Thursday, 22 December 2011

Delicately Spiced Christmas Shortbread

If you're not completely ready for Christmas year, but like me, the thought of heading into town at this time of year fills you with dread... why not try out this super easy shortbread recipe to wow your friends and family with a thoughtful, personal and downright delicious gift idea? 

Wrap in cellophane and tie with a pretty ribbon to make it look extra special. This shortbread should keep for about a week in an airtight container, but it can be made ahead and frozen as well.

Delicately Spiced Christmas Shortbread

8oz salted butter, at room temperature (I've tried it with unsalted as well, but it really doen't give the same 'bite')
4oz golden caster sugar
12oz plain flour
1/2 tsp orange essence
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger

1. Cream the butter and sugar together for about 5 minutes until the consistency is light and creamy

2. Gradually mix in the flour and the spices to make a claggy paste

3. Turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface - you will probably need to squish it together with your hands to do so, but don't worry, this is normal.

4. Roll the mixture out to about 1cm-1.5cm thickness. It may be hard to roll with a pin due to the crumbly consistency, so I usually squash it down with my hands first, then just roll to finish off.

5. Cut into small rectangles (about 2cm x 6cm) and use the end of a chopstick to indent the traditional pattern on the top.

6. Bake on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper at 180 degrees Celcius for about 10 minutes, until just turning golden. Keep an eye on them as the high butter content means they are easy to burn if you're not careful.

7. Allow them to cool on a baking rack and they will firm up to the perfect semi-crisp, semi crumbly consistency.


Saturday, 17 December 2011

Oh, crumbs! How to turn cakey leftovers into truffley delights.

Who can beat the enthusiastic Christmas cheer of Michael Buble, Frank Sinatra and the Jacksons at Christmas?

Well, certainly not me. Last weekend saw me really start to feel the countdown to Christmas, with the first Christmas dinner of the season, accompanied by all the best bits you expect from a jolly Christmas soundtrack (and this does not include the ‘festive panpipes’ that have traumatised me since my teenaged waitressing days, when I was subjected to them continuously from mid-November until well after the January sales were in full swing).

Early unpleasant musical memories aside, this weekend was fantastic, and the best way to get in the mood with lashings of Christmas spirit (and wine, port, sherry etc). I was asked to bring the pudding, and instead of risking an overload of fruity Christmas goodness from an early stage, I decided to avoid Christmas pudding and mince pies, and opted to go with a Christmas adaptation of the rich chocolate cake I last made for my mother’s birthday. This time I adapted it with brandy and orange essence, and served it with clotted cream, flavoured with orange juice and zest. But that’s not the exciting part.

The exciting part came after coffee...

When I decorated my Christmas cakes this year, I had to do a little bit of trimming to make them completely flat, leaving me with a small bowl of delicious Christmassy crumbs. Not one to let anything go to waste, this got me thinking of how I could re-use them in another recipe, and I came up with the following Christmas pudding truffles. The basic ganache is one I have shared before, but the outcome is lipsmackingly different...

Christmas Truffles

Basic Chocolate Ganache
200g best quality dark chocolate (I used 90% cocoa solids for these), broken up
200ml double cream
30g unsalted butter

White Chocolate Ganache
100g white chocolate, broken up
100ml double cream
15g unsalted butter
45g ground almonds
3-4 tblsp dessicated coconut

For the Orange liqueur truffles
1 des sp. brandy
Dash of orange essence
1-2 tblsp dessicated coconut

For the Christmas Pudding Truffles
1 des sp. brandy
2-3 tblsp Christmas cake crumbs, soaked in 1 des sp. brandy overnight
25g white chocolate
40g dark chocolate
Red and green writing icing, to decorate


1. Start with the basic chocolate ganache: heat the butter and cream on the hob until they are completely mixed, and bubbling.

2. Remove from the heat, and stir in the chocolate

3. Separate into two batches, and flavour one with the orange liquer ingredients. Flavour the second with a desert spoon of brandy (this batch will turn into Christmas pudding truffles).

4. Pop both batches in the fridge for 3-5 hours.

5. Prepare the white chocolate ganache in the same way as the basic one. However, after you have stirred in your white chocolate you then need to stir in the almond and coconut.

6. Put the white truffle mix in the fridge for 3-5 hours.

7. When the two basic (white and dark) mixtures are nice and chilled, you can get them out and start rolling into truffle-sized balls with your hands (or teaspoons if you’re fancy). Then roll them in your choice of coating – I’m particularly partial to dessicated coconut., but cocoa powder is good too. I tend to avoid icing sugar, as it doesn't always react well to the moisture conent of the truffles. Put them in the fridge, out of temptation’s way.

8. For the Christmas pudding truffles, you will need to mix the crumbs into the ganache, and then start the rolling process. I found it worked perfectly well to just clump a blob of crumbs in with a blob of ganache and smudge it together. When these are formed into balls, pop them in the freezer for five minutes to chill rapidly.

9. Using a bain-marie, melt the plain chocolate to coat them.

10. Dunk the pudding truffles in the melted chocolate so that they are completely covered, then sit them on a plate covered in clingfilm – return them to the fridge for the chocolate to set and to re-cool.

11. Melt the white chocolate in a bain-marie. Bring the truffles out of the fridge, and, using a teaspoon, pop a blob of white chocolate on the top of each truffle – make sure it’s enough that it will dribble down the sides slightly, without making the entire top half of the truffle white. You can manipulate the white chocolate using a skewer if necessary. When all truffles have been decorated this way, return them to the fridge to set. The final step is to use red and green writing icing to decorate the top of the truffles with a holly pattern.

These truffles have a short shelf life due to the butter and cream content. If you are not planning on tucking straight into them, they can be stored in the freezer for up to three months, but the Christmas pudding truffles should be frozen prior to piping the icing decoration on the top.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Seasons Greetings! Rich fruit cake

Christmas is just around the corner, and if you've left it until to now to make your cake, you may well be starting to panic. Well, fear not. Whilst this fruit cake (like most) does taste richer and fuller over time, there's enough content in there that even if you only make it a couple of weeks in advance, it's still going to taste pretty delicious.

This recipe will make a generously sized Christmas cake (9" across, and 4" deep).

260g currants
250g sultanas
250g raisins
200g glace cherries, rinsed and halved
185g dried apricots, roughly chopped
125g dried figs, roughly chopped
100g mixed peel
75g dried cranberries, rinsed
3 tblsp creme de cacao
2 tblsp brandy
300g plain flour
300g butter
300g dark muscovado sugar
5 eggs
1 tblsp treacle
1/2 tsp cinnamon
pinch ginger
3 or 4 cloves, ground
1/2 tsp nutmeg
60g almonds, roughly chopped
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon

1. Soak all of the fruit and peel in the alcohol for a minimum of 6 hours, and preferably overnight.

2. Double-line and double-grease a 9" round springform tin.

3. Beat together all of the other ingredients, add the fruit and any liquid and mix in.

4. Turn into the tin, level off the top and cover with baking paper.

5. Bake at 140 degrees celcius, for about 4 hours.

6. Once the cake is cooked, leave to cool in the tin. When cool, prick four or five times with a skewer and 'feed' with 2 tblsp brandy. Once this has soaked in, re-cover and keep in a cool, dry place. Feed the cake periodically, depending on how much time you have left (once every week-fortnight if you have a couple of months, or twice per week if you only have a couple of weeks).

To decorate:

You will need to start this at least 3-4 days before the cake is needed. Firstly, you need to secure your cake to an appropriate cake board, securing it with a good dollop of royal icing.

1. Roll out 500-550g of marzipan, on a surface lightly dusted with sieved icing sugar.

2. Add a dash of boiled water to a tblsp of apricot jam on a medium heat, until it starts to melt. Cover the cake in the melted jam, then use the rolling pin to lift the marzipan over the cake. Smooth down over the cake and trim to fit. Leave the cake for a couple of days so that the marzipan can dry out a little before icing.

3. Roll out 500-550g of ready-to-roll icing on a surface lightly dusted with icing sugar. Make sure you knead it for at least five mintues beforehand, until the texture becomes easily workable, like playdough. If you don't knead it enough, then the final result will crack.

4. Coat the marzipan in a little warm water, then use the rolling pin to lift the icing over the cake. Smooth down over the cake and trim to fit.

5. Pipe around the bottom of the cake with royal icing. Decorate with ready-made decorations, or make your own using more ready-to roll icing, securing with water or with royal icing for a stronger bond. Here are some of my creations:

You can really let your imagination do the talking with your decorations - hopefully some of these ideas will give you inspiration. These delicious cakes make wonderful Christmas gift - to present them, just sit each cake on a large piece of cellophane, gather the cellophane up at the top and secure with a festive ribbon. It will keep your cake covered and airtight until Christmas, and just visible enough to add to the festive vibe in the run up to the big day. I'm sure from these photos you can guess what my family and friends will be receiving as gifts this year.....

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Cavolo Nero and Almond Pesto

Pesto is great - a really versatile ingredient that can transform the simplest ingredients (such as pasta or toasted bread) into something far greater than the sum of their parts. But for vegetarians and vegans, pesto can be a nightmare, since it's normally made using hard cheeses such as grana padano, which tend to made using calf rennet.

This take on pesto is made with cavolo nero, a member of the kale family that has an almost seasidey taste. I didn't have any pine nuts in when I decided to make this, but I did have some almonds left over from a baking marathon, which is why that went in. The whole point of something like pesto is convenience, so there's no point in being too precious about it - just have a go with what you've got and see what happens.

1 bunch cavolo nero (leaves, not stalks)
1 clove garlic
50g almonds, roughly chopped
good glug of olive oil
handful of fresh coriander
pinch salt and pepper

1. Blanche the cavolo nero for a couple of minutes in salted water, then refresh under cold water. Drain, then squeeze out the excess water by hand.

2. Meanwhile, lightly toast the almonds in a hot overn for about 5 minutes, turning a couple of times. Allow to cool, then blitz in a food processor.

3. Add the cavolo nero, coriander and garlic and blitz again.

4. Add olive oil, salt and pepper and gently mix in.

I served mine with pasta and some grilled chestnuts. You could add some grated cheese to the mixture if you wanted, though it does taste delicious as it is. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Charred Graffiti Aubergine stuffed with Quinoa and Puy lentils

As a bit of a change from the sweet treats (and anticipating an upturn in sugary confections in the run up to Christmas) I though the time was right to go back to basics with some good, old-fashioned hearty fare. When I spotted these lovely, stripy miniature aubergines in the local grocers recently, I was transfixed, and simply had to have some (it's the little things that make me happy!). A little while after coming up with this recipe I saw these cute stripy aubergines being used on an American cookery programme, and referred to as 'graffiti aubergines'. So I don't know if that's just the American name for them. But since it's very expressive, that what I've referred to them as here. 

This recipe will take about 50 minutes in total and serves 2 hungry people.

2 hand-sized graffiti aubergines

1 cup puy lentils, thoroughly rinsed
1 sprig rosemary
1 cup quinoa
4 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
7 sun dried tomatoes, rehydrated and chopped
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 des sp. paprika
1 tblsp sunflower seeds
1 tblsp pumpkin seeds
1 red chilli, finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes

1. Set the quinoa, lentils, bay leaves and rosemary in a pan with 4 cups of boiling water. Simmer for about 20 minutes until tender.

2. Meanwhile, halve the aubergines and dry fry (cut side down) in a non-stick frying pan for 5-10mins until charred, moving frequently. Turn and char reverse side for about 5mins. Allow to cool slightly and scoop flesh out of aubergine, roughly chop and set aside.

3. Fry off the onion, chilli, garlic and seeds until the onion is translucent. Then add the rest of the ingredients, including the aubergine flesh. Simmer gently for about ten minutes, adding half of the puy lentils and quinoa at the end of the simmering time.

4. Stuff the aubergine skins with this mixture and bake in a preheated oven at 180 degrees celsius for about 10-15 minutes until crunchy on top. Use the remainder of the quinoa and puy lentils as a bed on which to set the aubergine.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Thanking the Green Fairy and Bananaman

The Thursday before last I had an opportunity to go to an exciting event at Chatham House on the role of political parties in Russian elections, and the powers of the presidency. Well, exciting to me, anyway.

The only problem was that all of my teaching is scheduled on Thursdays. Happily for me, two of my illustrious colleagues - the beautiful Green Fairy, and the heroic Bananaman - covered my classes for the week, and I was able to see one of my academic idols in action. I wanted to show my appreciation in the only appropriate way - with a showing of baked goods designed to suit them both down to the ground....

Absinthe Cupcakes (makes about 6)

For the cakes:
2oz caster sugar
2oz Stork
1 egg, beaten
2oz self raising flour
1tsp vanilla essence
12 drops angostura bitters
1tsp absinthe

For the frosting:
125g unsalted butter
125g icing sugar, sieved
5 des. sp. absinthe
green colouring (gel is best)


1. Cream together the sugar and the Stork until light and fluffy. 

2. Add the egg, a little at a time so that it doesn't curdle.

3. Add the vanilla, angostura and absinthe, and then fold in the flour.

4. Spoon into individual cupcake cases and bake at 180 degrees celcius for about 15 minutes.

5. Once the cakes spring back to the touch, set them on a wire rack to cool. Whilst the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Whisk together all of the ingredients with an electric whisk until the mixture is light and full of air.

6. Use the icing to decorate the cipcakes - I used the spreading method rather than the piping method, as it uses less frosting, which is probably for the best when your frosting is as potent as this!

7. Add the finishing touches for decoration. I made green fairies and absinthe bottles from sugarpaste icing, and finished them off with green edible glitter.

Banana Buns (makes 8)

For the cakes:
2oz caster sugar
2oz muscovado sugar
5oz self raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2oz Stork, melted
3 small bananas, mashed up
4 des sp. milk
1 egg, beaten

For the frosting:
125g icing sugar, sieved
125g unsalted butter
1 des sp banana angel delight (controversial!)
Yellow colouring
Dried banana pieces, to decorate


1. Mix together all of the dry ingredients for the cakes.

2. Add the melted Stork and the milk to the mashed banana, then slowly stir in the egg.

3. Gently fold in the wet mixture to the dry ingredients then spoon into cupcake cases.

4. Bake at 160 degrees celcius for about 20-30 minutes, then set to cool on a wire rack.

5. Whisk together the frosting ingredients, and when the cakes are cool, decorate with frosting and dried banana pieces.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Pumpkin Party

So, Hallowe'en is now well and truly over, and what does that mean in the world of home baking?

It means several metrics tonnes of reduced pumpkins in the shops. And it would be rude to ignore that kind of encouragement.

After providing hours of carving fun times, our pet pumpkin, Reg, has now found his true, culinary, calling in life.

Now, although pumpkin and ginger soup is one of my all time favourite autumn comfort foods, we seem to have a lot of squash-related soup in this household. So, inspired by the success of the banana buns I recently made, and challenged by the other half's announcement that "I'm not really a fan of pumpkin in sweet things", I was keen to come up with a lovely moist tea bread with a pumpkinny element. I had the end of a packet of ground almonds that wanted using, and some stoned dates, inherited from a friend who left them in my rucksack, and surely couldn't have expected them to remain uneaten...?

I had fully intended to put a couple of ounces of Stork in the mixture. But then I managed to forget, and still the mixture looked pretty good, so I just rolled with it in the end - and no disasters ensued! Here's the resultant recipe.

Pumpkin, banana and date tea loaf

2oz caster sugar
2oz dark muscovado sugar
5oz self raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2oz ground almonds
1oz chopped nuts
2 bananas, mashed
an equal amount of pumpkin, cubed very small (about 2 handfuls)
3 tblsp milk
1 egg
1tsp cinammon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
handful dates, roughly chopped

To finish:
1 tblsp honey
handful chopped nuts


1. Put the 2 tblsp water on the pumpkin, cover and microwave for about 3 minutes, stirring half way. This should cook the pumpkin through until tender. Allow to cool.

2. Mix together all of the dry ingredients

3. Mix the bananas, milk and egg together. Then fold this wet mixture into the dry mixture, along with the pumpkin. I was going to puree the pumpkin first, but I couldn't be bothered in the end. It actually worked out nicely, with pumpkinny chunks coming through into the final tea bread - yum!

4. Turn the mixture into a silicone loaf tin, and bake for 30-40mins at 160 degrees celsius. A skewer will probably not come out clean because of the banana content - but you should be able to see that it's only banana residue and not unbaked cake.

5. Put the loaf tin on a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes, until it is cool enough to handle. Then turn the cake out. Warm the honey for about 10 seconds in the microwave, until it will drizzle easily over the top of the loaf. Finish off with a scattering of chopped nuts.

Obviously the best way to serve this is with a good cuppa - I realise this is my standard cake-related advice, but then again, if it's not broke, don't fix it!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

An illicit culinary lovechild...

Have you ever played that game, where you can breed two imaginary animals together and come up with something completely new and original (and usually ridiculous). For instance, my favourite creation is a Peep - a pink wooly creature with a wet snuffly nose and curly tail - the offspring of a pig and a sheep. You get the picture.

So imagine if you applied the game to baked goods... a world of possibilities!

A friend of mine celebrated her birthday last week, and since her favourite cake is Battenberg, it gave me the perfect opportunity to make one for the first time. But then I thought: "It can't be an ordinary Battenberg, surely?! What would you get if you crossed a Battenberg with a Cherry Bakewell...?"

Coconut and Cherry Bakewellberg Cake

For the cake:
4oz Stork
4oz Caster Sugar
4oz Self-raising flour
2 eggs
1oz dessicated coconut
1 oz ground almonds
10 glace cherries, processed with 1 tblsp water
Dash of red and yellow food colouring

For the frosting:
4 tblsp Stork
4 tblsp icing sugar, sieved
1 des. sp ground almonds
1/2 tsp almond essence

To decorate:
5 glace cherries, to decorate   
1 packet of natural marzipan, to decorate


1. Prepare (grease and line) a 6" x 4" cake tin, split into two partitions of 6" x 2". I am lucky enough to have recently invested in a square tin with removable dividers, which makes this stage all the easier. However, you can carefully fold foil-lined greaseproof paper to create a wall in the middle of your tin if you don't have one of these. Instructions can be found here:

2. In each of two separate bowls, cream half of the Stork and half of the sugar together until pale and creamy, and gradually add one beaten egg to each.

3. Add the coconut, processed cherries, red food colouring and half of the flour to one of the bowls, and stir thoroughly. Add the ground almonds, yellow food colouring and half of the flour to the other bowl, and stir thoroughly.  

4. Spoon the mixtures into the prepared tin and bake at 180 degrees celcius for about 20-30 minutes, then allow to cool on a wire rack.

5. In the meantime, make the frosting. Mix together all of the ingredients, then whisk with an electric whisk for about 3-5 minutes until light and fluffy. Set aside.

6. When the cakes are completely cooled, stack on top of each other, and cut down the middle, to create four evenly-sized strips. It may be necessary to trim the tops slightly if they have not risen evenly.

7. Roll out the marzipan on a surface lightly dusted with sieved icing sugar, until it's nice and thin and the right size to cover your Bakewellberg. I then covered the marzipan in a thin layer of frosting - enough so that the cake would adhere to it nicely. I then stacked the four sections on top of the marzipan (sticking with frosting), before bringing the marzipan up and around to cover it. I am sure that the received wisdon probably warns against this approach, to avoid getting crumbs in the surface of your marzipan and spoiling the outer layer of the cake. However, if you're careful, I think this is definitely a better way of getting a nice, neat, smooth finish than trying to drape the marzipan around a Bakewellberg that is only held together by frosting.

8. For the finishing touches, slice of the very ends of the cake so that is appears nice and neat, and the traditional squared pattern is visible. I then crimped the top two edges of the marzipan with my fingers. As well as giving a nice decorative finish, this also means that if your marzipan isn't perfectly tight, you can take up some of the slack in the crimping process. Finally, I added some halved glace cherries on top, as further decoration and to warn my friend that this was no ordinary Battenberg.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Seriously rich....

So, the lottery winners Dave Dawes and Angela Dawes are making twenty of their friends instant millionaires after their recent £101million win. Perhaps with their entry into the high life, they'd be interested in this little beauty of a cake.

As someone who is not overly enthusiastic about chocolate puddings, this might seem like an odd choice for me. But then again, I believe if something is worth doing, it's worth doing well - and this cake definitely does that! It's superbly rich, chocolatey and moist. And best of all, it contains no flour, which made it perfect as a birthday cake for my mother, who's a coeliac, and not really a pudding person, so doesn't tend to get very excited about cake. However, I just knew that this would be worthy of excitement from even the most cynical cakeophobe.

The recipe is amended from a BBC Good Food recipe, with Baileys substituted for Cointreau.

Seriously Rich Chocolate Cake

100g butter
140g good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
6 large eggs, separated
140g ground almonds
1 tblsp Baileys
85g caster sugar
Icing sugar, ground almonds and edible gold glitter to decorate
Clotted cream, to serve

  1. Grease and line the base of a 9in springform cake tin. Melt together the chocolate and butter in a bain marie, stirring until smooth. Leave for about 5 minutes to cool slightly.
  2. Stir in the egg yolks, ground almonds, and Baileys. Whist the egg whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. Then, adding the sugar a little at a time, continue whisking to stiff peaks. Stir 2 tablespoons of the whites into the chocolate mixture, then carefully fold in the remainder until no traces of white are left. 
  3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and bake at 170 degrees Celcius for 30-35 minutes until the mixture has risen and is just firm to the touch.
  4. Allow to cool in the tin. If the cake sinks slightly or cracks, it will still be fine. If you are not planning to serve the cake immediately, leave it in the tin and cover in a double layer of cling film until ready to serve (up to three days). According to the BBC website, the cake freezes well for up to one month.
  5. To serve, remove the cake from the tin and peel away the lining paper. Sift the icing sugar liberally over the top and sprinkle with edible gold glitter for a touch of glamour. Although the original recipe recommends serving with crème fraîche, I found that the bitterness was just too much for the smooth decadence of the cake, and would suggest that a good dollop of clotted cream would be your best bet!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

High tea through the looking glass....

A few years ago, when I was working in a library, I made one of the most important friendships of my adult life. This friendship was, and still is, based almost entirely on an overenthusiastic appreciation of tea, cake, and those marvellous mealtimes (some real, some invented) whose purpose is purely to combine the two. This is the reason that the library-based stage of my career saw me gain an extra stone of cakey insulation, built up steadily over time during an almost religious observance of daily elevenses.

So when this same friend informed me that a super-kitsch new tea room had opened in the heart of Manchester, I was filled with giddy excitement. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present.....

Richmond Tea Rooms

Picture courtesy of Richmond Tea Rooms website
First impressions of Richmond Tea Rooms were overwhelmingly positive. The decor is an Alice in Wonderland-themed mix of red and black 'Eat me' and 'Drink me' salutations set amongst beautifully upholstered regal wooden armchairs and perfectly grannyishly decked tables. There is even a small conservatory-type nook in one corner, though sadly it has been occupied on both our visits.

The selection of tea is admirable, with more than a couple that neither my friend nor I have tried (quite a feat) and the display of cakes, pies and buns is a thing of real beauty. The crockery is delicate and beautiful, and the overall attention to detail is quite astounding - perhaps explaining the slightly elevated prices. On our first trip we were blown away by just how delicious the chocolate torte was, and decided immediately that we'd have to trek back for one of their high teas. This we duly did, at the end of last week.

Once again I was blown away by the look and feel of the place - even the forties/fifites music selection is just perfect for setting the scene. The Queen's Tea was very exciting when it arrived, with the highlight surely being the fig and goat's cheese finger sandwiches. The selection of cakes and pastries was pretty wonderful too. The best bits were a lovely miniature meringue (divine), and a moist and mouthwatering coconut macaroon. The strawberry and custard tarte was nice enough, though the pastry was a little dry, but the fruit scone (something about which I am rather particular) was a little thin and crisp for my preferences. Having said that, I barely made an impact on the scone in any case, since I was so full of other sweet treats! The clotted cream supplied was delicious though, so I did make the effort for at least a couple of bites of the scone.

All in all, this place is well worth a visit - a kitsch little oasis of vintage music, decadent decor and very naughty confections.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Chocolate and Baileys cupcakes

I came up with this recipe a couple of weeks ago, and since then I haven't been able to stop myself cooking up batches of the stuff! The first version was a set of dainty little cakes bursting with decadent richness. Next up, I made a miniature heart-shaped cake to the same recipe for a friend's birthday, but decorated with giant chocolate buttons. And finally, next week, I am planning to make a violin-shaped chocolate and Baileys celebration cake for a 21st birthday. One taste and you'll know exactly why I'm so enamoured.....

Cakes (makes 12)
4oz Stork
4oz dark muscovado sugar
2 eggs, beaten
good tablespoon Baileys Irish cream
4oz self raising flour

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
125g icing sugar, sieved
good tablespoon Baileys Irish cream
100g good quality dark chocolate

1. Cream together the stork and the muscovado sugar until light and creamy, then stir in the Baileys.

2. Gradually stir in the egg, adding a little flour if necessary to avoid curdling.

3. Stir in the remainder of the flour. Spoon into 12 cupcake cases and bake at 160 degrees celcius for about 15 minutes.

4. Whilst these are in the oven, melt the chocolate in a bain marie, then leave to cool slightly.

5. Whisk together the butter and the icing sugar until light and creamy, then stir in the Baileys and the melted chocolate. Leave the frosting at room temperature, so that it stays easy to spread (it will set in the fridge).

6. Leave the cupcakes on a wire rack to cool. When they are completely cool, use a palette knife to cover them with frosting, and sprinkle with a little gold edible glitter for best effect.

7. Make sure you give the majority away before you try one, otherwise you risk eating the whole batch in one sitting and not even feeling guilty about it.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Devonshire Honey Cake

Last week was my friend Messner's birthday, which of course means the opportunity to make a cake. Since he hasn't got a particularly sweet tooth, I wanted to avoid frosting, and to stick to a more traditional kind of bake. Flicking through the BBC Good Food guide to Cakes and Bakes for inspiration, I saw this delicious-looking Devonshire Honey Cake. I had to adapt the recipe due to a dearth of the requisite ingredients, but I've been told by a (Devonian) friend who has tried the original that this version makes more of an impact on the tastebuds. So here's my take on a classic....


250g honey (about half a jar)
3tblsp golden syrup
175g unsalted butter
75g dark muscovado sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
250g self-raising flour

1. Pre-heat oven to 140-160 degrees celcius, and grease and line an 8" springform cake pan.

2. Cut the butter into chunks, and melt slowly in a pan on the hob with about three quarters of the honey, all the golden syrup and the sugar. One the ingredients are completely meted and mixed, increase the temperature and boil the liquid for about a minute. Set aside to cool for about 10-15 minutes. (If you put a bit of water in the sink then sit the pan in there it will be cool enough sooner).

3. Once, the mixture is cool enough to dunk your finger in for three seconds or so, you will be OK to add the eggs without them cooking. Stir them into the mixture.

4. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, then gradually add the honey mixture, beating all the time, until you have a smooth, runny batter. 

5. Pour into the prepared tin, and bake for around an hour, until the cake is tanned, well risen, and springs back when you poke it, and when a skewer comes out clean.

6. Put the cake on a wire rack to cool, and after 5-10 minutes, when it is cool enough to handle, gently warm half of the remaining honey (you can do this on the hob, or with about 3 x 10 second bursts in the microwave, stirring in between), and use it to glaze the top of the cake.

7. Leave the cake to cool some more, and for the honey to absorb in. Then warm the last of the honey, and use this to create a second layer of honey glaze on the top of the cake.

This cake is perfect to serve with a nice cup of Earl Grey, but I can imagine it's amaxing served with custard as well. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture before presenting it to my friend, and ten minutes later (and despite only four people being present), this was the only picture I could get.....

I suppose that speaks for itself?!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Superfood Salad

I wonder whether I have mentioned before that I despise salad? I just think that in principle, anything with that much water content can't really be described as food.

But it turns out that a lot of my prejudice can be explained away by the pitiful quality and lack of imagination shown in most British salads nowadays. So this little beauty takes its inspiration from further afield. There probably won't be much more of the year left when we can seriously consider salad consumtion as a viable food choice, so this particular recipe is a good season-straddler. I got the recipe from a book owned by one of my friends, which I'll credit just as soon as I get her to remind me which book it came from...

Puy lentil salad with soy beans, sugar snaps and broccoli

200g Puy lentils
1 litre hot vegetable stock
200g tenderstem broccoli
140g frozen soy beans, thawed
1 red chilli, seeded and finely sliced

For the dressing:
2 tblsp sesame oil
juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 1/2 tblsp soy sauce
3cm knob ginger, finely grated
1 tblsp clear honey (replace this with 1/2 tsp sugar dissolved in a tblsp boiling water for a vegan variant)

1. Rinse the lentils very well to get rid of any gritty residue. Boil the lentils in the stock for about 15 minuted until just cooked. Drain, then tip into a large bowl.

2. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, throw in the broccoli for one minute, add the beans and sugar snap peas for one minute more. Drain, then cool under cold water. Pat dry, and add to the bowl with the lentils.

3. Mix together the dressing ingredients, with whatever seasoning required (if any). Pour over the salad, then mix in well with the sliced chilli.

4. Serve up, and revel in just how delicious salad can be!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Fake British Bake-Off (Mary Berry's Tarte Au Citron)

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a message with a wonderful TV viewing tip - The Great British Bake-Off, featuring my all-time culinary idol, Mary Berry. I have to admit to hearing of her greatness rather late in life, when, in 2007, I moved into a shared house with a very fun jazz trumpeter, who was the proud owner of her “Complete Cookbook”. Together with our other lovely housemate, Messner, we threw ourselves wholeheartedly into ‘Mary Berry Mondays’, when we’d take it in turns to try out some of her recipes.

But I digress... what with Belarus, wedding cakes, and a couple of conferences to prepare for, I managed to completely forget about the series until it became the primary topic of conversation over lunch with an old school friend this week. It was definitely worth the wait. We jumped in at episode 2 – pastries – a topic I must admit to having little expertise in. The competitors had to make their own interpretations of particular pastry types, including a classic quiche, and some sweet tartes. After that, came the technical challenge - to recreate Mary Berry’s Tarte au Citron. As I watched, I could feel my mouth beginning to water uncontrollably. Since moving out from the trumpeter and Messner, I have acquired my own copy of Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook, so here’s my take on her delicious lemon tarte.

Mary Berry’s Tarte Au Citron
9 eggs
300ml (1/2 pint) double cream
Grated zest and juice of 5 large lemons
375g (12 oz) caster sugar
Icing sugar for dusting
Lemon twists or zest to decorate

250g (8 oz) plain flour
125g (4oz) chilled butter, cubed
60g (2 oz) caster sugar
1 egg

28cm (11in) loose-bottomed fluted flan tin
Baking beans

1. Make the pastry: rub butter into lour in a large bowl, until it reaches the consistency of breadcrumbs.

2. Stir in the caster sugar, then bind together with the egg to make a soft, pliable dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for 30mins.

3. Roll out the dough on a lightly loured surface and use to line the flan tin. Prick gently then bake blind for 10 minutes at 200 degrees Celsius. Usually I use dried chick peas on top of tin foil when I bake blind. However, this flan is very large and my chick peas barely made an impact, so instead, I weighted the pastry down with a few small ramekins.

4. Remove the baking beans (or ramekins!) and foil, then bake the pastry shell for another 5 minutes until it had dried out (no soggy bottoms for Mary!)

5. Remove the pastry case from the oven, and reduce the temperature to 180 degrees Celsius.

6. Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the cream, lemon zest and juice, and caster sugar. Stir until smooth, then pour into the pastry shell.

7. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the lemon filling has set.

8. Leave to cool a little, then decorate with icing sugar and lemon twists or zest.

Friday, 2 September 2011

More family favourites - Home-made strawberry jam

Not to suggest that all of the time spent at my mother's was taken up with culinary endavours, but we did set ourselves the task of creating a batch of the world's most delicious strawberry jam. For my mother, who is an accomplished and enthusiastic jam maker, I think this was not such a great challenge. However, I'm more of a chutney fan myself, and this was my first foray into the sticky world of jam-making. So here's what we did...

Home-made strawberry jam

1kg strawberries, hulled (large ones halved or quartered)
500g granulated sugar
550g jam sugar with added pectin
150ml lemon juice

About 4 sterilised jars (still warm from the sterilisation process)

1.       Put a saucer into the fridge. This cool saucer will be used later to test for setting point.

2.       Put 200g of strawberries into a pan, with about half of the granulated sugar, and mash gently.

   3.When warmed through, add the rest of the strawberries. Gently bring to simmering point, stirring carefully with a wooden spoon to stop it sticking. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the strawberries are softened.

   4. Add the rest of the sugar, stirring continuously.

   5. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the lemon juice. Bring back to the boil, and boil rapidly for 12-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

   6. Test for setting point. If there is any scum on top of the jam, add a small knob of butter and stir in, as this will disperse the scum.

To test for setting point:
Put a blob of your jam onto a cool saucer. Leave for one minute, then push gently with your finger. If a clear path remains, then the jam is ready. If the jam is not ready, keep boiling and testing in increments of three minutes.

Decant into sterilised jars (still warm), seal and turn upside down and back again to improve the seal.

For me it seems that strawberry jam's main purpose in life (in my life, at least) is to team up with the decadent creaminess of Cornish clotted cream atop a delicious fruit scone, and to spend its brief existence being admired and devoured with equal delight.

I was very happy to seal this jam's fate.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Foraging with family... and the ultimate in comfort food

I've just returned from a lovely week staying with my Mum in the North East, avoiding doing anything even vaguely related to work. In fact, I am proud to say that the past week has been spent almost entirely in walking along the beach, paddling in the sea, and engaging in the mind-expanding pursuits of Scrabble and Trivial Pursuit. Oh, and... foraging for blackberries! There is something supremely satisfying about preparing food with ingredients you have grwon, or even that you have just collected yourself.  

Since I am also now finally the proud owner of a beautiful non-stick Bundt pan (doughnut-shaped baking tin), it was only a matter of time before the following cake-speriment was underway. The result is a comforting cake of such divine sweetness, tartness and subtle spiciness that it just had to be shared. As a summer pudding, this cake is delicious served still warm from the oven with a generous dollop of thick clotted cream. For winter - serve piping hot and drenched in custard!

Blackberry and Apple Comfort Cake

Sponge ingredients
8oz butter
8oz sugar
4 eggs (beaten)
8 oz self raising flour
4oz plain flour
1 level teaspoon cinnamon
1 tblsp citrus zest
4 tblsp blackberries

Syrup ingredients
3 tblsp sugar
2 tblsp lemon juice
1 cooking apple (half cubed small, half thinly sliced)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
4 tblsp blackberries


1. First of all, start on the syrup mixture. Combine the sugar, lemon juide, apple and cinammon in a pan over a moderate heat. Stir gently until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture begins to gently bubble and the outside edge of the apple chunks goes a little bit squishy. Then add in the blackberries and continue to hear for another 3 minutes or so. They should release lots of extra juice, so that you're left with a relatively thick syrup. Leave this to one side as you prepare the sponge mix.

2. Cream together the butter and the sugar, and when they are light and fluffy, start to add in the beaten egg, stirring continuously. Add a little of the flour as necessary to stop the mixture from curdling.

3. Sift the remainder of the flour into the mixture, and add the cinnamon and zest. Stir thoroughly.

4. Finally, add the blackberries, and stir in, taking care not to squash or damage them. This cake works best when there are whole, juicy blackberries to look forward to inside the cake.

5. Spoon the syrup evenly over the bottom of a greased Bundt tin, then add the cake mixture on top. Make sure to push the sponge mixture down a little, as this will force some of the syrup up, to coat the outside of the cake.

6. Bake in a pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes at 160 degrees celcius. Remove from tin when still warm, to ensure that the syrup does not fuse to the tin. If any fruit or syrup is left behind, just scoop this up and spread back over the top of the cake.