Perfect together. But not at the same time. See Crochet Rule #7 and instead of “coffee” read “chocolate”.
I leave the comfort of my home for a short list of reasons, aside from the obligatory everyday errands one must do in order to maintain health (grocery shopping) and solvency (trips to the bank). Naturally, crochet events are high on the list but they are secondary to the continuing quest for chocolate cake. Wherever both exciting crochet and great chocolate confections happen at the same time and place, well that’s got to be heaven. I had every expectation of finding the former while visiting London last week, but no idea what I’d discover concerning the latter. I shoulda had more faith.
On the very first day at Ally Pally, at 12:52 GMT, while standing on the Exhibitor Cafe queue (lunch line), I observed a wide variety of foods, not just the stodgy cuisine on which the population of the UK is rumored to subsist. Aside from the obligatory fish and chips, sausage rolls and a sublime carved roast pork station, there was a nice grilled salmon and even salad. Yes, salad. But not simply salad on a plate. I was offered a Jacket Potato, what we might call a stuffed potato, but taken to another level of invention. You get an enormous baked potato, the top of which the server splits into quarters. You’re already sure the potato skin is crisp and that the interior is fluffy carbohydrate perfection. You’d be happy with just a pat of butter, maybe a dollop of sour cream. But the Jacket Potato comes with your choice of stuff on top. Surprising stuff, not the bacon and cheez whiz you see here on top of baked potato skins. They do flaked tuna, shreds of real cheese, baked beans, composed pasta salads, mixed green salad. Hokey Smokes, I think I even spied sprouts.
By the time I reached the back end of the queue for the dessert and beverage service, I thought I was ready for anything, but honestly I expected the usual cafeteria fare, a choice of puddings, or jello or small sweets, perhaps a slice of pie, but nothing prepared me for this:Here I must be absolutely truthful. This is not my cake. By the time I thought to ask Hyomin to take a picture of the cake for posterity, I had already inhaled half of it. This is actually a photo of the cake belonging to a complete but friendly stranger sharing our lunch table. She must have thought we were bonkers. Or American. Same difference.
So, refrain from drooling, as this was not plain cake, but more like a relative of our Boston Cream Pie, but with chocolate more of a player. On a base of dense bittersweet chocolate cake there was a layer of silken chocolate mousse, then some vanilla infused creme patisserie, then a huge smothering of whipped cream, sealed with a thin chocolate glaze, finished with curls of white and milk chocolate on top. On the side was a smear of fruited sauce, a small split strawberry, and OMG the plumpest, most perfect fresh raspberry. The plate was something you could expect at the end of a nice restaurant meal, hardly the stuff to be found in and amongst the ordinary fare of lunch cafeterias. I was impressed. Floored, actually. I had two. No, not at the same lunch, silly. On successive days. I had to rethink my previously held opinion about Brits. If this is a typical example of dessert offerings, then they definitely KNOW HOW TO LIVE!
The intensity of my chocolate cake quest deepened at each dinner opportunity. As my hosts were choosing the restaurants all week, I had but to come along where they led. Two of the kids, Yuko and Daisuke, had just worked a long show in Moscow where there were no Japanese restaurants to be found. Since they were longing for a taste of home, the first dinner was at a fantastic sushi place in central London just off Leicester Square. In typical authentic style there was no chocolate cake there. Not a crumb of dessert there.
The second night we celebrated the birthday of the lovely Hyomin, who we decided should be 25 years old. Thereabouts. She is originally from Korea, so they chose a very special Korean restaurant at her request and in her honor. You can assume there was no chocolate cake there, either. Normally there wouldn’t have been. But, hey, it was a birthday party and we would not be denied. Aki Harada arranged for a cake to be brought in from a downtown patisserie. At the end of the superb Korean meal, lit with candles that spelled out Happy Birthday, came this little beauty:
No, not Mr. Harada, who is doing the cake slicing honors. I mean that cake. Once again, this was not a simple chocolate cake. It was more of a gateau-like trifle. The base was a light cocoa genoise (sponge cake), filled with a lightly sweetened layer of cream swirled with mixed fruits, then more genoise, some whipped cream, with fresh fruits, dark chocolate cups of flavored cream on top. The stunning presentation was highlighted by a ring of delectable bittersweet chocolate batons, like a tasty fence all around, tied up with a ribbon. Awesome. No, brilliant!
The rest of the dinner choices that trip were also Asian cuisine, including Chinese and Thai, and thus ended my chocolate cake discoveries. However, I did satisfy my curiosity about one UK sweet that had been puzzling me for a year. Other American fan-geeks of the 11th Doctor of Doctor Who Series 6 will be thrilled to know I finally found out what’s up with Jammie Dodgers (spelled with “ie” and not “y”):
A typical English after-school tea time treat, these biscuits (cookies) are ubiquitous, sold in any corner grocery, one package containing 8 cookies costs one pound nine (around $1.70). They remind me of Pepperidge Farm Verona cookies (the little rounds with fruit filling), except not as delicate and certainly not in the same way marketed to adult tastes. Or maybe thumbprint cookies, but not. Jammie Dodgers are crisp rounds of shortbread cookie with a gummy sort of filling sandwiched between. The jammy part tastes of raspberry, but it’s a mix of flavors really. It’s the sort of food nobody admits to eating or liking (much as Pop-Tarts are viewed here), and yet somebody is enjoying them because they are everywhere. Not a sophisticated sweet by any means. Yet strangely compelling. A perfect match for hot, strong tea. I took away two packages but polished off a whole one during the endlessly boring flight back to Philadelphia. Now that I’ve done the show and tell, I can eat this one, too!