Ready Steady Cooks Viral Antidote 16: Hot Cross Buns

Cathy asked for this.  An easy recipe for hot cross buns.

This morning I needed to make bananananana bread for Matthew over the road. It’s his favourite. He’s home from school and the young man must have his bananananana bread.  Also on my mind was hot cross buns. Should that be ‘were’? I don’t know.

Paranoid about running out of bread flour, we have a stash. So that was ok.  I take back everything I said to Angie about her 10 year old grains because I found some sultanas that went out of date in 2015.  Then I tried to find some yeast that wasn’t for our electric breadmaker.  I found some. Out of date. Dang. Anyway, I used both.

450g bread flour, one teaspoon of salt, 7g dried yeast (in-date if possible), 125g caster sugar, two teaspoons mixed spice.  Into the Kenwood bowl it goes.  50g butter in a Pyrex jug.  Add 350ml full cream milk.  Microwave till the butter has melted and the milk is warm but not hot (put your finger in it to test). Add one beaten egg to the milk and butter, then add it all to the flour and turn on the Kenwood which has the dough hook attached and churn away for five minutes.  Alternatively, do it all by hand.  The dough will be on the wet side. It should be.  Knead by hand on a work surface for 10 minutes.  Put back in the bowl (or leave in the bowl if using the Kenwood) cover it with a clean cloth and put somewhere warm to prove for a couple of hours. Ours goes on the south-facing kitchen windowsill in the summer and the airing cupboard in the winter.

Weigh out 125g in-date sultanas.  Peel, core and chop one eating apple. Grate the rind from one orange.  After the dough has proved, remove the cloth and add the fruit. and grated orange rind  Knead again for five minutes by hand or a couple of minutes in the Kenwood.  Leave for another half an hour.

Turn the oven to 220C.  Line two baking trays with baking parchment.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. ‘Punch it in the middle’ then draw the sides to the middle, turning as you go. Flip it over and brush off any flour.  Divide into equal sized portions and roll each piece (the size is entirely up to you, but remember that they will spread) into a ball and place on the baking tray with a little space between them.  You should get 12 to a standard sized tray.  Mix a little plain flour with water until it makes a thick but runny paste.  Then trail it across the top of the buns in a X.

Place in the centre of the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes then check them.  If done, they should feel firm, not doughy.  If you are unsure, take one out and cut in half to check. (You can always put it back again if it needs a couple more minutes).

Remove to a cooling tray and whilst still warm, brush with plum or apricot jam , diluted slightly with boiling water – just to glaze.

Dare you not to eat one whilst they are cooling!



Why is it that when you know you can’t eat lots of grains and flour, you really, really want CAKE?!  Especially, in my case, sticky, gooey gingerbread.

I have a couple of go-to books that are great for intolerants.  Cake Angels by Julia Thomas and The Intolerant Gourmet by Pippa Kendrick, who I’ve mentioned before on this blog.

I’ve adapted Julia’s Gingerbread  recipe here and its the one I shall be using for one layer of Wil and Angie’s wedding cake in March #watchthisspace.

Grease and line a 21cm square cake tin.  Heat your oven to 170C.

You will need black treacle and golden syrup here.  Top tip for how to measure it out at the bottom of this page.

175g molasses (black treacle)

75g runny honey

75g ginger syrup from the ginger jar

175g Flora or similar

100g dark  muscovado sugar

350g gluten free plain flour (brown or white)

0.5tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tbsp ground ginger

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp cinnamon

3 preserved ginger chopped into small pieces

2 tsp ground flax seed (just grind in a pestle and mortar or coffee grinder) mixed with a little cold water

150ml soya or almond milk

Heat the runny ingredients and the margarine in a large saucepan, in a gentle sort of fashion.  Allow it to cool. Add the ground flax seed and its water (this is a raising agent). Add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger and mixed spice plus the chopped ginger and beat with a balloon whisk until it’s all combined and looks glossy.

Pour into the lined tin and bake in the middle of the oven. Check after one hour by inserting a skewer into the middle. If it comes out clean, it’s done. If not, put a square of tin foil on the top and bake for another 15 minutes or so at a slightly lower heat.

Cool the cake in the tin for an hour before removing to a wire cooling tray.

This cake tastes best if you can bear to leave it for a week in an airtight tin.  It’s lovely with a little runny icing drizzled on top.  Equally, it is delicious with Cheshire cheese!  You can also make more than one, cook in round cake tins and then sandwich together with whipped coconut cream.

Whipped coconut cream

Put a tin of high quality coconut cream (the liquid kind) in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, open it and pour away the liquid, reserving the remaining solid element.  Put this in your food mixer bowl then whisk with the balloon whisk until it is really thick (like double cream).  Add a little chopped preserved ginger, a teaspoon of vanilla essence and a tablespoon of maple syrup.  Whip again.  Then cut your cake in half and slather it on then add the top half!  If you feel really fancy you can even pipe it!

Believe me the combination of rich ginger cake, light coconut, maple syrup and vanilla is #fanbloodytastic


Weigh then grease a shallow dish then coat liberally with cornflour. Pour your syrup and treacle into the dish. Weigh it.  Slide out into the saucepan and you should have a clean dish and no sticky residue! I learned that at school!

Veganuary Day 25 The day I fell off the wagon

img_7448Only a brief post on this bitingly cold day.  Just to say that today, I fell off the wagon.  It’s all Gail’s fault. She was coming round. We were going to hatch a plot.  Then she cancelled.  I did my walk, then settled down to work, the final push quality checking a big document.  Lit the woodburner.  But I could feel those wintry icicles outside and and I neede warmth.  I needed comfort. Oh well, I thought, I was going to make some scones for Gail anyway. I’ll make them and David can take them to work tomorrow.  So out with the flour and the butter and the eggs.  As they cooked the house filled with   a heavenly buttery warm-cake smell.

Hardly were they out of the oven than I had eaten one, all crumbly and moist and fragrant. Steaming it was.  Plus a large mug of tea.

In penance I took some round to Jas and Dick next door, with a jar of black currant jam.

I cannot tell a lie. I fell off the wagon.  I only ate one.  But it was all Gail’s fault.

Veganuary Dawn 21. Aquafaba Blood Orange Cake

Blood orange cake
Blood orange cake

I am always on the look-out for blood oranges in January. Their season is relatively short and they are so juicy and the flesh and juice such a rich colour, that they are impossible to resist.  They look pretty innocuous in the farm shop – indeed there weren’t that many around as the harvest – particularly in Spain – has been affected by snow and frosts.  So I had the last half dozen in the farm shop and wasn’t tempted by the hybrid on offer.  I had a taste. But it wasnt the same and had a much thicker skin.  No. I like the thin-skinned originals.

There are eight for dinner tonight and I am cooking  Turkish.  Herb pie, flatbreads, duk-kah, roasted red pepper with black garlic, cucumber and fennel pickle salad, aubergines in pomegranate molasses.

What I am really looking forward to it the experiment with the ubiquitous clementine cake, which I have adapted using blood oranges and aquafaba, and which we are having for pudding.

Put four blood oranges (or six clemetines and a lemon) in a saucepan so they are a snug fit, cover with boiling water and boil away for a good hour.  Let them cool and then whizz to a pulp in the food processor.  Take five tablespoons of aquafaba (the water from tinned chickpeas – see previous posts – or search ‘aquafaba’) and a tablespoon of cider vinegar, and whisk until frothy not foamy – so it looks like well-whipped egg whites. The aquafaba takes the place of the eggs in the original recipe.

Put 200g ground almonds, a heaped teaspoon of baking powder, 30ml unflavoured oil and 175g soft brown sugar in the food processor with the blood orange pulp and combine at high speed, then pour into a clean mixing bowl.  Gently fold in the whipped aquafaba with a metal spoon then pour the batter into a 21cm round springform tin that you have oiled and dusted heavily with coarse semolina.  Put in the centre of the oven, pre-heated to 180C, to cook until firm in the middle.  Note that these proportions are smaller than the previous recipe so I would check it after 30  minutes and then lay a double thickness sheet of baking parchment over the top, then leave for 10 more minutes.  It should be done by then.

Remove from the oven and onto a cooling rack (still in the tin). After half an hour, run a round-edged knife round the tin and invert the cake onto a wide plate.

Whilst the cake is cooking, thinly slice two or three more blood oranges.  Put 100g soft brown sugar in a wide shallow pan with 150ml water.  Bring to the boil and reduce a bit then add the slices of orange and any juice that is on the cutting board.  Cook in the pan until the syrup is thick and the oranges are almost sticking to the pan but not quite. Remove from the heat.

When the cake is cool, arrange the oranges on top of the cake and pour the syrup over the top. Sometimes I add more syrup. There is often some in the fridge.  Earlier in the year it was quince and lime syrup. At the moment it is Seville orange syrup that I drained from a batch of Seville orange and quince marmalade that would not set.

This cake is a complete experiment on my part. I am eager to see how the aquafaba works.  The cake itself looks great at the moment.  But we’ve not eaten it yet! I will report in later!


#12Days Cakes that pass as Dessert Day 3

img_8106If you are not partial to a traditional Christmas cake then you can whip these cakes up in 5 minutes.  Useful to have in the back of your mind when half a dozen people descent without warning and there is no cake in the house….. or when the Christmas cake is just a pile of crumbs on the cake board.

The cake in the picture is one-such. You don’t need to turn your cake(s) into a 5 tier wedding cake, but each layer is quick and easy.

Clementine and lemon cake

This one is an adaptation of Nigella’s classic. Which must be drawn from much older North African and Spanish recipes for Polenta cake.  It is even easier if you have some of the fruit already puree’d and in the freezer (which is a great way to use up those Satsuma and Clementine that are lurking in the fruit bowl and just past their best0.

Put 6 clementine/satsuma and one lemon (halved) in a pan with boiling water and boil them for about 10 minutes. (Nigella says an hour but quite frankly, its unnecessary). Remove from the pan and place in the food processor when cool.  Then whizz till liquidated. Then add 250g ground almonds, one teaspoon of baking powder, 200g golden caster sugar and six eggs into the food processor and whizz till they are all combined.  Pour into a lined 20cm springform cake tin and cook at 180C for about 50 minutes. Test the centre with a skewer. Cover the top with greaseproof if it looks as if its getting too dark round the edges.  Remove from the oven. Cool. Then spoon over some orange and lemon syrup made whilst the cake is cooking.  Serve just warm with creme fraiche.

Black forest cake

In the food processor, process 200g soft butter with 200g caster sugar, 25g good quality cocoa powder, 4 eggs and 200g plain flour with 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder till it is a soft dropping consistency.  Spoon it into two lined sponge tins and cook at 180C for about  25 minutes. Test with a skewer. Remove from the oven and cool in the tins.  Use one cake and freeze the other.  Drench the cake with kirsch (about 2 tbs), then just before serving cover with cream and drained (tinned) black cherries. and a grating of chocolate on top. Dare you not to love it!

Sticky date and apple cake

This is simplicity itself, from one of my favourite cook books The New Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne.  Makes frequent appearances at our table, and this one is for Dean.

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a 20cm springform cake tin.  Put 100g chopped dates (you can buy them ready chopped in Holland and Barrett) in a saucepan with about 100ml water and bring slowly to the boil to soften them, then take off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda, mix and then put somewhere to cool.

Beat 125g soft butter with 125g soft brown sugar for about 3 minutes (in the mixer) then beat in 2 eggs and 6 flat tablespoons of minced fresh ginger. Then add 250g plain flour and 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder and beat until combines.  Now stir in the dates and fold in 2 chopped tart apples.  The mixture should have the consistency of a firm batter. If it doesn’t then add a little milk.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 25 minutes.

You can now either eat it as a cake or serve as a pudding.  If pudding, then melt 100g brown sugar with 40z butter, a little salt and when melted, add 100ml double cream.  Put the cake on a wide plate or dish, poke some holes in the cake and pour over half the liquid, let it soak in then pour on the rest.  Voila!

Mincemeat tart(s) with marzipan

Sounds sweet, right? It is!  This is my little invention as the traditional mince pie leaves me a bit cold. So you can either make this as individual mince pies or as one big pie.

Take one pack of frozen shortcrust pastry. Easy so far then! Take one or two jars of mincemeat, depending on how big your pie, and grate in some orange zest. Line either the little tartlet tins with pastry (I use muffin tins because I like more mincemeat than pastry) or a pie or sponge tin. Fill with mincemeat. Instead of pastry topping (who wants more pastry?) roll out some marzipan to about 1.5cm thick and cut out shapes (stars, santas, reindeers – anything really) and place, dotted about, on top of the big pie, or one in the centre of each individual mince pie.

Bake in the oven till cooked and the marzipan starts to melt.


OK. Now I have to go to the butcher to get the Christmas meat. Happy cooking. Hope you agree these are easy to make and where the standard ingredients will already be in your cupboard.

Celebrating in Le Puget


“And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow” W.B. Yeats”

Many months planning by my dearest brother-by-proxy in Sydney, Australia in advance of celebrating his 60th, resulted in an enormous treat for those of us that travelled to Le Domaine de Puget.  Hosted with ease, grace and endless generosity by John and Janie in their magnificent home and retreat in the Aude, 11 of us descended from London, Lymington and Australia for a long week-end and with only the glimmer of a clue as to what would ensue.  It was a triumph delivered in the most modest and understated way. One of those ‘spotlight on my life’ moments that will always be treasured. One of those week ends where there was a heady mixture of good conversation, challenging ideas, kindness, peace – along with magnificent wines.  And the setting was beyond perfection.

As you will know, I am known for my hyperbole. But believe me, it was perfection.

Imagine this……..  25 acres of rolling French countryside, a large farmhouse perched on top of the hill; ripe figs hanging from the trees, endless quiet places to sit and stare, a candle-lit courtyard, a kitchen large enough to cope with twice the number we had.  A dining room with half-trees burning in the grate. A sheltered pool that was still warm enough for frequent swims even though it was early October. Quince trees weighed down with bulbous fruit.  Soft autumnal light and long shadows.  Breakfast in the meadow looking back toward Fanjeaux. The last of the sunflowers drooping their heads in serried ranks, set in dusty green clay earth. And then there was the food………

John’s food is legendary (see Le Puget) and I was intrigued and mesmerised by the delights that emerged from the kitchen.  Charcuterie on well-worn wooden boards, little black olives sharp and juicy, buttery parmesan biscuits, stuffed guinea fowl, double-baked cheese souffle, lentil and vegetable melange, slow roast pork, fig and feta salad, local bread, artisanal cheeses made only a kilometre away, a secret recipe hazlenut cake, more croissants than you could shake a stick at, and cloudy creamy yellow butter. #heavenishere!

So here’s a selection of recipes, my take on those culinary memories.

Roast guinea fowl, boned and stuffed


This guinea fowl recipe is on my list for Boxing Day.  I get a lot of my game and fowl from the Wild Meat Company and they do really high quality mail order too. They supplied the quail for our popup suppers earlier in the year, and venison, wild rabbit, pheasant and pigeon for my freezer.

Ask your butcher to bone out the guinea fowl but make sure you ask for the innards and the bones in a separate bag and the legs removed!  To serve 6 generously you will need one guinea fowl.  Pat it dry and leave uncovered for a few hours in a cool place.  To make the forcemeat first, roast the legs in a small pan with some onion then remove the flesh and chop it finely.  Gently fry an onion in rapeseed or olive oil with a couple of cloves of garlic and the tiniest smidgeon of crushed juniper berries and some fresh thyme. Then turn up the heat and add the chopped livers and heart from the bag of innards. Season with seasalt and black pepper. Add a wineglass full of red wine on a high heat then reduce the liquid to practically nothing. Allow the leg meat and the innards to cool completely – you could do all of this the night before.  Next day add all this to some herby coarse sausagemeat – probably about 500g, it depends on the size of your bird – and then add more salt (the best way to know how much you need is not to guess!!  Fry a dessert-spoon full in a little oil then taste it).  Then add a good scraping of nutmeg.  You get the idea don’t you – you are looking for a deep, well seasoned, warmly spiced and fragrant forcemeat, not a sharp salty one.

As you can see already. It will help to have prepared some things in advance of cooking this dish but believe me it will be worth it.  So the night before, do the stuff with the livers and the legs! And peel and poach some pears and/or quince in a light syrup, whilst roasting some shallot very gently so that the natural sugars start to caramelise but not burn.  Now you can start the consttuction!

Turn your oven on to 200C. Make sure your work surface is scrupulously clean. Not to mention your hands.  Have a long ball of butchers string and some sharp scissors to hand. Lay the bird  skin side down on a a large piece of greaseproof paper that has been rubbed with olive oil. Stretch out its various appendages. You will notice that some parts of the bird are thicker than others. You’ll soon see to that with your rolling pin! Lay another piece of greaseproof on top then beat the thicker pieces till the whole bird has stretched out and the thickness is relatively even. The only thing to avoid is making it too thin. about 2.5 cm thick will do it.  Then dry off your pears/quince and slice into even thickness then lay slices across the bird, leaving a good 3cm clear all around the edges. Then to the same with some of the roasted shallot. Finally, spread the forcemeat across the pears and onions – about 2.5cm thick.

Now you need to imagine an envelope.  You are going to fold both sides to the middle followed by the meat at the top and bottom edges.  Truss the bird up with the string, (you are aiming for a neat cylinder shape with all the ends tucked underneath). Give it a good olive oil or rapeseed oil massage and sprinkle with a little seasalt.

Place in a hot roasting tin on a bed of carrot, celery and leek. and rosemary stalks along with more olive oil and a litre of boiling water. Cover with foil and roast at 180C for an hour, then turn the heat up to 200C, remove the foil and cook for a further 15-20 minutes until lovely and brown. Test with a skewer, if the juices are clear, then it’s done.  Remove the bird from the pan and let it rest, boil up and thicken the gravy in the pan.

Dauphinoise potatoes


This has to be the most forgiving potato dish in the world.  You can prepare it in advance and reheat it. You can freeze it. You can try an resist it but you won’t win. You can eat it in solitary confinement in the kitchen at 2am and no-one will know. Seriously. I’ve done it!

Peel and slice 8 large potatoes. Mix 500ml double cream (yes!) with 500ml full cream milk (yes, again!) a couple of peeled garlic cloves and half a teaspoon of salt.  Put the potatoes in a big pan with the milk/cream, bring slowly to just under the boil and let them cook for about 5 minutes.  Then remove potatoes with a slotted spoon and place in a shallow well buttered (oh God, the cholesterol!) dish then pour over the milk/cream and bake at 190C for about 50 minutes until the whole is creamy and thick and brown on top. Dare you to eat it!

Fig and salt cheese salad


Sometimes with rich food, just a simple salad on the side is sufficient.  Try this.  Fresh, ripe figs are a must though.  Keep an eye out in Lidl, I have frequently purchased trays of fresh figs from there in late summer.  Slice and chop fresh ripe tomatoes and cucumber and remove most of the wet middle.   Sprinkle with gremolata (chopped rosemary, garlic, lemon zest and seasalt) to season.  Add chopped feta or salty goat’s cheese and quartered fresh figs. Mix together with a gentle vinaigrette warmed with a little dash of honey.

Charcuterie with olives and warm cheesy biscuits


The easiest of appetisers.  Go get some great charcuterie from Marshpig or your nearest deli, or from the fantastic market in Mirepoix!  Slice it, pile it on a plate with hot, crisp radishes, some salt, some juicy olives, some of Janie’s warm cheesy biscuits and a glass of something cold and fizzy, such as a Blanquette de Limoux. Irresistible.

Mix 100g plain flour with a pinch of cayenne, a teaspoon of mustard powder and a little salt.  Rub in 100g butter then gently mix in 50g hard cheese and 50g parmesan. Bind together with half the egg (beaten).  Cover and leave in the fridge to rest for half an hour, then roll out to about 1.5cm thick and use a cutter, placing each biscuit on the tray lined with greaseproof paper.  Brush lightly with the remaining egg and sprinkle with more parmesan. Bake at 80C for about 10 minutes. I challenge you to eat only one.

Twice-baked cheese souffle


Never be frightened by a souffle – especially if you make individual ones.  You can make and bake, allow to cool, leave overnight, have a party, go out for the day – then come back and put them back in the oven and voila! A souffle resurrects itself as if by magic.

I bow to Delia Smith on this one.   Heat 225 full cream milk in a pan with half an onion, a few black peppercorns, a grating of fresh nutmeg and a bay leaf.  Bring to simmering point then pour into a jug through a sieve, thus removing the onion etc. Essentially you are flavouring the milk. Rinse out the pan then put back on a low heat and melt 25g butter, then add 25g plain flour to make a roux and cook very gently for a couple of minutes.  Gently pour in the milk, bit by bit, stirring all the time until you have a thick sauce. Beat two egg yolks.  Pour the sauce into a mixing bowl when it is cool then add the egg yolks and mix thoroughly.  Fold in 110g good quality goat’s cheese, cubed if hard and gently broken up if soft.  Mix thoroughly. Season with black pepper.

Whisk the two egg whites until stiff and almost ‘dry’ then gently fold into the sauce with a large metal spoon and a cutting and folding motion.

Generously butter the inside of 6 ramekin dishes and coat with a little coarse semolina flour.  Divide the mixture between the dishes.  Heat the oven to 200C with a baking tray already in the oven.  When up to heat, remove the baking tray, place the ramekins on the tray and fill the tray with about 2cm of boiling water.  Put back in the centre of the oven and cook until they are risen, firm and just a tiny bit wobbly in the middle (about 15 minutes).  Now you can take them out of the oven to cool and they will sink like a stone. Don’t worry.  Put in a cool place and when you are ready then slide a very sharp knife round the edge of the ramekin to release the souffle, invert it onto the palm of your hand then place on a buttered baking tray and sprinkle each one with a little parmesan. Later in the day, or tomorrow, crank up the oven again to 200C and put back in the oven for 30 minutes. Miraculously they will puff up again and are ready to eat.

The mysterious Hazelnut cakeimg_3324

Marie helps out John and Janie at Le Puget sometimes and makes the most amazing hazelnut cake using a recipe from when she lived in Switzerland.  A recipe that was never divulged to me.  I’ve experimented a bit this week whilst nursing the Le Puget chest infection.  This is the closest I can get to the exquisite cake made by Marie last week. somewhere on my various devices I have a photograph of her cake and I will post it when I find it.

Toast 100g hazelnuts in the oven then rub place them in a tea towel and rub them till the skins flake off.  Sieve 125g rice flour, 50g golden caster sugar, half a teaspoon of baking powder and a little salt into a bowl.  Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor or blender, until fine.  Add to the flour and mix thoroughly.Whisk together 75ml vegetable oil and 75ml agave syrup (or honey), 3 egg yolks , a teaspoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of cream of tartar. Then add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and beat till it is a thick (ish) batter.  Now whisk 5 egg whites till they are stiff.Fold into the hazelnut batter with a cut and fold motion.

Pour into one or two pre-prepared springform sponge tins that have been lined with greaseproof paper.  Bake in the centre of the oven at 180C for about 25 minutes.  Then remove from the oven and keep in the tin until cold.

This  version is not the exact cake made by Marie – but it is close enough. I suspect hers had little or no flour, which is why I used very fine rice flour.  I recommend eating on the terrace of Le Puget with good friends and pots of tea.

Au revoir!

Bon chance!







All things pear shaped.


Pears, along  with raspberries, are my favourite fruit.  Our pear trees are heavy with fruit this year.

Here are a few of my favourite sweet and savoury pear concoctions.


Mostardo di frutti

Mostardo di frutti is a unctuous sticky preserv of fruit laced with mustard  and is usually served with cold meats in Italy.  It is great during the festive season when there is often a glut of cold meats and the mind goes blank when thinking what to do with them.  I suggest a plate full of cold meats, leftover stuffing, hot roast potatoes and mostardo di fruitti

Peel and chop  fruit such as pears, hard apples, quince. Place in the preserving pan with 500g caster sugar and just enough water to cover. Bring slowly to the boil then turn up the heat and let it bubble vvigorously until the bubbles blob and plop which should be at about 104Cif you use a jam thermometer.  Take off the heat and skim off any white foam.

In a separate pan put 2 tbsp of strong yellow mustard seed and warm them till they begin to pop, then remove and grind them in a pestle and mortar. Then mix with 1 tbsp of strong mustard powder, add the ground mustard to the mustard powder then pour on 250ml white wine and the juice of an orange.  Place pan on a medium heat and bring to the boil then reduce in volume by  one third.  Then pour over the fruit, mix well and place in sterilised jars.  Once cool place in the fridge  and i will keep for a month, or if you put in Kilner  jars or similar,  seal then place jars in a roasting pan of boiling water and  put in the oven at  170C for 30 minutes. Then they will keep for a few weeks.

If you make this you won’t be disappointed.

Pickled pears

This recipe is adapted from one of my favourite books by Darina Allen  Forgotten Skills of Cooking. It is really easy and I recommend it  with game – venison, wild duck or pigeon.

Use any pears you like, but make sure they are not too ripe.  About 2kg will make about 8 large jars.   Peel, core and quarter the pears and add the juice of one lemon. Mix well.  Cook on a low to medium heat until just done but the pears are still firm.  Then peel and slice about 4cm of fresh ginger, and add to 600ml apple cider vinegar, 30ml sherry vinegar, 600g sugar, a stick of cinnamon (dont add powder!), 2 star anis and 4 whole cloves and the peel pared off the lemon you squeezed earlier.Bring this to boil in a separate pan, stirring all the time then add the pears and continue to cook  until completely soft. This could take a further 20 minutes or so depending on the pear.

Sterilise the jars and fill with pears first, while continuing to boil the liquid. Then carefully, and using a funnel, pour the boiling liquid over the pears and make sure they are completely covered.  Seal and leave for at least 3- weeks before eating. If you can hold out that long.

Pear and chestnut jam

10169441_10151766928067395_1874372122_nThis is one of my favourites, too.  Wonderful served with brioche or croissant. Even better spooned over Greek yogurt in my opinion.

Peel and core 1kg pears an 500g sour apples and cut into small pieces then mix with the juice of 2 lemons 240ml water and the seeds from one  vanilla pod.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Then add 750g jam sugar, bring back to the boil slowly, stirring till all the sugar has dissolved. Then turn off the heat and leave overnight.

Meanwhile, empty one 200g vacuum pack of chestnuts into a pan, add juice of one lemon and zest of two lemons. Bring to the boil them simmer for 5 minutes. Leave this to rest overnight too.

In the morning, cut the chestnuts into small pieces in the pan then pour ithe contents of the chestnut pan into the pear pan and cook to the setting point (where the consistency of the liquid becomes viscous and the bubbles pop and bloop)  or use a jam thermometer till the mixture reaches 104C. Pour into sterilised jars.

Smoky apple and pear relish

img_0871What’s the difference between a relish and a chutney anyway?  The short answer is that in general, relishes are cooked for a shorter time than chutneys, are are often vegetable based.  This one, obviously, is not, but it is not as thick as a chutney and retains a lot of what I would call its ‘bright’ flavours.

This recipe is one I adapted last year from Anna Rigg’s Summer berries, Autumn fruits.  A book I really recommend having on your shelf.  As I was researching for this post, piles of books beside me, I became aware of 1) how many books I have in my cookery library and 2) how some are much more well thumbed than others.  Anna Rigg’s is spattered with cooking liquour and some of the pages glued together!

Anyway, back to the relish. Take a couple of large dried smoked chipotle chillies and a dried red pepper.  I used to source these from Brindisa (they do mail order) but I can get them in Tesco now. Soak them in a bowl of hot water while you get the other ingredients ready.  Peel and chop 4 crisp eating apples and 4 hard pears, tip into a preserving pan and add 400ml cider vinegar, 325 light muscovado sugar, 3 large chopped shallots, 2 grated cloves of garlic along with a 4cm piece of root ginger, 1 tsp fellel seed, 1 tsp smoked paprika and a good grind of black pepper. Lastly 1 teaspoon of sea salt.

Drain the chillis and pepper.  Remove the stalks and then finely chop the flesh – seeds an all.  Add to the pan and stir around.  Bring to the boil very slowly then turn down the head to medium and cook for 40-45 minutes stirring occasionally until the mixture is thick and syrupy.  Leave to settle for 5 minutes then pour into hot jars and seal.  It will keep for about 6 months but once opened, eat it up! It won’t be difficult.  Think creamy Lancashire with oatcakes, chunks of gherkin and this relish.

Pear and chocolate pan Charlotte

Ok the preserving bit is over.  Now for some sweet things.  When I was in New York last year I spent a delightful 5 hours – yes, 5 hours – in Kitchen Art and Letters.  It was a bit of a pilgrimage for me, and one now ticked off my bucket list.  If you can imagine a wonderful bookshop one block east of 5th Avenue, way up in the north east corner of Central Park; a small and perfectly formed shop, with armchairs and coffee and tables on which to rest piles of books; and an owner who positively encouraged people to stay and read and browse.  My idea of heaven. Anyway – I was there in heaven but perversely had told myself I would not buy because it would take me into excess baggage. Until the owner cannily reminded me that as a visitor, the prices were minus tax and anyway he could ship them to me for less than the tax anyway.  SOLD!  The New Sugar and Spice by Samantha Seneviratne was one of my six purchases.

You will need a Tarte Tartin tin or similar (she uses a skillet – I dont have a skillet).  Place the  tartin tin on a hotplate and add 100g butter on a high heat. As soon as it is melted add 3 tablespoons of muscovado sugar, 1/4 teaspoon each of ground clove and allspice and a little salt; stir to combine.  Then add 5 peeled, cored and chopped firm pears, turn down the heat and cook until the pears are soft and mixture is lightly caramelised. This will take about 10 minutes. Then pour this mixture onto a plate to cool. Clean the pan.

Spread some butter onto 8-10 slices of brioche loaf (or use those long brioche finger rolls you can buy in Lidl). Line the tin with the buttered bread (butter side down) and sprinkle with 75g plain chocolate chopped in small pieces. Top with the pear mixture then the remaining buttered brioche.

Bake at 180C until the bread is golden brown – about 40-50 minutes and cover with foil if it looks like its burning.  Take out of the oven and allow to cool, then dust with icing sugar and serve with cream. Or allow to cool and then double wrap with foil and freeze. You could make two – one for now and one for later!

Spiced ginger and chocolate cake with salted caramel pears

This is another favourite from Anna Rigg.  First make your gingerbread.

Heat 150g butter with 100g golden syrup 75g treacle, 150g soft brown sugar and 150ml stout.  Quite honestly those ingredients are enough to make you stop right there!  Courage! Onward!  Melt in a large-ish pan then add 50g dark chocolate, 2 pieces of chopped stem ginger and half a teasp on bicarbonate of soda.  Mix it all together then let it cool.

Drive 200g plain flour with 1 teap baking powder and 4 teaspoons of ground ginger together with one teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon mixed spice, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper a pinch of chilli powder, a pinch of salt.  Whisk 3 eggs then add to the liquid ingredients then add the dry ingredients in 3 batches, beating well between each addition.  Pour into a lined 14cm square tin and bake for 30 minutes at 170C. Cover with greaseproof paper if it looks a bit too brown.

Now for the easy bit.  Peel and quarter 4 pears and put into a shallow pan with 20g butter and a tablespoon or so of the stem ginger syrup.  Cook them until they are tender and slightly caramelised at the edges.  Then remove the cake from the oven and pour the pears and syrup over the top, returning to the oven for a further 30 minutes.  Check if the inside is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre and it should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave in the tin for half an hour or so, then transfer to a wire rack till cool.  Now for the sauce. (No, we are not finished yet).

Place 100g caster sugar in a pan and ae 2 tbsp cold water, set over a low heat to dissolve the sugar then increase the heat and cook the syrup until it starts to change colour. Take off the heat and very carefully add the cream, return to a low heat to re-melt any caramel that has hardened then add 2 or 3 tablespoons of bourbon.  Serve the cake with the caramel sauce poured over.

Well beat me on the bottom with a Woman’s Weekly if that’s not a winner.  You can easily freeze the cake/pears, defrost and finish off with the sauce.


Practically sugar free carrot cake

IMG_6815Messing around with  Monty (5 going on 15) this afternoon after we collected new chickens, he announces from the co-driver’s seat “Grandma, I just LOVE carrot cake”.  I’ve never made one, to my shame. Generally that’s Grandma Bertie’s domain (Grandma Bertie being Al’s mum).  Whilst Otto (2) was asleep, me and Monty set to with the carrots.  Well I say ‘set to’. In the way of 5 year old’s he participated then was distracted. By the checking the new chickens, the iPad, the digger in the road etc etc. Good job Grandma Chickens (that’s me) has sticking power.

Pre-heat the oven to 150C fan. Grate 425g carrots (Monty’s job). In the Kenwood, whisk 3 medium eggs and when thoroughly fluffy, add 75ml agave syrup and whisk again till incorporated and a lovely cream colour. Yes, I know it’s sugar, but it is less than the 175g of white sugar in the recipe that I am adapting as I go along.  Add 50g wholewheat plain flour and 100g ground almonds.  Add one chopped dessert apple (cored but unpeeled). Add two teaspoons of ground ginger, one of cinnamon, one of ground coriander and a fingertip pinch of ground allspice and salt. Add 150ml rapeseed oil. Add 50g golden raisins. Add 450g grated carrot (Monty’s job – that and turning the Kenwood on and off).  Mix everything together.

Grease the sides of an 18cm springform tin then sprinkle with fine semolina or polenta (as if it is flour).  Line the base with a double layer of greaseproof paper.  Turn the cake mixture into the tin and level it off.  Put into the centre of the oven for about 50 minutes, checking after 30 and putting a greaseproof paper lid on if its getting a bit brown on top.

For the topping, take two 150g pots of Quark, grate the rind of half a lemon and add it.  Then add 3tbs lemon curd.  Mix well and put in the fridge till the cake is cool.

That is as far as I’ve got thus far………..  the cake is in the oven. The recipe was adapted from A Piece of Cake by Leila Lindholm which is a great book, I might add.  However my interest, as always with cookery books, is inspiration not replication.

Later I shall add a picture of the cake later ………. It’s looking good. meanwhile, i need a cup of tea (lovely vintage tea sets in Vintage Mischief in Beccles).

Simon’s birthday cake

Sometimes you just happen across good people. Simon is one of them. He’s clever. He’s handsome. And he is my IT saviour. Although he lives the other side of the country and we have only met face to face twice in 10 years, he has the uncanny knack of being reassuringly there in the back of my mind. And so I know that if I meet the big blue screen of death, he can probably save me. And if I have totally messed something up in the bowels of my iPad, laptop, iPhone or PC, somehow he knows how to manage me out of a disaster. His ‘virtual’ reach is infinite. It is just magical to see him working on my computer. Him in Lancashire – me in Norfolk; the little cursor scurrying across the screen, the muttered curses (his) at the end of the phone. So this is for you old chap. I can’t bake it for you but you could bake it for yourself or maybe Paula will. Happy birthday! This is an unashamed lift from Nigella. But I know she won’t mind. And she deserves to be associated with a good man.

Nigella’s Guinness cake

250 ml guinness
250 grams unsalted butter
75 grams cocoa powder
400 grams caster sugar
142 ml sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
275 grams plain flour
2 ½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
for the topping

300 grams cream cheese
150 grams icing sugar
125 ml double cream (or whipping cream)

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/180°C/350ºF, and butter and line a 23cm / 9 inch springform tin.
Pour the Guinness into a large wide saucepan, add the butter – in spoons or slices – and heat until the butter’s melted, at which time you should whisk in the cocoa and sugar. Beat the sour cream with the eggs and vanilla and then pour into the brown, buttery, beery pan and finally whisk in the flour and bicarb.
Pour the cake batter into the greased and lined tin and bake for 45 minutes to an hour. Leave to cool completely in the tin on a cooling rack, as it is quite a damp cake.
When the cake’s cold, sit it on a flat platter or cake stand and get on with the icing. Lightly whip the cream cheese until smooth, sieve over the icing sugar and then beat them both together. Or do this in a processor, putting the unsieved icing sugar in first and blitz to remove lumps before adding the cheese.
Add the cream and beat again until it makes a spreadable consistency. Ice the top of the black cake so that it resembles the frothy top of the famous pint.

Citrus custard cake

Greece, Cumbria and house 147Citrus custard cake is an invention. Like any good guest I wanted to take something when Rosie and Sue suggested we meet up at Rosie’s place before we returned to the UK. In my head was a citrus and almond cake – a standard easy recipe involving boiled citrus fruit, whizzed in the food processor with eggs, sugar and ground almonds. It appears on this blog somewhere and many of you have commented on how delicious and easy it is. Which is true.

As always when cooking in Spain there are some fundamental flaws in any plan you might have in your head, to replicate what you do at home. One: it’s just not cricket to do what you do at home. Two: fundamental ingredients are not in the stock cupboard. Three: there is so stock cupboard. Four: this means you have to walk into a shop and ask for what you need – in my case “donde estan milados almondes por favor”. Five: it is rare to find a springform cake tin. Six: it isn’t your oven so its bound to burn.

So, after a fruitless search in the Dia supermarket (where, to be fair, my question was faultlessly enunciated and the helpful assistant understood what I asked but replied “No. nosotros no vendemos eso aqui”) I returned with no almonds.

This recipe is therefore sin almonds, sin boiled oranges and sin sugar because there were no ground almonds to be had in Orgiva, I had used nearly all the sugar and the lemons in the lemonade I had made the day before and we had eaten all the oranges. So far, the plan for citrus almond cake was proving to be a poor one! But. I soldiered on and necessity being the mother of invention, I invented out of necessity. So here it is….. The citrus custard cake.

Use the sweetened pulp left over (about 200ml) from yesterday’s lemonade which is sitting in the bottom of the saucepan waiting for inspiration to strike. Instead of whizzing in the food processor, leave it in the pan and chop any large pieces of flesh into smaller pieces. Add 150ml local runny honey and half a jar of excellent local marmelada de najaranja dulce (marmalade).

Beat 5 large eggs in a dessert bowl until really frothy (the dessert bowl isn’t necessary, its just that in a holiday let there are rarely full sets of mixing bowls hanging around). Measure out 8 heaped tablespoons of flour (I it was plain flour). Sift the flour through a tea-strainer (no sieve) into the saucepan containing the pulp, marmelade and running honey. Add 50ml olive oil and then the eggs. Now beat like fury with a wooden spoon until you have what looks like a thick batter.

By now you will not be surprised to hear that there was no springform cake tin or greaseproof paper so I greased the dish with more olive oil and dusted with flour. thickly sliced some lemons and placed in the bottom of the dish with a little sugar and some sliced almonds then poured in the batter. It cooked in an unreliable gas oven at what said 5 but was probably 6 as I had to turn it down and put foil on top after half an hour. In the end it was in the oven for about 45 minutes.

imageIt smelled divine. It looked pretty good. I let it cool in the dish for about an hour then turned it out onto the grill rack. Bottom side up it looked even more impressive, revealing caramelised lemons and almonds. I drifted the remaining sugar about 3 teaspoons) over the top.

The surprising thing is that it looked just like it was made with ground almonds until it was cut. What was revealed was a cooked custard spiked with lemons and oranges and it tasted pretty good. Nothing like citrus almond cake, I have to say, but pretty darned good. And I was not in the least bit ashamed to present it for consumption at Rosie’s place.

Banana brownies and caramel banana icecream

Well here we are after a mammoth Christmas and with new year resolutions to not waste any food produce or purchases.

I declare 4 very over-ripe bananas, half a bag of walnuts, a pot of full fat yogurt, half a jar of salt caramel sauce, a small pot of readymade custard – for these two recipes anyway.

First, the banana and walnut brownies. Cannot tell a lie – I have been forced to sample them this afternoon on the pretext that I cannot put anything on this site without having tasted it first. That’s my excuse anyway. I am now slightly woozy on a rich chocolate hit.

Brownies are probably the easiest cakes to make. Melt 250g butter with 150g soft brown sugar and 200g dark chocolate then take off the heat. Beat 3 eggs with 3 overripe bananas and one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Mix all this with the melted butter mixture. Then stir in 150g self raising flour and 2 tbsp cocoa powder and 120g chopped walnuts. Some recipes will indicate using more sugar than this but quite frankly if your bananas are as overripe as mine you won’t need it. So stick with these measures for success.

For those with a nervous disposition I suggest eating these in the morning where medical attention will be easier to access. If you eat them later you probably won’t sleep at night. Certainly I don’t expect to sleep tonight. The cardiac arrhythmia has already started and the medication is lined up on the work surface. 70% cocoa solids? Yay!

These quantities are sufficient to fill a standard sized lined baking tray. Halve the quantity if you want to about a dozen. Though why you would I cannot imagine. The whole street will be rhythmically sleepwalking to your door with noses in the air as the waft of warm chocolate and walnuts drifts out of the extractor fan and infiltrates all available open windows.

Pour the mixture into a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 35 minutes. Check after 25 minutes and place a single layer of parchment paper on top if it looks as if the edges are getting too brown.

Then remove the tray from the oven. I challenge you to not touch them till they get cold. No, that’s not fair; in fact my advice is don’t leave them till they get cold. They are mouth-wateringly delicious whilst still warm. If you want to be really decadent try them with leftovers icecream.

Leftovers icecream: Mix one medium sized (300ml in this instance) pot of full fat plain yogurt, with one small pot of readymade custard and about 30% of a jar of salted caramel sauce and a mashed banana. Pour into a container and freeze. Eat it all about 5 hours later – possibly with a warm brownie. You don’t have to eat it all. But it seems to make sense. And to eat it with a brownie or two, given that this combination is a marriage made in heaven.

Low carbs

Low carb diet. So why  do I feel compelled to bake cakes? Two batches for the birthday boy to take to work tomorrow.  They smell divine. But not a crumb has passed my lips.  Try these chewy buttery pecan slices. They have the consistency of Brownies but are suffused with pecan and maple syrup.  The recipe called for tons of sugar, and walnuts. But as is often the case, a little recipe tweaking was in order.

Cream 175g butter (only butter will do) with 100g caster and 75g mucovado sugar till very light and fluffy. Add 1 tbsp flour (it stops the eggs curdling). Then beat in two eggs, 1tsp vanilla extract, 150g plain flour and 50g medium oatmeal. When the dry ingredients are fully incorporated, add 75ml maple syrup and fold in 100g broken pecan nuts. Spoon the mixture into a rectangular tin lined with baking parchment, plant pecans in neat rows along the top and bake in the middle of the oven for about 30 minutes at  160c.  Hope you enjoy them boys!

Banana bread

Sometimes, and in spite of our best efforts, bananas just go manky, don’t they?  Come into a warm room and you can spot a manky spotty brown banana at 20 paces.  I found four skulking in the corner today, just screaming out to be made into Banana bread.  Some form of torture ensued as I am on a  low carb diet. Would I be able to resist it if I made it? Would I eat it all but be unable to erase the smell of baking banana bread, so that when David came in and his nose twitched I could not deny the baking of it? Nor the consumption of it?

Well I am pretty proud of myself because it has been out of the oven for two hours now and I haven’t touched it. Not even sneaked a little bit. So I think I am past the tipping point and might be into recovery!

This simple recipe was retrieved from the back of a brown paper bag in the mid 1970s.  The place was Croydon market. Wonder if it is still there, opposite Davey Place? Doubt it.

I use an electric hand whisk for this because I don’t own a Kitchen Aid, nor a Kenwood Chef.  I used to have a KC which my mum bought me for my 21st but I didnt realise the value of it, nor its potential longevity and I sold it for £20 in the mid 80’s when I was broke.  If anyone is thinking of buying me a present, I would prefer to replace the KC rather than have a KA.

Beat together 125g butter with 200g golden caster sugar, two eggs, a teaspoon of vanilla extract, 200g wholewheat plain flour, 1.5 tsp baking powder. Then fold in four mashed bananas and 125g broken up walnuts.

Pour into a lined tin and bake at 150C for about 50 minutes.  I tried mine in the microwave combination oven today and it worked a treat. Another little triumph for the environment!

On a generous day I would serve it just warm, with a thick slab of butter on it.  On a bad day I would do the same but eat it in a locked room so no-one could see.  On a virtuous day like today I SHALL NOT TOUCH IT!

Old friends and cakes


An old friend is like a warm fragrant cake. Welcome, full of delicious nuggets of news and leaves a warm glow and a smile.  Today my old friend Sue was on her way over with tales of her daughter’s beautiful wedding day and her nephew’s third birthday party. Monty and I decided to make some apple and sultana muffins – so quick to make, from thought to fragrant production in 30 minutes. Then we settled down with coffee and cake for a good natter.

125g plain flour, 125g wholemeal flour, 125ml runny honey, 100g butter, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, 50g ground almonds, 175ml natural yogurt, 150ml milk, 1tsp vanilla extract, 1 egg. 1 chopped dessert apple (keep the skin on) 75g sultanas

Melt the butter, add egg, yogurt, honey, milk and vanilla and combine.  Sift the dry ingredients and fruit into the wet and stir round a bit. As with all muffins, don’t be too fastidious about this.  Line muffin tins with muffin cases or parchement paper. Pile in the muffin mixture.  Cook at 160C for 20 minutes or so.

Gorgeous. Just like old friends.