August 21, 2012


Life is really hectic and chaotic at the moment -  I was convinced I had no time at all to enter baking challenges this month.  There are so many I would like to have a go at, Teatime Treats, Alphabakes, We Should Cocoa, and Random Recipes – but I am just too busy.

Then fate intervened.

chocolate and cherry pudding 1

One day it suited my chaotic life to make something in the slow cooker so I plucked (randomly) one of my slow cooker cookbooks from the shelf, leafing through for ideas instead of looking at the index, but the first page to plop open was for chocolate and cherry puddings.

chocolate and cherry pudding 3chocolate and cherry pudding 4

They looked yummy and I have never tried making anything other than casseroles in my slow cooker but it was not what I needed that day and I made a mental note of the idea for later.  Then, when my dad came round for his dinner on Sunday evening as usual, I remembered the recipe.

I thought it would be ideal, quick to make, I could put it in the slow cooker and forget about it while Nick and I get on with cooking the rest of the meal (roast beef and plain veg).  Not only that but I also had all the ingredients in stock – now there’s a first !!

chocolate and cherry pudding 5chocolate and cherry pudding 6

My pudding moulds were smaller than specified but the four of them only just fitted into the slow cooker.  I used Stork baking liquid instead of butter and it worked really well.  I just put everything in a bowl and beat until it was all smooth – just about two minutes, if that.

chocolate and cherry pudding 5a

They were lovely.  The recipe also includes instructions for a sauce made with double cream and white chocolate, which I’m sure would have been lovely too, but I confess I served mine with some warmed ready-made custard, for speed.  (To be honest, it’s because we really like custard.) 

chocolate and cherry pudding 7

And I was able to enter not one, but two baking challenges after all !!  The chocolate and cherry combination fits in with this month’s We Should Cocoa challenge, hosted by Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen, being the guest host this month for Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog.

And, with only an ever so slight bending of the rules, it also suits Dom’s Random Recipe Challenge this month, which is “starting at the very beginning”.  I didn’t exactly pick the book randomly from all of my cookbooks but it was the first one of the slow cooker ones that I grabbed………….


I shall definitely be doing these little puddings again.  The portion size is just right for one person and there’s no temptation to nibble away at very calorific leftovers – there were only four, one each and one for my dad to take away for later in the week.  Later in the year I might adapt the recipe to make treacle puddings, or apple……..the possibilities could be endless I think.  Another winning recipe for the busy cook.

Here’s what you need for my version of chocolate and cherry puddings.

50g self raising flour

50g caster sugar

50g Stork baking liquid (or butter, softened)

1 egg

1 tblsp cocoa powder

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp ground cinnamon

1 425g tin pitted black cherries


Draw round the bottom of a small (6floz) metal pudding mould on greaseproof or baking paper to make 4 circles.  (This seemed like a lot of faffing to me but it is worth it.)

Grease 4 pudding moulds and put a circle of paper in the bottom of each one.  Drain the tin of cherries and put 6 or 7 cherries on top of the paper.

Measure all the other ingredients into a medium bowl and beat together until smooth.  Spoon the mixture into the moulds and cover the tops loosely with foil.

Put them in the slow cooker and pour in boiling water to about half way up the moulds.  Put the lid on and cook on high for 1½-2 hours.  (Mine were done in 1½ hours.)

Lift the puddings out, loosen round the edges of each one with a knife then tip out onto a plate.

Serve with custard, ice-cream, cream or chocolate sauce.

Makes 4 puddings.

August 12, 2012


When we visited our friends Ken and Walt in St-Aignan in early July I decided I would bake them a cake.  I gave it lots of thought and opted for a chocolate Guinness cake baked to Nigella Lawson’s recipe.

chocolate guinness cake5I first made this cake at least six years ago, for Nick to take to a charity cake stall at work.  It was incredibly popular.  After the first time where it sold for £1 a slice, people requested it, no, demanded it, and the price went up to £1.50 !!  So it’s a really good seller for charity.

Counting up, I have probably made this cake at least twenty times over the years but have only ever eaten maybe four pieces.  This is because when it is on sale, or on the table at a birthday party, it disappears so fast.  It somehow seemed rude for the baker of the cake to be at the front of the scrum to get a slice but by the time the crowds have gone there are always only the crumbs left !!

I once saw one on sale at a garden centre tearooms.  I first established that it had been made to Nigella’s recipe then bought a slice.  It was the first one I had eaten, even though I had made several already !!  It is delicious, a very grown up kind of chocolate cake, even thought the topping is very sweet.

chocolate guinness cake1 If I had thought about it in advance I would have taken a bottle of Guinness to France with me so I thought I might have to make it using one of the dark Belgian beers.  Happily I found cans of Guinness on the shelves in Auchan.  The only adaptation I made was that the recipe calls for a small pot of sour cream but I used crème fraîche instead, which, according to my food dictionary, is the same thing.

chocolate guinness cake2 It’s incredibly easy to make.  You basically whisk all the ingredients together in the saucepan in which you melt the butter with the Guinness.  It takes a long time to bake and many times I have been unsure if it was cooked or not and been tempted to give it a few more minutes.  But Nigella advises that it is meant to be a damp cake so I have stuck to her timings and it has always turned out fine.

chocolate guinness cake3

chocolate guinness cake4 

It often sinks in the middle but on this occasion it didn’t but it also cracked on the top – must be the difference between my English and French ovens I suppose. In any case, neither really matters as the topping fills in any unevenness perfectly.

chocolate guinness cake6The evening before I made it we were sitting outside the PreHisto bar with our friends Chris and Gail in the sunshine, listening to the church bells, enjoying a couple of apéros whilst watching the to-ing and fro-ing of people as they made last minute calls to the village butcher and baker, and I mentioned the cake.  Gail apparently makes it regularly for her family and told me that not only does it freeze very well, it also freezes well with the topping on.  She also makes only half the quantity of the topping as she finds it too sweet.  It is indeed very sweet so I split the difference and made two thirds – it was perfect.

chocolate guinness cake7

One I made earlier, with full quantity of topping.

In May I made my umpteenth “Guinness cake” by special request for yet another charity cake stall at Nick’s office.  It had the full quantity of topping and it doesn’t look quite so good as with the two-thirds I think.  I usually put the top from the bottle of Guinness on the cake as decoration but of course you can’t if your beer comes in a can, which it did in France !!

You can find the recipe on Nigella’s website here.  I also once successfully adapted the recipe to make it into cupcakes – they looked gorgeous and were yummy too.

chocolate guinness cake8 The cupcakes I made using the same recipe.

If you haven’t tried it yet I would strongly recommend this stunning cake for a charity cake stall or a special occasion.  It’s not cheap to make but it cuts into about 16 slices and is always well received.  The flavour of the Guinness does not come through as such but it makes the cake not too sweet and makes it look fabulously dark.  The topping adds just the right amount of sweetness.  It is without doubt my favourite cake recipe.

I am linking this post to this month’s Forever Nigella event, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage.  Fridge Raider Snacks !!  I always like the bit at the end of Nigella’s cooking programmes where she would sneak something from the fridge before she put out the lights and went to bed !!

Forever Nigella

Sarah from Maison Cupcake started the whole Nigella Forever thing and I have been dying to enter for ages.  I use a lot of Nigella’s recipes and regularly take her books for bedtime reading !!

This recipe fits the theme perfectly I think.  Assuming there is ever any left over, which is unlikely in a way but then if there are only two of you to eat it……….. !!  It has to be kept in the fridge because of the cream cheese topping and I defy anyone to stay away from that fridge door when it’s in there !!  I can just imagine Nigella in her silk dressing gown, sneaking into the kitchen, dipping her finger into the icing………..myself, I would be in my favourite shabby pyjamas, towelling bath robe and which ever pair of shoes or trainers that were nearest………not quite the same image, but it’s the thought that counts !!

August 10, 2012


eton mess

I saw a recipe in a recent magazine, I forget which one, for a really nice looking pavlova-style dessert using strawberries and orange curd.

I love the combination of strawberries and orange but, I have to confess, I have never made a pavlova in my life.  In fact I have never made meringues other than the sort you put on top of a lemon meringue pie.

I did once come close to making a pavlova.  It was to be made for the party we had at home to celebrate my parents’ retirement in the early nineties.  In the end we ran out of time and we bought a frozen one from the supermarket.  However, it very nearly didn’t make it home as we fetched it on Nick’s motorcycle.  This was in the days when we only had one car but several motorcycles and if we nipped anywhere for anything we would invariably jump on a bike.  On this occasion we were two up on his lovely comfy old Yamaha.  I carried a rucksack on my back for the other bits and pieces we bought and Nick very carefully bungeed the box containing the pavlova onto the rack above the back wheel. 

Unfortunately, although he is world champion at bungeeing anything onto his bike, this time he was a little too cautious, fastening it very gently so as not to crush it, and as we exited the roundabout by the supermarket it came loose and fell off !!

Luckily I heard the slight bump as it hit the tarmac and we were able to recover it as it was narrowly missed by passing traffic.  We inspected it when we got it home and it was rather a sorry sight but we glued it back together with whipped cream and nobody noticed !!

At that time I had never heard of Eton mess !!

Anyway, I used the idea behind the recipe in the magazine to make a quick, easy and delicious pud.

For each person:

1 shop bought meringue nest

1 dessertspoon of orange curd

2 tablespoons of crème fraîche, or natural yoghurt, whipped cream or similar

a handful of strawberries, washed and hulled

a teaspoon of grated orange rind


Break the meringue into chunks and put in a bowl with the crème fraîche, orange curd and most of the strawberries.  Mix together.  Spoon into a dessert bowl or glass, place the last few berries on top and sprinkle the orange rind over.

It doesn’t look as posh as the real pavlova in the recipe, orange curd, strawberries and whipped cream layered beautifully and the whole thing languishing on a pretty plate and a lace tablecloth.  But it’s super-quick and very yummy.