December 28, 2013


mince pies If you are one of those people who can’t stand the sight of another mince pie by the time New Year’s Eve is nearly upon us, then read no further.  If, on the other hand, mince pies are high on your list of favourite things about Christmas, read on.

My mum used to make dozens of mince pies in the week before Christmas and we consumed them gratefully.  In fact they were so popular with our family that my dad had a mince pie in his packed lunch most days in most months of the year. 

Sadly, Nick is not too keen on them so I rarely make more than a dozen myself, but this year I decided to try a different recipe.  There are plenty of recipes for frangipane mince pies and the good thing about them is that you get less pastry and a nice light almond sponge topping instead.  I chose a recipe in “Mary Berry’s Christmas Collection” and modified it slightly to include elements that I also fancied from other recipes.

mince pies2 I added some chopped apple and orange zest to the mincemeat along with a good measure of brandy.

mince pies3

It’s always a relief when the end result looks like the picture in the book and these mince pies really were a picture!  Instead of glazing them with apricot jam as per the recipe I dusted them with icing sugar in the usual way.  I thought the jam would make them sticky and difficult to store or pack in boxes to give away. mince pies4 They were a hit with everyone, including Nick, who liked them enough to suggest I bake another batch now that the first lot have all gone.  Success !!

You can find Mary Berry’s original recipe in several places including here, but this is my version of them:


For the pastry:

175g plain flour

75g cold butter, cubed

25g icing sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

For the mincemeat filling:

1 x 312g jar Wilkin and Sons Tiptree mincemeat (my favourite)

½ eating apple, peeled, cored and chopped into small chunks

zest of one orange

2 tblsp brandy

For the frangipane topping:

100g spreadable butter such as Lurpak

100g caster sugar

2 eggs

100g ground almonds

1 tblsp plain flour

½tsp almond essence

a few flaked almonds for sprinkling


Make the pastry in a food processor in the usual way, cover in cling film and chill in the fridge while you make the topping etc.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Grease two patty or bun tins.

Spoon the mincemeat into a small bowl and combine with the apple, orange zest and brandy.

To make the frangipane topping, put the butter and sugar into the (unwashed) food processor and process until light and creamy.  Add the eggs and process again.  Finally add the ground almonds, flour and essence and mix briefly to combine.

Roll out the pastry thinly and cut into circles to line the tins, re-rolling scraps of pastry to use it all up.  A 6½ cm cutter worked best for my tins.  Add a level tsp of mincemeat to each circle, resisting the temptation to put too much in each one, because if you do it will definitely boil over!  Spoon a dessertspoon of almond mixture on top of each tart.

Sprinkle a few almond flakes on each tart and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden and springy.  Cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar.

Makes 24 mince pies (at least).

December 24, 2013


We had visitors a few days ago and I wanted to make a dessert that would look and taste great without having to spend hours in the kitchen.

black forest trifle

I had stumbled upon a recipe for Black Forest Trifle some time ago and decided that now would be a good time to try it.  I adapted it to make my own quick and easy version.  It is loosely based on this one on the Good Food website.

black forest trifle3

Black Forest means chocolate cake, cherries and cream.  I loved black forest gateau when it was the height of sophistication in the 70’s and 80’s.  During the 90’s it was usurped by the tiramisu, which is also one of my favourite desserts, although that too seems to be disappearing from menus and being replaced by things like salted chocolate tart and anything with pistachios.

black forest trifle2

This was a doddle to make and in fact I made it the day before it was needed, which is often the best way with something like a trifle.

Our guests loved it.  When I make it again I will either use a smaller trifle bowl or make twice as much.  But even though the quantity didn’t have the wow factor, the flavour most definitely did.

In order to complete the full set of my favourite baking challenges this month I am entering this into this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, a monthly event to encourage us to bake with chocolate, if any encouragement is actually necessary.  This month the idea is to use alcohol and it’s organised by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog.  You can read all about it here.


Some chocolate cake, any kind will do, such as muffins, brownies, loaf cake, the amount needed will depend on the size of your trifle bowl

Cherry jam

a tin of dark cherries in syrup or juice, or a jar of cherries in Kirsch, drained.  Reserve the liquid as you will need some of it.

Kirsch or rum to taste

a 500ml tub of ready-made custard

100g good quality dark chocolate

500ml double cream

1tblsp icing sugar

Chocolate sprinkles to decorate


Slice the cake or break it into chunks, enough to make a good thick layer in the bottom of your trifle bowl.  Spread one side of each chunk with cherry jam and arrange the cake the bottom of the bowl.

Pour some Kirsch or rum over the cake to moisten it.  How much to use depends on how boozy you like your trifle but I find that too much can be unpleasantly overpowering.  You can use the liquid from the jar if your cherries are in Kirsch.  Add syrup or juice from the tin to make sure all the cake is moist, but not too soggy.  Put the drained cherries on top.

To make the chocolate custard, break the chocolate into pieces and put it in a small pan with the custard.  Heat gently, stirring all the time, until the chocolate is completely melted.  Allow to cool slightly then pour on top of the cherries.

Chill the trifle while you whip the cream.  Chilling it overnight at this stage improves the texture I think.  Whip the cream with the icing sugar, splodge on top of the trifle and decorate with chocolate sprinkles or other decoration of your choice.  The addition of fresh cherries adds a degree of sophistication.

Serves 6-8.

December 21, 2013


cupcake kit3

I spotted this recipe recently on the Good Food website and thought it was a great idea for an extra little Christmas present for an enthusiastic young baker in the family.

cupcake kit

I managed to get everything into the jar apart from the bar of milk chocolate for the topping.  In order to keep the cake ingredients in the bottom of the jar and to prevent them from messing up the other bits and pieces I cut a circle of baking paper which was placed on top before putting in the cases and the rest of the kit.

I amended the ingredients very slightly by only putting in 100g white chocolate chips as 200g sounded like an awful lot.  I added a tiny pinch of ground cinnamon for a little extra touch of Christmas as well as sugar snowflake decorations.

cupcake kit2

Naturally I felt obliged to bake a batch for myself just to be sure the kit would work.  The cupcakes were delicious, very chocolaty and moist.

I hope they go down well with the person the gift is intended for.  I did something similar and gave away quite a few Christmas Muffin kits a few years ago.  They were very well received and you can read about them here.

I am entering this into this month’s Tea Time Treats Challenge, which is for Festive Foodie Gifts.  This month is organised by Kate of What Kate Baked and this is her final Tea Time Treat.  Looking at the number of posts already linked to the challenge she is certainly going out on a high!  Her co-host is Karen of Lavender and Lovage and you can read all about the challenge, and dip into some of the marvellous ideas already submitted, by clicking here.

For the kit you will need:

A suitable jar with a screw top or clip, about the size of a large pickle jar.

In the bottom put 100g caster sugar, 100g self-raising flour, 2 tblsp cocoa powder and a small pinch of cinnamon.

Next cut a circle of baking paper the same size as the jar and place it on top of the ingredients to keep them in the bottom of the jar.

Next add 12 cupcake cases and a few sprinkles tied in a twist of cellophane.  Then put 100g white chocolate chips enclosed in another twist of cellophane and close the lid.

Tie a wooden spoon to the jar and place it in a gift bag along with a 100g bar of milk chocolate and a card with these instructions handwritten on it:

“Heat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas mk 4.  Put the cupcake cases in a muffin tin.

Beat together 100g very soft butter, or spreadable butter such as Lurpak, or Stork tub margarine, with 2 eggs and the cupcake ingredients.  Add a little milk if the mixture is very stiff and mix in the white chocolate chips.

Divide between the cases and bake for 15-20 minutes.

When the cakes are cool, melt the milk chocolate in the microwave in 20-second bursts, stirring after each burst.  Spoon a little over each cupcake and decorate with the sprinkles.”

Makes 12 cupcakes.

December 16, 2013


christmas bakewell

The local Clandestine Cake Club meeting for December was themed “the taste of Christmas from your county”.  It was a three regions meeting including Chesterfield (Derbyshire), Sheffield (South Yorkshire) and Newark and Sherwood (Nottinghamshire).

I couldn’t think of a single cake that was uniquely from Derbyshire and even after endless research I found nothing much for Christmas at all.  There are a few local cakes attributed to Derbyshire villages but they are mainly all variations on a family fruit cake.  There is also something called a “Thor Cake” which is a kind of parkin with either currants or mixed peel in it and traditionally eaten on Bonfire Night, although I had never heard of it before.  I also found a recipe for a “Kedleston Marmalade Cake” in a National Trust recipe book, but I had never heard of that either.

christmas bakewell2

I have to say I was rather disappointed.  There are scores of recipes for fabulous cakes from other areas of the country, so where are our cakes?  There are plenty of traditional Derbyshire pies, tarts, biscuits, buns and puddings of course and the most famous one of all is the Bakewell Tart or Pudding.

christmas bakewell3

Many of you will know that only cakes are allowed at CCC meetings so I decided to make a Christmas version of our famous dessert.  A Christmas Bakewell Cake.

I used a really nice recipe from the Good Food website which you can see here.  I increased the amount of almond essence because I wanted full on almond flavour and filled it with the best part of a whole jar of Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference morello cherry jam, which has lots of whole cherries in it.  I decorated it with glacé cherries, perles de sucre (crushed sugar lumps), fondant icing snowflakes, holly leaves from the garden and a good sprinkling of edible glitter.

christmas bakewell4

The cake would make a good alternative for people who want a slice of Christmas cake but don’t enjoy a rich fruit cake. 

And if I cheat ever so slightly and call it a “Xmas Cherry Bakewell Cake” I can enter it into this month’s Alphabakes Challenge, organised by Ros of The more than occasional Baker and Caroline of Caroline Makes, as the letter this month is, conveniently, “X”.  You can see the details here.

Xmas Cherry Bakewell Cake.


200g softened butter (I used Lurpak spreadable)

200g golden caster sugar

100g ground almonds*

100g self-raising flour

1tsp baking powder

1tsp almond extract or essence

4 large eggs

pinch of salt

For the filling and decoration:

¾ jar of morello cherry jam with whole cherries in it

175g icing sugar

5-6 tblsp lemon juice

Christmas decorations of your choice


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

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat together, using an electric whisk or mixer.  Divide the mixture between the tins and level the tops.

Bake for about 30 minutes until golden and springy.  Cool in the tins for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.  When cool, spread the jam generously on the bottom of one cake and place the second on top, the right way up.

To make the topping, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and add enough lemon juice to make it as runny as you need to coat the top and run down the sides slightly.  When the icing is almost set, add your decorations.

Cuts into 8-10 good slices.  Remember to tell people not to eat the holly if it’s real!

*Ground almonds may be difficult to get hold of at the moment.  Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s had none when I looked for them recently, due to a product recall because traces of peanuts were found in them.  You can still get them at Waitrose, Julian Graves and the Co-op.

December 12, 2013

DARE TO BARE and the skeleton in the cupboard.

The Random Recipe Challenge at Bellau Kitchen this month is to “dare to bare”.  To show pictures of the inside of our kitchen cupboards.


My first reaction was that I couldn’t possibly.  How embarrassing that people should see my packets of Oxo cubes and custard powder.  But then I have enjoyed having little peeks into other bloggers’ cupboards as the posts have cropped up so I decided that it was time I bared all myself, so to speak.

A glance at this first picture tells me straight away what I find most lacking in my kitchen.  A pantry.  The house had a pantry when I bought it and also had a coal house and “back entry”, or corridor between these two dark and dingy little vestibules.  I knocked the whole lot out (not personally of course) and ended with with a huge kitchen and lots of cupboards.  The main problem with cupboards like mine is that to reach a lot of the stuff in them I have to climb on steps or get down on my knees.  The old knees aren’t quite what they used to be so the next house I buy will have a lovely big old fashioned pantry with lots of shelves at a height between the knees and the nose, so you can see what’s there and reach it without performing a stretch or a reverse limbo dance. cupboards2The other thing I would like to point out is that these cupboards are definitely, without a doubt, undeniably the cleanest cupboards in the county.

There’s a rather uncomfortable reason for this.

cupboards3What would be your worst kitchen nightmare?  Ours happened about six months ago.  Flour mites.

There, I have confessed, after all this time.  It was horrible.  They are tiny, almost invisible things that could be mistaken for dust, pepper, or fragments of seed.  They don’t so much move as create an impression of slight movement.  They’re not poisonous or harmful but, believe me, when I realised I had them I was mortified.  I declared war.

cupboards4The little blighters put up a fight.  It took nearly a month of hoovering, cleaning, scrubbing and bleaching over and over again to be sure they had all gone.  During that month, having thrown out anything that was either obviously contaminated or just might have been, the rest of the contents of the kitchen were elsewhere in the house.  Which meant we didn’t have much of a house left for ourselves.

We would rescrub and bleach before bedtime and sometimes I would come down in the middle of the night to see if there was any sign of them, only going back to bed when I was happy that the cupboards were bare.  Then in the morning there would be just a few dots.  We never saw them move but in the time spent to fetch the hoover and the bleach the dots would be in a slightly different place.


It was a truly miserable experience and one I would not wish on my worst enemy.  Well maybe one or two.

We have been bug free for several months and I still come down in the night occasionally, fling open a cupboard door and shine in my torch, just to check!  We now keep everything in sealed containers to try to avoid a repeat attack.  No more opened packets of flour, pasta or Bisto fastened with a clothes peg.  The only problem with all the sealed containers is that they take up a lot more space than bags or boxes and consequently getting a jar out from the back of the cupboard can involve something like a military exercise and even more limbo dancing than it did before!  We’re not sure how we got the critters in the first place but there were an awful lot in an opened bag of a popular brand of flour, which is where we first spotted them.


So thanks again to the lovely Dom of Bellau Kitchen for his monthly challenge, which led to the revealing of my “skeleton in the cupboard” !!

December 4, 2013


hassleback potatoes

It’s several years since I cooked this recipe for potatoes.  I used to make them every couple of weeks then for some reason I completely forgot about them.  A TV clip about wildlife the other day reminded me of them ~ in this house we always refer to them as “armadillos”.

Now that I have remembered them we will probably go back to having them every couple of weeks!  They make a nice change from roast potatoes with the Sunday roast and also go well with casseroles and sausages.  The good thing is that the oven temperature isn’t critical so you can more or less cook them alongside anything else you have in the oven.

hassleback potatoes2

These potatoes do have slits in them, they just don’t show up in the picture.

This is another dish for which you don’t so much need a recipe as a guide to the concept.

You take as many potatoes as you need for the number of people you are serving and try to choose them fairly evenly sized.

Peel them and cut in half longways.  Put them cut side down on a chopping board and make vertical slits into each one, about ¼” apart, being careful not to cut all the way through.  Arrange them in a suitable roasting tin for the number of potatoes.

Brush each half with melted butter and season with salt and pepper.  Then carefully pour hot stock into the roasting tin.  Any stock will do and the quantity will depend on the number of potatoes and the size of the tin.  The stock should come about a third of the way up the potatoes ~ don’t drown them!

hassleback potatoes3

Bake at around 180°C / 160°fan, but a slightly higher or lower temperature will be fine to suit what else is in the oven.

At 180° they will be done in about 40-45 minutes, depending on the size of potatoes.  If you let the stock dry out they will be crisper than if you top it up, in which case they will be nice and chewy.  I like to top up just a little when the first stock has been absorbed.

They will be gluten free if you use Marigold stock powder or Kallo cubes.