Never Let An Ingredient Go to Waste

Ooh, Mr Kipling - I may well have bettered you...

Ooh, Mr Kipling – I may well have bettered you…

Any excuse for a little baking… I had ground and flaked almonds in the cupboards rapidly about to go out of date* and home-made raspberry jam in the fridge so Bakewell Tart beckoned.

I borrowed from the Mary Berry recipe as her recipes are excellent, but in my new tradition of confident baking I fiddled a little with the recipe. The impulse is born not out of arrogance – ‘of course I can do better’ – but more because I’m not keen on being told exactly what to do. The inner rebel emerges and recipes are thus adapted**.

Mary, as you may know from her TV appearances, is whippet thin and therefore I conclude that baked goodies aren’t a big part of her daily diet. I, of course, am on the wedding diet so would also promote her message –eat delicious home-made cakes and biscuits in very small quantities no more than two or three times a week and enjoy a lovely life!

Bakewell Tart – serves (depends on how many slices you deem fit)

  • 175g plain flour
  • 75g chilled  butter (salted is fine)
  • 2tbsp icing sugar
  • 2-3 tbsp cold water
  • 4 tbsp raspberry jam
  • 125g butter , unsalted
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 125g ground almonds
  • 2 free-range eggs, beaten
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • 50g flaked almonds

Heat the oven to 180 degrees.

To make the pastry, measure the flour into a bowl and rub in the chilled butter with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. You can also use a food processor or – a ‘me trick’, use a handheld blender, dipping into the mix briefly and pulsing. Once breadcrumbed, add the water slowly, mixing until the flour and butter mix together all comes together.

Roll out on a lightly floured surface and use to line a 20cm loose-bottomed tart or flan tin. Allow the excess pastry to hang over as it will shrink. Prick it all over. Chill for 30 mins. Line with foil and fill with baking beans or rice (to weigh the pastry down).

Cook for 15 minutes, then take out the foil and baking beans/rice and cook for another three minutes to dry it out.

Take out and allow to cool for five minutes. Spread the jam evenly over the base. Melt the butter in a pan, then take off and add the sugar. Stir until dissolved and add the ground almonds, beaten eggs and lemon juice. Pour into the pastry base.

Sprinkle over the flaked almonds and bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes (watch the pastry as it may burn over this time). Serve warm with ice-cream or whipped double cream. Or served cold – still yum!



*Ahem. About to go out of date? Gone out of date several months ago. Ah well, Sandy and I lived to tell the tale, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

**Sometimes anarchy ensues as a result of this culinary disobedience.







Lordie… January Blues…


Doing double time on the detox – cakes and wine are playing a much less significant role in my life these days, money spending is at a minimum (I’ve got a wedding to pay for, for heaven’s sake!) and, as I’ve been fairly organised so far, I can’t even write any more lists for said wedding.

Dull, dull double dull!

So, post-work I’m forced to find other ways to entertain myself, such as tidying up the kitchen cupboards. Most of it was tedious, but the ordering of the baking cupboard was joyful and it is now a thing of beauty, which leads me neatly on to another top ten list (thank you Lesley Carter) – the baking essentials:

  1. Digital scales for precise measuring

  2. Cup measures so you can easily use American recipes as well as British ones

  3. Vanilla extract/paste for delicious flavouring

  4. 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate (so many lovely things to create with it)

  5. A good, solid mixing bowl

  6. Condensed milk (see dark chocolate above)

  7. Soft brown sugar

  8. Icing sugar

  9. Stork margarine – use half and half with unsalted butter for lusciously light cakes

  10. ANYTHING from Lakeland.

New Year Shortbread

Happy New Year y’all – health and happiness I hope is yours in 2013…

I was going to write a piece about this being the year of our wedding and my feelings about the approaching nuptials. It would have been philosophical, meaningful and thoughtful. It might even have made sentimentally-minded readers cry (though that might be more related to delayed hangovers than anything else).

But, the urge to blog baking efforts triumphed once more. It’s new year and I’m Scottish so of course, I’m going to blog a shortbread recipe! It’s kind of a last-ditch extravaganza of excess before the usual January healthy eating/wedding diet stuff kicks in (sorry to be a cliché).

A few tips – when you don’t have many ingredients for a recipe, you need to make sure they are the best so very good quality butter and organic flour is a must. I’m a shortbread purist too, so I would never recommend any other ingredients other than flour, butter and sugar (though the odd batch with added chopped up chocolate is OK).

Butter Shortbread

  • 125g butter (you can use salted or unsalted)
  • 140g plain flour
  • 40g cornflour
  • 60g caster sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease and line an 8” square baking tin with grease-proof paper. Beat together the butter and sugar and then add the flour. Combine and then turn onto a clean work surface and knead together briefly (you don’t want to overwork shortbread).

Press into the tin and prick all over with a fork. Bake for 20-25 minutes (you want the top to be light golden) and then mark into squares while still warm. Allow to cool in the tin for five minutes and then gently ease out the marked squares. Press them into a saucer of caster sugar to give them a sugar topping and allow to cool completely.

Enjoy with a cup of tea (or for extra decadence – a wee sherry.)




Mint Choc Chip; Cake that Also Freshens Breath

Made by my own fair hand (not the hand in this pic!)

Made by my own fair hand (not the hand in this pic!)

Five months to go to the wedding and I’m still obsessing over making my own cake and what form this should take…

So, I’ve experimented with a Rachel Allen recipe for a chocolate mint cake she has suggested as a  New Year celebration option. There’s a link to the original recipe above, but my own version involved the odd substitution.

A few years ago, I wasn’t that keen on baking as it involved precision, whereas I’m an easy-osy kind of gal. Recipe says one tsp chilli flakes, I immediately think two or three. 25G grated cheese? Nowhere near enough. No onions in the fridge, let’s substitute celery kind of thing.

Then I decided on a cake and fizz theme for my birthday this year and spent a blissful weekend with my mum and sister baking cakes in advance of the event. Oh the joy of measuring, mixing, beating and watching the magic work. It also helps that an afternoon of baking fills your home with warm vanilla scents and produces such delicious results (though my whisky and sultana cake wasn’t that great…)

A few more cakes down the line and confidence creeps in – what if I swapped this for this? I’m not so keen on butter icing (too sweet) either, so mixing and matching toppings and flavourings is fun too. And you wouldn’t believe the number of great baking blogs and websites out there!

Anyway, here it is – my Rachel Allen-inspired mint choc cake:

  • 75g baking margarine
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 150g golden caster sugar
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 3 large, free range eggs
  • 125g plain chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
  • 50ml double cream
  • 100g after dinner mint chocolates (broken into small pieces)
  • Pinch of salt


  • 200ml double cream
  • 200g full-fat cream cheese
  • 200g icing sugar
  • ½ tsp green food colouring
  • 20g mint leaves, chopped finely
  • After dinner mint chocolates, halved into triangles

Pre-heat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 20cm square baking tin with parchment paper. Line the sides too, so that they overlap the top of the tin (it makes for a better finish on your cake).

Melt the chocolate and double cream together, either over a pan of hot water or in the microwave. Beat the margarine, butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (this takes about five minutes, even if you are using an electrical mixer). Add the eggs one at a time and then add the cooled chocolate mix and continuing beating until well combined. Fold in the four, pinch of salt and the broken up chocolate mints. Put the mix in the prepared tin and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the tin for five minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

For the frosting, mix a tbsp of the icing sugar with the mint leaves and pour over 3tbsp just boiled water. Steep for an hour and then strain (keeping the liquid and discarding the mint leaves). Whisk the double cream together with the liquid until thick. Beat the remaining icing sugar with the cream cheese until combined and then whisk in the double cream. You should get a fairly thick mixture. Add in the green food colouring until you get an even colour.

Use to decorate the top of the cake and then cut into evenly-sized squares. Top each square with a halved after dinner chocolate mint.

VERDICT FROM MY FIVE-YEAR-OLD NIECE: yuck. I’ll put that down to the intense chocolate flavour… And if I was making it again, I’d split the cake and put icing in the middle too.



Red Velvet (Hint: Cakes not Dresses)

Christmas-y and wedding-y at the same time?

Christmas-y and wedding-y at the same time?

Saturday’s topic covered dieting…So now that’s all done and dusted (can you sense the change in tone here from downbeat to very, very upbeat?) we’re back to blogging about cake!

A few weeks ago, I sampled a friend’s incredibly delicious red velvet cake. She also provided a little food history – in ye olden days, the red colour was the result of cocoa reacting with the cake’s other ingredients (buttermilk). As cocoa is a different product now, the red colour doesn’t occur naturally and must be introduced artificially via plenty of food colouring.

Anyway, red velvet cake covered in some kind of white icing and artfully decorated is very festive (and generally celebratory, so a good option for a wedding cake, no?). Here is my Lucy Janes-inspired version…

Red Velvet Cake – cuts into roughly 10 generous slices
200g unsalted butter
150g baking margarine
Six large, free-range eggs
300g self-raising flour
30g cocoa powder
350g golden caster sugar
2 x 38ml red food colouring bottles
½ tsp salt
2 tsps vanilla extract
1½ tbsp white wine vinegar
1½ tbsp bicarbonate of soda

24cm loose-bottomed baking tin, greased and lined with baking paper. Line the sides too with a double thickness of paper which should extend two inches above the top of the tin. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

Cream together the butter, margarine and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add three of the eggs, one by one, beating thoroughly between each addition.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder and salt and add a third of it to the butter, sugar and eggs. Beat in the rest of the eggs, one by one. Add the vanilla extract and red food colouring and then mix in the white wine vinegar mixed with the bicarb of soda. (For the last bit, mix it in quickly and lightly with a spoon rather than an electric mixer if you’ve been using this for the rest of the cake preparation.)

Pour into the tin and bake immediately for 1 hour 15 mins. Once the cooking time is more than two-thirds of the way through, you can open the oven door to check if you need to put foil on top of the cake to stop it burning.

Take the cake out of the oven and leave to stand for five minutes before turning out onto a rack. Cool thoroughly and then loosely cover and leave overnight. (It’s easier to decorate if you do this the next day.)


300ml double cream, 600g full-fat cream cheese,300g icing sugar, sifted; and 50-75g dessicated coconut (optional)
Using a sharp knife and a steady hand (!), slice the cake in two horizontally. Place the bottom half on a cake stand. Whip the cream until it is stiff and mix together the cream cheese and icing suar. Mix with the cream. Spread evenly over the bottom cake and place the other half of the cake on top and decorate the top and sides with the rest of the icing. Dredge with the coconut, if using.

Artistic Pretensions, Moi?

Fate festooned me with many blessings.

I was born in the western world – hunger, financial hardship and violent war haven’t been anything I have ever experienced. I was born to parents who absolutely adored my sisters and I and distributed love, money and time with largesse. I keep good health, as do most of those around me, and I have met with many wonderful people I am lucky enough to call friends.

Plus, all the things I like – cats, books, wine, good food and company – are all readily available to me on a weekly basis. Joy!

Before this gets a little too sickly, do know that there is something I still hanker for, even though it seems a might ungrateful.

I wish I had artistic abilities…

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late and how this might apply to a budget wedding. If I was artistically inclined, for instance, I would find flowers at wholesale and create my own beautiful table decorations. A friend recently commented that I could make my own favours for my wedding using the colour theme and I thought to myself: “blimey, a colour scheme, I never even thought of that!”. See, she has aesthetic sensibilities (her flat is decorated par excellence) and I’m 300 light years away from even getting a ‘c’ grade in school level art.

This is the before version - not yet cooked

The extent of my artistic ability; home-made pizza with careful basil leaf arrangement

Let’s take decorating my own cake, say. (Determined to make my own cake – that bit doesn’t require too much in terms of an imaginative eye, just patience and the ability to measure properly.) I picked up a book recently: The Busy Girl’s Guide to Cake Decorating – and perhaps this is the answer to the non-artistic person’s desire for creativity.

The Busy Girl (aka Ruth Clemens) suggests lovely ideas such as butterfly biscuits – you make them using cutters. Foolproof surely, even for the Pictionary dunce that I am. Then, you get smaller cutters and stamp out sugar paste before giving it a light dusting of powder and glitter and then placing on top of the biscuits. So, quite simple and possibly a favour idea…?

Ms Clemens is self-taught and her cake decorating ideas look relatively simple – so long as you can perfect that covering cakes with sugarpaste/marzipan technique. [It’s a lot flamin’ harder than it looks – smoothness is your goal, lumpiness, air bubbles, cracks et al are often the reality.]

In my ideal world*, I’d be sticking flower stems into chunks of oasis (no, not the band, but this weird, green & spongy stuff you use in flower arrangement), throwing colour co-ordinated scarves elegantly over my shoulder, and using a mixture of icing sugar, egg white and colouring to create some moulded sculpture sitting atop of cake guaranteed to make guests go “mmm” and “ahhh”.

But surrendering the ego – who but me will care that the cake is home-made? Who but me will be bothered by the fact that the favours have been out-sourced? Who but me will remark that the floral decorations weren’t created in-house (so to speak)?

Aye, no one!



*I’d also have upgraded to the design pro bit of WordPress! I could have my own fonts! I could juggle around text boxes (I think) and upload videos! Er… these might be limited to cookery demonstrations so posibly, dear reader, you aren’t missing out.


Let Them Eat (and enjoy) Cake

This isn’t the world’s lightest example of cake

For a recent birthday – in traditional lady fashion I’ll be coy about its numerical value – my sister presented me with a cheesecake.

Not the soft cheese mixed with lavish amounts of cream and sugar version, but a concoction of actual cheeses layered up three-stack and decorated with trails of grapes and bay leaves. It was a thing of beauty and the top tier vanished in precisely 10 minutes (smoked cheddar – the gods of cheese production’s finest hour).

I’d like to replicate this for my wedding day (estimated cost £40), but say I were also to follow the dictates of convention and get a proper wedding cake. What does the budget bride who sadly can’t afford Choccywoccydoodah* do? Obviously, you either make your own [and there are some spectacular examples of cake-making genius here] or find a talented friend who can do it. In the meanwhile, I adapted a Good Housekeeping chocolate brownies** recipe recently and I think that may well be a wedding cake contender, once I spend time practising cake decorating via some online cake decorating tutorials. Dontcha just love the world wide web?


*Amazing, amazing chocolate cake shop in Brighton and London where very talented people do spectacular thing with chocolate and appear on TV showcasing their talents.

**Plain chocolate (85% cocoa solids – now I’m showing off), butter, eggs, sugar, flour, chopped toasted nuts and topped with fudge icing. Yum…