March 2014

March 2014

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Apple, Courgette and Carrot Cake

At this time of year, many moons ago, we would look forward to a family outing picking autumn fruits, particularly Cox apples to eat immediately and, usually, an abundance of Bramleys, which were carefully wrapped in newspaper and stored to use over the winter. Now, sadly, these Northamptonshire orchards are no more. 

However, a little internet research before our holiday to Norfolk last week proved to be invaluable when I found that Hillfield Nursery & Farm Shop wasn’t too many miles from where we were staying and, excitingly, some of the apple varieties could be ripe for picking!

Trees dripping with fruit
This hidden gem, situated down a country lane not too far from the east coast, and near the village of Haddiscoe, actually proved to be an Aladdin’s cave of foodie treats and we were wide-eyed viewing the burgeoning shelves of jams, chutneys, oils, biscuits etcetera, as well as the stocked freezers full of local game and ice cream. Of course, all manner of fruit and vegetables were for sale (PYO soft fruits in season) but my main interest was in the apples. Amazingly, around 200 varieties are grown in the Hillfield orchards and we were very fortunate to be able to pick some Queen Cox and Bramleys, as well as a variety unknown to us which could be used as a cooking or eating apple. I so wished we lived closer!

Time for tea
On our return, of course I couldn’t resist a little baking but, ever mindful of the waistline, wanted to cook a cake with a healthy twist. I think this Apple, Courgette and Carrot loaf fills the brief as I used maple syrup instead of sugar, coconut oil and yoghurt in place of the usual fat and warm autumnal spices to complement the fruit and vegetables.

Apple, Courgette and Carrot loaf
340g plain flour
170g wholemeal flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
6 tablespoons maple syrup
85g coconut oil
2 large eggs
170g 0% plain yoghurt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large apple grated
1 medium courgette grated (pat dry)
1 medium carrot grated
2 tablespoons milk (if needed)

Heat oven to 180C - fan 170C - Gas 4 and prepare and line two (one to eat now and one to freeze for later) small (1 lb) loaf tins.

Sift together dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl combine coconut oil (melted if necessary), maple syrup, eggs, yoghurt and vanilla. Beat for 1 minute.
Slowly add flour mixture.
Lastly, stir in apple, courgette and carrot.
Add milk, if necessary, to make a fairly stiff mixture.
Bake in oven for approx. 45 mins, or until a cake tester comes out clean.
Cool in tin for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
Slice and serve with a spread of your choice (I used butter!).

Hillfield's wonderful board of home-grown apple varieties

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Rhubarb, Sweet Cicely & Almond Cake

Rhubarb, Sweet Cicely & Almond Cake
I’m sure that I can’t be the only person that comes back from holiday without the normal souvenirs but laden with local foods or, I should say, ingredients. I just love to buy from the roadside, nearby farms or local shops that stock items grown or produced in the vicinity.  We had a happy 7 days in North Norfolk a couple of weeks ago – a place where I really feel at home. Of course, we had some excellent meals out and the restaurants do seem to embrace and highlight all the ‘good things’ that are harvested nearby such as beautiful and fresh seafood from the coastal waters or in-season asparagus and strawberries. 

Wiveton Hall Cafe
This time my booty included rhubarb and a plant bought from Wiveton Hall, near Blakeney. This place is a real gem and we were fortunate enough to take a tour of their walled kitchen garden whilst our table was prepared in the fantastic and fun on-site café which serves the most delicious seasonal food. When we unpacked on our return home, I was also pleased to find that the free-range eggs that I bought from Creake Abbey farm shop were still intact - the attached restaurant is always on our radar for lunch when we are in the area - and the Sharrington strawberries, bought from their roadside stall, had also traveled well. 

Letheringsett Watermill

We also brought home several kilos of flour from Bircham Windmill – which still has a little bakery on the ground floor - as well as Letheringsett Watermill which produces several types of stone ground flours including whole wheat, spelt and a special type of yellow pastry flour which includes a proportion of maize. This latter property has been milling since 1802 and is now the only working watermill in Norfolk. 


And, of course, I couldn’t wait to start baking in my new AEG SteamBake oven!

I immediately put some of the new Organic Stoneground Strong White Letheringsett flour to good use by baking two sourdough loaves and I was pleased with the result. Using the steambake oven seems to provide the perfect environment for the dough to get an extra lift (oven-spring) and then finishes it off nicely in a dry heat to create a crunchy crust. 

Serve with cream or ice cream
A sweet bake was now on the agenda.  In our absence, our garden had certainly sprung to life and the herb garden was abundant with new growth. In particular, the Sweet Cicely – given to us by our friends last year – had exploded into full bloom and was ripe for picking. With its aniseed-like flavour, It seems to particularly complement tart or sour fruits well – just perfect for the Wiveton rhubarb - and I found that I could reduce the sugar content in the following cake recipe by nearly 40% - a real bonus for those of us trying to eat more healthily. As they say in Norfolk “It was just boo-tiful!”

Rhubarb, Sweet Cicely and Almond cake
2 large eggs - lightly beaten
125g light brown muscovado unrefined sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used Ndali)
130ml rapeseed oil
350g rhubarb - rinsed and chopped into 2cm pieces
1½ tsp mixed spice
175g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
3 fronds of young sweet cicely herb - stalks and leaves roughly chopped
Large handful of flaked almonds

Grease and line a 23cm cake round cake tin

Preheat oven to 180c (160c fan).
Place rhubarb into a mixing bowl followed by the eggs, vanilla, sugar, sweet cicely and oil.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, ground almonds and spice.
Add the dry ingredients to the bowl.
Mix thoroughly and place into the tin – gently pushing mixture to the edges.
Finally sprinkle over the flaked almonds.

Bake for approx. 55 minutes – I checked mine at 50 minutes, it was ready.
Leave in the tin to cool for at least 20 minutes before turning it out onto a rack.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

‘The age of steam’ – or, I should say, ‘The AEG of steam!’

Last month I was invited by AEG to attend the launch of their new domestic SteamBake oven at the Good Housekeeping Institute in London and I was intrigued to see whether this appliance could take my bread-making to the next level. Richard Burr (of GBBO fame) gave an interesting demonstration showing how and why an AEG SteamBake oven could be used for all kinds of recipes and he effortlessly prepared a Basic White Loaf, a Rhubarb  Bakewell Tart and a savoury Chorizo Sausage Toad in the Hole.

AEG has very kindly asked me to review this revolutionary appliance for the home market and it was duly installed in my kitchen a week or so ago. To say the least I was excited to try it out and I decided to firstly prepare a Crumble-topped Summer Fruit Traybake which, much to my disappointment, resulted in a catalogue of errors – mine, not the oven, I should hastily add! I prepared the cake batter as usual, then poured into the oven the required 100ml of water, set the temperature and then I had to wait only 5 minutes before a bell ‘pinged’ and I popped the cake in to bake. 

All was well until I looked through the glass door and realised that I had used too small a tin and the mixture was rising like a volcano and overflowing onto the walls and floor of my nice, shiny and precious new oven. Hastily, I whipped out the frothing hot mass, popped the tin onto a baking tray, to help stem the flow, and burned my hand in the process!

Miraculously, the resulting cake, trimmed, tidied up and iced didn’t look too bad and was definitely moist. 

Next on the agenda was a Sourdough Loaf and I baked this the very next day.

Of course, I didn’t have to use my usual method of throwing in a few ice cubes at the beginning of the bake and the completed  bread had a very nice open and soft texture together with a lovely crust which the SteamBake  oven created after the initial steam dissipated and the dry hot air took over. I even found that my bread had a longer shelf-life as it stayed moist and didn’t dry out so quickly.

Having had the oven for a few days now, trying out its various other cooking functions, I have found  it to be an excellent addition to my kitchen and I have been truly converted to the art of 21st century baking with steam. For other home bakers and cooks like me, I heartily recommend the AEG SteamBake oven which  I understand will be available in the shops from June 2016. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Vanilla and White Chocolate Magic Cake

It’s that time of year again when we are encouraged by the Fairtrade Foundation to think about using some of the 4,500 Fairtrade products that are available, thus supporting the many, many farmers and workers across the world who grow the product or ingredient and, consequently, give them better prices, decent working conditions and fair terms of trade.

With this in mind, I wanted to bake something using at least three Fairtrade products and this Vanilla and White Chocolate Magic Cake is just the ticket. Whether produced as an after-dinner dessert accompanied by fresh berries, or served as a teatime treat, this rich bake , which magically transforms into three distinct layers – a vanilla cheesecake-type base, a creamy custardy middle layer and a light sponge topping – is sure to please.

I used:

1 tsp  Ndali Fairtrade Organic Vanilla Powder (or use Ndali Vanilla Extract)
100g Green & Black’s Fairtrade Organic White Chocolate
75g Tate & Lyle Fairtrade Light Muscovado Cane Sugar
3 large eggs, separated
75g butter
75g plain flour
Pinch salt
370ml whole milk at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 150C, Gas 2, 140C fan. Grease and line a 10cm x 24cm approx. loaf tin.

Gently melt the chocolate with the butter in the microwave and leave to cool slightly.

Using a mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff and set aside in another bowl.

Using the same whisk and original bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until the mixture pales significantly, then add the vanilla powder.

Gently stir in the melted chocolate and butter into the egg and sugar mixture. Then add the flour and salt. Beat for a few minutes. Pour in the milk little by little, whisking continuously.

Now gently incorporate the saved stiff egg whites into the batter.

Pour into the greased and lined cake tin (it’s ok if it looks lumpy}, smooth the surface and bake for 50/55 minutes – it should wobble slightly when it comes out of the oven.

Cool in the tin and then leave in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight to set. Serve chilled.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pat A. Cake: Lemon Pancake Cake

My throwback recipe from 2014 would make an ideal treat for Shrove Tuesday this week. It is also featured in  the CCC Cook Book 'A Year of Cake' on page 39.

I recently took delivery of a Stainless Steel Earth Pan by Ozeri and wanted to cook something which would really test (according to the manufacturer) the “100% PFOA-Free Non-Stick coating”. According to the manufacturer’s description, the Environmental Protection Agency in the USA has found that PFOA (PerFluoroOctanoic Acid), often found in traditional cookware, once ingested is capable of remaining in people for a very long time, and has been shown to cause developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals. Ooooh errr…I am no scientist, simply a humble housewife, but such warnings did raise a slight alarm when I looked at my old, worn and well used pots and pans!

Anyway, what could I cook which would test the pans actual performance and non-stick quality? The answer just had to be a simple pancake. My Lemon Pancake Cake is a perfect and special family dinner dessert, easily put together, with few ingredients.

I used my usual sweet batter recipe:
1 cup flour, 1 cup eggs (2 or 3 depending on size), 1 cup milk, 1 dessertspoon sugar) and 1 tablespoon water. This mix made about 10 pancakes and, much to my amazement, I didn’t have to use any oil at all! During cooking, after the batter was poured in, I was able to carefully lift the edge and turn it over, before finally sliding it out to a waiting plate. Not one stuck

The cooked pancakes were inter-leaved with non-stick parchment and then left to cool. I then lined a loose-bottomed cake tin with cling film and stacked my pancakes, interspersed with lemon curd and a lemon-flavoured cream – 300ml double cream, zest of 2 lemons and juice of 1all beaten to soft peaks. The tin was then placed in the fridge overnight for the cake to set.

With its combination of manufacturer’s claim for health benefits, as well as its powerful non-stick properties, I will certainly consider buying other products in this range.


The Stainless Steel Earth Pan was sent to me free of charge but I was under no obligation to provide a favourable review of this product.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Northampton & District Clandestine Cake Club - Healthy Loaf Cakes

This month our Northampton and District CCC group met at The Good Loaf in Northampton centre. It was a lovely evening spent with around 20 old and new members, or I should say ‘friends’. 

Our theme was Healthy Loaf Cakes and many examples were brought along for us to try and all qualified as ‘healthy’ in some form or other. Our examples featured fatless sponges, almost sugarless batters, included vegetables and fruits within the mix, were either eggless or gluten free, used wholemeal flours and oats, and we even had a cake made with a healthy sourdough starter. A great deal of discussion took place on the merits or otherwise of using sugar substitutes and generally it was felt that there is no real alternative – either in flavour or texture - to using the real thing but perhaps it could be reduced or diluted a little in a recipe. 

Chief Executive of the Good Loaf, Suzy Van Rooyen, gave us a most interesting talk about the story behind this artisan bakery and cafe project, which helps ex-offenders back into the world of work through learning to bake, while also generating its own income. She said that the first six months of trading had been a great success and went on to tell us that as well as teaching ex-offenders baking skills, the venue, which is the trading arm of the charity C2C Social Action, also runs a number of volunteering projects, a youth group and now sells bread wholesale to 17 different outlets across the town. I think we all felt that it was a most remarkable venue and I do hope that we will all be able to support the venture by visiting the café in the future and, indeed, let others know of its existence. Our thanks to Suzy and her team for the warmth and welcome afforded to us.

Sadly, I didn’t take any photos during the evening but the camera is primed and ready for our next meeting in March and, on that subject, we have another super host venue to look forward to, so watch out for details to be published on the CCC website in the next few weeks. See you then! Gillian x

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lighter Chocolate Pina Colada Cake

Fancy a slice?
Some inter-connecting foodie coincidental thoughts have led me to devise today’s recipe; which all began with a really nice visit by my nephew and his family in January.

It was a super family gathering and, knowing that I love to bake, we chatted a little about, of all things, a coconut cake. However, on this very day, my oven had sadly given up the ghost and so, regrettably, I couldn’t bake something special for them and it was a mad dash to the supermarket for their finest chocolate creation!  

Sugar and Crumbs packages
A couple of weeks later on and a package arrived by post containing some new natural flavoured icing sugars and cocoa samples for me to trial (see below**) from producers 'Sugar and Crumbs'– coconut, chocolate and pineapple. 

Fresh pineapple
Then, that very same week, I visited my daughter and, whilst helping her a little in the kitchen, she asked me to cut up a fresh pineapple. Of course, I prepared it in the same way my mother always did – cutting the eyes out in spiral fashion – and I pondered whether she would do the same in years to come by showing her son, my grandson George, how it’s done so prettily? 

Four generations of motherhood -
sister Lynda, Mum, Grandma, and me
 with daughter Laura as a child.
  When someone you love becomes a memory.....
that memory becomes a treasure.
More family food memories and all part of life’s rich pattern. 

Checking my diary today, I realised that Mothering Sunday occurs next month and, there and then, I decided to create an easy and simple cake combining all of these flavourful thoughts. My Lighter Chocolate Pina Colada Cake is the result. In fact, it would be an ideal dessert cake for any occasion.

In the meantime, happy baking. X


**The 'Sugar and Crumbs' products all come in very handy re-sealable packets and it’s well worth exploring their website to view their complete range together with all the latest offers. My samples produced a delicious and flavourful result and I would give them my own seal of approval for convenience and taste.

Lighter Chocolate Pina Colada Cake
This recipe, serves 8, and requires the following:

For the cake:
150g low-fat spread plus extra for greasing (I used Flora Buttery)
130g caster sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 medium eggs
100g self-raising flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder (I used Sugar and Crumbs Chocolate Coconut cocoa)
20g desiccated coconut
1 tablespoon of milk (more if needed to make a soft dropping consistency)
For the topping:
150g 0% crème fraiche (or thick Greek-style yoghurt could be used)
1 heaped tablespoon Sugar and Crumbs Coconut icing sugar
20g desiccated coconut (brown, to make it toasted, in a small pan, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Cool).
130g tin of pineapple pieces (fresh would be really lovely too!)

Lightly grease and line with baking parchment a 20cm square cake tin. (I used a 22cm and the result was fine.)
Preheat the oven to 190C/180C fan/gas mark 5.
Put the spread, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, eggs and milk in a large bowl. Sift over the flour and cocoa powder. Beat with an electric whisk until the mixture is smooth. Adding a little extra milk if necessary to make a soft dropping consistency.
Spoon mixture into tin and level the surface.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 20/25 minutes. Leave to cool slightly for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Drain the tinned pineapple well, reserve 1/3rd and place the rest in a bowl together with the crème fraiche and coconut icing sugar. Mix together very gently.
Spoon the crème mixture over the cooled chocolate sponge and decorate the top with the reserved fruit and toasted coconut. Enjoy!

Fancy a slice?
Disclosure: I was sent the above products for the purpose of this review, however all opinions are my own.