, to Seven, an arts cafe/bar sort of thing that I could easily see becoming a local, if I lived there. They do decent tea and coffee (I'd had a whole cup of coffee - £1.80 - to myself the night before which was ok, but nothing special and took a while to get to me) and the cakes look good. Katie was hungry so ordered some food (which she then reviewed on Leedsgrub), Sarah ordered ice cream (good chocolate, mediocre strawberry but outstanding vanilla), and I ordered...
Fizzy Water
some fizzy water. Ooh yeah. Playing with the high wire.

The coffee and food took a bit of time to come along; that's the thing here - I love the atmosphere, the arts things they do are unique in Leeds, the stuff they sell is fine (although I tasted S's mocha and that just wasn't right), but the whole place seems a bit on the flaky side, like they're either very busy or not really concentrating.

After Seven we wandered up the road to what was probably my most looked-forwards to moment of the trip, the Sunshine Bakery.
Sunshine Bakery
David is another one of those people who loves and knows his products. Cupcakes, in this case. They are, without doubt, works of art. Michelin-starred quality of food, to be honest, at impossibly reasonable prices. The cake is stunning and the icing light and fluffy. The usual example of cupcakes are mediocre cake covered under a mountain of icing and glitter, but these are sublime. He also does tasty brownies and the incredible "shot cake", a mini mousse/trifle affair in a plastic shotglass, flavours vary daily but for a quid you really can't go wrong.

The coffee done there is from Bottega Milanese (hence excellent), but all of David's crockery is proper china tea service stuff; I couldn't resist getting a pot of green tea and a bakewell slice, both lovely. I was also a bit cheeky and asked if I could do some work experience in the kitchen, because... well, cake is my thing. I love baking, love giving cake to people, love eating the stuff (despite how bad it is for you) and I adore sharing my thoughts on cake with people, which is why I'm giving a quick talk on cake at Bettakultcha. People say your hobby shouldn't become your job, and they're right. But... ah, if I could spend my days baking I would be a happy man.

The final stop was going to be the Sunshine Bakery, but outside Katie spotted Simon, the proprietor of Salsa Mexicana and stopped for a chat, and he persuaded us to make one, last, final-honestly-guv, stop at his place. It was coming up for 5pm at this point so we popped in, intending on staying for one cup of coffee (for K) and two hot chocolates (for me and S).
Hot chocolate
I'm not one for hyperbole, but this hot chocolate was nothing short of a revelation. It was spicy, it wasn't too sweet, it was chocolatey and smooth and packed with flavour and was - yes - a light drink. The coffee was something else, too - a Mexican roast, it was light and citrussy with some serious high notes and some sort of cleansing effect on the palate. This was a cracking cup of coffee.

Simon, bless him, brought out some nibbles to try. If you ever want to try something new for lunch Salsa Mexicana has some lovely sandwiches on delicious bread they make themselves, their versions of authentic Mexican street food are incredible (if you go try the corn on the cob, and the ceviche is limey and loaded with coriander and delicious) and the desserts? Out of this world. The amaretto bread pudding alone is worth the visit, and they make a stunning and very rich tres leches. We shall certainly be revisiting, believe me.

And so that was my day doing the Cawfee Crawl. I didn't end the day jittery and wanting to run through traffic, but I did end it with the realisation that coffee, whilst nice, can get a bit samey if they're all of the same sort. Espresso-based drinks especially are guilty of this, as they can try to pack too much of a punch without getting any of the more delicate flavours out of the beans. I wonder if too much emphasis is given to making a perfect espresso when really all that's needed is a good brewing bean and a sensible approach to filtration.

If you read through all of this, then give yourself a pat on the back; well done :)

Cawfee crawl, part 2.

After Holbeck I needed to stretch my legs a bit so walked to Clarence Dock, where I knew there was at least one coffee shop and wondered if there were more than that. On the way I walked through Brewery Wharf, which has a deli that served coffee but I wasn't really that fussed about trying it; deli coffee is rarely more than "ok", because they tend not to focus on the coffee, it's just a value added in addition to everything else they sell. The walk to Clarence Dock is very nice, by the way, along the riverside.

It turned out that there is only one indie coffee place at Clarence Dock; Hob. All of a sudden, coffee started costing £2, which was a bit of a surprise. The place itself is a cookware shop, selling trendy ceramics and baking tins, with half the shop given over to phenomenally comfortable sofas. Again, the coffee is brought to you, and this time it's in a branded mug; this time for Real Bean.
Black Americano
This was the first coffee to have a crema on. It smelled ok, but with an odd medicinal undertone that came through in the coffee itself. Saying that, it had good followthrough in flavour and was very smooth across the palate, with very little bitterness. This was very much a coffee for people who liked socialising - it still tasted perfectly fine when it had cooled down quite a bit.

An odd thing happened while I was here; lots of people - ladies of "a certain age" - all dressed in red and back came in. As I was leaving I spotted more of them in the cafe at the Royal Armouries, and more stood outside Saville Hall, and as I walked along the dock to the main road even more started pouring in. They weren't in uniform, per se, it was like a conference of people all supporting the same charity, like a red and black ball. Made me wonder what they were all up to, but of course I don't like to talk to totally random people about their sartorial choices.

I was informed that the delightful Jo was at La Bottega Milanese, so off I headed. I'd been warned that Alex doesn't like serving americanos but there we are, I ordered one anyway. What happened next was incredible. I was given an espresso in a slightly larger cup, and a jug of hot water.
Black Americano
Frankly, this is outstanding behaviour and I can see why this place has picked up such rave reviews. It's tiny, a shoebox facing onto the Calls with space for three friendly people to stand inside, and a handful of tiny tables outside, and is delightful. Friendly, cheerful, exceptionally good product and he serves coffees with little amaretti biscuits. The coffee itself was utterly brilliant; a strong, powerful espresso that had good crema and a great aroma, and tasted exactly like a good espresso should do. The hot water smoothed it out a bit and this was probably the best americano I'd get to try all day. £1.45, and a total joy to behold. Jo's mocha was also good - exactly the right amount of sweetness, and made correctly by layering. The cakes look great, too.

Finally, for this leg, is Anthony's at the Corn Exchange. We only went to the cafe, which is surprisingly reasonable, and after a bit of a wait for someone to turn up willing to serve us coffee, and a bit of confusion over which bit was which - there's a lot of Anthony's stuff in the basement of the CE - we found a table upon which to deposit our tray. This was the most expensive coffee of the day; £2.20 for an americano, and although it was good, it wasn't the best.
Black Americano
But the atmosphere in there is lovely, so Jo and I lingered over the coffee (despite the sofa being a bit hard). The coffee looked good and smelled great, and came with a crema again; there were inky depths to this one. A good, complex coffee with some great high citrus notes and a robust bassine but there was a faint singed aftertaste as it cooled down, and whilst powerful, this was a coffee best enjoyed hot. Whilst there I had a poke around the shops they have down there and I can cheerfully say these were fascinating. I could spend hours there, especially in the fromagerie, a climate-controlled room just for the purposes of leaving cheese out for all to see.

I should point out that all of the staff at all of these places have been wonderful; friendly, happy to serve and always with a smile and helpful attitude. Without exception, all the people who I dealt with were lovely.

Part 3 coming soon...

Cawfee crawl, part 1.

Because I tried to make the route fairly geographically useful - I didn't want to criss-cross the city or double back on myself - I started off in Holbeck Urban Village. The idea behind HUV is nice, although it doesn't seem to take into account the original local residential views much and after 7pm the place is empty. Lots of media and business types hang out here, so there's a couple of restaurants, two boozers (that can be a bit snobby at times) and a bunch of trendy cafes, along with one or two that cater for the brickies that are still renovating.

So! The first cafe I visited was the Engine House Cafe, a lovely, good-sized place with big ceilings and some outdoor space. You order at the counter and if you're staying in they tell you to take a seat and bring stuff over to you as it's ready. Because it was still breakfast time - just 9am - I ordered some toast & marmalade as well as my black coffee.
Black coffee
Love that mug! First impressions are a huge thing and I love that they seemed to use a collection of random mugs instead of a uniform, carefully collated collection of uniform white teacups and saucers (or ones with a coffee branding on). These days ordering a black coffee tends to result in an americano, and this was the case here. The smell was fine - it smelled of coffee, always a plus - but had an interesting acrid undernote that translated into a robust taste; good and strong coffee, which started out slightly bitter but smoothed out as it cooled. Brilliant accompaniment to the toast and marmalade, by the way - granary bread and pretty decent marmalade (which may have been Duerrs, but I'm not an expert). Coffee was £1.25, toast &c was a further £1.25. Totally worth it.

Next was Picked Pepper, just around the corner. This is more of a sandwich-y place but friendly and had a great smell when you walked in. They also have an outdoors, but the interior is nice enough to sit in. Again, order at the counter, pay as you leave. This coffee was a branded one - Coopers - but the mugs were plain white.
Black coffee
First impressions were great; it came with a bikkie! There wasn't much smell with the coffee, though it looked ok, and this was a pretty subtle brew with some flavour but no complexity to it. Don't get me wrong - this was a decent brew - but it's a "does the job" coffee, not necessarily one to savour. £1.50.

The last place in Holbeck was Out of the Woods. This place was stunning; great atmosphere, a sofa to sink into, the tea comes in pots and the cakes look excellent. They also go a good range of daily soups and have a great little astroturfed space outside that is really very sweet. Unfortunately, I ordered the wrong coffee.
Black coffee
Y'see, all the mugs - great mug! - are the same size, so ordering a "small black coffee" gets you a single shot of espresso in the same amount of water normally used as a double shot. And weak coffee is not my favourite thing; hotel coffee is often the same, and it tastes like... well, like nothing much. It gives no indication of how good the coffee actually is, which is a shame as I imagine the coffee in OOTW is much better than the one I had. This was an important note to remember: singleshot americanos are for people who don't actually like coffee. Anyway, the important thing to note is that I would totally bring people to OOTW just for the atmosphere, great looking sundries, tea and sofa. £1.55, next time remind me not to ask for a small one.

So, that was HUV! Part two coming soon.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cawfee Crawl - the aftermath preamble

It's the afternoon after the day before; despite everybody telling me that I'd be more wired than a telephone exchange I discovered something odd, and a little intriguing about how I handle coffee. Basically, I love coffee. Black for preference, either a named type of filter or a good, fresh-ground espresso-derived drink like an iced espresso or a good americano, no need for sugar and milky coffee is really not my thing. I can understand the differences between preground and fresh ground coffee, I know how a Guatemalan bean tastes different to a Kenyan one, how espresso beans are roasted differently to French or Italian roast.

But, despite all of that, I can get sick of drinking the stuff before I get seriously jittery.

By the end of the day I was yawning, ready for my bed. I got slightly twitchy at lunchtime, but that soon passed and by the time we packed in - more on that later - I was feeling fine, if a bit bloated. People had been making jokes about my thrumming along like a hummingbird, but the last time that happened to me I was in my first year at University and being a bit of a muppet. Yesterday I realised that I could, yanno, stop drinking coffee when I got sick of it. Thankfully I was accompanied by people - stars, each one - who would buy coffee that I could then sip for comparison purposes.

These people - in order of joining, my old friend Jo (plus Bump), her husband Glenn, Katie Leedsgrub and my delightful lady wife - did sterling work in keeping me sane and buying more stuff for me to try. Outstanding company, and I thank them all dearly for joining me on what turned out to be less of an epic adventure than I thought might happen.

The original plan was pretty vague, I have to admit. "Take a day to research as many indie coffee shops in Leeds as I can manage". The detail got fairly grandiose fairly quickly, threatening at least 20 locations which didn't take into account areas in general I'd never been to. Twenty different coffee shops is a lot, although I did still think I'd be able to manage that right up until the point at the Victoria Quarter when I said "no, I need a break now". The crash - when it happened - happened quickly. In the end I managed a mere eleven locations, but I did at least try a coffee in each one...

(next: where did we go?)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cawfee Crawl

Just in case anybody was wondering: tomorrow is Cawfee Crawl. I'm starting off at the Engine House Cafe in Holbeck (next to Temple Works) at 8:30, expect to be at Bottega Milanese at 10:30 and will be hitting up the bunch of coffee shops at the University at about 2pmish. Timetable is fluid, though, so phone me if you want to join in at some point. If you don't have my phone number email me (or DM me on Twitter).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cawfee tour, locations

Right, this is the ballpark locations list so far:
Engine House Cafe
Pickled Pepper
Out of the Woods
David St Cafe
Bottega Milanese
Brewery Wharf locations
Corn Exchange
Kirkgate locations
La Strega
Albion Place locations
Art Gallery tea rooms
University Locations
Hyde Park Corner
Chapel Allerton locations
Headingley locations

Cawfee tour, planning.

If I'm going to investigate the coffee shop culture of Leeds I need to come up with a sensible plan of action. The first thing to do then would be to find out just how many coffee places there are in Leeds. According to there are 113 cafes & coffee shops in Leeds. That's a lot of coffee shops and I can't be sure that list contains all of them; I need to look at this list and categorise them.

Now, I'm not going to pubs for coffee; invariably they're not very good at coffee because the brewery installed a machine and didn't train up the staff (who just have to push a button anyway). But there's a couple of places which blur the line a little, more like a continental cafe that happens to serve beer as well as food and coffee so I need to take these into account as well. I can reject all the big chains - Starbucks, Costa, Nero, Caffe Latino - as well as the greasy spoons, and places that are obviously just restaurants.

But... what about the small chains? I'm not going to more than one Bagel Nash, partially because there's loads of them but also because I know already that their coffee isn't brilliant. What about Opposite Coffee, though? They only have two locations (that I know of), in the Victoria Quarter and their home base opposite the Parkinson Building on Woodhouse Lane. Should I go to both? What of Casa Mia? Do all their shops do coffee in the same way?

Looking at the locations it seems like the tour will have a couple of distinct centres (I'll knock up a OpenStreetMap dodad with them on - coffee shops are quite clustered); Holbeck Urban Village, The Calls & Corn Exchange (with a step off the beaten track towards Hob at Clarence Dock), University, Chapel Allerton and finally Headingley. There's a couple of city centre places (Pickles & Potter, for example) that I'll be poking my nose in and I will, for the sake of completeness, get one drink in one location of each of the chains - given that there's at least seven Starbucks in Leeds I don't need to go to all of them - just for comparison purposes.

I'm not going any further out than Headingley, by the way (and if I make it there I'll be surprised). Horsforth and West Park will have to wait.

Right, let's sort out this list...

Monday, June 7, 2010


Last week I went for a chat with Culture Vultures about hosting a tea party at Temple Works and ended up in a two hour conversation about social enterprise and how product people don't trust sales and marketing people. An interesting chat, outside in the sun.

Anyway, one upshot of this chat is that I'm thinking about doing a mass review of coffee in Leeds. I shall take a day off proper work and treat it as a work day, starting early in the morning and trying as many indie coffee shops and cafes as I can fit in (plus, as balance, one each of the main players). I'm sure this will be a fun blog thing, as well as a useful guide to coffee shops for people visiting the area, or just looking for somewhere new to try. Am working out the details in my head still, but it'll probably be in the last week of the month. Anybody wanting to join in for part of the day is more than welcome - I may even install 4square on my phone just for this purpose.

What I'd quite like is recommendations of places to try! I am a critical but very fair reviewer, and not only will I be testing out the espresso but the atmosphere, the perks, the extras, occasionally I'll try out cakes (especially if they're made in-house). If you have a favourite coffee place, or own or manage an indie coffee shop in Leeds then please let me know where it is, so I can work out a route! I'll probably start off in Holbeck Urban Village - which is riddled with coffee shops, so please tell me where they all are! - and try to end up in Headingley, taking in the City Centre and Chapel Allerton. If you're further afield, let me know! I'd be happy to drop in if I can.

The aim is to get as wide an overview of Leeds coffee as it stands today, in one day. I want to champion local, indie places and if you serve great coffee I want to know about it!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


New post about swimming on 101 Things

Monday, May 10, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Talking about cake.

So I like to talk. A lot. I have many things I'm passionate about and love to share that with others. I have given lectures and demonstrations to vast auditoria filled with hungover students in my time, and given talks about pinhole photography, how exposure settings in cameras work, the joy of film, panoramic photography and whatever has interested me over the last couple of days. Performing in front of an audience doesn't really give me fear; over the years I've done standup, learned clowning skills, and also appeared on cookery shows on ITV. I did quite well on the last one.

Anyway, this year I am resolved to talk about cake at least once in front of an audience. Cake is such an interesting thing, and the people who make it are equally as interesting and this should be celebrated. But it won't be a meandering burble; oh no, I have a plan.

Y'see, there's a thing called Bettakultcha. Because I live in Leeds, in The North, I'm keen to attend local events and this one is a corker. You get 20 slides and 20 seconds to talk about each slide - it's the 20x20 protocol - and it has to be something you're passionate about. Previous talks have looked fascinating and I've always been too late to book a ticket to this, but the next one has just been announced (July 13th) and the temptation to offer a talk is huge. So I'm toying with that.

But that's not all; Londoners are probably well acquainted with the idea of Interesting; an unconference, series of talks on a similar kind of lines to Bettakultcha. As an idea Interesting has been around for a couple of years and many people I know have gone and raved about it (and more than one has presented). Interesting is coming north this year (Nov 13th), so I'm really tempted to take the talk I do at Bettakultcha and run with it into a full-length affair in Sheffield.

Can I do 20 minutes on cake? Good god, yes.

I suppose the question is, are people interested?

Next, a list of online places

So, where else might you see me?

Besides T&C, I have sundry other online presences.

  • I'm doing 101 things in 1001 days, documented on Mike's 101things thing.
  • Most of my photos live on Flickr.
  • Although I rarely update it you can also find me on Twitter.
  • I'm also on Facebook, but not linking to it here.
  • Sometimes I remember to update my Last.FM stats, but not often.
  • I have also rigged up equally poorly-used presences on Vox and Tumblr, and even Dreamwidth.
  • There's also a moblog.
  • I sometimes remember to use

I also do stuff for Exposure Leeds and OpenLeeds.

There may be other places too, but for now this'll do.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

First of all, a list of T&C articles

I love tea. And cake. So when I was asked to contribute to Sam & Janine's Tea & Cake I was more than happy to throw my oar in. Unfortunately I've not really written that much for the site itself, but I have written a couple of articles for the blog. They're all quite long.

Those articles on the site itself:

On the blog:

On the 101things blog there's also an article about the T&C bunch running a tea stall at the Charming Armley cake competition. Worth a read :)


First Post, aha.

This is where I'll be posting pointers to new articles at Mikes 101 Things Thing (a blog about my attempt to do 101 things in 1001 days) and Tea & Cake (a blog and structured site about the joy of tea and, erm, cake).

I'll also be posting stuff here that doesn't fit into either of those two blogs. Cooking that's nothing to do with cake, for example. Photographs. Escapades that aren't on my 101things list (like recent adventures in Clowning, for example). Details of upcoming talks and events that I'll be attending or presenting at, and demands for assistance.

There will also be a link to my twitter feed, although I rarely use it.

And why Backwards Lion? For about 16 years I've had the name nalsa on various internet-gubbins sites. Aslan backwards. This is not because I'm messianic (I'm not, honestly) but because when I came up with the name I had a huge mass of mane-like hair, which was all cut off a couple of years ago in a fit of "why does this take two days to dry? Augh!" You know how it is.