Adventures in Baking: THE Ultimate Chocolate Lovers Chocolate Chip Cookie

After 6 years of expat living, I’ve started to figure some things out. Drive on the left. “You alright?” is just a greeting, not a concerned question for your well-being. Fish and chip Fridays. Yes, being an expat is a constant challenge in reassessing the way you live life.

Out of all the ways I have been challenged in becoming an expat (and there are many!), one of the most frustrating is baking. I know, there are bigger problems in the world, but as an avid baker, this one really got me. I used to churn out cakes, breads, cookies without issue. But since moving to the UK, everything, well, stopped working.

The ingredients here are different. Butter, for example, has a higher butterfat than in the States, and this makes a big difference in the way cookies and cakes turn out! On the other hand, some ingredients are impossible to find, like really good sprinkles and certain types of sweeteners.

I also left my stand mixer behind in the States. I thought we’d only be here for a year or two (whoops haha, going on 6 years in the UK!). I made do with an electric mixer, but it wasn’t giving me good results.

Then SMEG came into my life. You may know SMEG from their adorable colorful line of small kitchen appliances. The Italian company makes elegant and powerful machines – from stylish high-performing ovens to beautiful vintage-style colorful refrigerators, and smaller kitchen appliances, like kettles and mixers. I am beyond thrilled to be working with SMEG this year, and to kick off the partnership and learn more about the brand, I went to their colorful flagship London shop in Piccadilly for a tour.

Color and design inspiration in every single corner of this shop!

I love the pastel refrigerators! It’s a life goal of mine to own a pink SMEG fridge, and my husband will just have to deal with it when it happens.

These are the Dolce and Gabanna line of appliances – the design is beyond incredible. Each refrigerator is hand-painted! Jaw dropping. Worth a visit into the shop just to see the craftsmanship. SMEG is run by the 3rd generation of the Bertazzoni family, and the Italian craftsmanship and commitment to style (and good food!) is so evident in their designs.

SMEG kindly gifted me a stand mixer to try at home. So, for the past few months, I’ve been using the chic-cream coloured SFM03 stand mixer.

I can’t tell you what a difference this stand mixer has made in my baking results. My chocolate chip cookies are no longer flat, my cakes have a near-perfect crumb, and no more bread kneading required (thank you dough hook). It’s a powerful machine with a die-cast aluminium body and 800 W motor, no weak links here – turn it to 1 for bread kneading, or up to 10 for a high-speed whisk for my pavlova.

Apart from baking results, it’s also beautiful. In our tiny London kitchen, space is a premium, and design plays a huge part in what I decide to introduce to our home space. I don’t just give that space to any old product! I love the new model with its cream gloss finish. It’s very very pretty, and makes me happy every time I look at it.

Today, I want to share a recipe that – thanks to SMEG – works in my British kitchen just as well as my American kitchen. My tried and tested American-style chocolate chip cookie, with PLENTY of chocolate, thanks to a few chopped chocolate bars that melt throughout the cookie. They are also excellent served as cookie ice cream sandwiches, if you can get them to last long enough to make into sandwiches (I have to admit they go really quickly in my house!).

Chocolate Lovers Chocolate Chip Cookies (adapted from NY Times recipe)

8.5 oz. pastry (cake) flour
8.5 oz. strong (bread) white flour
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
10 oz. unsalted butter
10 oz. light brown sugar (Tate and Lyle for UK is best)
8 oz. white sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
550 grams bittersweet chocolate – between 50-70% cacao (I usually get 1 big bar of 40% and 2 bars of 70% for a good mix of both)

Sea salt for finishing (Maldon or similar)

Combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt in a medium bowl, set aside.

Cream butter and sugars together in a stand mixer with paddle attachment until fluffy and pale yellow. Add the eggs, one at a time until incorporated. Mix in the vanilla.

Incorporate the flour, mix until combined (use a plastic guard if you have one to prevent flour dust everywhere)

Chop the chocolate diagonally into small slivers. They don’t all need to be uniform, but generally the size of a chocolate chip is what you’re going for here. The different sizes are what makes this cookie so special, as the shavings get incorporated into every part of the cookie, ensuring chocolate in every bite.

Make the cookie portions – each dough portion should weigh about 3 oz. A standard sized cookie scoop will be a good assist here. Store the dough in a bowl or platter, cover tightly (I use this reusable wrap) for 24-72 hours, or freeze for up to a month.

Preparing to bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 175 C and prepare your baking trays with parchment paper or non-stick baking mat, like silpat.

Place 6 – 8 dough balls on the baking tray, finish with a pinch of Maldon sea salt, bake until golden, 15 – 20 minutes. Keep a close eye on the cookies as you approach 13 minutes, and take them out as soon as the middle of the cookie has risen. I like my cookies a bit underdone in the middle so they’re nice and gooey. Cool on a wire rack for a few minutes, and enjoy. This recipe will make 24 large cookies or about 36 medium sized cookies.

London’s Hidden Villages: Brook Green

Ok, I’m about to let out a big secret.

We moved to London nearly 6 years ago, and first lived in Barbican, then Highgate. Lovely places, but neither quite clicked with me. I was missing something. It wasn’t until we moved to our current neighborhood that I fell in love with London!

Suddenly I was surrounded on all sides by darling houses, colorful doors and facades, and independent shops lining the high street. So I thought I’d spill the beans and let you in on one of London’s best kept hidden villages: Brook Green.

Just outside of zone 1, Brook Green is a little leafy neighbourhood nestled between Hammersmith, Holland Park, and Shepherds Bush. Family-friendly, the village centers around Masbro and Blythe Road with a few pubs, bakery, tea room, restaurants, and even a lovely clothing & toy shop. I’ll give some recommendations at the bottom of this post, if you’d like to see.

We have great schools in the neighborhood, a nice playground and dog park, and even a Saturday food market with great vendors and live music in good weather.

The location is perfect for great access to my favorite places in London. It’s a 15 minute tube ride to central London, a 10 minute bike ride to Notting Hill, and a 20 minute walk to the River Thames.

We moved here right before I had our second baby. I spent so many days taking slow walks and noticing all the small details around the neighborhood. First pushing a newborn in a buggy, and eventually slowly following a new toddling walker around the neighborhood (always looking for kitties wandering – her favorite then and still today!). This neighborhood, with its sweet pink houses definitely was an inspiration for London is Pink. Actually, I wonder what would have happened if we’d never stumbled onto Brook Green!

And with that introduction, I think it’s time I show you around the neighbourhood!

My neighbourhood recommendations

Cafes | Gails Bakery, Betty Blythe Tea Room, Farina & More – all serving their own twist on sandwiches, salads, cakes, and coffee. Betty Blythe does vintage afternoon tea parties, too, definitely worth looking into if you are after something special for a celebration.

Restaurants/pubs | Bird in Hand – Stylish and cozy interiors with pizzas and european small plates, Pentolina – Casual Italian in a beautiful setting

Shops | Scandi Mini – a lovely childrens clothing and toy shop, and they just started carrying unique womens brands and homewares, too. Lovely place to window shop, and I always come away with something special.

London’s hidden villages: A Day out in Connaught Village

Is there anything better than a day spent in a London village, filled to the brim with independent shops and cafes? Lucky for us Londoners, there are many to choose from, all with different personalities, and all very walkable. Recently, I spent a day in one of my favorites – Connaught Village. With its period architecture, #instafamous pink places, beautiful shops, cafes, and lovely corners, it’s a perfect spot to get a real taste of the London village life.

Go check out my guide: A Day Out in Connaught Village I put together in partnership with Connaught Village. In the guide, you’ll find an instafamous pretty pink door and pink floral cafe, hidden mews streets, and many other lovely places to shop, eat, and explore.

5 reasons why Jersey is the perfect weekend getaway

Last month our little family of four hopped on a plane for 30 minutes to visit the gorgeous channel island, Jersey. As the southernmost of the British isles, Jersey is also the largest, at a whopping 5 miles x 9 miles.

From the first moment we stepped off the plane, I knew this would be a seaside getaway my family would love. From the gorgeous beaches to the incredible food and the natural beauty, we couldn’t get enough of this tiny island! It made for a perfect weekend trip, even though to be honest we could have easily stretched it to a week (or more!). It was also incredibly family friendly with so much to keep the children entertained.

Ok, let’s get to it: here are my top 5 reasons that Jersey is my new favorite seaside getaway.

Exhilarating road trips from cliffside to beaches

Driving in Jersey is an experience in itself! One minute you’re driving next to the water and the next you’re winding through mountains and farmland next to the famous Jersey cows. We had a few noteworthy drives to share.

On the northwest side of the island, we drove a winding path that took us to the top of Plémont Beach, with cliffsides home to peregine falcons, and beaches and tide pools you can only explore at low tide. We climbed down the long staircase to the beach, but high tide meant we couldn’t explore the hidden cave or the golden sand beaches. A good reason to return one day.

A cafe at the top of the cliffs has a lovely lookout over the ocean, but it is cash only so don’t get caught out or you’ll miss a chance for Jersey ice cream.

Another favorite drive was from the Mont Orgueil castle in Gorey to the charming Rozel beach. The roads wind alongside the coast with beautiful views of crashing waves and tiny seaside cottages dotting the landscape, and suddenly a 180 degree turn has you driving up a hillside, passing by farmland and tall trees. Within 5 minutes, you’re spit back out onto the cute village town of Rozel.

I think there may be about 4 small shops and cafes in Rozel, and 10 houses that hug Rozel Beach. The tiniest cutest village you’ve ever seen! There were a few holiday rentals that we may try to book on our next visit, too. At the end of the pier, The Hungryman food truck awaits with classic beachfront fare: burgers, chips, sausages, etc. We spent an hour on the beach playing in the waves and eating our delicious burgers and chips, quite content to never leave!

Beautiful beaches

We were lucky to stay in St Brelades Bay Hotel, a gorgeous 4-star luxury oceanfront hotel right on the golden beach St Brelades Bay. Very family friendly and with gardens and a beautiful outdoor pool area for the summertime.

The tides are quite dramatic, which made for an interesting lesson about tides and moons with our children (wait but I still don’t really understand how this works?!). I read that at low tide the island doubles in size! Not sure if that’s completely true, but the beaches definitely double in size. We loved exploring St. Brelades Bay, especially the archaeological cave with fossils, La Cotte de St.Brelade.

St Brelades Bay

Other beaches on our favorites list: Portelet Bay Beach, Rozel Beach, Plémont Beach, and the beach near La Pulente. We went off-season (the last weekend in March) so there really weren’t any crowds on the beach.

Portelet Bay Beach
Rozel Beach
Plémont Beach

The cutest wildlife

You’ve heard of the famous Jersey cows that dot the island. We saw plenty of these cuties, but we saw so much more! Tiny little lizards had invaded the walls of Mont Orguiel Castle, and we found a few in the garden behind St Brelades Bay Hotel, too. We also have a bird watcher in the family and kept them very happy with sightings of peregine falcons and other seabirds.

Gorgeous flowers everywhere at Jersey Zoo, and don’t miss the little (big) gorilla behind us

One of our favorite days out was to the Jersey Zoo. The Zoo was the first of its kind to open with conservation in mind, and still today has a strong mission around animal conservation, housing some of the world’s rarest animals. The zoo grounds were beautiful, too, with magnolias, cameillas, and jasmine on every corner. We loved the flamingos, fruit bats, meerkats and the gorillas. The zoo also has a fantastic indoor childrens play area with a nice cafe, which made a perfect little spot to relax during a short rain storm.

The local food scene

I can’t think about Jersey without remembering the incredible food we had. Honestly, maybe I’ve been to too many British seasides where fish and chips rule the day, but Jersey was worlds apart! I think the French influence may have something to do with it, but we were happy to eat our way through this island.

Portelet Bay Cafe: A small family-run cafe on the tucked away Portelet Bay. Sit beachside and enjoy authentic wood-fired pizzas and seasonal freshly caught fish. We had lovely pizzas and a mezze plate, and finished with – what else – ice cream! The owners are from the UK, escaped hectic city life for this piece of paradise and restored a formerly run-down building into the gorgeous inspired place it is today. Access can be tricky, however, as it’s only by walking down stairs from the headland. Be sure to book ahead as it fills up.

Jersey Crab Shack: Seafood and more at this beautiful beachfront location in St Brelades Bay. The interiors are lush, the food is great, and service is even better! If you’re not near St Brelades Bay, there are other locations on the island.

The Hungryman: A bit of a wildcard, this food truck serving gourmet burgers, sausages, crab sandwiches and homemade cakes is permanently parked on Rozel Bay. Seating is al fresco, so bundle up if it’s a chilly day. The food is great and the charming atmosphere of Rozel Bay is unbeatable. Check their opening hours before you make the trip!

St. Helier Food Market: Local market serving the island for 200+ years, we found a lovely spot in bustling St. Helier to sit and enjoy some noodles and gyoza at ginger and cupcakes at the pretty bakery, Flour.

A good friend familiar with Jersey also recommend El Tico for brunch, which is definitely on our list for next time.

Childrens activities

With small children, relaxing on a holiday is sort of – nonexistent. Which is why we normally just call it “a trip”. 🙂

Jersey, however, spoiled us. There are loads of fun days out for kids, but the key – every single place we visited had clean, modern, and actually nice facilities (no soft play plastic grimy chairs). And most importantly, they cracked the code of having really nice cafes to keep the parents happy. Also helps that in Jersey you’re never in the car for more than 20 minutes so no “are we there yet?” cries for help from my very best backseat drivers.

Amazin’ Adventure Park has indoor and outdoor play areas, a small petting zoo, go-karts, slides, bouncing and more.

Jersey Zoo – Conservation focused zoo, beautiful grounds with a lovely cafe onsite.

Mont Orgueil Castle – This imposing fortress protected Jersey from the French invasion over 500 years ago and still stands today, with beautiful views over the island and ocean. Perched on a hill above the lovely Gorey harbour, with great restaurants and a perfect spot to enjoy Jersey ice cream.

The Botanic Gardens at Samarès Manor – Beautiful gardens with so many little hidden corners to explore and play, a newly opened cafe serving a gorgeous menu with vegan cakes, and – of course – a lovely little playground with picnic areas.

We moved quite fast and fit all this in during a 3 day/2 night trip, but we made lasting memories and fell in love with this small island! Thank you to Visit Jersey for having us, and we cannot wait to return for the perfect island break.

Five things to do on a day out in Notting Hill

Ahh, the gorgeous Notting Hill. Home to the famous Portobello Road…or maybe you know it from the movie with That Blue Door and Hugh Grants floppy hair…this colorful neighborhood has a feel all its own. A day in Notting Hill is always a good one, and is never quite enough! Here’s my list of the top 5 things to do for out a day out.

1. Portobello Road

Portobello road is iconic. I love an early Saturday spent browsing the stands, shops, and picking up a special little treasure for my kids (or myself, ha!). Some of my favorite shops to visit are Alice’s at the top end of Portobello (the antique shop made famous in Paddington as Gruber’s), Rough Trade – a cool record shop, and just browing the stalls filled to the brim with art, antique china, vintage toys, you name it they sell it.

You’ll no doubt have seen the colorful houses that line this street, and feel free to take photos but remember to respect the residents’ privacy, as some have grown weary of people standing on their steps. I really need to share my thoughts on this in a separate post, which I plan to do once I’ve had some time to sort it out!

2. Cafe Hop: Where to Eat

You’re going to need some food for all that walking you’ll be doing. My favorite places for breakfast/brunch are Eggbreak, The Dayrooms Cafe, Farm Girl (featuring THAT pink table), and Granger and Co.

For a snack, swing by Gails for a small cake or my favorite the maple pecan scone or a savory sandwich, or Ottolenghi for well, anything! Pedlars is great for vintage shopping, paper accessories, and they have delicious cakes and small salads/sandwiches.

For sweets, Biscuiteers have the most intricately decorated biscuits, Fabrique has life-changing Swedish style cinnamon or cardamom buns, and Hummingbird Bakery is cake heaven (my fave is the black bottom cupcake).

Grab dinner at the Electric Cinema, Taqueria, or The Chipping Forecast.

3. Shop till you drop

Westbourne Grove has lovely shops, from the newly opened French clothier, Sezane to the more established British brands like Paul Smith, Toast, and Jigsaw. Children’s shopping is great, too. My favorite stops are La Coqueta, BonTon, and Petit Bateau. For something special, Caramel Baby carries gorgeous things from Liberty print onesies to velvet dungarees – a total eye candy shop for me.

4. Colorful Houses

You know I can’t resist a colorful Notting Hill house! You can find houses in every color of the rainbow in this quirky neighborhood, and trust me, I do! I’m working on putting together a guide for those interested in visiting and seeing all these inspiring colorful houses. But a simple walk around the streets just off Portobello Road will take you to some lovely colorful streets.

5. Explore the hidden mews

Notting Hill is known for its gorgeous multi-million-pound mews homes, which were originally built as horse stables. Now, these charming houses are some of the more desirable property in London!

It doesn’t get more charming than St. Luke’s mews, home to the Love Actually pink house and other breathtakingly beautiful houses. Don’t be afraid to explore, but do be sure to respect the privacy of residents. Mews homes don’t typically have gardens, and homeowners make up for it with lavish gardens, including wisteria and jasmine vines, roses, potted trees, and more. It’s really something to see in person, so don’t miss the mews.

London in Bloom: My Top 4 Places to Find Magnolia

The warm weather this year has shocked all of London, including the delicate and pretty magnolia blossom – they are being coaxed out a bit early this year! I thought I would share a few of my favorite place to find these majestic flowering trees. Early to mid-March is typically peak magnolia in London, but it really does vary tree by tree. I hope this guide inspires you to go and explore the prettiest time of the year in London.

South Kensington. Walking between the South Kensington and Gloucester Road tube stops will bring you face to face with some of London’s most statuesque magnolia trees. With the gorgeous white stucco London mansions as a backdrop, the magnolia blossom colours just pop.

Notting Hill. There are several of these beauties around Notting Hill. Exit the Portobello Road tube stop, walk towards Portobello road and don’t be afraid to explore the side streets that are dotted with colorful houses and doors, and make your way to Holland Park, for some stunning magnolia.

Chelsea. Chelsea is actually covered in magnolia! It’s hard to walk around the village without spotting one. My favorite place to photograph is the area around St. Leonards Terrace – it is magnolia heaven.

Cathedrals and courtyards are a good place to find magnolia. St Mary le Strand is framed by magnolia trees, the churchyard in St Olave Hart Street, and courtyards south of Chancery Street (and getting lost in the back streets and courtyards in this area is like going back in time!).

Outside of London, there are a handful of National Trust gardens that would be a gorgeous day out! Maybe when I can actually drive again (waiting to pass that driving test soon), I’ll venture out to explore. Find the gardens here.

Happy blossom hunting!