June 18, 2020


My friend Gaynor often makes flapjack (or is it flapjacks plural, I'm never sure which) using condensed milk and, every time I taste it (them), I hassle her to give me the recipe.  Then one day she did but I'll be blowed if I can find where I filed it.

This might be because although I'm an enthusiastic consumer of flapjack (or flapjacks) I rarely make them.  About once every five years at the most in fact.  So although I enthusiastically vowed to make the recipe without delay, obviously some time has passed and …… it was mislaid.  Or misfiled.  It will turn up because everything does, eventually.

The thing about flapjack made with condensed milk is that it is not of the dry, crispy, "make an appointment to see the dentist now, just in case" motorway services kind of flapjack.  It's deliciously squidgy, chewy, crumbly and almost fudgy.  Utterly delicious.  You can add things to it, such as chocolate chips, chopped ginger or apricots, but for my first venture into the world of condensed milk flapjack I just wanted it au nature.

Luckily there are a few other recipes for flapjack made with condensed milk to be found on the internet.  I chose this one because it made a smallish quantity.  Some seem to make enough to feed a football team.  Even two football teams at half time.  I just wanted enough to take on a picnic.  It was to be a three person socially distanced picnic with my brother.
For twelve weeks he has hardly been out of the house for fear of the Armageddon beyond his front door.  We decided to meet somewhere between his house and ours and chose the public park at Darley Dale.
It's a lovely spot and we were lucky with the weather.  It was a beautiful sunny day, but not too hot, so just right for a leisurely stroll around the park to take in the duck pond, the croquet lawn and the bowling green.  There were plenty of people there but the paths are wide and nobody had to break the social distancing rule of 2m in order to get around.

There are also plenty of benches around the park to take the weight off the feet and enjoy a picnic of coffee from a flask and home made flapjack.  All of the benches seemed to be quite ancient, most being engraved with the name of a local person who had presumably enjoyed the park decades before.
I couldn't help wondering how one qualified to have one's name commemorated on a park bench.

As opposed to on the side of the bowling green litter bin!
125g butter
100g golden syrup
90g golden caster sugar
280g porridge oats
Half a 400g tin of condensed milk (I used just over half)
2 tsp vanilla extract
Line a 20cm (8") square tin with baking paper.  Preheat the oven to 180 C / 160 fan / gas mk4.
Put the butter, syrup and sugar into a large non stick pan and heat gently until the butter has melted.  Stir often and do not let it boil.
Add the condensed milk and vanilla and heat for a further 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in the oats.
Pour into the tin and level the top.  If anything have the edges slightly thicker than the middle as the edges will then be less likely to brown or burn too quickly.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until the edges are brown and the centre turning golden.
Leave in the tin for 20 minutes then lift out and cut into 16 squares.  This makes nice deep squares but if you use a larger tin you could make shallower fingers.
Cuts into 16 flapjack(s).

June 10, 2020


I made this tart this time last year while my brother was staying with us in France on holiday.  The cherries were from our own cherry tree and the recipe was in a book by Ed Kimber.
It was delicious!

Sadly, our cherry tree died after the heatwaves we had in France last summer.  However, the cherry season is upon us and there are plenty to buy in the shops, on both sides of the English Channel.  Not only that but I have tracked down the recipe!

It is essentially a custard tart with cherries in it, although a much richer custard tart than I usually make.  The recipe uses sweet shortcrust pastry.  For mine I cheated and used an oblong ready made puff pastry, just because I already had it in stock.
The traditional cherry custard dessert would be a clafoutis, universally popular at this time of year.  It's similar but different, being made with cherries and a rich batter but no pastry crust.  My favourite clafoutis recipe is here.
This is where we ate it.
Daisy kept a watch for passing wildlife that might have had their eye on it.
Hugo kept a watch for any fallen bits of pie that might come his way.
It being that time of year, we sat out late, listening to the crickets, the owls and the swallows.  When the swallows had gone to bed the bat formation team came out to entertain us. 
I miss all that, more than I ever could have imagined.
Shop bought pastry, sweet, shortcrust or puff (or make your own)
6 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
250ml whipping cream
100ml milk
150g cherries, stoned
Butter a 23cm round or an oblong tart tin.  Roll out the pastry to fit the tin then put in the fridge for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200C / 180 fan / gas mk 6.   Line the pastry case with baking paper and baking beans and blind bake for 15 minutes.  Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 170C / 160 fan / gas mk 3.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cream and milk together until well combined.  Pour into the pastry shell and scatter the stoned cherries evenly over the top.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until just set with a slight wobble.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.  Dust with icing sugar before serving.
Serves 8.

June 6, 2020

BANANA AND LEMON DRIZZLE CAKE and a tale of two banana cakes.

It was the usual story, three neglected bananas calling to me from the fruit bowl, getting browner with every day.  So, with nothing better to do than bake a cake I decided to make one that had popped up a couple of times in various places on the internet recently.
It's a Mary Berry recipe for a banana and lemon drizzle cake from her book "One Step Ahead".
Banana and lemon are two of my favourite cakes and the combination sounded slightly intriguing.  I decided to give it a go.  Nick is not fond of (dislikes intensely) banana cake but loves lemon cake so I hoped that the lemon might make the cake edible for him.  That he might even enjoy a slice. 
I was wrong.  It was not for him, but I thought it was a lovely cake.  The sharpness of the lemon contrasted well with the sweetness of the banana and the texture was lovely.  Definitely a keeper and one that I shall make again.  Useful for the charity cake stalls methinks - easy and quick to make, a bit unusual and easy to cut into robust slices.
Now for banana cake number two.  Well number one actually as I made it a few weeks before the other one.
It was early in the lockdown and I had been taking stock of what baking ingredients I had in the house.  One of the things I was short of was butter, or rather, the spreadable butter that I usually use for cakes.  Then I remembered a recipe I had seen on the Trex website here.  There are numerous recipes for cakes, biscuits and buns on this website and I had spotted one for a banana cake with apricots in it a while ago.  "Why not?" I thought.  Years ago I had made something called a War Cake using lard instead of butter and it was delicious.
Well, it was disappointing to say the least.  It had a lovely texture, the cream cheese topping was divine and the little bits of apricot in it were a nice touch.  But unfortunately it tasted of lard.  It was not a strong lardy flavour (and I know that Trex is not lard) but it was unmistakably not butter.  It had a slightly cloying after taste that was quite unpleasant.  I will probably make the cake again one day using butter instead because everything else about it was good and it deserves a second chance.
Ingredients for the banana and lemon cake
175g butter, softened (I used Stork for Cakes)
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
300g self raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
zest of half a lemon
2 tblsp milk
For the topping
juice of 1 lemon
100g granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C / 160 fan / gas mk5.  Butter a 20cm round, deep springform tin and line the base with a circle of baking parchment.
Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and using a hand held electric whisk, beat together until smooth and creamy.  Pour into the tin and level the top.
Bake for 45-50 minutes until lightly browned and done.  Cool in the tin for a few minutes then transfer to a wire rack.
Mix the lemon juice and sugar together for the topping and spoon over the cake while it's still warm, spreading it out to the edges.  Putting the rack over a large plate will help to catch the drips which can then be poured back over the cake.
Cool completely before slicing.
Cuts into 8-10 slices.
CHANGING THE SUBJECT.  A note about the new Blogger writing and editing format.  It's terrible.  It takes ages to upload pictures and a lot of faffing about to get them in the right place and I can't figure out how to resize them.  The area you have to work on is tiny which means you're constantly having to scroll up and down to see how things look.
It's absolute rubbish and I can only think that Blogger want to drive all their bloggers away.

June 3, 2020


This has to be one of the nicest cakes I have ever made.

The recipe comes from this book which I spotted on the Happy Foodie website recently and, for once, not being able to go hunting in charity shops for cheap books, I treated myself to brand new, full price book.  It was not expensive and is full of lovely recipes.  The cake is pictured on the cover.
In the book it's called an any fruit streusel cake and that appealed to me.  I do like recipes that you can adapt to what you have in the house.  On this occasion I had some strawberries and blueberries.
The cake is made using the rubbed in method.  I rarely do rubbing in by hand and usually use the food processor.  This time I had no choice because I took a tumble in the woods last week, landing head first on my face and hands.  The black eyes have healed up but the nose and heel of my hands are still sore.  Rubbing in by hand was not an option!  I was also in a bit of a rush, guests coming for a socially distanced lunch in the garden in a couple of hours.
The streusel topping is made separately, then the cake.  I remembered to stop the processing of the topping mixture so that it was still quite lumpy and not too fine.  It worked really well.
The cake took quite a bit longer than stated to cook and was still slightly warm when I served it for dessert with a little pouring cream.  It was worth the wait, delicious with a nice, even crumb and the fruit didn't sink!  Perfect for a sunny summer afternoon in the garden.
I can hardly wait to make it again, maybe using pears, raspberries, blackberries, cherries or maybe plums or apricots, or a combination.  I just love recipes like this!  You can see it here.  I have also given my method using the food processor.
For the topping *
50g cold butter, cubed
75g plain flour
50g demerara sugar
50g flaked almonds
For the cake
125g cold butter, cubed
225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
100g golden caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
3 tblsp milk (approx.)
300g a mixture of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, any combination
First make the streusel topping by putting the butter and flour into the bowl of a food processor.  Blitz until the stage of large breadcrumbs with a few lumpy bits (so not too fine).  Tip the mixture into a small bowl, add the sugar and flaked almonds and stir to mix together.  Set aside.
Butter and base line a 23cm springform cake tin.  Preheat the oven to 170C / 150 fan / gas mk 4.
Without washing the food processor bowl, make the cake mixture.  Put the flour and baking powder in and blitz for a couple of seconds to mix.  Add the butter and process until the fine breadcrumbs stage.  Then add the sugar, eggs and 2 tblsp of the milk.  Process  until smooth and add a little more milk if necessary to get a dropping consistency.
Transfer the mixture to the tin and level the top.  Chop or cut in half any larger pieces of fruit and arrange on top of the cake mixture.  Sprinkle the streusel mixture on top of that.
Bake for 35-40 minutes (mine took 55 minutes) until done and the cake passes the skewer test.
Leave in the tin to cool for 15 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling.
Cuts into 6-8 slices.

*I confess that using a couple of tablespoons of mixture from a pack of ready made crumble mix for the topping appeals to me.  I haven't done yet but.....just saying!

June 2, 2020


Since the beginning of lockdown we have been having apéros with friends at 6pm on a Saturday evening via Messenger.  It works really well.  Not anywhere near as well as sitting in the village square, watching passers by as they call at the butcher, boulangerie and maison de la presse for their shopping on their way home, stopping maybe at one of the bars for a quick pression or glass of rosé.  But better than nothing. 
These sessions can go on a bit.  After all, after a whole week of being confined to the house for seven more days and not being able to go anywhere or do anything much, we have a lot to talk about.  In any case, when we wind up our chat all we want for dinner is something quick and easy to make that's on the plate in minutes.  Pasta with sauce is ideal for that.
With my chilli problem, I carefully study the labels on all foods nowadays so checked this jar of tomato and red pepper sauce for it.  None was listed but guess what?  After two mouthfuls my tongue was tingling and the roof of my mouth was burning.  Chilli, and lots of it.  I stopped eating straight away but Nick continued and said that in fact the overriding flavour of the sauce was not tomato or red pepper, but chilli. 
No chilli was mentioned in the ingredients but it did say "spices".
We sent an email to Napolina to enquire if we were right and chilli was present and they in turn requested photos of the jar.  So we rescued it from the recycling bin and obliged.  (We are not normally in the habit of bin diving or photographing empty jars, but they did ask.)
On receiving the photos this was their reply, worded carefully so as to make it clear they are not at fault and no claim can be brought:
"Please can we explain that the ingredients declaration on the label is correct. The chilli powder comes under the spices ingredients as chilli powder is not an recognised allergen, there is no legal requirement to list this separately. 

We hope this information helps and is of assistance to you."

So there you have it.  A company that is keen to comply with legal requirements but not concerned enough to label their products clearly so that customers can fully understand what they are buying.  They are not alone in that, I would imagine.  I welcome myself to the world of allergy sufferers.
Surely, chilli powder is just powdered dried chilli - in other words, chilli.  Not in legal terms, apparently.