August 14, 2019


These have to be some of the worst photos of a cake that I have ever put up in this blog but the cake is one of the best.
Some time ago Phil of "As Strong as Soup" blog posted about Michael Barry's Crafty Chocolate Cake and ever since then I have been meaning to bake it. It's hard to believe that I have waited seven years to make this cake! (So many cakes, so little time.)  You can read Phil's post about it here.
Michael Barry had the cooking slot in the old Food and Drink series on the BBC and I remember enjoying his no nonsense style.  Phil gives more information about him in his post and a link to the recipe on the Oxfam website.  Sadly the link no longer works so I googled the cake and came across it posted as a contributor's recipe on Nigella Lawson's website.  Something about this version of the cake somehow didn't quite ring true and at the back of my mind I thought it was not the same as the original.
Luckily, not long ago I acquired a copy of  the book that it comes from, Michael Barry's Food and Drink Cookbook, published in 1991. (From a charity shop for £1, where else?)  There are subtle differences between his recipe and the one on Nigella's website so I decided to go with the original.
The cake was destined for a birthday get together of just five ladies and I was dismayed when the cream I intended to fill it with would simply not whip up stiffly enough to use it.  Glurpy cream oozing out of the middle of an otherwise acceptable cake just will not do for a birthday so I left it out and just filled it with a good layer of cherry jam instead.  I was equally, if not more dismayed when the second sponge cracked as I placed it on top of the first.  A good dense dusting of icing sugar was not enough to hide the crack but nobody seemed to mind.
Cracked top and lack of cream notwithstanding, this was an excellent cake.  Phil waxes lyrical about it and quite rightly so.  In the book Mr Barry boasts that his cake was quicker to make and preferred by the Food and Drink team over a similar recipe by the WI! 
It is a doddle to make, (although it takes longer to bake than other all-in-one sponge cakes) has a lovely light texture and good chocolate flavour.  What more could you want from a recipe?
175g self raising flour
4 heaped tblsp cocoa powder
1 heaped tsp baking powder
100g caster sugar
1 dessert spoon black treacle
150ml sunflower oil
150ml milk
2 large eggs
For the filling
4-5 tblsp cherry jam
approx. 200ml double cream
Grease and line the bases of two 18cm sandwich tins.  Preheat the oven to 160C / 140 Fan.
Put all the cake ingredients into a food processor and blend until you have a dark brown creamy batter.
Divide between the two tins and bake for 40-45 minutes.
Remove from the tins and cool on a wire rack.
To serve, sandwich the cakes together with a good layer of jam and some whipped cream.  dust thickly with icing sugar on top.
Cuts into 8-10 slices.

August 9, 2019


I was asked to make some cakes for a charity cake sale that could be frozen until the day of the sale.  Loaf cakes and traybakes are easy to freeze but can look a bit plain and not sell as well as the more fancy cakes on the stall.
Then I stumbled across a blog with a recipe for Madeira cake made in a Bundt tin.  What a great idea thought I - much more appealing.  Just to be on the safe side I decided to make one for home consumption beforehand to check that it would work.  It worked.

A friend had asked her visitors from America to bring me a Nordic Ware Bundt tin that I coveted which was called a "blossom pan".  They are so much cheaper to buy over there and I thank this mystery person from the bottom of my heart for bringing it in her luggage.  When you look closely at Nordic Ware pans (tins) you just have to admire the design.  All those intricate curves designed so that the cake will come out with a beautiful shape.  Then when you consider the hefty material they're made of and the superb non stick coating, there's no wonder they're so expensive.

It occurred to me that with this particular tin the cake would still look right if some of the design was missing from the bottom.  Judging from the quantity of flour and other ingredients in the recipe I realised that there would not be enough mixture to fill the tin - or up to two thirds as is usually recommended - so some of the pattern would be missing when the cake was turned out.  This would look odd with some of the Nordic Ware designs I have, but fine with this one.
I also learned a new trick from the recipe.  To make a channel in the top of the mixture would produce a flatter top to the cake which was very handy when the cake was turned out.  I have often had to remove a bulge from the top in order to get the cake to be level when inverted and this solves that problem.  It's such a simple solution that I feel rather silly that I never thought of it myself before. 

Anyway, the cake looked gorgeous and tasted lovely.  This will be my go-to lemon cake recipe in future I think.  Nice and moist and just lemony enough, with an excellent crumb.  It kept really well in an airtight tin for several days.  A keeper in more ways than one.  Even in a loaf tin.  You can see the recipe here.
175g softened butter (I used Lurpak Spreadable)
175g caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
3 large eggs
1 tsp almond extract
1.5 tsp baking powder
150g plain flour
75g ground almonds
splash of milk
icing sugar to dust (optional)
Prepare the Bundt tin (or use a 1kg loaf tin) by brushing with melted butter and dusting with flour, or using home made cake release paste.  (See sidebar.)  Preheat the oven to 170C / 150 Fan.
Using a stand mixer, beat the butter until pale and creamy then beat in the sugar.  Beat in the lemon zest. 
Whisk the eggs with the almond essence in a jug and pour into the mix a dribble at a time, thoroughly mixing between additions.  Add a spoonful of the flour if it begins to curdle.
Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and sift in half of the flour and baking powder.  Fold in carefully and repeat with the other half then the ground almonds.  Add enough milk to get a soft dropping consistency.
Transfer to the tin, level the top and run the spoon around the centre to make a shallow channel.  Tap the tin a few times on the worktop to help remove any trapped air bubbles.
Bake for 40-50 minutes (mine was done in 40) until golden brown and coming away from the sides of the tin.  Cool for 10-15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Dust with icing sugar if you like.  Cuts into 10-12 slices.

July 25, 2019


We have friends who are completely baffled why we live (half of the year) in France.  They have the impression that, away from the towns, the place is deserted.  Dead as a dodo.  They recall holidays where they have driven round from village to village for hours and barely seen a soul.  All houses appear shut up and empty, almost like in a ghost town.

Well, dear readers, trust me when I say, you could not be further from the truth.  Behind those shuttered windows and doors lie the real France, the goings on are way beyond your imagination and on...…...

We are at the tail end of a heat wave.  Yesterday we were in the middle of three days of "canicule" (the French word for heatwave) and believe me, it is flippin' hot.  Yesterday the temperature was expected to reach 40C by teatime and it was hardly the ideal weather to hold a cake club meeting!
And sure enough, if you had driven around the village of Boussay in Touraine yesterday afternoon, you would have found the place deserted, all windows and doors shuttered against the heat and awful lot of cars parked along a certain street outside a certain house opposite the château and the sound of laughter and the clinking of glasses coming from within.  Yes, it was a cake club meeting.  Undaunted by the weather the members rose to the occasion and baked an amazing selection of cakes and bakes to the theme of "herbs".
And so I come to my blueberry, lemon and mint cake.  I saw the recipe as a loaf cake on the Delicious Magazine website and also on a blog where the writer had baked it as a Bundt cake instead of a loaf.  That was more my kind of thing so I decided to go for it.
It was lovely.  A nice texture which held up well (with no buttercream to melt in the heat).  I thought it had the right amount of mint but if I make it again (which I probably will) I would use double the lemons (use two instead of one) and use halve the quantity of blueberries.  In spite of adding the fruit in thirds most of the blueberries sank to the bottom of the tin which meant they were bizarrely at the top of my Bundt cake.
I thought it looked much better without the drizzle which was rather like mint sauce and put a kind of green sludgy finish on it but....I doubt that anyone expects glamour from this kind of cake and it did have the effect of giving the cake just the right mintyness.  I decorated mine with mint leaves, viola flowers and the rather weird looking flowers from our garden mint.  Definitely one to be made again.  You can see the recipe I used here and here for the Bundt version.
115g very soft butter
25g freshly picked mint leaves
250g blueberries (try 150g next time)
finely grated zest and juice of 1 large lemon (try 2 lemons next time)
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 large eggs, beaten
120ml whole milk
25g desiccated coconut
For the glaze
100g granulated sugar
Rinse and dry the blueberries and put into a bowl.  Finely chop about a quarter of the mint leaves to yield roughly 1 tblsp.  Add to the blueberries with one tsp of the lemon juice.  Stir together and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk4.  Butter a 900g loaf tin or a Bundt tin.
Using an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (this will take longer than usual due to the high proportion of sugar).  Beat in the lemon zest then the eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour with the second egg.
Beat in the milk then fold in the flour. baking powder and coconut.
Spoon one third of the mixture into the tin followed by one third of the blueberries.  Repeat twice, ending with a layer of blueberries.  Bake for 60-70 minutes until done.
While the cake is cooking make the glaze by putting the rest of the mint leaves and 2 tblsp of the granulated sugar into a mini processor or pestle and mortar and process until a paste is formed.  Stir in the lemon juice and set aside.
When the cake is cooked leave in the tin for ten minutes then turn out if using a Bundt tin, leave in the tin if using a loaf tin.
Press the mint mixture through a fine sieve or tea strainer into a bowl or jug and stir in the remaining granulated sugar.  Pour the liquid over the cake and leave to cool completely.
If you like you can add a further drizzle of icing made with icing sugar and lemon juice.  Decorate as desired.
Cuts into 10-12 slices. 

July 20, 2019


Earlier this week a friend gave me a whole box of apricots from her tree.  There were several kilos of beautiful fruit, all ready to eat or use very soon, so I had to put my thinking cap on.  The first thought that sprung to mind was to make jam.
However, I'm not really a jam making person in the sense that whilst I enjoy the process of making jam and find it very satisfying and therapeutic (there's something so homely and wholesome about it), we don't actually eat a lot of jam.  Consequently the pleasure from the making is short lived when trying to find somewhere to store the jars of jam or someone to give them to.  It seems most of our family and friends don't use a lot of jam either and more tends to come our way than we can give away.  The result is a net gain of home made jam every year, delicious and tempting stuff.  We have home made jam dating back to 2014 or even earlier, unopened and crying out for a good scone...….

One of the benefits of being a recipe addict is that I recall a lot of recipes.  By that I mean that I can recall that I saw somewhere a recipe for something or other - remembering where I actually saw it is more of a challenge.  In this case I remembered that I had seen a recipe by Bill Grainger for a cake that might just do for my apricots.  I have no idea who Bill Grainger is other than that he is Australian and I have seen his books for sale here and there.  As it happens, after I had seen this recipe on the internet some time ago I then spotted the book that it comes from in a charity shop for £1 so I bought it.  It is in fact full of interesting and useful recipes.

The method is unusual in that you make a rubbed-in mixture, put half of it in the tin, put the fruit on top, add more ingredients to the other half of the mixture to make a batter and pour over the fruit.  It produces a very moist cake with a firmer layer on the bottom which makes it work as either a cake or a dessert.  I made mine using a food processor so it was very quick and easy to make.  The original recipe is for a peach and raspberry slice so it occurred to me that my apricots and a handful of blueberries would be an ideal alternative. 
It was absolutely delicious.  Just as delicious as the peach and raspberry combination would also be I'm sure.  I had to guess how much fruit to use - how many apricots of various sizes are the same as three peaches?  It made very moist cake so I wondered if less fruit would be better next time but several comments where the recipe appears on the internet suggest using less liquid in the batter so I might try that.  One of the places you can see it is here.
In any case, it is definitely one I shall be making again.  This is how I adapted the recipe: 
185g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder plus an extra ½ tsp
125g butter, chilled and diced
115g **soft brown sugar 
115g **caster sugar
9 apricots, halved and stoned
a handful of blueberries
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
185 ml ** milk
Grease and line the base of a 24cm square baking tin.  Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk4. 
Sift the flour and 1½ tsp baking powder into a food processor with the butter.  Blitz for a few seconds to make crumbs.  Add the sugars and blitz again to mix.
Tip half of the crumbs (I did actually weigh mine) into the prepared tin and press over the base.  Scatter the fruit evenly over the top. 
Add the vanilla, egg, milk and the other ½ tsp baking powder to the food processor and process to make a batter.  Pour this over the fruit and bake for about an hour until golden brown.  Cool in the tin.
Cuts into about 15 slices. 
** I made second cake using less sugar and less milk. 
100g each of the sugars, 150ml milk.  It was better I think.

July 10, 2019


With guests coming for dinner on a lovely summer evening I thought I should make something....summery.  What could be more summery than a Pavlova?

I can literally count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have made a Pavlova.  It might just be five times.  The reason is that I find meringues terrifying to make.
Bonkers I know, especially when the whole world and her grandmother can rustle up a Pavlova at the drop of a hat, probably at the same time as a batch of delicious scones, my other nemesis.
The last Pavlova I made was huge.  Looking for a recipe that would turn out smaller I found a Mary Berry recipe in her book "Absolute Favourites"  and the only reason for writing this post is so that I can positively remember which recipe to use next time.  This one is amply big enough and will cut into 8 servings.
3 egg whites*
175g caster sugar
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp cornflour
250ml double cream
a good handful each of mixed summer fruits, strawberries (halved if large), raspberries and blueberries.  Blackberries and redcurrants would also be good.
Preheat the oven to 160C / 140 fan / gas mk 3.   Lay a piece of baking paper on a baking sheet and draw a 20cm circle on it, using a cake tin or plate as a guide.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff using an electric whisk.  Gradually add spoonfuls of sugar and whisk in.  The mixture should be stiff and shiny and standing in peaks.  (This is the terrifying part - is it stiff and shiny enough.....?)
Blend the vinegar and cornflour together into a smooth paste and stir in.
First secure the paper to the baking sheet with a dab of meringue mixture at each corner.  This stops it from sliding around and makes life a lot easier.  Dot large spoonfuls of the meringue onto the baking paper and spread them out to fill in the circle as evenly as possible, making the middle slightly shallower than the sides.
Slide into the middle of the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 150C / 130 fan / gas mk 2.  Bake for about an hour until the meringue is crisp and a pale creamy colour.  Turn off the oven but leave the meringue inside to become cold for several hours or overnight.  Mine had about 8 hours and was fine.
Slide the Pavlova off the baking sheet onto a flat cake stand or plate.  Whip the cream and pile into the hollow.  Scatter the fruit on top and dust with icing sugar before serving.
Serves 8.
*You can use the egg yolks to make real custard.  1 pint milk, 3 egg yolks, 1 tblsp caster sugar, 1 tblsp cornflour.

July 6, 2019


The theme of our recent cake and bake club meeting was "on trend or vintage" and when I was wondering what to make I remembered this recipe for "frozen fruit cake".  It appeared some time ago in the blog written by Mary-Anne Boermans, a previous GBBO contestant, called "Time to cook online".
Mary-Anne has a passion for old recipes and this one apparently dates back to the 1930's.  The beauty of it is that you can use virtually any fruit at all, fresh, tinned or frozen, making it very versatile and friendly and exactly my cup of tea.
The cake mixture is made using the rubbed in method.  Half of it is spread over the bottom of the tin, then the fruit is mixed into the other half before spreading the mixture on top.  The idea is that this prevents all of the fruit from sinking to the bottom during cooking and it worked!
The cake had a firmish texture, ideal as a traybake for picnics etc.  I put fresh fruit in mine, using up what I had in the fridge, so it was a mixture of strawberries, cherries and blueberries.  It's not a show stopper or a great party cake but a good way of using up mixed fruit from the fruit bowl or freezer.  Nice with a cup of tea in the afternoon.   Thinking about it, there were not really "showstopper cakes" around in the 1930's.  Between the wars most people would have been thrilled and grateful to have any kind of cake on the tea table and you certainly would not have seen the glamorous cakes we get nowadays, not in ordinary households anyway.  You can see the recipe here. and it cuts into about 12 pieces.
 Cake and Bake club meeting June 2019.
CCC club meeting February 2016.  
The cake club has evolved into something I'm not too sure about.  We used to have a very successful branch of the Clandestine Cake Club in the Loire Valley, attracting lots of people and beautiful cakes at every meeting.  When the CCC folded the members decided they would like to continue with meetings but change to a "cake and bake" club (although most people still refer to it as "cake club"). 
At the last meeting there were only four cakes on the table, three of which were baked by us - me, Nick and my brother who was staying with us on holiday. 
Amongst other things on the table there were three almost identical quiches, rock buns, biscuits and a chilled dessert.  All well made and very tasty but......for me there is nothing quite like the sight of a table full of gorgeous cakes.  The two pictures above serve to illustrate what I mean.
Cakes are special, a treat, a challenge to bake and beautiful to look at.  There is a sense of joy and achievement when you have baked a gorgeous cake and bring it out for everyone to feast their eyes on and taste a slice.  I'm not sure you can say the same about a quiche, even a very nice quiche.  In my mind the club was not started so that people could bring the everyday things they bake for tea.
Hey ho.  You can read more about it here.

July 3, 2019


Almost a whole month has gone by since my last post - how did that happen?  There has been some baking chez nous, but not as much as usual.
This cake was baked in a kind of desperation a few weeks ago, when our remodelling of the upstairs was nearly at an end but there was still a shed load of decorating, tidying and other stuff to do.  When I feel that life is all work and no play it's baking a cake that cheers me up.
Nick's favourite cake is a ginger cake.  However, there were two very ripe bananas in the fruit bowl and I decided to not waste them by adapting a well used recipe and putting enough ginger in it to hopefully disguise the banana.  Well almost!

I was also chomping at the bit to use a new acquisition - a cake tin brought from the UK to France earlier in the year and as yet unused.  I had spotted it in Wilko where it is actually sold as a "small roasting tin".  It was not expensive and it occurred to me that it might come in handy for loaf tin recipes.  I'm not always thrilled with loaf cakes, or at least not the shape of them.  They can sometimes turn out quite tall and a slice of cake can be a bit unwieldy, so this seemed to me that it would produce something more like an oblong cake than a loaf.  I was right.  The other good thing about it is that standard loaf tin liners also fit it, which is very handy.
I was very pleased with the cake too.  This is a slight variation on a recipe for apple and banana cake which you can see here. I love recipes that can be adapted to fit the occasion but always turn out well.  I have made versions of it many times and it never fails to work.  The cake was moist, bananary and gingery - what's not to love?
150g light muscovado sugar
85g softened butter or spreadable butter
2 large eggs, beaten
4 medium ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1 dessert apple, unpeeled and grated
250g self raising flour
4 tsp ground ginger
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk 4.  Grease and line a 900g / 2lb loaf tin, 20cm round springform tin or small roasting tin
Cream the butter and sugar and gradually beat in the eggs.
Sift in the flour and spices, add the banana, salt and apple and mix well together.
Transfer to the prepared tin and bake for about an hour.  Check after 45 minutes and cover loosely with foil if the top is browning too much.
When done, remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 20 minutes.  Turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling and dust with icing sugar before serving.
Cuts into 8-10 slices.