Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The joy of returning to uni (and no longer being a fresher!)

This time last year, I was one nervous student-to-be. Spending my last week with my family before leaving home for the first time and heading off to start my new university life was something of a big deal. Oh! How excited I was to experience the infamous "Freshers' Week" (and terrified by the stories of my old school friends who had already started their terms) and find out what student life was all about.

That was the thing, it was all unknown. Don't get me wrong, Freshers' is great. But it's weird (I'll expand on this further down). And I for one can't wait to go back to uni for my second year. This time, I know the uni. I know where everything is. I know my way around the city (for the most part, anyway). I know how everything works. But most of all, I know my friends. It's really bizarre not seeing most of them for three months or so over our ridiculously long summer holiday which makes me even more excited to catch up with everyone again. We will all look at the new freshers, smile, shake our heads and sigh as we watch their nervous excitement, bewildered expressions and social awkwardness. "Remember last year when that was us? What were we like, eh?" *rolls eyes* Obviously as second-year uni students we are much wiser and knowledgeable about EVERYTHING.

We got free beauty stuff yay!
Freshers' week is bizarre, but it is undeniably a lot of fun. I remember fighting back the tears (all right, a few may have escaped) as I waved goodbye to my parents, before finding all the other freshers sitting on the grass outside my halls in little groups. "EVERYBODY'S ALREADY MADE FRIENDS!" I thought to myself, terrified. But then I went and handed round home-made cookies to my neighbours and everything was fine. Baking saves the day.

The other day, I found myself looking back at some pictures from the first night of Freshers' week last year - there we were, grinning with our arms round each other as if we'd been friends forever, faces painted with neon spots and stripes, clutching our plastic cups for confidence. Good times. Over the course of that week, I dressed up as Princess Jasmine, a school girl, a cat, a bear, head-to-toe pink and wore a onesie on nights out. Pretty standard Freshers' week, I'd say. The one thing that stands out to me from my Freshers' pics (apart from my slimness before a year of meals in halls) is how much fun we're all having. What's great is that everyone's in the same boat during Freshers'. We were all nervous and excited. I like to think that I wasn't the only one who cried in my beautifully-decorated-to-make-up-for-the-sixties-style-furniture room a couple of times that week.

Standard checklist for a freshers' bar crawl.
As much fun as it was, going back to somewhere you're settled and comfortable is a really nice feeling. Although I'm moving into a new house (I'm not sure I could handle another year in halls!), it feels as if I'm going back to a home away from home. Not only am I looking forward to getting back to the city and seeing my friends, but I'm also reeeaaally psyched to start my course again as my modules for the year sound super interesting to me. At the end of the day, as much as the student lifestyle is a ball, if you aren't interested in your degree you're going to make uni life much harder than it should be. And second year is where the hard work will really kick in (or so naive little fresher me was told!) In a few weeks I'll probably be up to my eyeballs in essays and wishing to be a fresher again. Or maybe not. Either way, I'm excited.

Monday, 24 September 2012

RECIPE: Triple Layer Chocolate, Nutella and Peanut Butter Celebration Cake

Peanut butter, Nutella and Chocolate layers of cake
Being someone who bakes a lot, people often say to me "I hope you don't have to make your own birthday cake!" But what they don't understand is that, for me, the pleasure is as much in the baking of the cake as it is in the eating. I'm the type of girl who gets as much joy from throwing/planning/hosting a party as going to one.

This is the cake I made for my 20th birthday, and given that I was sort of making the recipe up, I must say I was pretty chuffed with how it turned out. For my 19th birthday I made a peanut butter two layer sponge cake with Nutella buttercream icing, which was delicious, but this year I wanted to step it up a level. Inspired by the hidden design cakes on The Great British Bake Off, I wanted to make something that prompted everyone to go "Oooh" as the first slice was cut. Obviously, my cake is nothing like a spectacular as the showstoppers on GBBO, but this triple layered cake with its colour gradation was definitely unexpected by my party guests.

Crushed Maltesers add the finishing touch
Peanut butter and chocolate is a winning combination as far as I'm concerned. Just ask any American - hello, Reece's Peanut Butter Cups of deliciousness. What's more, the yoghurt in this cake keeps it nice and moist. My favourite layer was the peanut butter, whereas my cousin's four year old daughter preferred the chocolate - this cake is a real people pleaser.

I'm not going to lie to you, the icing recipe I followed did not work out well at first, so then I had to do all sorts of strange things to salvage it. Never before had I cried about icing, until 22nd September 2012. It was a dark time for me. Luckily, I turned it around. I wasn't going to just throw away all that Nutella and chocolate now, was I? After all, I'm not actually on GBBO, as much as I like to think I am. I don't think I can even remember how I managed to make my icing in the end, so I've included a recipe for Nutella icing by The Primrose Bakery, which I think should work just as nicely. Don't forget to take your butter and eggs out of the fridge well in advance!

Ingredients - Cake:

300g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
6 large eggs
300g golden caster sugar
225ml natural yoghurt
2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
3 tbsp Nutella
2 tbsp cocoa powder
300g self-raising flour


300g milk chocolate
60ml double cream
2 tbsp butter, extremely softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
250g Nutella
Crushed Maltesers to decorate (optional)


1. Butter three 20cm non-stick sandwich tins and line with circles of baking paper. Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4. Using electric hand beaters, beat the butter, eggs, sugar and yoghurt together until smooth and creamy.

2. Split the mixture into three equal quantities by pouring two thirds into two separate bowls - these will create the three different flavour sponges for each layer. In one bowl, beat in the peanut butter with the electric mixer, and in another, beat in the Nutella. Mix the cocoa powder into the third bowl by hand. Try a little bit of each mixture to test for flavour strength, and if desired, add a bit more of each flavour. (The peanut butter is stronger so that's why you need less than the Nutella.)

3. Fold 100g of flour into each bowl, then pour each mix into one of the tins, using a spatula to get every last bit and smooth over the tops. Bake for 30 mins until risen and golden. When out of the oven, go round the edge of each cake in the tin with a spatula knife to make sure the cakes don't stick to the walls. Leave to cool in the tins for about ten minutes, then remove from the tins and leave to cool completely on a baking rack.

4. Make the icing: Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn't touch the water. When the chocolate is melted and runny, pour into a large mixing bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes. Add the double cream, butter and vanilla extract and beat well with an electric hand mixer until really smooth. Beat in the Nutella until the icing is a creamy consistency.

5. When the cakes are completely cool, layer them up with the peanut butter sponge first, then the Nutella layer, then the chocolate, sandwiching them together with a layer of the icing. There should be a nice gradation of colours. Cover the top of the cake and the sides with icing creating as smooth a finish as you can (it's difficult!) If you find yourself running out of icing, you can always spread on more Nutella! Finish off the cake by sprinkling some crushed Maltesers or whatever else takes your fancy on top.

Birthday tea party
And there you have it! Seeing as this is something of a recipe I've invented, I'd love to know if anyone tries it and how they get on. A rich, yummy birthday cake that hopefully even Mary Berry would like. Deeelish!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Behind the scenes at a filming for "The Home of Fabulous Cakes"

Today is my birthday, so I'm going to keep it brief.

As something of an avid baker (I'm sure that's news to you all) I would be highly excited about the  launch of a new baking TV show as it is, so the first episode of ITV1's new ten part series, "The Home Of Fabulous Cakes", airing on my birthday was pretty perfect. However, I am extra excited because said TV show is hosted by none other than my mum's long-time friend, Fiona Cairns. She is as fabulous and lovely as her cakes. And over the past few years, the world has realised.

Not only are Fiona's cakes on sale in Waitrose, Selfridges and Harrods amongst others, but she also made the Royal Wedding cake for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge last year. I know. Pretty awesome. And to think my sister has had a hand-made Fiona Cairns cake for nearly all her 17 birthdays (as she's good friends with Fiona's daughter).

Fiona's recipe books are equally brilliant and offer something different by explaining not only how to bake yummy cakes, but also how to decorate them spectacularly, which I would say is probably what marks Fiona out from the many other cake makers of the world.

Now, with the launch of her won baking TV show, I reckon Fiona may be the future Mary Berry. According to Fiona's website, "From classic cake recipes and easy bakes, to novelty cakes and sophisticated show-stopping masterpieces, The Home of Fabulous Cakes will teach even the least experienced cook the easy techniques and tricks that make cake making and decorating achievable for all." Who's excited? Answer: me.

One of Fiona's incredible celebration wedding cakes
Even more exciting is the fact that I was invited along to some of the filming for the series a few weeks ago. I shan't reveal too much, but I can tell you that you're in for a real treat with this series! Yes, I got to eat cake and be filmed for a TV programme. It was a great day. The location is beautiful, the cakes are beautiful, Fiona looks beautiful and here's hoping that if I'm shown on the programme I don't ruin the pattern. If I get edited out that'll probably be why. Awks.

I'm not sure when I might appear (I should be on two episodes though) so you'll have to keep watching if you want to catch a glimpse of me stuffing my face. I doubt watching the series will be a chore though, as what else are you going to be doing on rainy Sunday afternoons as we descend into winter? Exactly. So, at 3.35pm today, get yourself a cup of tea, sit down, put your feet up, and tune into ITV1. And considering it's my birthday and all, treat yourself to some cake too.

All pics from fionacairns.com

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Turning Twenty

pic from megwhiteiii.deviantart.com
Today is my last day as a teenager EVER! Tomorrow is my 20th birthday, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Turning 18 is always a huge deal, and similarly the big 2-1 requires a certain amount of hoo-hah, but 19 and 20 leave you in a bit of a no man's land. It's as if when you reach 18 years old you're technically officially an adult on paper, but realistically, I don't think you're a proper grown up until you're 21. Or maybe it's actually when you've bought a house and can iron without making more creases. Which could be a hell of a lot later. The three years in between 18 and 21 are just a bit random really. You don't know where you are. It's a real problem of young people today. *sob*

Obviously I'm still excited because I LOVE BIRTHDAYS more than most people - my own or anyone else's. I like to make a fuss, have a celebration, see my family and friends, and (obvs) eat cake. You only get one a year, so it's nice to make other people feel special. It's their day. Make an effort and they might just make one back when it's your birthday.

Is any party complete without Party Rings? (telegraph.co.uk)
I remember how excited I used to get when I was a little girl. I couldn't sleep the night beforehand. It was the one day of the year when I was allowed cherryade and Party Ring biscuits (that reminds me... I really should get some for tomorrow. Or ask the madre to buy them. I'm allowed to on my birthday whoop whoop!). Naturally, the presents were the main attraction of the day. Every year, without fail, I would take chocolates into school, my mum would make a chocolate cake covered with Smarties and we would have a party with a bouncy castle in the garden for all my friends. It was the best.

It doesn't help that now, as a university student, my birthday falls at a really awkward time of the year. My uni term doesn't start till reeeaaally late so I'm still at home (as are most of my uni friends, dotted round the UK), but most of my home friends from school are already back at their unis. Awk times. I reiterate, these are the serious problems of my life.

However, you can always count on your family to come over where cake is concerned. I love to organise gatherings and parties, so it's a joy for me to have people over to celebrate and eat cake with me. And although I already know what all my birthday presents are (because I chose them on a shopping trip yesterday), I'm sure I will still lie in bed tonight with hopefully more than a twinge of excitement about what tomorrow will bring.

PS Family, I hope you don't think I'm too old for balloons!

PPS I have planned to make what is hopefully going to be an epic birthday cake, so if it goes well, watch this space for the recipe.

PPPS Birthday cards/tweets/facebook messages/comments/presents are all welcome. Just in case you weren't sure.

Friday, 21 September 2012

RECIPE: White chocolate and raspberry blondies

White chocolate and raspberry blondie of yumness
Whenever my parents come to visit me in Bristol, I take them to a delightful West Country café chain called Boston Tea Party (oh all right... I make them take me. Potato, potahto.) which is dotted all over the city. They have all sorts of yummy cakes on offer, but one of the best things I've had is their white chocolate and raspberry blondies. Oh, for anyone who hasn't come across the term "blondie" in the cake world, I'm talking about brownies made with white chocolate. It isn't a derogatory term for blonde people, no need to get all worked up and write me an angry comment.

For some reason we seemed to have an awful lot of white chocolate in the house the other day, so, naturally, I decided this was the prime opportunity to make my own version of BTP's scrummy blondies. And these really are divine, I'm not going to lie to you. You may have realised that I eat a fair amount of cake, but these really is one of my top recipes. When making brownies or blondies, it's so easy for them to turn out like cake, which is all very nice but quite frankly, disappointing if you wanted to make brownies/blondies. It doesn't make me angry. Just disappointed. This recipe, my friends, will not fail you. Squidgey (but not underdone) in the middle, more cakey at the edges with a crisp top, they are just the texture I look for in a blondie/brownie. And raspberry and white chocolate is a classic flavour combo that is hard to beat. (If you're a fan, you may like my white chocolate and raspberry Victoria sponge cake!)

It makes a pretty large quantity - 24 chunky blondies by my slicing. And they went down a treat with both my friends and family. And myself. Obvs.


300g butter
240g white chocolate chunks
450g light brown muscovado sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
300g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
175g raspberries


1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a roughly 25x32cm rectangular traybake tin.

2. Melt the butter and 120g of the white chocolate gently in a bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't actually touch the water, and stirring regularly to make sure it's all melted and mixed together. Leave to cool for a few minutes.

3. Measure out the sugar, eggs, flour, baking powder and vanilla extract into a large bowl. Add the melted butter and chocolate and mix thoroughly. This may take a while to come together, but keep going (a folding action works well) until it's all smooth and well-combined. Pour into the baking tray.

4. Scatter the raspberries and a further 60g of the white chocolate chips on top (they will sink down while in the oven). Bake in the oven for about 45 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the blondie comes out nearly clean, but don't worry if not completely, as it will firm up a bit more while cooling (and everyone loves a gooey blondie/brownie!) If it starts getting a bit too brown on top while in the oven, quickly cover with foil for the rest of the baking time.

5. Leave the blondie to cool in the tin for about ten minutes, then lift it out of the tin by the baking paper and leave to cool completely on a wire rack. When completely cool, melt the remaining 60g of white chocolate and drizzle on top. Leave to set then cut into pieces. Then eat them all before anyone else can. Mwah ha ha!*

*Just me?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

RECIPE: Prune, apricot and pecan tea bread

I know what you may be thinking, but just hold up a sec. Stay with me and read on for a bit. Prunes? Apricots? Nuts and seeds? All sounds a bit healthy, doesn't it? Well, let me tell you that this little loaf cake is surprisingly delicious - it's moist and fudgey, and everyone who tried it was like "Woah! This is reeeaaally good! I was NOT expecting it to be so moreish." I originally made it for my mama, as it's right up her street, but then was taken aback at just how much I liked it myself.

The fact that it's baked in a loaf tin adds to its healthy vibe, which I would say makes it a perfectly acceptable way to eat cake for breakfast (as IF I ever need a reason to justify that to myself). It's also - according to the madre - absolutely perfect spread with butter with her late afternoon cuppa. Another plus is that if for some reason it's not devoured instantly, it'll keep for days wrapped up in foil.


150g dried stoned prunes, chopped
75g dried ready-to-eat apricots, chopped
75ml apple juice
175g butter
140g soft dark brown sugar
finely grates zest of one orange
1 egg, lightly beaten
100g plain flour
125g malted brown flour (usually used for bread)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground nutmeg
50g pecans, roughly chopped
4 tbsp mixed seeds


1. Butter and line a 2 lb loaf tin and preheat the oven to 180C. Put the prunes and apricots in a pan and add the apple juice and 50ml water. Bring up to the boil then turn the heat right down and leave to simmer gently for 15 mins. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. It should all mush up into a bit of a purée. Leave to cool slightly.

2. Melt the butter, allow it to cool a bit, then add it to the dried fruit, along with the sugar, zest and egg.

It has a yummy fudgey undertone. Mmm
3. Sift the flours into a bowl - the bran from the malted brown flour will collect in the sieve, but then just put it back into the sieved flour. Add the baking powder, mixed spice, nutmeg, pecans and 3 tbsp of the mixed seeds.

4. Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add the dried fruit and egg mixture, stirring until well combined but not overworked. Scrape into the tin and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tbsp mixed seeds.

5. Bake in the oven for about one hour until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool for ten minutes in the tin then remove from the tin, take the loaf out of the paper and leave to cool on a wire rack. Nom it up, guilt-free.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

RECIPE: Nutella hazelnut praline muffins

hazelnut praline muffins
If someone was to turn a Ferrero Rocher into a muffin, I think this would be it. My siblings and I were brought up on Nutella for breakfast. On bread, I mean. Chocolate spread was considered far too unhealthy, but Nutella on the other hand, full of hazelnuts, milk and cocoa, was totally acceptable. Good one, mum.

So I had one of these babies for my breakfast straight after I'd baked them. Oh all right, it was my second breakfast of the day, but who's judging? With their cheeky praline centre, these babies are especially yummy warm. I've adapted the recipe from one by The Hummingbird Bakery, whose cakey concoctions I adore.

The recipe make 12-14 muffins, and don't forget to take out your eggs in advance.

This is a muffin into which I put the Nutella too soon, so it sunk. Still delish though.


300g plain flour
145g caster sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 large eggs
85g unsalted butter, melted
150g Nutella
60g chopped hazelnuts


1. Preheat the oven to 170C and line the tin with muffin cases.

2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, 115g of the caster sugar, the baking powder, the bicarbonate of soda and salt. Pour the milk and vanilla essence into a jug, break in the eggs and whisk together by hand.

3. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and gradually pour in the wet mixture while mixing on a low speed with an electric whisk. Turn the speed up high and mix until the batter is smooth. Add the melted butter and whisk a bit more. The batter may seem very runny but it should thicken up a bit.

4. Add 80g of the Nutella to the muffin batter and mix in with the handheld whisk. Then add 50g of the hazelnuts and mix in by hand with a spoon.

5. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cases, filling each one about half full. Drop about 1 teaspoon of the remaining Nutella into the middle of each muffin, then add the remaining muffin batter so that each case is no more than two-thirds full.

If you go a bit sugar crazy (like I did), don't worry, excess can be blown off post-baking.
6. Sprinkle over the remaining chopped hazelnuts and the remaining caster sugar - this may seem like a generous amount but it creates a delicious crust on the muffins. Place in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the muffins are well-risen and springy to the touch. Allow to cool slightly in the tin. Transfer to a wire rack to cool just a little bit more before devouring.


Vienna: a guide and my top tips

Hofburg Palace
Vienna is by no means a huge city, but it has the beauty of Paris and is as easy to walk round as New York. Having spent the past three weeks exploring Austria's capital while I worked as an au pair, I had the good fortune of being able to get to know the city rather well, so here are my top tips for visiting Vienna.


Compared to Paris' metro, Vienna's U-Bahn (underground train network) looks quite small on a map. However, it's extremely efficient, reliable, spacious and easy to use. Equally, when above ground, you're never more than a few minutes walk from a station. It's easily the best way to get around if you don't want to walk, although there are also trams and buses. No matter how long your journey on the U-Bahn, a ticket costs 2€. There are no ticket barriers, and you're supposedly meant to be checked by ticket officers on the train. However, in my three weeks riding the U-Bahn, I wasn't checked once and didn't even see a ticket inspector. I'm not condoning travelling without a ticket though, because you'll be fined if you're caught and I wouldn't want to be the one to blame! Vienna also has a bike system just like the Vélibs in Paris - the first hour is free and there are lots of docking stations, so it's another good way to get around and see the city.


Hofburg Palace
Vienna has an incredible array of palaces, monuments and grand buildings. The majority of them are pretty central and easy to walk round in an afternoon. A nice central walking tour I did a few times with different people went in this order: the Staatsoper (opera house), Stephansdom (cathedral - you can walk round inside for free too!), the Spanische Hofreitschule (the grand Spanish riding school), Hofburg Palace, the Parlament building, the Rathaus and the Burgtheater - they're basically all just impressive buildings. And if it's a nice day, walking round central Vienna and stopping off in beautiful gardens full of flowers and fountains, while stumbling upon one of these beautiful buildings every few minutes is a really nice way to spend an afternoon. I'm no architecture geek but even I was in awe of Vienna. These main sights aside, pretty much every building in Vienna is beautifully grand. I think I may have found the most opulent H&M in the world. Don't worry, I'll get to shops later.

Schönbrunn gardens
As if the aforementioned architectural treats weren't enough, Vienna has two more amazing palaces that are slightly less central: Schloss  and Schloss Belvedere. Schönbrunn in particular is a definite must-see, and deserves an afternoon all to itself. It has delightful huge gardens to explore (as well as a zoo and maze) and if you walk up the hill to the Gloriette (don't worry, there's a café at the top which is unsurprisingly over-priced but there if you need it!) you'll find stunning views looking out across the whole of Vienna. You have to pay for the maze, zoo and to go inside the palace, but exploring the gardens and walking round the palace outside is free. Hoorah!

Schloss Belvedere


Vienna's Mariahilfer Strasse is supposedly the city's answer to Oxford Street, and is where you can find all the main high street chain shops, as well as an English language cinema (most English/American films are dubbed in German). However, for shopping, I actually prefer Kärntner Strasse. It has most of the shops you find on Mariahilfer Strasse (such as H&M, Forever 21, Zara and United Colours of Benetton), but is a much nicer shopping environment in my opinion, mainly because it's pedestrianised. If you follow the order in the walking tour round Vienna's central monuments I mentioned above, you will actually find yourself strolling down Kärntner Strasse. Convenient eh?

Shopping in Vienna
If it's a rainy day and you fancy getting a bit of high-street shopping in, why not venture out to Vienna's huge shopping mall Shopping City Süd (SCS) on the outskirts of the city. It's not pretty. At all. But it has loooads of shops (I literally got lost), eateries and a cinema. SCS is also easy to get to by bus.

If designer shopping is more up your street, then the streets you want to find are round Kohlmarkt. Here you'll stumble upon Chanel, Tiffany's, Burberry and more. Oh, and yes, you will also stroll through this area on the aforementioned walking tour. Works out rather nicely, don'tcha think?

Vienna has great little markets popping up all the time and everywhere, but the biggy is the Naschmarkt, which I devoted a whole separate blog post to here.


The entrance to Prater
Prater - Its full name is The Wurstelprater amusement park, and is more fun than you might think. It's huge, so there are rides to suit everyone from little kids to crazy thrill seekers. OK, maybe not crazy thrill seekers, but we went on some that sure had me screaming for my life. There's also a Madame Tussaud's if that floats your boat. What's great is that it's free to enter the park, but then each ride costs between two and five Euros, and obviously, the best ones are the more expensive ones. And if parents want to leave the rides to the kids, there's a ginormous park nearby which makes for some nice strolling, and also a huge beer garden.

The Art History Museum
Museums - Conveniently, all Vienna's big museums are located together in one area, The Museums Quartier. The Art History Museum is directly opposite the Natural History Museum, and both are architectural treats, and then just over the road all the other main museums are found (such as MUMOK (modern art) and the Leopold (Klimt galore!)) around a pedestrianised area, dotted with cafés and restuarants, including a great fro-yo place. I really loved spending time relaxing with friends inside the Museums Quartier. It's a great place for people watching and always full with trendy young things whiling away their days hanging out on the strange colourful loungers. Most of the museums have discounted prices for students, and if you're under 19 a lot of them are free. I was just too old. Annoying.

Vienna is a city full of culture, and there are plenty of other smaller museums on offer as well. One of the most interesting I went to was the Esperanto museum, which I wrote about here.

Inside the trendy Museums Quartier
Theatres - In the space of less than two weeks, I went to my first opera, a musical and a ballet in Vienna. What? I hear you thinking, That doesn't sound very studenty! Well, both my tickets for the opera and musical were 2€ each, and for the ballet I paid 8€. Major win. The musical and opera were both performed at Vienna's Volksoper. This is supposedly the less grand "theatre of the people", but it was still pretty grand as far as I was concerned. The reason I got my tickets for 2€ is that they were standing tickets. However, on both occasions there were some empty seats at the top of the auditorium, and we were allowed to move down into them. Amazing. Obviously both the opera and musical were in German so I couldn't understand everything, but for 2€, who cares? Seeing live performances is always great fun.

Vienna Volksoper
The ballet, on the other hand, was performed in Vienna's Staatsoper theatre. And this really does make the Volksoper look like a shack. If the exterior of the building wasn't impressive enough, being allowed inside on the night of the ballet revealed that the interior is actually even more opulent. My 8€ ticket was a "restricted view" seat at the back of a box. To be fair, the view was pretty restricted. Or it would have been, if I hadn't stood up, moved forwards and peered over the heads of those in front of me. Luckily, they were fine with that! The Staatsoper also sells standing tickets for 2€, but these go on sale just two hours before a performance, and you have to get there early to queue!

Inside the Staatsoper
Both theatres have different performances on most nights, as opposed to having one show in for weeks at a time. This is obviously great for tourists, as you're bound to find something that tickles your fancy during your stay in Vienna. Also, people get reeeaaally dressed up for their nights out at the theatre - the opera and ballet especially. I learnt this the hard way. Sandals to the opera? Even if they are trendy and bargainous River Island beauts, they probably weren't the best choice.


Right. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that Viennese cuisine is goooood. If you're going to Vienna student-style, you probably won't be frequenting many of the fine restaurants on offer. However, I did go to one, which is apparently the home of the Schnitzel, and it got a whole separate blog post because it was so great. Interestingly, Vienna is home to a lot of Turkish eateries and take-aways, so if you're a Kebap fan (no, that wasn't a typo, that's how they spell "kebab" in German), you'll be right at home. There are also lots of cheap places where you can grab a slice of pizza to go.

Obviously the cheapest way to buy your food is in a supermarket. Billa is Vienna's most prominent chain, with a vast array of foodie goodies, and is easily spotted by the rotating yellow Billa bag outside each store. Don't ask. However, Lidl and Hofer (like Aldi) are actually cheaper, despite being less ubiquitous and offering less choice.

If you haven't read my previous post all about them, you're probably wondering Why hasn't she mentioned cakes yet!? I know I would be. Well, reader, I devoted a whole separate blog post to Viennese cakes. Enjoy it here.

Mozart flavour ice cream
And if you fancy indulging your sweet tooth outside of cakes and pastries, Vienna loves ice cream. There are so many Italian-style Gelato places with all sorts of delicious sundaes and flavours on offer. I even saw Mozart flavour ice cream. No joke. Something else I would recommend are the Viennese Manner wafers. They sounds so simple - wafers filled with a hazelnut cream - but they will blow your mind.


Around central Vienna, there are lots of benches, parks and places to sit. This pleases me, as sometimes in England you want a sit down (yes, I know, I'm prematurely elderly) but you don't want to have to spend money in a café (student problems eh?). Equally, there are a fair few water fountains around the city centre, which is always great for the broke student.

Annoyingly, you do have to pay for all public toilets. 50 Cents each time! Not cool. My friend and I thought we'd out-smarted the system on one occasion by sneaking under the un-manned barrier. We went to the loo, feeling really smug, but when we came out there was a security guard who'd seen us on camera waiting to charge us. Pfft.



Monday, 17 September 2012

How I created a gradual pink dip-dye with Fudge Paintbox Pretty Flamingo

My pink dip-dye on my light brown hair.
For pretty much all my teenage life, I'd had long hair, and I love it. Now I don't know if it's because said teenage life is about to end with my 20th birthday this Sunday, but I've been feeling the need to do something different with my hair without chopping it off. So, I have gone WILD in a fit of crazy teenage rebellion and dip-dyed it pink. I know. I'm mad.

It's not exactly original these days, and I'm a bit late jumping on the coloured dip-dye bandwagon, but as far as I'm concerned there's nothing wrong with that. If everyone's doing something, it's obviously a fun thing to do. And as I sit here with my pink hair, I can concur that it is indeed fun. I LOVE HAVING PINK HAIR! And because my hair is so long it makes me feel a bit like a mermaid. Come on... Don't tell me you've never secretly (or in my case pretty openly) wanted to be a mermaid.

gradual pink dip-dye
However, the one common dip-dye look I really wanted to avoid was that of the straight line dip-dye (I believe that's its technical name.) What I mean is where the ends of your hair are one colour, then there's pretty much a straight line where the colour ends and meets the colour of the rest of your hair. It's a frequent occurrence in the dip-dye world, and not a great one, à mon avis. So I'm pretty pleased with the way mine has turned out.

After a lot of research, I chose Fudge Paintbox semi-permanent hair-dye in the shade Pretty Flamingo. There's a huge range of colours available, and they cost between £6-8 depending on where you buy. Depending on your hair type, Fudge Paintbox is apparently meant to last for between three and thirty washes. I find this a rather huge difference, so we shall have to wait and see. Although to be honest, my hair is so thin and by just doing the ends I won't need much dye, so even if I have to top it up frequently the tube should last me a while. Post dip-dye, I realised that I somehow made the colour more intense on one section of my hair, but to be honest, I don't think it matters that much with the gradual look.

So, in an impulsive mindset on a casual Sunday afternoon, locked in my bathroom, here's how I created my gradual dip-dye:

1. I wet the ends of my hair and towel-dried, then brushed it through and split the hair into two sections - one over each shoulder. I was wearing a towel to protect any of my clothes being pinkified (not that that would've been a bad thing really. Most of my clothes are pink already.)

2. I squirted a little bit of dye on to a plastic plate (you don't need much) and smeared some on to the tips of my hair using my hands, like I would with conditioner. You're meant to do this wearing gloves, but I didn't have any, and my fingers weren't stained pink for long afterwards frankly.

3. To make a colour gradation, I then added a little conditioner ton the pink dye on the plate and mixed it around with my fingers before smearing it on to my hair a little up from the tips.

4. I then repeated the last step a couple of times, adding more conditioner to dilute the dye as I went up my hair.

5. It's easy to get carried away and end up with more dip-dye than your natural hair colour, but when you've done as much as you want, STOP ADDING MORE! I then smoothed my fingers over the dip-dyed hair to ensure a well-blended colour.

6. To help the colour develop, I brought the hair together under my chin and scooped it up into a shower cap secured with a hair bobble. I then sat nervously like this for about 25 minutes. It was a great look. I repeat, this is why you lock the bathroom door.

7. After an anxious wait ("What are you doing you mental, girl!?" I asked myself), I rinsed my hair with warm water until the water ran clear. Then there's that awful moment when you can't tell how well your hair dying has gone until you dry it.

8. So dry your hair, brush it smooth and wear your dip-dye with pride!

feeling like a mermaid!
None of my family seems to like it (the madre wants me to chop it off so she doesn't have to look at it - charming eh? Back to uni I go...), but my friends do, and to be honest, the only opinion that matters is mine, and I LOVE it. And if you can't dye your hair pink when you're a student when can you?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Exploring Vienna through the medium of cake.

Viennese cakes!
After spending the past few weeks working as an au pair (and having a general holiday) in Vienna, I am now back home in good old Engy, with about a kajillion things I want to blog about from my time away. I have my priorities in order though, so first things first: let's talk about cake.

Vienna is a city as famous for its cuisine as its culture. You will never have to go far to find a konditorei full of incredible cakes as opulent as the city's architecture. This pleases me. Obvs. I took it upon myself to sample some of the city's baked offerings in the hope of finding the very best...

The Sachertorte from Hotel Sacher
The Sachertorte is probably the most famous of Vienna's traditional cakes: a rich chocolate cake with a yummy layer of apricot jam, traditionally served with whipped cream. There's quite an interesting story behind the Sachertorte too - let me fill you in briefly: Back in 1832, there was a prince who was having a party. Tragically, his head chef became ill, so the job of concocting a unique dessert fell on the shoulders of a 16 year old apprentice, Franz Sacher. Aha! I think you can see where this is going... Not much happened to the cake recipe over the years, and it was perfected by Franz's son, Eduard.

Over the years, there have been disputes over whether Vienna's Hotel Demel or Hotel Sacher actually has the original recipe - I imagine they both make cracking Sachertortes to be honest, and both recipes are top secret.

The difference is that at Hotel Sacher there is another layer of apricot jam between the cake and the chocolate coating as well as the layer running through the cake. And let me tell you, this went down a treat with me. Yes, my friend and I treated ourselves to a breakfast of Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher. We sat outside in the early September sunshine, eating our cake and it was fabulous.

disappointing Sachertorte.
Of course, everywhere you go in Vienna offers their own versions of the Sachertorte, and naturally (all in the interest of research), I sampled some others too. Sadly, my first Sachertorte was a let down. It was from some random little café that wasn't really a cake place at all, but it was my first day and I was desperate for some Sachertorte. The cake is meant to be dryish (hence the cream on the side), but this was one was way too dry. Sad times.

delicious Sachertorte!
Obviously I then had to try an actual good Sachertorte, and this was achieved in the café in the bookshop Thalia on Mariahilfestrasse (Vienna's answer to Oxford Street.) On a side note, this is a fabby bookshop, selling much more than books, and is one of those places I can easily spend hours. Especially seeing as you can get a shopping boost from a slice of their Sachertorte if needs be!

One of many branches of Aida in Vienna
Another great place for a cake stop is the Aida café-konditorei chain. They are all over Vienna, and I just love them for their pinkness: interior, exterior, waitress outfits... It's all pink! But colour aside, they have got an incredible array of cakes on offer at really quite reasonable prices. A slice of Sachertorte is €2.90, as opposed to €4.90 in Hotel Sacher! Aida are also open till 9pm which I personally think is really great - the Austrians sure do cake culture well, and I think it's something we're missing in the UK. Sure, we have good cafés for afternoon tea and cake, but usually they close at around 4.30pm. Ludicrous. Sometimes, you just want to go out for cake in the evening, don't you?

So anyway, enough of my cake ranting. Back to Aida. It's a popular place with locals and tourists alike, despite the typical Austrian grumpy waitresses. If you go in there when it's busy (for example when the heavens opened one afternoon), expect to wait a while for service, but then it's perfectly normal in Austria to hang around in a café for hours, and you won't be judged if you finished your cake ages ago and haven't ordered anything else. Pretty fab. We chilled in Aida for a good two hours eating our cakes and watching Vienna bustling by in the rain outside. However if you are in a rush or feeling the pinch a bit more (and the weather is nice), Aida offer a 10% discount if you take away. Always handy.

My Mozart Torte from Aida
And now down to the cakes on offer. One of my faves was their Mozart Torte (Mozart cake), which was basically a chocolate cake with milk chocolate icing and some marzipan and pistachio flavours thrown in their somewhere. I was too busy scoffing it to take too much notice but it was delish, put it that way.

Apfeltorte from Aida
I also had a rather nice Apfeltorte (apple cake) at Aida. Not mind-blowing but nice all the same.

Cardinalschnitte from Aida
My friends had a Marokkanertorte (a rich chocolate cake filled with a light chocolate cream) and a Cardinalschnitte (some pastryish thing filled with flavoured cream) which seemed to go down jolly well with each of them indeed. Basically, there's so much on offer that it's impossible for someone to go in and not find something they'd like.. The more likely scenario is that you'll be spoilt for choice and need to make multiple trips to try them all!

A nutty pastry from Ströck
And gosh, don't even get me started on the Viennese pastries! The bakery chain Ströck is found at most underground stations, and is absolutely fab for relatively cheap pastries. Again, there are too many to choose from though. DAMN YOU, VIENNA, AND YOUR YUMMINESS!

I think my next baking challenge may just have to be the Sachertorte. Watch this space...
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