Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

For more information on the Cafes I have visited and the latest cafe cycle news go to http://www.cake-crusader.co.uk/

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Tuesday 11 December 2018

BOTY build up and winner announced

December 2018
News of winner of brownie of the year

As we approach the end of another year I'm sure that most of your thoughts have turned to thinking about who will be the winner of this years Cake Crusaders thing of the year. After the previous things of Cheese scones, Flapjacks and Sausage Rolls then this year the focus has been on the chocolate brownie. 

As before I have visited many cafes in the Norfolk and North Suffolk area in my quest to find the best brownie and tested over 50. Qualification has been very close but results are now in.

Therefore this week, as thing of the year rules dictate, I am cycling to the top 8 brownie cafes to purchase brownies ready for the grand brownie off back at Crusader Towers on Saturday.

I will add to this post as events unfold over the week

Despite it being a rather cold and slightly icy morning I managed to persuade Mrs Crusader to join me on the first collection leg, by promising her an unprecedented 2 cafe stop for a less than 40 mile ride, outrageous!

First stop was Tabnabs in Mattishall which was only 14 miles away but I have to admit that by the time we got there I had lost contact with my extremities so was grateful for the excellent Hot chocolate and peanut cake. 
Mrs Crusader arriving at Tabnabs frozen to her bike
However the main purpose of our visit was to collect the brownies so I was pleased that they had plenty available and had the first finalists in the bag, literally.
First brownie finalists literally in the bag
Next stop was a few miles up the road as we set off for Hamptons at the Barn near  Bawdeswell. Here I was presented with a dilemma as they only had one piece of brownie left. As a rule I need 3 brownies from a cafe for a brownie off, one for each of the quarter, semis and final (if they get that far). I decided to go with the one piece available and make it into 3 rather small brownies for finals day. However I fear this could make it hard for them to win the title, but we shall see.
Proudly showing off the last remaining brownie at Hamptons
Next it was back East to the final stop of the day at the Urban Jungle Cafe in Costessey. On arrival I was relieved to see a stack of brownies on the counter so immediately purchased 3 in case there was a sudden rush before I left (although there wasn't). I then treated Mrs Crusader to a second coffee of the day before we returned to Crusader Towers to label and store the first contestants.
The Urban Jungle brownies ready for transporting
Apart from having a couple less brownies then I had hoped for then today had gone remarkably smoothly. Especially compared with last year when on the corresponding ride I fell off my bike, smashed a tooth and broke a rib (although I still went on to collect the requisite sausage rolls on my bike during the week).

Today it was time to head North to purchase brownies in the North Norfolk region. I also sent Mrs Crusader off on an urgent special brownie related mission.

I met up with Andrew at Hard to Please House. We were both pleased to find that although it was cold and windy there was no sign of the frosty and icy conditions from earlier in the week. However we had a decision to make; it would be a 78 mile ride to today's brownie venues or we could go half way in the car and do a more manageable 38 mile trip. It took many seconds and no discussion for us to agree that the 38 miles would be the ride of choice.

We drove to Creake Abbey at the centre of a figure of eight loop and set off to Thornham Deli. As a busy cafe and shop I was confident they would have plenty of brownies and was not disappointed as I purchased three from the top of the stack.
Thornham Deli make it into the bag
Our second stop was Stiffkey stores which was the smallest venue of any of my finalists. I was concerned that they may not have lots of cakes at this time of year and would not have the three brownies that I required. I therefore had come up with a plan to mitigate the risk of Stiffkey Stores (or any of my other finalists) not have any brownies when I visited. I believe this sort of plan is now called a backstop.

The first phase of the backstop was to send Mrs Crusader (in her car) to The Galley in Horning which had just missed out on the finals by only 0.1 of a mark. On the way to Stiffkey I received a text to confirm 3 backstop brownies had been successfully acquired. If there was to be a need to use them I just hoped my team of brownie judges would accept the backstop being implemented as I believe this is not always the case with backstop plans.
Receiving confirmation that the backstop plan was in place
After another 14 miles of hard pedalling, into the wind, along the coast road we made it to Stiffkey stores. I needn't have worried as they had 6 brownies left plus another 4 white chocolate ones. I quickly bought 3 traditional ones and some well earned refreshments. Despite being hard to please, Andrew thought his coffee and carrot cake were both exceptional. My banana cake was pretty good too which bodes well for their chances in the brownie off. I updated the Stiffkey stores marks with today's rating which confirmed their highly recommended status.
Very excited to have completed all my brownie collections today
I was glad I had got the brownies when we first arrived in the store as when we left, 20 mins later, they had all been sold! 

Tomorrow is the final collection run when hopefully the last 3 finalists can come up with the goods although its comforting to know I now have a fully functioning backstop if they don't. 

I was hoping that everything would go smoothly as I set off to collect brownies from the final three contenders. But as history tells us this was never going to be the case.

Today's brownie collection cycling guest was Big George so I wasn't surprised when I got the text explaining that he had overslept and would be a bit late. When he did eventually turn up he told me that yesterday he had fallen off his bike on a greasy road. I asked if everything was OK and for some reason he told me that he was a bit bruised but otherwise fine which didn't answer my question as I only wanted to know about his bike.

When, shortly after, we reached our first hill we discovered that everything was not alright as when Big George put his bike into the big cog at the back the rear derailleur caught in the wheel and the whole thing snapped off. The bike was well and truly out of action. However nothing can stop the collection of a thing of the year so I cycled back home and collected Big George and his now useless bike in my car before lending him a working machine for the day.
Big George and broken bike being rescued
We were now an hour late so I hoped this would not impact any future brownie purchasing but of course it did.

First stop was the Courtyard cafe in Attleborough. Here they had spiced up their classic brownie (the one that had qualified for the finals) with some nuts to make it a festive brownie. Before purchasing I checked the rules which clearly state that the addition of nuts or fruit to your brownie is allowed so the next set of brownies were in the bag.
On the way to the next brownie stop
From here it was on to the Cadence cafe in Old Buckenham where we were given a very warm welcome by Kong who was expecting us and popped the next set of brownies into a bag. She claimed that she had also been trying brownies at different cafes but still thought these were the best she had had. I felt there might be a slight bias so rather than just go with her word the brownie off would still go ahead tomorrow.
Kong packing the Cadence Cafe brownies
This just left the last set to be collected from the Piano tearooms at Kettering hall. Thanks to our earlier delays I just hoped the Piano tearooms would still have some brownies left.

But when we got there they didn't as they had just sold the last one. This was a shame as they were real contenders, but at least I had yesterday's backstop brownies which could now be implemented to complete the final eight. 
What no brownies!
Then just as we were leaving Mrs Piano came after us. She had not been at the counter when we were informed of the lack of brownie but knowing the purpose of our mission kindly said we could have a couple from tomorrows supply. This was a lovely gesture although as Mrs Piano said she wasn't after any extra brownie points (see what she did there). 

Fantastic news as I now had a full set of finalists and could warm up for the finals by eating the backstop brownies this afternoon.
The backstop brownies from the Galley in Horning
I now have a pile of brownies ready for the big brownie off tomorrow, I'm so excited I don't expect to get much sleep tonight. Watch this space to see what happens
Tomorrows finalists ready for the brownie off
Finals day

Brownie finals day was finally here as my team of 7 crack brownie tastiers turned up on time for a pre tasting warm up ride.

In freezing conditions we cycled over to one of my new favourite cafes, Teles Patisserie in a field near Surlingham where we enjoyed some portuguese treats (but no brownie). If you have never been I highly recommend a visit.
Brownie tasting team at Teles patisserie
It was then back to Crusader Towers for the brownie off. 

Once everyone had a palate cleansing cup of tea or coffee then the first round draw was made and approved by the official adjudication team. There were some cracking looking ties with the tie of the round looking likely to be the North Norfolk battle between Stiffkey stores and Thornham deli.
1st round brownie off draw
With the opening ceremony over we kicked off with Hamptons at the Barn vs Piano Tearooms. You may remember Hamptons had come into the finals with only one piece of brownie so would struggle if they made it all the way to the final. However the Piano Tearooms proved too strong with a 5-2 win.
Piano and Hamptons take to the field
Next the Jungle cafe took on Cadence cafe in a very tight match but Cadence just crept through 4-3.

In the Tabnabs vs Courtyard tea rooms in Attleborough game we saw the biggest difference of opinion. Tabnabs had put up a gooey brownie whereas the courtyard entry had been spiced up for christmas and was the only festive brownie on show today. This went down well with some of the judges but Tabnabs more traditional approach took the round 5-2.

This just left Stiffkey to battle Thornham deli in a David vs Goliath face off and to my surprise Stiffkey came out comfortable 5-2 winners.
Much discussion about courtyards festive brownie
To be clear brownie off tasting rules state that it must be done without the tastiers knowing which brownie is which so no cafe bias can occur and I strongly enforced this rule today.

The semi final draw was done and first up was Cadence vs Tabnabs. These were two very different style brownies but the lighter more gooey one from Tabnabs won out 5-2.
Semi final brownies being prepared
In the other semi it was the same story as Stiffkey Stores racked up a 5-2 win over the piano's darker and firmer brownie as the two lightest colour brownies made it into the finals.

It took some persuasion to get the judges to have one more set of tasting as most of the tasters were struggling to eat any more brownie but they all manned up as Tabnabs and Stiffkey took to the field.
Action from the brownie off final
It was a really close final going one way then the other but by the narrowest of margins Stiffkey Stores came out on top by 4-3.

This was probably the most exciting (and only) brownie off anyone could remember and all the judges agreed that any of the brownies on show today would have been worthy winners so thanks to all those that took part but in the end there can only be one champion so congratulations to Stiffkey Stores.

When the excitement has calmed down I will be announcing what thing of the year in 2019 will be so watch this space.