Sunday 30 August 2009

Individual Summer Puddings

I adore summer pudding. There is just something about the soft berry soaked bread and intense, slightly sharp mix of summer fruits, oozing their dark fruity juices, that just makes me happy. We were having a family barbeque and I wanted to make a summer pudding for one of the desserts, but decided to tray and make mini ones instead of the traditional big-bowl pudding. The big ones look impressive, but once you cut that first slice the rest of the pudding sort of disintegrates. I wanted to try and create a pudding with a little finesse.

Hunting in the cupboards I found some small dariole moulds that were the perfect mini pudding shape and decided to use those to create mini summer puddings. I then got thinking that to line the moulds with bread, like you do for the big one, might result in a bread overload and not enough room for the fruit. Instead I decided to layer the fruit and bread inside the mould in alternating layers.

Normally I don’t touch white sliced bread, but for a traditional summer pudding, nothing works or tastes better. I cut out a base, middle and top bread circle, using the corresponding cookie cutters to fit the shape of the mould. I soaked each one in the fruit juices before adding a spoonful of fruit, middle bread layer, more fruit and a final layer of bread. After a short chill in the fridge, I ran a knife around the edge and inverted them onto a plate with my fingers crossed….and…hooray they came out perfectly!

They didn’t collapse, as I had feared they might, but stood tall, sitting in a little pool of their own vibrant juices. I liked how you could see the glossy fruit nestled between the bread layers. The puddings were succulent and full of fruity flavour, the perfect individual summer puddings.

Individual Summer Puddings
800g fresh of frozen summer fruits (I used a mix of raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, red currants, strawberries and a few small gooseberries)
100g caster sugar
4 tbsp water
½ loaf medium white sliced bread (400g)

Destalk the strawberries and cut into pieces the same size as the raspberries. Halve the gooseberries and add all the fruit into a large saucepan along with the water.
Cook the fruit until they are soft and starting to turn pulpy around the edges, but they should remain intact, whole fruits.
Remove the fruit from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside in a clean bowl, leaving the juice behind.
Stir the sugar into the juices and boil for 3 minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Taste the juice, it should still be a little sharp as the fruit will add sweetness, but add more sugar if its too sour for you (I like my fruit with a bit of zing to it)
Remove the juice from the heat and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, stamp out 3 rounds from the sliced bread to fit the moulds, you will probably need 3 slightly different sized circles for the base, middle and top. (make breadcrumbs with the offcuts).
Once the juice has cooled, dip the smallest base circles of bread into the syrup, scrape off the excess juices and press into the base of the moulds.
Spoon over a tablespoon of the lightly stewed fruits, followed by the middle bread layer after dipping it in the juices first. Another spoonful of fruit and finally the last bread layer.
Cover the moulds with clingfilm, top with a small plate or baking tray and place weights on top to press the layers together.
Refrigerate for 2-4 hours before running a small knife around the edge of the puddings and turn out onto plates. Give them a little shake but they should release easily.
Serve with cream and any leftover juice.
Makes 6 – 7 individual puddings

Thursday 27 August 2009

Daring Bakers Challenge August 09: Dobos Torte

The August 2009 Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Angela of A Spoonful of Sugar and Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella. They chose the spectacular Dobos Torte based on a recipe from Rick Rodgers' cookbook Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Caffés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague.

Dobos Torte is a five layer sponge cake, filled with a rich chocolate buttercream and topped with thin caramel covered cake wedges. (Some tortes may have as many as 12 layers, but 5-6 is quite standard.) It was invented in 1885 by József C. Dobos, a Hungarian baker, and it rapidly became famous throughout Europe for both its extraordinary taste and its keeping properties. The recipe was a secret until Dobos retired in 1906 and gave the recipe to the Budapest Confectioners' and Gingerbread Makers' Chamber of Industry, allowing everyone to use it freely.

In simplest terms Dobos Torte is five layers of whisked sponge, layered and covered with an enriched chocolate buttercream and topped with a sixth caramel topped cake layer, that has been cut into triangles and arranged in a fan design. It is this caramel fan which makes a Dobos Torte so unique and instantly recognisable.

Making the Dobos Torte was quite time consuming due to all the individual components, but it was also very enjoyable. I loved all the different techniques involved and seeing it all come together. I had also never made a poured caramel quite like this one before so the recipe was also a wonderful challenge. A recipe truly worthy of its Daring Bakers status.

The cake layers were very light and soft with a slight stickiness that reminded me of angel food cake. The hardest part was finding work surface space for them all to cool down on. Thankfully I did have three cooling racks on which to place them, all lined in a row. The chocolate buttercream took a little work but produced a gorgeous silky smooth and indulgent cream. I added some Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur) to mine and it really took it to the next level, complementing the chocolate flavour so well.

My caramel layer went without a hitch, but you really must keep an eye on it while its boiling away. It stayed a clear sugar mixture for ages and then all of a sudden – whoosh – it became an amber caramel, so don’t ignore it! Once the caramel had set firm, I had fun slicing the excess off the edges. The crack and slice as the shards scattered everywhere, including the floor, was rather satisfying.

The finished cake tasted fabulous. Creamy chocolate and hazelnut cream, soft and squishy layers of sponge and finishing sweet crunch of caramel, just divine. My family and I ate most of it in one afternoon. I found the caramel topping a little hard to eat on the first day, but after a night in the fridge it had softened slightly, allowing you to take a forkful much more easily.

Thanks Angela and Lorraine for such a fantastic challenge choice! Click here to see a list of fellow Daring Bakers and their Tortes.

Dobos Torte
Sponge Cake Layers

6 eggs
160g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g plain flour
15g cornflour
Pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream
4 eggs
200g caster sugar
110g dark chocolate
250g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp Frangelico (hazelnut liquor – my adaption)

Caramel Topping
200g caster sugar
180ml water
40ml lemon juice

50g finely chopped hazelnuts (optional)
12-13 whole peeled hazelnuts

For the Sponge Layers
Position the oven racks into the top third of the oven and preheat to 200C.
Cut out six strips of greaseproof paper to fit a baking tray and draw a 9inch/22.5cm circle on each one. Turn the greaseproof paper over, so the drawn line is not going to come into contact with the food. Lay one sheet ready on a baking tray.
Separate the egg yolks and whites into two large bowls. Whisk the egg whites until foamy and then slowly add half the icing sugar (80g) beating well until a thick and shiny meringue is formed.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the vanilla and the other half of the icing sugar (80g) until thick, pale in colour and ribbons form when you lift the beaters above the batter. This should take about 3 minutes.
Add a third of the meringue to the egg yolk mixture and fold together gently using a metal spoon or a spatula. Then lightly fold in the remaining meringue.
Sift over the flour and cornflour in two batches, folding in gently, as before, until no flour streaks remain.
Spoon one-sixth of the batter onto one of the prepared greaseproof papers, spreading it out to fill the circle you drew on earlier. (I found 2 heaped tablespoons of batter was the right amount).
Place the circle of batter into the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Prepare the next cake circle on a second baking tray while the first one bakes.
After 5 minutes the cake should be puffy and lightly golden. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool, leaving it attached to its base paper.
Place the second cake circle in the oven and prepare the third one in similar fashion. Continue until you have 6 baked cake circles.

For the Chocolate Buttercream
Half fill a saucepan with water and allow to come to a boil. Break the chocolate into small pieces and set aside. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and sugar together in a bowl (not a plastic one as its going over the heat) until it has tripled in volume, turned pale, thick and creamy, around 3-5 minutes.
Place the bowl over the top of the boiling water in the saucepan, but don’t allow the bowl to touch the water. Continue to whisk for 3 minutes until the mixture has warmed and is starting to thicken.
Add the chocolate to the mix and whisk until melted and well combined. It should be shiny and sticky at this stage.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
Once cool, beat the mixture and add the Frangelico if using. Continue mixing and add the soft butter in small chunks. It should start to stiffen, turn paler and become more creamy. Chill until required.

For the Caramel Top Layer
Use a shape serrated knife and the base of an 8inch/20cm cake tin to cut out rounds from your six cooled cake layers. Select the best one to be your top caramel covered layer and set the rest aside.
Cut your chosen top layer into 12 triangle portions and place on a baking tray lined with a well greased sheet of greaseproof paper or silicon mat. Reform the triangles to their original circle shape.
Oil a small metal knife or spatula and have it to hand.
Heat the sugar, water and lemon juice together in a small saucepan. Stir until the sugar has dissolved before bringing to a boil. Do not stir, but watch over it from now it. It will gradually turn a light brown before suddenly turning into an amber caramel colour. Immediately remove from the heat and carefully pour the hot caramel over the surface of the cut cake layer. Use the oiled knife to help you spread it out to the edges, but be quick as it starts to set after 20seconds.
Leave to cool and set hard before peeling off the paper, transferring to a chopping board and re-cutting the cake into its precut triangles. Use a long sharp knife and try to make each cut in one quick movement to prevent and layer from shattering where you don’t want it to. Slice the excess caramel off the outside too.

To Assemble the Cake
Place one of your five remaining the cake layers onto a serving plate and spread over 2 tablespoons of the chocolate buttercream. Repeat with the remaining cake layers.
After the final cake layer, use most of the remaining buttercream to cover the top and sides of the cake. Reserve 2-3 tablespoons for decoration.
Put the remaining buttercream in a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle. Pipe 12 swirls around the edge of the cake and place one of the whole hazelnuts on top.
Place one of the caramel topped cake triangles at a slant, half resting on top of the hazelnut, with the point facing inwards. Repeat with the other triangles to create a fan design.
Press the chopped hazelnuts onto the outside of the cake if desired.
Makes one 8inch/20cm 5 layer cake. Serves 12

Sunday 23 August 2009

King Size Muffin Tin

I have had a few emails about the large muffin tin I used to bake the pistachio petit four cakes. It is not just a large muffin tin, it is a king sized muffin tin and its absolutely massive!
I have taken some photos of the king size muffin tin; it absolutely dwarfs the normal size muffin tin I put next to it for comparison. It holds about three times as much mixture as a normal tin and makes muffins big enough to feed two people. I actually bought mine in Chicago (I couldn’t resist it), but it’s made by Wilton and I’m sure they will be available to buy from the internet should anyone desire one.

Thursday 20 August 2009

The Cake Slice August 09: Pistachio Petit Four Cake

I was very excited by this month’s cake choice – a pistachio cake sandwiched together with marzipan, apricot jam and a dark chocolate ganache. The entire cake is then swathed in more of the indulgent chocolate ganache! I adore marzipan, pistachios and ganache but have never combined them together in a cake before so I couldn’t wait to get baking.

One of the things I love about pistachios is their dusky green colour and buttery taste and I was pleased to find that these attributes carry over into the cake layers too. They also kept the cake very moist and scattered with tiny speckles of nuts which added a great taste and light texture without being coarse. The jam, ganache and almond marzipan softened and melded into the cake layers, producing a lovely sweet yet bitter and indulgent gooey filling layers. The whole cake was divine!

As the cake is called a petit four cake, I halved the recipe and baked my cakes in my most recent bakeware purchase, a king sized muffin pan that I bought during my recent visit to Chicago. I couldn’t resist it - I had never seen a muffin pan so big! It produced perfect little layers cakes and I liked how it made the cakes slightly domed in shape. They were a big success with my family, all the flavours complemented each other so well. However, I was slightly disappointed that the cake, although nicely nutty, didn’t have much distinctive pistachio flavour, but they are quite a delicately flavoured nut so this is not really surprising. Click here to see the other Cake Slice cake bakers cakes.

Pistachio Petit Four Cake
(Recipe from Shy High Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes by Alisa Huntsman & Peter Wynne)
For the Pistachio Cake Layers
80g skinned pistachio nuts (180g with shells on)
360g caster sugar
240g American cake flour OR (200g plain flour with 40g cornflour)
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
225ml milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 eggs, lightly beaten

260g apricot jam
Marzipan (below)
Dark chocolate glaze (below)

Preheat the oven to 180C. Butter three 8 inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.
Spread out the pistachios in a baking tray and toast in the oven for 7 to 10 minutes, until lightly coloured. Transfer to a dish and let cool completely. Finely chop the pistachios and set 25g aside for decoration.
Put the remaining 55g pistachios in a food processor. Add the sugar and pulse just enough to grind them finely. Pour into a large mixing bowl and add the flour, baking powder and salt. Blend with the mixer on low for 30 seconds.
Add the butter, milk and vanilla and wit the mixer on low, beat until completely incorporated. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the beaten eggs in 2 or 3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and mixing only long enough to blend after each addition. Divide the batter among the 3 prepared pans.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. Allow the layers to cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners and let cool completely.

For the Marzipan - (You can use 500g shop bought marzipan instead)
225g almond paste (not marzipan)
370g icing sugar
180g light corn syrup

Crumble the almond paste into a large mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer on low speed to soften the almond paste. Add the icing sugar and corn syrup and beat until smooth. Wrap well in plastic so it doesn’t dry out and allow to rest at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours before rolling.

Dark Chocolate Ganache Glaze
450g dark chocolate
225ml double cream

Chop the chocolate coarsely and place in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream to a bare simmer. Pour immediately over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth, allow to cool slightly to begin to thicken, but use the glaze quite soon after making before it starts to set.

To Assemble
Roll out a third of the marzipan on a work surface dusted with a little icing sugar to about 1/8th inch/3mm thick. Set one of the cake pans upside down on the marzipan and trim around it with a small knife to make an 8 inch round. Repeat twice more with the remaining marzipan. Save your scraps to make roses for decoration if desired.
Place one cake layer on a cake board, flat side up. Spread a third of the apricot jam evenly over the top, leaving a ¼ inch margin all round to allow for spreading. Place one marzipan round on top of the jam and spread 2 tablespoons ganache glaze over the top of the marzipan so that it is completely covered. Repeat with the second cake layer, adding more jam, marzipan and glaze.
Add the final cake layer and top with preserves and marzipan as before. Place the whole cake on a wire rack set over a baking pan. Pour the remaining dark ganache glaze over the cake, spreading it as evenly as possible over the top and sides of the cake. Allow the ganache to set before transferring to a plate. It should be smooth and glossy.
Garnish the top with the reserves chopped pistachios.
Optional: Make some marzipan roses with any leftover marzipan scraps if desired.
Makes one 8inch/20cm cake

Sunday 16 August 2009

Plum Kuchen

Plum season is in full flow at the moment and the country lanes near where I live are scattered with the fallen fruit of a wide variety and colour of wild plum trees. I hate seeing fruit go to waste, left to be squashed underfoot or pecked at by the birds and the bees, and so on a recent walk I went armed with a couple of buckets and picked to my hearts content. It’s been a very good year for fruit and the trees were literally sagging under the weight of all the plums. Look at how many I gathered in under an hour and there were plenty more.

I found a couple of different varieties, including some teeny tiny little red plums that were wonderfully sweet and a beautiful golden colour on the inside. They were so teeny tiny in fact that I was able to de-stone them using a cherry stoner, leaving the fruit itself intact. I stewed half the plums into a compote which I adore with yoghurt, but I also wanted to bake something with them and decided on a plum kuchen.

Kuchen means ‘cake’ in German but it often represents a certain type of cake. To me it means a dough, yeasted or not, topped with fruit and some more crumbled dough before being baked and served in slices. Some kuchen also include a base layer of custard but I decided to keep mine simple and use only fruit. I used a yeasted dough to which I added a little cardamom as I thought this would go nicely with the plums, but cinnamon would work just as well if you prefer. I fully intended to reserve some of the dough and crumble it over the top of the plums, but I forgot and didn’t realise until after it was in the oven – opps. I don’t think it mattered too much though.

I used a variety of sliced and whole teeny tiny plums and they tasted wonderful once baked, sweet and full flavoured with the juices running down and being absorbed into the dough. I liked it best when eaten slightly warm.

Plum Kuchen
50g butter
125ml milk
250g plain flour
Pinch of salt
50g caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp ground cardomom
15g fresh yeast or 3tsp instant dried yeast
1 egg
750g plums, stones removed
2 tbsp extra sugar

Melt the butter, stir in the milk and crumble in the fresh or dried yeast and leave to stand for a few minutes.
Put the flour, salt, sugar, vanilla and cardamom into a large bowl and mix together. Lightly beat the egg and pour over the dry mix along with the yeasty milk mixture.
Use the tips of your fingers to bring the mixture together to form a dough, it will be slightly sticky.
Transfer the dough to a work surface and knead for 10 minutes until it becomes smooth and silky to the touch.
Return the dough to the bowl and cover with clingfilm or a tea towel and place in a sunny spot to prove until doubled in volume, about 1hour.
Meanwhile, prepare the plums. Wash them well, remove the stones and cut into halves or quarters depending on size. (I also found some tiny plums that I was able to remove the stones with a cherry stoner and leave whole).
Preheat the oven to 165C. Once the dough has doubled in size, knock it back and then stretch it into the base of a 22cm cake tin or an 18cm x 30cm pan.
Arrange the plums over the surface of the dough, packing them in tightly.
Sprinkle over the extra sugar and bake for 35-40 minutes until the plums are soft and juicy and the dough beneath golden brown, ensure the dough is fully cooked in the centre.
Allow to cool until just warm before removing from the tin and serving in slices. Great eaten warm and best eaten within 2 days.

Note: If you want you can reserve a portion of the dough and crumble it over the top of the plums before baking, but this is not essential.

Monday 10 August 2009

Eating my way around Chicago

I’m back from Chicago and feeling a little jet lagged but it is completely worth it. I have never had such a new, exciting and foodie trip. There was just so much to see and do and such a wide variety of food to try. I was a little nervous before I left but I met up with my friend T, who lives in Chicago, and he did a great job of showing me the sites and secrets of the city. Chicago had so much to offer a completely obsessed foodie such as myself, and below I have detailed some of the best foodie finds I discovered. I was astounded at the variety of cuisines and ingredients available, even things we can get here in the UK were offered with greater choice in the US. For example we can get cream cheese in plain, low fat and herb varieties; in the US they have plain, low fat, non fat, raspberry, herb, almond, honey, spiced apple, cinnamon swirl and chocolate varieties!! Plus most of the restaurants are open almost 24hrs a day so if you ever fancy sushi at 3am in the morning, it shouldn’t be too hard to find – it’s just incredible!

Café Selmarie
I was staying near Lincoln Square which is a quiet street lined with a great selection of restaurants, cafes, bars and specialist shops. Selmarie is a café located right in the centre. They provide a selection of light meals and snacks but it is their wonderful selection of cakes and pastries that drew my attention. On entering the café my eye was instantly drawn to the red velvet cupcakes, a cupcake I have heard much about yet had never tried. It seemed the perfect selection for my first cupcake in America. For anyone who doesn’t know, a red velvet cupcake comprises of a chocolate cake tinted red, topped with a cream cheese frosting. The cupcake looked very attractive with its swirl of cream cheese frosting and pretty red flower. The cake was nicely textured with a good reddy-brown colour. The crumb was a little dry but it was quite late at night when I visited, so it had probably dried out a bit during the day. It had just the right amount of cream cheese frosting which was thick and creamy with a tangy fresh taste. I thought the little red flower on top was a nice touch too.
Price: $2.25
Location: Café Selmarie in Lincoln Square

Hershey’s Store
While exploring downtown we hunted out a Hershey’s store which sells a wide selection of Hershey’s goodies including kisses, bars, enormous bottles of chocolate syrup and an assortment of peanut butter cups. Check out the size of the syrup bottles and giant kisses compared to the coffee mugs at the left-hand side – they’re enormous!
The shop also contained a bakery selling giant peanut butter cup cookies, brownies studded with kisses and assorted cupcakes. I love Hershey’s peanut butter cups and so couldn’t resist a chocolate cupcake topped a mound of peanut butter frosting and a mini peanut butter cup. They came in two sized but I got the smaller one and shared it with T. There was almost as much frosting as cake but I was pleased to find it wasn’t too rich or sweet and wonderfully peanutty. The chocolate cupcake was chocolaty and moist and the mini peanut cup was yummy – you needed a big bite to fit it all in – open wide! I also got a couple of bags on cinnamon chips, I have been huinting for these for months.
Price: $1.75
Location: Hershey’s shop on North Michigan Avenue

Sweet Mandy B’s
This was a lovely cupcake and cookie shop with a little seating area inside that you could sit at and watch the workers in the bake baking cupcakes while munching a sweet treat. It had a lovely atmosphere and I loved how you could watch the staff making cupcakes, it really confirmed that everything was freshly made. We weren’t all that hungry when we visited as we’d just had lunch, so T and I shared a banana pudding, another America treat I had been longing to try. It consisted of a thick banana flavoured custard style ‘pudding’ layered with fresh banana and vanilla wafers. The pudding was thick and creamy and very comforting. Not unlike a trifle with its fruit and wafer layers. They also sold some fab looking pies, tarts, bars and cookies.
Price: around $3
Location: Sweet Mandy B’s on West Webster Avenue

T and I happened upon this place by accident while on my way home after an evening out. We went over to investigate and tried the door but they were closed. We began to turn away when the door was opened by one of the staff. We asked if we could have a look inside and take some photos and they agreed. Most of the shelves had been cleared away but there were still a few cupcakes on stands and while I was taking photo T explained that I had a blog and was visiting from the UK. They had a great selection of some more interesting flavoured cupcakes including some gluten free options and ones suitable for vegans. They also sold T-shirts and I loved their little badges with the phrase “cupcakes make people happy” I couldn’t agree more and bought one which is now attached to my bag for all to see. The staff were so friendly even though it was after hours and as we were leaving they presented us with a free red velvet cupcake each!! It was a little squatter and wider than a normal cupcake, but this meant it was easier to eat both cake and frosting in one bite. The cake was so light and moist and the cream cheese topping perfectly creamy and sweet. The cupcakes were a little more pricy but totally worth it - my favourite cupcake shop all visit.
Price: $3-3.50 each
Location: Swirls on West Belden Avenue

This place looks a little dated from the outside but they sold a fantastic selection of cookies and some simply enormous cupcakes. I tried some of the Mexican wedding cookies and they were wonderfully short and buttery, just melted in the mouth and studded with finely ground pecans and covered in a dusting of icing sugar. The perfect dainty cookie. I loved how they decorated their cupcakes to look like flowers, a bit different to the usual swirl style. They were very tender and freshly baked tasting. Everything was very reasonably priced. They also sold a wide selection of sweet and savoury breads and pastries. A great find.
Price: Various but very reasonable
Location: Dinkles on North Lincoln Avenue

The Cheesecake Factory
Set in a hollow at the base of the John Hancock Building is The Cheesecake Factory. This place looks a little like something you might expect to see in a Flintstones film, swooping lines, rustic colours and very funky. It is THE place to go for cheesecake downtown. They have a café where you can have a sit down lunch before enjoying a slice of cheesecake, or a fast track take away cheesecake counter located just inside the doors. Even if you don’t like cheesecake this place is worth a visit just to goggle at the fantastic variety and flavour combinations of cheesecake available. The price is a little expensive, but the slices are very generous and the wonderfulness of the cheesecake makes it completely worth it. I had been told about this place and actually walked for an hour to reach it (I got a little lost on the way) and so felt nothing but pure indulgent pleasure at wolfing down a giant slice by myself. I was sorely tempted by the carrot cake cheesecake – vanilla cheesecake studded with real carrot cake and covered in chopped nuts, but chose instead the Oreo cheesecake for a true American experience. This consisted of an Oreo cookie crust, creamy vanilla cheesecake layered with Oreo cookies and topped with a large swirl of sweetened cream. I got mine to take away and it was served with another enormous swirl of cream – talk about over the top – but wow it was soooo good.
Price: $7 per slice for takeaway
Location: The Cheesecake Factory in various locations & North Michigan Avenue

Eli’s Cheesecake World Tour
Situated a little way outside of the city is Eli’s Cheesecake World, which is a genuine commercial cheesecake factory, complete with an on site café and shop. At 1pm, most days, they are open to the public for factory tours. The tour starts with a meet and greet and a little history about Eli’s cheesecake before everyone dons very attractive hairnets and enters the factory where you get to watch first hand as a team of people create magnificent looking cheesecakes. They were working on tiramisu and caramel banana cheesecakes while I was there – they looked so good. We also got to watch as an employee showed us how they finished off and decorated the cheesecakes, with each of us being allowed to pick a topping to decorate it with. Make sure you are paying attention throughout the tour as one lucky person won the cheesecake at the end of the tour, unfortunately it wasn’t me. We all then went back to the café area where we were treated to a complementary slice of cheesecake. I chose the snicker cheesecake – vanilla cheesecake with caramel and peanuts, while T had the turtle cheesecake – caramel cheesecake with pecans, caramel and chocolate, both delicious and very creamy. You can also buy extra slices or whole cheesecakes to take away with you and they had a great variety. The key lime cheesecake looked particularly good.
Price: $3 for tour includes a slice of cheesecake
Location: Eli's Cheesecake World in West Forest Preserve Drive

El Trigal Bakery
This bakery is Mexican inspired and was a great find. They had stacks of freshly baked pastries and sweet and savoury filled buns, very cheaply priced considering the quality. I got a pineapple jam filled pastry which comprised of a sweet yeasted dough and a yummy sticky pineapple jam filling.
Price: $0.80
Location: El Trigal Bakery on West Montrose Avenue

WOW this place is amazing! We happened upon this place by accident. It’s an ice cream store with a difference. You choose a fresh yoghurt or liquid ice cream base, add the flavour and colour of your choice along with any number of add-ins you wish. This mixture is then poured into the bowl of a specially adapted mixer, the beaters are started and then liquid nitrogen is sprayed into the bowl from overhead pipes, freezing your ice cream concoction instantly! It was amazing to watch and produced the smoothest creamiest ice cream imaginable! You certainly couldn’t get any fresher than this and all custom made – so cool!
Price: around $4
Location: i-Cream on North Milwaukee Avenue

International House of Pancakes (IHOP)
As the name suggests this chain sells an amazing selection of pancakes, waffles, crepes and breakfast savories set in a traditional American diner style. T and I went here for lunch on my last day and I got ridiculously excited upon seeing the menu – such a lot of indulgent choices – it was so hard to choose. In the end I went with whole-wheat oat, almond and walnut pancakes accompanied by cinnamon spiced apples and a swirl of cream. They came accompanied by a selection of four syrups for you to drizzle over yourself, just in case they weren’t indulgent enough!I was presented with a plate of four HUGE pancakes, each one was about the size of a saucer. I only managed about half but they tasted so so good, fluffy, nutty, spicy and drizzled in blueberry syrup mmmmm. It makes me smile just to think of them. A must try for anyone in the area, plus they are open 24hrs so you’ve no excuse not to visit. Just make sure you have a big appetite when you go.
Price: $5-$9
Location: IHOP & many locations

Other good things to do in the city include:
A trip up the Sears Tower. Now called the Willis Tower. It’s the tallest building in Chicago and visitors can visit the skydeck top floor for fantastic panoramic views of the city. They also have glass floored and walled balconies that extend out into the air. It’s quite thrilling stepping out onto one seemingly unsupported. Very long queues but worth the wait.

Navy Pier for good views of Lake Michigan, some fun souvenirs, boat tours and a good selection of food stands for lunch.

Don’t forget to enjoy a slice of Chicago deep dish pizza and when they say deep they mean deep. Imagine a deep quiche, only with pizza dough instead of pastry and then its absolutely crammed full of pizza toppings. It comes in HUGE slices, you’d be pushed to manage two, each slice is a meal in itself. I’m longing to try and recreate it. I was impressed with Lou Malnati’s Pizza.

The Art Institute of Chicago for some paintings, sculptures and soaking up some past and present artwork.

A visit to a local theatre is always fun and if you get there in the early evening you might get some last minute tickets. I got to see William Petersen (from CSI) in a play called Blackbird.

The Water Tower Place for a bit of up market retail therapy. Shops include Macys, Bloomindales and Williams Sonoma.

Lincoln Park Zoo is also well worth a visit. They have a fantastic collection of animals set around a large park. There is even a farmyard secrtion where you can go and watch the cows being milked or pet some goats. Plus its free!

The Bean sculpture in Millennium Park. A giant silver bean shaped sculpture that reflects the sky line around it. You can also walk underneath it which creates some very weird and wonderful photos as images of yourself bounce of the walls.

I had such a fantastic time in Chicago, I saw and ate so much and yet there was still lots more to do. I’m longing to go back – I didn’t have enough meal times to eat everything!