September 22, 2013


crunchie cake For this month’s We Should Cocoa Challenge the aim was to bake a chocolate show stopper cake to celebrate three years of the challenge.  So when I was thinking what to bake for my sister in law Kathy’s birthday a chocolate cake with something special about it seemed to be a good idea.

crunchie cake2

I found this Bundt tin in a local factory shop and was dying for an opportunity to use it.  I had been hankering after a similar design of tin made by Nordic Ware but this one was a fraction of the price at £5.99.  It’s pretty hefty and has a non-stick coating but I greased it and floured it really well and crossed my fingers.

crunchie cake4 crunchie cake5

I was lucky – the cake turned out really well and although the definition wasn’t quite as sharp as it might have been with the more expensive tin I was pleased with the result.  (The Nordic Ware tin is still on my Christmas wish list though.)

I wanted to make something a bit different from just a chocolate cake so I used toffee yoghurt, chopped milk chocolate and a chopped Crunchie bar in the cake.  I drizzled a milk chocolate icing over it and decorated it with another chopped Crunchie bar, chocolate sprinkles and edible gold glitter.

crunchie cake7I was slightly concerned that the Crunchie pieces in the cake would become hard little nuggets ~ potential tooth breakers ~ once the cake was baked, but they melted away and added to the toffee flavour.  The pieces of chopped chocolate remained whole and made nice little hits of chocolate in every slice.

crunchie cake8The milk chocolate and toffee combination worked really well ~ I sometimes find the intense flavour given by dark chocolate a little too strong.

crunchie cake9

It was a huge cake and would cut easily into at least 16 pieces, ideal for a birthday party or any big crowd.  I used the basic Bundt cake recipe here as a basis for my adaptation. 


So many thanks to Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog for organising this month’s challenge, which is in honour of her partner Chele of Chocolate Teapot who has retired from blogging after three years.  You can see the details here.


225g softened butter

450g caster sugar

4 eggs

350g plain flour

½tsp bicarbonate of soda

½tsp salt

2 tblsp cocoa powder

350g toffee yoghurt (2 pots)

1 Crunchie bar

110g milk chocolate, chopped

For the icing and decoration:

100g milk chocolate

25g unsalted butter

30ml milk

1 Crunchie bar

chocolate sprinkles

edible glitter


Preheat the oven to 160°C / 140° fan / gas mk 3.  Grease and flour a large cake tin or Bundt tin.

In a food mixer (or by hand) beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy.

Mix the flour, bicarb, cocoa powder and salt in a separate bowl.  Chop the chocolate and Crunchie fairly small and drop the pieces into the flour mixture.

Beat the eggs into the mixture one at a time.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and continue by hand.

Sift one third of the flour mixture into the bowl followed by one tub of yoghurt and stir.  Repeat.  Then add the last third of flour including the chocolate pieces.  Stir well to combine.

Spoon the mixture into the tin, making sure to push it into the grooves.  Bake for 60-70 minutes, checking after 60.

Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.

To make the icing, melt the chocolate and butter in a Pyrex or similar bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Add the milk and beat well.

When the cake is completely cold, spoon the icing over it so that it runs down the sides.  Place a large plate under the cake to collect the drips so that it can be spooned back over the cake.

Decorate with pieces of chopped Crunchie, sprinkles and glitter.

Cuts into a minimum of 16 pieces.

September 20, 2013


I was pondering this month’s Alphabakes Challenge, which is to bake something beginning with the letter Q.  Most of my recipe books have nothing at all in the index for the letter Q, what few entries there are being quiche, quick or quince.  I was thinking that I had never actually seen a quince.  I have eaten a jar or two of quince jam in France where the fruit is called “coings” - delicious on toasted French bread - but other than that I know nothing about them.

quince tartletsI vaguely remembered that quite some time ago I bought a jar of quince paste, otherwise known as “membrillo”, for a recipe spotted in a magazine and didn’t think I had actually used it.  So with a bit of a rummage I found it at the back of the jam cupboard, only a year past its sell-by date.

quince tartlets7When I took the lid off it looked healthy enough and tasted nice but was more like a jam than a paste so then I got to thinking what I could use quince jam for.  So when I made some pastry a few days later I made a bit extra and rustled up a quick batch of quince and coconut tarts.

quince tartlets8

The recipe is based on the one for “rich coconut tartlets” in the Be-Ro book.  The recipe isn’t in the current edition but is in the previous one and the one my mum used for decades, probably a 1940 or 1950 edition.  She would make a batch of these most weekends, rarely weighing out the ingredients, just adding a spoonful of everything to some margarine and a beaten egg and mixing them together.  They would usually be filled with Robertson’s strawberry jam or occasionally lemon curd.

quince tartlets2 quince tartlets3 quince tartlets4They took hardly any time at all to make and brought back memories of my childhood ~ coming home from school, dropping my satchel on the floor and grabbing a bun from the tin before jumping on the settee to watch Blue Peter on the telly.  Happy days !!

(I even used my mum’s old bun tin to make them in, which was probably a wedding present or a newly wed purchase, making it more than 60 years old.)


This is my second entry for this month’s Alphabakes Challenge, created by Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of More than the occasional baker.  Having managed two Q’s – quiche and quince, not to mention quick, the only one left I can think of is “Queen of puddings”………….

quince tartlets5quince tartlets6


40zs shortcrust or sweet pastry (made with 4ozs plain flour and 2ozs fat)

2ozs butter or margarine

2ozs caster sugar

2ozs dessicated coconut

1 egg, beaten

6tsp quince jam or paste


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160°fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a 12 hole patty or bun tin.

Make the pastry as usual and cut out circles to line the tin.  Put ½tsp jam in the bottom of each tart.

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Add the egg and coconut and beat in.

Put 1tsp of mixture on top of the jam in each tart, pushing the mixture out to the edges so that the jam is hidden (to avoid it boiling out).

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden and the sponge is risen.

Leave to cool before serving.

Makes a dozen tarts.

September 18, 2013


This month, Dom of Bellau Kitchen has gone all sweet for his Random Recipe Challenge.  We are invited to choose a book at random and pick through the cakes and desserts section at the back to make something sweet in honour of his birthday which is in September.

apple cinnamon tart I was in France when the theme was “announced” and my selection of cookbooks in our little holiday home there is much more limited and rather different from the one here.  With eyes closed I ran my hand along the single shelf of cook books and pulled out this one by Linda Collister:

apple cinnamon tart2

 apple cinnamon tart2a

In spite of this being an absolutely gorgeous book, full of interesting recipes all beautifully photographed, I have never made anything from it.  So I flipped the pages and turned up a recipe for “apple cinnamon tart”.

I have actually looked at this recipe a few times before and rejected it, thinking that it looked too much trouble for what is essentially an apple pie.  So now was my chance to find out exactly how much trouble it was !!

Believe it or not, even though we were chez nous for the next two weeks, I never got the opportunity to make it, even though I managed to find a small packet of dried cranberries in the local supermarché.  But I stuck to the rules of the challenge and brought the book back home with me rather than “cheat” and choose a different one when we got back to England.

apple cinnamon tart3The pie is made using a sweet pastry case and filled with grated apple that has been tossed in cinnamon, and some dried fruit – I went for the cranberry option.

apple cinnamon tart4 The end result was in fact definitely worth the effort.  The combination of the sharp dried cranberries worked well with the Bramley apples and cinnamon.  Although next time I think I would halve the quantity of cinnamon making it a much more subtle hint of flavour.  Mind you, the fruit did look strangely brown like matchsticks due to the coating of cinnamon – but it was reassuringly exactly like the picture in the book.

This is a recipe that is easy enough to do when you want something a bit different from an ordinary apple pie and I will certainly be making it again.  We had ours warm with a blob of thick crème fraîche – the one called “crème fraîche d’Isigny” and is very much like a really good clotted cream.  (Having been introduced to it by friends in France we liked it so much that we brought a jar back with us.)


And it’s thanks once again to Dom for getting me to delve into a previously neglected recipe book and discovering a little gem of a recipe.  You can read all about this month’s challenge here.

Happy Birthday Dom, I hope it’s a good one !!


For the pastry

180g plain flour

pinch of salt

20g caster sugar

120g cold unsalted butter

1 egg yolk, mixed with about 2tsp cold water

For the filling

3 large or 4 medium Bramley apples

2tsp ground cinnamon (I would us 1tsp next time)

2tblsp caster sugar

30g dried cranberries (or other dried fruit such as raisins or cherries)

2tblsp golden syrup

30g cold unsalted butter, diced


To make the pastry, mix together the dry ingredients, rub in the butter and bring together with the egg yolk and water.  Add a splash more water if it’s too dry.  Wrap in cling film and chill for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Grease a 23 cm tart tin or dish and place a baking sheet in the oven to heat up.

Roll out the pastry to line the tin or dish and chill again while preparing the filling.

Peel and core the apples then grate coarsely and put into a large bowl.  Add the cinnamon, sugar and cranberries and mix well to combine.  Spoon the mixture into the pastry case and drizzle the golden syrup over.  Dot with the butter.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the apple cooked.  If you have used a loose bottomed tin, leave to cool slightly before turning out.  Serve warm. 

Serves 6-8, depending how large you like your slice of pie.

September 15, 2013


Halloween pumpkin cake1

Before we went to France for a few weeks in the middle of August we had the usual scramble to eat up everything in the fridge and veg drawer (resulting in a few rather “interesting” but none the less tasty pasta bakes and gratins).  As always, not wanting to throw good food away, we took a random selection of stuff with us to finish up.

This included half a butternut squash and a couple of oranges.  This is why, in temperatures of 30°C, I found myself in my little French kitchen baking a Halloween cake !!

I have made something similar before which I wrote about here, but then I came across this recipe on the BBC Good Food website so decided to give it a try instead.

 Halloween pumpkin cake2 Halloween pumpkin cake3

I used my ancient food processor to grate the squash.  This resulted in rather large bits of vegetable in the cake, which I was rather dubious about.  Still, once it was grated there was nothing I could do about it – the whole thing was blitzed in seconds, which was the whole point of course, but it gave me no time to change my mind and try to grate it a bit smaller by hand.

As it turned out, it was no detriment to the quality of the cake once it was baked, even though the bits of squash were rather obvious !!

Halloween pumpkin cake5

As usual I didn’t have all the right ingredients in stock so I had to make a few substitutions.  Instead of the 3tsp mixed spice in the recipe I used 1tsp each of ginger, cinnamon and ground nutmeg.  I didn’t have any sultanas so used raisins instead and in place of the light muscovado sugar I used a soft light brown sugar as that’s what seems to be available in French shops.

The recipe gives instructions for a cream cheese topping which was absolutely delicious.  I also added a few gold star sprinkles, just because I found them in the cupboard when I was hunting for my baking ingredients.

Tea_Time_Treatrs_logoThe cake was delicious, very large, very moist and very moreish.  I think this will become my favourite pumpkin cake and I am entering it into this month’s Tea Time Treats Challenge, hosted by Karen of Lavender and Lovage, in  conjunction with Kate of What Kate Baked.  The current challenge is for flapjacks, oats and traybakes.


300g self raising flour

300g soft light brown sugar

3tsp mixed spice (or 1tsp each of ground ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon)

2tsp bicarbonate of soda

175g raisins

½tsp salt

4 eggs, beaten

200g butter, melted

1 orange, juiced and zested (you will only use 1tblsp of the juice)

500g pumpkin or butternut squash, weight when peeled

For the topping

200g soft cheese

85g softened butter

100g icing sugar

1 orange, juiced and zested


Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180°fan / gas mk 6.  Butter and line a 30 x 20cm baking tin with baking paper.

Put the flour, sugar, spices, bicarb, raisins and salt into a bowl and mix well to combine.

Put the melted butter into another large bowl, beat in the eggs then stir in the orange zest and 1tblsp orange juice.  Add the dry ingredients and mix well.  Add the pumpkin or squash and mix well again to make sure it is all combined evenly.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden and springy to the touch.

While the cake is baking you can make the frosting by beating together all the ingredients (only half of the orange juice).  I found this easiest to do by simply blitzing it all together in the food processor.  Keep in the fridge until needed.

When the cake is done, leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.  Prick all over with a skewer and drizzle the other half of the orange juice.

When the cake is completely cool beat the frosting to loosen it and then spread it over the top of the cake.  Swirl with a fork or add sprinkles.

Cuts into 20-24 pieces.  Keeps well in the fridge for a few days.

September 10, 2013


When I first made quiche, back in the “70’s”, it was only ever something similar to quiche Lorraine.  A bacon, cheese and onion tart with a posh name.

These days quiche appears regularly at our table but more often than not it’s a great way to use up bits and bobs in the fridge - although I do sometimes make one from planned ingredients.  Quiche makes a great lunch, served with a leafy salad and a glass of something nicely chilled !!

quiche1 My the quiche of the day in this case was smoked salmon, fennel and spinach.  All leftovers.

Now I know it might seem extravagant to have so much smoked salmon as “leftovers” but in reality it was a small pack of smoked salmon slices that I bought for an evening when we were entertaining guests to dinner.  Unfortunately on the day things went pear-shaped and we ran out of time.  All efforts were concentrated on getting the important courses on the table so whatever I was planning to do with the smoked salmon was shelved and we had cheese footballs and olives as nibbles instead.

quiche2 Another thing about this quiche of the day is that I couldn’t be bothered to do things properly.  I did it the way my mum did it.

She always made her pastry with self-raising flour and lard and she never baked blind – she would have considered such a thing as a shameful waste of gas in the oven.  Whenever I make something by instinct it’s always the way she taught me.  Consequently this quiche was made with self-raising flour and the nearest thing I could find to lard or Cookeen in a French supermarket - a French solid vegetable fat called “Olma”.   Also it was baked in a Pyrex dish, just like my mum would have done – she didn’t possess a fancy loose-bottomed tin – all her pies were baked in a Pyrex dish or plate. 

quiche3 Along with the small pack of smoked salmon slices, I used the best part of a bulb of fennel and some frozen spinach.  In spite of the potential for a soggy bottom it was in fact nice and crisp, which shows that sometimes you can break the rules and get away with it !!



We had our quiche for lunch on a really hot day last week, served in the garden under an umbrella to keep us out of the intense heat of the midday sun.  Only mad dogs and Englishmen………  It was delicious.

This month’s Alphabakes Challenge is to bake something with the letter “Q” in it.  Judging by the number of options in the indexes of my cookbooks, I guess Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of the more than occasional baker will be getting a lot of quiches as entries this month !!  My other options would have been something made with quince, something quick or Queen of puddings…..



For the pastry:

6ozs self raising flour

3ozs solid vegetable fat, Cookeen, Trex, or similar

water to mix

For the filling

100g smoked salmon, cut into strips

the best part of a bulb of fennel, trimmed and sliced

a few handfuls of fresh spinach, or a clump of frozen spinach

3 eggs

a good dollop of crème fraîche

1tblsp double cream


salt and pepper

oil or Flora Cuisine for frying


Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan.  Grease a 23cm dia. Pyrex flan or pie dish.

Make the pastry in your favoured way and roll out to line the dish.

Cook the spinach, drain and squeeze out most of the liquid.  Spread over the pastry base.

Fry the fennel in oil or Flora Cuisine until soft, don’t allow it to brown.  Distribute evenly over the top of the spinach in the dish.

Arrange the strips of smoked salmon over the fennel and spinach.

Break the eggs into a jug and add a good dollop of crème fraîche.  Add a good splash of double cream, probably about a tablespoon, and enough milk to make up to 300ml.  (The actual proportions of these does not seem to matter, so long as you make them up to 300ml including the eggs.)  Beat together until well combined and season with salt and pepper.

Pour the egg mixture over the filling and bake for 25-30 minutes until the pastry is golden and the filling just about set.

Allow to cool slightly so that the filling settles back down before serving.

Serves 6.

September 8, 2013



I was shopping for some ready made puff pastry in the local French supermarket the other day and spotted this pack which was oblong not circular.  It was the first time I had seen anything other than circular puff pastry in France.  When I got it home I noticed an interesting “serving suggestion” on the wrapper.

It looked very much like a tarte flambée, or flammekueche, and it gave me an idea for lunch.


An authentic flammekueche, from the Alsace region of France, would have a bread dough as the base.  In actual fact the last time I made it the recipe required pizza dough.  The idea of using puff pastry was much easier and quicker and when  baked it was nice and light.  I would definitely do it this way again.

You simply spread a mixture of crème fraîche and cream cheese over the base, add fried onions and lardons and bake.  I also added a few strips of Cantal cheese, just because it was in the fridge needing to be used up.

flammekueche4So in no time at all you have something that can be served as a light lunch, snack, or in smaller portions as a nibble to go with apéritifs.  What’s not to love?


1 pack of puff pastry, circular or oblong

1 small pack of lardons or a few rashers of thick smoked bacon,  chopped

1 large onion

1 tblsp crème fraîche

1 tblsp cream cheese

oil for frying

a few slices of Cantal, Camembert, Brie, or other cheese (optional)


Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 7.  Line a baking sheet with baking paper (I used the wrapping from the pack of pastry).

Unroll the pastry onto the baking sheet and score a line with a sharp knife around the edge.  Be careful not to go all the way through the pastry and make the line about 2cm from the outer edge.

Mix together the crème fraîche and cream cheese and spread evenly over the pastry within the scored margin.

Peel and thinly slice the onion and fry gently in a little oil until translucent, not too browned.  Scatter the onion over the pastry along with the lardons or bacon.  Add a few slices of cheese if using.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the cheese is bubbling.  Serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a decent lunch, 4 as a snack, or many more if cut into thinner strips with apéros.

September 6, 2013


tarte tatin2

The weather here in France has been glorious for the three weeks that we have been here.  Apart from the occasional shower last week we have had clear blue skies and sunshine nearly every day, which is such a joy considering that every one of our previous holidays last year and earlier this year have been quite cold and wet.  It reminds us why we bought our little holiday home in France in the first place !!

Anyway, one of the things I love about our holiday in August is being able to get blackberries from the hedgerows around the château.  They have been late in ripening but now they are plentiful.  They are small and not very juicy but full of flavour, so different from the large, almost tasteless ones sold in supermarkets back home.  They are also almost entirely free from grubs too.

The other day we gathered nearly two pounds of beautiful blackberries so I decided to make some of them into a blackberry and apple tarte tatin.

tarte tatin4 tarte tatin5

I used the Raymond Blanc recipe that works every time as I personally prefer my tarte tatin not overly caramelised or bitter.  I wrote about it here.  You can also find it on the BBC website here.

This time I simply added about 175g of washed blackberries on top of the apples after cooking them in the oven and before putting the pastry on top.

tarte tatin1 

I also followed some advice in a Guardian blog post which you can see here, and allowed the fruit to cool a little before adding the pastry.  I’m not sure how much difference this made but the end result was delicious.

tarte tatin3

I took ours to lunch with friends where we ate on their little terrace in the sunshine.  I served it with a dish of crème fraîche and cream, whipped together with a little icing sugar.  A perfect dessert for the very end of summer.