Red Velvet Romance

Quote: “Children, cakes and romance.  I’m off to bed…for a snooze.”

There’s something about a red velvet cake that makes it so popular.  It’s a visual delight:  white creamy frosting contrasting with a striking red.  Its taste is a simple one: a creamy, luxurious vanilla with a hint of cocoa.  Dramatic without an assault on the taste buds.

If you are looking for something to make a loved one for Valentine’s Day then this is a simple one with a real wow factor.  Whether a big cake or a small muffin you can’t fail.  Follow the simple recipe below, or you can do what I did recently: make them, unromantically, with children (for their mummy and daddy) and throw in everything in a sugary frenzy.

Red velvet cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes

140g/5oz plain flour

2tbs cocoa powder

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

115g/4oz softened butter

140g/5oz caster sugar

1 large egg

125ml/4fl oz buttermilk

1tsp vanilla extract

1tsp red food colouring


140g/5oz cream cheese

85g/3oz unsalted butter, softened

280g/10oz icing sugar


55g/2oz granulated sugar

Red food colouring paste

You will also need a plastic food bag




Preheat oven to 180˚C/350˚F/Gas Mark 4.

Put 12 bun cases into a tray.

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl (sifting makes it light): flour, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa powder.

In a different large bowl, mix the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.  Don’t over mix.  Add the egg and the dry mix gradually so it doesn’t separate.  Gently beat in the buttermilk, vanilla and red food colouring.

Spoon the mixture evenly into cases.

Cook on middle shelf for 15-20mins until firm to touch.  A good test, if you are really unsure, is to put a knife or skewer carefully through the middle of one of the cakes.  If it comes out clean then it’s done.

Place on a wire rack to cool.

To make the frosting, beat together the cream cheese and butter.  Sift in the icing sugar and mix until smooth.

Place red food colouring and sugar in a plastic food bag and rub it between your fingers until it is all even in colour.  If you forget to buy plastic bags then you can also place sugar and colouring into a glass bowl and mix.

Swirl the frosting onto the cake either with a spatula or a piping bag and nozzle.  Sprinkle the red sugar on top in your desired creative style.

Extra treats:  you can add delicate chocolate shapes and insert them into the top or place a walnut on each.



Coffee Pairing

Quote: “So you want me to eat cake and drink coffee…at the same time?  Well, if you insist.”

If, like me, you love coffee and cake but you grab whatever muffin is available when ordering, maybe you should take a little look at this:  It offers a quick insight into coffee by region and which sweet treats to pair it with.  It also has links to the recipes too; so you can ditch the coffee shop cakes and make your own healthier or unhealthier versions.


When thinking about it, I guess it makes complete sense;  If you love both or even one more than the other then you might as well get the best out of your daily, or for those more virtuous, weekly, luxury.

Now which way round do we do it?  Coffee first then match the cake, or cake first then match the coffee.  It’s too early, I need a caffeine hit to decide.

Lavazza Leviathan

Quote: “Will we love or loathe the Lavazza leviathan?”


Lavazza launched in 2007 and currently has a 40 seat Espression Café in Harrods. According to Luke Nicholls on the Big Hospitality site ‘its only stand-alone site is in Manchester’s Trafford Centre’ and the new shops to grace our streets will be on ‘Villiers Street in April then Cannon Street in June’. 

With Lavazza preparing to open 400 new coffee shops, what can they offer us coffee lovers (or should I say addicts) that the other big names can’t?

It’s a question I can’t really answer until the Villiers Street shop opens in April, but I’m going to give it a go anyway.   Its current position in the Trafford Centre, Manchester has, according to the Trafford Centre website, a ‘fresh modern ambiance’.  Plus it does provide a few facilities such as: bottle warming (milk for babies not red wine), coffee cocktails made by skilled baristas, plus coffee and food offers e.g. spend a minimum of £5 on food and get a free classic coffee.

It sounds interesting enough to take a little trip to in April, but it doesn’t sound particularly pioneering and I’m not breaking out in an impatient sweat.   Maybe the question should be: what are we hoping for?

Personally, I would like the friendliness and speediness of Starbucks with the intimacy and quirkiness of most of the independents.   Above all, and call me strange, I would like a good cup of coffee; weird eh?   A normal cup size is fine, it doesn’t have to sustain me for the whole day, but it must absolutely, and this is a deal breaker, it must absolutely not be BURNT!  This, for me, is the most criminal and unfortunately the most frequently committed crime of the coffee maker.  A great brand can be ruined in an instant (subconscious pun).  I would also like somewhere with a variety of seats; I like to write in cafés so a decent table and chair would be handy, but comfy seats and sofas are great for a lazy lounge in.

Ultimately, I think, with the success of the café in general and specifically the big names, Lavazza will be popular with the masses.   Whether it fulfils my needs or other like-minded coffee lovers remains to be seen.  Good luck Lavazza and ciao for now.