Okay. I admit it. I’ve got a sweet tooth. To be honest, death by chocolate sounds pretty good to me. You know that scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where Gene Wilder is singing Pure Imagination? You know the one…
Who didn’t dream of visiting a place like that when they were a little kid? Well, minus the creeptacular boat ride that came afterwards.
Fortunately, we don’t need a Golden Ticket or the excuse of childhood anymore. These days, desserts are in vogue, and from couture cupcakes to gourmet brownies to the resurgence of the classic whoopie pie, you can enjoy delectable sweets anywhere and everywhere. In moderation, of course. Moderation is key. I mean, one cannot live on simple carbohydrates alone, right? Right…
On my most recent trip to the U.K. this past October, I came across a few places where you can indulge your craving for sinfully delicious sweet treats. All I can say is thank goodness I did a lot of walking around the city after trying them out!
Outsider Tart. I attended a dinner party in London recently, and one of the other guests brought a box of delicious goodies from Outsider Tart for dessert. The brownies were decadent as well as massive, and instead of our original plan of cutting them into quarters to share them, we decided to slice them into slivers instead, because there were just too many tasty looking options to choose from and we all wanted to try a bit of everything. I don’t think we ever came to a consensus on an overall winner (there were a lot of contenders), but we all agreed on one thing: the American ex-pats running this bakery in Chiswick are masters at what they do.
Ben’s Cookies. I’ve talked about this place before in previous columns, and it’s certainly worthy of another mention. Simply put, Ben’s Cookies are divine. They have many tempting flavours to choose from, but the one that blows my mind every single time is their Double Chocolate and Nut cookie. So. good. So good.
Ella’s Bakehouse. I recently discovered an English chef named Lorraine Pascale on the Cooking Channel here in the States. Lorraine is a former model who hosts a baking show in the U.K. (which is now being broadcast here across the Pond), and she also happens to be the owner of Ella’s Bakehouse, a cupcakery located directly across from Ben’s Cookies at The Piazza in Covent Garden. During my visit to Ella’s, I tried the Nutella cupcake. Nutella is what I refer to as a Category 5 dessert all on its own because of how dangerously addictive it is, so I never stood a chance once I saw those little gems in the display case. I was floored by how moist and delicious it was.
The Hummingbird Bakery. A friend and I happened to pass by the Soho location of the Hummingbird Bakery after dinner one night whilst en route to a concert, and we just couldn’t resist the urge to pop in for a pre-show treat. We both concurred: their cupcakes (especially their red velvet cupcakes) are just to die for. They also sell brownies, pies, cakes, and whoopie pies. They even make a red velvet whoopie pie. Can you imagine? Gah! Heavenly.
Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates. Well, my friend and I were feeling really naughty whilst in Soho that same evening we visited the Hummingbird Bakery. So naughty in fact, that we just couldn’t help but notice a delectable display of brownies in the window of the Paul A. Young chocolaterie on Wardour Street. So we didn’t fight it. We went inside. As we were chatting with a very nice salesman who was sporting a fabulous pompadour, he kept referring to the shop’s namesake as if he was in the room or something. Well, imagine our surprise when he introduced us to Paul A. Young himself, who was wearing an apron and actually helping out behind the counter! Paul could not have been nicer, treating us to some samples, telling us about his new cookbook, an upcoming visit he’ll be making to N.Y.C. for a chat show appearance, and he even accommodated our silly request for him to sign the labels on our brownies. He also pointed out some Thanksgiving truffles on a display table, to which I quirked an eyebrow and asked why they had Thanksgiving truffles on offer in England of all places. Paul smiled and explained that there were several American ex-pats living in an area near one of his shops, and he created the truffles with them in mind. We waited until the following day to try our treats (mine was a limited edition, sea salted caramel pecan brownie—Holy YUM!), and I can honestly say it was the densest, fudgiest brownie I’ve ever had.
Harvey Nichols. Yes, this is a lovely, high-end department store boasting such lust-after brands as Chanel, Burberry, and Marc Jacobs. But what I also love about Harvey Nichols—and many other department stores in the U.K.—is that they have a superb food hall, where they boast some seriously delicious baked goods. I’ve yet to visit their flagship location in Knightsbridge, but I did pay my first-ever Harvey Nichs visit to their store in Edinburgh recently, where I introduced a Scottish friend of mine to the beauty of red velvet cupcakes for the very first time. I’m not exactly sure what bakery makes and supplies them with these tasty little creations, but they certainly do a brilliant job. We were there on Halloween, and they had the cupcakes tricked out with elaborate ghosts, skeletons, and pumpkins made of sinful, buttercream frosting.
Where is your favourite spot for sweet treats in London?