Walking into Pinnies and Poppy Seeds the merry, recently-opened shop on St. Mary’s street, just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, is like falling face first into a butter pillow-topped mattress, welcoming, warm and so delicious. Jennifer Hunter flung open her white-wooden doors on August 1st after converting a dismal Danish cafe into her perfect spot to showcase her artinsanal, pure-butter shortbread and array of home-made pinnies (aprons for all you non-U.K.-based bakers). The pure-butter is not only evident in the smell of the shop, but the seven packs of gold-foil wrapped Scottish butter softening on the windowsill.
I was introduced to Jennifer by her, ‘biggest advocate and most remarkable customer’ and a mutual friend, Toni. Jennifer invited me to join her for a morning of baking to see her skills in action. I arrived coffees in hand and was greeted by an always smiling Jennifer sporting her white-logoed button-up and green pinnie with matching logo. She already had two batches of shortbread in the oven and several more varieties were well under way. Jennifer had accomplished all this in 30 minutes since early morning start. Her motivation is a trait she gets from her mother. I wondered: would I be able to keep up with her?
We went straight to work- Pinnies and Poppy Seeds is open everyday except Sunday, I arrived at eight o’clock giving us two hours to prepare the first round of daily baked goods. First up-white chocolate and dark chocolate billionaire shortbread truffles (better than a millionaire- Jennifer aims big!). This recipe developed by Jennifer makes use of the smaller cookies, combining home made caramel and medium-sized crumbs of her original shortbread biscuits. This mixture is rolled into bite-sized balls and then coated in melted chocolate and finally tossed in toasted coconut.
Jennifer found her inspiration while working at an Edinburgh institution, The Fudge House, while there, she began to notice a stream of tourists coming into the store, asking where they could find shortbread, which is considered our national biscuit. Seeing a gap in the market (Jennifer holds a undergraduate degree in psychology and a masters in management) and coupled with her love of baking she spent a year developing and perfecting her recipe. When she was ready she started selling on weekends at local farmer’s markets. Her impressions, ‘There was enough interest and I thought it might work, but at first I did not think I would end up here with this empire!’
Jennifer spoke enthusiastically about her mother and grandmother and the time she spent baking with them where she grew up in southern California. In fact her preferred treat and one of her best-sellers, Ballantyne toffee is a recipe passed along to her from her grandmother and angel investor. This top-secret recipe involves a candy thermometer and once cooled is coated on both sides with chocolate and crushed almonds. Jennifer’s family has Scottish roots and according to census records claims a baker from the Scottish borders in her family tree- this was meant to be. The décor of the shop is largely inspired by her mother, green, white and black with gunny-sack curtains. I can just picture Jennifer in her similarly-decorated family home enjoying what she says would be her last meal, ‘her dad’s tri-tip steak from the grill, her mom’s perfectly balanced potato salad and a glass of Californian wine’. Would there be shortbreads for afters? Jennifer did all the refurbishment herself, she takes her role of small-business owner very seriously and is an excellent manager- I enjoyed my three hours under her supervision. She was tough but fair!
We moved straight into the classic biscuits and Jennifer shared a secret, baking the batches at a lower temperature for about an hour, prevents an over-baked sweet. She also swears by an oven thermometer- never trust your oven! There are about five flavors on any given day at Pinnies and Poppy Seeds, during our session we worked on classic, almond, lemon, poppy seed and cardamon white chocolate. It was a challenge to resist a dough grab and taste- but I did!
My favourite and the cutest-looking treats are the ‘shorties’, chubby little shortbreads sandwiched with a ganache of varying flavours, the day we baked, the filling was a white chocolate variety with a swirl of local triple berry jam which is piped expertly onto a very small surface. I had a go and was not as adept as Jennifer who could probably do her piping blind folded. Other flavours she makes in the shortie style are chocolate and a chocolate orange, a new variety she is thinking of creating is Victoria sponge- with butter-cream and a touch of jam. I think Her Majesty might swing by the next time she is in town. How delicious does that sound?
The recipe process led to my curiosity about flavour development. Her biggest flavour invention is her cardamom white chocolate biscuit and while she admits to not being the first baker to have invented this combination, Jennifer says, ‘more than any of the other tastes, this is the one which I get the most intrigued reactions, and besides the all-butter, is the one which sells the best.’ While she cannot recall the exact origins of this shortbread, she knew she wanted to differentiate it from the other unfrosted varieties and the addition of white chocolate with a pinch of the fresh-ground spice was the perfect finishing touch. While confessing to some flavour-fails, ‘the market was great for that, I would do them [different flavours] and if people did not like them, they would just tell you then and there.’ Several lovely pairings which did not make the cut, ‘ there were some I was surprised that failed- like pistachio and rose, I think it is such a great combination, but nobody bought it, so sadly I do not make it any more. The lavender and honey which I usually do in the shortie did not really sell either.’ Which flavours would you like to see next?
Swing by and share the shortbread experience with Jennifer, she still has the same enthusiasm for her craft and her customers as she did when she sold her first piece of shortbread, ‘the first person to buy my shortbread was a lovely little old granny. She had a cup of tea with it and I watched her as she took her first bite – she smiled, it was amazing!’
Find Pinnies and Poppy Seeds on twitter:
Have you, have you? If you have not and you are an Edinburgh-based cake-lover, you should hustle yourself down to Westport to see the lady bakers (Holly and the gang) and sample the guest espresso they have in the hopper and try to resist the cakes and other baked goods with only free smells of the tasty treats. They have recently hired a new baker who works out of their Leith production kitchen creating combinations like Lemon and Coconut cake, a malted walnut tart, Lemon and Thyme sponge cake, pear frangipane and a beautiful looking Lavendar layer cake.
Ben and I headed for our coffee-fix one recent Sunday after the gym and Ben succumbed to the flour-less chocolate cake, ‘the healthiest option’ according to him as it was gluten free. I looked on in amazement as he lost weight before my eyes while eating this calorie bomb- oh to be Ben!
You can find more about Lovecrumbs and on twitter: @hellolovecrumbs
They are on INSTAGRAM too ans just posted a gooseberry meringue tart. Can you imagine the tart deliciousness in that slice? Saliva glands activate.
Start drooling NOW!
SUN-FILLED… For those of you who doubt Edinburgh gets sunshine, here is the proof- The Meadows. the lovely park located just behind my work!
We had a fabulous run of ‘warm’ weather recently, but this still means you need an extra layer and you can still curl up under a duvet as you drift off while it is still really light out doors.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival releases the schedule for this year’s event tomorrow. The 2013 festival runs from June 19-30. The festival started in 1947 and has boasted some fabulous premieres- Brave made its European debut last year.
What I am hoping for is another set of fantastic films shown outdoors in St. Andrew’s Square the weekend before. They were a complete surprise last year, but now we know there could be a possibility of screenings, we can look out for them.
Last year was just miserable, we only saw about thirty minutes of Toy Story II, before turning in our free ponchos and heading home for dry movie watching.We have June 14 off, so this would be the perfect day to picnic and movie watch in the city centre.
What would be your favourite outdoor film?
There are times when I sit on the bus or in a cafe and I could swear the language I hear is something other than English. To this day, I still find the Scottish accent a struggle to understand. Of course, there are the people who enunciate clearly and I can pick up all the words, but then there are others who seem to chat so fast and run all their phrases together I am at a total loss.
With the Edinburgh festival season soon upon us, I thought I would help those of you who will be coming to Edinburgh to clog our streets in the coming months with some Scottish words which might ‘elp ya seem lika local.
Some of my favourites:
CRABIT – GRUMPY
BOGGIN – FILTHY
SCHOOGLE – WIGGLE
HOACHIN – REALLY BUSY CROWD
HAVER – TALK TO MUCH
DRUTH – THIRSTY
BLUTERED – VERY DRUNK
SCHFUTY – A LITTLE PEAK
TATTYBOGGLER – SCARECROW
These are such fun, I am going to work them into converation this week. First test will be at a very Scottish afterwork festivity tomorrow evening. Skittles at The Sheep’s Heid, Edinburgh’s oldest pub.
For more words, there are many more here.
We arrived in Edinburgh two years ago today. Crazy to think this is possible, but it is, we have the easyjet ticket stubs to prove it. I married a slight hoarder. The two weeks before I started my job were packed with exploring our new city, finding a place to stay, realizing we would never be hot again and adjusting to life in an English speaking country. Here are some of the photos from that time.
Ben and I are looking forward to more years in Edinburgh, so if you have not yet visited us or the city, there is no real rush… or is there?
Six years of wedded bliss- this is completely true. As my grandmother would have said, ‘you picked a winner ‘. The winner and I had a low-key anniversary. Breakfast at home, followed by tasty coffees from the newest cafe in our neighborhood- Blue Bear, coffees in hand, we strolled to the Botanical Gardens to people watch while we read magazines and books. I realize these sound like activities for a 20th anniversary when we are in our fifties, but it was just our speed!
Then we went nuts and had dinner at our local cafe-The Roamin Nose and listened to a band of the cutest, hipster teens- The Haar. I think we were the only people who were not ‘with the band’, but they were fun to see- you can follow them on twitter @thehaar .
For those of you who are not in the know on Scottish meteorology, haar is a coastal fog. It is mostly used in towns which border the North Sea. So educational this blog.
We did not exchange gifts this year- we are going on a trip this summer which will be our special treat.
Thanks for the fabulous years, Ben- here is to six more- minimum!
Since I have been hyping this weekend’s half-marathon more than I should have, I owe you an equally engrossing recap, however I fear the video I posted just the other day sums up the experience in a wind-tousled nutshell.
Picture it- Sunday, April 14, light breaks through a cloudy sky, Reia and Buffy ask themselves- how can rain be vertical and horizontal at the same time? It is impossible, but in Edinburgh our fearless twosome soon realize it is happening before their sleep-encrusted eyes.
Out the door they head, Reia dressed like a true runner in her Falke gear and Buffy like a adopt-a-highway trash collector- hi-vis yellow. Followed closely by Ben- support crew and official photographer of our backs.
Exhausted by the time they arrive at the starting line- curses you hills, Reia and Buffy attempt to stay warm by jogging in place, hopping from one ice-blocked foot to the other and giggling about the male racers relieving themselves in the Queen’s well-trimmed hedges.
Finding themselves in corral 8 meant they had to wait an additional 10 minutes before they would even step foot over the starting line. When it happened, they were good to go- passing people at a steady rate. They even saw the sun for a minute or two.
They pass the first band- trying to play and sing through the wind, they pass the second- Reia continues to give Buffy updates on their pace. Buffy gets annoyed and tells Reia she doesn’t care. Reia keeps checking her watch- they are seaside now along the promenade in Portobello (Buffy has been here before). Support Crew member Ben is supposed to me them there- he is no where to be found.
Out of Porty, they head to Duddingston and tackle the first hill. They crush it. Nice work Reia and Buffy. Due to prior injuries, the runners pull over to stretch and respond to a text from Support Crew Ben.
Hill Two- again taken down by the girls. Nearing a flat area they speed up- Reia still checks her watch. Buffy gets excited, it’s Ben, he is cute and wet. He takes photos- later Buffy realizes they are unflattering and she questions her running style. They don’t stop, they keep putting one foot in front of another.
Another hill, this time, the hill wins. Walking a bit helps the runners relax. Once at the top it is smooth sailing down through Holyrood Park. Reia checks her watch- she says ‘Oh we only have 5 miles to go’, Buffy says ‘huh?’. Reia does not realize they had just passed the 10 km marker and for a brief moment Reia thinks a half marathon is only 12 miles. In their cupcake-fill dreams. A major mental bummer for these two.
Up though Grassmarket, the rain has stopped and they see a rainbow, one of the benefits of living in a rainy land. There is another hill, this one is a slight incline which Reia and Buffy think they can take, they were wrong, because then they turn the corner and bam another short-steep number that makes Reia’s tendonitis go crazy and Buffy’s quads and hammies squeal.
By the Meadows now, they are excited for two reasons- only three miles to go and Support Crew Ben is going to be there with friends Sarah and James. Buffy’s phone rings, Buffy answers, it is Ben tell her where to look. Posters are held up, more pictures of backs are taken as Reia and Buffy wave and run by.
The pace has slowed- Reia knows this because she is still looking at her watch. They are conscious they need to stick with the blue pacer balloon to beat Buffy’s mother-in-law’s time from her last half marathon which she did on a flat course in perfect windless and rainless conditions. Maintaining her athletic superiority over her 61 year old mother-in-law is important to Buffy, less so to Reia.
They reach the top of The Mound- the shouts of you are almost done do not help- especially when shouted by people with cigarettes in their mouths. Down The Mound- ouch-down hills hurt by this point. Through the National Galleries- Reia is getting the best, most-painful tour of the Scottish Capital.
Through the Princes Street Gradens and past the Scott Monument, this halfie is winding down. Up to the Royal Mile, the home stretch, man, would they ever arrive at the end, Buffy was trying to motivate Reia using old sayings from her days as a cross-country runner- Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forver, Running is 90% Mental and 10% Physical and Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body- sayings even 16-year-old Buffy never beleived- sorry Mrs Gavic (Buffy’s cross country and track coach).
Support Crew Ben had made it to the finish line to get additional photos, hand in hand our heroines crossed the finish line. They collected their medals and feasted on bananas at the post-race banquet. Too cold to concentrate, they left before they found where they could collect their finisher technical t-shirts.
The official time posted after showers, scrambled eggs and naps was 2.17.16.
High-five Reia and Buffy!
Given how much time and consequently money Ben and I have spent over the almost two years at Peter’s Yard, I think it deserves a bit more of a shout out. I am thankful they have a loyalty card, take that Peter’s Yard- loads of free coffees.
The first summer we lived in Edinburgh, it was the only place which opened at 7.00 a.m., this meant Ben and I could have a Friday-morning coffee date. A ritual we still to adhere to week after week when I am around. It is the best way to start the Friday.
It is a Swedish bakery with the friendliest staff members who have begun to recognize us even when we cross locations form the original location in the Quartermile area to the new Stockbridge outpost.
Top treats include the fresh-baked buns- the employees have t-shirts with FRESH BUNS inscribed on the backs. A reason enough to look for a job there, if things do not work out for us in our current roles! I am partial to the cardamon bun and Ben always chooses the ones with custard.
They are known for their loaves of bread with impressive oven-spring and uniform crumb. We were gifted a loaf of the carrot variety and I could just feel my eyes getting brighter- a real health food! Their scones always fluffy a real feat when compared to my hockey puck versions. Crammed full of rotating goodness in the form of fruit, seeds and nuts and a savory variety.
The past few weeks Ben and I have been following an eating plan called Whole 30 and we have eliminated gluten (and many other things) and have been bun free since April 1, but our coffee dates continue and we take advantage of the free smells!