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  1. Sticky Toffee Puddings – a microwaveable steamed treat

    November 26, 2017 by sarah

    I feel this recipe is a little like cheating as it is so easy to throw together and then it is cooked in the microwave for a super quick treat. No steaming involved. AND it freezes very well so you can also have a luscious dessert at the ready! I have no idea where this recipe came from – it is hand written in my recipe collection that I started when I was a student. I use plastic pudding bowls for this recipe. I have a collection of various sizes from when I have purchased sponge or steam puddings in the past and some come with plastic lids. So in future don’t throw those bowls away – they are useful.

    Sticky Toffee Puddings

    Serves 8

    175g stoned dates, finely chopped by hand or food processor
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 teaspoons of instant coffee granules (or if none in the house, use hot coffee instead of water for soaking the dates)
    3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
    75g soft butter
    150g caster sugar (golden if available)
    3 medium eggs, beaten
    175g self-raising flour, sifted

    For the sauce:
    25g pecan nuts, toasted and chopped
    175g soft brown sugar
    110g butter
    6 tablespoons of double cream

    Put the chopped dates in a bowl and pour over 175ml boiling water. Add the vanilla extract, instant coffee and bicarb and leave to one side. If you don’t have any instant coffee then use freshly brewed coffee instead of the boiling water but make sure it is scalding hot.

    In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until pale and light. Gradually add the eggs a little at a time. Fold in the sifted flour and then the wet date mixture. A very sloppy mixture is normal.

    Pour the batter into lightly oiled containers – either ceramic ramekins or the plastic tubs that bought sponge puddings come in. Make sure they are no more than half full! Cover loosely and microwave on high for 2-4 minutes, depending on the size of the pudding bowls.

    Take out and leave to cool for a few minutes.

    Make the sauce by combining the sauce ingredients in a pan and gently heating until the sugar has dissolved then bring to the boil.

    Serve by turning out the puddings onto a heat proof tray. Preheat the grill to high and have a shelf at a level that the puddings will fit underneath. Pour the sauce over the top of the puddings, knock off any nuts off the top of the puddings (otherwise they burn), put under the grill until hot and bubbling. Serve immediately with ice-cream, cold pouring cream or custard as your fancy takes you.

  2. Rum Babas or Savarins

    November 11, 2017 by sarah

    A French treat (baba au rhum) and so very retro – a fitting post for my blog when it has been such a long time since I last posted! From a limited check with work colleagues, most people seem to have heard of them but not be entirely sure they are. Rum babas are yeasted enriched dough cakes, soaked in a rum based sugar syrup. They are traditionally eaten in France for Sunday dinner with a good helping of chantilly cream. They seem to be making a bit of a come back so here is a post ahead of the curve! And having made them, I can say they are not something to be scared of and once you have tasted boozy sponge, you will hopefully be converted too!
























    The enriched dough from which babas are made of is also known as a savarin dough. Traditional rum babas are made in small ring moulds that are known as savarin moulds, though you can also get large ring moulds and then the cake that is made is called a savarin! From internet searching, it looks like most modern chefs bake the babas in dariole moulds as these are something that most kitchens will have rather than having to buy specialist moulds. Indeed, for this recipe I made 4 traditional type babas in aluminium dariole moulds and then the rest of the dough went into a large fluted tin (it said it was a brioche tin on the label) and all turned out great. So I think the lesson for this is that it doesn’t actually matter what tins you use as a mould – how about trying individual loaf tins or tart tins (probably not loose bottom type) or even silicone moulds – you may need to adjust proving and baking times.

    Because this is an enriched dough, you need to know a few things about how it will behave. It will take a long time to rise and will rise better if kept warmer than you would do for bread dough as if it is too cold, the butter will firm up and the bubbles will struggle to get the rise. Professional chef websites recommend between 30°C and 40°C – I used my lizard heat mat under the bowl and then the molds and this worked perfectly. Also the dough needs a long and energetic beating to get the gluten to develop so really a stand mixer with a dough hook is pretty essential unless you have muscles like Arnie! Additionally it can be difficult to tell when done as the cake will colour quite fast in the oven.

    This recipe is adapted from ‘Patisserie Maison’ By Richard Bertinet. The original recipe called for fresh yeast which is a pain to find so I used the sachet instant stuff it worked out just fine. This recipes makes a lot of dough and is far too much for just half dozen babas but a mixer struggles with smaller quantities. The cooked babas freeze well or use the rest of the dough in a large tin.






















    Rum Baba – Ingredients
    150g strong white bread flour
    7g sachet fast action yeast
    150ml warm milk

    4 medium eggs
    150g very soft unsalted butter
    extra butter for greasing the moulds
    50g caster sugar
    1/2 teaspoon fine salt
    125ml warm milk
    400g strong white bread flour
    grated zest of a lemon or an orange

    To make the ferment, mix the yeast into the flour and then whisk in the warm milk with a spatula or metal whisk. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave the ferment somewhere very warm for 2 hours until very bubbly – on top of a lizard heat mat is perfect.

    Put the ferment in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Add all the other ingredients and beat until very elastic and silky and no sign of the butter – 10 to 20 minutes on medium.

    Grease the moulds well with melted butter.

    Pipe the mixture into the moulds until it comes about two-thirds the way up. Cover the tins in greased cling film and again place somewhere warm until risen a little above the moulds – this will take at least an hour.

    Preheat the oven to 190°C or 170°C if fan assisted. Take off the cling film and bake the babas in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes for small ones and up to 40 minutes for a large one. You can tell they are cooked as a skewer will come out dry and they sound hollow when tapped underneath (just like bread). Carefully turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Then store in an airtight container for up to 2 days or freeze.

    1 lemon
    1 orange
    800g sugar
    500ml water
    200ml spiced rum

    For the syrup, thinly peal off the rind of the orange and lemon with a vegetable peeler or knife then cut into fine julienne strips. Squeeze the orange and lemon and put the juice into a pan with the sugar and water. Bring to the boil once the sugar has dissolved and boil for a few minutes until syrupy and the peel is tender. Take off the heat and add the rum. This can be stored in a container in the fridge for up to a week.

    To finish the babas place the syrup into a wide shallow dish and place in the babas. Turn them frequently and leave them to soak for a minimum of 3 hours and up to 24 hours at room temperature.

    150ml double cream
    50g icing sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla seeds

    Beat the cream with the sifted icing sugar until stiff peaks. Add the vanilla and give one more quick beat. Serve immediately otherwise the firmness disappears.

    To finish the babas, place a baba in a small dish, spoon over syrup and place some of the citrus peal on top. Serve with chilled Chantilly cream. Enjoy!

  3. Papua New Guinea

    October 14, 2017 by sarah

    This year our main holiday was to the other end of the world, figuratively and literally, to Papua New Guinea! It was one of the most extraordinary countries I have ever been to. My overwhelming memory of the holiday is the people; friendly and open, quiet but happy, unassuming and generous. Much like my previous favourite place in the world, Vanuatu. We saw some wonderful and unique things and had a variety of special experiences, of which these photos only touch the surface.

    It was very hard to go back through these photos to prepare them to be viewed. For a start there were nearly 6000! Secondary, I did not want to spoil the magic by looking back at photographs rather than memories but actually having a space of a few months then going back through the photos has allowed me to re-enjoy the holiday again. In the interests of brevity, I have not included many of my ‘arty’ photos, instead concentrating on ones which tell the story of Papua New Guinea and our holiday. I have captioned most of them – please ask me any questions!

  4. Thame food festival – prize winning cakes

    October 1, 2017 by sarah

    After the village show this year, I decided to enter a bigger cake competition to acquire new skills and stretch my existing ones and so I entered the Thame Food Festival Bake Off. I chose to enter a fun category (Lotte’s kitsch cakes, judged by Lotte Duncan), a seasonal one to use up all those apples from the garden (harvest festival happiness, judged by Jane Beedle from the Great British Bake Off) and a challenging category (choux pastry, judged by Chris Wheeler). When I got the cakes to the show this morning (after a hideous 6am start), I was really chuffed with what I had achieved. And then I was even more proud to found that I had won two first prizes! I got these cute star baker medals too!



















    I definitely had fun with the kitsch cake, thinking of what to do to make it as kitsch as possible but still tasty and then how to make the decorations to complete my vision. I made a cake I titled ‘Little Red Riding Hood in the Black Forest (gateau)’ with my delicious chocolate buttermilk layer cake (recipe here) and Swiss meringue buttercream flavoured with cherry cordial and coloured pink. I made all the decorations except the figurine for Little Red Riding Hood and the squirrel, both of which I found in charity shops. There were Italian meringue trees and bushes, meringue mushrooms decorated coloured white chocolate (recipe here, but I used food colouring powder to colour the white chocolate so it didn’t seize this time), a fondant wolf and a red cape for Little Red Riding Hood, a bowler hat for the squirrel and mini fondant mushrooms and flowers. A few sprinkles and a bit of glitter and it was done! I was really pleased that my cake beat five others in this category, one of the largest in the show.













    I must of been mad when I chose something challenging and then chose to make choux! If I had known how difficult this pastry is and how challenging weather would be then I am not sure I would have chosen this category. I must be the only mad one as I was the only entrant in this category! These final eclairs are the culmination of about 10 hours of baking trials and 6 different lots. Different ingredients, different recipes, different piping nozzles, to streusel or not streusel top, different baking temperatures and timings… I will write a full post on what I learnt, even if it is only for prosperity and I never make them again! Today was so humid that within seconds the choux had softened. Anyway, here are my rhubarb, custard and white chocolate eclairs – choux eclairs filled with rhubarb, vanilla cremeux and rhubarb gel topped with white chocolate and a rhubarb twirl.

    My harvest cake wasn’t placed but I was still happy with it. I knew I wanted an apple cake but after the flop of an apple cake at the village show (a little too moist), I knew I needed to up my game. It actually took several recipes over several weeks to find one I liked and then tweak it so that it came out how I imagined it. It may not have been placed but I am pleased with it – cinnamon apple cake with honey from our garden and cider soaked walnuts, honey glaze and buttered walnuts and dried apple slices to decorate. Recipe coming up in a future post.

    I will need to enter next year and try to win the Magimix Patissier machine, especially as they didn’t even have any for sale at the show! It was definitely challenging weather today as it was so humid that when we collected the cakes, the sugar work was weeping! We had a lovely day going around the stalls, sampling delicious food and drink and spending all of our pocket money!

  5. Honey, honey, honey… and now everything is sticky!

    September 21, 2017 by sarah

    This past week we (other half and I) have been busy with the honey harvest! The bees are really my husbands hobby, but I help out when I can. We have two hives at the back of the garden, behind the chickens. They are fascinating creatures to watch and generally placid as they are too busy going about their business collecting nectar and pollen. I say ‘mainly’ placid as I got stung on the face a few weeks ago though I was strimming the weeds around the hive without any bee suit on and Jim got stung multiple times last week when he was merging two hives together and they didn’t appreciate the move (he was only wearing a half length bee suit and so he got stung on the ankles – ow!).

    The honey harvest! The jars on the bottom look darker as there are other jars behind them.












    But now it is time for us to get our first honey harvest. This is the third year we have had bees and only the first time we have got any honey from them. It takes a couple of years for the colony to be strong enough to harvest and the first colony died in its first winter. We had a fair amount of ‘fun’ with the bees this year, what with swarming several times. Part of the merging of hives was to get rid of a weak queen (in a humane way, she was euthanised) and then bring together to the two smaller hives so they stand a better chance of surviving the winter. Which meant we only got to harvest the other hive.

    We turned the conservatory over to honey extraction as we could keep the cat out and minimise stickiness (to a degree!).


















    Keeping bees is not a cheap hobby and the cost of the honey nowhere near covers the real costs of producing it which is why real, locally produced honey is the price it is. But you can come and meet the bees if you like and at least see where they live. Very low food miles! This honey is very local, totally natural (no added sugar unlike some supermarket stuff) and is raw (supermarket stuff is pasteurised which kills off the good enzymes). I also have a couple of jars of capping for sale – these are full of natural wax, pollen and propolis so are really good for you, especially if you suffer from hayfever. I am very pleased with the harvest – 26 jars of 1lb (454g). Some of the jars also have chunks of comb in.

    The capped honey waiting to be extracted from the comb.

















    Did you know that to produce one pound of honey, 2 million flowers need to be harvested? In its lifetime, one honey bee will only collect 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey! Wow, that is a lot of trips out and it is all very weather dependant; bees make great weather forecasters. In the middle of a summer, the hive will contain about 50,000 bees all under the care of one queen! And that 80% of our fruit, vegetable and seed production depends on the pollination of insects like bees!


    The swarm when it was in next door’s pear tree!

    Putting the swarm in a temporary box as the second hive hadn’t arrived yet.

    Jim up a ladder collecting the swarm the first time.

    Can you see the queen? She is marked with white.

    Jim inspecting sub-hive 2!

    Watch out for the camera!

    Removing the super full of honey!

    The honey ‘tap’ is called a honey gate and it makes a nice clean job of getting sticky honey into a jar with minimal stickiness!

    A frame of honey in the extractor – beautiful!

    This process is called uncapping – removing the wax caps from the cells of honey so it can be extracted.

    Frames waiting to be extracted – a nearly full super.

  6. A historic baking day

    September 16, 2017 by sarah

    Today I spent a lovely day at the Chiltern Open Air Museum near Chalfont St.Giles on a historic baking day. I discovered this delightful museum quite by chance when looking online for something to do when my parents were visiting. Together we had a lovely time wandering around the rescued building from the local area and talking to the volunteers there – I was very impressed with the allotment! My Mother booked me on this baking day as a Birthday treat (still 3 months off I might add) as it looked different.

























    There were only 5 of us and we spent the day in an 18th Century cottage with volunteer Jenny Templeton, preparing bread and learning how to get the oven up to temperature (over 2 hours of feeding it wood). The bread was very slow to rise as it was a cold Autumnal day and we were glad for the work out kneading the dough. I had a delicious light lunch in the tea room, including this slice of green and jasmine tea cake (unfortunately couldn’t taste green tea or jasmine but nice light sponge) and some Fentiman’s rose lemonade. In the afternoon we shaped the dough and while it was having a final rise, we made pastry and decorated jam tarts; I took along some of my lovely ‘Autumn Glut’ jam (windfall apples and pears with damsons and brambles from the hedgerows) which went down well.  Then the bread went in the prepared oven, sealed with clay to keep the heat in. We made some butter while the bread was baking; double cream beaten with a variety of authentic implements. The butter took a lot of elbow grease to make; it so much easier with a machine! During the day and at the end I had time to wander around the museum a little and get a good look in some of the buildings. Finally our bread and tarts were baked and the butter patted and wrapped and then time to go home. I lovely day playing at a different way of baking.

  7. Wedding Cake – ‘naked’

    September 3, 2017 by sarah

    Last month, I made my first ever wedding cake! It was a monster of a cake with 4 tiers in the main cake (12″, 10″, 8″ and 6″) and an extra 10″ to feed 150 people! I am immensely proud of my cake and that I didn’t get into a strop about any set backs (there weren’t many as I’d planned it like a military operation). It did, however, take a lot longer than I had anticipated, over 28 hours in total: about 8 hours planning, researching recipes, typing out shopping lists and timetables, shopping online for ingredients and sundries then about 20 hours to make and half an hour to assemble at the venue. Wow, the Thursday before the wedding was a 10 hour sponge-a-thon, juggling batter in the oven and cooling cakes out of the oven! But I also learnt a lot as this was my first stacked cake attempt so there were countless hours spent reading about how to use dowels! I also needed to try out new recipes including trying to find a vegan cake that tasted as good as regular cake. The main problem turned out to be trying to make vegan buttercream that didn’t separate when I added Amaretto liqueur! I will post these recipes over the coming weeks.

    Bottom tier of moist chocolate cake filled with chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, next tier of lemon sponge with lemon Swiss meringue buttercream and homemade lemon curd, next up a traditional Victoria vanilla sponge with vanilla bean buttercream and raspberry jam and a vegan top tier of almond sponge with Amaretto frosting.


























    I hate eating fondant with a vengeance and only slight less like working with it so my stipulation to the bride was that it was not to have anything to do with fondant. Luckily, ‘naked’ cakes are all the vogue at the moment i.e. cakes whose bare sides are completely visible. This, however, brings its own set of issues; the outside of every cake must be perfectly evenly baked and come out of the tins without pulling any crust off and drying out as there is no icing to protect it. The later problem really worried me as no-one likes dry cake and I knew the naked cake would be sitting out for many hours during the wedding on a potentially very hot August day. I can confirm that my measures lead to a moist cake that stayed moist for many day! This was due to making the cakes with butter not margarine, adding a little vegetable glycerine to act as a humufactant (buy in the baking section of the supermarket, made from vegetable oils so not that artificial), making them as close to the day as possible (maximum 48 hours previously) and soaking the sponges with flavoured syrups while stacking the layers. I also used meringue based buttercreams (except for the vegan layer) as these are more stable when conditions are not perfect. I certainly perfected my Swiss meringue buttercream making!






















    I found the following websites invaluable in this project:

    • chocolate cake recipe here and lemon cake recipe here from BBC Good Food
    • brilliant YouTube video on baking and assembling a naked cake. There are also recipes on the blog which have charts so you can scale for any cake tin size. The only problem is they are in American cups rather than weight measurements which is not ideal!
    • This post by Good Housekeeping also includes instructions on assembling as well as recipes.
    • This website for lovely pictures and a cake portion guide here.

    Would I make it again – yes, but I will be charging the going rate next time!


  8. Alps Trip

    June 10, 2017 by sarah

    Here are some photos from our latest holiday!

  9. I won a photography competition!

    November 27, 2016 by sarah

    I can’t believe it! This summer I won a competition for my food photography! I have never won anything before with my photography and in fact the only thing I remember winning is a bottle of blend whisky in a veterinary raffle! Here is my winning photo.


























    And here is the photo I was emulating. And I had to make the recipe too, which you can find on an earlier blog entry here.
























    I have to be realistic though that it is not a major competition, just a food magazine competition. Nether the less, I won a set of professional knives worth £700. They arrived this week and I couldn’t wait to unpack them. Until this point in time I have had only one knife capable of cutting anything firmer than a tomato and now I have a set of eight! I think I’ll look at entering some more food photography competitions!

    knives-4 knives-3 knives-2 knives

  10. Essaouira, Morocco – holiday

    November 21, 2016 by sarah

    A couple of weeks ago we spent a lovely week in a small town called Essaouira on the coast of Morocco. We spent a wonderfully relaxing week wandering the souks, tickling cats,  reading books that I have been meaning to read for years, taking morning ‘nos-nos’ coffee and pastry and afternoon mint tea and pastries, eating delicious tagines/pastilla/grilled sardines, going to a real local hammam for a scrub and a touristy but luxuriant spa for a massage, watching a film (Ex Machina) in the open-air cinema… And spending time together, talking and getting to know each other again. All this (flights for two and a nice riad hotel in the centre) cost less than renting a cottage in damp, cold England! The world is crazy!