Friday, 17 June 2016

Camp cake

Hannah had signed up to family camp and, being the supportive family that we are, she was going alone.

One of the requirements of the camp is that participants take cake to share with fellow campers.  Hannah left it too late to bake anything, so I stepped in, and this is what I baked.


It’s a traditional chocolate sponge cake recipe, covered in buttercream with a smattering of white chocolate buttons.  I was impressed at the height of the cake - some cakes rise better than others, and this was a good one.

You will need two 7 inch cake tins, preferably with deep-ish sides.  The need a circle of baking parchment on the base and I greased the paper and the sides of the tin. My mum used to flour her cake tins too but her tins weren’t non-stick, whereas mine are.


  • 225g baking margarine - I use Stork and it has never failed me.  I buy the Stork in tubs - the stuff sold in blocks is best for pastry.  This may seem like a baking crime (surely butter is better) but margarine produces lighter results than butter.
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs (I used large eggs and they should be at room temperature)
  • 40g cocoa mixed with 4tbsp hot water (if you use medium eggs I would use 5tbsp of hot water here)
  • 225g SR flour (I used plain flour with 3tsp baking powder because I resent cupboard space being used for plain and SR flour)

For the buttercream:

  • 220g butter which needs to be soft and squidgy
  • 340g icing sugar
  • 110g cocoa
  • 2-4 tbsp milk
Optional decoration:
  • 17 white chocolate buttons


  • Pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees.
  • Beat sugar and marg together for quite a while until it’s super light and fluffy. The colour should change as you beat it with the colour getting lighter and lighter.
  • Add the eggs and beat some more.  You will have a curdled mixture at this point.  You could add a bit of flour but I wouldn’t.  The curdling will not adversely impact the end result.
  • Add the cocoa and water mixture and beat again.
  • Fold in the flour.  You could use a mixer again here but the recipe said fold, so I folded. 
  • Scrape into cake tins and try and level the mixture out as best you can.  It sort of self levels a bit anyway so precision isn’t fantastically important.  If you have digital scales though you can use them to try and ensure you have even mixture distribution between the tins. #geekcooking
  • Bake on the middle shelf for 45 to 55 mins.  A light press on the top that gets a bounce back determines doneness.
  • When baked allow to cool for a couple of mins before turning out onto a wire rack.  A tall cylinder (like a tall mug) can be used to help push the cake up through the tin. Put the mug down on the surface, put the cake half on the mug and gently push the sides of the tin down to release the cake from its metal prison.
  • While the cakes are cooling you can make the buttercream.
  • Very gently beat the butter, the cocoa and half the icing sugar.  If you start mixing vigorously you’ll have icing sugar clouds everywhere.
  • Once the icing sugar is incorporated you can carefully add the remaining icing sugar and the milk.  Reserve a bit of the milk because the milk amount is what determines the texture.  You’re aiming for spreadable.
  • Once the cake has cooled spread enough buttercream on one half and sandwich the two halves together.
  • Put several splurges of buttercream on the top of the cake and use a palette knife (or maybe the back of a spoon) to speed the mixture around to cover the top.
  • To cover the sides I prefer to put more buttercream on the top and then gradually ease it onto the sides.
  • If you have an excess of buttercream you have two options: eat it or freeze it.  Buttercream freezes very well and can be beaten again when defrosted before using.
  • I’m not very good at decorating cakes but to get the look in the picture, grab a fork and work the icing upwards using the fork.  Continue the working the icing from the outer edge to the centre.
  • You’ll end up with a quiff in the centre of the cake.   Place a white chocolate button on it and then place remaining buttons around the edge of the cake.
  • To serve, give to your daughter and let her take it to Scout camp ensuring you’ll never see it again. 


Monday, 16 May 2016

1970s Yoghurt in a flask

When I was growing up my mum made this, not often, but I remember it.

It's cheaper than shop bought and it feels more wholesome simply because it's homemade and you're responsible for what goes into it.
To make 1.2l you will need:
  • A flask - I treated myself to a gorgeous cranberry 1.2l Thermos flask (which, as an aside, comes with a fifty year guarantee)
  • 1l UHT whole milk
  • 50g skimmed milk powder
  • 6 tbsp live yoghurt (or 90ml)
  • A cooking thermometer
  • Funnel

  • Fill the flask with boiling water to heat it up and then mix the skimmed milk powder with the milk in a saucepan.
  • Heat gently to 46°C stirring all the time
  • When you reach the right temperature, add the live yoghurt and stir well.
  • Empty the flask of the hot water and fill with milk mixture using the funnel to avoid making a mess.
  • Pop the lid on and store for 8-24 hours.  The closer to 24 hours, the creamier the result.
  • Pour into one or many receptacles and when cool, pop into fridge where it will be good for about five days.  I store portion-sized amounts in jam jars in the fridge and mix with lemon curd when I want to eat it.  Ethan likes a raisin and runny honey whereas I'm a also a fan of stewed rhubarb.
  • You can keep some of the yogurt you've made as a starter for your next batch. If you want to this can be frozen and defrosted when needed.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Moving thoughts, or thought on moving

So I've just finished week 3, and I have some random thoughts.

You have to see a lot of molehills before you see a mole (and I'm still waiting to see one).

Running through mud is a pain in the backside. The upside is that if you end up with mud splashes on your running gear then it looks like you've tried hard.

Running is easier when you're listening to music.

It's really, incredibly annoying when the app you're following that tells you when to run/walk crashes.

It doesn't matter when you go out, it's better to go out then not.

Planning your route so that when you hear the words "Your workout is complete" just as you see your house, is a source of satisfaction.

Planning your route so that the running bits are downhill or on the flat and the walking bits are uphill is also an art form.

Monday, 22 February 2016

Chocolate and pear not upside-down pudding

I saw this recipe, read the instructions and there were things that I didn't like.

Firstly it required putting skillet or frying pan in the oven. Now I know that some frying pans are simply not meant for the oven. I think mine would be OK, but why would I want to risk it?

Secondly, the cake, which has gooey elements, needs to be turned upside-down and there were cautionary words in the instructions to "be careful not to burn yourself". I'm very good at burning myself so I have adapted the recipe to avoid melting frying pan handles and also to avoid heat-related injuries. If you do burn yourself then don't come running to me - I've removed the highest risk element.

You will need a frying pan (not for the oven) and a pie dish - approx 20-25cm in diameter. I'd say a tart or quiche dish wouldn't be deep enough.

You can do quite a bit of preparation ahead of the cooking bit allowing you to appear super organised as you just chuck everything together at the last minute.

Serves 4-8 based on level of appetite and greed


  • 35g butter (preferably unsalted)
  • 250g light brown sugar
  • 4 ripe pears, peeled, cored and thickly sliced (I find pears to be fickle beasts when it comes to ripeness so I used the drained contents of two tins of pears)
  • 150g plain chocolate
  • 180g plain flour
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp bicarb of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 200ml buttermilk (if you don't have buttermilk, and frankly who does, then use milk soured with lemon juice - you add the lemon juice, wait a bit and the milk goes all yucky - perfect buttermilk substitute)
  • 75ml vegetable oil (I like to use corn oil)


  • Melt the butter in a frying pan
  • Stir in half the sugar and heat for a couple of minutes stirring continuously until it becomes a light caramel colour
  • Take off the heat and scatter in the pears
  • Ensure the pears are coated in the sugar mixture and then transfer to the pie dish
  • Break the chocolate into bite-sized pieces (or if you’re as much of a glutton as me, maybe half bite-sized pieces)
  • Scatter the chocolate pieces amongst the pears in the dish
  • In a clean bowl mix the flour, cocoa, bicarb and baking powder
  • In a separate jug or bowl which together the eggs, remaining sugar, buttermilk and oil
  • Mix the flour mixture with the egg mixture to form a batter.  This can now be kept in the fridge until needed for the cooking bit.
  • When you’re ready for your domestic god or goddess moment, turn the oven on to 180degrees C (fan).
  • When the oven is at the right temperature pour the batter on top of the pear and sugar and then bake for 40 minutes.
  • Stand for five minutes prior to serving.

The squidgy, oozy nature of this dessert is by design not accident.

Delicious with ice cream, cream or the filthy, dirty squirty aerosol cream that lives in our fridge.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

I'm back and it's pretty ugly

My three months off running has just come to an end.  I can officially re-commence running.

In the intervening time I have acquired trail running shoes and some nice running gear for when it's wet and/or cold.

What I appear to have lost in the same three months is any fitness my previous exercise might have bestowed upon me.

I decided to start from scratch again with the C25K app.  I'm very conscious that if I get at all disheartened with my progress I'll crumble and any willpower or motivation will evaporate.  So if I keep the goals achievable, I'll stick with it.

It was muddy and slippery and my trail running shoes didn't stop my sliding and they still gave me numb toes.  I think I slid less than I would have in regular trainers though and the numb toes thing is just me.

I have been out twice, once in the cold, and once in damp and miserable conditions.  I also have a cold so am taking it easy.

It's OK.  Running is better when it's beautiful and cheery outside but this is OK.  I plan to keep trying.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Smoked mackerel and chive tart

This isn't smocked mackerel and chive tart but smoked mackerel and chive tart.  It's a subtle difference.

I like smoked mackerel in limited quantities and in this recipe the quantities are just right.

If you want to skip the pastry making and buy ready made shortcrust, I won't judge you but this method wasn't difficult, and I speak as a pastryphobe.

You'll need a 22cm tart/quiche tin preferably with removable base, although not essential.  If you only have a 25cm tin then don't fret.  The pastry quantities will still be sufficient but you might want to increase the filling ingredients about 20-25%.  I was in this situation and added a bit more mackerel, crème fraîche, horseradish but not more chives or egg.


  • 320g ready rolled shortcrust pastry or a block which you roll yourself or:
  • 250g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 140g butter (very cold and cubed)
  • 2 tbsp (roughly) iced water

  • 2 large eggs beaten
  • 180g smoked mackerel
  • 100ml milk
  • 200ml crème fraîche (can be half fat but why would you)
  • 3 tsp creamed horseradish
  • 25g fresh chives - chopped

For the pastry:

  • Add the salt to the flour and then pop in a food processor with the cubed butter
  • Whizz until you get a fine crumb
  • Gradually add water until a dough forms
  • At this point I like to chill for 30 mins but you don't have to
  • Roll out pastry between sheets of greaseproof paper and then line your greased (with butter) tart tin with a bit of pastry overhang, about a centimetre.  I usually trim the pastry with scissors to get an even overhang.  The overhang is there because pastry shrinks when cooked.  Make sure you push the pastry gently into the tin - this is best done with the back of the index finger.
  • Prick the base and sides with a fork, also prick the corner bits at the edge of the base - this area is my bête noire because it always seems to puff up when baked
  • Chill the pastry in its case for 30 mins and put a baking sheet in the oven and turn the oven on to 200°C
  • Blind bake for 15 mins by placing the tin on the baking sheet - this means the tart case with baking parchment (I find the pre-cut and fluted cake tin liners from Lakeland are perfect) and fill with baking beans, or rice or beans or whatever.  These baking beans are sold in a standard amount and I use two lots and make sure they are pushed into the corners.  The reason you bake on a baking sheet is that the pastry is quite a buttery mixture and some butter can ooze whilst baking.  A baking sheet is easier to clean than an oven.
  • Take out and carefully remove baking beans and baking parchment.
  • Bake for another 5 mins (this wasn't in the original recipe but I did it by accident and it seemed to work - if it ain't broke...)
  • Take out and brush base with beaten egg - you can try to brush the sides as well but I found that a bit faffy
  • Bake for another 5 mins
  • Take out of the oven
  • Carefully trim away the pastry overhang.  I use a knife and find this is a tedious and messy process.  Why someone doesn't just produce a tart tin that's a little deeper to accommodate this problem, I just don't know.  It would save me time and stress hormones.
  • Your base can now be filled or can wait until you're ready for the next stage.  You can freeze your case now if you want to.
For the filling:
  • Take the skin off the smoked mackerel.
  • Run your fingers along its spine to feel for bones.  They probably wouldn't do any harm but I like to remove the ones I can feel or see.
  • Tear flesh into smallish pieces (about 2/3 the size of your little finger?) and scatter in your tart case.
  • In a large jug whisk eggs, milk, crème fraîche, horseradish and chives.  You can add a healthy grind of black pepper too if you fancy it.  You're really just combining the ingredients thoroughly here not trying to whip air into the mixture.
  • Pour over the mackerel and then bake for 25-30 minutes.  I used a 25 cm tin and found I was baking it for about 40 minutes to get a golden colour.  You'll also notice that the tart puffs up when baked but sinks down when removed from the oven.  This is perfectly normal.
I wouldn't recommend eating this hot, but if warm or cold it is delicious.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Best pancake recipe

I've tried a few pancake recipes over the years and the one I tried this year is the one I'm sticking with.
It makes ten small pancakes
  • 100g plain flour
  • pinch af salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 300ml milk
  • butter for cooking
  • Put flour in a bowl and add salt.  I have a wonderful big Le Creuset jug that is perfect for this and allows the last dregs to be poured into the frying pan.
  • Make a well in the flour and break the eggs into the well.
  • Add the oil - don't use olive oil because you don't want a strong tasting oil. Rapeseed oil is fine, or corn oil.
  • Add 50ml of the milk.
  • Whisk using hand whisk.  I think using a blender or electric/wand whisk, is overkill.  You are aiming for a sloppy smooth paste consistency.
  • Gradually add remaining milk, mixing all the time.
  • Rest or don’t rest the mix - it doesn’t make any difference.
  • Put a small knob of butter in a frying pan over a medium to high heat and, when it’s bubbling, poor enough mixture to cover two thirds of the pan and whoosh it around so that it covers the whole of the base of the pan.  I use a ladle to try and ensure the same amount (about half a ladle) is used each time.  
  • When the underside has cooked feel free to flip the pancake or use a fish slice if you’re of a more cowardly persuasion (I don’t flip).
  • When the new underside is cooked your pancake is ready.
  • Serve with whatever takes your fancy and start with a new knob of butter for the next pancake.
The depressing thing about making pancakes is that the chef spends all their time making the blasted things and there’s never enough time to eat one.  I end up waiting until the family have had their fill and then I get left with whatever batter is left in the bowl.  I then cook, eat, cook, eat, whereas everyone else enjoys a continual stream of pancakeage.  Pancakes are a lovely treat though and I always mean to enjoy them on more than just Shrove Tuesday.