Category Archives: Baking

Beetroot cake

Beetroot cake might seem like an odd concept, but it’s not so far fetched when you consider its cousin the carrot cake. While I’m not into sticking root vegetables into cakes purely for the sake of it (I once saw a recipe for cake with carrot, parsnip and potato in it, which seemed like some sort of afternoon tea alternative to a roast dinner), beetroot does make excellent cake. It lends an earthy flavour that is not dense or cloying like carrot cake can be, and the cake itself comes out a beautiful shade of deep pink. It’s moist on the inside, crispy on the outside, and as you bite down on your second slice you can contemplate how eating vegetables is a pretty good, all other things considered.

What I love most about this cake is its simplicity. Aside from the minor faff of grating the beetroot (I actually wore a latex glove when doing this as I didn’t want pink hands for days afterward) it really is a case of chucking everything in a bowl. If you like you can add sultanas, walnuts, lemon juice, cream cheese icing or (apparently) it’s nice with rosewater buttercream. But to me, mucking around with it would spoil its appeal – it needs no special ingredients (other than the beetroot, of course, which is plentiful at this time of year), takes a minimal amount of washing up afterwards, and best of all you can eat it straight from the oven. This cake is positively rustic, yet all the more charming for it.

250g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
150g dark brown soft sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground nutmeg
3-4 medium beetroots, peeled and finely grated
150ml vegetable or corn oil
2 medium eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 180C, and grease an 8-inch springform or loose-bottomed cake tin
2. Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl
3. Beat the eggs together then mix them into the oil
4. Add the beetroot and eggs/oil to the dry ingredients, stir it all up with a wooden spoon, then pour into your prepared tin
5. Bake for around 40 minutes – you may need to put a tinfoil hat on your cake to stop the top browning too much. It’s done when a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean

Best enjoyed cosying up with a cup of tea – definitely the antidote to autumn blues.


Chocolate and peanut butter cheesecake

Henry is away in Sweden, so I decided to make him a nice welcome-home cheesecake…. well… okay I admit it, I wanted cheesecake! BUT I did decide to make a sort of Henry-themed one as a kind of “you’ve been away nerding out and eating junk food for five days, now have some cheesecake” sentiment. See? I had everyone’s best interests at heart.

Now, a couple of weeks ago he asked me to make some sort of pumpkin and bourbon cheesecake concoction. Luckily tinned pumpkin, one of the chief ingredients, is not readily available in the UK. At least, none jumped out at me as I was browsing the peanut butter shelves in Sainsbury’s. Obviously, I had thought about what alternate flavour Henry might like, and quite quickly settled on peanut butter. That wasn’t hard, seeing as he has been known to eat spoonfuls of the stuff as a snack. (He claims it’s a nutritionally sound snack, secretly I think it’s one of those things you eat because you were never allowed to as a child; for example, cereal for dinner – in fact cereal for every meal, and snacks too – or coffee and hula hoops for “brunch” on a weekend.) Of course it had to be peanut butter and chocolate, because, well, why would you not add chocolate?

chocolate peanut butter cheesecake

Clearly, things are better when there are layers.

I prettymuch used the recipe I used for the one a day cheesecake:

Biscuit base:
220g digestive biscuits
100g butter

700g cream cheese
120g granulated sugar
3 eggs
75g smooth peanut butter
100g good-quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids, melted

You will also need an 8 inch diameter cake tin, either spring-form or one where the base comes out.

1.  Grease the cake tin very well with butter
2. Crush the biscuits in a bowl with a rolling pin, or blend in a food processor until they are all crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs
3. Stir well, then press into the greased cake tin and put in the fridge while you make the rest. Preheat the oven to 160C
4.  With an electric whisk, cream the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each and taking care to scrape down the sides of the bowl
5. Pour half of the mixture into a bowl
6.  To one half, add the peanut butter; to the other half, add the melted chocolate
7. Pour the peanut butter layer onto the base and smooth it out with a spatula, then pour the chocolate layer on top and smooth that out too
8. Wrap the cake tin in foil from the bottom upwards, then bake in a bain-marie (the foil is so that no water leaks into the cheesecake) for 35-45 minutes – until the cheesecake is mostly set but still with a wobble in the middle
9.  Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature, then remove it from the tin onto a plate and put it in the fridge to set for a few hours

The finished article:

Ignore that tiny crack that I just pointed out (on the plus side, this was a result of careless manhandling rather than it cracking while baking).

Total deliciousness… I had my first helping with a sliced banana, then my second helping on its own. The third helping was a pre-dinner snack (it’s good for you). I expect Henry will enjoy his washed down with a glass of milk. I just hope, when he does get back, he doesn’t mind that a significant portion is missing.

Macaroons vs. Macarons

I recently bought Jill Colonna’s Mad about Macarons, figuring that there had to be some basis to the extreme fashionableness of macarons these days. These are most certainly not to be confused with macaroons. I remember the macaroons my mother used to make (erm, that makes it sound like she’s dead or something – she’s decidedly not, but now I don’t live in my parents’ house any more I don’t really keep up with what they’re cooking). These macaroons had no fancy flavours or colours. Just pure almond deliciousness (don’t get me started on coconut macaroons. One word: abomination) , and I would always try to choose the one with the most rice paper. I think that was what made me want to try them in the first place – the fact that they were baked on paper, and it was paper you could eat, and it was delicious.

macaroons(just to confuse matters, I photographed these on our French placemats…)

So. Macaroons. Rustic, humble, I-need-to-use-up-egg-whites macaroons. A world away from these Parisian macarons with their jewel colours and fancy fillings. This is absolutely reflected in the ingredients and method for each. I am not even going to write out the recipe for the macarons, firstly because you can find it in the book, secondly because it would take an age, and thirdly (most importantly) because I didn’t really rate them that highly. Suffice it to say that it involved ageing my egg whites in the fridge for four days (talk about the antidote to instant gratification – award another point to the macaroons), sifting various things, beating egg whites to firm peaks only to later use the end of a spatula to press out all the air (um, what?), piping out the macaron shells, leaving to set for half an hour, baking in batches, cooling, piping on ganache, and finally sandwiching two halves together. I might add that you need a perfectly flat baking tray (something I apparently lack), or they slide a bit and become misshapen when they bake. Finding two halves that were similarly misshapen just added another level of complexity.


The macaroons, however… Well, the recipe speaks for itself. I used the recipe from the BBC food website, which called them marunchinos. I like this: it sounds kind of cute, like an odd Italian pet name (“Hello my little marunchino, how is your baking today?” – Henry, take note). It actually is the word for Sephardi macaroons, which apparently are popular at Pesach. I changed it slightly – they say to use almond slivers on the top, but my mother always used whole almonds so of course I did too.

1 egg white
175g ground almonds  (freshly ground is best, but you can use pre-ground ones)
125g granulated sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp almond extract
whole almonds for the tops
rice paper (optional)

1. Line a baking tray with rice paper or a silicone liner. Preheat the oven to 180C
2.  Whisk the egg whites until frothy, then add the almonds, sugar, salt, and extract
3. Mix it all up, then roll into walnut-sized balls and squash flat and put on the baking tray
4. Press an almond into the centre of each macaroon, then bake for around 20 minutes until lightly coloured

Easy as that.


Now, it sounds like I don’t like macarons at all. This is not true. They were very tasty. But, in my mind, they were no more tasty than the macaroons, and considering the former took an evening of sifting and electric whisking and piping and baking in batches and sandwiching, after all of which the recipe suggested I don’t actually eat my creations right away but wait at least 24 hours, but ideally 36, before tucking in (apparently this improves the taste. My opinion after a taste test: no difference), not to mention that afterwards the kitchen looked like I’d tried to find an innovative way to get icing sugar everything and used every piece of baking equipment in the process; while the latter can be whipped up in about 45 minutes and only require a large bowl (yes, I know you’re meant to whip the egg whites until foamy, but if you really can’t be bothered it’s actually not a big deal if you don’t), AND there is no icing sugar so I don’t have to wipe down every surface in the kitchen afterwards. Not to mention I am slightly obsessed with chewy things, and these are practically the definition of the delicious chewiness I so adore.  It is most definitely a case of resource/reward.

Having said all that I will give the macarons another go. They do look very impressive, and Henry says he prefers them. I think that the recipe may have been overly complicated. I think if I bake them a little longer they will take on a bit more of the solid chewiness I so adore. I think they would make lovely gifts for people, if I were planning to make a baked gift. But I tend towards thinking that simpler is better, and this comparison has not given me any reason to think otherwise.

Caramelised plum cake

It’s plum season and I’m enjoying having a daily fix of tasty English plums.

That is, until the following hitch in my plummy plan (the following is probably exaggerated for comic effect, but this does not mean that any time Henry is sitting at his computer he does not hear a word I say):
Me (very busy): Are you ok going to the supermarket without me?
Henry: Yes, of course dear
Me: I put plums on the list… you know the plums I like? English plums? That are like this (indicating plum shape) not round?
Henry: Yes, of course dear
Later: Henry has bought the shopping. The plums are the round ones that are not so good for eating. Of course, being a dutiful wife I plan to cook with these plums and quietly buy my own ones and not say anything about it (apart from subsequently exposing the whole sordid affair on my blog. Naturally)

So. There were plums for cooking. We were going to my sister’s house in the country(ish) on the weekend, to pick the apples from the tree in the garden and have a jolly little apple factory with peeling and slicing and stewing. I said I’d bring cake, and it had to be quick to make because instead of spending the morning baking we spent the morning shopping… Well, when your husband gets rid of most of his wardrobe and declares he needs some smart, grown-up-type people clothes, I’m not one to disagree.

This is where this cake comes in. It met all the criteria. It had plums. It was quick to make. It was, indeed, a cake. And it had that rustic country feeling that I experience every time I visit my sister and her husband in the country (that is, until the novelty wears off and I wish I were back in the city).

Caramelised plum cake

For the plums:
6 plums
50g granulated sugar (or try demerara, light or dark brown soft sugar)
1 tablespoon butter

For the cake:
115g butter
100g granulated sugar
2 eggs
100g self-raising flour
50g ground almonds (you can leave these out if you are planning to feed the cake to anyone with a nut allergy)

Serves 8

1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a deep 8 inch cake tin (use a springform one, or one where the bottom comes out)
2. Caramelise the plums. Put the sugar in a saucepan and heat until it starts to caramelise. Slice the plums and add with the butter, stirring to coat
3. Meanwhile, make the cake. Cream the butter and sugar, then add the eggs one at a time, and finally the flour and ground almonds
4. Pour the cake batter into the prepared tin, then tip in the caramelised plums (don’t worry if there is still runny caramel)
5. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until a knife stuck in the centre of the cake comes out clean

Best served warm.

Caramelised plum cake

I think it turned out pretty well! So well, in fact, that I may buy the erroneous plums on purpose to make it again. Caramelising the plums managed to get some flavour out of them. When I first sliced them up there didn’t seem to be a drop of juice in them, or a drop of flavour either, but the cake was filled with plummy goodness – this would be very good for using up a bad batch of plums. I think you could also use nectarines, and serve with whipped cream, or sour cream, or yogurt or ice cream for a tasty pudding. Or just have it as is with a nice cup of tea, sitting in the city, daydreaming of fields and apple trees and autumn.

One a Day Cheesecake (or, hazelnut caramel chocolate cheesecake)

I never used to like cheesecake. This fact would enough to make me very sad and angry, now that I have discovered the One a Day Cheesecake, except that the recipe book it’s from (The Humingbird Bakery – Cake Days) was only recently published. So I haven’t been missing out for that long.

It was pure luck that led me to make this cheesecake. Henry bought me the book (which I highly recommend) for my birthday, then got a new job. Obviously my natural response was to bake something from my new recipe book to celebrate. The cheesecake looked so tasty – all I had to do was get Henry to use his remaining days of being a stay-at-home husband to pick up an obscene amount of cream cheese and we were good to go.

caramel hazelnut chocolate cheesecake

I have come to realise that I find it almost pathologically impossible to follow any recipe to the letter. I tend to skim read then erroneously reconstruct the instructions in my head, then read again after the relevant step to find out I’ve done it differently. Or I can’t be fussed with having two different types of butter in my kitchen. And I definitely can’t be bothered with lining things with baking parchment. I suppose I am also blessed in that the vast majority of what I make turns out fine (and comes out of the pan…) – perhaps if it didn’t I would be a more conscientious baker. But I promise you this works – so here is the glory I call the One a Day Cheesecake.

Serves one (me) , or two at a push, for a good five days

Biscuit base:
220g digestive biscuits
100g butter

700g cream cheese
120g granulated sugar
3 eggs
50g caramel or dulce de leche (you can buy it ready made in a tin, or make your own if you are inclined)
50g good-quality dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa solids

More caramel/dulce de leche (if you want to be scant you can be scant, likewise if you want to be generous do so. The original recipe suggests 4 tablespoons. I just poured it on until I felt like stopping)
50g toasted chopped hazelnuts (dry fry in a pan, shaking often to toast. When they’re browning, tip onto a plate to cool. If you have whole hazelnuts, whack a few times with a rolling pin to break them up a bit)

You will also need an 8 inch diameter cake tin, either spring-form or one where the base comes out.

1.  Grease the cake tin very well
2. Crush the biscuits in a bowl with a rolling pin, or blend in a food processor until they are all crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs
3. Stir well, then press into the greased cake tin and put in the fridge while you make the rest. Preheat the oven to 160C
4.  With an electric whisk, cream the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each and taking care to scrape down the sides of the bowl
5. Take out a third of the mixture and set aside (preferably in a bowl… not just on your kitchen counter)
6.  To the 2/3 mix, add the caramel and stir well. To the 1/3 mix, melt the chocolate and stir in
7. Spread the caramel cheesecake mix onto your biscuit base, then spread the chocolate cheesecake mix on top
8. Wrap the cake tin in foil from the bottom upwards, then bake in a bain-marie (the foil is so that no water leaks into the cheesecake) for 35-45 minutes – until the cheesecake is mostly set but still with a wobble in the middle
9. (ESSENTIAL STEP)* Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature, then put it in the fridge to set for a few hours. Remove it from its tin and top with the caramel and toasted hazelnuts

caramel chocolate hazelnut cheesecake

*I am too used to baking things that go into the oven liquidy and come out more solid. This cheesecake comes out of the oven still liquidy. Luckily I took a photo before I cut into it, but I was too keen to try it (and it was about 11pm by this time and I wasn’t going to stay up to allow for chilling time). When I took out a couple of slices, there was a sort of cheesecake landslide and it all ended up very sunken and messy. I was amazed when the next day it was all set (amazed like, “wow! I didn’t know it would do that!” because I really thought I’d undercooked it despite my oven being preheated and cooking it for the specified time). So yes, chilling time is essential, unless you are really really hungry and don’t mind having a sunken landslide cheesecake mess. It’s not that much of a disaster as it just means that it is not in a state to be seen by others as it might cast doubt on your baking prowess, so you have to eat it all yourself.

One last thing, why do I call it the One a Day Cheesecake? Because I believe I could happily eat a slice of this cheesecake every single day for the rest of my life and not get sick of it. It is delightfully textural with the creamy cheesecake and crunchy hazelnuts, and the chocolate layer really makes it something special. I did have a mini-depression when I finished it then wanted a slice after rollerskating. I missed the cheesecake… like a lost lover snatched from a dream. Though, it has put me on a real cheesecake kick, so I am excited to explore what other cheesecakey delights are out there. Watch this space.

Eggless double chocolate cookies

I am still searching for the perfect cookie recipe, so I was delighted when I picked up the June edition of Sainsbury’s magazine and found six variations on a cookie recipe. What is interesting is that the recipe uses condensed milk instead of egg, so while I now have half a tin of condensed milk in my freezer that I will pull out in three month’s time and wonder what the heck it is, the brilliance is that you can eat as much raw cookie dough as you like. You could also use it to make cookie dough ice cream, but I suspect I will really start to appreciate the egglessness in the future when I am pregnant. Just saying.

Makes 16

125g butter, softened
125g granulated sugar
2 tablespoons condensed milk
125g self-raising flour
50g cocoa, sifted
pinch salt
100g white chocolate, chopped (or white chocolate chips)

1. Preheat the oven to 150C (fan 130C). Line or grease two baking sheets
2. Cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the condensed milk, then the flour, cocoa and salt. Finally, stir in the chocolate
3. Roll into balls then squash flat onto a baking tray, leaving space for the cookies to spread
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the edges are firm but the centres are still soft. Cool on the baking tray for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack (but not for too long. We all know cookies are best still oven-warm)

Firstly, I have to say that the cookie dough was delicious. I probably ate a whole cookie’s worth before I managed to get them in the oven. And the cookies themselves were delicious too – crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. I look forward to trying some of the other variations… toffee fudge chunk here I come… after I finish off the chocolate ones, of course.

Giant French Fancy

Ah, bank holidays. After a three day week that felt like it would never end, what better way to pass the time than making a giant version of a Mr Kipling classic? Henry and I decided last week that this was something that had to be done. This is undoubtedly not the way most people would consider spending their bank holiday but hey, that’s just the way we rock and roll.

Due to immense skill luck with the sizing of the pan (which, might I add, I bought specially), the proportions turned out just right. See him there with his baby brother? He’s 96 times larger – the regular size measures 1.5″ square and 1″ tall. Ours was 6″ square and and 4″ tall – not including the dome of buttercream topping – a total of 144 cubic inches of cake. Nice.

For your pleasure here is how we did it:

For the cake:
450g butter
450g granulated sugar
8 eggs
420g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
50g cornflour
9 x 13 inch deep baking pan
Plus a really big mixing bowl (imagine trying to fit 100 French fancies in your mixing bowl… that’s how big it’s got to be. Incidentally, if you halve this recipe you can make a lovely 8 inch layer cake)

For the buttercream topping:
80g butter
3 tbsp semi-skimmed milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
350g icing sugar

For the outer icing:
1 packet ready-roll icing
red or yellow food colouring
A couple of tablespoons of buttercream and some milk to dilute

1. Eat a regular French Fancy so you are au fait with what you are trying to recreate.

2. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 180 (160 fan). Grease and line the pan – I used a non-stick baking sheet that stuck out over two sides of the pan – this really assisted in getting the cake out in one piece. Cream the butter and the sugar in the large bowl. Mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl then add the eggs in twos, alternating with the dry ingredients until all are used up. Finally, mix in the milk. Pour into the pan, smooth out and bake for around an hour, turning during cooking. You may need to cover the top with foil to stop it browning too much (mine rose more than I was expecting and got close to the element, so the top was very brown). When done, a knife inserted into the centre should come out clean.

3. Lift the cake out of the pan and leave to cool. Cut into two 6 x 6 inch squares. Do whatever you see most fitting with the spare cake.

4. Make the buttercream: Soften the butter (but don’t melt it), then cream with the milk, vanilla and half the icing sugar. When smooth, beat in the rest of the icing sugar.

5. Assemble the cake: Put the bottom layer of the cake on whatever you’re planning to serve it on. Spread with a thin layer of buttercream, so the top layer will stick. Put the top layer on – careful now! Because of the way mine rose I turned the top layer upside down and put it on so that the risen corners were diagonal to each other, giving a nice flat top to the fancy.

6. Add the buttercream topping: Dollop on to the centre of the cake then smooth into a nice round dome. Keep back a couple of tablespoons for the lines of icing on the top. Pat down with a spatula (or clean hands) for a smooth finish.

7. Put on the outer icing: Knead in the red colouring until you achieve the desired colouring. It helps to have the original to compare. Roll out as big as you can get it and drape over the cake. Mould around the buttercream topping so it’s smooth on top, then smooth around the sides. I couldn’t get mine big enough as it was getting quite thin and falling apart, so I had to do a couple of the sides separately. You can spend an age trying to smooth it all down and get it perfect if you like, or you can decide enough’s enough and move on when it’s satisfactory.

8. Dilute the buttercream you savedfrom step 6 with a little milk, until it’s fairly runny. Pipe or drizzle the stripes on.

I have to say, the giant version is definitely an improvement on the regular size. Not only does it taste better, but did I mention it’s 96 times larger? A pretty good use of an evening I think!