August 22, 2014


sticky toffee pudding cake 

Whilst briefly back in the UK in between French house-hunting adventures a local Clandestine Cake Club meeting cropped up.  After my limited success with the new oven, even though I didn’t trust it, I decided to have another go at baking a cake and Nick decided he would too.

Then we decided to do something radical with the oven.

sticky toffee pudding cake2

We took it out!

We have not been thrilled with the oven or hob in our new house, both are much more basic than the ones we left behind.  Setting the oven temperature is guesswork, there is no timer programme, just a minute minder and the grill is half the size of my previous one.  It had to go!

sticky toffee pudding cake3

I was looking online to get an idea of how much it might cost to replace it with something more sophisticated and spotted a great offer in John Lewis which included a large trade-in discount.  The offer finishes at the end of August so we decided to go for it. 

sticky toffee pudding cake4 

The timing of the oven removal was such that if I was going to make a cake, it had to be one that could be baked a couple of days before it was needed.  I looked through my recipe books and found one by Delia Smith for a cake that sounded very much like a sticky toffee pudding that she said would improve over a couple of days.  Perfect!

sticky toffee pudding cake5

I followed the recipe precisely and it turned out perfectly.  It was however absolutely done in the minimum amount of time given in the recipe, something I am not used to.  This may be due to the characteristics of the oven or the fact that it’s almost impossible to set the temperature accurately on the dial.  Nick made a lovely ginger and orange cake and that was also done in less than the time stated.

You can see the recipe for my cake here.  The only change I made was to decorate it with some pecan nuts.  The fudgy icing tasted like butterscotch and was a total revelation – I have never made anything like it before.  The cake itself was moist and with the dates and pecan nuts was very much like a sticky toffee pudding.  It was lovely and I would definitely make it again.

We take delivery of the new oven – of our own choosing – at the beginning of September, when we next go back to the UK.  I’m really looking forward to it!

August 20, 2014

BANANA CLAFOUTIS (gluten free)

banana clafoutis2

Recently I have had good results with gluten free baking by simply using Dove’s Farm gluten free flour instead of normal flour in the recipe.  I simply substitute one for the other.  A good tip is to add slightly more liquid than given in the basic recipe and so far it seems to work fine.

banana clafoutis

Clafoutis is basically a pudding made of a layer of fruit with a batter poured over, which is baked and then served warm or cold.  I have made many a clafoutis in the past based on a recipe featured some time ago on my friend Susan’s blog, which was originally for cherries, but I have used apricots, plums and prunes soaked in brandy (delicious!)

Not long ago I saw a comment in another friend’s blog where banana clafoutis was mentioned.  It never occurred to me to make a clafoutis from bananas before and the idea is slightly problematic as Nick does not like cooked bananas at all – he can just about bring himself to eat a fresh one!  This is a shame as I love bananas in any form, but eating a whole banana pudding by myself is not a great idea!

banana clafoutis1

Luckily the need for a gluten free pudding cropped up sooner rather than later so I decided to give the banana clafoutis a try.  I actually made two gluten free desserts, in case anyone else disliked cooked bananas.  The other one was indeed much more popular – details to follow - which in fact left most of the banana clafoutis for me to eat up!  I was sensible and wrapped slices of it to put in the freezer!

I thought it was delicious.  If you like bananas and want to make a really easy pudding that’s a little bit out of the ordinary, this is a recipe worth trying.  You can use normal flour or gluten free flour and of course you can use other fruits than bananas!  In this case, because there is lots of liquid in the batter, I didn’t add any extra and the clafoutis turned out just right I thought, nice and firm and easy to serve in slices, rather than with a spoon.

Recipe for easy clafoutis (huge thanks to Susan for the original idea)


50p gluten free plain flour (or normal flour if you don’t need to be gluten free)

50g ground almonds

2 eggs

100g caster sugar

125ml cream

125ml milk

½tsp vanilla extract

3 large bananas, ripe but not overripe


Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Grease a suitable baking dish*.

Put all the ingredients except the fruit into a bowl and mix together using an electric whisk or stick blender, to make a smooth batter.

Peel the bananas and slice thickly, arrange in the bottom of the dish.

Pour the batter over the top and sprinkle with flaked almonds if you like.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until no longer liquid and lightly browned.

Serve warm or at room temperature, by itself or with cream.

Serves 6.

*Also excellent as individual puddings, just grease 6 ramekins and bake for 20-30 mins.

August 7, 2014


pear and chocolate pudding

I spotted a recipe in a magazine recently that I felt compelled to try.  It was a Rachel Khoo recipe for individual chocolate puddings with a pear in each one.

pear and chocolate pudding2

I bought a bag of those own-brand, basic range pears from the supermarket.  There were only five useable pears in it and the recipe was for six but I soldiered on.  I also had only five ramekin-sized dishes in my new kitchen, under the new regime of minimal possessions including bakeware.  Somewhere there are dozens of other ramekins, probably packed and stored in a mystery warehouse somewhere in darkest Rotherham.  Or maybe I took most of them to the charity shop, I can’t quite remember.

pear and chocolate pudding3

In the recipe Rachel uses a steam oven and makes much of its benefits for baking over other ovens.  If only !!  Luckily instructions for using an ordinary oven are also given.

Although the quantities of the chocolate sponge are for six puddings I made a full batch and divided it between my five dishes.  Predictably there was a little too much mixture in the finished puddings meaning that some pears sank from view and others had a muffin top effect. 

pear and chocolate pudding4

I adapted the recipe slightly, omitting the salt from the pudding mixture as I was to be serving them for Sunday dinner and I was not at all sure salted puddings were to my dad’s taste – or mine either.  The recipe also includes a good measure of black treacle and I was curious to see how that would turn out.  Being short of time I used spreadable butter and made the sponge using an all-in-one method.

pear and chocolate pudding6

Mine turned out rather less neat and tidy than in the picture in the magazine but they were still quite delicious.  The flavour of the treacle came through strongly and I loved it.  I also found that they had an uncooked middle – a kind of chocolate fondant or lava pudding effect.  This was not implied in the recipe or the title but when I looked for it online the puddings were indeed called pear and chocolate fondants – moelleux aux chocolat et poire.  You can see the recipe here.  After several attempts in the past with unremarkable results I now seem to have made the perfect chocolate fondants by accident!

pear and chocolate pudding5

They were fun to look at and quite delicious.  Next time I think I would make the six puddings, making sure I had six pears and finding another dish!  Either that or not overfill the dishes in my usual waste not, want not fashion.  The ones that turned out with the pears the right way up would be a great dessert for a dinner party!


I am submitting the little puddings to this month’s Alphabakes Challenge, a monthly baking venture presented by Caroline of Caroline Makes and Ros of The more than occasional baker.  This month the chosen letter is P and you can see the details here.


6 small pears

500g caster sugar

750ml water

150g spreadable butter

150g light soft brown sugar

3 eggs

1tblsp black treacle

120g self-raising flour

30g cocoa powder


Peel the pears, leaving the stalks in place, and remove as much as you can of the cores from the base.  Put them in a large saucepan with the caster sugar and water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 10 minutes until the pears are tender.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 160° fan / gas mk 4.  Butter 6 ramekins.

Put the rest of the ingredients into a food processor and process for a couple of minutes until the mixture is smooth.

Divide the mixture between the ramekins and push a pear into each one, with the stalk sticking up.

Bake for 12-15 minutes until a crust has formed on the sponge but the centre will still be liquid.  Serve warm in the ramekins.

Serves 6.

August 2, 2014


ginger cake9aWe moved house eight weeks ago and after three weeks abandoned ship and went to France to continue our house hunting adventures there.  Consequently we are not as far forward as we would have been if we had stayed here and continued diligently working our way through the mountain of cardboard boxes.

ginger cake2 

The kitchen is brand new and, although beautiful to look at, its size is a proving to be a challenge.  We have moved stuff from cupboard to cupboard over and again in order to find the sensible places to store things in a way that makes best use of the space.

ginger cake3

I like my new larder unit but added a couple of extra shelves to get all my baking stuff in it. ginger cake4 The new dining set arrived this week, which makes mealtimes much more comfortable than the old garden chairs.  The “dining area” is simply a space at the end of the kitchen next to the fridge, but it has a nice view over the garden.

ginger cake8

The open view at the back of the house is one of the main reasons that we bought it.  Being able to sit outside and look at the view has been a real joy during the stressful process of downsizing and moving – which is exhausting, mentally, emotionally and physically.  Sitting outside with a glass of something nicely chilled at the end of the day has been great therapy!

ginger cake6However, as you can see, we’re not out of the woods yet! 

ginger cake7 We are not very thrilled with the new oven.  In fact Nick absolutely hates it, and the hob.  Although brand new they are both very basic models and we have promised ourselves that once the dust settles, if there is enough left in the kitty, we will have new ones of our own choosing.

ginger cake9

Anyway, I had been itching to bake a cake, new oven or not.  I had successfully made several crumbles and a rather delicious blackberry and apple sponge – a version of Eve’s pudding made using dessert apples and blackberry jam – so I thought it was time to bite the bullet and just do it.

ginger cake9b

Nick chose the recipe.  It’s called “preserved ginger cake” and he found it in my copy of “Delia’s Cakes”.  That in itself was another challenge.  Most of my cookbooks were still in cardboard boxes until a few days ago.  We couldn’t empty the boxes until we built some flatpack Ikea furniture to house other stuff that was in other boxes on top of the boxes they were in.  If you see what I mean.

Another challenge was getting all the ingredients ready.  It took me over half an hour to find all the bits and pieces and the right tin, but I have to say it was a tremendous success.  The cake was moist and light with an even crumb and a good ginger flavour.   I am very chuffed to have made my very first cake in my brand new kitchen in my new house. 


You can see the recipe here.  I decided not to put any icing on it as we were to be taking slabs of it as part of a packed lunch for a day out.  It’s a great picnic cake, tasty and easy to pick up and eat.  For that reason I am entering it into this month’s Teatime Treats, organised by Karen of Lavender and Lovage and Jane of The Hedgecombers.  Karen is in charge this month, which is all about picnic food, and you can see the details here.

July 17, 2014


three fruit cobbler3 It has been a while since I baked anything.  Moving house is an all-consuming, full-on, exhausting activity.  Especially when, even though we had disposed of an awful lot of our belongings and put at least half of our furniture and other stuff into store, we still have too much to fit comfortably into our new house.

The new house has a brand new kitchen.  I managed to stop myself from laughing when the (very) young man who showed us round it said everything was “top of the range”.  Brand new it certainly was, top of the range it most definitely wasn’t.  Good quality but very basic is the way I would describe it.

Nick absolutely hates the hob and oven.  The hob is a very basic induction model, which is, to say the least, taking some getting used to.  The oven is a very basic fan oven.  So basic that the thermostat has very few temperature markings on it.  It goes from 150 – 175 - 200° with nothing in between.  So setting the oven temperature is a bit of a guesstimate.   Consequently I haven’t felt much inclined to bake a cake, although cooking of sorts has been going on.  You can only live on take-aways for so long.

three fruit cobbler4

After two weeks and a bit of climbing over cardboard boxes and assembling flat pack furniture we abandoned ship and headed for our little holiday home in France for a break.  And also to begin the next phase of our adventure, house-hunting in France.

(In case anyone needs reminding, we have downsized in the UK in order to upsize in France.  Phase one is complete.)  Within days of being chez nous all the trials and tribulations of moving house and new kitchens had been completely forgotten.  This is good.  We needed to remind ourselves of exactly why we were doing this. 

One of the things I find really touching in our little corner of rural France is how gifts of food are so freely given.  Friends will give us armfuls of home grown fruit and veg when we visit.  We regularly open the front door to find flowers or veg on the doorstep, left there by our neighbour Mme André.

One day last week we went for dinner with some friends to the hotel in the village and with coffee were served tiny red plums instead of chocolates.  A discussion about the plums followed and the manager assured us they were mirabelles, from a tree in the hotel courtyard.  I always thought mirabelles were yellow.

Anyhow, we finished our coffee and headed out into the deserted lobby.  After a few minutes the back door burst open and the manager and the waitress appeared with big grins on their faces and a huge bag of the little plums.  “Surprise – cadeaux !!” they said.

I made a crumble and a clafoutis with some of them and with the remainder I made a three fruit cobbler.  I used about 300g plums, two dessert apples and a handful of strawberries that were slightly past their best.  I also added about 75g marzipan, cut into small cubes.

three fruit cobbler2

It was delicious.  My feeling is that the little plums are not quite as sweet as the yellow mirabelles I have had before, more like a cooking plum than a dessert plum.  Whatever they are, they’re very good in a crumble, clafoutis or cobbler !!

three fruit cobbler 


For the fruit filling

300g small plums, halved and stoned

2 dessert apples, peeled, cored and chopped

a few strawberries, hulled and halved

75g marzipan, cubed

100g granulated sugar

For the topping

80g cold butter, diced

200g self raising flour

100g caster sugar

100ml crème fraîche

50ml milk

a handful of flaked almonds


Put the plums and apples in a medium saucepan with a splash of water and heat gently until softened.  Stir in the sugar.

Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170° fan / gas mk 5.

Put the flour and butter into a food processor and process to breadcrumbs.  Add the sugar and process briefly to combine.  Add the liquids and process to make a soft dough.

Tip the fruit into a suitable greased baking dish or tin.  Distribute the strawberries and marzipan amongst the fruit.

Dollop dessert spoonfuls of the topping mixture on top and sprinkle the flaked almonds over.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the topping is browned and firm and the fruit is bubbling.

Serve warm with cream, ice cream, custard or crème fraîche.

Serves 6-8

May 26, 2014


chocolate and damson meringue pie

Dom’s Random Recipe Challenge this month is to cook a recipe chosen at random from a book about to be thrown out.  You can read the details here.

As you may know, I’ve been doing a lot of clearing out lately, having taken boxfuls of stuff to the charity shops or the tip, including plenty of books.  I do find cook books very difficult to get rid of though.  There’s always the chance that there might just be that one recipe inside, the one I simply can’t live without…….

 chocolate and damson meringue pie2

However, I can definitely say that I won’t miss this little M&S book.  I haven’t used it at all and most of the recipes are replicated in other books on the shelf.


But I flipped the pages to see what would turn up.  A chocolate meringue pie.  Hmmmmmm….

 chocolate and damson meringue pie3

As well as sorting out and chucking out we are also in the process of eating up and I happened to have some very nice chocolate for baking in a box in the kitchen cupboard, also plenty of eggs and sugar.  So I thought I might as well have a go.

It was lovely.

chocolate and damson meringue pie4 I confess I didn’t stick absolutely to the recipe.  I was supposed to make a biscuit crumb base from chocolate digestives and butter, cheesecake style, but I didn’t have any chocolate biscuits in the house.  (Far too dangerous.)

But I did have half a pack of ready made pastry and since I would usually make a lemon meringue pie with pastry, not biscuits, I thought I would do the same this time.

I also had a jar of home made damson jam that needed eating up and it occurred to me that a hint of damson might take the edge off the potential sweetness of the chocolate filling and the meringue.  I was right and it worked a treat.

chocolate and damson meringue pie5

The pastry was crisp, the meringue was golden and crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy inside, the chocolate filling was thick and velvety and the damson a nice little surprise of sharpness with each mouthful. 

I’m not sure I would rush to make it again, but you never know.


Half a pack of ready made shortcrust pastry (or make your own from 6oz flour and 3oz butter)

Or, make a biscuit crumb base mix from 225g dark chocolate digestives and 52g melted butter.

For the filling **

3 large egg yolks

4 tblsp caster sugar

4 tblsp cornflour

600ml (1 pint) milk

100g plain chocolate

2 tblsp damson jam (blackcurrant or blackberry would also be nice)

For the meringue topping

2 large egg whites

100g caster sugar

¼ tsp vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 190°C / 170° fan / gas mk 5.  Grease a 23 cm (approx) flan dish or tin.

Roll out the pastry and line your flan dish, fill with baking paper and baking beans and bake blind for 15 minutes. 

(Or if you are using the biscuit crumb base, press it into the bottom and up the sides of the dish and there’s no need to blind bake.)

While the pasty is cooking, make the chocolate filling.   Melt the chocolate in a microwave, or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.

Beat the egg yolks, caster sugar and cornflour together in a medium bowl to make a smooth paste.

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk almost to the boil and pour onto the egg paste, whisk together. 

Pour in the melted chocolate and whisk together. 

Return the chocolate mixture to the pan and heat gently, stirring, until it begins to thicken. 

(**I found this made way too much filling for my flan dish and next time would reduce all the ingredients by a third except for the chocolate.)

Spread the damson jam evenly over the pastry or biscuit base, pour in the chocolate mixture and level the top.

To make the meringue, put the egg whites in a large bowl and whisk to soft peak stage.  Whisk in two thirds of the caster sugar, a spoonful at a time, until the mixture is smooth and glossy.  Fold in the rest of the sugar and the vanilla extract.  Pour over the chocolate filling and spread out to cover completely and evenly.

Bake for 30 minutes until the meringue is golden and crisp.  Serve warm or cool.

Serves 6.

May 21, 2014


parsnip and lemon cake

This could easily be the last cake I ever make in my old oven in my old kitchen.  I spotted the recipe in a blog and it was one of those recipes that I felt compelled to make as soon as I had the opportunity.

kitchen after

My kitchen, spruced up for the estate agent’s photos.

We’re hoping that it won’t be long now before we move.  It’s eleven weeks since we accepted the offer on our house and with any luck we should move in early June.  I have mixed feelings about leaving the house where I have lived for nearly thirty years, especially about leaving my old kitchen.  Apart from anything else, it’s huge. 

The cabinets are old fashioned now but the doors are made of solid oak so we have never had the heart to change or paint them.  They have successfully survived several new worktops, ovens, appliances, revamps and numerous parties, not to mention cooking disasters and triumphs.  But the main issue I have with my kitchen is actually its size.  The space between the two sides is so great that we travel several miles a year just fetching stuff out of the cupboards to cook with!  If we were to stay here we would be thinking about changing it for a more modern design and a tighter layout.

 kitchen new Our new kitchen.  The smile on Nick’s face gave it his seal of approval on the day we viewed the house.

My new kitchen is tiny by comparison.  There are lots of cabinets, but the space is small.  It has a half size dishwasher and a single bowl sink.

The house is a recently renovated between-the-wars semi and the kitchen, like everything else in the house is brand new.  And I have to say, I’m really looking forward to it.  I was born and brought up in a house like this so it felt like a comfy old slipper as soon as I walked through the front door.  To have that familiarity but with a brand new kitchen, bathroom, electrics, plumbing, carpets and everything else is going to be a total joy.  The people who have renovated it have even managed to squeeze a downstairs loo into what was the broom cupboard under the stairs – they deserve a medal for that!

 parsnip and lemon cake2 parsnip and lemon cake3

So for my last cake in my old kitchen, I made the parsnip and lemon cake which was delicious.  There are a lot of parsnips in it and, being in a hurry as usual, I made the mistake of grating them in my food processor.  As I tipped them into the cake mixture I realised that they were more shredded than grated.  I looked at the long strands of parsnip in the cake tin and wondered if it would work but it did.

parsnip and lemon cake4

As well as parsnips and lemon the cake contains sultanas, spices and a small amount of cold tea.  That’s something I’m always a bit nervous of putting in a cake but it added a nice slight hint of flavour to this one.

The texture was lovely and it kept well.  If anything it was even better on day two and beyond.  A cake I will definitely be adding to my repertoire and look forward to making again and again.  Even Nick, who doesn’t really like cake that much, enjoyed it so maybe I will make it the first time I bake in my new kitchen!

Thanks go to “The Gentleman Baker” in whose blog I discovered the cake, and you can read all about it and see the recipe here:

Parsnip and lemon cake.