Spelt Soda Bread

This is based on Dan Lepard’s Waterford soda bread recipe from his book “The Handmade Loaf”.  In turn I believe the provenance of this is from a recipe created by Michael Power a baker from County Wexford. The really nice thing about this recipe is that it manages to produce a moist loaf that keeps well until the next day. Usually, to be at its best, soda bread has to be eaten warm pretty much straight out of the oven or within hours at most.

I particularly like the flavour of spelt flour so I use all stoneground spelt flour or sometimes 50/50 spelt flour and wholemeal flour. 

I also like the idea of a square loaf, I guess you could use a standard circular cake tin but squares are easy to slice and look interesting on the breadboard.

Spelt Soda Bread Recipe
300g Bacheldre Watermill Organic Stoneground Spelt
200g buttermilk
200g semi-skimmed milk
50g fine oatmeal (I blitzed some porridge oats in the food processor until fine)
30g oatbran or porridge oats (oatbran produces a nice crunchy finish but oats are ok too)
20g salted butter
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Butter a 7″ square loose bottomed pan, flour the pan with spelt flour and sprinkle a layer of oatbran or oats on the base. Pre-heat oven to 210°C.

Mix oatmeal and spelt together and rub in the butter. Mix in the bicarb., sugar and salt. Stir the milk and buttermilk together in a jug and zap in the microwave for 30 seconds until lukewarm. Stir the liquid quickly but thoroughly into the dry ingredients. Pour into the prepared tin and gently flatten the top and sprinkle more oatbran (or oats) over the top. Cover with foil and put into the oven for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for a futher 25 minutes uncovered.  Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack  after a minute or two.

Don’t expect the loaf to rise like conventional yeasted bread, it has a taste and texture somewhere between a bread and a cake but is equally at home with butter and jam or a spicy soup.

Marmalade… and my apology to Prue Leith

This recipe isn’t anything to do with baking or fermenting things but it came out of my kitchen and caused me such a lot of grief that I wanted the eventual triumphant result recorded here for posterity.

January is the time of year that Seville Oranges are in the shops – it’s such a short season so you have to grab them when you can. I do love marmalade – there’s nothing quite like it on wholemeal toast or homemade soda bread (I have a great recipe for this). Now there is no escaping the fact that making marmalade is a bit of a faff. You do need a preserving pan or a wide-mouthed stockpot. You need a fair bit of patience to chop up all the peel into the right sized pieces and a fair bit of time to actually do the boiling, jar sterilising and potting up.

Because it is such an infrequent activity I do find it hard to recall exactly how I did it the previous year. I also know that it has been the one kitchen project that has the worst success rate in my house. I reckon the edibility ’hit rate’ I’ve managed to achieve is only about 60%. Probably the randomness of my recipe choice hasn’t helped (they do vary) and although last years batch definitely had ‘spoonable’ quality about the texture it did set enough to call it marmalade. This years first attempt, after studiously examining several recipes, resulted in something that really resembled runny orange syrup…with bits in. It didn’t set AT ALL. I even reboiled it and bunged in a bottle of pectin hoping that would do the trick but no. It was way too liquid. The recipe I tried to follow was from ‘Leiths Cookery Bible’ which has to be one of my most revered cookery books, the quality and reliability of the recipes has been excellent… until Le Grand Marmalade Debacle of January 2013. Over the course of 48 hours I scrubbed, juiced and chopped the oranges. Left the pips soaking in the juice and 3 Litres of water overnight before simmering… for hours… which meant copious mopping up of condensation from the kitchen walls and windows on a cold January day before boiling furiously after adding the previously warmed preserving sugar. It reached the prescribed temperature 106ºC but it didn’t appear to set when I tested it on the plate freshly plucked from the freezer. So I boiled it some more… mopped the windows again… tested it again… still not setting. After 90 minutes or so repeating this routine I tired of it. The sterilised jars had been kept in the oven all the while - staying sterilised. So I potted it anyway. Of course it didn’t set in the jar. (My fuel bill preparing this must far outweight the cost of buying the darned stuff from the supermarket several times over). I despaired and in my mind I was threatening to slap the back of Prue Leith’s legs if I ever got hold of her (homemade preserves get me like that). The next day I added a bottle of pectin and tried reboiling, washed and re-sterilised the jars (yawn) but still no joy. Orange syrup prevailed. 

SO with my weekend in tatters I decided I’d give it another bash the following weekend if there were still any seville oranges on the shelf. I’m not easily thwarted by failure. There were oranges available but the shelves had been stripped bare of preserving sugar. I did manage to find some towards the end of the week in the third shop I visited, though a bemused shop assistant had to fetch some from the back of the store – he didn’t understand why this normally slow moving line was leaving the shelf as soon as he’d restocked it. It made me realise I’m not the only one spending their weekends this way. After binning the many jars of syrup that had been taunting me all week I started again. This time I thought – no naughty Prue Leith , no, no, no – I reject your recipe. I will try the one attached to the (second) 1kg bag of Organic oranges I bought from Waitrose. 

1kg seville oranges (11 of them in the bag)
1 organic lemon
2 kg preserving sugar
2 litres water

Wash fruit, juice them, scrape the pith and pips into a muslin bag. Chop orange peel into whatever sized pieces you prefer (discard lemon peel). Put peel, juice, pips and water into a preserving pan and simmer for an hour or more until peel is soft. Squeeze out the muslin bag and discard. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved then bring to a rapid boil. Boil for 15 minutes removing any foamy scum that rises to the surface, bring it up to jam setting temperature (105 ºC) and do the ‘wrinkle test’ on a plate from the freezer. Boil a bit longer if it isn’t ready. Mine was ready after 15 minutes. Pot up in sterlised jars. Voila!  This made five jars of clear, glossy marmalade that has set beautifully.

Seville Orange scum

Scum (tasty) - but still scum

Homemade marmalade

Successful end product










So now my apology to Prue Leith. As I sat down to write up this blog I thought that I would compare the two recipes I used. I know my first attempt was hugely more runny than the second batch, and for the same quantity of oranges I seemed to produce 4 jars fewer the second time around. What rot I hurumphed to myself, a weekend had been wasted on a duff recipe. Where could it have gone wrong? Ah. Yes… imagine my surprise when I recalled adding 6 jugs of water to the first batch of marmalade. 6 jugs = 3 litres – um – Prue’s recipe says to use 3… pints! I had misread the unit of measure. Oh dear.

I am so glad I never got the chance to mete out my imagined punishment to Saint Prue. She was quite right, I should have known better than to have doubted her for one minute. My complete faith in her recipes is thankfully restored. Sorry Prue :-D

I’m also pleased to have a batch of marmalade that will last me many months and this culinary anguish is over for another year.

Lemon Polenta Cake

 Gluten-free polenta cake

I wanted something sweet but without too much butter for a change. I considered an olive oil cake but this was still too much fat post-Christmas. So I decided on a polenta cake with minimal fat and it relies on the beaten yolks and whisked egg white for its rise and lightness. In fact I was surprised just how light it is and it also doesn’t have the graininess that some polenta cakes seem to have.

The original recipe I used is one of Gino D’Acampo’s and can be found here. I adjusted it slightly and used Thyme instead of Rosemary to flavour the syrup, I think you could also easily replace the lemon with orange if you prefer that (it is very strongly flavoured). The cake also happens to be gluten-free, it’s always good to have some of these recipes in your repertoire as so many people seem to have gluten intolerance these days.

This is a quick and easy cake to make but can also be served with a spoonful of creme fraiche to make a simple dessert instead.

110g caster sugar
100g polenta
50g ground almonds
3 large free range eggs – separated
2 lemons - juice and zest
2tbsp olive oil (not extra virgin)
1tsp baking powder

Thyme drizzle syrup
100g caster sugar
100ml water
2tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 lemon – juice only

 Pre-heat oven to 180°C. 20cm sponge tin, base lined with baking parchment and greased.

  1. Use an electric whisk to beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy then gradually add lemon juice whilst still beating.
  2. In a separate bowl with clean beaters whisk the egg whites until you reach the stiff peak stage.
  3. Mix together the polenta, almonds, olive oil, baking powder and lemon zest then add to the egg and sugar mixture and beat until creamy.
  4. Add a large dollop of egg white to the creamy batter and stir it through to loosen the mixture. Then add the rest of the egg white and fold gently in.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 35 mins (check after 25 mins and turn if not cooking evenly). Test with a wooden cocktail stick, it will come out cleanly when cooked.
  6. Bruise the thyme leaves in a mortar and pestle or bash them with the end of a rolling pin on a chopping board to release the oils. Scrape this into a small saucepan with the water, sugar and lemon. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, simmer very gently for 5 minutes then put aside somewhere warm until cake is out of the oven.
  7. Remove baked cake from oven and transfer to a wire tray immediately. Prick all over with a cocktail stick. Spoon the sieved syrup all over the surface of the cake so it soaks down into the holes. Allow to cool a little before cutting, may be eaten warm or cold.



The Latest Kitchen Utensil…

Ok – so I know they may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I asked Santy Claus for them specially… and he obliged (via my daughter) :-) (They are butter pats in case you aren’t sure what you are looking at in the photo). So all I need now is a nice Friesian for the back garden and a mob cap and I’m all set for my new hobby – making butter.

vintage butter pats 2012

Now does anyone know exactly how much cream you need for a pound of butter?

My Nan used to have a large screw top old fashioned glass sweet jar in which to agitate the cream when she made it - I’m not quite sure why, it always seemed to take ages to produce results. I’m not hanging about I intend using my electric whisk. I want to get to the butter smacking stage with my new  vintage pats AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

When I have some results I’ll update this post. I’m going to try to get cream from a local farm in the next village so I can truly claim it is local butter. I can hear my arteries pleading for mercy already.

Lemon Chiffon Cake

Chiffon cake and twinkly lightsThis is a great cake. It’s big, light, tastes great and the calories are mainly to be found in the filling and icing – the cake itself is not going to sit too heavily on the waistline. In an attempt to limit the calories I used quark in the icing as a substitute for cream cheese or double cream. The filling though, is a lemon beurre mousselline, which is creamy and delicious but unavoidably calorific.


Lemon Chiffon Cake Recipe
Makes 8 generous slices 
100g plain flour
80g caster suger
50ml sunflower oil
50ml water
25ml lemon juice
3 large free range eggs separated
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp lemon extract (optional)
zest of a large lemon

7″ (18cm) non-stick, loose-bottomed ungreased high-sided cake tin
oven temperature 170° C

  1. Sieve the flour, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Put the egg yolks and 40g of the sugar into a separate bowl and whisk until pale and sticky. Whilst still whisking drizzle in the sunflower oil, then the water, then the lemon juice and lemon extract (if using). Sieve in the flour mixture and whisk again. Add the lemon zest and mix.
  3. With a clean whisk beat the egg whites, slowly add the remaining 40g sugar and continue to whisk until almost at the stiff peak phase. Add a small quantity of this to the egg and flour mixture, gently mix to loosen the batter. Add the remaining egg white in two batches gently folding until well combined.
  4. Pour the batter into the cake tin and firmly holding either side of the tin lift the tin up and bring it down sharply on the table top a couple of times to try to settle the airy mixture and bash out any big air bubbles.
  5. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 40 - 45 mins or until the suface is a golden brown and a skewer comes out cleanly.
  6. Remove from oven and leave the tin upside down on a wire tray to cool completely before removing the cake. Leaving it upside-down prevents the cake collapsing on itself (that’s the theory anyway). You might have to run a pallette knife around the the edge of the tin to get the cake out.

The un-iced cake contains approx.1311 calories, 164 calories per slice.

Un-iced Chiffon Cake

To finish the cake:
Slice the cake horizontally across the middle, add your preferred filling then ice the outside. The cake has a tendency to have a loose crumb on the surface so whatever icing you use it needs to be creamy and easy to spread to prevent the surface breaking up and leaving flecks in the icing.

The recipes for the lemon beurre mousseline filling I used (also known as cooked buttercream) and the icing are on a separate post that I’ll put up shortly. You can of course use any of your own favourite icing or fruit fillings.

sliced chiffon cake

 Lemon chiffon cake

My First Battenburg

Battenburg SliceThis is my first attempt at a Battenburg cake. One of my Christmas presents was a special cake tin with removable dividers to make the baking of the Battenburg easier. It’s still pretty tricky – I think the secret is to pipe the cake mixture into each of the 4 oblong slots as it was difficult to get it evenly spread just spooning the mixture in.

Due to the family anathema to apricot jam I had to use sieved strawberry jam to glue the sections together so the colour was a bit more pronounced than I would have liked. I’m not keen on the colour pink so I forsook the traditional pink and yellow colour combo and chose yellow and green instead.

Note – adding green food colouring to a basic cake mixture (which is naturally yellow from the egg yolk) does leave you with uncooked cake mixture that is olive in colour. Do not add more green food colouring  – after baking the cake crumb does end up a nice light fresh green colour. Honestly it does.

I used white marzipan for the cake overcoat and made a neat little pattern along the top by forming a ‘fin’ of marzipan the length of the cake by squishing edges together. Then using scissors I made angled snips towards the cake along the raised ‘fin’ at equal intervals. Then push each alternate snipped piece sideways towards the cake, right then left. Simple but effective.

A homemade Battenburg tastes far superior to the supermarket offerings and it is fun to style it according to personal preference. This homemade cake persuaded one family member to try marzipan…and they now like it!

Battenburg cake

Chocolate Tart

Chocolate FlanThis is a straightforward recipe to follow but makes a stunning indulgent dessert than cannot fail to impress unless you encounter that rare creature  – someone who doesn’t like chocolate. I recently made this quantity and it served 8 happy people with a ‘cooks’ portion left over for me to scoff later after everyone had gone.

The base is pate sucree and baked blind. When cooled a plain chocolate ganache is poured in and allowed to set. Not exactly ‘light’ on calories but a perfect occasional treat – great for a dinner party as it can be prepared in advance.

For this recipe I used a 23cm (9 inch) diameter loose bottomed flan tin with approx. 2.5 cm (1inch) high side.

Tart Case
I made pate sucree using ingredients the following proportions:

280g plain white flour
200g unsalted butter, chilled, cut into dice
100g icing sugar
2 large free range egg yolks
pinch salt

Sieve flour, salt and icing sugar together then quickly and lightly rub in the butter on a clean, smooth work surface. When all the butter is combined to form varying sizes of crumb make a ‘well’ in the centre of the pile of crumbs and add the egg yolks. Mix the crumbs into the eggs with your fingertips and draw in all the crumbs. Pull together into a lump then smear the paste with the heel of your hand a couple of times to make sure the butter is evenly distributed. Don’t overwork. When it looks a uniform colour pat it into a smooth block, wrap it in cling film and put in the refrigerator until you need it (at least 30 mins but you can prepare it the day before).

Roll out to approx. 4mm thick and line the flan tin, don’t trim the edges yet, leave some excess pastry so you can trim it neatly after chilling. Prick all over the bottom with a fork. Put into the fridge again and chill for at least 30 mins. Remove from fridge and trim pastry edges. Crumple a piece of baking parchment, flatten it slightly and place on the pastry  base of the flan, fill with baking beads (I’ve seen Heston Blumenthal recommend that you use one pound coins instead as they transmit the heat better – I’ve tried this and it works but I never have enough change to be able to always do this… my 5 year old reusable black-eyed baking beans are cheaper).  Put into the pre-heated oven at 190°C for 20 mins. remove the beans and parchment and return case to the oven for a further 10 mins to cook the base. Remove from oven and gently remove from the flan tin when cool enough to handle.

Chocolate Ganache Filling

375ml double cream
300g plain chocolate – min. 70% cocoa solid, broken into evenly-sized pieces
75g unsalted butter, diced
40g liquid glucose

Bring the cream to the boil in a saucepan, remove from heat immediately, add chocolate and stir gently but throughly until combined. Add glucose and stir in then finally add the butter and stir again. Do all this fairly quickly so the ganache retains some of its fluidity. If you allow it to cool too much it makes it difficult to pour. Finally pour into the completely cooled pastry case and leave to cool. When it has reached room temperature put into the fridge to chill thoroughly.

You can flavour the ganache with a splosh of brandy, spiced rum or Tia Maria before adding the butter if you want to make it a more grown-up dessert.

I’ll work out how many calories are in this tart and update this post with it later…or maybe I just won’t for this one :-)

Quick Christmas Tree Cake

 IChocolate Christmas Tree Cake didn’t have time to make a ‘proper’ cake in the rush before Christmas but I WANTED SOME CAKE! You know how it gets sometimes. So I made this. Just use your favourite chocolate cake recipe and bake in a Swiss Roll Tin. Then I used a set of size-graduated star shaped cookie cutters to cut out cake stars. I glued them together with a runny chocolate icing and drizzled the rest over the top.


 Stick a candle in top and ta-daaaaaaa. Quick chocolately Christmas Tree cake.

NOMTree Christmas Cake
Happy Christmas

NOT Cross Buns

OK this is THE home of the Not Cross Bun. This is a world first…I googled it and they didn’t show up elsewhere so this absolutely MUST be true. 

Having seen how tricky it is applying the faces I can see why no-one else has bothered but it is a lot of fun making them. Who wouldn’t want to end up with buns like these…ooer Missus.

Instead of cheery buns you could of course make some very cross ones indeed depending on your mood (or who they are for). But I like happy ones… even in the toaster they look happy though the “nose-free” ones survived better. The one I tried toasting with a nose left it behind when it popped up – it was quite sad really. I seem to have a ghost car in this photo if you look closely and I still can’t figure out how it got in there as there are no cars in my kitchen…generally speaking anyway.

This recipe makes 14 soft slightly sweet buns. I don’t put as much dried fruit into them as many recipes call for but it you can increase the fruit content if you prefer. They are basically a sweet bread dough with whatever combination of dried fruit or mixed peel you like. Traditionally sultanas are used in Hot Cross Buns to which my Not Cross Buns bear more than a passing resemblance – ahem.

Not Cross Buns Recipe
For the initial sponge:
275ml full fat milk
140g strong white flour
25g fast action dried yeast
25g caster sugar

For the dough:
250g strong white flour
60g strong wholemeal flour
60g sultanas
60g raisins
40g unsalted butter – slightly softened
25g caster sugar
10g mixed spice
2 tbsp marsala (spiced rum is a good alternative here) – optional
1 large free range egg
1tsp salt

For the goo:
100g plain white flour
75ml water
10g sunflower oil
pinch baking powder

For the glaze:
30g caster sugar
30g water
1/2 tsp mixed spice
Warm the milk in the microwave for 20 seconds or so until lukewarm. Mix together all the sponge ingredients in a large bowl and cover with cling film or a lid and put in a warm place to ferment. The mixture will rise and then fall right back – it is then ready to use.

Not quite ready - starting to collapse

Fully collapsed ferment

Put the sultanas and raisins into a bowl with the marsala and 50ml of recently boiled water. Leave the fruit to absorb the liquid.

In a large bowl roughly rub the butter into the flours, add the the mixed spice, sugar and egg and mix through with your fingers. Then tip in the collapsed ferment and combine the ingredients.Scrape out onto a board and knead the dough until the stickiness has gone and a smooth dough results. Don’t add any extra flour – if it seems sticky knead it some more. Put the dough into a large clean bowl covered with cling film and leave in a warm place until doubled in size.

Dough after the first rise

 When the dough is sufficiently proved knock it back and tip it onto a lightly floured board. Leave the dough to relax for 5 minutes, meanwhile drain the fruit.

Ready to fold the fruit in





Bring the dough together, place the fruit onto the dough and start to gently knead them together. When thoroughly combined divide the dough into equal portions.






Shape them into buns in the same way you form bread rolls. Place them on a non-stick baking tray about 50mm apart. Loosely cover with lightly oiled cling film and put in a warm place until the buns have doubled in size.

While the buns are left for the final rise prepare the fun bit. Pre-heat the oven to 220°C – er, that’s not the fun bit but you need to do it anyway. No, the fun bit is mixing up the goo that you make the faces with. Mix all the goo ingredients in a small bowl with a fork. Get your icing bag ready with a plain nozzle (about 5mm – no larger) and scrape the goo into it. Take the fully proved buns from their warm resting place then pipe whatever designs take your fancy. Don’t be too ambitious at first, keep it simple - just piping two eyes and a mouth can be tricky if the bun isn’t perfectly round and the goo is too runny or too stiff. The heat of the oven will also melt the goo a bit so they can come out looking like they are frothing at the mouth if you aren’t careful.

Raw NCB's ready for the oven

Put them in the oven for between 12 – 15 minutes. Check on them after 8 minutes turning the trays if your oven isn’t cooking them evenly. Take them out before the “goo” starts to brown. Whilst they are baking put the glaze ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to the boil, simmer gently for a few minutes until syrupy. When baked put them on a cooling rack and using a pastry brush apply a coating of sticky glaze to each bun whilst still hot from the oven. Let them cool and EAT. Ta daaaaa – nicely tanned Not Cross Buns

Winston knot

What about this little whopper? It’s a six strand braided loaf made with challah dough.

Apparently the braiding style means this is called a Winston. I’d never heard of it before and don’t know why it’s called this but there is no denying it is a very impressive looking loaf.

I was looking for ideas for a plaited loaf and found the instructions to braid a ‘Winston’ in my copy of Jeffrey Hamelman’s book ’Bread - A Bakers Book of Techniques and Recipes’ (I can highly recommend this book if you are a seriously into breadmaking).

Making the egg-enriched dough is pretty straightforward I used the following quantities for this loaf:

Challah Dough Recipe
300g organic plain white flour
150g strong white bread flour (min 13% protein)
145g water (tepid)
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
2.5 tbsp caster sugar
2.5 tbsp sunflower oil
1.5 tsp dried yeast
0.5 tbsp salt

Mix everything together either by hand or mixer. I put everything in my large standalone mixer with the dough hook in and mixed for about 2 minutes on a very low speed until everything was combined. It is a dryish mix so at this point I stopped mixing and scraped the bowl down and pushed the ingredients into a single mass. Then mix on a slightly faster speed for about 4 more minutes. I checked the dough by ‘windowpaning’ – tear off a very small piece, flatten it then pull it gently apart between using your fingertips and hold it up to the light. If the dough doesn’t stretch without breaking mix it some more. You are trying to stretch the dough so you can see daylight through it when you hold it up to the light – like looking through a window pane. When the dough is ready it will be firm but smooth. Put it in a plastic bowl large enough to allow it to double in size, cover with cling film and leave for an hour or two. The slower the rise the better so it doesn’t have to be put in a warm place. After an hour punch the dough down and shape into an oblong, then fold over one third from the right into the centre and the remaining third from the left over the top. Press it down and leave it until doubled in size.

When ready – turn out onto an unfloured surface. Punch it down and leave for 20 minutes to rest (this is really important otherwise you’ll get springy dough that you can’t shape later). After resting divide into 6 equal pieces – approx 125g each piece and roll each into a sausage shape. Using your hands roll the pieces on the work surface until they are approx. 45 cm long. Make them as even along their length as possible. You may need to let them rest for a few minutes mid-rolling if they are reluctant to stretch to that length.


 I’m not sure if you can figure out the braiding from the photos but after you have completed the braid you tuck the messy end underneath and fold the opposite end underneath to sit slightly over the messy bit. Press gently underneath to make sure it doesn’t unravel then leave it to prove, covered, in a warmish place for an hour or two. When it has almost doubled in size brush it carefully all over with a beaten egg loosened with a teaspoon of cold water. Then place in a preheated oven at 195°C for about 25 minutes. Let it cool completely before tucking in. I ate mine with homemade blackcurrant jam. NOM!