April 27, 2012


I have really enjoyed the series on TV by Rachel Khoo and have been dying to have a go at the Croque Madame Muffins she baked in the first programme.  We love Croque Monsieur and Madame (which is the same thing with an egg on top) and often choose them from the menu when we are in France.  It’s always a real joy when we are served ones made from scratch rather than reheated frozen ones.

croque madame4

When Nick was working from home one day I decided I would treat us to the muffins for lunch instead of the usual sandwiches or beans on toast.  I bought a white sliced loaf specially for them.  I even made the béchamel sauce properly instead of using my standard Delia Smith all-in-one method (which you can see here).

The muffins were actually quite fiddly to make.  I added to the work by using a small pack of lardons that we had brought from France after Easter instead of ham.  So I had to fry the lardons as well as making the sauce and preparing the bread.

My bread was quite springy so I ended up flattening it with the rolling pin twice, once before brushing both sides with melted butter and again afterwards.  I employed Rachel’s tip from the programme to tip out some of the egg white before putting them in the muffins to make sure there was room for the sauce.

croque madame1

I was pleased with how the muffins looked when I had sprinkled them with cheese and was really looking forward to eating one – they looked as though they would be well worth the effort.  Then disaster struck.

Unbelievably, as I put the muffin tray into the oven I somehow caught it on the shelf and it fell out of my hands, landing upside down on the oven door !!

I have no idea what I said but it must have been loud as within a few seconds Nick and the dog were both in the kitchen to see what had happened.  As I stared at the upside down muffin tray in total disbelief, egg yolk and cheese sauce started to ooze out around it.  Nick employed some quick thinking and went into International Rescue mode.  He grabbed two baking sheets, slid one of them under the muffin tin, held the other on top and turned the whole thing back the right way up so we could inspect the damage.

It was not a pretty sight.  There was no way the muffins could be reconstructed from the jumbled mess of eggs, sauce and bread.  So, while Nick cleaned the oven door, I just shovelled the lot into a roasting tin and then put it back into the oven to bake.  (It’s a good job the oven door opens at the bottom, otherwise the whole lot would have ended up on the kitchen floor !!)

croque madame2

When the eggs were cooked and the bread crispy, I served up spoonful's of the croque traybake with a simple salad as planned.  It was absolutely delicious and we ate the lot.  Apart from the bits that remained stuck to the tin and were left for Lulu to enjoy.

croque madame3

I wondered if this was how the Tatin sisters felt when they first made their famous dessert, or the inventors of Eton mess and the Bakewell pudding – would my culinary disaster become a classic dish of the future?

I think not !!  I shall definitely have another go at the muffins very soon as all the signs are they should be quite yummy – and next time I shall make a special effort to keep them the right way up !! 

If you would like to see how to make them properly, here’s the correct method as demonstrated by Rachel herself.

Croque Madame Muffins the right way up !!

April 24, 2012


When I looked that this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, organised by Chocolate Log Blog, for chocolate with cheese, it didn’t really appeal to me at first.  Chocolate cheesecake immediately sprung to mind but I’m not really a cheesecake person.  I am happy to eat one but not too thrilled by the idea of making one.

Then I saw this stuff on the shelf in the supermarket.

cheesecake blondies1aI’m not sure how it had passed below my radar until now but once I had tasted a spoonful I was hooked.  It’s Nutella meets cream cheese frosting in heaven.  I thought I must surely be able to do something with it for the challenge.

cheesecake blondies1b Then I remembered some marbled cheesecake brownies made by a colleague for our Children in Need cake stall a couple of years ago.  They were scrumptious and a best seller and luckily there was a recipe for something similar in my Philadelphia cookbook.  Hers had looked very similar to the picture in my book:

cheesecake blondies9 Instead of making a dark chocolate brownie mixture with blobs of ordinary Philly swirled into it, I decided to adapt the recipe to a blondie mixture with the chocolate Philly in it.

cheesecake blondies1 So mine looked like this.

cheesecake blondies2 cheesecake blondies4

You begin by melting butter, sugar and white chocolate together in a saucepan.  At this stage the mixture looked, I have to say, rather unpleasant.  It looked much better once I had whisked the eggs into it.

cheesecake blondies5cheesecake blondies6 

You pour the mixture into a square or oblong tin, blob spoonfuls of chocolate Philly mixture into it and swirl them around with the tip of a knife.

cheesecake blondies8As soon as it came out of the oven, our dog shot downstairs from her bed which is on the landing. The smell of baked cake doesn’t usually excite her so much. Maybe it was the cheese that did it.

cheesecake blondies9b

They were extremely rich and gooey.  I took them to work where they were declared a hit.  You couldn’t eat too many at one go I think, but definitely worth  baking again, and possibly for the cake stall when it comes around in November.

This is how I adapted the recipe from the book:


125g butter

125g white chocolate, broken into squares

200g light muscovado sugar

3 eggs

100g plain flour

¼ tsp baking powder

1 pack Philadelphia with Cadbury’s chocolate

50g caster sugar

This is what you do

Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas mk 4.  Grease and base line a 22.5 cm square tin.

Put the butter, muscovado sugar and chocolate into a medium sized saucepan and heat gently, stirring,  until the chocolate and butter have melted.  Take off the heat and leave to cool slightly. 

Make the cheesecake filling by mixing the Philly and caster sugar together in a bowl.

Whisk the lightly beaten eggs into the chocolate mixture.  (I transferred mine from the saucepan to a large bowl.)  Sift in the flour and baking powder and stir until combined.

Pour into the tin.  Drop blobs of cheesecake mixture onto the cake then, with the tip of a knife, swirl it around.

Bake for 35-40 minutes until it passes the clean cake tester or skewer test.  Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Makes 16 generous blondies.

April 19, 2012


When we were in France for Easter our friends Colin and Elizabeth were coming over and I wanted to bake a cake.  Elizabeth has to have a gluten free diet so that makes the choice of recipe something of a challenge, but I found a recipe for a gorgeous looking cake in my book “Gorgeous Cakes” by Annie Bell called “Easter Battenburg Cake”. 

birds nest cake01

I also thought it would fit very well into the Teatime Treats challenge, hosted alternately by Lavender and Lovage and, this month, by Kate of What Kate Baked, which was to be for something baked for Easter.

Tea_Time_Treatrs_logoThis is not labelled as a gluten free recipe but as it contains no flour it was easily adaptable so long as I used cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda instead of ordinary baking powder (or gluten free baking powder).

birds nest cake1g Mine didn’t look exactly like the picture in the book so I renamed it “Birds Nest Cake”.  This is because the cake ended up looking slightly untidy with a crater in the middle that I filled with Cadbury’s mini eggs.  The original recipe had really classy looking mini white chocolate eggs in the middle but I couldn’t find any of those in the shops.  So the little pile of coloured chocolate eggs had to do – and looked quite cute.

birds nest cake1 birds nest cake1a

The recipe is basically for a sponge using just eggs, sugar and ground almonds.  You colour two thirds of the mixture pink and bake three sponges – two pink and one uncoloured.  You then sandwich the sponges together with ginger jam and cover the whole cake with mascarpone cheese and decorate the sides with flaked almonds.

birds nest cake1b birds nest cake1c

The sponges did rise but also sank in the middle slightly.  I have had this problem before with sponges made from lots of whisked egg whites.  The end result was quite a crater in the middle by the time the cakes were stacked.

Part of the problem was caused by not having tins the right size in my French kitchen.  Ideally I should have used two 23cm tins and cut one of the cakes in half but all I had was some 20cm sandwich tins so they had to do.  This resulted in a taller, narrower cake and this exaggerated the slump in the middle I think.

birds nest cake1dAfter sandwiching the layers together with ginger jam, you then have to sweeten some mascarpone cheese with a little icing sugar and spread it over the top and sides of the cake.  I thought it would never work as the cheese was very runny and I fully expected it all to slide off the cake into a sort of moat around the base.  Elizabeth had the brilliant idea of putting it back in the fridge for a while to see if it thickened up and by some miracle it did actually stick to the sides and not slide off.

I do like guests who get involved in making their own dinner !!

birds nest cake1e The next step was to attach flaked almonds attractively to the sides.  This is  something I have never done before and I was surprised how tricky it was.  We found the only way was to press them all into the cheese a few at a time.  Very fiddly but definitely worth it.

birds nest cake1fIf you look at the picture of Annie Bell’s cake you can just tell there is a slight slope in the layers – but not as much as mine !! 

It still looked fun with the little eggs piled on top - they are gluten free, apparently, although not all Cadbury’s chocolate is.  And it tasted lovely with the gingery flavour between the layers.  Definitely a cake worth making again for a bit of fun and if you need to produce something a bit different for a gluten free diet.

Here is the way I made the cake:

This is what I used.

6 eggs, separated

250g caster sugar

350g ground almonds

1½ tsp cream of tartar

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

(you could use 1½ tsp gluten free baking powder instead of the cream of tartar and bicarb)

pink food colouring

approx 6 good tablespoons ginger jam

a 250g tub of mascarpone cheese

25g icing sugar

about 75g flaked almonds

a handful of Cadbury’s mini eggs

This is what you do.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°fan/gas mk 6.  Base line and grease three 20cm sandwich tins.

Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks in a bowl with an electric whisk.

Put the yolks and sugar in a larger bowl and using your whisk blend together, but not until they are pale and thick.

Fold the whites into the yolk mixture in two halves.  Mix the ground almonds with the cream of tartar and bicarb then fold that into the egg mixture in two halves.

Put one third of the mixture into one of the prepared tins then colour the remaining two thirds with pink colouring, a few drops at a time, until you get the pink colour you want.  Divide this mixture between the other two tins.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cakes start to shrink away from the sides of the tins and a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean. 

While the cakes are in the oven, mix the mascarpone cheese with the icing sugar and put it back in the fridge to chill.

Run a knife around the edge of each cake to loosen it then leave to cool in the tins.

Sit one of the pink cakes on a serving plate or cakestand and spread with the ginger jam.  I found the best way to do this was to warm the jam slightly in a small saucepan to make it spread more easily.  Put the uncoloured cake on top and spread the other half of jam on that.  Top with the other pink cake.

Spread the cheese over the top and sides of the cake then press flaked almonds onto the sides.  (The recipe suggested toasting the flaked almonds slightly but I forgot.)

Pile your little eggs into the dent in the middle of the cake.

Cuts into 12 slices.

April 16, 2012


This cake was made for Dom’s birthday.  Well actually for the second birthday of his blog, Bellau Kitchen, and his Random Recipe Challenge for April, which was to pile up all your baking books and choose one at random.

prune cake1

My random selection turned up this book by Annie Bell, yet another one that I bought because I had seen it in other blogs. 

prune cake2The book is stuffed full of – as the title suggests – gorgeous looking cakes.  The book plopped open at a page that had two recipes so I chose to bake the chocolate prune cake for my Random Recipe.  I have made chocolate cakes with beetroot or courgettes before, but never prunes, so Dom, I hope you like prunes !!

randomrecipes I packed the book and took it with me when we went to France for our Easter holiday, knowing I would have more time to enjoy baking while we were there.

prune cake3 prune cake4

This is one of those gloriously gooey chocolate cakes made mainly with ground almonds but also including a generous amount of rum and a whole packet of prunes.  The method is easy enough to follow but requires a lot of different processes in separate bowls, not to mention two different electric machines, producing a lot of washing up.

prune cake5 prune cake6

You have to beat the butter, sugar and eggs in a food processor, then transfer the mixture to a large bowl.  You melt the chocolate in another bowl, toss the sliced prunes in flour in a bowl and whisk the egg whites in yet another bowl.  This is on top of any other bowls you have used to measure out the ingredients and separate the eggs.

Speaking of food processors, Nick bought me a lovely new Magimix for my 60th birthday last December.  I know, I know, we did talk diamonds or fur but I thought I would have more fun with a Magimix.  So we took my 1980’s Braun processor, almost on its last legs, to France where it is proving to be most useful and may well last another twenty years for all I know.  That’s if I don’t drop the lid again and knock the last two remaining locking pegs off !!

prune cake7 prune cake8

Anyway, I came slightly unstuck with the baking tin.  The recipe said a deep 20cm tin but I only had an ordinary shallow 20cm tin in my little French kitchen.  This is the problem with pursuing my passion for baking in France.  That is where I found I had the time to do it and how much I enjoyed it, but the kitchen simply isn’t big enough to house a vast collection of baking tins like I have collected at home in the UK so I have to make do.  Quel dommage !!

Once I got going I realised I was going to end up with a huge quantity of mixture which would be way too much for my tin so at the last minute I changed my mind and greased and lined my biggest tin instead – a shallow 23cm tin. (Thereby creating extra washing up with my unused but greased small tin !!)

The cake cracked alarmingly and even after the full 70 minutes I couldn’t make my mind up if it was cooked or not, but the edges were beginning to look a little brown so I decided to risk it and take it out of the oven.

prune cake9Once it had cooled for a while, and subsided a bit, the cracks looked less alarming and were hardly noticeable at all once I had dusted it with icing sugar and piled some chocolate raisins on top, as per the picture in the book.

prune cake9a It was delicious and went down very well with coffee in the spring sunshine.

prune cake9b It was gooey on the inside with a slightly crunchy crust.  It also went well with a glass of rosé later on – well we were on holiday, even if it was only a Thursday afternoon !!

prune cake9c Definitely a recipe I will do again.  And very adaptable to a gluten free recipe considering there was only one tablespoon of flour for coating the prunes, which could be replaced, I imagine, with cornflour or rice flour.

prune cake9d And it was so good, I really didn’t mind the huge amount of washing up !!

This is what I used.

150g dark chocolate, min 50% cocoa solids

225g unsalted butter

225g light muscovado sugar

4 eggs, separated

100ml rum

200g ground almonds

1tsp baking powder

250g ready to eat, stoned prunes, roughly chopped or sliced

1 tblsp plain flour

icing sugar and chocolate raisins for decoration

This is what you do.

Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°fan/gas mk 5.  Butter and base line a 23cm springform cake tin.

Break the chocolate into squares and melt in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.  Stir and put on one side to cool.

Cut the butter into cubes and put into a food processor with the sugar.  Beat until pale and creamy. 

Add the egg yolks, one at a time and beat again to combine.

Add the rum and melted chocolate and beat again.  Beat in the ground almonds and baking powder.  Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.

In another separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until the stiff peak stage.  Fold into the mixture in two halves.

Put the chopped prunes into yet another bowl with the flour and toss with your hands so the fruit is well coated with flour. Fold into the chocolate cake mixture.

Tip the mixture into the prepared tin and level the top.  Bake for 60-70 minutes until “a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean”, which in my case it never did, because it is a very gooey cake.

Loosen the cake from the tin by running a knife around the edge and leave in the tin to cool.

Dust with icing sugar and pile some chocolate raisins artistically on top for decoration – these are optional.

Cuts into approx 12 slices.

April 10, 2012


rhubarb and strawberry tart1

The idea for this recipe comes from one of my favourite cookbooks, “The Popina Book of Baking”. 


There are a couple of tarts in the book made using the same basic recipe, which consists of a pastry case, a sponge mixture filling and fruit arranged on top of that before baking. rhubarb and strawberry tart2 I decided to use rhubarb and strawberry because they had both just arrived in the shops and make a lovely combination of flavours.

rhubarb and strawberry tart4It baked perfectly, as it always does when I use this recipe.  I used a ready-made sweet pastry for the base, which I usually do, and although baking blind is not stated in the recipe I have never yet had a soggy bottom !!

I also always put on the apricot glaze, as it is worth the little extra effort for the glamour it adds to the finished tart.

The fruit combinations in the book are plum and apple, and nectarine and berry, the one which appears so temptingly on the cover.  Variations I have made myself are damson and apple (gorgeous) and a plum, blueberry, strawberry and raspberry version, basically using up the bits and pieces lurking in the fridge, which was also lovely.


 My plum, blueberry, strawberry and raspberry version of the tart.

Definitely a recipe to experiment with and it works beautifully every time.  You can use your imagination when deciding what fruit to put in !!

This is what you need.

1 sweet pastry case, home-made or shop bought.

40g unsalted butter at room temperature

90g caster sugar

1 egg

1½ tsp baking powder

90g plain flour

A few sticks of pink rhubarb

A handful of strawberries

2 tblsp apricot jam

This is what you do.

Preheat the oven to 160°C/140°fan/gas mk 3.  Grease a 20cm tart tin or dish.

Line the tart dish with the pastry. 

Beat the butter and sugar together until smooth.  Beat in the egg.  Add the flour and baking powder and combine.

Pour the mixture on top of the pastry case and level.

Cut the washed rhubarb into suitable lengths and arrange with the halved strawberries on top of the sponge mixture.

Bake for about 40 minutes until the sponge is golden and risen.  Remove from the oven and cool while you make the apricot glaze.

Put the apricot jam in a small saucepan and heat gently until runny.  Brush the melted jam over the still-warm tart.  Serve warm with cream or ice-cream.  Also nice cold.

Serves 6.