November 25, 2012


We did incredibly well at our Children in Need cake stall at work this year, beating last year’s total and raising nearly £800!  I will tell more about it later.

blackberry cake1

The last two years a colleague made a blackberry and apple crumble cake, which looked delicious and sold out really early.  Sadly she no longer works for us but I remembered how popular the cake was and in fact some of our “regulars” actually asked for it, so I set about finding the recipe.  I was sure she said it was a Nigel Slater recipe and even gave me a copy of it, which I have obviously mislaid/misfiled.  However, it was not too difficult to find on the internet, several versions in fact, turning up in blogs and so on.  I think the original is this one here.

blackberry cake4

By ten o’clock it was selling well so I sneakily took a slice to share with a colleague so that we could actually taste it !!  It’s quite frustrating when you bake a cake that looks really good but never get to see what it tastes like.  It was absolutely delicious.

blackberry cake2blackberry cake3

It’s not the quickest cake to make and takes a long time to bake – mine took over an hour – but it’s well worth the effort.  I found it difficult to decide when it was done as when I did the skewer test it came out wet from the fruit. 

It was lovely served as a cake but would also make a nice dessert – definitely one I shall be baking again and it would be worth experimenting with other fruits to the same recipe I think.  It was such a winner at the cake stall that next year I would be tempted to make two of them !!

It’s such a lovely cake that I am entering into this month’s Tea Time Treats challenge

Tea Time Treats Challenge Logo

Tea Time Treats is one year old this month so I would like to wish a HAPPY BIRTHDAY and send my congratulations to Karen of Lavender and Lovage and Kate of What Kate Baked.  Many a cake has been baked in this house as a result of inspiration from these two blogs !!

150g softened butter
150g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
75g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
110g ground almonds
1 large eating apple
150g blackberries

For the crumble topping

100g cold butter, cut into cubes
100g plain flour
110g demerara sugar
2 tblsp porridge oats
¼tsp ground cinnamon


Grease and line a deep 20cm round springform cake tin.  Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan.

First, make the crumble topping by rubbing the butter into the flour.  Stir in the oats, sugar and cinnamon.   Set aside.

For the cake, beat the butter and sugar in a mixer until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs a little at a time, beating in after each addition.

Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl and mix together, then fold them into the egg mixture, followed by the ground almonds.  Spoon the cake mixture into the tin and level the top.

Cut the unpeeled apple into quarters, remove the core (I use a melon baller for this) and then cut into thin slices.  Put the slices on top of the cake and then push gently into the mixture.  Add the blackberries and then scatter the crumble mixture on top.

Bake for about an hour, remembering that a skewer will be wet when testing the cake due to the fruit – the cake is done if there is no gooey mixture stuck to it.  Cool in the tin.  Dust with icing sugar when cold.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

November 22, 2012


The Random Recipe Challenge for the month of November revolves around a birthday.  My birthday, or at least the birthday of each person who takes part.  My birthday is on the 11th so I counted the 11th book from the left on my middle shelf of cookbooks.


Then I noticed that the lovely Dom of Bellau Kitchen, the originator of the Random Recipe Challenge, had counted his books from the right.  Oh well, I’ve started so I’ll finish……


I picked out this book of recipes from the first TV series of “The great British food revival”, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Every time I see a bag of Kenyan green beans I think there is something fundamentally wrong with our food industry.  When I bought a pack of two ready-made sponge puddings in Tesco, called “Auntie’s puddings”, then discovered they were made in New Zealand, I was gobsmacked.  They were quite cheap and that suggested that most of the cost of putting them on the shelves was in transport and packaging.  They certainly tasted like it.  The supermarkets have a lot to answer for.

So the ideas behind the GBFR really appealed to me.  To buy locally produced food which is in season surely has to be better than what we do now.  The TV series also champions British foods that are in danger of becoming “extinct”.  Once they’re gone, they’re probably gone forever and that is something I find sad.  When the only beans we can buy are Kenyan beans with more air miles than flavour, it will be a very sad day indeed.

Anyway, I flipped the pages and turned up a recipe for braised pheasant.  Braised with cider an apples because it was in the apple section of the book, presented in the TV series by the handsome Yorkshireman, James Martin.

There are fields and a small wood on the other side of our back garden hedge and lots of pheasants find their way into our garden to feed on the seeds that fall out of our bird feeders.  The most we have ever seen at the same time in our back garden was sixteen male and female pheasants, including a bottle green melanistic male pheasant – a magnificent creature indeed.  On the one hand I feel slightly in awe of the beauty of all these birds congregating in my garden.  On the other I feel annoyed that they ruin the lawn by pecking at the grass.  On the third hand I can’t help wondering how good they would look in our freezer.


Curiously, although the recipe is in James Martin’s apple section of the book it is actually a Blanche Vaughan recipe, published on the Guardian website and you can see it here.  It appears in the book word for word as per the Guardian article, and on closer inspection it seems that Blanche Vaughan is responsible for most of the recipes in the book…….you live and learn.



We bought the pheasants from our local farm shop.  We planned to cook them for a Sunday evening dinner and got all the ingredients ready.  So it was really frustrating to discover that I didn’t have a jar of juniper berries in the house – I was sure I had some but they were nowhere to be found.  A bit of Googling suggested that you can substitute one teaspoon of gin for every two juniper berries so that’s what we did.  I say “we” because Nick did most of the work, jointing the pheasants and cooking them.


The pheasants were delicious.  I was particularly impressed with the apples slices, fried in butter before adding to the dish.  I would normally shy away from a fiddly, faffy bit of a recipe like this, but it was well worth doing.  We didn’t stick entirely to the timing, not cooking the legs for the extra time suggested, and that seemed to work for us.  We only used half the amount of cider, i.e. one 500ml tin not two, as only one would fit in our pan.  Oh and we didn’t serve it with mashed celeriac, just ordinary boiled spuds !!


We do eat pheasant every so often, but this way of cooking it with apples made it more special as well as delicious.  We have cooked a number of recipes from this book already but once again I am grateful to Dom and his RR Challenge for getting me to cook a recipe that I hadn’t noticed before.

Our version of pheasant braised with cider and apples


2 large pheasants

2 tblsp olive oil

100g smoked bacon lardons

100g shallots, sliced

4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped

8 juniper berries, or 4 teaspoons (a small glug) of gin

500ml cider

500ml chicken stock

150ml crème fraîche

25g butter

4 dessert apples, peeled and cored

juice of 1 lemon


Joint the pheasants.  Follow the instructions on the recipe link here.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and add the seasoned pheasant joints.  Brown all over and remove to a dish.  Put the bacon in the pan and fry until crisp.  Add the shallots and thyme leaves and cook until soft, about 2 minutes.

Return the pheasant to the pan.  Add the juniper berries/gin and pour in the cider.  Boil for one minute then add the stock.  Season well and reduce to a simmer.  Cover with a piece of baking parchment then the pan lid and cook for about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and core, and slice the apples into eighths and put in a dish with the lemon juice to prevent browning.  In a large frying pan, melt the butter then fry the apple pieces.  Allow to brown without turning too often.

Remove the meat and keep warm.  Boil the liquid for several minutes to reduce and thicken.  Whisk in the crème fraîche.  Return the meat to the pan.  Add the apples and serve.

Serves 4.

November 18, 2012


fudge cake1a

After my recent marathon baking session for the cake stall we held at work in aid of Children in Need, I found myself with almost a full tin of Carnation caramel sitting in the fridge.  There were only a couple of tablespoons missing.  (I will tell you what I used them for later.)

Having made 8 cakes only three days before I didn’t really feel much like making another one but something special was coming up, so I did.

fudge cake2My dad has been out of sorts ever since my mum died nearly ten years ago.  Now, at the age of 84, he is courting.  After four months of seeing his lady friend he decided that today was the day we should meet her and arranged to bring her round for a cup of tea and a piece of cake.  Chocolate cake is her favourite, apparently. 

fudge cake3 There were quite a few pieces of cake from the cake stall left over and they would have looked and tasted perfectly fine on a pretty cake stand, served up for tea.

But for my dad’s girlfriend, serving up leftover cake just didn’t seem right.  Apparently she’s 80 and they are just good friends.  Hmmmmm………..I tried that one myself, many years ago.  My dad didn’t believe it then, either.

fudge cake4I looked at the Carnation website and found a recipe for chocolate fudge cake.  It looked easy and quick to make, which would fit the bill on a day when I needed to produce a nice cake but was feeling pretty much caked out.

fudge cake5

It was indeed very quick and easy to make.  There was no creaming of butter either for the cake or the icing, and the icing was especially delicious.  You simply melt chocolate and beat in the caramel with a little icing sugar.

The cake was light and even, well risen too.  With the glossy icing on top it looked gorgeous and it tasted every bit as good as it looked.  This could easily become my new first choice recipe for a cake that has maximum flavour and good looks for minimum effort.fudge cake1

I couldn’t make my mind up whether I should feel nervous or not.  It’s not every day that you are introduced to your father’s girlfriend.  I was also worried that she would feel nervous and I wanted to put her at ease.  I wonder if this is how my parents felt the first time I brought a boyfriend home.  There would have been cake for tea then too, I expect.

As it turned out, she didn’t have any.  They had been out for lunch and were full up, they said.  Oh well, more for us.  She’s a very nice person, too.

Chocolate fudge cake – originally on the Carnation website but has since disappeared!


For the cake

175g self-raising flour

2½ tblsp cocoa powder

1tsp bicarbonate of soda

150g caster sugar

2 eggs

150ml corn oil

150ml milk

1tsp vanilla extract

1 tblsp Carnation caramel

For the icing

125g dark chocolate, 70%cocoa solids

1 can Carnation caramel, less the tablespoon used for the cake

1tsp vanilla extract

1 tblsp icing sugar


Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°fan/gas mk 4.  Grease two 7” sponge tins and line the bases with circles of parchment.

Sift the flour, bicarb and cocoa powder into a large bowl.  Add the sugar and stir together.

In a separate bowl, beat together the oil, milk, eggs and one tablespoon of the caramel until smooth.

Add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well.  Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Cool in the tins for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Beat in the rest of the tin of caramel and the vanilla.  Sift in the icing sugar and combine.

Use to fill and top the cake.  You could spread over the sides if you like, but the icing is quite sticky and this would make the cake difficult to eat without a fork I think.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

November 16, 2012


When Ruth of the blog Makey-Cakey announced another ingredient swap I signed up immediately.  You can see the invitation here.  I really enjoyed the last one I did – receiving a parcel of mystery ingredients and making something with them was great fun.  (You can read about my first time here.)

This time I was paired with Sally of the blog Recipe Junkie and she sent me this collection of ingredients.


Dried cranberries, macadamia nuts, amaretti biscuits and a Santa Claus.  I have no idea why, but the first thing that came into my mind was trifle !!

I did a bit of research into how I could use cranberries in a trifle and nothing much popped up.  But I did find a reference to a Nigella Lawson trifle that has cherries and amaretti biscuits in it so I based my trifle loosely on that.  It comes from the book “Forever Summer” and you can see the original recipe here.

The first thing I did was to soak my cranberries in something alcoholic – a bottle of rum came out of the booze cupboard first so I thought “why not”.  (In fact rum is what Nigella suggests as an alternative to the limoncello that she uses.)   I put half the cranberries into a jar, covered them with the lovely rum and left them to plump up alcoholically for a day or two.

trifle5 trifle5a

I used bought trifle sponges for the base, splitting them in half and spreading them with cranberry sauce, then sprinkled crushed amaretti biscuits on top.  Instead of making the Italian trifle version using eggs and mascarpone cheese I used a carton of read-made custard and topped it with double cream. 

trifle4 I anguished for some time about the addition of jelly.  Trifle always comes with jelly in my mind but somehow it didn’t seem quite appropriate.  This was going to be a very grown-up trifle, with the tart chewiness of the cranberries and the very adult rum – not your nursery version with raspberries, a splash of sherry and hundreds and thousands – oh no, much more sophisticated than that !!  (Not that there’s anything very sophisticated about bought custard !!)

Anyway, it worked.  The cranberries were chewy and noticeably boozy.  They contrasted well with the sweetness of the cake and custard and the addition of proper thick whipped cream, crushed amaretti biscuits and chopped macadamia nuts to decorate just finished it off perfectly. 

trifle3 In fact it would be a perfect alternative pudding for Christmas !!

Here’s the general idea:

Put 100g of dried cranberries in a jar, cover with rum and press down.  Put the lid on and leave it for a day or two.

Take enough trifle sponges to cover the bottom of your dish, cut them in half horizontally and spread with cranberry sauce, sandwich-fashion.  Sprinkle a layer of crushed amaretti biscuits on top. 

Tip the soaked cranberries on top of the cake and add more rum if you think necessary (!) to make sure the sponges are properly soaked.  Pour a carton of ready-made custard on top, spreading out evenly to fill any gaps.

Cover the custard with whipped double cream.  Sprinkle some more crushed amaretti biscuits and some chopped macadamia nuts on top to decorate.  Chill for several hours or even overnight – the longer the better as this always seems to improve a trifle.  Place your Santa Claus in the middle and serve !!  Mine made about six servings.


As it happens, my trifle only needed about half the cranberries and only a few nuts and amaretti biscuits so I had lots left to make into something else.  So I made these:

trifle6 Cranberry, macadamia nut and orange squares.

I used the recipe for white chocolate and cherry squares which you can see here.  I simply substituted the cranberries and chopped macadamia nuts for the quantity of chocolate and cherries in the recipe and I also added the rind of one orange.  Then I added some crushed amaretti biscuits to the demerara sugar that was sprinkled on top. 

They were yummy and made a nice addition to our table of goodies at our Children in Need cake sale:

trifle7 More about that later !!

November 3, 2012


Late last year I spotted a beautiful bundt tin in a blog (used for a lemon and poppy seed cake recipe as it happens) and fell in love.  With some birthday and Christmas money burning a hole in my pocket I decided this was what I wanted to spend it on more than anything else.  I tracked one down at Amazon and could hardly contain myself until it arrived.

pumpkin cakeIt’s absolutely gorgeous and you can see the effect in the original post in the blog “DeliciousDeliciousDelicious” here.

I put it in my cupboard with all the other baking tins and there it stayed.  I was almost afraid of it.  Its beauty taunted me every time I reached for an ordinary round cake tin or a muffin tin, especially if I had to move it out of the way to get to the tin I wanted.

The truth is, I didn’t quite know what to do with it.  I have never made a bundt cake in my life and didn’t know if I could just use any old cake recipe – imagine how disappointed I would feel if the cake stuck to the tin, or sank, or didn’t work for some reason, perhaps because bundt cake mixture is different from other cake mixtures. 

Then the tin made another appearance in the same blog, this time used for a pumpkin spice cake – and the spell was broken.  I couldn’t wait to bake one for myself.

pumpkin cake5 I greased and floured the tin lovingly, followed the recipe precisely, and to my absolute relief and delight, the cake came out of the tin perfectly !! 

pumpkin cake2 pumpkin cake3

It was simplicity itself to make, the only tricky part being getting hold of all the ingredients.  The recipe uses a tin of pumpkin purée.  I searched in all my local supermarkets; Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and the Co-op.  None of them had it, or had even heard of it.

I was considering ordering it from Amazon when I mentioned it to a colleague at work and she said she had one at home that she got from Waitrose.  I immediately sent an email to Nick, who works in Sheffield where there is now a large Waitrose store, and off he toddled in his lunch break to grab the last two tins on the shelf.  That’s love for you, isn’t it !

pumpkin cake4 I took the cake to my friend Pat’s Macmillan coffee morning.  There were lots of other yummy cakes on sale, plus scones to die for, but my pumpkin cake won me the star baker award. It just goes to show what a difference a posh tin will make !

Pat recently visited her son who lives in Texas and she told me that all the American housewives used tinned pumpkin purée to make their famous pumpkin pies etc.  So I didn’t feel too guilty about not buying a real pumpkin and making my own.

pumpkin cake6 Not only did the cake look good, it tasted wonderful too.  I will definitely be making one of these for our Children in Need cake stall at work later this month.  It will be interesting to see how well it sells.  Normally, the best sellers are the glamorous cakes with lots of gooey icing on top, such as coffee and walnut or chocolate.  Cakes that are slightly out of the ordinary take longer to sell, apart from the good old carrot cake which the public seem to have a liking for.   Come to think of it, that is also usually slathered in a sweet frosting so maybe that’s the key.

Maybe I should decorate my gorgeous swirly cake with some gooey icing, or at least a drizzle of something……….but would it spoil the look ??

Here’s the recipe anyway.  I have the approval of DeliciousDeliciousDelicious to reproduce it and you can see the original post on his blog here.  I am most grateful to Peter for allowing me to pinch his idea, not only for the recipe, but also using exactly the same tin and a very similar photo !!  Which just goes to show that perfection is hard to improve upon.


200g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
250g soft brown sugar
50g Brazil nuts, chopped
3 eggs, lightly beaten
190ml vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 x 400g tin pumpkin purée


Pre-heat the oven to 175°C/155° fan.  Grease and flour your bundt tin*.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarb, salt and spices.

In a large bowl, mix together the beaten eggs, oil, sugar vanilla extract and pumpkin purée, until well combined.  Stir in the chopped brazil nuts.

Tip the flour mixture into the bowl and fold in, making sure everything is well combined.  Pour the mixture into the bundt tin and level the top.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until the cake passes the usual tests.  Cool in the tin for ten minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.

Cuts into 12-16 slices.

*If you haven’t got a bundt tin, use a 25cm square tin.  Otherwise you will find the tin at Amazon here.