Monthly Archives: October 2010

Black Velvet Beetle Cakes

We don’t celebrate Halloween as such in our household. Well we don’t trick or treat or encourage trick or treaters, but I do use it as an opportunity to take something and give it a gruesome twist. Last year was a Sweeney Todd Pie to accompany my Mrs Lovatt costume. This year as inspired by a copy of A Zombie Ate My Cupcake the publishers kindly sent me I used the instructions in the book on how to make black beetles and designed a cake around it. I used marzipan to make the beetles as I had some left from a cake decorating job. In amongst the marzipan beetles modelled on cockroaches and scarab beetles there is one little beetle with friendly eyes. This was the first beetle I made but decided the cakes would be too cute if he was on all of them.

Why have I called them Black Velvet cakes? well given Red Velvet cakes are essentially chocolate cakes with a bucketful of red food colouring (I duck as cake spatulas are hurled at me from Red Velvet Cake enthusiasts) added I decided to christen these Black Velvet cakes because they are simply chocolate cakes with black food colouring added to darken the colour. Weirdly although I used my usual chocolate cake recipe they tasted more chocolatey with the addition of the black food colouring. I’m sure this is purely psychological because the colouring makes the cakes look richer. I’ll admit cocked up slightly with the icing. My own fault for not adding the icing sugar gradually. I added too much icing sugar and it turned almost in to a paste, but I was able to spread it on to the cakes without too many problems. Thankfully in this case the icing was acting more like a glue and would be hidden under the edible dirt.

Gross fact: black marzipan when accidentally rolled the wrong way looks suspiciously like mouse/rat/bat droppings. While this could have given the cakes a rather disturbing twist I didn’t think the recipients of the cakes, Hubs’ workmates, would appreciate it or ever ask me to bake for them again! I’ve entered these cakes to English Mum’s Big Autumn Bakeoff.

Black Velvet Beetle Cakes

makes 12 fairycake sized cakes

80g self-raising flour

20g cocoa powder

100g caster sugar

100g butter

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

black food colouring


90g unsalted butter

150g icing sugar

1 tbsp cocoa powder

black food colouring

100g marzipan

edible lustre dust (I used antique gold and snowflake)

70g oreos, just the biscuits minus the cream filling

1) Preheat oven to 180°c and line a bun tin with fairy cake liners.

2) In a bowl beat together the butter and caster sugar until it is light and fluffy then one at a time stir in the eggs. Don’t worry if it begins to look curdled. Mix in the vanilla extract.

3) Fill each liner 2/3 with cake mix. Bake for 15-20 min until risen and pass the cocktail stick test.

4) While the cakes are cooling make the beetles. First knead black food colouring into the marzipan until evenly coloured. Pinch off a Malteser sized piece of marzipan and roll into a rugby ball shape. Place on a piece of clingfilm and gently press to flatten. Shape into a beetle shape. Mark the head and wings using a teaspoon. Add additional detail with a knife and cocktail stick. Brush lightly with lustre dust. Roll six mini sausages out of the marzipan about 1.5 cm long. Attach two of the legs near the head and the other four to the rear. Leave on the clingfilm to dry for  few hours.

5) In a bowl beat together the butter, then gradually add the icing sugar and cocoa until light and fluffy. Slowly add the black food colouring until you have the desired colour. Adding a small amount of red dye can help it stop looking like something you may concrete bricks together with. Using a pallet knife use nearly all of the buttercream to coat the cakes.

6) In a blender blitz the Oreo biscuits (or similar chocolate biscuit) then coat the cakes with this edible dirt. Pat down slightly to help it stick.

7) Place a small blob of buttercream on the bottom of the beetle then stick on to the cake. It helps keep the beetle on the cake if you mould it slightly to the shape of the cake.

Fresh from the Oven – Chelsea Buns

I’ve been a bit lax with bread baking recently. Hubs has been working away a lot and most weekends we’ve been busy with friends and family. Also now that my job is all about food, I live and breathe it, I’m trying to find a hobby that doesn’t involve being in the kitchen. When Wendy from Quirky Cookies decided that this month’s Fresh from the Oven challenge was going to be Chelsea Buns I was secretly pleased and hoped it would kick my bread making mojo back into touch. Wendy is a cracking woman and fellow science geek. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her at a few Fabulous Places events and can highly recommend her Rocky Road. Get in quick though as it sells fast!

I got working on the dough while working from home. Straight after kneading the dough looked quite sloppy. I left it a few minutes and the dough seemed to magically firm and come together. In between costing recipes, sighing at how the price of ingredients seems to be rocketing and thinking of recipes for spring term I had this dough slowly rising. As the house was quite cold I gave the dough a quick blast in the airing cupboard to aid with the rising. What materialised was a beautiful, soft and silky enriched dough.

When adding the filling I used sultanas, candied citrus peel and glace cherries along with a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon. As advised by Wendy I also drizzled a small amount of icing on the buns once they had cooled. I have it on good authority from Claire at Things We Make that these taste superb warm from the oven. While I wasn’t fortunate to eat them warm they are still absolutely delicious with my 11 o’clock cuppa.

225g (8oz) strong white bread flour
25g (1oz) caster sugar
1/4 tsp salt
25g (1oz) softened butter – this is for the dough
1 1/2 tsp fast action dried yeast
1 medium egg, beaten
90ml (3 fl oz) warm semi-skimmed milk
25g (1 oz) butter really softened, but not melted – this is for the filling
65g (2 1/2oz) light muscovado sugar
115g (4oz) dried fruit
1) Combine the flour, sugar, salt and yeast into a mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid as usual). Make a well in the centre and add the softened butter, egg and milk. Mix to make a soft dough. Knead until smooth. It’s at this point I remember how much I love my KitchenAid, and make myself a coffee.
2) Cover and prove until doubled in size. I find that if I’m in a hurry the airing cupboard can do this in around half an hour, and I’ve had no adverse side effects from quick proving so far. Generously butter and line a 7″ square tin. Make sure it’s not a loose bottomed one, or you’ll get problems later on and loose your filling.

3) Flour your work surface, and roll out the dough, (no need to knock it back) to a rectangle measuring about 12 x 9 inches. If you get the edges as square as you can it will help to make your buns look even, but I quite like the squiffy homemade look. Well, that’s my excuse and I’m damn well sticking to it!

4) Spread the softened butter as evenly as you can over the dough. Sprinkle the sugar and the dried fruit on top, and gently press it into the butter. Now, roll up the dough along the long edge, as though you were making a Swiss Roll (and don’t tell me you haven’t!) Seal the edge. I find that smoothing it down with the flat side of a paring knife can help here, but don’t get too ocd over this bit. Turn the roll over so that the seal is underneath and divide the roll into 9 equal buns.

5) Place the buns, cut side down, into the buttered and lined tin, and leave to prove until the dough has doubled in size, and they have all joined together into one big Chelsea bun muddle. I baked mine in a 180 degree oven, for about 15 minutes, but I’ve got a particularly hot and fast cooking oven. You know your oven better than I do, and I suspect most of you will need to set the oven slightly higher, and /or cook for a little longer. Some recipes suggest covering the buns with parchment or foil, but the fan is so strong in my oven this has never worked for me. Once cooked, cool on a wire rack, and eat them as soon as you dare.

A Taste of the Unexpected

I’ve been a fan of Mark Diacono for a while. He runs UK’s first climate change farm, Otter Farm, and is head gardener at River Cottage. His River Cottage Handbook: Veg Patch is a well used book in this house so when I saw Mark was writing a new book it went straight on my wishlist. After helping Issy at Fennel & Fern with a project she offered to send me a copy of Mark’s new book, A Taste of the Unexpected. Trust me, I do get sent some not so great free stuff from various companies and I choose to not inflict these on you but this book is not one of those.  Not only does it have fantastic photography, by Mark himself, but great content.

The main theme of this book is to not grow boring everyday things you can can easily buy, but to try rarer plants that are more or less impossible to buy; A concept we have been loosely using on our garden for the last year or so. It was great to see some plants featured that we’ve tried to successfully of unsuccessfully grow recently. As the book is full of great tips we may attempt some of the plants again next year with hopefully better results. Each plant in the book is not only accompanied with growing instructions and tips, but also recipes. We are yet to try any of the recipes, but they certainly look good. Some of the plants featured are not suitable for our garden due to size, but we will certainly bear them in mind for our future, hopefully bigger, gardens. I will admit that I find a large amount of gardening books quite sleep-inducing, but this book is anything but and I hope it becomes as well-thumbed as River Cottage Handbook: Veg Patch

As our garden winds down for the winter we look back and see what worked and what didn’t work. Sadly Romanesco didn’t survive the caterpillar onslaught of Summer ’10 but the Purple Sprouting Broccoli is fighting on through and hopefully we’ll have a harvest in the new year. The white Alpine Strawberries finally fruited and while the vine still hasn’t shown any fruit it gave some vivid green colour to the garden. The overall winner of the garden this year has been peas. Easy and delicious. Next year, as inspired by Mark, the plans include: Egyptian Walking Onion, another attempt at Romanesco, Daylillies and Szechuan Peppers.

Herman the German Cake

I will admit, until my sister-in-law gave me this recipe and starter I had never heard of this cake before. A little researching and I found out it is a little bit like the cake of the sourdough world in that you are given a starter, you feed it then split it up and pass it on to friends. Claire from Things We Make & Fairyfeltmaker have been the lucky recipients of this batch of starter, though I did warn them at the time that I hadn’t made the cake and didn’t have a clue as to what it would be like! While over tea & cookies at the QUAD cafe in Derby, Claire & I christened this cake Herman the German because we love a bit of rhyming and it is thought the cake does originate from Germany.

It takes 10 days to turn the starter into something that is suitable for making a cake. When it came to making the cake I was pleasantly surprised as it was light and fluffy. Airborne yeast is used to make the dough rise.  Claire told me the Herman cakes she had tasted in the past were similar to a Mr Kipling Manor House Cake and I have to agree with her.

I’m not sure how you would go about making your own starter. The recipe I was given is quite cringy with the wording, but here it is. One thing I would say is that I did it in a 8″x8″ tin as the tin suggested seemed far too big. Within 50 min the cake was cooked perfectly. I also ditched the nuts and used 100g sultanas, 50g of glace cherries and 50g citrus peel.

Day 1 Herman is given to you. Pour him into a large bowl (not metal)
Day 2 Stir Herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon (you can leave the spoon in the bowl)
Day 3 Stir herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon
Day 4 Herman is hungry; give him – 200ml milk, 8oz/200g self raising flour, 10oz/250g sugar
Day 5 Stir Herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon
Day 6 Stir Herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon
Day 7 Stir Herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon
Day 8 Stir Herman 2 or 3 times with a wooden spoon
Day 9 Herman is hungry. Give him – 200ml milk, 8oz/200g self raising flour, 10oz/ 250g sugar. Share him into 5 equal portion and give four little Herman’s away with a copy of these instructions. Keep the 5th portion for yourself.
Day 10 Herman is absolutely starving. Give him – 6oz/150g self raising flour, 3 eggs, 2 tsps cinnamon, 1 tsp baking powder, 4oz/100g finely chopped nuts, 2 grated apples or 4oz/100g of any dried fruit and cherries, 150ml sunflower oil

Now Herman likes to go to a hot resort, the oven will do. Pre heat the oven to 170oc/Gas mark 3.5. Mix everything together and pour him into a cake tin (10″ x 12″ baking tray). Leave him in the oven for about 1 hour. Herman is now ready to eat.

Chocolate Beef

A few weeks ago Vanessa Kimber from Prepped put a call out for people to help her test recipes for the cookbook she is currently writing. Along with English Mum & Alison from Banjoli I stepped up to the challenge.

With it being Chocolate Week it made sense to test a recipe for Chocolate Beef. Chocolate is often used in savory dishes to help give a richness to the sauce. What I noticed in this recipe was that once you added the chocolate to the pot the smell of the dish completely transformed.

What is great about this recipe is that it is perfect for a slow Sunday. You can put it in the oven and forget about it. One night we had it with horseradish mash (highly recommended, and don’t be stingy with the horseradish) alternatively with the addition of mashed potato to the sauce to help thicken it, it makes a fantastic filling for a pie/pasty. Shin of beef is quite easy to find at the moment as it is a trendy frugal cut of meat. It is also the perfect cut of beef to cook so slowly it begins to fall apart.

I have to thank Vanessa for the photo above. I did take one, but it didn’t turn out very well!

Chocolate Beef

Serves 4 – 6

2 tbsp rapeseed /olive oil

2 banana shallots OR mild onions

3 star anise

5 cloves

I kg shin of beef

4 celery sticks

4 large carrots

1 tin plum tomatoes

500ml water

½ bottle fruity red wine

50g  dark 80% cocoa chocolate

1 ½ tsp sea salt

1) Preheat oven to 150/ 300/ gas mark 4. Finely chop the onion and sauté in the rapeseed oil in a heavy based pan that can go in the oven with a lid.  Add the diced beef a handful at a time, and sauté until brown.

2) Add the star anise and the cloves and put the celery and carrots in the pan whole.  Add the tomatoes and water and stir well.

3) Add the wine and salt, stir well and transfer the pot in to the oven Cook for 1 hour.  Remove from the oven and stir in the chocolate.  Return to the oven and cook for a further 2 hours

Apple Day – Calke Abbey

Apples are very much a fruit we take for granted. We’re so used to being able to buy them all year round and this can leave our humble British varieties of apple, of which there is over 2000,  feeling undervalued.

Over the last few weeks there has been many events throughout the UK celebrating the wonderful fruit that is the British apple. From the everyday eating apple to apples more suited to culinary uses all types have been celebrated along with the odd quince thrown in for good measure. It just so happens that this year has also been a fabulous year for apples thanks to the sharp cold winter we had this year that helped kill off many of the pests that blight the apple tree.

Yesterday in National Trust’s Calke Abbey held an Apple Day within the gardens while bathed in some glorious Ocober sunshine. Along with being able to taste various varieties of apples there were apples to buy, children’s activities and apple juice that was being made there and then. Freshly squeezed apple juice is unlike anything that has bee bottled. Watching all this happen has made Hubs even more determined to make cider this year as we have so many apples in friend’s gardens that need using up.

Calke Abbey have quite a few events coming up in the next few months and even if you don’t go to an event the kitchen gardens are always worth a visit.


Chorley Cakes

Chorley Cakes have been on my Must Bake list for while. Recipes for these lesser known cakes are quite elusive, even my trusty collection of vintage cookbooks couldn’t provide me with a full recipe, however as a teenager growing up on the Merseyside/Lancashire border it wasn’t unknown for me to make these in Home Ec so these are my version from what I can remember.

They are very much known as being a cake where each household had their own version but still remaining as a frugal bake with less ingredients than it’s slightly fancier cousin the Eccles Cake. The Eccles Cake is sweeter than the Chorley Cake and is made with puff/flaky pastry plus another regional variation is the East Lancashire’s Sad Cake essentially being a giant Chorley Cake that is cut into slices like pizza. The best way to eat Chorley Cakes is very slightly warm with a thin layer of butter and a small piece of crumbly Lancashire cheese.

I may us the Chorley Cake method for making mince pies this year, similar to when I’ve made Eccles Mince Pies in the past. It’s also likely I will make these with my pupils in the near future as it is good practice at making shortcrust pastry. The addition of baking powder to the pastry helps make the pastry lighter. As with any pastry remember to use chilled ingredients to stop the fat melting and separating from the flour.

Chorley Cakes
Makes 12 cakes

For the pastry

225g plain flour

110g cold butter, cubed

Pinch of salt

1 tsp baking powder

cold water

for the filling

25g butter

1 tbsp sugar (optional)

small amount of grated nutmeg

50g currants, sultanas or rasins

1 egg, beaten

1) In a bowl sieve in flour, salt and baking powder. Rub in the butter until you have a breadcrumb consistency then add the chilled water 1 TBSP at a time until you have a nice dough. Press dough into a disk, cover in clingfilm and chill in the fridge while you prepare the filling.

2) Melt the butter then stir in the sugar, nutmeg and currants.

3) Roll the dough out until 5mm thick. Cut out a disk approximately 8cm in diameter.

4) Place 1 tbsp of the mixture in the middle of the disk and fold in the edges so the mixture is covered. Flip over so the seal is facing the surface then roll until the currants are beginning to show through the pastry. Place on a lined baking tray.

5) Once all of the pastry has been used, brush all the cakes with beaten egg then bake for 10-15 at 200°c until golden.

Cooking with Kids – getting started

Given I now work as a freelance children’s cookery teacher a significant amount of my time is currently taken up with recipe research and development along with teaching children how to cook. Recently, unless it is promoting various skills, has the potential to be knife-free and suitable for a school kitchen it’s likely to have been made in our home kitchen. The kitchen also seems to be dominated by a distinct pile of cookbooks that are allegedly meant to be aimed at children and/or their parents. There are the odd gem in the pile, but it has also made me aware of a huge gap in the market of which I’ll leave for another blog post.

There has been many a mention in the media regarding children cooking including a BBC post about why you should cook with children and an article in the Telegraph that had a potentially controversial slant on getting kids cooking. For me cooking with children is not about producing a Michelin starred masterpiece, it’s about key life skills, creativity, fine-motor skills and most importantly having fun.

There are some amazing people out there who are doing a fantastic job of inspiring children of all ages and their parents to get cooking:

Fiona Bird – A Masterchef finalist who has given me some superb advice & support over the last year. Her book Kids’ Kitchen is worth a look at.

Nick from My Daddy Cooks – Nick along with his adorable 3-year-old son Archie vlog the cooking they do together in the kitchen. A great way of seeing how you can differentiate recipes for younger children and get them involved.

Michelle Stearn has written a superb article on teaching knife skills to kids along with some suggestions for cutting tools. Unfortunately some of these tools mentioned don’t appear to be available in the UK at the moment, but I’m working on it.

Gastronuts by Stefan Gates – Gastronuts is aimed at the market that seems very much neglected in cookery. Upper primary aged children and specifically boys. I know many of my pupils adore this programme, even I’m a fan. An educational food program that tells it as it is and  inspires. To be honest it is even better than some of the food programmes that are aimed at adults!


When it comes to cooking with children don’t bother with kids’ cooking kits. The equipment is often too small to be useful and the kits can end up being expensive. I find Wilkos is fantastic for decent quality, affordable cooking equipment along with local and online cook shops, like Squeak, for various biscuit cutters. This is the basic equipment I recommend:

Chopping board – embrace the giant Swedish warehouse that is Ikea.

Silicone fairy cake cases – silicone fairy cake cases has a multitude of uses –  not just for baking cakes, but great for mini frittatas as no oil is required, you can make mini jellies in them plus they are also great for sorting ingredients into at the beginning. Again Wilkinsons is the cheapest for these, but it also worth keeping an eye out in Pound Shops as I’ve picked some fun shaped and sized ones in there.

Silicone spatula – Not technically essential, but in my kitchen I’m lost without it. Great for scraping the bowl out.

Thes cake cases and the spatula are the only silicone bakeware I rate. There is many reasons for this. 1) The silicone bakeware doesn’t get hot enough for larger items to cook properly, 2) Silicone bakeware isn’t very stable and has a tendency to go wobbly when trying to transfer it to the oven.

Mixing bowl – Easy to get hold of in a multitude of sizes. To help stop the bowl slipping while the child is mixing place a damp cloth under the bowl.

Wooden spoon – any will do.

Baking tray – In my classes I use the small cheap baking trays that are often in Supermarket’s value ranges as they are smaller so you can fit more in the oven. If you use silicone fairy cake cups all you need for most baking is a baking tray.

Selection of cutters – I pick these up in lots of places and buy them when I see them. You don’t have to have special cutters. Upturned glasses or cups make great circles.

Rolling pin – Can be picked up for as cheap as 30p.

Patience & sense of fun – not essential but it does help!

The main thing to remember this that it doesn’t go right all the time, but then again life would be boring if it was always perfect. Cooking is not about being perfect, it’s about learning.

Here are some of the recipes I use with my pupils that have gone done very well:

Cheesy Biscuits

Peppermint Creams – from experience, don’t make these on a hot day as it all gets very messy & sticky!

Fairy Cakes

Gingerbread Men

Jam tarts – You don’t need a bun tin, these can be made in the silicone fairy cake cases.

Baked Vegetable Spring Rolls

Easy Peasy Pizza

Chilli Cheese Scones

Gower Cottage Brownies

I’ve been wanting to try these award-winning brownies for a while and even subtle hinting to Hubs about the fact I wouldn’t mind a box of these fudgy delights (who am I kidding, men never get subtle hints) I’ve been waiting patiently. I’ve been sending them to friends as birthday pressies and hearing people rave about them on twitter; I knew I had to have a taste of my own.

Wind the clock back two weeks ago. There was me driving back from Bristol after a fabulous weekend celebrating a friend’s 30th while Hubs was working on Top Secret Project with Jaguar & Range Rover in Paris. Getting hungry I pulled into the services on the M42 where there is now a Waitrose, the shelves were empty so I decided to power on home. Less than 10 miles from home I began to feel a bit odd and knew I had to stop and eat something asap. The nearest eatery was the place with the famous golden arches. Given I haven’t been to one in over 5 years I swallowed my pride and decided to go through the Drive Thru as I knew quite a few people who use this particular joint. Pleased with my act of deception I began to pull up to the order window then with a final rattle my car decided to die. In the Drive Thru. The shame. Half of the staff had to come out to push my car out of the queue, don’t get in the way of families wanting to get their Happy Meals, leaving me to sit in the car park for an hour waiting for RAC man to come at rescue me while trying to dodge people I knew. That day my car tried to tell me something. On the upside at least I had broken down somewhere warm, dry and with free WiFi.

I recalled this tale to Kate from Gower Cottage Brownies as part of her #freegowerbrownies competition. It was this tale of pure cringeworthyness that won me a box of Brownies from Gower Cottage as Kate found my tale particularly hilarious. To be honest so has everyone else who has heard the tale, even the RAC man who came to rescue me. My food-lover halo has been significantly dinted.

The brownies arrived by courier this morning after being freshly baked the day before. I’d heard things about the Gower Cottage Brownies packaging, I seem to think it’s won awards, and it didn’t disappoint. The brownies were cleverly wrapped to keep them well protected during transit, but also gave a hint of the luxury goods inside.

Now, I love my brownies but often find many varieties of ready-made ones sickly sweet along with a dry crumbly texture. These were very much what I believe a brownie should be: dense, fudgy and intensely chocolatey without being too sweet. So much better than a McFlurry! I was pleased to see on the packaging that the brownies can be frozen on the day of delivery, which is probably a good thing due to my Nigellaesque hips. I know Gower Cottage Brownies will be at the Good Food Show later in the year and they are well worth stopping for.

Now the biggest problem; will I be able to save some of these delectible brownies for for Hubs? I don’t know if I’ll be able to.

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