December 15, 2011


choc muffins1It was my birthday last weekend and it is customary for any birthday girl to take cakes to work.  I fully intended to make my own but ran out of time so bought some cupcakes for Sainsbury’s. 

They were disappointing.  The sponge was uninteresting and there was a huge pile of glurpy icing on top which tasted too much of artificial flavouring.  Maybe I’m getting picky, eating so much home-made cake these days.  Luckily there were only three of us in that day to eat them so for the next day (and a different set of colleagues) I decided to make some muffins.

I had found a recipe for chocolate and orange muffins that I thought would do fine for this month’s “We Should Cocoa” challenge hosted by Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog.  Because of my birthday and lack of time I had the perfect reason for baking them.

(Excuse for baking number 24c!)

Muffins are quick and easy to make but usually best eaten on the day they are baked.  So I got all the ingredients measured out and put on one side before going to bed.  Then in the morning, in between taking Nick to the station for the 7.30am train and taking Lulu for her morning walk, I mixed them up and popped them in the oven.

choc muffins2 choc muffins3

As it’s Christmas time I decided to perk them up by sprinkling some crushed sugar pieces on top.  I found these in a French supermarket ages ago and brought them home – I don’t know if you can get them here in the UK – I haven’t looked.

choc muffins4 They were baked in 25  minutes and the kitchen smelled wonderful when I came back from the fields with the dog – in fact she wouldn’t eat her breakfast, nose twitching and hoping for something more interesting.

choc muffins5

She was unlucky this time !!  I packed some in a small box to drop off at my dad’s on the way to work and took the remaining ones with me for us to enjoy with morning coffee and afternoon tea……..well they’re never as good the next day !!

choc muffins6 They were a success, nice and chocolatey and not too sweet.  In fact next time I make them I would be tempted to add a little more sugar……..there’s always the possibility that I forgot to put any in at all…….but I don’t think so.  But if so - it’s my age !!


125g self raising flour

125g self raising wholemeal flour

25g ground almonds

55g soft brown sugar

rind and juice of 1 orange

175g cream cheese

2 eggs

55g plain chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 190°C/180°fan.  Put 10 muffin cases in a muffin tin.

Sift the flours into a large bowl.  Add the ground almonds and sugar and mix together.  Make a well in the centre.

In another bowl, beat together the orange rind, juice, cheese and eggs.

Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients.  Add the chocolate chips and mix together, avoiding over-mixing.  (I found the mixture very dry and stiff so I added a splash of milk here to loosen it.)

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until well risen and brown.

Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then remove to a wire rack.

Makes 10 muffins.  (My mixture made 11.)  Best eaten the same day !!

December 6, 2011


I was sorting through some old magazines the other day and came across a nice idea for a Christmas present.

The magazine was actually issued last spring but the idea is perfect for Christmas.

muffin mix1  muffin mix3

Basically, you put all the dry ingredients for a batch of spiced muffins in a jar, with instructions, and parcel it up prettily with a  wooden spoon to give as a gift.

muffin mix2

I decided to give this to a couple of my friends who love to bake but don’t always have the time – the part that usually takes most of the time in making muffins is gathering together and weighing out all the ingredients.  With this gift they just tip all the contents into a bowl, add egg, milk and melted butter and bake.

To make it even easier to bake I also included 12 muffin cases and 2 six-hole muffin tins which were only 99p each from the local factory shop.  Everything fits neatly into a gift bag with the perfect Christmas design on it.

The recipe uses “tropical dried fruit mixture” which I couldn’t find locally, so I used a luxury dried fruit mixture and added some dried mango, pineapple, papaya, apricots and a little glacé ginger.

muffin mix9bI got my Kilner jars from the local hardware shop for £2.25 each and the ingredients just fitted in if I pressed them down a bit.

muffin mix4  muffin mix6 muffin mix7 muffin mix8

I thought it was wise to test the recipe by baking a batch myself, just to make sure it worked and tastes ok.

(Excuse for baking number 24b !!)

It was indeed very quick and easy and they tasted deliciously spicy, exactly right for Christmas.

muffin mix9 muffin mix9aI’m sure if someone gave me a muffin kit as easy to bake as this for Christmas I would love it, so I hope my friends do too !!

(I am 99.9% sure none of them read this blog !!)

I looked at the BBC Good Food website and sure enough, although it actually appeared in a Spring magazine, you can see it here, presented as a Christmas recipe !!  I have noticed before that a lot of the Good Food magazine recipes are regularly recycled and will turn up in books and magazines time and again, often using the same picture.



300g self-raising flour

2tsp baking powder

2tsp ground cinnamon

2tsp mixed spice

100g chopped pecans or walnuts

140g tropical dried fruit mixture

100g light muscovado sugar


Layer all the ingredients in the order listed in a 1 litre glass or plastic preserving jar.

Write the following instructions on a gift tag:

“Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°fan/gas mark 5.  Put the muffin cases in the tins.  Tip the contents into a large mixing bowl.  Make a well in the centre and add two beaten eggs, 300ml milk and 100g melted butter.  Mix quickly until just combined.  Divide between the muffin cases and bake for 18-20 minutes.  Best eaten within 24 hours and use within one month.”

Attach the label and wooden spoon to the jar with pretty ribbon or raffia.

November 25, 2011


I first spotted this recipe in a lovely blog written by Snowy, called “Cookbooks Galore” and couldn’t wait to have a go at it myself.  When I was mixing it I suddenly decided to bake it as a traybake rather than in a loaf tin.  I called it “Halloween cake” and Nick took some to work to try out on his colleagues on October 31st, telling them it was made of pumpkin, toad and broomstick !! 

They were not put off and it was a big success !!

pumpkin cake1

So  when Ruth announced that the Pink Whisk baking challenge in November was for traybakes to raise money for charity,  I decided to make it again for our annual cake stall for “Children in Need”.  Snowy made hers with butternut squash so I did too.  The recipe originally came from Good Food magazine and I found it on the website here.  (It’s also in the “101 cakes and bakes” recipe book.)

pumpkin cake4 pumpkin cake5 

The butternut squash was such a glorious colour that grating it was a feast for the eyes.  The colour, combined with the warmth of the ginger, meant the cake looked and smelled lovely when it came out of the oven.  In fact the whole house smelled wonderful ~ mind you, I did bake seven cakes that day so the smell of baking was pretty much full on throughout the house !!

pumpkin cake6

As I mentioned before, the cakes that sell the best at our cake stall are the ones slathered in loads of gooey icing and decoration, so I decided to drizzle a simple icing on it and decorate it with a few gold sprinkles to make it more appealing. 

It wasn’t the best seller but it was absolutely scrumptious.  The plus side of having cakes leftover is that I can take them home to enjoy myself or, as in this case, sell them to the milkman when he called to collect his money ~ more in the pot for Children in Need !!


175g butter, melted

140g clear runny honey

1 large egg, beaten

250g raw peeled pumpkin or butternut squash

100g light muscovado sugar

350g self raising flour

1 tablespoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons demerara sugar (optional for sprinkling over the cake)*


Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 160°fan

Grease and line the base of a large traybake or roasting tin, approx 30x20 cm.  Make the lining paper long enough to overhang at each end to make it easier to lift out the cake when baked.

Grate the peeled pumpkin or butternut squash.  In a large bowl, mix the melted butter, honey and egg.  Stir in the pumpkin or squash.  Add the flour, ginger and muscovado sugar.  Mix until well combined.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top.  If you are not going to ice the cake, sprinkle the demerara sugar on top*.

Bake for 40-50 minutes until golden brown and risen.  Leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.  Sprinkle a little more demerara sugar on top whilst the cake is still warm if you like*.

When cool, cut into about 24 pieces or squares, depending on how big you like them.

*Alternatively, leave out the demerara sugar and when the cake is cool, drizzle over some icing made with icing sugar and water or lemon juice.  Add gold sprinkles or anything else you fancy to decorate.

Makes 24-30 squares

November 23, 2011


Last week we had our usual charity cake stall at work for BBC Children in Need.

fruitcake1There is always a huge amount of cake for sale and every year I like to make something I haven’t done before.  This time I chose a cake called “apple cake in a nutshell” from “Good Food 101 Cakes and Bakes”, an excellent little  book full of lovely recipes.  Every one I have tried so far works.

cake1cake2The most popular cake by far at our cake stall is always a chocolate Guinness cake made to Nigella Lawson’s famous recipe.  Year after year we are asked to make sure one is on offer and it usually sells out pretty quickly.

We also discovered years ago that the cakes that sell the best are the large ones with lots of decoration or icing on them.  Perhaps people like having a slice cut from a large and gorgeous cake just for them.    Individual cakes, buns and traybakes are not as popular ~ but the scones and sausage rolls sell very well.  They also prefer the cakes with no surprises in the ingredients ~ perish the thought that there should be anything healthy in them !!

fruitcake2 fruitcake3

For this apple, date and nut cake I used a bag of whole hazelnuts I already had in the cupboard, shelling and blanching them myself.  It was fiddly to do and fairly time consuming.  After shelling, you put the nuts in a moderate oven for 10-15 minutes and the theory is that the skins then rub off fairly easily.  It was not that easy and there were quite a few bits of skin still left on mine but I ran out of patience and thought that would probably be ok for the cake.  They tasted divine after being in the oven ~ a few less went into the cake than I started out with!

fruitcake4 fruitcake5 

You place apple rings and chopped hazelnuts on top of the cake before baking and I was thrilled with how it looked when it came out of the oven.  But it did take quite a few minutes longer than stated in the recipe before it seemed to be cooked.


It looked even better with its apricot glaze on top.  In fact it looked a million dollars and sat very well alongside all the gooey chocolate cakes and, of course, the chocolate Guinness cake.  I was dying to see what it was like when it was cut ~ and to taste a slice for myself ~ for which I would pay my £1 just like anyone else as the whole idea is to raise money for the charity.

Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance.  At 9.30 in the morning someone handed over £20 for the collection and took the whole cake !!  However, they did phone back the next day to say it was delicious and could they have the recipe, please !!  So I will just have to make another one some day.


So far we have made over £700 for Children in Need.  Not bad for just five ladies baking and a few husbands and other helpers chipping in.  We had made a list of all the cakes that were on sale and there were 35 different choices, including the sausage rolls and other savouries.  We are going to highlight and colour code the best and second-best sellers so we know what to make again next year.



3 eggs

175g butter

350g self raising flour

2tsp ground cinnamon

175g light muscovado sugar

3 medium eating apples

100g chopped dates

100 blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped

3 dessertspoons apricot jam


Preheat the oven to 180°C/ 160°fan. Butter and line the base of a 20cm cake tin.

Melt the butter and leave to cool.

Peel two of the apples, core and cut into chunks. Core the third apple and cut into thin rings, peel left on.

Combine the flour, cinnamon and sugar in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs into the melted butter.

Stir the apple chunks, dates and HALF the hazelnuts into the flour mixture and mix well. Add the egg and butter mixture and stir in gently. (I added about 1tblsp milk here as the mixture seemed very stiff.)

Spoon the mixture into the tin and level the top.

Arrange the apple slices on top and sprinkle over the other half of the hazelnuts.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until browned and a cake tester/skewer comes out clean. (I had to give the cake an extra 10 minutes for it to be cooked.)

Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Heat the apricot jam gently in a small saucepan until runny. Brush over the cake whilst it is still warm. Leave to cool completely.

Cuts into 8-10 slices

November 14, 2011


As soon as the hour changes, and the evenings get longer and darker, I feel compelled to make soup. November’s Random Recipe Challenge from Dom at Bellau Kitchen is a joint exercise with another lovely blog called Tinned Tomatoes and happily for me it is for soup !!

spiced root soup1

Before I had even started to explore my own cookbook collection, I popped into the local library to see if they had anything new and found this book. I flipped the pages and turned up a recipe for “spiced root soup with crisp spiced onions”. Perfect.

Random Recipes #10 - November

As usual, when I decided to make the soup I didn’t quite have all the necessary ingredients in the house so I improvised and it worked really well. Instead of cumin seeds and curry paste I used cumin powder and curry powder.

spiced root soup2spiced root soup4

The recipe followed the basic principles of other soups I have made: fry the onions, add the other vegetables and herbs/spices and the stock and cook until the veg are tender then blend and season to taste. Deliciously simple and one of the most rewarding things you can cook. I adore the glorious aromas drifting out of the kitchen when soup is on the stove.

spiced root soup5spiced root soup3

When the recipe says to transfer the soup to a liquidiser in batches to purée it, I use my stick blender instead ~ just putting it in the pan and whizzing until the soup is the kind of consistency that we like ~ with a few lumpy bits of vegetables left in it.

I served it with some fresh chopped coriander sprinkled on top, which looked and tasted lovely, and with Nick’s home-made granary bread which had come out of the oven just minutes before. Bless him.

spiced root soup6

My version of the soup.

I didn’t have any natural yoghurt in the house to swirl on the top and I didn’t make the crisp spiced onions to add, like croutons, either…….. but the soup was absolutely scrumptious without them !!

Spiced root soup (with optional crisp spiced onions)

1 onion

2 tblsp vegetable oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds (or 1tsp ground cumin)

2 leeks

3 carrots

2 medium potatoes

2 parsnips

2-3 tsp curry paste (or 1tsp curry powder)

1.2 litres vegetable stock (from granules or powder)

250 g natural yoghurt

chopped coriander or parsley to garnish


Peel and chop the onion. Heat the oil in a large pan and fry until just beginning to colour. Add the cumin and mustard seeds and fry until the onion is browned.

Peel and roughly chop the other vegetables. Add to the pan with the curry powder or paste and stir until well mixed.

Add the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for about 30 minutes or until the veg are tender.

Purée the soup by transferring it in batches to a liquidiser, or blend in the pan using a stick blender. Blend until smooth or slightly lumpy, just as you like. Season and stir in all but a couple of tablespoons of the yoghurt.

If you like the idea of the crisp spiced onions, peel and slice an onion lengthways and fry quickly in a little vegetable oil until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper. (The recipe makes no mention of how they should become spiced as well as crisp but you can us your initiative I suppose. I left them out altogether.)

Serve the soup with a swirl of the remaining yoghurt and a sprinkling of coriander or parsley on top. Add the crisp onions if you are using them.

Serves 4-6

As with all the “Good Food 101” recipe series, you can find the recipe on the web here.

November 9, 2011


It is almost time for our annual charity cake stall at work so I was browsing through my many recipe books and came across a recipe for lemon drizzle traybake in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.

(The recipe also appears on several websites, including the Good Food Channel here.)

lemon drizzle 8

Now, I realise that lemon drizzle cake isn’t exactly exciting or exotic as a baking adventure, but I don’t make it very often so it was exciting for me. 

lemon drizzle 2

Actually, I did once make a lime and coconut loaf from the Be-Ro book a few years ago, which is similar in a way.  The cake had lime zest in it and lime juice drizzled over it.  I made it for a charity baking event at work and that’s where I learned the important lesson that the larger cakes with lots of icing slathered all over them are the ones that sell the best.  My lime and coconut cake was still hanging around when everything else had gone so me and my dad had to eat it all between us.  It was fabulously delicious, but didn’t look much.

lemon drizzle 3 lemon drizzle 4

Anyway, I also recently bought a larger traybake tin, with our cake stall in mind.  I found that my ready-cut squares of baking paper from Lakeland were just the right size if you put two in and overlapped them.  Then I had the bright idea of cutting one square in half so that they fitted perfectly with no overlapping ~ you can see the effect in the picture of ingredients.  This was a big mistake.

lemon drizzle 5lemon drizzle 6

The cake was dead easy to make, using an all-in-one method, and baked perfectly.  But it was a big cake and when I tried to turn it out of the tin, it split roughly where the break in the baking paper was.  Rats !!

Next time, I will not be so clever (or thrifty, as I saved the other half of the square for use later) and use an extra long piece of paper that overhangs the ends of the tin as well, making it much easier to turn out.  

lemon drizzle 7

Luckily, the split was roughly where I wanted to cut the cake into squares, so I only lost a few pieces and you know what, the bits made an excellent treat to go with my cup of tea. 

lemon drizzle 9

The flavour and texture were excellent.  I will definitely make it again.  My dad took the boxful of cake to his model engineering club where it was devoured within minutes of him arriving and someone saying “time to put the kettle on”. 

lemon drizzle 9a

Lemon drizzle traybake


for the cake

225g butter

225g caster sugar

275g self raising flour

2 level tsp baking powder

4 large eggs

4 tblsp milk

finely grated rind of 2 lemons

for the topping

juice of 2 lemons

175g granulated sugar


Preheat the oven to 160°C / 140°fan.  Grease and line the base of a 12” x 9” baking tin.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat until well mixed together.  This takes hardly any time at all in a food mixer.

Transfer the mixture to the baking tin and level the top.  Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.

Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

Mix the lemon juice and granulated sugar together and spoon it over the cake whilst it is still warm.  As lots of it will inevitably dribble over the edge onto the worktop, it helps to put a large tray underneath.

When cold, cut into 24 squares.

(The recipe said it makes 30 squares but I preferred them slightly larger!)

November 4, 2011


Okay, so it’s Thursday, you have eaten everything you bought last weekend, you haven’t had time to revisit the  dreaded supermarket, it’s raining, you’re late home from work and hungry…….

A gratin is the answer.  This is exactly what we had for dinner yesterday.


All you need is the last few remaining vegetables in your fridge or veg drawer, some grateable cheese, a bit of bacon or chorizo and dinner will be on the table in thirty minutes. 


The variations are endless.  Just use any vegetables and cheese you have.  If you don’t have cheese suitable for grating but you have some goats cheese, brie or similar, just leave it out of the sauce and put slices of it on top of the gratin before you put it in the oven.  If you don’t have any bacon it’s nice with some chopped ham mixed in, or just with the veg and no meat at all.  A few prawns or a bit of smoked fish cut into pieces also works well.

Ingredients (roughly)

1 carrot

1 parsnip

½ a head of broccoli

¼ swede or 1 turnip

1 or 2 leeks

¼ cabbage

a few mushrooms

1 onion, sliced

a few slices of chorizo

2-4 rashers of bacon, cut into large strips or diced

50g or however much cheese you like, grated

a large knob of butter

1 dessertspoon of plain flour

½ pint milk

salt and pepper

a splash of vegetable oil

Method (thereabouts)

Preheat the oven to 180°C

Peel and roughly chop all the vegetables into medium chunks.  Put in a large pan of boiling water and cook until almost cooked, still slightly firm or just as you like to eat them.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onions, bacon, mushrooms and chorizo and fry until the onions have softened and the bacon is browned.

Next, put the butter, flour and milk in a saucepan.  Heat gently and stir with a whisk until a white sauce miraculously forms ~ this is the Delia Smith all-in-one method which you can find here.  Add most of the grated cheese and stir until smooth and season with salt and pepper.  If it’s a bit too thick, stir in a little more milk.  If it’s too thin, add a teaspoon of flour blended with mik.

Drain the cooked vegetables and return to the pan.  Tip in the contents of the frying pan and mix together.

Tip everything into an ovenproof dish.  Pour the cheese sauce on top to coat the veg.  Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top and bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.

Whilst it’s in the oven you can set the table, open a bottle of something suitable for a Thursday and wash up the three pans you have used.

Serve on its own, with bread, with chips, with jacket potato, salad, or anything you fancy.  We had ours just by itself and it was a hearty meal for two.

Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side dish.

October 25, 2011


We love tarte tatin and it is one of our favourite desserts to order when we are in France.  You don’t see it on menus in England quite so often.

For the last couple of years I have tried a number of recipes to make it at home.  Each time I made a tarte tatin, it would taste nice enough and looked reasonable but somehow it never quite came up to scratch.  Now I think I have found the perfect recipe.  It comes from Raymond Blanc’s “Kitchen Secrets” and you can find it here.

When I spotted that Ruth of The Pink Whisk was having an October Challenge for a recipe using Pink Lady apples,  I decided this was a perfect opportunity to bake another one !!

The Pink Whisk Challenge

Of course you can’t beat having the right equipment for any recipe and we had much greater success once we found this tarte tatin dish in John Lewis.  It has gone up in price by £1 since I bought mine but it’s still a great piece of kit for only £13.

tatin 1a

The dish is about the size of a sponge tin but is made of heavy aluminium that is happy on top of the stove as well as in the oven (but not in the dishwasher).  Traditionally the tatin is made in a skillet but somehow I never managed to find one of those.

tatin 1tatin 2

You begin by caramelising the sugar and water on the hob.  When it is pale golden you add cubes of chilled butter, which stops it becoming too caramelised.  I really dislike tarte tatin where the caramel has become too dark and bitter.

tatin 4tatin 3

You peel and core the apples ~ I use my melon baller to remove the cores neatly.  Cut them into quarters and place them round side down in the caramel, cramming as many in as possible and filling any gaps with small pieces.

tatin 8

You brush the apples with more melted butter and bake in the oven until the apples are cooked.

tatin 10tatin 9

Press the apples down and place a circle of puff pasty over the top, tucking in the edges.  Don’t forget that the tin is hot and be careful not to burn your fingers when tucking the pastry in.

The ready-made, ready-rolled puff pastry you can buy in France works extremely well for this dish.  You have to trim it a little so there is not too much overhang, otherwise the tucked-in portion makes the base too bulky.  I always buy a few packs of it when we are in France and store it in my freezer.

tatin 11tatin 12

Prick the pastry and bake again until it is nicely browned.  Leave it to stand for a while before turning out ~ always the scary part.  I usually let my other half do that ~ he seems to enjoy it ~ must be a man thing.

tatin 14tatin 15

If the tarte has cooled completely you can reheat it gently on the hob.  This will melt the caramel enough to soften it to enable you to turn it out.  Alternatively, you can make the dish the day before and reheat in the oven.

tatin 16tatin 17

Inevitably there will be a few pieces of apple that stay stuck to the dish.  Just pick them out carefully and replace them in their rightful positions in the tarte ~ nobody will know !!

tatin 19

tatin 20

Et voilà !!  The perfect tarte tatin !!

This is what I used.

6 dessert apples

3tblsp water

100g caster sugar

60g unsalted butter, diced and chilled in the fridge or freezer

30g unsalted butter, melted

1 pack of ready-made/ ready-rolled puff pastry

This is what you do.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C.

Peel the apples, cut them in half, remove the cores, then cut them into quarters.  (Raymond suggests keeping the apples in halves and slicing the round bottoms off so they sit flat in the tin, but I found I could cram more in if I quartered them.)

Put the water in the tatin dish and add the sugar.  Leave it for a couple of minutes for the sugar to be absorbed then put on a medium heat on the hob.  Heat gently without stirring until a pale golden colour appears.  Remove from the heat and add the chilled cubes of butter – this stops the cooking and prevents the caramel from becoming too dark and too strongly flavoured.

Arrange the apple pieces, rounded sides down, in the dish, using small pieces to fill any gaps.  Pack them in tightly and press down.  Brush the melted butter over the apples and then bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the tin from the oven.  Place your circle of rolled out puff pastry on the top and tuck the edges in. Be careful because it’s easy to forget that the tin is very hot and burn your fingers when tucking in!  Prick a few holes in the pastry and bake again for 40-45 minutes until golden brown.

Remove the tatin from the oven and allow to cool slightly before turning out carefully onto a serving plate.  Serve warm or cool with cream or ice-cream.

Serves 6