Friday, 1 January 2010

Hummingbird Bakery: Sweet Nothings

I have wanted to write a scathing review ever since I started this blog, but nowhere has been awful enough to warrant one. Well, the time has come, and what better way to get 2010 started than by having a good moan.

Everyone is going cupcake crazy. Born, it seems, in 2000 when Magnolia Bakery played a starring role in SATC, super-sized cupcakes have muscled their way to the UK, with sickly-sweet murmurs of nostalgia. Retro boutique bakeries are popping up on every high street, cupcake decorating parties are all the rage, wedding cakes are now cupcake "towers", and MAC are even naming lipstick colours after them. Type in "cupcake" on Amazon, and over 130 eponymous baking books pop up.

Having read a well-crafted article by Catherine Phipps about baking books in the new food quarterly, Fire & Knives, I was moved to mention my visit to Hummingbird Bakery last month. I've avoided the trend so far. Keener to invest calorie intake in a decent bar of chocolate, a creamy potato dauphinoise, or a heart-stopping slab of warm crackling, the "cute" cakes simply don't excite me. As Catherine puts it, I prefer a "cake with guts", "something that has substance and flavour over style, and is more than just a fluffy concoction seemingly designed to make me feel sick".

However, a rare Friday afternoon off with a friend, and the suggestion of tea and cake, found us in South Kensington, not far from one of Hummingbird's three London bakeries. 3pm on a Friday afternoon, the place was full of tourists, queuing in the rain for a piece of fashion's latest fad. We grimaced, yet joined them. I won't lie, they look gorgeous, sitting plump and pretty in their display trays.

The first sour note, once we were through the front door and shaking off the rain, was the atmosphere. Stone-faced staff and pushy tourists (the sort you see fighting over Prada handbags at 9am on Boxing Day) joylessly passed each other credit cards, and bickered over the seating. There was no smell of baking - funny that, this being a "bakery" - and no warm welcome.

Next came the cakes themselves. I chose vanilla with chocolate frosting, and Nina chose the ubiquitous 'red velvet'. These are not a small indulgence - they were enormous (and pricey)! My first bite just delivered a mouthful of cloying sugar frosting. My second, of the cake itself, delivered no taste at all. The cake was crumbly and dry, and I could not detect any flavour. Enough said.

Eating cake is all about indulgence, so what's the point if they taste of nothing? The market is saturated with these sweet monstrosities, so my hope for 2010 is that this age of nostalgia takes us back into the kitchen, to the heart of home baking, and we tire of the Big Macs of the cake world.

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