Saturday, 30 March 2013

Fiddling the books?

Chelmsford Theatre recently sent me details of a show during the Easter holidays.  It was right up Ethan's alley so I booked for the family.

Within a week of booking I received a telephone call advising that the show was cancelled.

I knew the children would be disappointed but I checked, and I'd at least get my money back.  I was told I could have an exchange or a refund, and a refund suited me.  I was told I would have to have the refund on the card that was used for the original payment and I proffered my card details to get the admin over and done with as quickly as possible.

Apparently they needed to call me back after Easter to sort out the refund.  I pondered.  I was being called on a Tuesday, not Good Friday, not Saturday, not Sunday, not a day during the school holidays, just a Tuesday before Easter.

I asked, I think quite reasonably, why I had to wait until after Easter for a refund.  Apparently it's because of the proximity of the end of the tax year.  The accounts department won't allow them to process refunds until after Easter.

Really?  I mean if I'd called to book something then they'd have been only too happy to take my money, but it was not possible to give me my money back?  Really?

Well it's the end of my tax year too, and I'd much rather have the credit showing in 2012/13 than 2013/14.  Actually it makes no difference at all to me other than the compromise on the principle.  I trust Essex County Council about as far as I can spit and I'm not, nor ever have been, a long distance spitter.

Do you honestly believe that it wouldn't be possible to process refunds at the end of a tax year or do you think Essex County Council are cooking the books?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Lemon and poppy seed surprise muffins

I've been baking for our annual half marathon cake sale.  I've taken a previous recipe and added a twist, hence the surprise.  I haven't tasted these yet (because that would be consuming the profits) but I'm sure they'll be delish.


  • 250g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 85g granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp poppy seeds (or more if you fancy and I do)
  • 1 egg
  • 240ml milk
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind – preferably unwaxed
  • 90ml corn oil
  • 1/2 tsp lemon extract (can be substituted with more lemon rind)
  • 12 tsp lemon curd
  • 85g icing sugar
  • 4 tsp lemon juice (I just used everything I squeezed out of the lemon I used for the rind)
  • 1/4 tsp grated lemon rind (this can be omitted if you've run out of lemons)
  • Prepare muffin tins and preheat oven to 160°C for a fan oven.
  • Put flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and poppy seeds in a large bowl and stir with a fork.
  • In a separate bowl beat egg and stir in milk, lemon rind, oil and lemon extract.
  • Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until no flour is visible.
  • Spoon half of the mixture into muffin cases 
  • Spoon a teaspoon of lemon curd onto the muffin mixture
  • Spoon the remainder of the muffin mixture on top of the lemon curd
  • Bake for 20 mins or until lightly browned (this can take a little longer than 20 mins depending on your oven)
  • While muffins are in the oven make the glaze by combining glaze ingredients
  • While muffins are hot, spoon over the glaze and leave to cool slightly

The surprise is the lemon curd in the middle of the muffin.

These muffins freeze really well. Defrost or, if you're in a hurry, zap in a microwave for 30 seconds for each muffin.


Saturday, 2 March 2013

Another (better) self-saucing chocolate pudding

I have been searching for a self-saucing pudding for years.

My mum made one that was amazing.  I think she used to make it in a soufflé dish.  I need a soufflé dish.  Ideally I would have her recipe too, but I don't, hence the continued search.

I found this little Nigel Slater number in a magazine.  I made it with very dark Green and Blacks chocolate and I think a slightly lower cocoa content, higher sugar content chocolate might make it appeal to more palettes.  The children found it a little too rich.

It isn't an elegant dessert at all, but it has gooey chocolate in spades and, in my experience, that can compensate for a lack of appearance.


  • 150g self-raising flour
  • 2 slightly heaped tbsp cocoa powder (I hate recipes with ill-defined quantities so I just chucked some cocoa in and guessed when I'd put enough in)
  • 45g ground almonds
  • 200g light muscovado sugar (I'm sure you could use any old sugar)
  • 75g dark chocolate finely chopped (I used 75% but I think less would be better, but I wouldn't go as far as milk chocolate)
  • 200 ml milk
  • 25g melted butter plus more for greasing
  • a few drops of vanilla extract (I chucked loads in, probably too much)
  • 1 large egg

For the sauce

  • 175g golden caster sugar
  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 500ml freshly boiled (not boiling) water



This method starts a bit like a muffin recipe with dry ingredients in one bowl and wet ingredients in a second bowl then stir them together.

Firstly though, butter an oval dish about 1.5l capacity and turn oven on to 180°C (or 160°C for a fan oven)

Put flour, cocoa, almonds, muscovado sugar and chocolate in a bowl.  If you're wondering how finely chopped the chocolate needs to be, this was my interpretation.

IMG 6304

And this is what you should have

IMG 6305

which I then stirred.

In a separate bowl or jug whisk together the milk, melted butter, vanilla extract and egg.

IMG 6306

Pour the wet mixture into the dry and stir together unit there's no flour visible.  Pour into the buttered dish.

IMG 6308

Mix the cocoa for the sauce with the sugar and scatter over the pudding.  I used a sieve.

IMG 6309

Add the freshly boiled water.

IMG 6310

At this point you'll be thinking you've added too much water and that it looks very unpromising.  To take your mind off these doubts, put this in the oven.

Cook for 40 minutes until the top is springy. (Not sure mine was.)  After you've taken it out of the oven, leave it to rest for 10 minutes.  Apparently this step is essential but I forgot it.

IMG 6311

Maybe it looks better if you rest it.  I opted to serve instead of rest.

IMG 6312

Served with cream to counteract the strength of chocolate flavours.