April 23, 2015


I really miss the two enormous rhubarb patches that my parents had in their garden.  My mum made lovely rhubarb pies and crumbles and once I had left the family home I would be given armfuls of rhubarb to take away with me so that I could make my own.


A cutting of the family rhubarb plant has followed me to France.  It’s growing well in the pot we brought it over in and now needs to be planted out in our French garden, which unfortunately doesn’t look much like a garden at all.


It looks like a war zone after the installation of the new fosse septique.  The construction work followed by weeks of rain followed by a long dry spell has left a mountain of boulders, some of rock and some of earth that is now hard as nails, most of which is clay.  Ten tons of topsoil delivered two weeks ago lie undisturbed in a pile at the edge of the garden, waiting to be spread over the tilled earth – after we get round to tilling it.  Kitchen construction work has taken priority and garden work has been put on the back burner for the time being.


Meanwhile our rhubarb continues to grow happily in its pot, waiting to be transplanted to its permanent home.


We are big fans of the apple compote you find on French supermarket shelves, using it mainly to put on our breakfast cereal.  Recently I spotted a jar of rhubarb compote and decided to try it for a change.  In fact it was so delicious that I thought I could use it to make a crumble – the compote looked much more like stewed rhubarb than a completely smooth compote and also had some added sugar, making it an ideal filling.  With plenty of eggs in the kitchen the idea of a meringue sprang to mind.  I also had a pack of ready made pastry in the fridge, perfect for the job.

With our kitchen still being work in progress, baking dishes and ingredients are spread all around the rest of the house.  I went in search of a tart dish or tin but after a bit of rummaging I unearthed instead my ancient Pyrex pie dish.  This was part of a Pyrex starter set bought when I first set up my own home in 1972.  A pie dish, mixing bowl, measuring jug and, if I remember correctly, a pudding basin.  The only piece that has survived the decades and numerous house moves is the pie dish, which must have been used for scores of apple pies.

I used the Be-Ro  book recipe for lemon meringue pie to make the meringue, putting one of the unused egg yolks into the rhubarb mixture, for no other reason than that I thought it seemed like a good idea.


The result was a very quick and easy to make dessert that I will definitely be making again.  The rhubarb compote is a real find but of course in future I hope to use my own stewed rhubarb, and possibly the numberous variations on a theme just waiting to be tried: rhubarb with orange, strawberry or ginger would all go well in a meringue pie.

The meringue was crisp on the outside, soft, sweet and marshmallowy in the inside.  It worked really well with the sharpness of the rhubarb.  The only change I would make next time is to maybe put both egg yolks into the rhubarb filling and because it was a bit runny, maybe add a little cornflour to stiffen it slightly.



1 pack ready made, ready rolled, shortcrust pastry

½ jar rhubarb compote, approx 300g

2 large eggs, separated

225g caster sugar


Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170° fan. 

Use the pastry to line a tart tin, or suitable pie dish.  Line the pastry case with baking paper, fill with baking beans and bake blind for 15 minutes. 

To make the meringue (while the pastry is cooking), whisk the egg whites to the stiff peak stage, add the sugar a spoonful at a time and whisk into the egg.

Stir the egg yolks into the rhubarb compote and mix well.  Remove the baking paper and beans from the pastry case and spread the rhubarb mixture evenly over the base.

Spoon the meringue mixture on top of the fruit layer, starting at the outside edge so that there is a good seal and no gaps.  Reduce the temperature to 150°C / 130° fan and return the pie to the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes until the meringue is crisp and golden.

Serves 4-6.

April 19, 2015



I made this cake for Loire Valley Clandestine Cake Club’s Easter meeting.  The idea comes from a cake made by Dom of Bellau kitchen, where he filled a sponge cake with lemon curd and an Eton Mess mixture, and the recipe also included vodka and elderflower cordial.  You can read all about it here.

My version had a filling of home made lemon curd – only the second time in my life that I have made it, the first being about fifty years ago in a domestic science lesson at school.  I was surprised how easy it was to make and also how absolutely fabulous it tasted.  Well worth the effort for something special.  I then put some crushed meringue pieces into whipped cream to make the Eton mess part of the filling.

I used a Mary Berry all-in-one Victoria sponge recipe for the cake and decorated it with a pile of chocolate mini eggs, glued onto the top of the cake with a spoonful of the same lemon curd.

I had the usual problem with the French cream.  In the past I have occasionally had success in whipping it to the right consistency but recently there have been a few disasters where, no matter how hard I whisked/whipped/beat it, it simply would not thicken.  It would become fluffy enough to serve separately in a bowl to be handed round with a dessert, but not stiff enough to support one cake on top of another, which is very frustrating.

Consequently during transport to the CCC venue the top layer slid almost completely off the bottom one and I had to push it back into position, making the cake look even more of a mess.  I suppose the slipperiness of the layer of lemon curd didn’t help the situation!  Luckily it tasted lovely so that made up for its untidy appearance!

(Other members confessed to bringing double cream, or Elmlea, which apparently has a longer shelf life, to France from the UK, to ensure success with their whipped cream!)

You can read about the Loire Valley CCC meeting here.


I am linking this cake to the “Love Cake” challenge run by Ness at Jibber Jabber UK.  The theme this month is “Step into Spring” and you can read all about it here.


For the lemon curd (make it at least one day before the cake!)

3 lemons

200g caster sugar

115g unsalted butter, diced

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

Method for the lemon curd

Put the grated rind and juice of the lemons into a large bowl over a pan of simmering water.

Add the sugar and butter and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter melted.

Beat the eggs and egg yolks together in a separate bowl, strain into the lemon mixture through a sieve and whisk until well combined.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly until the mixture has thickened enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.  Remove from the heat and pour into two small, sterilised jars.

Seal and label the jars and store in a cool place.  Use within three months.  Once opened, store in the fridge.

Makes two small 225g jars.

For the cake

225g softened butter (I normally use Lurpak spreadable but this time used a French equivalent)

225g caster sugar

4 large eggs

225g self raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

For the filling

150ml double or whipping cream

2 tblsp lemon curd

2 large meringue nests, shop bought or home made, crushed – there should be a mixture of crumbs and a few largish pieces.

a handful of chocolate mini eggs for decoration


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease two 20cm sandwich tins and line the bases with baking paper.

Put all the cake ingredients into a large bowl and beat until thoroughly combined.

Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and level the tops.  Bake for about 25 minutes until done.

Cool in the tins for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and remove the baking paper.

Beat the cream until thick or fairly stiff and mix in the crushed meringue pieces.

Spread the lemon curd on the top of one cake.  Spread the cream and meringue mixture on top of that.  Put the other cake on top of the filling,  dust with icing sugar and secure a few chocolate mini eggs to the top with a spoonful of lemon curd.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

April 16, 2015

PEAR AND CHOCOLATE BROWNIE CAKE - and two steps forward, one step back on the new kitchen.

pear and chocolate brownie cake 

Recently we stayed in a friend’s house in France while our kitchen floor in our own French home was being retiled.  Retiling has meant removing the old kitchen and the staircase, rendering the house uninhabitable. 

kitchen works2

A ladder was in the place of the staircase for a while, until it came to the actual laying of the new floor, then that had to go as well.  Because we had no kitchen and couldn’t get upstairs, we decided to move out, and our friends Tim and Gaynor kindly offered us the use of their house while they were away on holiday.

Cooking in someone else’s house is a challenge.  Not an unpleasant one, I may add, but getting to grips with an unfamiliar oven and finding the right equipment makes for quite and adventure.

pear and chocolate brownie cake2

I found this very pretty plate in the cupboard with the dinner plates.

We were treading water for a while, with time on our hands, waiting for the building work to be finished, so I had the time to bake something nice.  I found a copy of Good Housekeeping “Great Cakes” on Gaynor’s bookshelf and as I have the same book myself I decided to bake something I had had my eye on for a while - “Sticky pear and chocolate brownie cake”.

The cake turned out slightly less squidgy and brownie like than I expected, possibly because I forgot to set the timer and guessed!  It was still delicious and definitely one I would make again.

The icing is simply made using icing sugar and coffee.  The picture in the book shows it as a thick drizzle over the cake but for reasons that now escape me, I decided to brush it over the cake in an even layer, which didn’t look quite so good.   In fact by the time the cake was cut it had crystallised slightly and looked even less attractive than when I took its picture above.  I think that next time I will pour the icing over the cake just before it is served.

kitchen floor

As soon as the kitchen floor was finished we moved back in amongst the dust and chaos to begin the next phase, which was to board over the remaining walls and fit plumbing, gas and an electricity supply, ready for the imminent arrival of the kitchen units from the UK.  As soon as the lorry driver started unloading the pallets containing our beautiful brand new Magnet units I could see that something was wrong and my heart sank.

After everything we have done to the house so far – a new fosse septique, a new drive, a new kitchen floor, new walls, new doorway and, not least of all the choosing, designing and paying for a lovely new Magnet kitchen – you would think that simply getting the units shipped over here would be the easiest part.  All they had to do was to secure them on pallets, put them onto a van and drive them here.

Unfortunately whoever loaded the pallets did a thoroughly incompetent job which meant that several of the units arrived broken.  Cartons marked “fragile” and “this way up” had been laid on their side with other stuff piled on top of them.  Someone had clearly driven the forks of a fork lift into two of the base units, smashing them.  Then they rewrapped them in cling film so the damage was not apparent until the whole pallet was unpacked.  What kind of person would do that? 

kitchen damage

Replacements have been ordered but I wouldn’t trust Europa Worldwide to arrange the delivery of anything I ever want to see in one piece again, so we are fetching them ourselves.  Which unfortunately means yet another unscheduled and costly twelve hour each way journey across the channel (fourteen hours in fact with a trailer) that we really didn’t want to have to make.  Thank you, Europa Worldwide.

kitchen damage2

Our temporary new kitchen.  The gaps are where the damaged units should have gone, thanks to the idiot with the fork lift.

We have fitted the items salvaged from the wreckage of the delivery, added some temporary cheap worktops to perch the sink and hob on top of, so that at least we can function for a week or two until the new items arrive.  Meanwhile we are claiming for the damage on Europa’s insurance.  In my opinion insurance should be against accidents, not negligence or incompetence, which is what caused the damage to our kitchen units.  No accident occurred other than being in the hands of some bonehead intent on wrecking our valuable property and then hiding the evidence.

C’est la vie.teatime treats I’m linking this post to this month’s Tea Time Treats Challenge, run by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, where the theme this month is, of course, chocolate!


It also qualifies for Dom’s Simply Eggcellent challenge at Bellau Kitchen, where the theme this month is eggs and chocolate.

alphabakesTo complete the trio of challenges this month, I’m also entering it into the Alphabakes Challenge where the theme this month is the letter B, organised by Caroline of Caroline Makes.


275g plain chocolate

75g pecan nuts (or walnuts)

125g unsalted butter

2 eggs

75g caster sugar

½tsp vanilla extract

1tblsp strong black coffee

75g self raising flour

3 large ripe pears

For the icing

75g icing sugar

2tblsp strong black coffee


Make yourself a cup of strong black coffee.  Don’t drink it – allow it to go cold.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170°fan / gas mk 5.  Grease and line the base of a 23cm round baking tin or dish with baking paper.

Chop the nuts and 75g of the chocolate and set aside.

Put the remaining 200g of chocolate with the butter into a large heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Heat gently until melted, stirring occasionally and set aside to cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and 1tblsp of the coffee.  Add the melted chocolate and beat again.  Fold in the flour, chopped nuts and chopped chocolate.

Peel, core and quarter the pears and arrange in the prepared dish or tin, laying the pears with the narrow end towards the centre.  Pour over the chocolate mixture.

Bake for 60 minutes, covering lightly with foil half way through.

Cool in the tin for a few minutes then invert onto a cake plate.  Remove the baking paper and leave to cool completely.

Before serving, sift the icing sugar into a bowl, add 2tblsp coffee and beat until smooth.  Add a little more coffee or water if necessary.  Drizzle over the cake.

Cuts into 8-10 slices.

March 25, 2015


cherry and almond yoghurt cake

I stumbled upon the idea for this cake in a roundabout way.  When I was actually looking for an easy yoghurt cake recipe I couldn’t find one quite this simple.  When I wasn’t looking for anything in particular along comes a recipe that is so easy and adaptable that it’s a real find.  I think so anyway.

cherry and almond yoghurt cake2

The idea is that you use a pot of yoghurt as one of the ingredients and use the empty pot to measure out all the other ingredients, well most of them anyway.

The idea is that it’s so simple you should never need to resort to a packet cake mix ever again.  I’m not quite so sure it’s absolutely that simple, especially when you decide to make an adaptation using glacé cherries like I did.  All that chopping, rinsing and drying of the cherries takes a fair amount of time.  I also followed a tip in one of Delia Smith’s cherry cake recipes – to keep some back and push them into the mixture before you put the cake in the oven, thereby making it less likely that all your cherries will sink to the bottom.

I used a paper line for my loaf tin, something which I now do regularly.  I’m not entirely sure I like the ridges you end up with on the side of the cake – which make it look rather like a shop bought cake – but it saves time and fiddling with baking paper.

cherry and almond yoghurt cake3

You can use any flavour of yoghurt you like.  Plain yoghurt would be good for a lemon cake version and I used strawberry for my cherry cake – I would have used cherry but when I opened the fridge the cherry one had already gone from the pack !!

There was a lot of mixture so I only filled the loaf tin by two thirds and used the remaining mixture to make some little buns.

The cake had a lovely texture, was nice and moist, cut well and kept well for several days.  Definitely a good recipe to have up your sleeve and great with a cup of tea or coffee. 

You can see the original version here.


1 small 125ml pot of cherry or strawberry yoghurt

1 pot of light olive oil (or sunflower oil)

½tsp almond essence

2 pots golden caster sugar

2 pots plain flour

1 pot ground almonds

1tsp baking powder

150g glacé cherries

4 eggs


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Grease, oil or butter a loaf tin and line the bottom, or use a paper liner.  Have a lined muffin tin or greased bun tin ready.

Chop the cherries into quarters, rinse and dry thoroughly – removing the syrup from them is what helps to prevent them sinking to the bottom of the cake, allegedly.

Put the yoghurt, oil, essence and sugar into a large bowl and mix together.  Add the eggs and mix again.  Add the flour, almonds and baking powder and mix thoroughly.

Stir in about three quarters of the cherries and transfer to your prepared tin.  Don’t overfill it – use excess mixture for your muffins or buns.

Dot the rest of the cherries over the cake and push each one into the mixture, just below the surface.

Bake the cake for 45-55 minutes, the buns will be ready in 25-30 minutes.  Cool in the tin for ten minutes then remove to a wire rack to finish cooling.

Cuts into 10-12 slices.

March 4, 2015


sweetheart cakes

Some time ago Nick announced that he doesn’t really like cake all that much and the only cakes he does like are chocolate, ginger and fruit cake.  So for Valentine’s Day I decided I would treat him to some chocolate and ginger cakes, using my pretty new heart shaped tin.

Then things went pear shaped time wise – and baking was off the agenda.

sweetheart cakes6 Our kitchen in France used to look like this.  It looks pretty good from a distance but there are lots of things wrong with it so we decided to lash out on a new one.


The kitchen now looks like this.  Notice the nice big empty space under the beam where we found a humungous mouse nest.

Design 5

This is the artist’s impression of our new kitchen.  Nice and clean, no mouse nests, an oven whose door doesn’t fall off and nice tiles on the floor that don’t break up when you stand on them.  Plus a sink that drains properly and good lighting.

The new installation is about a month off but there is a lot of preparation work to do first, namely to remove the old kitchen, dig up the old kitchen floor and put down a new one.  The floor is being done by a professional builder and Nick had to dash across the channel to start the removal of the old kitchen before the said builder can start.  Hence the reason that I didn’t get my little cakes made.


Before I set off for France myself I picked up a packet of chocolate cake mix just in case.  I had no idea at that point whether I was going to have the facilities to bake anything so I thought I would make it easy for myself.  In fact we have managed to set up a reasonably functional temporary kitchen in the dining room.  Sadly the water supply is at the other end of the building but you can’t have everything.  It’s significantly better than camping at least.

sweetheart cakes2

Wright’s Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix was recommended in a blog I read as a handy item to have in the store cupboard so that’s the one I bought.  On the back of the pack there are instructions for using it for a loaf cake, muffins, cupcakes or a traybake so that inspired me with confidence. 

sweetheart cakes3

I added to the mix some ground ginger and chopped preserved ginger and used my new heart shaped bun tin.  There was a lot of mixture left over, enough to make four mini bundt cakes as well.

 sweetheart cakes4Unfortunately I couldn’t find my can of cake release spray so I buttered the tins well but the cakes still stuck, which was annoying.  Having had a few sticking bundt disasters in the past I find that the spray is the only way to more or less guarantee that the cake will come out.

Sadly this meant that all but one of the little cakes lost the nice pretty pattern on top that should have been imparted by the tin.  So I decorated them with a little ginger flavoured icing and they looked fine.  They tasted nice too.

sweetheart cakes5

I can’t say that they tasted as good as a real home made cake would have done but they were fine.  Better than no cake at all, which, under the circumstances, was the other option.  I will get another packet of the cake mix in for emergencies and even try some of the other flavours available.


Now I am really cheating and being rather cheeky in submitting these little cakes to the Aphabakes Challenge, organised by Ros of The more than occasional baker and Caroline of Caroline Makes, which this month is for the letter S. 

I fully intended to enter them last month when the letter was V – as chocolate and ginger Valentine’s cakes.  I blame mitigating circumstances for my cheek in changing the name to sweetheart cakes instead to comply with this month’s theme.  You can see the details here.

(If you’re interested you can read more about our new kitchen adventure here.)

Cheat’s Chocolate and Ginger Sweetheart Cakes


1 pack of Wright’s Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix

200ml water and 60ml vegetable oil (as specified on the packet)

1tsp ground ginger

2 balls preserved ginger, chopped

2tblsp icing sugar

2 tsp syrup from the jar of ginger


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Spray two bun tins with cake release spray (or butter well and cross your fingers).

Make up the cake mix according to the instructions on the packet, adding in the ginger.

Divide the mixture between the tins and bake for 20-25 minutes or until done.

Allow to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes then ease out gently and cool on a wire rack.

Make up the icing using a little extra liquid (water or syrup) if necessary to make runny.  Drizzle over the cakes when completely cold.

Makes approx 24 small cakes or buns.

February 27, 2015


Not long ago I was looking for a French cake recipe that I could adapt to a gluten free version, something fairly plain but interesting that would go nicely with a morning coffee or afternoon tea, but by no means be a showstopper.  Somehow or other I stumbled across Gateau Nantais.

gateau nantais

It certainly doesn’t look like a showstopper, does it?

There were plenty of recipes on the internet and most claim that what it lacks in good looks is more than compensated for in flavour.  It is essentially an almond cake flavoured with rum.

gateau nantais3

The only rum I had in the house was a dark spiced rum so that’s what I used.  However, the interesting part is how the gateau Nantais came about.  The merchant ships from the Caribbean used to arrive in Nantes with rum as one of their many cargoes.  There are lots of things you can do with rum but the people of Nantes discovered it was very nice in a cake.  I cannot disagree with them!

Among the recipes I consulted there was one by fellow blogger Phil at As Strong as Soup which you can see here, and one in French which you can see here.  The one I chose to adapt was from the blog written by Mary-Anne Boermans, one of my favourite contestants from the Great British Bake Off a few years ago.  She was the baker always coming up with fascinating recipes with a touch of history about them and in fact she has written a book of old British recipes – which Nick gave to me as a Christmas present but has yet to be tried out.  Her blog is well worth dipping in to and you can see the recipe for Gateau Nantais here.

gateau nantais5

I was relieved to see my cake looked very similar to those in the pictures of Gateau Nantais in Google images – always a good way of finding recipes and finding out how the finished dish should look.  It was very pleasant and well received but if I was to make it again, and I probably will, I think I would probably put in more rum.


For the cake

200g caster sugar

150g butter, softened

60g gluten free plain flour

200g ground almonds

3 eggs

1tsp vanilla extract

20ml rum

For the topping and icing

20ml rum to brush over the cake

100g icing sugar

20ml rum to make the icing


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan.  Grease and base line a 23cm spring form tin.

Whisk the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy using an electric whisk – this may take up to ten minutes.

Add the flour and ground almonds and mix well.  Whisk in the eggs one at a time.

Add 20ml rum and the vanilla extract.

Transfer to the tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden and firm.  Remove from the oven and brush 20ml rum over the cake to soak in.  After 30 minutes remove from the tin and transfer to a wire rack.

Make a runny icing using the icing sugar and remaining rum.  Add more icing sugar if necessary to get the right consistency.  When the cake is completely cold spread the icing over the top.

Serves 8-10.

February 19, 2015


rice pudding3

It’s difficult to make a picture of rice pudding look exciting or glamorous but for those of us who love it, beauty is not the important thing.  It’s the taste and the thickness of the skin!

I have loved rice pudding for as long as I can remember.  I was recently reminiscing with my brother about my mum’s excellent rice pudding and he reminded me about how much we argued over who was to have the skin!  My mum used to make it using full cream milk (semi-skimmed was not invented then, there was only ordinary milk or, better still, gold top) and if we were lucky, partly with evaporated milk.  It was served hot, thick and creamy, and occasionally there would be a few sultanas or raisins in it, which was known in the family as Chinese wedding cake.

We loved it hot, sometimes with a blob of strawberry jam, or cold and even stiffer the following day.

rice pudding1

Soon after I bought my new mini slow cooker I was keen to use it to make a rice pudding.  It’s a simple dish to make but there are a huge number of recipes to be found for it.  I chose this one on the BBC website, as it was closest to the one I remember my mum using.  The only difference is that I added a small can of evaporated milk.

rice pudding

I also warmed the milk before adding it to the pot and stirred a couple of times during cooking.  My brother said that the only time he made it in a slow cooker he ended up with the rice stuck on the bottom and the milk on top, which was disappointing to say the least, but he hadn’t thought to stir it.

 rice pudding2 

Cooking time depends on how stiff you like your rice pudding and how thick you like the skin.  The longer you leave it, the stiffer and more delicious it becomes.

Slow Cooked Challenge

I am contributing this post to the Slow Cooked Challenge, run by Janice at Farmersgirl Kitchen.  It’s an open theme this month and you can read the details here.


55g/2oz pudding rice

55g/2oz caster sugar

600ml/1 pint milk (full fat or semi-skimmed)

1 small tin, 170g evaporated milk (normal or light)

grated nutmeg

a few knobs of butter


Rinse the rice and put into the slow cooker with the sugar and evaporated milk.

Warm the milk in a saucepan and add to the cooker.  Stir well.

Sprinkle some grated nutmeg on the top and dot a few knobs of butter over.

Cook on low heat for 3-4 hours or longer, stirring a couple of times.

Serves 4.