August 17, 2017


guinness ginger cake

In recent years I have made a lot of cakes.  It all began with the charity cake stall for the BBC Children in Need appeal which we held at work for the first time more than ten years ago.  That’s when I started looking for new recipes.  Then I joined the Clandestine Cake Club and started my own branch of the CCC in France in 2014.  .

My hunger for new and interesting recipes grew and grew and since then I have made an awful lot of cake.  Some of them have been, frankly, awful.  The truly awful ones have never made it to the blog, but some of the slightly disappointing ones have.  Probably the most awful of all was the apple and kale cake I made a few years ago, a cake which led me to two important conclusions.  One is that cabbage, unlike some other vegetables, has no place in a cake.  The second is that some recipes are eternally popular for a good reason.  They work.  New recipes and new cook books are to be treated with a certain amount of scepticism. 

That doesn’t mean that new recipes are to be avoided.  They should most definitely be tried along the lines of “life is an adventure or nothing”, and occasionally up pops an absolute gem.  Like this one.

guinness ginger cake2

It comes from the Sainsbury’s baking recipe collection volume 2.  I have been unable to find the recipe anywhere on the internet so I can’t give a link to the original.  In the book it’s called a Ginger Stout Cake but as I used Guinness (the only stout available in our local supermarket in France), I have renamed it.  The other reason for renaming it is that it will be up there with my other very favourite cake to make for a birthday, cake stall or any other reason, the Chocolate Guinness Cake by Nigella Lawson.

I have written the recipe here as per the amendments I made to suit the ingredients I could get hold of.

guinness ginger cake3

The moment I cut into it I knew it was going to be good.  After the first mouthful I thought “wow!”.  Nick, who is not a great cake lover, thought it was wonderful, had two slices straight away and banned me from offering it to anyone else so that he could get his fair share of the rest, something previously unheard of.

The cake was moist, soft, deliciously spiced and strong on ginger flavour.  With the slightly glossy glaze from the ginger syrup and dotted with diced stem ginger, it looked classy and grown up and needed no other decoration.  I urge you to try it!


200g unsalted butter

200ml Guinness (or other stout)

200g caster sugar

50g dark soft brown sugar

3 tbsp black treacle

2 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp mixed spice

2 large eggs

75ml natural yoghurt*

25ml milk*

300g self raising flour

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the topping

3 balls of preserved stem ginger, diced

3 dessert spoons syrup from the jar


Put the Guinness, sugars, butter, treacle, ground ginger and mixed spice into a large saucepan and heat gently until the butter has melted, without letting it boil.  Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Butter and line a 23cm round, deep springform cake tin.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yoghurt and milk, then pour the cooled sugar mixture into the bowl.  Sift in the flour and bicarb and, using an electric whisk, beat until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for about an hour until done.  The cake should lose its wobble in the middle but not be too firm.

Remove from the oven and whilst still warm drizzle over the ginger syrup and dot with the diced ginger.  Cool in the tin and remove when cold.

(*The original recipe uses 100ml buttermilk but I substituted a mixture of yoghurt and milk.)

Cuts into 12-16 slices, but allow two slices each!

August 8, 2017


gooseberry and elderflower cake2

My little gooseberry bush in France produced a couple of handfuls of gooseberries this year, against all odds.  The soil is not at all good and we struggle to grow many things, apart from tomatoes, cucumbers, broad beans and courgettes.  In fact it’s interesting to see what grows and what doesn’t.  My rhubarb plant, a precious cutting from my mother’s old rhubarb bush that produced tons of fruit each year, finally gave up the ghost this year, succumbing to the heat and the stony, clay soil.  But my gooseberry bush is showing promise, although many people said it was impossible to grow them in this part of France.  I froze some of them and supplemented the rest with some brought from a UK supermarket to make this cake.

gooseberry and elderflower cake

It’s an adaption of a recipe in the book “make me a cake as fast as you can” by Miranda Gore-Browne, a GBBO contestant of a few years ago.  It’s a whisked sponge, fat free and therefore very light.  The gooseberries are cooked until soft to create a compote for the filling and the juice is used as a glaze for the cake.

The recipe suggests that you could sprinkle icing sugar on the cake instead so I did both.  I then decided it would benefit from a little decoration but of course by now elderberry flowers are long since gone so I used some flowers from one of our rose bushes and leaves from my gooseberry bush.  I was very pleased with the result.

The cake was delicious, gooseberry and elderflower being a gorgeous combination.  The cake was flavoured with elderflower cordial as per the recipe but I used an elderflower liqueur called St-Germain to flavour the cream.


St-Germain is a French liqueur which I have to say is delicious.  It’s my current favourite digestif and ever since I first learned of its existence in Phil’s brilliant blog, “as strong as soup”, have been on the lookout for a bottle.  Having searched the shelves in French supermarkets I finally tracked down a rather dusty bottle lurking at the back of a shelf in my local Tesco!  I love the rather art deco style of the bottle.

Gooseberry and elderflower cake

100g caster sugar

4 large eggs

100g SR flour, sifted

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp lemon zest (about half a small lemon)

2 tbsp elderflower cordial

For the filling

100 ml whipping cream

1 tbsp elderflower cordial **

200g gooseberries

40g caster sugar

1 tbsp water


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4. Grease and base line two 20cm sandwich tins.

Using an electric whisk or stand mixer, whisk together the sugar and eggs for 3-4 minutes. The mixture should triple in volume.

Sift in the flour and bp and fold in gently with the lemon zest.

Transfer to the tins and bake for about 10 mins, until done. On removing from the oven, sprinkle the cordial over the cakes and leave to cool in the tins for 5 mins. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the filling, put the gooseberries, sugar and water into a small pan and cook until the berries are just soft but still holding their shape. Remove the berries from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside. Turn up the heat and boil the syrup for a few mins until thickened. Leave to cool.

Whip the cream until thick and fold in the elderflower cordial.

Put one cake onto a serving plate and spread the gooseberries over it. Spread the cream on top of the berries. Put the other cake on top and pour the cooled gooseberry syrup over to glaze. (Or simply dust with icing sugar and decorate with flowers.)

** I used St Germain elderflower liqueur in the cream.

Cuts into 8-12 slices.

July 24, 2017


ginger and lemon cake2

I can’t believe it’s two months since I posted anything!  My excuse is that we have been very busy.  It’s not that I haven’t been baking, just that finding the time to blog about it has proved difficult.

We were back in the UK for a prolonged spell in June for the purposes of selling our house.  When we downsized three years ago we anticipated spending most of our time in France.  As it turns out we have spent more time in the UK than we expected and we’ve never really settled in the new house so we’ve decided to move – to upsize again.  We don’t need a house as big as we had before but just a bit bigger.  With a garage.

ginger and lemon cake

Getting your house ready for sale is a big job these days.  I have to chuckle when I think of the differences between the French and the UK process.  In France the agent turns up and takes the photos, just a few, and if your knickers are on the towel rail or the washing up is in the sink nobody bothers.  Here in the UK you have to make the house look like a show house.  It takes a Herculean effort to do all this and we did it during the heatwave in June! 

The attitude of the agents we talked to varied.  Interestingly they all came up with roughly the same valuation for the house which was encouraging, but one said we should go for the show home approach, even removing some small pieces of furniture, another said it was up to us and the third said that it wasn’t necessary because the potential buyers viewing the house should be able to see through all that.

In the end we went with the show house people.  They sold our house last time and it sold in two days.  Having done some house hunting ourselves, it’s sometimes hard to see past all the muck and junk and envisage the potential.  Being intelligent people (I hope) you would think we could do that but without a doubt the houses we were most likely to consider were the neat and tidy ones. 

ginger and lemon cake3

Anyway, the house sold in four days and if you’re interested you can read all about it here.  Unfortunately the sale has since fallen through because our buyer lost their buyer so it’s back to square one.  We were not so lucky this time.

Whilst we were in the no man’s land of organising paperwork I had time to bake a cake.  Nick is not fond of many cakes but he does like a ginger cake and I had a couple of lemons going spare so I made this lemon and ginger cake. 

It was delicious with an excellent crumb.  The recipe said to bake it in a loaf tin but I didn’t have one as big as stated so I used my Ikea tin and it was just right.  Because of the shaping it didn’t seem appropriate to ice it.  The flavour was more lemon cake than ginger cake and this is probably because the icing had quite a bit of ginger in it and of course I omitted it.  So next time I would either use a different cake tin and ice it with the ginger icing, or put more ginger into the mixture.  Either way, I will definitely be making it again.  You can see the original recipe here.  (It was better than the previous lemon and ginger cake I wrote about, which you can see here.)


200g golden caster sugar

4 eggs

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

100ml double cream

200g plain flour

1 heaped tsp baking powder

1½ tsp ground ginger

65g unsalted butter

4 tblsp lemon juice

For the icing

A few knobs fresh ginger*

150g icing sugar, sifted

1½ tblsp lemon juice

decorations of your choice


Melt the butter in a small pan or microwave and set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170° fan / gas mk 5.  Butter a 22cm (1.3 litre) loaf tin and line the base with baking paper.  (Or use a suitable round cake tin of about 20cm dia.)

Using an electric whisk, whisk together the eggs, sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Stir in the cream.  Sift in the flour, baking powder and ginger and fold into the egg mixture.  Stir in the melted butter and 3 tblsp of the lemon juice.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and done.  (Mine was done in 40 mins.)

Remove from the tin to a wire rack and sprinkle over the remaining 1 tblsp lemon juice.

To make the icing, squeeze the juice from the knobs of ginger using a garlic press.  Beat the ginger juice and lemon juice into enough of the icing sugar to get the roughly the consistency of double cream and pour over the cooled cake.

*I had never heard of this way of using fresh ginger before and think that instead I would probably use a tblsp or so of ginger syrup from a preserved ginger jar, as I always have that in the house but don’t always have any fresh ginger.

Cuts into 8-12 slices and keeps well in an air tight cake tin.

May 19, 2017


rhubarb and almond cake

The rhubarb season is in full swing and long gone are the days when all I made with it is a crumble or a pie.  This cake with rhubarb and orange is a classic combination and with the moistness given by the almonds it makes a delicious cake, or dessert if served while still slightly warm with some cream, custard or crème anglaise.

rhubarb and almond cake2

The recipe comes from the Sainsbury’s website and this is the first time I have made it.  I made and wrote about a similar cake last year which also contained rosemary and amaretti biscuits, but I think I prefer this one, which is easier and quicker to make. 

rhubarb and almond cake3

In fact it takes little more time and trouble than making a crumble, but looks and tastes good enough for guests as well as being a slightly special rhubarb pudding for a family meal.   You can see the original recipe here.  I used a slightly smaller tin than suggested in order to make a deeper cake.

rhubarb and almond cake4


150g softened butter or spreadable butter such as Flora Buttery

150g golden caster sugar (plus 2 tblsp extra)

2 eggs

200g ground almonds

100g self raising flour

zest of 1 large orange

1 tsp baking powder

400g rhubarb, trimmed, wiped and cut into roughly 4 cm lengths.  Also slice in half along the length of any pieces that are very thick

2 tblsp approx flaked almonds


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Butter a 21cm round springform or loose bottomed tin and line with baking paper.

Cream together the butter and 150g sugar with an electric whisk.  Whisk in the eggs one at a time.

Add the ground almonds and orange zest.  Sift over the flour and baking powder and mix well to combine.

Spoon half of the mixture into the tin and level the surface.  Arrange slightly less than half of the rhubarb on top.  You needn’t be too particular about the arrangement as this layer will not be seen but keep the rhubarb away from the edge of the tin.  Sprinkle over about 1 tblsp of the extra sugar.

Carefully spoon the rest of the cake mixture over the fruit and level the top.  Arrange the rest of the rhubarb in circles on top, again keeping it away from the sides.  Sprinkle over the remaining 1 tblsp sugar and the flaked almonds.

Bake for about an hour until golden brown.  Test for doneness and cover with foil to bake for a further 10-15 minutes until done.  (Mine was done in just over the hour.)

Cool in the tin.

Remove when still slightly warm if serving as a dessert, otherwise leave to cool completely before turning out.

Cuts into 8 good slices.

May 9, 2017


mocha and amaretti mousse

This recipe comes from the little book of chocolate recipes written by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde, called “The little book of Chocolat”.  It’s a lovely book, full of very well written and doable recipes, each one styled on a character in the novel “Chocolat”.

mocha and amaretti mousse2

I have made chocolate mousse before, several times and with great success.  This one is different because it contains espresso coffee, thereby making it “mocha” and a layer of crushed amaretti biscuits.  As it was just after Easter, I adorned it with some micro chocolate eggs for decoration and, of course, added crunch and chocolate.

It was very easy to make and, as it needs to be well chilled before serving (a bit like me before dinner), I made it well in advance.  The wonderful thing is that not only was it excellent, the crushed biscuits still being crisp and crunchy after several hours in the fridge, but it was still excellent two days later. 

It makes six portions and there were five of us for dinner so one portion languished in the fridge for a full two days before we remembered it was there.  The biscuits were still crunchy, the little chocolate eggs had not sunk.  That tells me that it’s a very useful recipe indeed.  Maybe two days before serving is pushing it a bit but I would not hesitate to make this the day before a dinner party, knowing with confidence that it will still be delicious.

The serving glasses are my charity shop find from around Christmas which I am very pleased with.  The very small glass plates are from a stack of no less than twelve that I spotted on a table at a vide grenier (brocante) at Angles-sur-l’Anglin last month.  At five euros for the lot they are most definitely a bargain.  Especially as I have since remembered where I saw them for sale in a shop and for 1.50 euros each!  According to my maths that means, taking into account that I might just have bought them at full price if I had seen them,  I have roughly 13 euros to spend on more bargains……


100ml double cream

4 tblsp freshly made espresso coffee

200g dark chocolate, grated (using a food processor grating disc makes this part a lot easier and quicker than by hand)

4 eggs, separated

100g amaretti biscuits


Gently warm the cream in a medium saucepan, remove from the heat and add the espresso and chocolate.  Stir until all the chocolate has melted and is well blended.

Whisk the egg yolks and add to the chocolate, stirring until blended in.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.  Mix about half into the chocolate mixture then fold in the rest.

Put the amaretti biscuits into a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin until crushed to small crumbs.

Fill six serving glasses about half way with the mousse and add a layer of amaretti crumbs.  Make sure you reserve some crumbs to decorate the top of each mousse.  Divide the rest of the mousse between the six glasses, filling carefully so as not to disturb the layer of crumbs.  Dust the tops with the remaining amaretti crumbs and add other decorations if you like.

Chill for at least two hours before serving.  Can be made well in advance.

Serves 6.

April 21, 2017


fish and chips

I was recently asked to bake a birthday cake in the shape of a plate of fish and chips for someone whose favourite meal was… and chips.

fish and chips2

Naturally I was pleased to be asked and began planning how I could do it.  As it happens I had a fish cake tin, bought from a French brocante a couple of years ago.  I used my easy lemon drizzle cake recipe and it turned out just right. 

Of course, the fish would have to be covered in batter to look authentic.  Getting the colour of the buttercream right proved to be tricky, especially here in France where baking supplies such as food colouring can be hard to find.  In the end I used a combination of apricot jam, prune jam and a tiny dash of gravy browning to get something approaching the right shade!

fish and chips3

I baked another batch of the lemon cake in a swiss roll tin and cut it into strips to resemble the chips.  For the peas I used marzipan coloured green with food colouring.  The vinegar was apple juice darkened with a little dark rum, the salt pot contained caster sugar and for ketchup I added a little pot of strawberry jam.

With the lights dimmed and the birthday candle lit, the birthday boy really did think for a moment that he was getting a plate of fish and chips.  He loved it, and I really enjoyed making it.

March 22, 2017



I made this cake for a boozy themed CCC event last year.  The basic ingredients for a margarita are lime juice and tequila so you get the gist of this cake.

I adapted a recipe for a lemon drizzle Bundt cake I’d used before and simply exchanged the lemon for lime and tequila.  It worked very well and turned out of the tin beautifully, giving lovely sharp lines.  This is such a good cake tin, the “heritage” design from Nordic Ware, a mixture of fun, frivolity and elegance all rolled into one.  The first time I set eyes on it, in the very blog that the lemon cake recipe comes from, I knew I had to have one.  It was a good investment, as a tin like this can turn an ordinary cake into a showstopper, with or without any kind of icing.  Just a sprinkling of icing sugar is really all that’s needed, if anything.


225g softened unsalted butter, or spreadable butter

400g caster sugar

1 tsp salt

4 large eggs

2 tsp baking powder

350g plain flour

175ml milk

3 tblsp tequila

zest of 2 limes

For the drizzle

juice of 2 limes

1 tbslp tequila

150g icing sugar


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Butter and flour a Bundt tin.

Beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat well. 

Stir in the flour, salt and baking powder, alternating with the liquids, and mix until smooth.  Add the lime zest and combine thoroughly.

Spoon carefully into the tin, pushing the mixture into the nooks and crannies, and smooth the top.

Bake for about an hour, until done.  Cool in the tin for ten minutes before carefully turning out onto a wire rack.

To make the drizzle, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and mix in the lime juice and tequila.  While the cake is still warm, pierce all over with a fine skewer and spoon the drizzle over so that it soaks in.

Serves 16 plus.

March 13, 2017



This is another cake in my search for the perfect apple cake.  It comes from a book by Paul Hollywood called “British Baking”

The instructions say to make the cake in a 20cm square tin but I wanted a round cake which raised an interesting question.  If the instructions are for a square tin, what size should you use if you change to a round tin, and vice versa?


There is a clue in Paul Hollywood’s recipe as he says to use a 20cm square or 22cm round tin.  I did a little research and found a simple rule that works best if you think of tin sizes in inches rather than centimetres.

If you imagine a square tin of say 9” and put a round 9” tin next to it you will see that the round tin could fit inside the square tin, leaving the corners empty.  In other words, the surface area and therefore the volume of a square tin is bigger than that of the same size round tin.  It’s obvious when you think about it.

So, in order to have a tin of about the same volume you have to go up a size in a round tin and vice versa.  For an 8” square tin use a 9” round tin.  For an 8” round tin use a 7” square tin.  And so on.


Back to the cake itself.  The rubbing in method was easy and quick to make but the final mixture was a bit stiff so I added a good splash of extra milk to make it workable and to get it into the tin. 

This was a good cake.  It was, if anything, not quite as moist as I would have liked.  I attribute this to the variety of apples.  They were some kind of dessert apple but I can’t now remember which exactly and in any case I find French apple varieties very confusing.  One day I will no doubt be more familiar with them but for now it’s pot luck when I buy them in the supermarket.

The original ingredients say two dessert apples and one Bramley, which would of course reduce to mush and therefore presumably make the cake more moist.  I used three of the same dessert apples as you never see Bramleys in French shops, and they remained very firm.  This was good in the sense that there were distinct apple slices in the cake but not so good for adding moisture, or so I guess.

Anyway, I think it’s my favourite apple cake so far.  Next time I would add a little apple compote to compensate for the lack of a mushy Bramley and I would bake it in a slightly smaller tin to make a deeper cake. 

We are inching closer to the perfect apple cake recipe I think!


200g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp ground cinnamon

100g cold unsalted butter

100g caster sugar

2 dessert apples

1 small Bramley or cooking apple

2 eggs

60ml milk

1 tblsp demerara sugar for sprinkling


Preheat the oven to 180° C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter and line a 20cm square or 22cm round tin.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl and rub in the butter to fine breadcrumbs.

Peel and thinly slice the apples and add to the flour with the caster sugar, stir until combined.

Beat the eggs with the milk and add to the mixture, stir until combined.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared tin, sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top and bake for 40-50 minutes until done.  Cool slightly then turn out to finish cooling on a wire rack.

Cuts into 9 generous squares or slices.

February 15, 2017


dutch apple cake

In the beginning…….a cake was a cake and a pudding was a pudding.  Then……along comes the dessert cake. 

In my book, a cake is something you can pick up from the plate with your fingers and eat without having too much of it running down your chin.  You might want to use a cake fork in polite company but you wouldn’t expect to look like a bag lady after just a couple of mouthfuls.

A pudding is something you would eat with a fork or, better still, a spoon, especially if it’s accompanied by a good dollop of custard, cream or ice cream.

So where, may I ask, does the dessert cake fit in?

dutch apple cake2

This recipe comes from a book by Rachel Allen called “bake” and it’s described as a cake.  And very popular it is if you are to believe the words in the book.

I love Rachel Allen’s recipes.  They always work and I have never had a bad result with one.  But this is not a cake, it is most definitely a pudding.  Or, to be charitable, a dessert cake.

There was a clue in the recipe where it said to leave the cake to cool in the tin and serve in squares.  No mention was made of turning it out and serving it on a plate.  It was my idea to do that, thinking it was a cake because it was called a cake.

dutch apple cake3

The recipe states quite clearly that the apples will sink to the bottom and they did.  No problem with that except that that would make it impossible to eat the cake as if it was a cake.  A pudding it most definitely is.  The next time I make it – and there will be many, many next times as it was utterly delicious – I will make it in a pudding dish and serve it in slices, or even spoonfuls, straight from the dish and have done with it!

There was a nervous moment as I took it out of the oven and saw that for some reason the middle had developed an entirely different crust from the rest of it.  I presumed the middle was still completely uncooked but no, it was beautifully done.  Although it did sink in the middle.

dutch apple cake4

So, the next time I think I might make an apple crumble or Eve’s pudding, I will make one of these instead.  I won’t bother too much about how the apple slices are arranged on top because they sink to the bottom where you can’t see them.

My quest to find the perfect apple cake continues but as for a perfect apple pudding – this one would take some beating.


2 eggs

175g golden caster sugar

½ tsp vanilla extract

75g butter

75ml milk

125g plain flour

½ tsp ground cinnamon

2¼ tsp baking powder

1 large cooking apple

1 tblsp golden caster sugar for sprinkling


Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Line a 20cm square (or 23cm round) cake tin with baking paper.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together with an electric whisk until thick and mousse-like and ribbons of mixture form when dropped from the whisk.  This may take about 5 minutes.

Put the milk and butter into a small saucepan and heat gently until the butter is melted.  Pour in to the egg mixture and whisk in as you pour.

Sift in the flour, cinnamon and baking powder and fold in gently.  Pour into the prepared tin.

Peel and core the apple and slice thinly.  Arrange over the top of the mixture and sprinkle the extra caster sugar on top.

Bake for 10 minutes then reduce the oven temperature to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.

Bake for a further 20-25 minutes until golden brown and cooked.

Cool in the tin and serve in squares or spoonfuls with custard, cream or ice cream.

Cuts into 8-9 portions.

February 11, 2017


lemon biscuits

I rarely make biscuits of any kind but, with visitors expected, I decided to make some for a change.  Time was short and I thought they would be quicker and easier to do than rustling up a cake or buns of some kind, with fewer ingredients to weigh out and less baking time needed.

lemon biscuits4

I used Mary Berry’s recipe for Fork Biscuits, adding some lemon zest for flavour.  They were done in no time at all and turned out really well.

lemon biscuits2

They were crisp, crunchy, crumbly, light and buttery with a hint of lemon.  Hardly any effort at all to make and well worth it.  They were just the right size, easy to eat and kept well in a tin for a few days – until they were gone!  An excellent recipe that I will definitely be using again.


100g softened butter or Flora Buttery

50g caster sugar

150g self raising flour

grated zest of 1 lemon


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Lightly butter two baking sheets.

Put the butter into a large bowl and beat until light and soft.  Beat in the caster sugar and lemon zest.  Next beat in the flour.

Using your hands, bring the mixture together into a ball and flatten it slightly.  Cut it into quarters then cut each quarter into four which will make 16 balls about the size of a large walnut.

Arrange the balls on the baking trays, 8 on each, spaced well apart.  Using a fork dipped into a jug of cold water, flatten each biscuit and leave the fork pattern in the top.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until light golden brown.  Lift carefully off the trays and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 16 biscuits.

February 7, 2017


Valentine surprise cake6

This cake was made by Nick for our Clandestine Cake Club meeting last February.  The theme was loosely based on St. Valentine’s Day and he simply Googled “Valentine cakes” and this came up first!

Valentine surprise cake4

Nick being Nick, he followed the recipe, line by line, to the letter and the end result was stunning.  He made an enviably beautiful and glossy ganache to cover it and decorated it with pink roses and little pink hearts that he chose himself.  Bless…….

Valentine surprise cake

Essentially the recipe makes two almond sponges, which have a lovely flavour and texture.  One is coloured and flavoured with cocoa powder, then cut into sections with a heart shaped cutter. 

You bury the heart shaped pieces in a log fashion inside the second cake before you bake that and therefore end up with a chocolate heart running through the length of the second cake.  Very effective and remarkably easy to do.

The only slightly disappointing thing was that the hidden heart was not very red in colour even though it contained a whole bottle of red food colouring .  Comments on the website indicated that other people had found this but it’s hardly surprising considering the cake contained so much dark brown cocoa powder to overcome.  The hidden heart in Nick’s cake had a slight hint of red, so that was fine.


You can see the original recipe here.  I am entering this post into this month’s We Should Cocoa Challenge, from Choclette over at Tin and Thyme.  You can see the details here.

Valentine surprise cake5a


For each cake (we made the chocolate cake for the centre first and the second cake the next day.)

175g butter, softened.  (we used Flora Buttery)

175g golden caster sugar

3 large eggs

140g self raising flour

½ tsp baking powder

85g ground almonds

100ml milk

1½ tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate centre

3 tblsp cocoa powder

1 bottle red food colouring

For the icing

100ml double cream

200g dark chocolate, finely chopped

50g unsalted butter

roses, hearts or other decorations of your choice


Preheat the oven to 160°C / 140° fan / gas mk 3.  Butter a large 900g loaf tin and put a strip of baking paper along the bottom and up the sides.

For the chocolate cake, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder then fold into the mixture along with the ground almonds.  Mix together the milk, vanilla and food colouring and add to the mixture, mix in until evenly combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 60-70 minutes until the cake passes the skewer test.   Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool.

When the cake is cold, cut it into a heart shaped log by using a 5cm (approx) heart shaped cookie or pastry cutter.  To do this, measure the depth of your cutter and slice the cake into thick slices of this depth.  Lay the slices flat on a board and cut out a heart shape from each slice.  

The heart shaped slices will be laid end-to-end inside the second cake and inevitably there will be quite a lot of unused cake.  We used ours to make a chocolate trifle later but you can use your imagination – or just eat the pieces as they are.

Make a second batch of cake mixture exactly like the first except that there will be no cocoa powder or food colouring to include.

Pour two thirds of the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and then carefully lay the heart shaped pieces of chocolate cake, point downwards, side by side in the mixture so as to form a heart shaped log end to end along the length of the tin.  Carefully spoon the remaining mixture around and on top of the hearts and bake for about an hour until the cake is golden brown and passes the skewer test.  Cool as before, then turn out.

To make the icing, put all the ingredients together in a small saucepan and heat gently until combined.  Allow to cool then spread over the cake and add decorations of your choice.

Cuts into 12-16 slices.

February 1, 2017


spiced apple cake

I was given some French cooking apples one day last year.  In France many of our friends have apple trees growing in the gardens, fields or orchards that came with the lovely old stone houses, planted by previous generations many decades ago and often nobody has any idea what kind of apples they are, they just keep on producing every year. 

We were sad to lose our best apple tree after only one harvest.  It was in the exact place where our filter bed had to be, the only place it could be because of the lie of the land, when we had our new septic tank, and it had to be cut down.  We have two other trees, both of which were stunted and in poor shape because of where they had been planted and previously ignored but we have freed them from surrounding weed trees and hopefully lavished enough TLC on them to allow them to thrive and produce more fruit in time. 

spiced apple cake3

These were a green apple, variety unknown, too tart for an eating apple but firmer and sweeter than a Bramley.  They were all shapes and sizes, some a bit warty and discoloured, some already nibbled in places but I have learned that fruit donated by friends is a precious thing, given with love and also with relief that you can use them and help them out with their glut of fruit!

Bearing in mind my current quest to find the perfect apple cake recipe, I remembered having made this cake but not having posted about it yet.

spiced apple cake4

The recipe comes from one of the Hairy Bikers diet books.  It’s made with oil not butter and not a lot of sugar, producing a cake that is allegedly around only 200 calories a slice.  I was wanting to give a cake away (another way of passing on the apples) but to someone who doesn’t eat a great deal of cake, so instead of making it into one 23cm round cake I made two smaller ones by dividing the mixture between two loaf tins and adjusting the cooking time.  I chose this recipe not because it was low calorie but because it was the first one I found that used cooking apples.

spiced apple cake2

The house smelled glorious while the cakes were cooking and the cakes themselves were lovely.  They had a fairly loose and open texture, almost muffin-like.  They were full of apples and definitely not over sweet.  A very nice recipe that I shall use again and you can see the original here.


750g (approx) cooking apples

zest and juice of ½ lemon

250g self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp mixed spice

2 large eggs

100g demerara sugar

200ml semi skimmed milk

100ml sunflower oil

2 tblsp demerara sugar for sprinkling


Peel the apples, cut in half and remove the core with a melon baller or metal spoon.  Cut into quarters then slice thinly, put into a bowl, sprinkle over the lemon juice and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 190° / 170° fan / gas mk 5.  Line a 23 cm springform cake tin with baking paper and brush with oil.  (Or use two 900g loaf tins, lined with a paper liner.)

Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl.  In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, milk and sugar.  Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and stir with the whisk to combine, making sure there are no lumps.

Tip the apples into the mixture and mix to combine evenly then pour into the tin (or divide equally between the two loaf tins).  Sprinkle the extra demerara sugar over the top.

Bake for about an hour until the cake is golden brown and passes the skewer test.  (The two loaf cakes will take 40-45 minutes but keep an eye on them after 30 minutes.)

Cool in the tins for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

The large cake cuts into 12-14 slices, each loaf into 8-10 slices.  Makes a very nice dessert if reheated and served warm with cream, custard or ice cream (if you don’t mind the extra calories).

January 28, 2017

“GERMAN” APPLE CAKE and a conundrum.

german apple cake

This cake forms another adventure in my quest for the perfect apple cake.  It’s good, in fact very good.  The recipe is one of Rick Stein’s and I saw it in one of his recent TV programmes, in the series “Long Weekends”.  This featured in his weekend in Berlin and as soon as I saw him make it I decided I had to make it too.  I easily found the recipe on the BBC website but Nick then came home from a shopping trip with the book from the series, bless him.  (I suspect he was making up for being unable to do any Christmas shopping.)

german apple cake2

Watching Mr Stein make the cake on the programme I thought he was actually a bit slap dash, not scraping out the bowl completely and not measuring stuff accurately.  It’s the cheffy way I suppose and the end result looked good so who cares?

But…….one of the things that annoys me about cooking programmes is the lack of proper continuity.  In the programme he most definitely did not peel the apples yet in the recipe it says you should.  Looking at the picture that goes with the recipe on the website and the full page one in the book, the apples still have their peel on.  So when I made my cake I didn’t peel the apples either.

german apple cake3

Another thing that didn’t seem right was the size of tin.  In the recipe it says 23cm but watching him make the cake and talk about the tin as being one of his old favourites, I thought it looked smaller than 23cm to me.  I have actually made this cake twice and the first time I used a 23cm tin and I thought the cake was a bit thin.  So this time I used a tin that measures 21cm (probably supposed to be 20cm) and I thought it looked better and more like his.  So there we are.  In any case it’s a very nice cake.

german apple cake4

german apple cake5

I’m not sure whether a German apple cake should have apple inside the cake as well as on top or not.  Both ways appear in recipes on the internet as well as in my cook books. Rick Stein’s version has apples only on the top and no other added flavour such as spice or vanilla in the cake but it has a lovely, buttery flavour and perfect, even texture.  The spice is in the topping which gives the cake a nice slight crunch.  Definitely a contender for my favourite apple cake recipe so far, I think.

german apple cake6

You can see the recipe on the BBC website here.

Now for the conundrum.


These wineglasses had been for sale in a local charity shop since well before Christmas.  I had looked at them several times but if anything is certain, one thing we do not need is more wine glasses.  In the end I weakened and could resist them no longer. At £2 for four of them it was hardly a big deal, space to keep them is more of a problem.  (I have since seen them for sale on Ebay for ten times that amount so mine were a bargain.)  BUT……what does the logo “GENETE” mean?  It’s presumably some kind of drink and an internet search suggest a mixture of champagne perry and gin but nothing specific.  Also possibly dating back to the 1960’s .

The only champagne perry I have ever heard of is Babycham, which seems, as far as I know, uniquely sold in the UK, especially in the 60’s and 70’s.  Because these glasses have the logo “Genete” on them, I think that suggests a ready made apéritif or cocktail of some kind, rather than one you would mix yourself.   If anyone has ever seen, or even tasted Genete, I would love to hear about it!

Here’s my version of the cake recipe:


2 small fruit bowl apples

juice of ½ lemon

125g unsalted butter softened, or Lurpak spreadable (I used Lurpak Lighter)

140g golden caster sugar

3 large eggs, beaten together

225g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

5 tblsp milk

For the topping

1 tblsp demerara sugar

scant ½ tsp ground cinnamon


Cut the apples into half and remove the core using a melon baller, metal measuring spoon or teaspoon.  Cut each half into about eight thin slices.  Set aside in a bowl and sprinkle with the lemon juice.

Butter and line a 21cm springform tin.  Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150° fan / gas mk 3.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs, about half at a time, beating until smooth.  Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and fold in carefully until combined.  Add the milk and mix in thoroughly.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top.  Arrange the apple slices overlapping in a circle on top.  In a cup or small bowl, mix together the demerara and cinnamon and sprinkle this evenly over the apples.

Bake for 45-50 minutes until the sponge appears golden brown and springy and passes the skewer test.  Cool in the tin for 15 minutes then remove and cool on a rack.

Serve warm with cream for dessert or cold with a cup of tea (or a nicely chilled glass of sparkling wine, champagne perry or other drink of your choice).

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

January 24, 2017


apple cake2

I am on a mission to find the perfect apple cake.  I have no idea why this mission has happened to me but I seem to be drawn to apple cake recipes lately and have tried a few – but have yet to find the perfect one.

This recipe was nice but definitely not “the one” for me.  It comes from a truly delightful blog called “Life’s a Feast” and sounded as though it should be absolutely wonderful.  It almost was but, for me, it needed some spice.

apple cake

I followed the recipe exactly and the cake looked fabulous.  It had a dense and moist dessert cake texture and the apples were beautifully distributed through the cake.  It was almost, but not quite, perfect for my quest.

apple cake3

We had it for lunch with guests one Sunday and it tasted lovely and kept well for a day or two, until it was all gone.

Some apple cake recipes are heavily spiced and I was attracted to the idea that this one was all about the apples and not the spice, but I felt that it was ever so slightly too bland.

I realise of course that there are apples and then there are apples.  According to one website I was reading, these days apples are grown and the varieties tinkered with to produce apples of perfect, blemish free shape that keep well.  In other words, they keep for a long time and look good in the fruit bowl but don’t have much flavour.  Maybe that’s the mistake I made here.

I can’t quite remember what variety of apples I used for this cake but as I was in France it most certainly would not have been cooking apples.  More likely a mixture of fruit bowl apples of various types depending on what I had bought or been given, and what needed using up.

I would make this cake again, for its lovely texture and appearance, if I could be sure of having some really appley flavoured apples to hand.  I might also cheat and add a tiny smidgen of spice.

You can see the original recipe here.

January 22, 2017


broccoli soup

We have without doubt had a trying time recently.  With Nick having had his minor heart attack last month and being in hospital before Christmas, my dad then had a slight stroke last week.

It never rains but what it pours, as they say, but this time I am glad that luckily we were still in Derbyshire to pick him up and dust him down.  He’s fine, having had a narrow escape and something called a subdural haematoma.  There seem to be no lasting effects and we’re keeping fingers crossed that his GP will pronounce him fit to continue driving.

broccli soup2

Just to add to the challenge I have had a stinking cold for the last two weeks.  I have always felt that a cold is a truly miserable illness, not least because everyone thinks “it’s only a cold” and therefore you should be able to carry on more or less as normal.  Everything you do is so much harder when you have a cold, when you can’t breathe properly, can’t speak more than a couple of sentences without breaking into a debilitating coughing fit, are permanently drained because you can’t sleep, have zero energy and generally feel absolutely rotten.  With a non driving husband to look after and a father in hospital to visit I was at quite a low ebb in the middle of the week and the cold, grey and miserable weather did not help one bit.

By the weekend things were looking up.  My cold was getting better, Nick was driving again, my Dad came out of hospital and I found a replacement for my stolen camera on EBay.  Yesterday we went for a walk around the park at Matlock, just for some fresh air and exercise, somewhere I haven’t been for many years.  Bits of Matlock haven’t changed since I was a child.  Riber Castle still stands overlooking the town and the park is as neat and tidy as ever – or as it can be in the middle of winter.  We used to live a couple of miles over the other side of the hill from the castle and a walk up to it was a regular activity after Sunday dinner.

broccoli soup3

The cinema is no longer a cinema but an Indian restaurant, with a genuine tuk tuk perched over the entrance.  I seem to remember it was a Chinese restaurant for a while before that and hasn’t been a “picture house” for a very long time.  If I had a sixpence for the number of times I have sat and watched a picture in the 1/3d’s – it probably wouldn’t amount to enough to buy one cinema ticket nowadays!  Somehow “going to the pictures” on the bus to see the picture that was on for the week sounds so much more special than driving to the nearest cinema complex and choosing from six different movies.

Showing my age again……!

Anyhow, with the weather grey, cold and miserable, soup, or the making of soup, is very appealing.  What could be better than delicious aromas filling the house and a bowl of lovely warming soup on the table?  I haven’t been doing much real cooking lately due to lack of time and energy and a carton of broccoli and stilton soup was one of the things that got randomly purchased to fill the fridge.  Whilst I was eating it I had a strong urge to make it for myself as soon as I had the time and this recipe is based loosely on one found on the BBC Good Food website.

It was simple, quick and easy to prepare and absolutely delicious.  I used less stilton than the recipe suggested as Nick is not a huge fan of blue cheese and a hint of it is enough for him.  In fact more would have overpowered the soup I think.  The soup is fairly thick and can be blitzed completely smooth or left slightly lumpy as you like.


1 onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 leek, wiped and thinly sliced

1 stick of celery, washed and thinly sliced

1 medium or 2 smallish potatoes, peeled and diced

1 litre vegetable stock made with a stock cube or powder

2 tbsp rapeseed oil or vegetable oil

1 large knob of butter

1 large head of broccoli

A good splash of dry sherry

110g stilton cheese, rind removed and chopped


Heat the oil in a large saucepan or stock pot, add the onion and cook gently, lid on, for 5 minutes.

Remove the florets from the broccoli and set aside.  Remove the woody bits from the stem and cut it into thick slices.  Add the slices to the pan with the leek, celery and knob of butter.  Put the lid back on and cook gently on a low heat for 10-15 minutes until the veg are soft.

Add in the florets, potatoes and stock, bring to the boil and simmer gently, lid on, for 15 –20 minutes.  Remove from the lid, stir in the stilton and cook until most of it has melted into the soup.  Add the sherry and season with black pepper before blitzing to the smoothness you like using a stick blender or by transferring to a food processor.

Reheat if necessary.  Serves 4.