Food In Fiction #3 - Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe

Welcome to the third post in my Food In Fiction Series.

I have noticed more and more the tie-in between food and fiction. As foodies, I am sure you love when food takes center stage in a novel and when the author kindly includes some recipes, well that is just an added bonus.

Tesco gave me the idea for this edition. Tesco now have a Book Blog where they review books. They got in touch with me and asked if I would like to review one, but it was a different kind of review. They wanted to categorise books into moods and not genres. I had a wee look through their list and knew immediately which book I wanted to review.

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan.

Recipe and author interview after review.

I love Jenny Colgan's books and the fact this one was about someone who loves to bake, well that was just an added bonus. TheTesco Book Blog listed this book as "handpicked to turn your heart in somersaults". I think that is a fair assessment.

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan

Meet Me At The Cupcake Cafe
is the story of Issy Randall, a girl who has a dull life and a dull boyfriend, but she is about to break away from all that.

The highlight of Issy's day is baking for her friends and work-mates. So when she is made redundant, it is just the push she needs to open up her own cupcake shop, but only after a good long session of moping around at home, feeling sorry for herself and vegetating.

Armed with her Granpa Joe's recipes and years of experience baking with her grandpa in his bakery and creating all sorts of fabulous sweet treats, Issy set's up her shop. Not everyone is happy for her to do well in her business and she soon learns who her true friends are.

This novel, although chicklit does not have the least bit of fluff. It follows the struggle of a young business woman determined to succeed. There is the sadness of a dear family member growing old and frail, there is the struggles of a single mother and that of a single father.

There is a joy in the relationships in this book and I was left feeling slightly bereft when I closed the last page. I think I will be opening this book again and again. Oh and don't let me forget to tell you about all the wonderful descriptions of food and the enticing recipes scattered through the pages. You are going to love it!

You may expect me to be making cupcakes after reading this book, but I decided to use the ingredients I had to hand and make a simple cookie recipe from the book.

Not Going to Work Nutella Cookies

Issy makes these cookies after she is made redundant and is slopping around the house feeling sorry for herself, of course it never gets so bad that she doesn't want to bake.

I was a bit dubious after reading the recipe as I have never made a cookie dough using the technique for making scones, but I went for it anyway. They are not the prettiest cookies, but they have a lovely brown sugar flavour to them. I imagine they would be great with a cup of coffee, if you liked that sort of thing.

print recipe
Nutella Cookies
Also known as Not Going to Work Nutella Cookies from the novel 'Meet me at the Cupcake Cafe' by Jenny Colgan. They have a lovely brown sugar flavour to them, even though they don't contain any brown sugar.
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g soft butter
  • 100g caster sugar
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda, dissolved in a little hot water
  • 2 tbsp warm golden syrup
  • 2 tsp nutella
1 Preheat the oven to 200c/gas mark 6.2. Sift the flour and baking powder in a bowl. Rub in the butter, add the sugar, bicarb, syrup and nutella.3. Roll into walnut-sized balls and place on a greased baking tray, pressing down the centre of each ball with your thumb.4. Bake for about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on them, as you can see mine are a little brown at the edges.notes: Issy (the main character in the book) says that while these are baking you should eat 4 tsp of nutella, then eat the entire tray of cookies while reading a gossip magazine and wearing pyjamas.
Total time: Yield: 16-18 cookies

Interview with Jenny Colgan

1. Issy Randall loves to bake, it seems only natural, as she spent so much of her childhood in her Grandpa Joe's bakery. Are you a bit of a baker yourself? Did you learn to bake or cook from someone in your own family?

My mother cooks and bakes, but I didn't really learn till I had children of my own then I got interested. The thing is, though, I'm really lucky and only work part time so it doesn't seem too much to ask that I cook!

2. Do you have a dish or cake that is a family favourite?

Everyone likes the usual ones- lasagne, fish pie. I like fish curry and I make a good pad thai. As for cakes, no the children aren't picky! But everyone loves peanut butter cookies and I have to lock fruit cake away from my husband.

3. Is there a cookbook you find yourself returning to again and again?

I keep my own cookbook, if I find something that works very well twice it goes in. Simon Hopkinson is very good, but the one I return to again and again is the BBC food site, their recipes tend to work brilliantly. And for the big things, like Christmas cake, only Delia will do. My mother cooked from Delia religiously, so if I want to do something like she did it, that's where I have to go. My friend who is a brilliant asian cook teases me and calls me the 70s chef because I like to try things like duchess potatoes and bouillabaisse.

4. Issy opens a cupcake cafe and indeed they seem to be popping up all over the place. Do your eyes light up when you see a cupcake or is this very much an Issy trait?

Oh yes, the first concession that opened in Selfridges I used to take a gigantic detour to get there. Gorgeous. It's the icing, isn't it?

5. I have read you spend much of your time in France. Has the cupcake phenomenon taken hold there?

I do live in France, and no they don't bake here- seriously. I need a new mixing bowl and I can't find one. They cook and take that very seriously but nobody bakes, because the patisseries are so good, so you would always buy sweet things. They have macarons, which you have to admit are also very very good.

6. The French are famous for their p√Ętisseries, do you have a favourite French sweet treat?

Our local patisserie does a melt-in-the-mouth pain au chocolat, it's just unbelievable. I'm also fond of croissant aux amandes, but they have about a jillion calories each so I try and limit myself!

7. I felt happy and sad when I turned the last page of Meet Me At The Cup Cake Cafe. I was really sad to say goodbye to the characters. I did think about Issy and her friends for a few days after I finished the book. Do you find it hard to say goodbye to your characters? Do they linger?

Oh, how kind, that's a really lovely thing for an author to hear. When I finished Olivia Manning's Fortunes of War sextet I was bereft that I'd never meet those people again. When you're writing though, all sorts of other things come into play- your next book, your deadline- so I don't feel sad as such and I'm very lucky with Cupcake as hurrah, we're doing a sequel! So I am currently writing about them all at Christmas time. I did enjoy seeing them all again. Austin and Darny are having some trouble with having a woman living in their house, and Helena has gone completely mad with her new baby, it's funny. And we're doing loads of lovely Christmas recipes.

8. Where do you write your novels? Do you have set routine?

Funnily enough I write them in the local patisserie. They are very nice there. It helps to be amongst the smell of baking! And yes I have a routine; I have three children under six and my husband is a sailor, so I have to be organised. The boys go to school and Delphine goes to creche and I work till 1.30 every day. It's such a luxury, I feel so lucky.

9. I noticed our good friend the Caked Crusader made an appearance at the end of your book with advice on making cupcakes. Do you follow food blogs? Do you have any you would like to recommend?

Isn't she absolutely brilliant! I love The Caked Crusader, and I love How Sweet at How Sweet Eats who shows you loads of gorgeous unhealthy things then tells you to take lots of exercise.

10. I was excited to hear that your next book also has a food theme. Can you give us a sneak preview and tell us a little about it?

Ooh yes, I love this one, we're so excited. It's called Rosie Hopkins' Sweetshop of Dreams and it's about a London nurse who has to go to the country and take care of her great aunt and sell her crumbling closed-down sweetshop to pay for her care. She thinks it's going to be the most boring job of all time but of course it turns out to be a lot more interesting that she was expecting. I talk lots about sweets, especially sweets you eat as a child, and there are recipes for fudge and marshmallows and coconut ice and flashbacks to the sweetshop in the second world war, and it's just generally, I hope, really good fun but quite touching too.

A big thanks to Jenny for the interview.

Disclosure Statement: I received this book free from Tesco to review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Christmas Gift Guide - 16 Days and Counting

I don't have much Christmas shopping to do, but I am still puzzling over what to get a couple of people. And yes, you guessed it, they are men. Why are men so hard to buy for. My female friends and family, I could buy and buy and buy presents for them continually without pause, but the men in my life, well they are a bit more tricky. Anyway, I thought if nothing else, I may be able to give you some inspiration.

1. Time For Tea Ceramic Napkin Rings - set of four.
Bombay Duck £9.95

I love these napkin rings. They would look rather special nestled around some white linen napkins, don't you think?

Our set of four ceramic napkin rings in an assortment of tableware shapes will add a sense of grandeur to afternoon tea. Presented in a pretty stripy gift box.

2. Milk Bottle Measuring Cups.
Anthropologie UK £22.00

I rather think I am just suggesting presents that I personally want. I am in love with these cup measures and if you visit my blog at all you will know how I like to use cup measures when I am baking.

When not on display, this space saving, stackable set separates to do double duty in the kitchen. How's that for good measure?

New bone china
Hand Wash

3. Inside Out Bowls
Anthropologie US $8 each

And now on to the American side of Anthropologie for those of you on the other side of the pond. How could anyone resist these?

Snowflakes and stripes, diamonds and vines fill these porcelain bowls. Choose from four designs.

Dishwasher and microwave safe
2.25"H, 4.5" diameter
12 oz

4. Print and Wax Bunting Blue Birds and Roses
Mangle Prints, Folksy. £9.00

How about these rather fabulous hand printed bunting flags. Wouldn't they look great at a kitchen or bathroom window. J'adore!

This pretty bunting is hand made from lino printed paper and wax. This delicate bunting is ideal to hang at a window or in any room, the waxing of the paper makes the print translucent, so it will let the light through.

Each flag of the bunting has been hand printed and waxed in pale blue ink.

Length of bunting:
Approx 1.2m (without the string at each end.)
Each flag measures: 10cm (widest) x15cm (depth)

5. Little Caramel Angels. Hotel Chocolat £7.50

Hotel Chocolate recently sent me a Christmas Hamper. It was rather special and I am currently working my way through it. I know, life as a blogger is tough! The first thing to be ripped open was the caramel angels. I just love Hotel Chocolat's caramel chocolate, so I couldn't wait to bite into one of these beauties. Mmmmmmmmmm! I can also say the tiddly reindeer are delicious too. They aren't as I expected alcoholic, but tiddly as in wee. Lovely rich dark chocolate.

If you like Hotel Chocolat. I can let you into a little secret. My ultimate giveaway on my 12 Days of Christmas giveaway event will be a Christmas hamper from Hotel Chocolat.

6. Linen Place Mat
H&M £2.99

I know, I know, they are all creasey. Well at least that is what my mother would say, but I rather like these place mats with a pocket for your cutlery. I like the utilitarian feel of these. In fact I think I might order a set. Hmmmmmm, I show you something on folksy and I bought something, I show you something on H&M and I am about to spend more money. This post is getting pricey!

Place mat in washed linen with stitching. Pocket for cutlery or napkin on the front with a print motif. Size 35x48 cm. 100% linen. Machine wash at 60˚

7. Merino Colour Block Reverse Scarf
Gap UK £16.06 (in sale was £22.95)

We have to find something for the men and you couldn't go wrong with this warm scarf, that can be worn as red or grey in lovely, fine, merino wool.

100% Merino Wool.
Hand wash cold.
Soft knit.
Striped trim.
Fringed ends.
Navy grey reverses to grey navy.

8. Magners Specials Gift Pack
Magners Facebook Page £10

I tried these when I came back from holiday and I would heartily recommend them. I enjoyed all three - Spiced Apple & Honey, Pear & Ginger and Spiced Apple & Rhubarb. I think the pear & ginger just pipped the others at the post. These would also be great to take along when you go visiting over the festive period. I am thinking of trying them hot too, to see how they taste. This gift pack comes with a Magners bottle opener. You can buy individual bottles for £1.79 from Tesco.

I hope I gave you some inspiration and that you aren't too stressed thinking about Christmas.

Look out for the next giveaway in my 12 Days of Christmas series tomorrow.
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