April 16, 2015

PEAR AND CHOCOLATE BROWNIE CAKE - and two steps forward, one step back on the new kitchen.

pear and chocolate brownie cake 

Recently we stayed in a friend’s house in France while our kitchen floor in our own French home was being retiled.  Retiling has meant removing the old kitchen and the staircase, rendering the house uninhabitable. 

kitchen works2

A ladder was in the place of the staircase for a while, until it came to the actual laying of the new floor, then that had to go as well.  Because we had no kitchen and couldn’t get upstairs, we decided to move out, and our friends Tim and Gaynor kindly offered us the use of their house while they were away on holiday.

Cooking in someone else’s house is a challenge.  Not an unpleasant one, I may add, but getting to grips with an unfamiliar oven and finding the right equipment makes for quite and adventure.

pear and chocolate brownie cake2

I found this very pretty plate in the cupboard with the dinner plates.

We were treading water for a while, with time on our hands, waiting for the building work to be finished, so I had the time to bake something nice.  I found a copy of Good Housekeeping “Great Cakes” on Gaynor’s bookshelf and as I have the same book myself I decided to bake something I had had my eye on for a while - “Sticky pear and chocolate brownie cake”.

The cake turned out slightly less squidgy and brownie like than I expected, possibly because I forgot to set the timer and guessed!  It was still delicious and definitely one I would make again.

The icing is simply made using icing sugar and coffee.  The picture in the book shows it as a thick drizzle over the cake but for reasons that now escape me, I decided to brush it over the cake in an even layer, which didn’t look quite so good.   In fact by the time the cake was cut it had crystallised slightly and looked even less attractive than when I took its picture above.  I think that next time I will pour the icing over the cake just before it is served.

kitchen floor

As soon as the kitchen floor was finished we moved back in amongst the dust and chaos to begin the next phase, which was to board over the remaining walls and fit plumbing, gas and an electricity supply, ready for the imminent arrival of the kitchen units from the UK.  As soon as the lorry driver started unloading the pallets containing our beautiful brand new Magnet units I could see that something was wrong and my heart sank.

After everything we have done to the house so far – a new fosse septique, a new drive, a new kitchen floor, new walls, new doorway and, not least of all the choosing, designing and paying for a lovely new Magnet kitchen – you would think that simply getting the units shipped over here would be the easiest part.  All they had to do was to secure them on pallets, put them onto a van and drive them here.

Unfortunately whoever loaded the pallets did a thoroughly incompetent job which meant that several of the units arrived broken.  Cartons marked “fragile” and “this way up” had been laid on their side with other stuff piled on top of them.  Someone had clearly driven the forks of a fork lift into two of the base units, smashing them.  Then they rewrapped them in cling film so the damage was not apparent until the whole pallet was unpacked.  What kind of person would do that? 

kitchen damage

Replacements have been ordered but I wouldn’t trust Europa Worldwide to arrange the delivery of anything I ever want to see in one piece again, so we are fetching them ourselves.  Which unfortunately means yet another unscheduled and costly twelve hour each way journey across the channel (fourteen hours in fact with a trailer) that we really didn’t want to have to make.  Thank you, Europa Worldwide.

kitchen damage2

Our temporary new kitchen.  The gaps are where the damaged units should have gone, thanks to the idiot with the fork lift.

We have fitted the items salvaged from the wreckage of the delivery, added some temporary cheap worktops to perch the sink and hob on top of, so that at least we can function for a week or two until the new items arrive.  Meanwhile we are claiming for the damage on Europa’s insurance.  In my opinion insurance should be against accidents, not negligence or incompetence, which is what caused the damage to our kitchen units.  No accident occurred other than being in the hands of some bonehead intent on wrecking our valuable property and then hiding the evidence.

C’est la vie.teatime treats I’m linking this post to this month’s Tea Time Treats Challenge, run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, where the theme this month is, of course, chocolate!


It also qualifies for Dom’s Simply Eggcellent challenge at Bellau Kitchen, where the theme this month is eggs and chocolate.

alphabakesTo complete the trio of challenges this month, I’m also entering it into the Alphabakes Challenge where the theme this month is the letter B, organised by Caroline of Caroline Makes.


275g plain chocolate

75g pecan nuts (or walnuts)

125g unsalted butter

2 eggs

75g caster sugar

½tsp vanilla extract

1tblsp strong black coffee

75g self raising flour

3 large ripe pears

For the icing

75g icing sugar

2tblsp strong black coffee


Make yourself a cup of strong black coffee.  Don’t drink it – allow it to go cold.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170°fan / gas mk 5.  Grease and line the base of a 23cm round baking tin or dish with baking paper.

Chop the nuts and 75g of the chocolate and set aside.

Put the remaining 200g of chocolate with the butter into a large heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Heat gently until melted, stirring occasionally and set aside to cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and 1tblsp of the coffee.  Add the melted chocolate and beat again.  Fold in the flour, chopped nuts and chopped chocolate.

Peel, core and quarter the pears and arrange in the prepared dish or tin, laying the pears with the narrow end towards the centre.  Pour over the chocolate mixture.

Bake for 60 minutes, covering lightly with foil half way through.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes then invert onto a cake plate.  Remove the baking paper and leave to cool completely.

Before serving, sift the icing sugar into a bowl, add 2tblsp coffee and beat until smooth.  Add a little more coffee or water if necessary.  Drizzle over the cake.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

March 25, 2015


cherry and almond yoghurt cake

I stumbled upon the idea for this cake in a roundabout way.  When I was actually looking for an easy yoghurt cake recipe I couldn’t find one quite this simple.  When I wasn’t looking for anything in particular along comes a recipe that is so easy and adaptable that it’s a real find.  I think so anyway.

cherry and almond yoghurt cake2

The idea is that you use a pot of yoghurt as one of the ingredients and use the empty pot to measure out all the other ingredients, well most of them anyway.

The idea is that it’s so simple you should never need to resort to a packet cake mix ever again.  I’m not quite so sure it’s absolutely that simple, especially when you decide to make an adaptation using glacé cherries like I did.  All that chopping, rinsing and drying of the cherries takes a fair amount of time.  I also followed a tip in one of Delia Smith’s cherry cake recipes – to keep some back and push them into the mixture before you put the cake in the oven, thereby making it less likely that all your cherries will sink to the bottom.

I used a paper line for my loaf tin, something which I now do regularly.  I’m not entirely sure I like the ridges you end up with on the side of the cake – which make it look rather like a shop bought cake – but it saves time and fiddling with baking paper.

cherry and almond yoghurt cake3

You can use any flavour of yoghurt you like.  Plain yoghurt would be good for a lemon cake version and I used strawberry for my cherry cake – I would have used cherry but when I opened the fridge the cherry one had already gone from the pack !!

There was a lot of mixture so I only filled the loaf tin by two thirds and used the remaining mixture to make some little buns.

The cake had a lovely texture, was nice and moist, cut well and kept well for several days.  Definitely a good recipe to have up your sleeve and great with a cup of tea or coffee. 

You can see the original version here.


1 small 125ml pot of cherry or strawberry yoghurt

1 pot of light olive oil (or sunflower oil)

½tsp almond essence

2 pots golden caster sugar

2 pots plain flour

1 pot ground almonds

1tsp baking powder

150g glacé cherries

4 eggs


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Grease, oil or butter a loaf tin and line the bottom, or use a paper liner.  Have a lined muffin tin or greased bun tin ready.

Chop the cherries into quarters, rinse and dry thoroughly – removing the syrup from them is what helps to prevent them sinking to the bottom of the cake, allegedly.

Put the yoghurt, oil, essence and sugar into a large bowl and mix together.  Add the eggs and mix again.  Add the flour, almonds and baking powder and mix thoroughly.

Stir in about three quarters of the cherries and transfer to your prepared tin.  Don’t overfill it – use excess mixture for your muffins or buns.

Dot the rest of the cherries over the cake and push each one into the mixture, just below the surface.

Bake the cake for 45-55 minutes, the buns will be ready in 25-30 minutes.  Cool in the tin for ten minutes then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

March 4, 2015


sweetheart cakes

Some time ago Nick announced that he doesn’t really like cake all that much and the only cakes he does like are chocolate, ginger and fruit cake.  So for Valentine’s Day I decided I would treat him to some chocolate and ginger cakes, using my pretty new heart shaped tin.

Then things went pear shaped time wise – and baking was off the agenda.

sweetheart cakes6 Our kitchen in France used to look like this.  It looks pretty good from a distance but there are lots of things wrong with it so we decided to lash out on a new one.


The kitchen now looks like this.  Notice the nice big empty space under the beam where we found a humungous mouse nest.

Design 5

This is the artist’s impression of our new kitchen.  Nice and clean, no mouse nests, an oven whose door doesn’t fall off and nice tiles on the floor that don’t break up when you stand on them.  Plus a sink that drains properly and good lighting.

The new installation is about a month off but there is a lot of preparation work to do first, namely to remove the old kitchen, dig up the old kitchen floor and put down a new one.  The floor is being done by a professional builder and Nick had to dash across the channel to start the removal of the old kitchen before the said builder can start.  Hence the reason that I didn’t get my little cakes made.


Before I set off for France myself I picked up a packet of chocolate cake mix just in case.  I had no idea at that point whether I was going to have the facilities to bake anything so I thought I would make it easy for myself.  In fact we have managed to set up a reasonably functional temporary kitchen in the dining room.  Sadly the water supply is at the other end of the building but you can’t have everything.  It’s significantly better than camping at least.

sweetheart cakes2

Wright’s Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix was recommended in a blog I read as a handy item to have in the store cupboard so that’s the one I bought.  On the back of the pack there are instructions for using it for a loaf cake, muffins, cupcakes or a traybake so that inspired me with confidence. 

sweetheart cakes3

I added to the mix some ground ginger and chopped preserved ginger and used my new heart shaped bun tin.  There was a lot of mixture left over, enough to make four mini bundt cakes as well.

 sweetheart cakes4Unfortunately I couldn’t find my can of cake release spray so I buttered the tins well but the cakes still stuck, which was annoying.  Having had a few sticking bundt disasters in the past I find that the spray is the only way to more or less guarantee that the cake will come out.

Sadly this meant that all but one of the little cakes lost the nice pretty pattern on top that should have been imparted by the tin.  So I decorated them with a little ginger flavoured icing and they looked fine.  They tasted nice too.

sweetheart cakes5

I can’t say that they tasted as good as a real home made cake would have done but they were fine.  Better than no cake at all, which, under the circumstances, was the other option.  I will get another packet of the cake mix in for emergencies and even try some of the other flavours available.


Now I am really cheating and being rather cheeky in submitting these little cakes to the Aphabakes Challenge, organised by Ros of The more than occasional baker and Caroline of Caroline Makes, which this month is for the letter S. 

I fully intended to enter them last month when the letter was V – as chocolate and ginger Valentine’s cakes.  I blame mitigating circumstances for my cheek in changing the name to sweetheart cakes instead to comply with this month’s theme.  You can see the details here.

(If you’re interested you can read more about our new kitchen adventure here.)

Cheat’s Chocolate and Ginger Sweetheart Cakes


1 pack of Wright’s Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix

200ml water and 60ml vegetable oil (as specified on the packet)

1tsp ground ginger

2 balls preserved ginger, chopped

2tblsp icing sugar

2 tsp syrup from the jar of ginger


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Spray two bun tins with cake release spray (or butter well and cross your fingers).

Make up the cake mix according to the instructions on the packet, adding in the ginger.

Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until done.

Allow to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes then ease out gently and cool on a wire rack.

Make up the icing using a little extra liquid (water or syrup) if necessary to make runny.  Drizzle over the cakes when completely cold.

Makes approx 24 small cakes or buns.

February 27, 2015


Not long ago I was looking for a French cake recipe that I could adapt to a gluten free version, something fairly plain but interesting that would go nicely with a morning coffee or afternoon tea, but by no means be a showstopper.  Somehow or other I stumbled across Gateau Nantais.

gateau nantais

It certainly doesn’t look like a showstopper, does it?

There were plenty of recipes on the internet and most claim that what it lacks in good looks is more than compensated for in flavour.  It is essentially an almond cake flavoured with rum.

gateau nantais3

The only rum I had in the house was a dark spiced rum so that’s what I used.  However, the interesting part is how the gateau Nantais came about.  The merchant ships from the Caribbean used to arrive in Nantes with rum as one of their many cargoes.  There are lots of things you can do with rum but the people of Nantes discovered it was very nice in a cake.  I cannot disagree with them!

Among the recipes I consulted there was one by fellow blogger Phil at As Strong as Soup which you can see here, and one in French which you can see here.  The one I chose to adapt was from the blog written by Mary-Anne Boermans, one of my favourite contestants from the Great British Bake Off a few years ago.  She was the baker always coming up with fascinating recipes with a touch of history about them and in fact she has written a book of old British recipes – which Nick gave to me as a Christmas present but has yet to be tried out.  Her blog is well worth dipping in to and you can see the recipe for Gateau Nantais here.

gateau nantais5

I was relieved to see my cake looked very similar to those in the pictures of Gateau Nantais in Google images – always a good way of finding recipes and finding out how the finished dish should look.  It was very pleasant and well received but if I was to make it again, and I probably will, I think I would probably put in more rum.


For the cake

200g caster sugar

150g butter, softened

60g gluten free plain flour

200g ground almonds

3 eggs

1tsp vanilla extract

20ml rum

For the topping and icing

20ml rum to brush over the cake

100g icing sugar

20ml rum to make the icing


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Grease and base line a 23cm spring form tin.

Whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy using an electric whisk – this may take up to ten minutes.

Add the flour and ground almonds and mix well.  Whisk in the eggs one at a time.

Add 20ml rum and the vanilla extract.

Transfer to the tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and firm.  Remove from the oven and brush 20ml rum over the cake to soak in.  After 30 minutes remove from the tin and transfer to a wire rack.

Make a runny icing using the icing sugar and remaining rum.  Add more icing sugar if necessary to get the right consistency.  When the cake is completely cold spread the icing over the top.

Serves 8-10.

February 19, 2015


rice pudding3

It’s difficult to make a picture of rice pudding look exciting or glamorous but for those of us who love it, beauty is not the important thing.  It’s the taste and the thickness of the skin!

I have loved rice pudding for as long as I can remember.  I was recently reminiscing with my brother about my mum’s excellent rice pudding and he reminded me about how much we argued over who was to have the skin!  My mum used to make it using full cream milk (semi-skimmed was not invented then, there was only ordinary milk or, better still, gold top) and if we were lucky, partly with evaporated milk.  It was served hot, thick and creamy, and occasionally there would be a few sultanas or raisins in it, which was known in the family as Chinese wedding cake.

We loved it hot, sometimes with a blob of strawberry jam, or cold and even stiffer the following day.

rice pudding1

Soon after I bought my new mini slow cooker I was keen to use it to make a rice pudding.  It’s a simple dish to make but there are a huge number of recipes to be found for it.  I chose this one on the BBC website, as it was closest to the one I remember my mum using.  The only difference is that I added a small can of evaporated milk.

rice pudding

I also warmed the milk before adding it to the pot and stirred a couple of times during cooking.  My brother said that the only time he made it in a slow cooker he ended up with the rice stuck on the bottom and the milk on top, which was disappointing to say the least, but he hadn’t thought to stir it.

 rice pudding2 

Cooking time depends on how stiff you like your rice pudding and how thick you like the skin.  The longer you leave it, the stiffer and more delicious it becomes.

Slow Cooked Challenge

I am contributing this post to the Slow Cooked Challenge, run by Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen.  It’s an open theme this month and you can read the details here.


55g/2oz pudding rice

55g/2oz caster sugar

600ml/1 pint milk (full fat or semi-skimmed)

1 small tin, 170g evaporated milk (normal or light)

grated nutmeg

a few knobs of butter


Rinse the rice and put into the slow cooker with the sugar and evaporated milk.

Warm the milk in a saucepan and add to the cooker.  Stir well.

Sprinkle some grated nutmeg on the top and dot a few knobs of butter over.

Cook on low heat for 3-4 hours or longer, stirring a couple of times.

Serves 4.

February 2, 2015



The other weekend I was feeling the need to bake something.  Not just any old thing but something really indulgent and wicked.  The post Christmas abstinence from baking and sweet stuff had caught up with me and I was having serious withdrawal symptoms.

However, I couldn’t be bothered to drag myself to the shops in the horrid weather – we were out walking our dog Lulu when I announced my urge to Nick and there was a bitterly cold wind stinging our faces.  Thinking about what we had in our cupboards at home that I could use, I mentioned sticky toffee pudding, something I have never actually made before, and Nick’s eyes lit up.  He often orders it when we go for a meal out so I knew he would be pleased.  I then said “I think we have a pack of chopped dates somewhere” and he looked rather less pleased.  He doesn’t like dates, apparently.  Something else I hadn’t known about him for the last twenty years!

Now I’m pretty sure that most sticky toffee puddings do contain dates but he assured me that the one he normally gets at our favourite restaurant absolutely doesn’t.  Hmmm…….  Maybe the dates are so squidgy that he doesn’t realise they’re there.  Anyway, I found myself consulting my cookbooks and eventually the internet for a recipe for a dateless sticky toffee pudding and found this one on the allrecipes website.


I followed the recipe exactly – it wasn’t difficult – and ended up with a nice sponge over which was poured a lovely toffee sauce.  The sauce was delicious but overall the pudding was just ok.  Not sticky enough for either of us and disappointing having read some of the reviews of the recipe.

Then I read further down the reviews and spotted that someone else had found a similar recipe in a blog here but with an interesting difference. 


Instead of serving the sauce with the pudding, on removing the sponge from the oven you had to prick it all over, smother it with the sauce rather like a lemon drizzle cake, and let it seep into the cake.

Now this was much more like it!  What a transformation from the rather dull to the incredibly wicked and indulgent!  It was very, very sweet but totally gorgeous and I will most definitely be making it again – but not too soon………


For the sponge

190g plain flour

1½ tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

120g dark soft brown sugar

120ml milk

2 eggs

80g butter, melted

2 tsp vanilla extract

For the sauce

120g butter

200g dark soft brown sugar

250ml double cream


Preheat the oven to 170°C / 150° fan.  Butter a suitable baking tin or dish, approx 21 x 18 cm.

Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a large bowl.  Add the sugar and mix well.

In another bowl whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla and melted butter, until a light frothy foam appears on top.

Add the liquid to the flour mixture and mix together until smooth and well blended.

Pour into the baking dish and bake for 20-30 minutes until the the sponge is firm and golden brown.

While the sponge is baking, make the sauce by putting all the ingredients into a large saucepan and heating gently, stirring all the time, until smooth and dark brown.  Set aside to cool slightly until the sponge is done.

When the sponge is cooked, remove it from the oven and prick all over with a skewer or fork, going right through to the bottom of the cake.  Then pour the toffee sauce over it to allow it to seep into the sponge.  There will be plenty of sauce left over to serve separately with the pudding.

Serve warm with the reserved toffee sauce, plus cream or ice cream for that extra indulgence – might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb as my dear mother used to say !!

Serves 6 generously, would easily stretch to 8 servings.

January 24, 2015


braised beef 

We are great fans of our slow cooker and use it regularly, but it has often struck me that it’s a bit too big for just the two of us, creating leftovers that we have to either be inventive with or waste.

Breezing through Sainsbury’s recently I spotted a mini slow cooker, 1.5 litres, and thought that for £16.99 it was worth a try.  When I unpacked it I wondered if I had dropped a clanger as it looked a bit smaller than I expected.  I wondered how useful it might be after all but spotted a recipe for pot roast beef in the booklet that came with it so decided to have a go.

braised beef1

Essentially you coat the beef in a paste of mustard and flour, add beer to the pot and cook for several hours.

braised beef2 braised beef3

The recipe was for brisket but we used topside as we had already bought one of those large joints at a special price in the supermarket, intending to cut it into portions and freeze it. 

It was a huge success.  The beef was tender and tasty, with a delicious sauce.  We served it with the veg from the pot, some greens and mashed potatoes.  There was ample for two people with just a few leftovers for a sandwich the next day. 

The slow cooker appears to be perfect for a meal for two.  It seems to heat up quickly and bubble away nicely, ensuring food is cooked in the suggested time – not requiring anywhere near as long as the larger model for food to be properly cooked.  I think we’re going to enjoy this particular kitchen gadget very much indeed.

Since making the beef pot roast I have also made a delicious rabbit stew and a rice pudding in the cooker – more about them later!


a 750g piece of topside or brisket of beef

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced

1 tbsp plain flour

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

200ml beer (or beef stock)


Put the prepared onion and carrot in the cooking pot.

Mix the flour and mustard to a thick paste and using your hands rub it all over the beef.  Place the meat on top of the vegetables.

Pour the beer over the beef – add more than stated if necessary so that the liquid comes to about half way up the joint.

Season with salt and pepper, cover with the lid and cook on high for 3 hours.  Reduce to low and cook for a further three hours.  (The machine has an auto setting which will start on high and reduce to low automatically.)

Serve the beef with the sauce from the pot and more vegetables of your choice.

Serves 2.