Review: Hamblin Bread, Oxford

My first Oxford review must be dedicated to Hamblin. Not by choice, but by instinct. As I smuggled bites of their cardamom bun into my mouth while walking all that way home, I knew I found quite a gem. The long walk there from home seemed contrary to the desire to make this a regular haunt, but honestly all that fitness just fosters a more reasonable state of mind to pick and choose the baked goods, while upping the excitement along the way.

Cardamom bun

My top pick here must be the cardamom buns. They also do a whole range of other buns, including cinnamon and custard (below), but this remains top of the list for me. The edges are perfectly browned and crispy without being flaky, characteristic of a traditional cardamom bun. The cardamom flavour itself holds its own.

Custard bun
Cardamom bread pudding

Leftover or stale cardamom buns are also used to make this cardamom bread pudding which is both genius and delicious. A harder, sugary crumb crowns the slab of soft, squidgy deliciousness.

Chocolate chip cookie

This very simple cookie is chewy all the way through to the edges. This is the perfect chocolate chip cookie to me- a cute and manageable size, not too sweet, rough chunks of dark chocolate, a hearty mouthfeel with the fresh, locally-milled flour, and doesn’t leave you feeling sick, either. Speaking of flour, their infamous sourdough (below) is all the rage for all the right reasons. The crumb is thick, robust and tender, slightly stiff but never dry. The terrain is perfect for spreading on soft, salted butter.

Sourdough
Potato cheese pasty

The potato pasty sounds like an unnecessary carb-on-carb affair but I see why it’s so popular. The sizeable chunks of potato are never mushy or mixed with a bunch of random, weird herbs.

I do miss London with all her cafés, but places like this bring her right back to Oxford. There are so many hardworking, independent café owners that know exactly what they’re doing with the magic they offer day-to-day, and I’m living to promote it.

Hamblin Bread

247 Iffley Road

Oxford

Rating: 5/5

Maxi Coffee Bar

A small space with a well-lit interior with a couple of chairs, and a bench outside. Come here to read a book or work for a while on a weekday.

If you didn’t know, I was really into reviewing cafés before I knew about a lot of other life things, like doing the dishes properly and folding clothes neatly. I just read this one and couldn’t believe how much time I devoted to these. I stopped doing these reviews years ago due to time constraints and it’s impossible to keep up with changing menus and me flitting between England, Singapore and Germany… Nevertheless, after visiting quite a few special/hole-in-the-wall ones recently, and now that I no longer use Instagram, I feel that it is time for a review comeback. It’s a way of documenting these experiences in greater detail, making them more special and less fleeting.

Iced cereal milk latte ($7.50), the star here (ignore the dry nails)

In brief, if I would come back for anything, it would be this iced cereal milk latte and the canelé (shown below). The foamy, sweet brew is still reminiscent of an actual caffeine drink with a smooth and mildly bitter espresso, and the twist of salt takes the whole thing to the next level.

That canelé must be consumed with the latté together for the real deal. A moment of crunchy sweetness, washed down with a refreshing milky brew. The outside of the pastry is beautifully crisp without a weird burnt taste, the inside bouncy, sticky and moist. Not too sweet, not plain and painfully dry like many others I have tried. I can’t remember the price ($5?) but it was so reasonable for its size and quality. They also have a range of sweet and savoury toast options, all made in-house.

Yup, I’ll be back.

Maxi Coffee Bar
6 Ann Siang Hill
Hours: Tues-Fri 8am – 5pm, Weekends 9pm – 5pm, closed on Mondays

Peanut Butter Banana Marshmallow Grilled Sandwich

Having woken up from a deep heady nap that lasted all of 1 hour, I finally feel motivated to share this. Sometimes I get ideas that I know may have been attempted before or seem too simple to write about, but even these should never be left behind, especially if they taste this good. I struggle to remember that it’s not about whether your idea has been attempted before, it’s about how well you do it.

I recently read an article about why people with anxiety or depression should not be eating processed, inflammatory foods so as not to increase inflammation in the body- one of the root causes underlying the mechanisms of neurological disease is inflammation. I have always known this, and would not stir at the accusation of me being something of a hypocrite, waxing lyrical the good fortune of nutrition and a plant-based diet, while I myself write lengthy blogposts about sugar. I understand, I do, but having experienced the terrifying nature of what restricting entire food groups can do to my own health (orthorexic tendencies, heightened anxiety in social situations centred around a meal), and trying to cut out sugar entirely many times, I know that such drastic measures do not cut it, at least for me. Which is why I promote these recipes not to promote diabetes, but rather a sense of moderation, to let people know that yes, it’s ok to have this cookie once in a while, and you won’t die. And of course you can whip out the stevia or trivia as substitutions if that suits you better…

Sandwich time. Speaking specifically about toasties, I ate these regularly in primary school, and was relieved to not have to pack lunch in high school because God forbid I got another one. Only kids eat these anyway, right? Yet, squidged between my regular Asian lunches of mixed economy rice, I found myself buying the occasional (tuna mayo) sandwich. Then university rolled round. One of my close friends offered to share his delicious-smelling toastie with me. I reluctantly tried the deceivingly simple concoction of cheese and tomato, and could not help the wave of nostalgia rippling through my body as I sunk my teeth into the pressed, golden bread, glossy on the underside with the perfect hit of mayonnaise, and I do feel that mayonnaise is the underdog in a lot of classic favourites. Here I replicate something similar for the sweet tooth- you can do this in a toastie maker of course, but I decided to do it on a stovetop for adaptability.

Why not jazz it up by pressing a croissant with the same combination too?

Ah, an unreal crisp. Golden, buttery bread giving way to a soft, goo-on-goo inside. Once again, so simple, such child’s play. And yet, so satisfying. Given the pandemic and all the political nonsense in the world now, it feels good and right to return to what grounded us as children- a safe and familiar haven. As humans we like to seek out patterns and familiarity, to some degree. This may be an element of that. Little things like making toasties and sharing them with coffee may even help us rewire our brains for positivity and excitement.

Note: you can use bread that is not white of course, but white toasting bread is usually the optimal shape for toastie making, readily absorbing the melted butter that you brush on top and letting the heat penetrate its pores when the toastie maker is ready.

Peanut butter Marshmallow Toastie

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that will be mentioned below the recipe

Ingredients

2 thick slices of white bread*

1 tbsp butter*

2 tbsp peanut butter

half a banana, sliced

handful of marshmallows, each sliced in half*

*vegan sub: use vegan butter or vegetable oil instead of butter (I suggest staying away from avocado oil as the flavour is too strong and will overwhelm the rest of the flavours). Use vegan marshmallows instead of regular marshmallows.

*gluten-free sub: use gluten-free bread

Directions

Take one slice of bread and spread one side with butter. Repeat with the other slice of bread (around 0.5 tbsp butter on each slice). If you’re using a toastie maker, use slightly less butter. Make sure your butter is soft before spreading. Then spread 1 tbsp of peanut butter on the other side of each slice of bread. Now have your two slices facing you with the peanut butter sides facing upwards. Put the banana slices on one slice of bread and the cut marshmallows on the other. Then sandwich the bread slices so that the banana and marshmallows face each other on the inside of the sandwich.

Heat your pan on medium heat and press the sandwich down. Use a spatula to press it. After around 4 minutes check the underside of the sandwich with your spatula- it should be golden-brown and the marshmallows should look melty. Flip the sandwich over and press down again. Cook for another two minutes. The banana should be soft and the peanut butter and marshmallows should be soft and melty. Cut whichever way you want and enjoy alone or with a strong coffee.

Biscoff Oreo Brownies

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This deserves to be recipe of the year. For me, at least. I’ll keep it short and sweet for everyone’s convenience today. Brownies are overdone and the combinations one can experiment with seem to be endless. The brownie category in every baking blog is usually a saturated one– basic fudgy, basic chewy, Nutella, jam-bellied, the works. You would think I’d be tired of reading or trying out any new brownie recipe at this point. BUT NO. This particular recipe features angles of child’s play, a three-stranded braid of chocolate, biscoff and oreo. I usually do a ‘Notes’ section just above the recipe itself for clarity and guidance, but the ease of this recipe needs no additional guidance aside from the simple steps stated below. The whole process of putting the brownie together and baking it takes around half an hour. Anyone can do it, during any point of the week. I guess my one note would be that, for maturity’s sake, the addition of salt both in and top of the batter is quite necessary.

I like recipes that make me feel like a 5 year-old at a birthday party, and this is the epitome of that. These brownies makes me feel all kinds of things that I hope you feel too- sunshine, sticky fingers, making reckless decisions that make for the best memories.

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When I was vegan one of my more sinful home staples was Biscoff, or lotus biscuit spread. I think I put it on apples, in place of peanut butter, which I also love but didn’t quite hit the spot in that moment. As a child I never thought much of the cinnamon, crumbly biscuits themselves, almost always served alongside a piping-hot cup of green tea at the hairdresser’s, but I did enjoy the spread miles more. The crunchy one specifically made my heart sing. Came across the spread here in Germany and felt a wave of nostalgia flood through my system. These are by far one of the best brownies I have ever toyed with. They are:

  • extremely fudgy in the middle
  • quite chewy all around the edges
  • layered with oreo biscuits

The swirling of the biscoff spread into the batter ensures that the crunch and notes of cinnamon of the spread melts into the brownies themselves as they bake in the oven and doesn’t simply exist as an isolated layer in the brownies. I recommend the crunchy stuff because I simply prefer the added crunch, but do smooth if that’s what you prefer, or if you think the crunch of the oreo cookies will suffice.

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Biscoff Oreo Brownies (makes 8 brownies in a loaf tin)

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that will be mentioned below the recipe

Ingredients

90g butter*

100g dark chocolate, chopped

1 egg*

½ tsp salt

120g sugar

150g Biscoff spread (crunchy/smooth)

45g all-purpose flour

25g cocoa powder

5-6 oreo cookies

Coarse salt for sprinkling on top

*vegan sub: use the same amount of vegan butter or margarine in place of the butter. For the egg, use 2 flax eggs: make this by mixing 2 tbsp ground flaxseed with 5 tbsp water in a small bowl, and let that gel for a while before you use it

Directions

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F) and line a loaf tin with parchment paper. You can also do this in an 8×8-inch square tin. Put the chocolate and butter into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second increments on high until everything has melted together well. Let this cool for about 3 minutes before using- dip your finger into the chocolate-butter mixture to make sure it’s more or less at room temperature. It’s fine if it is still a little bit warm.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg (or vegan flax eggs) and sugar together well, until foamy. Then add the chocolate-butter mixture, salt, flour and cocoa powder. Whisk well until everything comes together and the batter seems to pull away from the edges. Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Put dollops of biscoff spread onto random parts of the brownie batter and use a knife to swirl it through the chocolatey batter. Then put 5-6 whole oreo cookies on top of the batter and press them down into the batter. The batter will be pushed up between the cookies; use the back of a spoon to spread these parts over the cookies. Sprinkle the top with coarse salt before putting the tin in the oven.

Bake for 25 minutes. Check at the 20-minute mark, if a wooden skewer inserted into the middle comes out with wet crumbs then you can take it out already. If it is still very gloopy and wet, leave it in for a few more minutes. If you’re baking this in a square pan, you will only need half the baking time. Leave the brownies to cool at room temperature on a cooling rack or heatproof surface for half an hour before cutting and serving. They are perfect on their own, but also good with ice cream or a scoop of crème fraiche on top.

Matcha White Chocolate Hotcake

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Hi there, time for your weekly dose of my word vomit.

Things I’ve appreciated the past week:

  • This place. It’s just such a fun and pleasurable shopping experience.
  • Making pancakes using pancake mix because it’s American Week (haha) at the grocery stores, mixing frozen blueberries into the batter and sandwiching the pancakes with cream cheese filling. Might do a separate post on this one, but all I have to say is the following: my name is Alex and I have finally made pancakes using pre-made mix. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • Making lots of this. It’s the perfect vegan, slightly fudgy yet simultaneously fluffy mug cake. I love a lot of mug cakes for their general ease and convenience, but this is definitely one of my favourites. The optional chocolate is actually a must. And how simple!
  • This show is most certainly not overrated. Heavy on the crying, a well-paced storyline. Just the way it should be.

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A couple of weeks ago I taught someone who never tried matcha before how to make matcha tea, ‘with water first, not milk’, he insisted. I coughed and gave in. There’s a degree of maturity about matcha, even to the seasoned black coffee drinker (me). I drink my coffee black but when it comes to the green stuff, I almost always resort to adding a generous splash of oat milk to soften its edges. I do think believe that people who want to start drinking coffee should enjoy it naked, but matcha necessitates an easing into, a softer approach. Maybe a matcha latte first. I regret not recommending the latter to him; I have this bad habit of not thinking through something properly in the moment. When it comes to baking with matcha, you’re hard-pressed for another ingredient to overshadow its deeper, earthy notes. I was lucky to find a cheap tin of matcha at the Asian grocery store here. It’s almost been a month since I arrived and I’m still not even halfway done with it. 2.50€, would you believe it? Well I still don’t. I know that most places sell matcha powder at a much higher price so don’t feel pressured to burn a hole in your wallet just to make this- you’re also fine making this with half the amount of matcha.

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added banana at the end which is optional!

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with mascarpone, muesli and frozen raspberries

What I love about this hotcake is that, apart from its obvious matcha flavour, something I find lacking in a lot of matcha baking recipes, it’s perfect for sharing with others, or if you live alone, simply freeze whatever you have left and heat it up another time. It’s bouncy, fluffy, with melted white chocolate here and there surprising you at each bite. Matcha and white chocolate are like peas in a pod. Rich, bitter ground leaves with smooth and sweet chocolate. The darling of chocolates.

Key points:

  • DO use the stated amount of baking powder. It may seem like a lot but it’s necessary here
  • The low heat throughout is important, otherwise you will burn that hotcake. Yes, it happened the first time…
  • I added chopped banana to mine but this is optional, I thought it added a different depth of sweetness aside from the white chocolate to cut through the deeper notes of green tea.
  • I recommend using a wide, heavy-duty, nonstick pan that’s at least 9.5 inches. You risk burning the bottom too fast otherwise. Use a frying pan instead of a skillet because skillets are less sensitive to changes in temperature and don’t conduct heat as well. Save those for the oven recipes.
  • A lid for the pan is necessary to cook the top evenly while the bottom cooks, but if you don’t have one you can use a baking sheet. You might have to hold it steady because of its bulk but work with what you have!

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Matcha White Chocolate Hotcake (for 3-4 people)

*indicates a vegan or gluten-free substitution that will be mentioned below the recipe. Please refer to the key points stated above to guide you.

Ingredients

1 egg*

4 tbsp or 28g sugar

0.5 tsp salt

120ml (1/2 cup) milk of choice

35g butter, plus 1 tbsp extra for the pan*

8g (almost 1 tbsp) baking powder

10g (1 heaped tbsp) matcha powder

100g (3/4 cup+2 tbsp) all-purpose flour*

25g (a medium handful) white chocolate, plus more for melting and drizzling on top afterwards (optional)

Optional add-ins: chopped banana or nuts

 

*vegan substitutions: use 1 flax egg instead of the egg. Make this by mixing 1 tbsp ground flaxseed with 3 tbsp water in a small bowl and let that gel for a while before you use it. Use vegan butter in place of regular butter. Coconut oil will work but avocado oil is a little too strong for this recipe.

*gluten-free substitution: substitute the all-purpose flour for the same amount of gluten-free flour blend or 120g of almond flour

 

Directions

Put the butter in a small microwaveable bowl and heat it in the microwave on high power for at least 30-40 seconds, or until melted. Let that cool for a couple of minutes until it reaches room temperature before using. In another medium bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, sugar and salt. If you’re making the vegan egg, make sure the ground flax has gelled up first before mixing it with the other ingredients. Then whisk in the butter when it’s cooled down. Whisk until the mixture is pale and has a slight froth on top. In a separate small bowl, briefly whisk together the flour, baking powder, matcha powder and white chocolate.

Tip this dry mixture into the wet mix and mix everything together with a spoon until just combined. Add the optional add-ins (nuts/banana) at this point. Do not overmix. The mixture will seem thick but will drop off your spoon quite easily with a flick of the hand. Add 2 tbsp more milk if it looks too thick.

Get out your wide pan that’s at least 9.5 inches. You can get away with 9 but you must watch the bottom carefully and keep the heat very low. Put the pan on medium heat and add a generous tablespoon of butter to it. Once the butter is melted, tilt the pan at angles so it coats the entire surface. Add the matcha hotcake batter to the pan and spread it so it evenly coats the bottom with the bottom of a spoon. Put the lid on and let the hotcake cook for 5 minutes, occasionally lifting the lid to wipe off excess condensation. After 5 minutes you should see the edges turn slightly darker and there will be bubbles popping on the surface. At this point, reduce heat to low and continue to cook the hotcake for 7 more minutes, or until the surface is dry and a wooden stick inserted into the middle of the hotcake comes out with dry crumbs.