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Laduree.

Another of our pre-planned stops on what I have now lovingly dubbed the “European Tasting Tour” (because “no carb left behind” just didn’t have the same ring to it) was Laduree.

img_9870Purveyor of macarons, sweet treats of all kinds, and a tea service that blew my mind, Laduree originated in Paris but now has locations in Paris, London, and in the chic SoHo district of New York City. I feel like I may sound like a broken record now when I say: the store was breathtaking, the sweets were over-the-top, the presentation was divine.

Yep, Laduree was another of those incredible destinations. A feast for the eyes, the Laduree we visited was in the ground floor of Harrod’s, and was breathtaking. Chandeliers. Richly wallpapered walls. Opulence.

Crystals hung like teardrops weeping at the beauty and sweetness.There was a girl sitting two tables over who must have been about all of thirteen years old and was wearing Givenchy sunglasses and carrying a Fendi bag. The long-legged girl at the next table over had trendy grey-bleached hair, a short black sheath dress paired with 5″ stilettos, thick lipstick the color of crushed berries and precisely-winged black eyeliner. She must surely have been a model.

We ordered the full tea service, and sat waiting for it awkwardly. What kind of conversation does one make in a place like this? I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t think any words I would have to say would be worthy of the opulence surrounding me. Everything I wanted to say felt out of place and loud.

Our food arrived and it was wearing clothespins. I am not kidding. Perhaps this is a routine thing with fancy food, but for me it was all new.

My food is wearing clothespins. I can't.

My food is wearing clothespins. I can’t.

I was certain of little more than the overwhelming feeling I had that I was completely out of my element. This was an important realization for me because, while I wish to create an environment at Oh My Cupcakes! that’s aesthetically pleasing, beautiful, extra special, I also wish to create a place where people feel welcomed. Where they feel our hospitality and never feel out of place. Interesting observation.

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This box of macarons can be yours for the low, low price of 680 pounds. Roughly $800.

And while I love when people walk in and ooh and ahh at the beautiful environment that is Oh My Cupcakes!, I love it equally as much when we host my dad’s black-leather-clad motorcycle club brothers on Veteran’s Day. It is our hope that we’ve created a place that’s a feast for the eyes, but also one where everyone feels like they belong. It’s led me to create an Oh My Cupcakes! manifesto, which will be in a separate blog post.

Was the tea service incredible? Yes. Were the macarons some of the best I’ve ever had? Yes. However, they STILL did not top CH Patisserie here in Sioux Falls. Nope, Chef Chris still has the “best macaron” on lock, in my opinion.

Laduree was certainly worth the stop, but what I gleaned from that visit was worth more than any sweet pastry creation. It was a lesson in humanity, in emotion, and in belonging.

Like Nothing I’ve Ever Seen

I’ve heard of Harrod’s. Sure, of course I’ve heard of the department store in London. It’s big, right? It’s like a Neiman-Marcus or a big Macy’s, right?

Oh, you silly, silly girl.

I had no idea what to expect from Harrod’s in London. The only reason we headed that direction is because I knew Laduree was in the ground floor of Harrod’s. Laduree was one of the planned stops on the tour (read that post in a few moments!) but I didn’t know what to expect from Harrod’s.

Stop in while we’re on our way to Laduree? Sure, why not!

Harrod’s is like nothing I’d ever seen before. Picture floors and floors, thousands of square feet of luxury. Opulence. Dare I say it? I do. Excess. Excess as far as the eye could take in.

What I didn’t expect though, were cupcakes. And cakes. And delicious desserts galore. In fact, I’m just going to leave all of these drool-inducing photos right here for your enjoyment.

Sari Cake

Have you ever seen such a thing? A sari cake? Unimaginable detail.

Many times called Fairy Cakes, aren't these just dainty and beautiful?

Many times called Fairy Cakes, aren’t these just dainty and beautiful?

Can you even imagine? Notice the pricing on this guy.

Can you even imagine? Notice the pricing on this guy. 270 pounds. Which is about $300 or so.

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Again. Everything edible. Please, can I have this entire cake to myself with a fork in my living room while binge-watching Netflix?

Ah yes. Cupcakes. Delectable flavors. Interesting presentation. This trip has been all about observing and learning (ok, and eating, too) and we've done a lot of each!

Ah yes. Cupcakes. Delectable flavors. Interesting presentation. This trip has been all about observing and learning (ok, and eating, too) and we’ve done a lot of each!

Again, with the exquisite detail. And again with the pricing. All of that customization takes time, and time sure does cost money.

Again, with the exquisite detail. And again with the pricing. All of that customization takes time, and time sure does cost money.

Unicorn cakes are all the rage in the United States and beyond! Don't you love the sherbet-looking ombre effect? (Especially with the ganache drizzled over top.)

Unicorn cakes are all the rage in the United States and beyond! Don’t you love the sherbet-looking ombre effect? (Especially with the ganache drizzled over top.)

Nutella is EVERYWHERE in Europe! But this is the first time I'd seen Nutella x Oreo! Nice touch, having both of them in one creation. I'm predicting you'll see a Nutella cupcake in our near future.

Nutella is EVERYWHERE in Europe! But this is the first time I’d seen Nutella x Oreo! Nice touch, having both of them in one creation. I’m predicting you’ll see a Nutella cupcake in our near future.

Overall, Harrod’s was unexpected. I thought we would find what we were looking for at Laduree. But we found delightful creations before we had even arrived at our intended destination.

Presentation is Everything

Have you ever heard the phrase “we eat with our eyes first”? That phrase quantifies why presentation is so important. Anyone (well, most anyone) can make delicious baked confections, but if they’re served with a thumbprint in the frosting or a piece cracked off of one side, the first impression is less-than-satisfying. London was ALL about presentation. The pride that accompanied not only the baked goods but the styling of the bakeries themselves was like nothing I’ve experienced before.

Presenting our next stop: Elan Cafe.

Elan is another little spot revered for their use of florals, which decorate nearly every inch of the place. In fact, their flower wall has been called “the most instagrammable spot in London.” So picture-worthy, in fact, that they choose one location-tagged pic every week to win a free coffee. This is an excellent idea!

The thing we didn’t realize about Elan from pictures I had seen ahead of time was how very small it is inside! The tables are in the basement, and it’s about the size of my living room. You have to be very comfortable squeezing in next to perfect strangers in Elan.

After asking our very French, very funny waiter what were the best things on the menu, I took his advice and had a summer fruit tart. Once again those summer fruits were all over the place. It was the pinnacle of presentation and the fruit flavors blended so well together. It was a win.

Amanda asked what she should have and he recommended the Hazelnut Tart. (Ah-zelnoo was how he said it, which left us just nodding and saying “sure, sounds good!”) It WAS good, the chopped, toasted hazelnuts melded with the light hazelnut whip, the dark chocolate, and the croissant/cookie-like pastry just perfectly. It wasn’t too heavy, just rich and delicious.

Elan is all about their coffee, so a latte was a nice accompaniment. No flavored syrup in Europe typically, just straight up latte. Also good.

I noticed they had “Coke light taste” (Diet Coke) on the menu, so I asked to order one. He literally wouldn’t not let me! At first I thought he was kidding, (“zees no goot.”) But he would not let me order it! He said it wouldn’t go well with the pastry, shook his head in disapproval and waited for my next option. It seemed more good-natured than anything else, so I laughed and ordered tea. The tea was another summer floral tea, but it came steeping and I was instructed to “wait until the flower blooms” to drink it. I wasn’t able to capture a good picture, but that’s exactly what it did inside the little French-press type glass pot, and it was both a feast for the visual sense as well as delicious.

It was incredibly hot in London, so I also asked for tap water with ice, and he smiled and rolled his eyes as he said, “ah, you Americans.” Finally he obliged and said, “Ice,” but qualified, “on the side” as if he had won an argument and was getting the last word. 🙂

Helpful hint in Europe: It does not matter how hot the weather is. You will need to ask for ice *specifically* if you want it for your water. Every. Single. Time.

He was hilarious. And difficult to understand. He was good-natured and he made every customer feel lighter and happier. Because of his thick French accent, we did a lot of smiling and nodding and taking his advice on the menu. That was perfectly ok; he didn’t steer us wrong.

More flowers as you round the top of the steps and head downward into the basement, which is the main location of the tables at Elan. Those servers must climb 2,487 flights in a day as they went up, down, up, down grabbing pastries from upstairs and serving guests downstairs.

Everything at Elan was about beauty. Their desserts were presented sumptuously with exquisite detail. I wanted to try everything.

With the heat in London, picking anything for “take-away” wasn’t a viable option, so we chose only the two and chose to photograph everything else. The pictures may look good enough to eat, but I promise they taste better in person!

Rose petal with sugar-syrup “dew” and gold flake on top of a raspberry macaron dessert. Serious detail.

This is inlaid into the marble at the top of the stairs at Elan. Coffee? Yes. Yes please.

Elan was another highly-anticipated stop. There were things that were different than I had expected (the overall size of the place, for instance) but I was not one bit let down. It was everything I had hoped in terms of presentation and beauty.

Though they do serve sandwiches for lunch, we did not partake, so I cannot comment on how they taste. Sort of on this “eat dessert first” trek, we stuck to the most important things at Elan.

Media Uploading….

That’s what I keep seeing every time I try to post a new blog.

I’ve got so many stops to tell you about; so many ideas bouncing around in my head, so many flavors to describe. Unfortunately, the internet in Europe is more spotty than a Dalmatian, and has made it difficult to blog regularly.

Fear not. I’ve got skads of pictures to share, so as soon as I get great service again I will share all my words and photos until you TLDR (too long, didn’t read) me. Until then, enjoy this picture of some stuffed corgis I found at a Buckingham Palace gift shop. That is, if it will ever finish uploading.

The First Stop Had to Be…

As we began our journey through Europe, there was no doubt where our first stop would be. Peggy Porschen Cakes in London has a reputation for their bespoke cakes and their love of all things beautiful. Wisteria floral cascades draped the top and the sides of the soft pink doorway, creating the perfect Insta moment for so many. In fact, the queue to snap the perfect photo was nearly as substantial as the queue to grab the perfect table. I admit, I was right there with everyone else.

Quaint white-painted metal tables and chairs lined the sidewalk, but in our desire to enjoy the full cakery experience, we decided to dine inside. Our wait for a table was quite reasonable at roughly fifteen minutes, during which time we stood aside repeatedly for those attempting that “just right” shot. (Smile! Wait, now point at the sign. Here, look up and tilt your chin to the right. That’s it, have a look now!) We were obviously not the only ones who had been enchanted by Peggy Porchen long before arriving.

Once inside, the tiny store was blooming with flowers on nearly every surface. Tables were close enough to get exceptionally cozy with strangers, but no one seemed to mind. The chandeliers, the marble, and the filigree designs on the white woodwork were all straight out of a storybook. Note: the Brits love their florals, as you’ll see in subsequent posts to come.

The Cupcakes and full-sized cakes posed proudly and beautifully in the open-backed glass case, with each flavor marked by a small descriptor sign similar to those we use at Oh My Cupcakes! They offered six flavors of cupcakes and several other sweet treats like macrons and pound cake. I chose a slice of the Strawberry Champagne cake. The sponge (the cake itself) was moist and flavorful, although I didn’t catch too much actual champagne flavor. Strawberry jam between the layers ensured the cake did not become dry. The crumb was a little on the tougher side for a cake such as this, meaning it didn’t fall apart and crumble. To be honest, that’s just the way I prefer mine, so no complaints here.

The buttercream. For the love of all that is good and holy, where do I begin on the buttercream? From the appearance standpoint, the light to dark pink had a lovely ombré effect that denoted a strawberry flavor perfectly. It was so light, but had enough texture to it to be fully satisfying, and was not overly sweet. If I’m guessing, I’d bet it had to be Swiss Meringue buttercream for the way it left a velvety soft feeling on the tongue.

Amanda chose the Summer Berry cupcake. It was obvious that berries are in season as they were featured heavily in many bakery items all across London. The cake looked dark on top, which always leads me to believe the cake will be dry and over baked. That wasn’t the case with this little summer beauty, however. It was moist, it sang a chorus of great berry flavors, and the little heart on top was a flavor syringe filled with berry compote. As you were enjoying the cupcake, it was to be lifted out of the sponge as you drizzled the compote on top of your pastry. Only one small thing; the pleasant server said the syringe was filled with chocolate, so it was a surprise to find the berry syrup. Still delicious, to be sure, it’s just a good rule of thumb in life not to promise a woman chocolate if there’s no chocolate to be had.

We also enjoyed a pot of tea for two which even poured pink, and it was served in adorable little pot so common at pastry shops in London. We lingered. We savored. We gazed around with curiosity and wonder. We took our share of photos, and the pleasant staff didn’t make us feel like an inconvenience for doing so. Interestingly, our fellow guests didn’t make us feel like an inconvenience either. (More on that later.)

The full-sized cakes were a lovely addition to the offerings. I loved that you can enjoy your own slice of heaven in addition to (or alongside) a cupcake.

Peggy Porschen Cakes was one of my most anticipated stops. It certainly did not disappoint. The servers were friendly, the customers were happy, and the pastry was top-notch in quality. It’s hard to say at this point in the journey, but I may have been able to stop at Peggy’s and forego some of the others! (It was that good.)

Side note: they also have the Peggy Porschen Academy, which is down a half a block from their retail store and which offers classes in creating cakes like Peggy’s. It was closed for refurbishment (and perhaps for the summer) but seems like a GREAT place to go learn in the future.

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