October 1, 2019


A while ago recipes for something called a hedgerow cake seemed to be turning up everywhere I looked.  There were numerous variations of the cake around but most had blackberries in there somewhere and also on the top as decoration. 

With friends coming round for a birthday tea and a few of my hedgerow blackberries going spare I decided to make my own version.  It's another adaptation of Mary Berry's apple and lemon sandwich cake which you can see here. 
When I made this cake before, I filled and topped it with lemon buttercream.  This time I filled it with a layer of bramble jelly and whipped cream and decorated it with cream and blackberries just like the hedgerow cakes I saw on Facebook.  I later added a light dusting of icing sugar to the top before serving.

This really is a nice sponge cake recipe, very moist with the grated apple in it and hugely adaptable.  I love recipes that I can change easily to use what I have in the fridge and can imagine an elderflower and gooseberry version, or apple and raspberry.  Lovely.


For the cake
225g each of baking spread, caster sugar and self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 large eggs, beaten
2 eating apples, peeled, cored and grated*

For the filling and decoration
a few tblsp bramble (blackberry) jelly
150ml double cream
a few blackberries


Butter two 20cm sandwich tins and line the bases with baking paper.  Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk 4.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until well combined.  Fold in the grated apple and divide the mixture evenly between the two tins.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until done.  Cool in the tins.  Turn out and fill with the jam and whipped cream, reserving a little of the cream for piping rosettes on the top of the cake.  Place a blackberry onto each rosette.  Dust lightly with icing sugar if you like before serving.

Cuts into 8 -10 slices.

*Mary's tip for grating the apple is a good one:  Cut the unpeeled apples in half and remove the cores.  (I find it easy to do this with a melon baller.)  Hold each apple half by the skin to grate it and as you do so you will be left with the skin only in your hand to discard. 

September 29, 2019


As well as the gorgeous yellow St Catherine plums from our plum trees, the other week I ended up with a pound or so of blackberries.  We were out walking our dog Hugo and there they were.  We couldn't resist.  Apart from anything else, the blackberry harvest has not been great in our part of France due to the extended drought and reasonably plump ones were scarce.  These were not huge but quite tasty.

There were not enough blackberries to make a blackberry crumble and I didn't think I should go out and buy apples as I had all the plums to use up.  Pondering what I could make with the combination I remembered the Bill Grainger recipe for peach and raspberry slice which you can see here.  I had used it several times to make an apricot and blueberry slice which you can see here and I saw no reason why a plum and blackberry combination shouldn't work just as well.
I adapted the original recipe to try to counter the very moistness of the plums and hopefully produce a less soggy cake - more like a cake than a pudding in fact.  It worked.  It was delicious either warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or cold with a cup of tea or coffee. 
185g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder plus an extra ½ tsp
125g butter, chilled and diced
100g soft brown sugar 
100g caster sugar
300g approx. plums, halved and stoned - prepare enough fruit to almost cover the area of the tin
a handful of blackberries, picked over, washed and dried
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
150 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.  

September 27, 2019


Today is the day that the Macmillan Cancer Support suggest for holding a coffee morning to raise funds for the charity.  I held mine three weeks ago so that I could catch all our friends in France who might have gone back to the UK for winter by now.
It was, as several people pointed out, much like the old days of cake club.  Which is exactly what I was hoping for. 
The cake club I have been organising for seven years has gradually morphed into a lunch club, with quiches, salads, pies and even sandwiches appearing on the table.  For me it was always all about the cake but it turns out that a lot of people were actually thinking that there were too many cakes and were pleased to see them gradually being replaced by the savouries. 
The club has evolved and now at meetings people bring all kinds of food, which for me is a shame because the cake club was unique.  It's no longer an afternoon get together over a cup of tea and a slice of cake, it's a buffet lunch.  (When I was working we used to call it a fuddle.  People would bring a variety of tasty things to nibble on in the lunch break.)

To go with the cakes, biscuits and buns there were tea, coffee - and later on a glass of fizz.
There was also a bring and buy stall where people were asked to donate any cast off items for sale.

The weather was perfect, most of the items were sold, we all stuffed ourselves with cake, people were very generous and we raised €165 for the charity.
It's sad though to think that I shall probably never again see another table groaning under the weight of so many gorgeous cakes!

September 26, 2019


In our French garden we have four plum trees.  One produces a few small, purple plums every year.  The other three were said to be Mirabelle trees but they're not.  Mirabelles are smaller and more round than these decidedly plum shaped plums.
Our trees produce a smallish oval yellow plum which is absolutely delicious and not unlike a Victoria plum.
I haven't had Victoria plums for a while now.  We are usually in France when they are in season in the UK and I do miss them.  So in stating that these plums are very like a Victoria plum I'm relying very much on my memory of how wonderful they taste.
This year the three trees have done incredibly well, which is amazing considering the drought that we have had here in France for three months.  For all that time we have been unable to water freely and have saved our precious rainwater in the water cube for our tomatoes and the plants we really didn't want to lose.  We have lost a rowan tree, an apple tree, several roses and numerous other plants.  It was impossible to keep up with the watering and in the area where the plum trees are everything else is brown and dead. 
And yet we have had loads and loads of plums and they just kept on coming.  I have used them for several cakes, bakes and crumbles, given bagfuls away and put more bagfuls in the freezer.  They have been an absolute joy.
For this cake I adapted a favourite recipe, called "fantasy cake" by Lisa Faulkner.  She was a Celebrity Master Chef winner some years ago and since then has written several cook books.  This recipe comes from the one called "recipes from my mother to my daughter" and I have used and adapted it successfully several times.  She makes the cake with strawberries but it works with any soft fruit or chopped stone fruit.  This time I made it in my lovely new "blossom" Bundt tin and it worked really well.
The cake was moist and fruity and the combination of plums and almond was lovely.  It was delicious with a cup of tea and also lovely served as a dessert with ice cream. 

175g spreadable butter
150g caster sugar
150g self-raising flour, sifted
2 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons milk
100g ground almonds
1 teaspoon almond essence
Approx 400g plums, washed, stoned and roughly chopped


Preheat the oven to 160°C / 140° fan.  Grease and line a 23cm loose-bottomed cake tin, or prepare a Bundt tin using cake release paste, spray or butter and flour.

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl using a hand mixer (or wooden spoon) until light and fluffy.  Add the flour, eggs, milk, ground almonds and almond essence and mix well.  Fold in the fruit.

Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and level the top.

Bake for about ¾-1¼ hours.  Check after 45 minutes – mine was done in 50 minutes.

Cool in the tin for about ten minutes then carefully turn the cake out of the tin onto a wire rack to finish cooling.  Dust with icing sugar before serving if you like.

Cuts into 8-10 good slices.

September 15, 2019


You will know by now that I can't resist adding to my cook book collection, mostly these days found in local charity shops.
Well, it happened again - this book came with an extra recipe, a clipping from a magazine tucked inside the book.
This has happened to me twice before.  There was Sharon's Hotpot and Sandringham cake, both of which were magazine clippings that fell out of a secondhand book.  I was compelled to make both of them and they turned out to be very good.  My mum used to say that things come in threes so with the third clipping in front of me I just had to try the recipe!
The magazine that it comes from is Good Housekeeping and in fact you can see it on the internet here.  It's proper name is "blueberry and sour cream loaf" but I changed it because the interesting feature is the crumble topping rather than the sour cream.  In any case I didn't have any sour cream and rather than go out and buy some I used crème fraiche, which I did have.
The cake is made using oil instead of butter and in a very similar way to making muffins.  It had a very light and fluffy crumb and unlike muffins was still good several days later.  I thought the crumble topping looked a bit odd because it was not very brown, but in any case the cake was delicious.
For the topping
15g cold, unsalted butter
40g plain flour
15g demerara sugar
For the cake
50 ml vegetable oil
2 medium eggs
200ml sour cream or crème fraiche
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g self raising flour
175g caster sugar
125g blueberries
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a 900g / 2lb loaf tin or use a paper liner.  (I used my small roasting tin which produces an oblong cake rather than a loaf shape.)
First make the crumble topping by rubbing the butter into the flour and stirring in the sugar.  Set aside.
To make the cake, sift the flour into a large bowl, add the sugar and stir to combine. 
Put the wet ingredients into a large jug and beat together.  Pour into the flour mixture and stir until almost combined.  Fold in all but a spoonful of the blueberries.
Turn the mixture into the prepared tin, scatter the remaining blueberries and crumble mixture over the top.  Bake for about 50 minutes until done.
Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out.  Serve warm or cold.
Cuts into 10-12 slices.

August 22, 2019


Last weekend we treated ourselves to a leg of lamb.

It was a last minute idea to do slow roast shoulder of lamb for Sunday dinner but when Nick got to the butcher's shop late on Saturday afternoon, the person in front of him bought the last shoulder joint.  There were a couple of leg joints left so he picked the smallest which weighed about 2kg.

It's interesting to think that when I was a child my mum would cook a shoulder of lamb most Sundays because it was the cheapest joint she could buy.  Pork was an occasional treat and we rarely had a joint of beef because she couldn't afford it.  The only beef we normally had was skirt or shin beef made into a delicious beef stew.  Chicken was served only for special occasions, just a few times a year for Christmas, Easter and sometimes Bank Holidays.  How things have changed.  Chicken is now an everyday meal and lamb is a treat.

We studded the lamb joint with some garlic cloves and sprigs of rosemary and cooked it for about 5 hours, after which it was juicy, tender and fell off the bone.  Delicious.
The next question was - what to do with the leftovers?
I would normally make shepherd's pie with leftover lamb but this time there was a lot of it, more than for just one pie.  Another favourite is "Sunday dinner pie", where all the leftovers, including the veg and gravy, are put in a pie dish under a pastry lid and baked in the oven.  Sadly we had eaten all the veg, the gravy was destined for the shepherd's pie and the only other thing left was a small dish of new(ish) potatoes.  So I settled down with a mug of coffee and a pile of my cook books to look for ideas.

This River Cottage book was a recent purchase from a charity shop (where else?) for just £1. 
In this book, amongst the ideas for leftover lamb there was a recipe for lamb salad.  We don't often have salad in the evenings, Nick especially being a "salad for lunch, hot meal in the evening" kind of traditionalist.  I decided to go wild and make the salad, or at least a variation of Hugh's recipe.  Essentially it was a pile of lettuce, the potatoes coated in mint sauce, lamb and peas.  Delicious.
Slow roast leg of lamb
2 kg joint of leg of lamb
1 bulb of garlic
4-5 sprigs of rosemary
1 glass of red or white wine
1 pint of lamb or beef stock
1 large onion
2 large carrots
Peel the onion and carrots and slice thickly.  Put them in a single layer in a roasting tin with a lid.
Stab the joint several times to make slits in the skin.  Tuck peeled cloves of garlic and small tufts of rosemary into each slit and sit the joint on the veg.  Drop the remaining unpeeled cloves of garlic into the tin beside the meat and lay a couple of twigs of rosemary over the top.  Pour the wine and stock into the tin, season with salt and pepper.
Put the lid on and cook in the oven at 140 Fan for about 5 hours until the meat is tender and cooked through.  Remove the meat from the oven and from the tin and rest on a board, covered in foil to keep warm, while you make the gravy in the roasting tin.
Serves at least 8, with veg, gravy and mint sauce.
Lamb salad  
3/4 of a romaine lettuce (or any other you prefer), shredded and washed
a good few cooked new potatoes, cut into large chunks
2 heaped tsp mint sauce from a jar (or home made of course)
1 large or 2 small spring onions, sliced
2 handfuls frozen peas, cooked
1 small avocado, peeled stoned and cut into wedges
strips of cooked leftover lamb from the joint, as many as you like according to appetite
Chopped herbs (parsley, chives) (optional)
Pile the washed, shredded salad leaves into a large bowl.
Put the potato chunks into a small bowl with the mint sauce and stir until the potatoes are coated in the sauce.
Scatter the peas, potatoes, lamb, avocado and onions over the salad leaves, season with salt and pepper, add some chopped herbs if using, toss lightly and serve with chunks of bread.
Serves 2-3.

August 21, 2019

RASPBERRY AND COCONUT CAKE, be careful what you wish for and a demon banished.

It has been a strange summer.  While in France we have had to endure not one, but three heatwaves.  They only ever last for a few days when at their worst but either side of those three days it can still be unbearably hot.  During the last heatwave we had temperatures of 38 - 43C and either side of that it was well over 30C for days on end.  Consequently we were glad to return to the UK for a couple of weeks to cool off a bit.

And so, back in the UK, we're getting typical school holiday weather.  A few sunny days in between pouring rain.  In years gone by I would have been spitting nails about the lousy summer weather but this time, having experienced how strangulating such heat can be, I'm glad to be able to get out and about as much as I like, albeit with an umbrella. However, having wished to be a bit cooler, when it was tipping it down the other day I wondered if I should have been more careful what I wished for!  Hopefully it will not continue to rain every day until we return to France. 
Last week was, apparently, "afternoon tea week". 
Who would have thought it?  Everything one does now has its own week!  Still, with visitors coming, at least it presented an excuse to be indoors, while it poured down outside, and bake a cake.  I chose to make a raspberry and coconut cake because there were boxes of beautiful raspberries being sold off very cheaply in the supermarket - a casualty of the cool, wet weather no doubt.
Ever since I made the disastrous and inedible cake to Tom Kerridge's recipe a few months ago (here) I've been looking for another recipe that might actually work and found this one on the Waitrose website.  It looked very promising so I decided to risk it, although adapting it slightly to make a round cake rather than a loaf cake.
It was delicious!  Moist, with a perfect balance of the sweetness and texture of coconut and the sharpness of the raspberries.
I cheated a bit, having spotted a bottle of coconut flavouring in Waitrose (on one of our occasional pilgrimages to our nearest shop which is about an hour away).  I have no idea how much it actually enhanced the flavour of the cake but I would use it again anyway.
These pictures were taken outdoors the day after I made the cake, when the sun was shining.  I had to be careful not to leave my one last slice of the cake unattended as I seemed to be being watched!
The cake recipe is definitely a keeper.  Instead of decorating it with coconut yoghurt and raspberries as per the recipe I added a drizzle of plain water icing, a scattering of toasted coconut flakes and a sprinkling of freeze dried raspberry pieces.  It looked pretty glamorous I thought. 

The cake looked and tasted just as good the second time I made it, for a Macmillan coffee morning which we held in France.  (We raised £150.)
As well as the cake I decided I would have another bash at scones in honour of the concept of "afternoon tea week".  The visitors had been prewarned of my track record in the scone department and promised to bring a saw!  I used a recipe for ordinary fruit scones in the National Trust Book of Scones and......they worked a treat!  Maybe my scone demon has finally been banished - at last - I was pretty chuffed.  I have finally triumphed over my fear of scones after more than fifty years!
175g unsalted butter, softened
175g golden caster sugar
3 eggs
1/4 tsp coconut flavouring
175g self raising flour
100g dessicated coconut
150g raspberries, halved
2-3 tblsp icing sugar, sifted
a handful of coconut flakes
a sprinkling of freeze dried raspberry pieces
Butter and line the base of a 20cm round cake tin.  Preheat the oven to 180C /160 Fan / gas mk 4.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar using a hand mixer, until light an fluffy.  Beat the eggs in a jug with the coconut flavour and add a dribble at a time along with a little flour, beating well with each addition.
Fold in the remaining flour, then the coconut and raspberries.  Spoon into the tin and level the top.
Bake for 50-60 minutes, covering with foil after 30 minutes, until done.  When you remove the cake from the oven leave the heat on, scatter a handful of coconut flakes onto a baking tray and put in the oven for 3-5 minutes until nicely browned at the edges.
Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When the cake is cold, transfer to a plate or stand, mix the icing sugar with a little water to make a runny icing and drizzle it over the cake in a diagonal pattern.  Scatter the toasted coconut over the cake and sprinkle with the dried raspberries.
Cuts into 6-8 generous slices.  (Leftover slices are nice served warm as a pudding with pink custard!)