An ode to ginger & molasses cake — The Violet Bakery Cookbook

Violet cakes cookbook

It’s fair to say that I’m giddy with excitement to have a copy of The Violet Bakery Cookbook in my hot little hands. Only released a couple of days ago, I have been waiting/hoping for this book since I first tasted Ptak’s ginger and molasses cake back in about 2007 after buying some from her then-new Broadway Market stall. For nearly four years now, I’ve lived a mere hop, skip and a jump from the Violet cafe on Hackney’s well-hip Wilton Way. I don’t frequent the bijou bakery as much as I could (waistline woes) but sometimes, when the sweet tooth takes hold, we pop in for cakes as an afternoon tea treat. Salted caramel icing, deeply dark chocolate cake, lemon drizzle cake, sticky buns and more fill the old glass shop case. I can never decide. Served up on utility vintage crockery, accompanied with lashings of tea or a strong coffee, it’s a lovely spot to while away an hour.

Violet cakes

Wilton Way blossom

The ginger and molasses cake for me, that is the stuff dreams are made of. I love baking and whipping up cakes, so over the last few years I have tried to recreate the ginger and molasses cake several times. While they’ve always turned out damn tasty, I’ve never quite nailed it. So it is now I can say thank you, thank you Claire, from the bottom of my heart for this beautiful book that will allow me to recreate your incredible cakes in my own tiny kitchen. I know exactly what I’m doing this Sunday.

Violet cakes cookbook 3

This beautiful book has dozens of yummy recipes I’m looking forward to trying out, all beautifully photographed by Kristin Perers, an East London photographer, whose gorgeous Instagram feed I’ve been double-tapping for while.

The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak is out now.

x

p.s. You can see the another piece I wrote about Violet Cakes over on This is Your Kingdom.

p.p.s More cake musing here.

N.B. This post isn’t sponsored, I bought this book myself. I just really, really like baking cakes.

A quick city guide to stylish Copenhagen

Copenhagen table

Copenhagen. Sigh. City of bicycles, sourdough pizzas, ceramics and effortlessly stylish interiors – how much we love you. I spent so much of our trip, gushing on Instagram about how lovely it all was that I’ve pulled together a quick city guide of our favourite places. STAY We stayed in Vesterbro, the former working class area and notorious red-light district that’s pretty much the hippest part of town these days. Now filled with cute cafes, cool bars and high-end design stores, it was the perfect spot for our stay. Only a 15-minute walk from the city’s main central train station, it was dead easy to get to and from the airport. Our AirBNB apartment was gorgeous in the way that only the Scandinavians know how. Filled with a combination of chic ceramics, vintage pieces and easy minimalism, I wanted to pack the entire place up and bring it back to London with me. I pretty much want to get rid of everything I own now and start again now in our flat. (Another reason to stay in Vesterbro, is that it’s where the Larsen family from The Killing season one lived. If you’re as obsessed with the Nordic Noir TV shows as I am, you’ll find that interesting. If not, ignore me and GO WATCH IT IMMEDIATELY).

EAT & DRINK Living with a sourdough-mad boyfriend, it was only natural that on our first night we went straight to the highly recommended Mother in the Meat Packing District. Famed for its organic sourdough base pizzas, it did not disappoint. Even though it was a busy Friday night, we got there early enough that we only needed to wait 15 minutes for a table. The pizza? The best I’ve had in a long time. And if I can have an Aperol Spritz while I’m waiting, I’m always a happy girl. Next on my list was Groed, a tiny restaurant that only sells porridge, dhal and risotto. It was SO good that we visited both their tiny Nørrebro restaurant and their stand in the gourmet food market Torvehallerne. I can’t really describe how good the dhal was except to say, it warmed my chilly bones and was probably the best dhal I’ve ever eaten. On our second visit the dhal had understandably sold out (NOOOOOOOOOO!) so we both went for a mushroom barley risotto (pictured) instead that makes me hungry just thinking about it. I probably should’ve tried one of the porridges that make up a large portion of the menu, considering porridge is one of my favourite breakfasts. Maybe I’ll have to go back and try them out…

Copenhagen city guide 3

I’m not massive beer drinker but the Mikkeller Craft Beer bars came highly recommended and as the boyfriend is a fan of fancy beers, we visited both the Nørrebro and Vesterbro location. Both had an equally relaxed vibe with friendly and helpful staff, and after a day spent trekking all around Copenhagen on foot, it was a delicious beer well-earned. Price wise, most places were about the same as London or ever so slightly more expensive. Not eye wateringly expensive however, like Sweden or Norway.

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SHOP I found the Red Cross charity shop of my dreams in Copenhagen. Damn Easy Jet and their luggage restrictions. I ended up buying a 1960s set of ceramic cups that had to be packed carefully in my clothes to fit in my suitcase. We’re still regretting not buying a 60s oil painting and all that other stuff. I would’ve bought a sofa, vintage kitchen canisters, glassware, pottery vases…and so on. Sigh. It was three stories of treasures. I didn’t write down the exact location but I’m pretty certain it close to the vintage area around Ravnsborgadde. There are loads of vintage shops in Copenhagen and, sadly, we didn’t get to any of the flea markets but that’s probably a good thing. I imagine it might be difficult to negotiate, if you’re not Danish (although everyone speaks perfect English so give it a go). Jægersborggade is a lovely street in Nørrebro, where Groed is located. Friends who’d visited Copenhagen said it was a must visit. We loved the Meyer’s Bakery for yummy pastries and rye bread, Coffee Collective for a strong brew and Ladyfingers for delicate jewellery.  My favourite was Maia’s Blomsterhjem, a florist and gift shop where I picked up several lovely glass dishes to pop under houseplants. You can find a full list of the shops on Jægersborggade here.

Copenhagen city guide 3

SEE & DO:

  • Visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. It’s an easy 30 minute train ride from the Central Copenhagen train station and you can buy tickets that cover both entry and the train fare (you’ll need to go to a counter though, the machines rejected our cards). Such a beautiful space and gorgeous location, it’s well worth a visit and the best thing we did on our trip (other than eat that dhal). The Giacometti Gallery is an incredible light space overlooking a lake and actually took my breath away. We’d already seen the Richard Mosse exhibition that are on last year at London’s Photographer’s Gallery so we only quickly looked around that but the Sculpture Garden and views across the sea to Sweden are incredible.
  • Go out for dinner and drinks with your friend who lives a 10-minute walk away from you in London and by happy coincidence is on the same plane as you. You don’t even realise this until you see each other’s photos on Instagram and you haven’t seen each other in yolks (true story).
  • Visit the Little Mermaid. Pretty underwhelming but has to be done really. The nearby park is interesting and worth a (brisk) stroll through. I imagine we would’ve lingered further if it hadn’t been so chilly and raining.
  • The cemetery where Hans Christian Andersen is buried is pretty too, and interesting to walk through on your way to Jægersborggade.
  • Your research before you set off for the day and check what time shops close (early on the weekends). I loved looking around all the design stores but as we discovered many places close early on the weekend so we’d have to go back as they’d already shut for the day. I really liked
  • Walk or cycle everywhere. We could’ve hired bikes but it was February – cold, raining and sleeting. It was just easier (and drier) to stay under our umbrellas instead. It seemed like a safe place to ride around though as most the bike lanes are separated from the main traffic. Wander past all the wonderful old buildings and historic palaces. We didn’t tour any inside because we wanted to do other things but they look pretty wonderful from the outside.
  • Go see the coloured building and boats at historic Nyhavn. Take photos, even if it’s raining and you’re so cold your fingers feel like they’re going to drop off when you take your gloves off.
  • Eat all the rye bread! I’ve always loved a grainy dark rye topped with (preferably) avocado and tomato. Try Smørrebrød, which are Danish open sandwiches with a variety of delicious toppings. Yum.
  • Buy ceramics. From the gorgeous traditional blue and white Royal Copenhagen fine china to the 60s cups we picked up in the charity shop to amazing design-stores ceramic bowls. It’s worth it, trust me.

Copenhagen city guide 4

I could write for days about things to do in Copenhagen, and I feel like we only just scratched the surface. What have a I missed that I can put on my list for next time? x p.s. See Hannah’s guides to Copenhagen for loads more ideas. We found them really useful! And here’s a good guide to Vesterbro in the Guardian.

The modern collector: Vintage sleepwear

Vintage bed jackets When I was just a small girl, I had a china collection. Little ceramic squirrels, a tiny tea set (with a teeny teapot, obvs), dainty vases and other little pieces. I was taught from a young age an appreciation of beautiful things. When my great Aunt Betty passed away, I was given her costume jewellery collection of paste sparkly brooches, clip-on earrings and random other pieces to dress up in. They weren’t worth anything money wise, but to me they were treasures. The modern collector: vintage sleepwear Around the time grunge came along, I was a sullen teenager, obsessed with Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. (I still look a tad sullen in this photo. It’s just that I’m rubbish at photos!) Inspired by Love’s baby-doll dresses and torn tatty slips (with good dose of my own gothic tendencies thrown in) I spent my weekends trawling Auckland’s charity shops and markets looking for vintage clothing (in-between trips to the record shops). From the gorgeous old lace dresses to the nylon slips that I wore paired with fishnets and my Babes in Toyland t-shirt, it was a fun obsession and that’s never really gone away. While I pass over anything nylon these days and I no longer wear slips as skirts, I’m still fairly obsessed with anything old and lacy. Unlike my teenage friends who wore ripped jeans and flannel shirts during the grunge years, I still have some of my more precious dresses packed away in boxes at my mother’s (along with that Babes in Toyland t-shirt). The modern collector: vintage bed jacket My sleepwear collection started with an incredibly delicate bed jacket in the softest pale blue silk, trimmed with cream lace. I found it tucked away in a tiny antiques stores in the historic small town of Akaroa, way down in New Zealand’s South Island. London has obviously fuelled my obsession no end. Antiques markets, junk stores, charity shops, overpriced vintage stores – I’ll always have a good rummage for the perfect piece. My eBay watch list is full of silk sleepwear – bed jackets and nightdresses, slips and sleepwear. The majority of my sleepwear and slip collection is from the 1930s through to the 1950s. Embroidered pieces in the palest of blush and peach or dreamy cream are my favourites. “That’s your colour,” the old man on the antiques stall said to me when I recently bought a 1930s slip in pale rose. The modern collector: peach slip Made with the tiniest of hand stitches, miniature buttons, teeny tucks, hand embroidery and prettiest laces. Old labels from New York, London and Paris only make them evening more charming.  Some never worn. Others with tiny holes or marks. All very much adored. I’m still looking for a pair of peach tap pants to add to my collection, although vintage underwear kind of grosses me out a bit. Preferably unworn, thanks. Cream lace bed jacket Do I wear them? Rarely. If I do throw on a bed jacket like a blouse on a balmy summer’s day, I spend most of it in fear of someone (probably me) spilling something on it – red wine, beetroot, coffee, makeup. I know they should be worn. They’re too beautiful to be tucked away in a drawer. Maybe I could just wear them I get up in the morning? Couple of problems there. 1. The majority of the time it’s too cold in England to wear anything but a cosy robe first thing, and 2. then I’d definitely be guaranteed to get coffee or makeup on it in my half-awake state. Maybe one day, I’ll have an old dressmakers dummy for displaying my treasures instead… What do you collect? I’d love to know! xx P.S.

A frosty London Fields

We haven’t had any proper snow, i.e. more than a light dusting, in London for a couple of years now. I miss it. Instagram is killing me at the moment. Between the glorious days of sunshine my friends are enjoying in New Zealand and Australia, to the heavy blizzards and snow in New York, it’s envy-making..

I can’t really complain though. We’ve had plenty of beautiful frosty mornings lately, where Jack Frost has danced his way through town making everything glisten magically.

A frosty winter London fields morning

And finally, a light sprinkling of icing sugary snow.

Snowy London Fields

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” 

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

I wish I could go to sleep like the seeds some days and wake again in the warmer days of spring.

Bits & pieces 8: Surviving January

Vintage blue & white china at Spitalfield's Antiques Market
It’s bloody freezing isn’t it? I’m trying to not let the January blues kick in and stay cheerful on these cold and dreary days. Now I’ve gotten over the flu, I’m back into a routine yoga at home several times a week using the Yoga Studio app (brilliant). I’d do it every day but I really do struggle to get up early enough every day.

I’ve been drinking this Ayurvedic Tumeric Immunity Tea from the lovely Monday’s Wholefoods journal (that my sister kindly posted me from New Zealand for Christmas).  It’s delicious, and I’m hoping it’s helping rebuild my immunity after our Christmas/New Year bout of flu. I can’t wait to visit Monday’s Wholefoods next time I’m home in Auckland.

I’m lucky enough to be working near Spitalfield’s market at the moment. So every Thursday I make sure I take a proper lunch break and head over the weekly antique’s market. There’s plenty of treasures to found (although many are a bit on the pricey side). I try to limit myself to something every few weeks, unless I absolutely have to have it.

Spring bulbs on my kitchen window are making me smile every day. Although I didn’t really make any New Year’s resolutions as such, this year I’m trying to read more, have quiet Sundays at home and generally stop rushing around so much.

Hannah’s post on Seed & Stitches about January really resonated with me. And Nat’s post on drinking less and having a dry-ish life rather than than a dry January is exactly what I’ve been trying to do. (See my post on feeling lighter).

How are you making January more bearable?

(Photo of plates at Spitalfield’s Antiques market taken on my iPhone)

The modern collector: a series

I’ve been toying with the idea of this series now for many, many months. I come from a long line of collectors on both sides of my family. I’m not talking thimbles, stuffed toys, coins or matchbox cars but more along the lines of fine bone china, vintage linens, brooches and oriental antiques. The kind of things that should be family heirlooms. My latest treasure: A 1950s hand-embroidered silk blouse from eBay. The detail is incredible – and I can’t wait to wear it when Spring gets here. A vintage hand-embroidered blouse from the 1950s As I’ve been living in London for a while now, it’s not surprising that as a lover of beautiful old objects, my own collections have grown. It’s lucky that my boyfriend too is a collector and doesn’t mind me buying things just because they’re beautiful, old and interesting. In this little series, I’ll share some of my own treasures and treasure-hunting tips. I’d like to profile some interesting collections belonging to others too. We’re not talking hoarding here but more along the lines of William Morris’ famous quote:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

A treasure that’s packed away in one of my collections: a vintage green and white lace nightdress Vintage green and cream embroidered nightdress First collection coming soon.

You can see loads of inspiring collections on my Pinterest board:

Boozy spelt Christmas cake and Chickpea magazine

Vegan Spelt Christmas cake See ya 2014! You’ve been a good-un. I’m in bed with a rotten cold and am trying cheer myself up with this stack of brilliant inspiration from friends and family, near and far. My bedside reading today includes the gorgeous and brilliant vegan quarterly magazine, Chickpea. And it features a recipe for boozy spelt Christmas cake – written by me! (Hooray). Soon I’m going to drag my sorry self from my sickbed and whip up some coconut oil frosting for said cake which is now nicely boozy with brandy. It’s become a bit of a tradition to cut my Christmas cake on New Year’s Eve over the last couple of years, and while I’m not a fan of traditional Christmas cakes, I do like making my own version. We’re planning on staying in this evening and cracking open the bubbles – should mix well with the cold and flu tablets. It’s the first time in a very long time that I haven’t gone out partying on New Year’s Eve and I’m looking forward to it. Fingers crossed I can keep my eyes open ’til midnight. Wishing you all a wonderful 2015. x Photo for Chickpea magazine by Arthur Ravenscrag