May 26, 2014


chocolate and damson meringue pie

Dom’s Random Recipe Challenge this month is to cook a recipe chosen at random from a book about to be thrown out.  You can read the details here.

As you may know, I’ve been doing a lot of clearing out lately, having taken boxfuls of stuff to the charity shops or the tip, including plenty of books.  I do find cook books very difficult to get rid of though.  There’s always the chance that there might just be that one recipe inside, the one I simply can’t live without…….

 chocolate and damson meringue pie2

However, I can definitely say that I won’t miss this little M&S book.  I haven’t used it at all and most of the recipes are replicated in other books on the shelf.


But I flipped the pages to see what would turn up.  A chocolate meringue pie.  Hmmmmmm….

 chocolate and damson meringue pie3

As well as sorting out and chucking out we are also in the process of eating up and I happened to have some very nice chocolate for baking in a box in the kitchen cupboard, also plenty of eggs and sugar.  So I thought I might as well have a go.

It was lovely.

chocolate and damson meringue pie4 I confess I didn’t stick absolutely to the recipe.  I was supposed to make a biscuit crumb base from chocolate digestives and butter, cheesecake style, but I didn’t have any chocolate biscuits in the house.  (Far too dangerous.)

But I did have half a pack of ready made pastry and since I would usually make a lemon meringue pie with pastry, not biscuits, I thought I would do the same this time.

I also had a jar of home made damson jam that needed eating up and it occurred to me that a hint of damson might take the edge off the potential sweetness of the chocolate filling and the meringue.  I was right and it worked a treat.

chocolate and damson meringue pie5

The pastry was crisp, the meringue was golden and crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy inside, the chocolate filling was thick and velvety and the damson a nice little surprise of sharpness with each mouthful. 

I’m not sure I would rush to make it again, but you never know.


Half a pack of ready made shortcrust pastry (or make your own from 6oz flour and 3oz butter)

Or, make a biscuit crumb base mix from 225g dark chocolate digestives and 52g melted butter.

For the filling **

3 large egg yolks

4 tblsp caster sugar

4 tblsp cornflour

600ml (1 pint) milk

100g plain chocolate

2 tblsp damson jam (blackcurrant or blackberry would also be nice)

For the meringue topping

2 large egg whites

100g caster sugar

¼ tsp vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170° fan / gas mk 5.  Grease a 23 cm (approx) flan dish or tin.

Roll out the pastry and line your flan dish, fill with baking paper and baking beans and bake blind for 15 minutes. 

(Or if you are using the biscuit crumb base, press it into the bottom and up the sides of the dish and there’s no need to blind bake.)

While the pasty is cooking, make the chocolate filling.   Melt the chocolate in a microwave, or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.

Beat the egg yolks, caster sugar and cornflour together in a medium bowl to make a smooth paste.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk almost to the boil and pour onto the egg paste, whisk together. 

Pour in the melted chocolate and whisk together. 

Return the chocolate mixture to the pan and heat gently, stirring, until it begins to thicken. 

(**I found this made way too much filling for my flan dish and next time would reduce all the ingredients by a third except for the chocolate.)

Spread the damson jam evenly over the pastry or biscuit base, pour in the chocolate mixture and level the top.

To make the meringue, put the egg whites in a large bowl and whisk to soft peak stage.  Whisk in two thirds of the caster sugar, a spoonful at a time, until the mixture is smooth and glossy.  Fold in the rest of the sugar and the vanilla extract.  Pour over the chocolate filling and spread out to cover completely and evenly.

Bake for 30 minutes until the meringue is golden and crisp.  Serve warm or cool.

Serves 6.

May 21, 2014


parsnip and lemon cake

This could easily be the last cake I ever make in my old oven in my old kitchen.  I spotted the recipe in a blog and it was one of those recipes that I felt compelled to make as soon as I had the opportunity.

kitchen after

My kitchen, spruced up for the estate agent’s photos.

We’re hoping that it won’t be long now before we move.  It’s eleven weeks since we accepted the offer on our house and with any luck we should move in early June.  I have mixed feelings about leaving the house where I have lived for nearly thirty years, especially about leaving my old kitchen.  Apart from anything else, it’s huge. 

The cabinets are old fashioned now but the doors are made of solid oak so we have never had the heart to change or paint them.  They have successfully survived several new worktops, ovens, appliances, revamps and numerous parties, not to mention cooking disasters and triumphs.  But the main issue I have with my kitchen is actually its size.  The space between the two sides is so great that we travel several miles a year just fetching stuff out of the cupboards to cook with!  If we were to stay here we would be thinking about changing it for a more modern design and a tighter layout.

 kitchen new Our new kitchen.  The smile on Nick’s face gave it his seal of approval on the day we viewed the house.

My new kitchen is tiny by comparison.  There are lots of cabinets, but the space is small.  It has a half size dishwasher and a single bowl sink.

The house is a recently renovated between-the-wars semi and the kitchen, like everything else in the house is brand new.  And I have to say, I’m really looking forward to it.  I was born and brought up in a house like this so it felt like a comfy old slipper as soon as I walked through the front door.  To have that familiarity but with a brand new kitchen, bathroom, electrics, plumbing, carpets and everything else is going to be a total joy.  The people who have renovated it have even managed to squeeze a downstairs loo into what was the broom cupboard under the stairs – they deserve a medal for that!

 parsnip and lemon cake2 parsnip and lemon cake3

So for my last cake in my old kitchen, I made the parsnip and lemon cake which was delicious.  There are a lot of parsnips in it and, being in a hurry as usual, I made the mistake of grating them in my food processor.  As I tipped them into the cake mixture I realised that they were more shredded than grated.  I looked at the long strands of parsnip in the cake tin and wondered if it would work but it did.

parsnip and lemon cake4

As well as parsnips and lemon the cake contains sultanas, spices and a small amount of cold tea.  That’s something I’m always a bit nervous of putting in a cake but it added a nice slight hint of flavour to this one.

The texture was lovely and it kept well.  If anything it was even better on day two and beyond.  A cake I will definitely be adding to my repertoire and look forward to making again and again.  Even Nick, who doesn’t really like cake that much, enjoyed it so maybe I will make it the first time I bake in my new kitchen!

Thanks go to “The Gentleman Baker” in whose blog I discovered the cake, and you can read all about it and see the recipe here:

Parsnip and lemon cake.

May 15, 2014


The We Should Cocoa Challenge this month is to bake a chocolate cake for £1.  The idea is to raise awareness of the fact that so many people have very little money available to spend on food and have to survive on £1 or less per day.  You can read all about the challenge and the statistics here.

economical chocolate cakeI priced up my standard recipe for an everyday, all-in-one chocolate cake and it worked out at £1.39 if I used the cheapest own brand ingredients and also omitted the icing.  It then occurred to me that if I only had £1 to spend on a chocolate cake, would I bother to make one or just go out and buy a cheap one?

In both the Co-op and Tesco you can buy a chocolate cake for exactly £1 so I did, just to see what it was like.

economical chocolate cake5

It was a pathetic offering and looked pretty small on a tea plate, measuring barely 5” in diameter.  According to the information on the box it would serve six! 

So I decided it was worth a try to see if I could do better for my £1.  I was really aiming to bake a “normal” chocolate sponge, with regular cake ingredients so I used own brand versions of the usual things, the main substitution being Co-op Buttery spread instead of butter.  I then scaled down the ingredients in the recipe by a third.

economical chocolate cake1

I don’t have any 6” sandwich tins so I simply baked one 8” cake.  When I took it out of the oven it already looked a lot more inviting than the shop bought cake and I still had enough left from the £1 to put some chocolate butter icing on the top.

economical chocolate cake2 The bought cake weighed only 215g and mine weighed 500g, so when cut into six pieces the home made cake definitely won on size as well as appearance.

economical chocolate cake3 Of course the taste also had to be taken into consideration so Nick and my dad offered to do an unbiased assessment.  The feeling was that the bought cake tasted slightly more chocolatey but overall the home made cake was best because of its texture, appearance and the size of the slice.

Of course even if the ingredients only cost £1, you still have the cost of baking it in the oven, which I worked out to be 40-50p.  You need a cake tin or mould and, as you can’t buy just 100g of flour or sugar, if you have to invest in full packs of all the ingredients, that would be a total cost of £7.98.

But if I only had £1 and wanted to treat the family to something that looks nice on the table, it would definitely be worth going to the effort of baking, rather than just picking up a cheap version in the supermarket.


alphabakes Anyway, luckily my economical chocolate cake also fits in with this month’s Alphabakes Challenge, which is to cook something which has the letter “E” in it.  The challenge is run by Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of The  more than occasional baker and you can see the details here.

Ingredients (prices are given for own brand basic ingredients)

For the cake

100g self raising flour, 4p

100g caster sugar, 14p

100g Co-op Buttery spread, 20p

2 large eggs, 33p (I buy mine from the local farm, six free range for £1)

1tbslp (13g) cocoa powder, 10p

1tsp (5g) baking powder, 1p

Total for the cake 82p

For the icing

20g Co-op Buttery, 4p

40g icing sugar, 8p

½tblsp cocoa powder, 5p

Total for the buttercream icing 17p

Grand total for the whole cake …… 99p


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease and line the base of a 20cm (8”) round cake tin.

Mix the cocoa powder with 1 tblsp warm water until smooth then put into a large bowl with all the other cake ingredients and beat well until smooth.

Transfer to the prepared tin and level the top.  Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until firm and springy. 

Leave in the tin for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely before applying the icing.

To make the icing, beat the Buttery and icing sugar together in a small bowl until smooth and creamy. 

Mix the cocoa powder with barely a teaspoon of water until it becomes a smooth paste.  Beat this into the icing and mix well.  Spread on top of the cake.

Cuts into six generous slices !!

May 11, 2014


custard tart

The milk round on our road changed hands about ten years ago.  The old milk man was a genial kind of chap with a fascinating squint and a quirky sense of humour.  He would call on a Friday evening to suggest we might like to contribute to the ageing milk person’s retirement fund and was grovellingly apologetic if he had to put the price up.  The new one was grumpy and careless.  I had to cajole him into collecting his money and empty bottles.  I fell out with him a couple of times and then sacked him after he left nine empty bottles on our doorstep for a fortnight while we were away on holiday.

For five years or more we were obliged to buy milk from the supermarkets, something that I hated and regretted having to do.  Now our milk and eggs come from the local farm.  The eggs are free range and £1 for a box of six.  In that box there can be a variety of different sizes, the largest often being twice the size of the smallest, but generally averaging out at “large”.

custard tart2 The milk is from the cows in the fields that surround us and is pasteurised on the farm.  The farmer began pasteurising his own milk a few years ago and started selling it from a fridge in a shed, with an honesty box, by the farm gate.  Sales took off (it’s lovely milk) and he put up a solid building with vending machines.  As well as the eggs and milk he now sells his own cream and butter, bread, cakes and pastries from a local bakery, and potatoes.  In the summer there is also home made ice cream and local strawberries.  It’s a marvellous resource for the local people, especially as the goods on sale are far better quality and cheaper than the recently built huge supermarket not far away.

Then a neighbour offered to deliver the milk from the farm to residents in our road so we kind of got our milk round back.  However, it’s not quite like that.  He fetches the milk from the farm and delegates the delivery of it to his teenage kids, which is a great way to teach them that money doesn’t grow on trees but, kids being kids, deliveries are sometimes a little………irregular.

custard tart3

If we’re lucky it arrives at 8am before they go to school.  If we’re unlucky it arrives at 11pm when they remember that they’ve forgotten to bring it and if we’re very unlucky it doesn’t arrive at all.  But it’s tons better than having no milk round and I’m very happy with the service.

The upshot of all this is that sometimes I run out of milk and have to go to the farm to fetch some.  Other times the fridge is full of it, as happened one day last week when the non-delivery resulted in me fetching some then an 11pm delivery and a subsequent glut of milk.

custard tart4 I also had plenty of eggs and half a pack of ready-made pastry (my current weakness) so I looked at them and the idea of a custard tart suddenly became irresistible.  I made it the way my mum always made it, using just milk and eggs, no cream.  As a child the only cream we ever had was that from the top of the full-cream milk, or from a tin on Sundays.  So I made my custard tart using the Be-Ro book recipe and it was positively lovely, just like my mum used to make.


I am entering my custard tart into this month’s Tea Time Treats Challenge, a monthly baking challenge run by Karen of Lavender and Lovage and Jane of The Hedge Combers.  This month the theme is “open top tarts, pies and quiches” and you can see the details here.


½ pack of ready-made shortcrust pastry (or make your own with 100g flour)

2 large eggs

300ml (½ pint) milk

2 tblsp sugar

nutmeg (I used ready grated from a jar, just like my mum used to)


Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170°fan / gas mk 5.  Grease a 20cm flan dish or tin.

Roll out the pastry and bake blind for 15-20 minutes until golden. 

While the pastry is baking, whisk the eggs in a jug or bowl.  Put the milk and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.  Pour onto the eggs and mix thoroughly.   Allow to cool.

Reduce the oven temperature to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4. 

Pour the milk carefully through a sieve into the pastry case, sprinkle with nutmeg and bake for 20 minutes until set.  (When you take it out of the oven it might have a very slight wobble but will firm up as it cools.)

Serve warm or cold.  It slips down perfectly with no additions on the plate.

Serves up to six people.  Four would be more like it, or in our house, only two.

May 5, 2014


rhubarb, ginger and white chocolate crumble Depressingly, we are still here, in the house which displays the estate agent’s board outside, announcing to the whole world that we are “SOLD”. 

Things are moving very slowly, as we knew they would, but knowing doesn’t actually make it any easier.  It’s heartbreaking to see the vegetable patch with only weeds in it and the greenhouse empty.  We occasionally drive past our new house, the one we are moving to just a few miles away, and check it’s still there, that it isn’t all just a dream.  We expected to have moved by now, had things gone to plan.  Unfortunately our buyers “changed their buyers” three weeks into the process so went back to square one and we’re now in a chain of five instead of just three.

Anyway, baking is good therapy and to cheer myself up I picked up this little book by Joanne Harris and Fran Warde the other day.  It’s full of recipes inspired by the Chocolat series of novels by Joanne Harris, two of which I have read and enjoyed, the third sits on the bookshelf in our little French cottage, a treat to look forward to on our next visit.

rhubarb, ginger and white chocolate crumble2This book has a lot of nice recipes, many of which I am unlikely to ever cook but reading them is a joy.  Being short of baking time, books and equipment at the moment reduces my ability to bake much and I have to say, I don’t really have the heart for it either.  But when my dad comes for his dinner on a Sunday evening a crumble is the order of the day.  He and Nick love a good crumble and in this book there is a recipe called “Roux’s Ginger Crumble” and is described as “Spicy yet mellow, just like Roux”  (Roux being a character in the novels.)

rhubarb, ginger and white chocolate crumble3The recipe uses apples, pears, stem ginger and dark chocolate.  Inspection of my ever diminishing store cupboards revealed no stem ginger but a few spoonfuls of ginger preserve in a jar, a bar of white chocolate, a jar of “gelée de coings”  (quince jelly, a gift from a friend in France) and a cooking apple.  There were also a few sticks of rhubarb on our plants in the garden.  Knowing how well rhubarb goes with both ginger and white chocolate, I decided to have a go at a version of the recipe.

When we move I shall miss the rhubarb plant as much as anything.  I still miss the two huge rhubarb plants left behind when my dad moved after my mum died.  It has taken several years to get our own plants going and they provide enough fruit for a few crumbles every year.  The sticks on our plants are a bit short and young yet but…..I decided we might as well have them otherwise “our buyers” will be the ones to enjoy them.

rhubarb, ginger and white chocolate crumble4It’s difficult to make a crumble look like anything other than a splodge of pudding on a plate so I didn’t try very hard.  However, it was, without doubt, truly delicious.  It got the thumbs up from both Nick and my dad and I will definitely be making it again.

This is my version, inspired by, rather than adapted from, the “Chocolat” recipe:


For the crumble

200g plain flour

100g butter

75g golden caster sugar

1 tblsp demerara sugar (optional)

For the filling

a few short sticks of rhubarb, wiped and cut into 2cm pieces

1 large cooking apple, peeled and sliced

2 tblsp ginger preserve

1 tblsp quince jelly (optional)

50g golden caster sugar

100g bar white chocolate, chopped


Preheat the oven to 200°C / 180° fan / gas mk 6.  Grease a suitable baking dish, not too shallow, not too deep.

To make the crumble topping, put the flour and butter into a food processor and blitz to make breadcrumbs.  Add the caster sugar and pulse briefly to combine.

Put the rhubarb pieces and apple slices into the baking dish, mixing them together in a single, even layer. 

Put the ginger preserve and quince jelly (if using) into a small saucepan, add a small splash of water and heat gently and stir until they are all melted together into a syrup.  Pour this over the fruit.

Sprinkle over the caster sugar then the chopped chocolate.

Top with the crumble mixture and sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top (if using).

Bake for about 30 minutes until the crumble is golden and the fruit is bubbling up around the edges.

Serve warm with cream, custard, ice cream or crème fraîche.

Serves 4-6.