April 23, 2015


I really miss the two enormous rhubarb patches that my parents had in their garden.  My mum made lovely rhubarb pies and crumbles and once I had left the family home I would be given armfuls of rhubarb to take away with me so that I could make my own.


A cutting of the family rhubarb plant has followed me to France.  It’s growing well in the pot we brought it over in and now needs to be planted out in our French garden, which unfortunately doesn’t look much like a garden at all.


It looks like a war zone after the installation of the new fosse septique.  The construction work followed by weeks of rain followed by a long dry spell has left a mountain of boulders, some of rock and some of earth that is now hard as nails, most of which is clay.  Ten tons of topsoil delivered two weeks ago lie undisturbed in a pile at the edge of the garden, waiting to be spread over the tilled earth – after we get round to tilling it.  Kitchen construction work has taken priority and garden work has been put on the back burner for the time being.


Meanwhile our rhubarb continues to grow happily in its pot, waiting to be transplanted to its permanent home.


We are big fans of the apple compote you find on French supermarket shelves, using it mainly to put on our breakfast cereal.  Recently I spotted a jar of rhubarb compote and decided to try it for a change.  In fact it was so delicious that I thought I could use it to make a crumble – the compote looked much more like stewed rhubarb than a completely smooth compote and also had some added sugar, making it an ideal filling.  With plenty of eggs in the kitchen the idea of a meringue sprang to mind.  I also had a pack of ready made pastry in the fridge, perfect for the job.

With our kitchen still being work in progress, baking dishes and ingredients are spread all around the rest of the house.  I went in search of a tart dish or tin but after a bit of rummaging I unearthed instead my ancient Pyrex pie dish.  This was part of a Pyrex starter set bought when I first set up my own home in 1972.  A pie dish, mixing bowl, measuring jug and, if I remember correctly, a pudding basin.  The only piece that has survived the decades and numerous house moves is the pie dish, which must have been used for scores of apple pies.

I used the Be-Ro  book recipe for lemon meringue pie to make the meringue, putting one of the unused egg yolks into the rhubarb mixture, for no other reason than that I thought it seemed like a good idea.


The result was a very quick and easy to make dessert that I will definitely be making again.  The rhubarb compote is a real find but of course in future I hope to use my own stewed rhubarb, and possibly the numberous variations on a theme just waiting to be tried: rhubarb with orange, strawberry or ginger would all go well in a meringue pie.

The meringue was crisp on the outside, soft, sweet and marshmallowy in the inside.  It worked really well with the sharpness of the rhubarb.  The only change I would make next time is to maybe put both egg yolks into the rhubarb filling and because it was a bit runny, maybe add a little cornflour to stiffen it slightly.



1 pack ready made, ready rolled, shortcrust pastry

½ jar rhubarb compote, approx 300g

2 large eggs, separated

225g caster sugar


Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170° fan. 

Use the pastry to line a tart tin, or suitable pie dish.  Line the pastry case with baking paper, fill with baking beans and bake blind for 15 minutes. 

To make the meringue (while the pastry is cooking), whisk the egg whites to the stiff peak stage, add the sugar a spoonful at a time and whisk into the egg.

Stir the egg yolks into the rhubarb compote and mix well.  Remove the baking paper and beans from the pastry case and spread the rhubarb mixture evenly over the base.

Spoon the meringue mixture on top of the fruit layer, starting at the outside edge so that there is a good seal and no gaps.  Reduce the temperature to 150°C / 130° fan and return the pie to the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes until the meringue is crisp and golden.

Serves 4-6.

April 19, 2015



I made this cake for Loire Valley Clandestine Cake Club’s Easter meeting.  The idea comes from a cake made by Dom of Bellau kitchen, where he filled a sponge cake with lemon curd and an Eton Mess mixture, and the recipe also included vodka and elderflower cordial.  You can read all about it here.

My version had a filling of home made lemon curd – only the second time in my life that I have made it, the first being about fifty years ago in a domestic science lesson at school.  I was surprised how easy it was to make and also how absolutely fabulous it tasted.  Well worth the effort for something special.  I then put some crushed meringue pieces into whipped cream to make the Eton mess part of the filling.

I used a Mary Berry all-in-one Victoria sponge recipe for the cake and decorated it with a pile of chocolate mini eggs, glued onto the top of the cake with a spoonful of the same lemon curd.

I had the usual problem with the French cream.  In the past I have occasionally had success in whipping it to the right consistency but recently there have been a few disasters where, no matter how hard I whisked/whipped/beat it, it simply would not thicken.  It would become fluffy enough to serve separately in a bowl to be handed round with a dessert, but not stiff enough to support one cake on top of another, which is very frustrating.

Consequently during transport to the CCC venue the top layer slid almost completely off the bottom one and I had to push it back into position, making the cake look even more of a mess.  I suppose the slipperiness of the layer of lemon curd didn’t help the situation!  Luckily it tasted lovely so that made up for its untidy appearance!

(Other members confessed to bringing double cream, or Elmlea, which apparently has a longer shelf life, to France from the UK, to ensure success with their whipped cream!)

You can read about the Loire Valley CCC meeting here.


I am linking this cake to the “Love Cake” challenge run by Ness at Jibber Jabber UK.  The theme this month is “Step into Spring” and you can read all about it here.


For the lemon curd (make it at least one day before the cake!)

3 lemons

200g caster sugar

115g unsalted butter, diced

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

Method for the lemon curd

Put the grated rind and juice of the lemons into a large bowl over a pan of simmering water.

Add the sugar and butter and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter melted.

Beat the eggs and egg yolks together in a separate bowl, strain into the lemon mixture through a sieve and whisk until well combined.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.  Remove from the heat and pour into two small, sterilised jars.

Seal and label the jars and store in a cool place.  Use within three months.  Once opened, store in the fridge.

Makes two small 225g jars.

For the cake

225g softened butter (I normally use Lurpak spreadable but this time used a French equivalent)

225g caster sugar

4 large eggs

225g self raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

For the filling

150ml double or whipping cream

2 tblsp lemon curd

2 large meringue nests, shop bought or home made, crushed – there should be a mixture of crumbs and a few largish pieces.

a handful of chocolate mini eggs for decoration


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 until thoroughly combined.

Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and level the tops.  Bake for about 25 minutes until done.

Cool in the tins for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and remove the baking paper.

Beat the cream until thick or fairly stiff and mix in the crushed meringue pieces.

Spread the lemon curd on the top of one cake.  Spread the cream and meringue mixture on top of that.  Put the other cake on top of the filling,  dust with icing sugar and secure a few chocolate mini eggs to the top with a spoonful of lemon curd.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

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.