baking · celebrations · gluten free · low FODMAP · Seasonal

Gluten Free Easter Nest Cakes Recipe (Low FODMAP)

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Last year for Easter, my husband was following the low FODMAP diet to try to help us identify his food intolerances beyond just gluten intolerance. The year before, I had baked a delicious chocolate Easter Nest cake from a recipe by Nigella Lawson, but although we had really enjoyed it, clearly it wasn’t going to be suitable for a low FODMAP diet. So I set about adapting the recipe to ensure that everyone could enjoy it – and I also adapted it from a massive Easter cake into smaller individual cakes that would be suitable to bake with a young family. Presenting: my gluten free Easter nest cakes recipe! And if you still want to make one big cake, just double up the quantities and stick it all in one big cake tin…

Gluten Free Easter Nest Cakes Recipe

Ingredients For Your Cakes:

You will need the following ingredients for your gluten free chocolate nest cakes:

  • 3 eggs
  • 85g caster sugar
  • 75g salted butter (butter is low FODMAP but not completely lactose free, so if you need a completely lactose free recipe, then replace with coconut oil (75g) or vegetable oil (55g))
  • 125g dark chocolate (make sure it’s vegan dark chocolate if you need 100% lactose free)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence

And for the topping and decoration, you will need the following ingredients:

  • 125ml vegan double cream (Elmlea do a plant based double cream which works perfectly)
  • 70g dark chocolate
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 pack chocolate mini eggs or buttons
The finished product

Gluten-Free Easter Nest Cakes: The Method

1. Preheat your oven to 180 C.

2. Lightly grease the bases of a non-stick muffin or cupcake tray. A silicone cupcake tray is best, as you can easily pop out the cooked cakes. A metal cupcake tray will work too, but prepare yourself for a bit of an adventure getting the cakes out of the tray (however – even if you break them, they will stick back together again if still warm!)

3. Put the 75g butter and the 125g chocolate in a bowl and melt them down together either in a microwave (short bursts of 10 seconds at full power, stirring in-between, until melted) or over a saucepan of hot water.

4. Separate two of the eggs.

Separating the eggs

5. Whisk the two egg whites with a handheld or stand mixer, slowly adding in 50g of the sugar until the mixture forms soft, gleaming peaks.

6. In a separate bowl, whisk together the two egg yolks with the remaining whole egg (I mean… Not the shell, obviously), the vanilla essence and the remaining 35g sugar.

7. Gently add the chocolate mixture to the bowl and fold it in carefully.

Folding in the chocolate and butter

8. Next, start adding the whisked egg whites and folding them in gently. First, add about one-third of the egg whites, then once that’s all combined, add another third and so on.

9. Pour the mixture in to the cupcake tin, filling each cupcake hole about 3/4 full. Bake in your preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cakes are risen and cracked but not wobbly when you shake the tray (see the picture, below). Let the cakes cool in the tin on a wire rack, and don’t panic when they sink – that’s what makes the nests!

Fresh from the oven

10. Once the cakes are cool-ish, get them out of the cake tin. Don’t worry if they break – I promise that if you gently squash the separate pieces back together, they will magically re-combine through some incredible cakey voodoo.

11. Melt the 70g dark chocolate and set it aside while you whip the double cream until it’s forming soft peaks. Add the vanilla essence and slowly fold in the melted chocolate, but make sure it’s cooled down a fair bit first.

12. Dollop the cream into the sunken centres of your chocolate nest cakes, and add the chocolate eggs or buttons.

13. Enjoy your gluten-free, low-FODMAP chocolate Easter nest cakes!

Om nom Easter yum yums

Top Tips For Your Easter Nest Cakes:

These cakes are sort of like a brownie/meringue hybrid, which means a lot of folding various mixtures into one another. Usually, where whisked egg is involved, the idea is to combine the two mixes completely without knocking too much air out of the egg whites. Not confident on how to do this? Here’s a handy guide on folding in egg whites.

It’s also worth noting that the sugary shell on the outside of the chocolate eggs will melt over time, so if (for example) you’re preparing these the night before for a party the next day, don’t add the eggs until a few hours before you’re ready to serve, if you can.

More recipes for gluten-free chocolatey treats!

If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, why not try my favourite gluten-free Rocky Road recipe (no baking required!) or this delicious recipe for coffee-lovers – gluten-free chocolate cappuccino brownies. Yum!

parenting · play · reviews

Review: Jaques of London Toys

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This blog post comes courtesy of Jaques of London, who have kindly gifted us some of their toys to try out in exchange for a review!

I hadn’t come across Jaques before, but they specialise in wooden toys and board games. It’s a family-run business, which traces its origin all the way back to 1795 when Thomas Jaques established himself as a “Manufacturer of ivory, hardwoods, bone and Tunbridge Ware” (no, I have no clue what Tunbridge Ware is either). They’re now in the eighth generation of the family business, which is quite the pedigree for a toy brand!

Jaques of London Wooden Toys

Jaques of London: Let’s Play Animal Seesaw

The Let’s Play Animal Seesaw was the first one of the Jacques toys I gave to Little Man. It’s a simple concept: a little wooden seesaw which comes with a set of wooden animals (plus two trees and two wooden cogs) which you can stack on the seesaw and try to get it to balance.

It’s really nicely made, the animals are very cute (on several occasions I have discovered the bunny rabbit from this set hidden in random locations around the house, a sure sign that Little Man loves it!) and even boring grown-ups will catch themselves having fun trying to get the seesaw to balance.

I also thought it was a nice touch that the animals come with a drawstring bag you can store them in. It definitely helps to avoid losing them at the bottom of the toybox!

The Let’s Play Animal Seesaw in action

Jaques of London: Magnetic Crane Truck

Little Man has been obsessed with cranes for a little while and is very interested in trucks and lorries, so when I saw that Jaques do a Magnetic Crane Truck toy, I knew it would be a big hit with him. And I wasn’t wrong!

The truck comes in two detachable parts, with a magnetic crane that can swivel, lift and be lowered, plus five colourful blocks with magnets that you can use to load the truck and attach to the crane. Little Man has really enjoyed stacking and unstacking the truck, playing with the magnets, and exploring other items that he can stack in the back of the truck. In fact, the little wooden creatures from the Jaques Animal Seesaw have taken more than one ride around the kitchen in the crane truck! It’s a great toy with lots of different options for creative play.

Little Man playing with the Jaques Magnetic Crane Truck

I really love the fact that Jaques specialise in wooden toys which are more eco-friendly. It’s so easy when you have a toddler to accrue a whole house full of plastic, which is terrible for the environment. We’re always keen to find eco-friendly alternatives and Jaques is a lovely brand with a wide range of wooden toys.

It’s also worth mentioning that the toys are really beautifully presented, I love the boxes they come in, which are gorgeous and tied with a gold-embossed ribbon – see the picture below. If you’re like me and terrible at remembering to gift wrap things, I’d say this makes Jacques toys a great bet for children’s birthday presents!

child development · parenting · sleeping

Do Toddlers Have Sleep Regressions?

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When you’re a new parent, you very quickly discover the concept of sleep regressions. This is the concept that babies go through phases where they sleep less well and wake up more often in the night, and that these phases are associated with certain developmental milestones and growth spurts; meaning that there are particular ages when most babies go through a patch of bad sleep. Sleep regression is most associated with the first year or so of a baby’s life. But my experiences with our two year old toddler got me wondering – do toddlers have sleep regressions too? In this blog post, I’ll run through the typical ages for toddler sleep regression, our experience, and how to get through it with your sanity intact!

Do Toddlers Have Sleep Regressions?

Sleep Regression Ages

I’ve written previously about the sleep regression at 8 months (spoiler alert: it’s a doozy). Sleep regressions in babies are commonly said to occur at around 4 months, 8 months and 12 months, although some sources also say they happen at 6 and 10 months as well – at which point they seem so frequent that you have to start wondering whether you’re experiencing a ‘sleep regression’ or just, you know, a baby that’s not great at sleeping.

When I first read about sleep regressions, I only focused on the first twelve months because everything beyond that just seemed so far away. Now Little Man is two-and-a-bit, though, I’ve returned to my reading and found that a lot of sources also list two toddler sleep regressions: one at 14 – 18 months, and one around two years. This definitely fits with our experience over the past year or so!

Toddler Sleep Regression: 18 Months

Around 18 months old, we found that Little Man suddenly went through a real change in how he wanted to go to sleep. Up until then, we had still rocked him to sleep in our arms before putting him in his cot. Then one day, out of the blue… He didn’t want to go to sleep in our arms any more! The slight issue was, he didn’t really know how to go to sleep in his cot either. It took a good few weeks before he consistently got the hang of it, and during that time his bedtimes took soooooo long. It was very frustrating.

According to various sources online, the 18 month toddler sleep regression can be caused by separation anxiety and often manifests as a resistance to bedtime. We didn’t really experience a resistance to bedtime, so much as a shift in Little Man’s needs in how he wanted to get to bed, which I think was to do with the fact that he’d grown bigger and so was less comfortable in our arms. I’m not sure if this is typical for this regression, because Little Man has always been quite small for his age, ever since he arrived three weeks early!

Trains are an essential component of bedtime

Toddler Sleep Regression: 2 Years

We seemed to hit the 2 year old sleep regression a bit early, around the 22 month mark – and the bad news is, it seemed to carry on for about three months or so. Ouch. According to some sources, the two year sleep regression is caused by toddlers’ developing sense of self: they start to develop an awareness that things happen when they’re not there and consequently don’t want to miss out on the fun – a.k.a. a classic case of FOMO. As a result, they start refusing naps and bedtime – and you also then ironically run the risk of them becoming overtired and more difficult to put to sleep.

Little Man has only rarely refused naps, but he had refused bedtime in a big way. When we started trying to leave the room with him in his cot before he’s asleep, we had very mixed results as often (but not always!) he seemed to be drifting off happily enough, only to wake up suddenly and completely about a minute after we left the room.

It’s interesting that the literature says this sleep regression is about fear of missing out, because I’d say in our experience it’s much more about Little Man feeling anxious about being left alone. He struggles much more at bedtime if he’s overtired or feeling a bit under the weather (or teething of course!). And reports from nursery suggest he’s just fine at naptime when there’s lots of other children napping around him (the magic of peer pressure apparently starts at an early age!). He’s usually happy enough to stop playing in the evenings and head upstairs to bed – it’s definitely the ‘being left alone’ part that seems to cause the issue.

I also think that Little Man suffers quite a bit from hypnic jerks – those twitchy muscle movements that make it feel like you’re falling when you’re going to sleep. He’s very twitchy and it would explain the times he randomly starts crying just as it seems that he’s about to really drift off.

How to handle toddler sleep regressions

The bad news is, of course, that I don’t have any magical words of wisdom for other parents going through a toddler sleep regression: all I can offer is sympathy.

All the advice online suggests having a well-established sleep routine; I definitely think that helps, but it’s hardly the solution of the century. All you can do is try to be patient, be consistent and not lose your mind on the days when it feels like you’re spending your whole evening trying to get an obviously tired child to sleep. You can try to work on the separation anxiety and FOMO feelings that might be getting in the way of your toddler settling down to sleep, but there’s not really anything you could do if they’re twitching themselves awake or ending up unsettled due to falling dreams. Even us grown ups sometimes have trouble sleeping and wake up freaked out after a bad dream – I guess it’s not exactly surprising that little ones do too.

child development · Just for fun · parenting · top tips

5 Effective Hostage Negotiation Techniques I’ve Learned As a Toddler Parent

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Toddlerhood is so much fun! No, really – despite the title of this post, and despite what I might occasionally say after a particularly tricky evening or extra-early morning start – seeing our little baby turn into an opinionated, chatty toddler with a predilection for fire engines and double decker buses, a love of playing outside and a hatred of hats, has been awesome. However, toddlerhood does of course require a new set of parenting skills, one of which is tantrum management – a.k.a. conducting hostage negotiations with a toddler. So I thought it was time to share my top five hostage negotiation techniques that I’ve learned as a toddler parent…

5 Hostage Negotiation Techniques for Toddler Parents

1. Work out what they really want

When you arrive on the scene of a hostage situation, it’s not always immediately clear what the terrorists are actually after (at least, that’s what I’ve learned from watching Die Hard). Similarly, when your toddler has a meltdown in the middle of the kitchen floor after you offered them a cup of pineapple juice, the real cause of the meltdown is not necessarily clear. Shockingly, it might not be about the pineapple juice at all – perhaps your toddler is too hot, hungry, tired, teething, or maybe their cuddly monkey toy looked at them funny.

So whatever happens, remember: the target of the hostage-taker is not the hostage. The hostage is simply a bargaining chip which provides a means to an end. Similarly, the target of the toddler is not the tantrum; the tantrum is a bargaining chip…

2. Stay calm

Easier said than done. There’s nothing that has the propensity to make people quite so angry as being told to ‘stay calm’ in a stressful situation, and nothing quite so unconvincing as screaming “I AM calm!” in the middle of said situation.

Whether you’re conducting a hostage negotiation with a toddler or an armed terrorist, however, the principle is the same: stay calm, and try to avoid doing anything that could escalate the situation further. The priority of the hostage negotiator is to ensure the safety of the hostages. In the case of your toddler throwing a wobbly, weirdly, the hostage-taker is also themselves the hostage – and so the aim is to avoid them doing something daft and destructive, like throwing themselves on the floor and banging their head. In order to ensure the safety of your angry toddler, aim to remain calm and de-escalate. How, I hear you cry? Well…

3. Demonstrate tactical empathy

Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss coined the term “tactical empathy” to describe the process of trying to understand your opponent on an emotional level and using that understanding to your advantage. What does that mean when conducting hostage negotiation with a toddler? Well, no matter how ridiculous it is that they are screaming the house down because the sun is too bright today, or because you gave them a snack bar when they asked for a snack bar, you have to try to see things from their perspective. I mean, the sun can be really bright, am I right? Instead of telling them they’re wrong for how they’re feeling (“it’s silly to be so upset about some pineapple juice”), which is negative and thus only likely to escalate the situation, aim to simply acknowledge what they’re trying to communicate: that they’re upset.

Getting your toddler on-side by acknowledging their feelings with some fairly hilarious sentences “I understand you’re sad because I gave you a snack bar”, “I’m sorry you’re upset that a bird flew past”, “I can see that you don’t want to wear your shoes today” can actually help to defuse some (not all… definitely not all) tantrums in their early stages, giving you the chance to hug it out and move on to the next stage of our toddler negotiation…

4. Play for time

Trained negotiators are told never to argue with a hostage-taker and never say a straight ‘no’ to a demand. Instead, the negotiator should use delaying tactics (“I’ll look into it”, “I’ll see what I can do”) or make a counter-offer, while maintaining a positive, upbeat attitude, reassuring the hostage-taker that everything will eventually work out peacefully. This is because the longer a hostage situation lasts, the more likely it is to end peacefully.

Of course, it’s difficult to completely avoid saying no to the many demands of an unreasonable toddler, but you can think about how you’re saying it and aim to avoid escalating a tantrum with a flat ‘no’. For instance, instead of “no, you can’t go in the garden now, it’s raining”, try “we can go play in the garden when the rain stops”. Here’s a fun article with ideas on how to avoid constantly saying ‘no’ to your toddler.

5. Use distraction techniques

Distraction techniques are often key in the management of real-life hostage situations. One approach is to focus the hostage-taker on micro-management of the details of their demands (What type of helicopter do you want? What gender should the pilot be? Would you like your $30 million in fifty dollar notes or should we throw in some twenties?) to buy time for the authorities to find out more about the situation. Another approach is to aim to keep the hostage-taker distracted at the point at which the authorities are moving in to free the hostages, as used in the Iranian Embassy siege in 1980.

When conducting hostage negotiation with a toddler, a more simplistic distraction approach is generally required (and hopefully you haven’t actually had to call in a SWAT team). After a certain point, they are often just crying because they’re crying, and suddenly bursting into a cheerful rendition of “The Wheels on the Bus”, unexpectedly pulling a silly face or initiating some naughty antics by Mr BunBun can be enough to get them to forget all about whatever the problem was in the first place.

Hostage Negotiation with Toddlers: Your Tips

So there you have it… My top tips for hostage negotiation with toddlers. I’d love to hear from other mamas and papas about how you handle the magic of tantrums! Let me know in the comments. Or why not check out my blog post on free and cheap outdoor play activities with your toddler?

Just for fun · pop culture

7 Simple Ways To Avoid Having An Accidental Party At The Office

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Boris Johnson has announced we’ll all be going back to normal – and therefore back to the office – very soon. So I’m sure I can’t be the only person who’s concerned about the possibility of accidentally ending up having an enormous office party, at a time when I’m actually supposed to be busy getting the year-end reporting finished off.

Not only are accidental office parties really bad for productivity, but they can also result in negative publicity if they happen in the midst of national coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Not to mention that they create a lot of extra work for housekeeping staff, who really don’t deserve to have to clean vomit off the boardroom ceiling more than once in any working week.

So in my selfless drive to help others, I’ve put together this handy guide, setting out a number of simple ways to avoid having an accidental office party. Whatever your reason for wanting to avoid a party in the workplace – social anxiety, Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, or just an uncontrollable tendency to tell colleagues you love them after half a shandy – this easy guide is the one for you.

7 Simple Ways To Avoid Having An Accidental Office Party

1. Protect Yourself Against Cake Ambush

When entering an office area, make sure to flatten yourself against the wall and, if possible, take cover behind a filing cabinet or large confidential waste bin. This will give you time to scan the immediate area for possible concealed baked goods and beat a hasty retreat if necessary.

This is doubly important if it is your birthday.

2. Buy A Dictionary

Preventing a cake ambush is one thing, but it can be really difficult to avoid having an office party if you don’t actually know what a party is. I myself once thought I was attending a workplace strategy meeting, only to discover afterwards that it had in fact been an illegal psychedelic rave. Once I familiarised myself with the definition of terms like “rave”, “party”, and “working hours”, I found it so much easier to avoid this kind of unfortunate confusion going forward.

3. The ratio of laptops to bottles of wine should be at least 1:1

Self-explanatory, really. It can’t be a party if there’s a laptop nearby.

This guy’s getting it right

4. Don’t Accidentally Bring Your Entire Family To Work

As the old saying goes: if you’ve completed the mandatory recruitment e-training module, you can choose your colleagues, but you can’t choose your family. I discovered recently that traditionally in Western office culture, you don’t bring your family to work with you. Apparently doing this can risk blurring the lines between ‘work time’, ‘family party’ and ‘drunken brawl about what Uncle Pete said about Auntie Suzie’s shoes ten years ago’.

Apparently, this applies even if your Auntie Marie is really good with Excel and wears a pantsuit, so I’ve now taken to checking the boot of my car in the mornings before setting off to work, just in case one of my extended family has squirrelled themselves away in there. Again.

5. Avoid Putting Up Party Decorations

If you’re not supposed to be having a party, try to avoid putting up enormous party decorations outside the front of your office, as this may inadvertently give the wrong impression.

No Christmas parties here

6. Get the Neighbours On Side

Remember that if anyone is likely to report an accidental party to the police – or take incriminating photos of an informal garden-based work meeting with wine and a cheeseboard and then leak the photos to the tabloids – it’s likely to be your neighbors. If you think there is any risk whosoever that your quarterly leadership team briefing might turn into a drunken bunfight, it may be best to invite your neighbours along to the meeting, just in case.

And make sure the cheeseboard is good.

7. Just Believe

Last but not least: if the worst happens and you find yourself caught in the middle of an unexpected party at the office, don’t worry – it’s not too late. Just ignore what your eyes, ears, and possibly nose are telling you, because if you truly believe that you’re at a work meeting, then no amount of prosecco, cheeseboards, feather boas, buffet catering, or drunken fumbling in the stationary cupboard can prove you otherwise.

If for some bizarre reason other people suggest that your work meeting looks a lot like a party, just insist it’s a free-form, deep-dive brainstorming session to pivot the organisational approach to holistically promoting synergy in the customer journey.

As long as no one understands what you’re saying, it’s very difficult for them to prove you wrong.

Your top tips to avoid office parties:

After the embarrassment of Partygate, it’s not just politicians and senior civil servants who are keen to avoid accidental workplace parties. If you have any tips of your own, please add them in the comments! Or alternatively if you love this kind of highly nonsensical political commentary, why not check out my blog post on why Boris Johnson and Joe Exotic from Tiger King are basically the same person?

celebrations · cocktails · food · recipes · Seasonal

How To Make Christmas Pudding Vodka – Easy Infused Vodka Recipe

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This recipe for homemade Christmas Pudding vodka is super-easy and delicious (whether or not you’re a fan of Christmas pudding itself!). It was actually inspired by a recipe for Swedish ‘Christmas Vodka’ which I found in a 20-year-old IKEA recipe book that my father-in-law slightly randomly decided to buy for us from a charity shop.

The best thing about this recipe book is the comments scribbled against a few recipes by the previous owner – for instance, the recipe for Herring Au Gratin includes the comment “29/04/06 – very odd taste“. If I’m completely honest, some of these notes have rather put me off (especially of herring au gratin…), so I haven’t braved any of the recipes – but I did very much like the idea of making a spice-infused vodka that would be ready in time for Christmas. So I gave this a go for Christmas 2020 and loved the results! Now, I want to share this recipe with you for 2021 – it also makes a great homemade gift for friends and family who like a drink. Scroll down for the recipe, as well as ideas on how to serve your Christmas Pudding vodka!

Christmas Pudding Vodka Recipe

1. Gather Your Ingredients

First you’ll need to gather your ingredients. The ingredients list for Christmas Pudding Vodka is actually pretty flexible – you can totally add your favourite spices if they’re not in the list below, or remove spices you’re not fond of! Many recipes for Christmas vodka include cloves… I hate cloves, so my recipe doesn’t have them! On the other hand, I love citrus flavours, so this recipe really emphasizes those flavours. If you’re not so keen, you can reduce the quantities of peel and zest. It’s up to you!

Now I’ve got that off my chest, here’s your list of ingredients…

  • 1 litre cheap supermarket vodka (it will also work great with cheap white rum!)
  • 1 clementine (or your small orange fruit of choice) zest only
  • 250g sultanas/raisins/currants
  • 100g mixed peel
  • 75g soft light brown sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

2. Mix Your Vodka

You could probably have predicted the next step already… Yes, that’s right – bung all your ingredients into a large jug, bowl, or bottle and give them a good stir.

Then, cover your bowl or jug with clingfilm (or close your bottle!) and pop it in the fridge.

3. Let The Spices Infuse

And now, we wait. Leave the vodka in the fridge for at least a week, stirring every day, to let the spices, sugar and fruit infuse their flavour into the drink. You can leave it for longer – the flavours will just get stronger – but I personally found that after a week, like Goldilocks, I thought it was juuuuust right.

4. Filter Your Infused Vodka

When you’re ready to end the infusing process, it’s time to filter your Christmas Pudding Vodka, so that you can drink it without being hit in the face by a cinnamon stick and a whole pile of soggy raisins. You can do this through a sieve or tea strainer, but it will still be a little cloudy. A butter muslin cloth would do a better job of straining out the little particles of spices, but if you want your vodka to be really crystal clear, I recommend using a coffee filter to strain it. It takes a while but you’ll get the best results!

5. Bottle Or Drink…

And finally, the best step of all… Your Christmas Pudding vodka is ready to drink! If you’re not quite feeling up to downing a litre of vodka in one go (hint: you should never feel up to downing a litre of vodka), pour your filtered beverage into a sterilised bottle or bottles. It should keep nicely at room temperature for a year – store the bottles away from direct sunlight to preserve that beautiful golden colour.

Alternative Christmas Infused Vodka Recipes

Maybe you’re not a fan of Christmas puddings, or maybe you want to make a range of different infused vodkas for the festive season. As I’ve mentioned above, the recipe for this Christmas Pudding Vodka is super-flexible and you can add and subtract ingredients as you please. Cranberries, toffee and chocolate are all Christmassy ingredients that can be infused into vodka (or other spirits) – why not play with adding them to your Christmas Pudding vodka?

Or if you want to get a bit more creative and unusual, you could even try this candy cane vodka recipe, or invoke the spirit of Narnia’s White Witch with this amazing Turkish Delight infused vodka recipe…

How To Drink Your Christmas Pudding Vodka

Now you’ve made your Christmas Pudding vodka, the question is: how should you drink it? Well, I can attest that it’s delicious served neat, either at room temperature or chilled, but it’s also great as a mixer in other drinks and Christmas vodka cocktails. If you have a cold or sore throat, try adding a drop of your Christmas pudding vodka to a hot honey and lemon drink – it’s the perfect combination. Similarly, it will work well as a hot buttered vodka drink to warm you up on those chilly winter evenings.

Equally, if you’re looking for a more festive serving suggestion, you can add your vodka to homemade eggnog or mulled wine – it will bring the perfect rich, sweet and spiced flavour. Or, why not check out this list of festive vodka cocktails recipes and see what catches your eye?

Other Recipes To Try

If you enjoyed making Christmas Pudding vodka, why not try out this recipe for delicious homemade hawthorn berry gin – the perfect autumnal treat?

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Hawthorn Berry Recipes Collection

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Hawthorn berries are everywhere in the UK from late August through to November! Last year, I shared my recipe for homemade hawthorn berry gin – and now I’ve actually been able to taste the finished product, I can confirm that it’s delicious! It tastes like a very fragrant, floral sherry, and it’s awakened my enthusiasm for finding even more hawthorn berry recipes. After all, these haw berries (their other name!) are so readily available in the UK, and unlike some of the more well-known hedgerow fruits like blackberries, they’re not especially popular so you’re not competing with lots of other foragers for the best spots.

So, I’ve done some research and pulled together a rundown of different hawthorn berry recipes that I’ve found online – I’m going to try to pick some haw berries and try them out! There’s so many different recipes and ideas for what you can do with this versatile little berry (hawthorn berries are high in pectin, so good news for jam makers!), I’m amazed that it had never really made it onto my radar before I read about making hawthorn gin earlier this year…

Hawthorn Berry Recipes

Hawthorn Gin (or Hawthorn Vodka) Recipe

This is a great way to transform a bottle of cheap £10 supermarket vodka into a bottle of fancy hawthorn gin you’d pay at least £25 for. Because yes: gin is basically just vodka that’s been flavoured either during or after the distillation process – so hawthorn gin and hawthorn vodka are more or less the same thing!

Here is my recipe for homemade hawthorn berry gin – the recipe that got me interested in using foraged hawthorn berries in the first place. This hawthorn gin recipe is very easy and straightforward to make, and the flavour is delicious – like a fragrant sherry, but with a good boozey hit to it. Of course, once you’ve made a bottle of hawthorn berry gin, it will keep for a fair while, and there’s plenty of different things you can do with it – hawthorn gin fizz, for instance, or hawthorn gin and tonic!

I also found this recipe for spiced hawthorn and rosehip mead, which sounds amazing but is definitely rather more advanced – if you’ve made wine before, this might be right up your street!

Hawthorn Berry Ketchup Recipe

Hawthorn berry ketchup is a haw berry recipe I really want to try with this year’s harvest of hawthorn berries! I found this recipe by Monica Shaw, on the Great British Chefs site, and it sounds really delicious – she describes it as “a nice sweet and sour sauce, with a little bit of a spicy kick thanks to lots of black pepper” and suggests that hawthorn berry ketchup would work well with rich meats like venison and pork belly. The hawthorn ketchup recipe is actually also more straightforward than I would have expected and only needs a few ingredients – double winner!

Hawthorn Berry Tea Recipe

Another way to use your hawthorn berries is to make a tea or herbal infusion. The recipe itself is very simple: take one teaspoonful of hawthorn berries for each cup of tea you want to make, add boiling water, and let the haw berries infuse for 5 – 10 minutes. You can serve the hawthorn berry tea hot, or chill it and serve it iced. If you feel like getting a little bit more creative with your homemade hawthorn infusion, you can add other herbs – lots of recipes suggest adding a cinammon stick and a little sugar or honey to your hawthorn tea. Or if you want to get really wild, this recipe suggests combining your hawthorn berries with hibiscus and lemon peel… mmmm…

Hawthorn Berry Jams and Jellies

Jams and jellies are the foragers friend – pretty much always the most obvious way to use up hedgerow fruit! But that doesn’t mean they’re not great. Check out this recipe for hawthorn berry jam, or this one for hawthorn jelly (yes okay, they’re basically the same thing, but I’m not about to get into the great England vs. America jam vs. jelly debate).

Hawthorn Vinegar

Another lovely easy recipe is hawthorn berry vinegar, which essentially just involves infusing the haw berries into vinegar. It sounds like a great way to create a vinegar for salads and dressings which is a little different than the standard balsamic offerings – plus, new hawthorn leaves and buds are actually edible, so if you save your haw vinegar over the winter you could even use it to dress a hawthorn leaf salad in spring!

Baking with Hawthorn Berries

Can you bake with hawthorn berries? Yes, of course. You can bake with anything! Should you bake with hawthorn berries? Hmm… perhaps harder to answer. I’m not convinced by it as a concept (unless, for instance, you’re perhaps adding a yummy layer of hawthorn jam to a sponge cake – that does sound pretty good). However, I have actually found quite a few recipes out there for anyone looking into baking with haw berries – see this recipe for vegan hawthorn cookies, or this hawthorn cake recipe, or even this one for hawthorn rolls (like fig rolls but with hawthorn berries! Pretty creative but not one I’m likely to try, because fig rolls are the work of the devil). If you’re less into cakes and pastries, but you still want a sweet hawthorny pick-me-up, why not try making this hawthorn berry fruit leather? I’m going to give this a try this year, because it’s probably one of the best ways to really bring out the true flavour of hawthorn berries!

Chinese Hawthorn Berry Recipes

Did you know hawthorns are big in China? That sentence can be read two ways… and both are correct. There is a species of hawthorn native to China (crataegus pinnatifida) which is a popular culinary ingredient… and its fruits are waaaaay bigger than the common hawthorn (crataegus monogyna) which is native to the UK. So big, in fact, that one traditional Chinese hawthorn recipe is these amazing candied tanghulu skewers – think toffee apples, but made with giant hawthorn berries. With our piddly little European haw berries, I don’t think replicating this recipe is particularly practical (not least because the seeds are normally scooped out and replaced with red bean paste), but there are other traditional Chinese hawthorn recipes that you could try out with European haw berries… I’m intrigued by this haw and pork rib soup, or this hawthorn berry congee.

Medicinal Uses of Hawthorn

I feel like it would be lax of me to collate an entire collection of hawthorn recipes without mentioning the fact that hawthorn and haw berries are often used for medicinal purposes. A lot of websites which share haw berry recipes will talk about hawthorn being ‘good for the heart’ or make similar claims that you can use these hawthorn foods and drinks to achieve significant health benefits. Hawthorn is indeed traditionally used as a herbal medicine both in Western tradition and in Chinese traditional medicine.

However, I think it’s worth being wary of claims like this. Some scientific studies have shown that hawthorn has benefits for patients with congestive heart failure – but others have shown no effect, and there’s still comparatively little research into its effect, particularly when prepared as a home remedy in a syrup or tincture. In short; I think it’s best to enjoy hawthorn for its yummy flavour and for the fun you can have foraging and cooking with these tasty little berries, rather than trying to use it to self-medicate. As always, if you’re planning to take anything as a medication – make sure to discuss it with your doctor first.

afternoon tea · days out · reviews · tea

Review: Biddy’s Tea Room, Norwich

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Today’s tea review is of Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich, located in Lower Goat Lane. Fortunately the locale is more attractive than the name suggests, featuring an array of boutique shops and a distinct lack of udders and goaty genitalia…

Review: Biddy’s Tea Room, Norwich

First impressions…

As we approached Biddy’s Tea Room in Norwich, the first thing that struck me was the old fashioned, apothecary style display in the big glass windows of the shop. But instead of displaying weird and wonderful pills and potions, it displays jar after jar of exotic teas. So far, so exciting… And as you step through the door, the oldey-worldy impression continues.

There’s not a theme, exactly, but if there was it would be something like Colonial Kitsch; Biddy’s is described on its website as a ‘vintage tearoom’, but you can forget the images of dainty pink lace and bunting that the phrase ‘vintage’ tends to conjure up. If other vintage tearooms tend to be designed with Miss Marple in mind, this is a tearoom for Sherlock Holmes or Phileas Fogg. The sofas are big, shiny brown leather affairs, and the walls and cabinets are stocked with curios and the occasional deer skull (although in fairness, the antlers are decked in fairy lights, presumably as a sop to any Miss Marple types passing through).

The enormous main counter is stacked with a huge variety of cakes, brownies, muffins and more to match the array of teas on offer. It’s hugely appetising and easily enough to lure even non-tea lovers into the shop…

Around the World in 80 Teas (…ish)

Once you’re seated, it’s time to pick your tea… Which is easier said than done, as Biddy’s tea menu includes over fifty different loose leaf teas. Most excitingly of all, they also promote tea “mixology” (i.e. blending different teas together) and while their menu gives a few different ‘house’ blend suggestions, they also let customers create their own blends off the cuff. Pretty cool and a bit of a unique selling point for the shop.

As well as tea, Biddy’s in Norwich offers an impressive variety of coffees, floats, milkshakes and FreakShakes (which I believe are like milkshakes but with more calories). We didn’t try any of them, because it was my birthday and that means TEA.

My husband and I actually were both originally going to go for the same tea, a black cherry tea. As it would clearly be ridiculous to both order the same tea from a menu of over 50 options – and did I mention it was my birthday? – my husband kindly swapped and ordered black almond tea instead. Both were fragrant, delicious and served in enormous metal teapots which ensured neither of us ran out of tea or needed a hot water top up.

A Cake Of Identity

And now: the cakes. As it was my birthday (did I mention it was my birthday?) the plan was always to have a piece of cake with our tea. Biddy’s Tea Room had a good selection of gluten-free cakes, which made my husband very happy; he settled on a gluten free chocolate brownie and I went for carrot cake. They also had a number of vegan cakes, so it felt like they catered well to special dietary requirements.

We realised our error when the cakes arrived, however, because they were straight up enormous. I tried to take pictures to show them to scale, but in fact it just looks like the teapot is small rather than showing how big the cake slices are. You’ll just have to take my word for it… You could easily build a structurally sound cottage for a wicked witch, using Biddy’s cake slices as bricks.

The cakes were delectable, and the buttercream that came with the carrot cake, complete with a salted caramel drizzle, was a particular triumph. I hate wasting food though, and there was just no way I could eat all that cake myself. I would happily have paid the same amount for a smaller slice or been forewarned to share a slice with my husband.

Biddy’s Tea Room Review: Conclusions

In fairness, cake sizing is a relatively minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. We spent a very contented hour or so lounging on the comfy sofas in Biddy’s, sipping tea, munching cake, and trying to work out what exactly was going on in some of the stranger Victorian-era artworks on the wall (I’m pretty sure the artist had never seen a hippo, for one thing). The staff were friendly without being overbearing, the atmosphere was relaxed and cosy, and there’s a surprising amount of space inside meaning you actually stand a good chance of getting a table. I’m planning to go back soon and curl up in a cosy corner with a fancy cup of tea, my latest gender swap book, and another enormous brick of cake…

If you love great loose leaf tea – or you’re in the habit of eating two slices of cake in one sitting – I can thoroughly recommend you check out Biddy’s next time you’re in Norwich. You can also find them online, with tea and cakes available to order from their website. Or, if you love a themed afternoon tea venue, why not head to my review of the Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wands & Wizards Exploratorim…?

Seasonal

How To Make Damson Gin – Foraging Recipe

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It’s autumn here in the UK, and that means it’s the perfect time for foraging the hedgerows for lovely berries and fruit. Last year I shared my recipe for delicious hawthorn gin – but at the same time, I also actually made a batch of damson gin. And I’ve never shared the recipe! So it’s time to right that wrong – just in time for this year’s foraging season – and I present: how to make damson gin…

How To Make Damson Gin Recipe

Foraging for damsons and sloes (and bullace, oh my!)

I’ve called this recipe “damson gin”, but it serves just as well for sloe gin as well. It can be tricky to tell damsons and sloes apart from one another – not least because they can actually cross-breed, so the fruit you pick might actually be a slamson (or a doe!). Or… just to add to the confusion, it might even be a bullace, which is another type of wild plum, commonly found in the UK, that’s somewhere in-between a sloe and a damson – and is also apparently known as a ‘wintercrack plum’ – a name so good that it rather begs the question of why anyone ever calls it a bullace in the first place…

Anyway, if you’re foraging for wild plums to make gin out of, it can be tricky to tell these three fruits apart – the best resource I’ve found to help is this video which shows the fruits and plants in question. Foraging purists might be angry with me though, when I say that it really doesn’t matter which one you end up picking, or whether you call your end product damson gin, sloe gin or bullace gin! The main difference will be the amount of sugar you use, because sloes are quite sour whereas damsons are quite sweet, and bullaces are somewhere in between. Just add sugar to taste and you’ll be fine.

I’m actually pretty sure that the fruit I used when I made this recipe last year were bullaces, although at the time I mis-indentified them as damsons. I’m still calling it damson gin though, because no-one’s ever heard of a bullace and guests just give you funny looks if you offer them a glass of bullace gin…

What is damson gin?

Damson gin (or sloe gin, or bullace gin…) is really a liqueur, which is made by adding wild plums and sugar to a high-strength alcohol base and allowing it to macerate over time. You can easily make it at home with shop-bought booze, as it doesn’t require distillation. If you actually used the damson fruit itself to ferment and distill into an alcoholic spirit, you would have slivovitz, a popular drink in Central and Eastern Europe, and one which could also be referred to as damson gin or damson brandy!

Despite the name, damson gin isn’t necessarily made by adding fruit and sugar to gin. Lots of people prefer using vodka as the base for this liqueur, because vodka is basically unflavoured gin (or to look at it another way… gin is flavoured vodka!). So by using vodka, you’re starting with a neutral alcohol base that isn’t going to mess with the flavour you get out of your damsons or other fruit. If desired, you can also add juniper berries to your vodka base during the maceration process – as juniper berries are traditionally the botanical flavour which makes gin, gin!

Ingredients for damson gin

To make your damson gin, you will need the following basic ingredients:

  • Damsons (or sloes or bullaces… or other plum type fruit of your choice!)
  • Sugar (roughly half the weight of sugar as you have of fruit – but you can make it more or less sugary depending on your preference. The higher the sugar content, the more syrupy and liqueur-esque your finished gin will be – a lot of recipes suggest you should use the same weight of sugar as of fruit, which I find way too sweet! Remember, you can always add more sugar at a later date if needed…).
  • Cheap supermarket vodka (or gin)
  • Patience (it’s an easy recipe… but not a quick one!)

You can add other flavours such as juniper berries, or create an autumnal spice flavour with the addition of things like cinammon and other winter spices. Some recipes also use honey in place of some of the sugar, for a more rounded flavour. The bottom line is: feel free to experiment!

The recipe

1. First, wash your damsons/sloes/bullaces and remove any leaves/twigs/small unexpected insects etc. You have two choices at this stage: EITHER you stab your fruit all over with a pin to break the skin, OR you freeze the fruit at least overnight, which has the same effect.

2. Next, pop your fruit in a sterilised jar or bottle, sprinkling your sugar between layers of fruit. Finally, top up with your alcohol of choice.

3. And…. Now we wait. Leave the fruit in the alcohol for at least one month or up to three months. Give the bottle a little shake every day, and ideally store it away from direct sunlight. You should see your gin or vodka changing colour to a gorgeous red hue.

4. When you’re ready, strain the fruit out of the gin. A lot of recipes suggest straining through a muslin cloth placed over a colander, but if you want a really beautifully clear damson gin, I recommend straining through a coffee filter paper instead. At this point you can also do a little taste test and see if you’re happy with the sweet/sour balance of your gin – if not, then add more sugar before returning your gin to a freshly sterilised bottle or jar.

5. You’ll want to keep the gin for at least another couple of months before drinking, and then – voila… Your damson gin is ready to serve. See below for some tips on how to drink damson gin, including ideas for damson gin cocktails!

What else can I do with leftover fruit?

If your foraging leaves you with more damsons (or sloes, or bullace!) than you can use in gin-making, there are lots of other lovely recipes you can try with wild plums. The fruit will keep in the freezer, if you don’t have time to cook and make gin all at once! Damson jam is always a popular recipe, and you can of course make sloe jam and bullace jam as well. But if you fancy something a little more adventurous, why not try this recipe for bullace cheese (not an actual cheese – a set jelly like quince jelly or membrillo, for eating with cheese and crackers) or this one for bullace and pear chutney?

More About Damson Gin

How to drink damson gin

Now you’ve made your damson gin, how should you serve it? Well, there are plenty of options. You can drink your damson plum gin neat, as a liqueur (although I recommend serving it in small glasses!). If you’re looking for something a bit more festive, you can add tonic water for a luxurious damson gin and tonic, or add it to champagne or prosecco to create a damson gin fizz – a bit like a kir royale, with the damsons adding a lovely jammy flavour. I’ve even seen this drink called a damson gin royale (with added edible gold sparkles if you really want to go overboard!).

If you’re into your cocktails, there are plenty of damson gin cocktail recipes out there. I like this recipe for a ‘Damson in Distress‘ cocktail (let’s be honest – it’s a great name!) – 50ml damson gin, 15ml amaretto, 10ml lemon juice, and a slice of lemon to garnish. This damson and vanilla fizz cocktail also sounds amazing, albeit a little more complicated to make, and this damson and cranberry collins sounds perfect for Christmas. I’ve yet to find any recipes for bullace gin cocktails, but any of the above recipes would work just as well with bullace gin (or sloe gin… etc. etc…).

But guess what? Damson gin isn’t even just for drinking… check out this recipe by Nigel Slater for duck breasts with damson gin, which is actually making my mouth water as I write this!

Where can I buy damson gin?

Maybe it’s too much effort to make your own damson gin – or maybe you made a batch and then smashed through it more quickly than you were expecting! Either way, you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of places to buy damson gin ready-made. English Heritage even sell an own-brand damson gin, as do the Oxton Liqueur Company (who also sell a sloe gin, in case you want to properly compare the two flavours) – and, for completeness, Pinkster’s Hedgepig gin brand sell a bullace and quince gin, with 50p from every sale going to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. So you really can buy all three kinds of gin, and test which is your favourite.

damson gin cocktail – damson jam – damson gin to buy – damson gin liqueur – sloe gin fizz (history) – sloe gin and tonic – damson plum gin –

afternoon tea · lifestyle · reviews · tea

Review: Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wizard Exploratorium, London Soho

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Continuing on with my love of all things tea-related, today’s blog post is a review of the Arcane Wizard’s Afternoon Tea, currently available at the Wands and Wizards Exploratorium in Soho, London. I visited this tearoom in June as part of a mini hen party for one of my best friends, Cherry, after we had to rearrange her main hen do to take place after her actual wedding (thanks, coronavirus!). So happy hen, Cherry!

Review: Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wands & Wizard’s Exploratorium

Harry Potter and the Unaffiliated Afternoon Tea

Right, first things first: this is a Wizard’s Afternoon Tea and definitely not a Harry Potter Afternoon Tea in London. If you’re looking for Harry Potter themed tea and confectionary, you better look elsewhere, friend – the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium is very clear that it is “broadly inspired by fantasy and science-fiction and is a place for fans of magic. It is not endorsed by, affiliated with or associated with Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling or otherwise connected with Harry Potter or J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World. It is also not endorsed by, affiliated with or associated with Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Rivers of London, The Magicians, Dune, The Name of the Wind, Star Wars, or otherwise connected with any one specific text or series.” Phew. It seems the folks at the Wands and Wizards Exploratorium are understandably keen to avoid being the subject of a Bat-Bogey Hex from J.K. Rowling’s magical team of lawyers.

Our table (just a little bit crowded)

Now, onto the actual review…

A Magical Setting

When you step into the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium, the first thing you’re likely to notice in the downstairs shop area is the full-size unicorn’s head mounted on the wall, which dispenses (vomits?) a colourful punch drink – with a little encouragement from a real magic wand, of course. You’ll be led up a narrow staircase that’s more than a little reminiscent of some of the quirkier shops in Diagon Alley, to a teeny tiny room draped in flowers and buzzing to the sounds of a jaunty selection of folk tunes, where there’s just about enough space for three parties to sit down to tea at separate tables.

Your potion chest

Unfortunately, I do have to note at this point that this currently is definitely not an accessible experience. The tiny, very old-fashioned building in Soho features a steep and winding staircase. There is no wheelchair access and if you struggle with steep stairs or claustrophobia, I wouldn’t recommend it either. They do cater for different dietary requirements and allergies, although as my husband wasn’t with us, I didn’t try any of the gluten-free options (sorry).

Interactive Tea Brewing

Your table is crowned by an enormous multi-tiered cake stand, topped with a glowing dragon’s egg a la Game of Thrones. Your friendly out of work actor waiter wizard will show you how to use a glowing magical wand to unlock a chest full of potion ingredients, and then it’s time to get creative and brew your own wizard afternoon tea. This was actually my favourite part of the whole experience, and something that really sets it aside from other quirky afternoon teas on offer around London – the opportunity to pick and mix ingredients, add them to a teabag and brew up your own unique tea blend. The dried ingredients on offer are pretty diverse, including nettle tea, hibiscus, rose petals, camomile, and plenty more – and there are also a set of flavourings that can be added to the finished product, including honey and rose water. When you require hot water – sorry, I mean ‘magical elixir’ – you just wave your wand to summon a helpful waiter (very nearly as convenient as a simple aguamenti spell), and enormous Time Turners (a.k.a. hourglasses) are available so you can measure exactly how long your tea is brewing.

Our first attempt at blending tea

Using a magical QR code (okay, it’s not that magical) you can access a range of suggested blends that can be made with the ingredients. We made three different teas in total from our tea chest – the first one being a total wash out, because I added far too much black tea and the result tasted exactly like a completely normal cup of breakfast tea. Oops.

Oddly, probably the best blend was the final one, which we created by adding all the ingredients we hadn’t yet used into a teabag and seeing what happened. The resulting infusion of peppermint, lemon and ginger, nettle and camomile was actually surprisingly good.

Crushing rose petals in a pestle and mortar

As well as creating your own blends with the magical tea chest, there is a second interactive wizarding tea experience on offer as part of the standard Arcane Wizard’s Afternoon Tea at the Wands and Wizard’s Exploratorium; a series of three teas which start out a rather startling blue and then change colour before your eyes as you add the final ingredients – and wave your magic wand, of course. If you’re prepared to pay extra, you can also add a bottle of prosecco or a cocktail to your experience (and yes – we did get the prosecco, of course!).

Getting The Magical Munchies

And so – onto the food. We started with a round of sandwiches (or rather, sand-witches, as they’re referred to in the menu) which were certainly tasty and generously proportioned, but didn’t seem to come with any particularly magical gimmick. I can’t help but think that some slightly more unusual flavours or even shapes for the sandwiches would be a bit more in keeping with the theme – and with the level of effort put in to the rest of the menu.

Our second tea blend ended up unexpectedly blood red

The scones are a nod to elven lembas from Lord of the Rings, and come wrapped and tied neatly in banana leaf. They were perfectly tasty, but again it would have been fun to see the scones shaped and scored to look a little bit more like lembas and less like a scone that’s been randomly plopped into some foliage. Also worth noting: Cherry had to ask for extra clotted cream because the amount provided for three of us was wayyyy too small. This is a common issue with afternoon teas and offending tearooms should be ashamed – seriously, how much additional cost are you really incurring by adding an extra tablespoon of cream to your offering?

The other sweet treats ranged from fairly standard afternoon tea fare (raspberry mousse cake, macarons), to the more interactive (chocolate brownies with syringes of raspberry or chocolate sauce), to the downright quirky (freeze-dried salt water taffy in mystery flavours, freeze-dried skittles). Okay, so the quirky options leaned heavily towards the freeze-dried end of the afternoon tea spectrum, but they were actually surprisingly delicious and definitely felt like the kind of experience you wouldn’t get elsewhere. My only criticism is that the freeze-dried sweets didn’t seem to be available in the gift shop downstairs, which frankly felt like the company is missing a trick – I certainly would have bought some more of the taffy on my way out.

Freeze-dried taffy

Wizard’s Afternoon Tea: Overall Impressions

I would definitely recommend the Wizard’s Afternoon Tea experience at the Wands & Wizard’s Exploratorium in London. It’s all great fun – and certainly much more interactive and engaging than the average afternoon tea, where you just sit and slurp your way through pre-prepared drinks. I’d say it’s perfect for a small hen party or group of friends, or great fun with kids (and yes, a Little Wizard’s Afternoon Tea is on offer). Just make sure you remind the kids that it’s definitely not a Harry Potter afternoon tea. At £35 each (or £19 for under-11s), it’s not a cheap experience – but equally, afternoon tea at a nice hotel in central can easily set you back that much or far more, while being much less fun. The campy wizarding vibe is just right, the staff are fully committed to the experience, and most importantly – the tea and cake is pretty magical too.