Monday, November 1, 2010


Mike recently said "it's Cinder Toffee Season!". I disagree. It's Parkin Season.

I don't know if there is some regional variance going on in our seasonal baking habits, but I'm a solidly Yorkshire lass and Parkin is so associated with Bonfire night for me that one wouldn't be right without the other.

This recipe is unashamedly descended from Jill Metcalfe's, which I found on the Internet in circa 1999 and have used since, as it tastes just like the cake I ate on bonfire nights throughout my youth.

There are two things I must say about Parkin.

1. Parkin MUST contain oat bran. Any parkin without this isn't right and has probably been made by a non-native (ie someone from outside of Yorkshire who doesn't really understand what they are doing when it comes to Parkin), or a chain bakery who are using bonfire night as an excuse to sell overly-sweet plain ole' ginger cake. The oat bran gives this cake a unique nutty, crumbly texture - it's quite dense without being stodgy or dry, and is just the thing to keep you going on cold nights.

2. Parkin MUST be made AT LEAST one week before you want to eat it. You take it out of the oven, let it cool, wrap it up and leave it well alone (no matter how nice it tastes) for at least a week. This improves the flavour - it gets more complex and rich. I once met someone who said 'I don't make my Parkin a week ahead, I put so much black treacle in it doesn't matter!*". I tasted some of that cake - and whilst it was very nice, it didn't taste like Parkin, it tasted like Liquorice. Which is nice, but not what we are after. If you don't believe me, make 2 batches a week apart and eat them on the same day. You'll see what I mean.

The Parkin Recipe

200g self-raising flour
200g oatmeal (bigger supermarkets sell this, it's usually near porridge oats)
100g treacle
100g golden syrup (you can vary the ratio of syrup and ginger or even do 200g of one without the other if you wish- follow your taste buds here)
100g margarine or butter
125 ml milk
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp ground ginger

Warm the treacle/syrup gently with the butter and milk.

Stir in the dry ingredients.

Pour into a square greased tin (a square one of about 20 cm should be about right) and bake at 160° C (325° F / Gas 3) on the middle shelf for about 1 hour (a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean).

Leave the cake to cool, wrap up well in an airtight container and leave for one week before eating to let the flavour develop.

EDIT: I later recalled 2 variation on your basic Parkin which I consider wrth sharing.
1. Tina Sparkle (the lady behind the Dutch Bonfire Cake who can, by the way, be found here) reccomends substituting some of the golden syrup with half a jar of ginger jam. Sticky heaven.
2. I have been known to swap 25g of the flour for cocoa powder to create Chocolate Parkin. It is quite a popular addition.

*This cake did not contain oat bran and was made by a non-native. I rest my case.

"I'm going to talk about cake..."

A couple of months ago I did a talk at Bettakultcha, an open public lecture series that gives you five minutes to talk about something you're passionate about. That talk is on Youtube, so it would be remiss of me not to put it on T&C!

I'm doing a longer version of this talk in Sheffield on Nov 13th.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"I love meeting other people who are a bit mad"

Sam recently took a road trip over to Manchester for her annual pilgrimage to worship the shiny things on sale at the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair.

This is a fabulous event. Everything on sale is handmade and is generally being sold by the artists or makers. From sublime gold, silver and precious stone jewellery to modern wall hangings made with fluorescent plastics, hand thrown & glazed pottery - this is an Aladdin's cake of treasures.

This year Sam particularly liked the jewellery that liked frogspawn and the Orange felt hat that looked like the Sydney Opera House.

But the one stall that knocked our socks off completely was Helaina Sharpley's wire work.

Helaina Sharpley makes 2D and 3D wire sculptures/pictures. Her particular inspiration is "everything related to tea and tea drinking - tea cups and saucers, tea sets and tea parties are the artists main passion (verging on obsession!)"

Helaina had a wonderful collection of life sized, perfect wire cups and saucers. She had gorgeous 3d pictures which were mounted on tea trays. Her biggest piece (which took five weeks to make) was an intricate, massive building, the road up to which exploded away from the base frame and extended towards the viewer, making you feel like you could step into the picture and get totally wrapped up in Helaina's wire world.

We had to stop and express our admiration, and we found out that: 1. Helaina lives in Huddersfield, and thus is highly likely to be able to make some of teaandcake's future tea parties (where she will, of course, be guest of honour). 2. Helaina brews up approximately every half hour and takes tea with her everywhere (she had a very fetching gingham thermos hidden away on her stall)

We told Helaina about teaandcake and her immediate comment was "I love meeting other people who are a bit mad". This is exactly how we felt about you, Helaina.

Check out more of Helaina's work (which includes functioning clocks and Georgian architecture as well as teacups and cakes) at

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Twinings Tea Tests!

Twinings very kindly sent teaandcake a bundle of their teas. We’ve been taking them out and about to our events this summer to gather feedback and see what folks thought about each.

Blackberry & Nettle

The packet said: “A fruit flavoured infusion inspired by Autumn. Blackberry’s distinctive sweet taste and aroma takes on a rich quality in this infusion. Its richness is perfectly balanced by the peppery taste of nettle to create a satisfying refreshing drink”.

Three testers tried this and were most impressed.

A most agreeable tea which I shall buy. Ross

Fruity and warming. Perfect for autumn. Maybe a bit weak. Sam

It’s good – better than most fruit teas. Lacks that edge that some fruit teas have – it’s very easy to drink. A good alternative to a caffeinated tea if you fancy something hot and fruity. Janine.

Blackcurrant, Ginseng & Vanilla

The packet said: “A luscious infusion – with blackcurrant and subtle spice flavour. This rich combination of sweet blackcurrant, ginseng root and vanilla has a delicious taste. It has an exquisite rose blush colour… it’s particularly perfect for a touch of warmth as evenings get colder”.

One tester tried this and liked her choice.

Very smooth and refreshing. Relaxing on a summer afternoon. Would have been even better if slightly stronger. Claire

Blossom Earl Grey

Possibly the most popular tea we had for testing – 10 people tried it, all of the liked it and all of them would consider picking up a box of it to take home.

The packet say: “A delicate tea, blended with bergamot and the floral taste of orange blossom. A black tea that brightens your day and warms you from the inside out”.

Our Tea Testers' Quotes:
Lovely Earl Grey, one of the nicest I’ve tried. Nice rounded warm taste with a hint of orange (but not too overpowering). Adam

Hint of orange was interesting but generally I’d prefer regular earl grey (especially since I prefer earl grey tea with milk, but we couldn’t see that sitting well with orange). Anna

I’m not usually a fan of every earl grey. I’m having this without milk and enjoying it. It’s quite floral but not overpowering. J9

A great tea. Richard.

Nice perfumed taste. Daz

Soooo good! Susi

Nice and light and refreshing. Kenny

Good flavour. Well balanced. Refreshing. Jane

Camomile & Spearmint

One tester tried this, and was very happy with it:

The packet says: “Camomile – known for its relaxing properties – is balanced with cooling spearmint for a clean yet refreshing taste. This bright, golden infusion is ideal for drinking throughout the day and into the evening”.

V. refreshing – delicious! Siobhan

Green Citrus Tea

One tester tried this and said that they would happily take another cup (if not a box).

The packet said: “A refreshing green tea with a hint of citrus. We’ve taken high quality green tea leaves and added the natural flavours of zesty lemon an lime, balanced by the juicy sweetness of orange.”

A very refreshing tea! Ross

Green Tea with Apple and Pear

One tester tried this – they’d consider taking another cup, but not a whole box.

The packet said: “A refreshing balance of green tea and mellow, orchard flavours. The natural flavours of crisp, red apples and smooth, ripe pears create a delicious combination when blended with high quality green tea leaves.”

I liked the way the fruit brightened up the green tea, but the tea aftertaste was a bit too strong and wiped out the fruit. I would try it again.

Green Tea & Cranberry

One tester tried this and gave it the thumbs up.

The box said: “We’ve blended top quality green tea leaves and natural cranberry flavour to create this tea’s golden colour and juicy taste”.

Pleasnt aroma, nice taste

Green Tea with Orange & Lotus Flower

One reviewer tried this and liked it, but wouldn’t go out and buy a box.

The packet said: “A lightly aromatic green tea with a delicate scented flavour. This distinctly oriental blend combines the zesty flavour of lotus flowers, which have long been associated with purity in China.”

It’s surprisingly nice considering I don’t really like orange! Steve

Golden Oolong

Three people out every four liked this and might buy it again – the fourth would prefer something else, please.

The packet said: “A sunny and sweet Oolong tea with a fragrant taste of spring.

Our Tea Testers' Quotes:

Don’t leave the teabag in too long. Paul

Could be a bit stronger. Olga

Lovely rounded warm taste. Adam

Green tea for beginners! JM

Quite bitter and I didn’t like the scent. Brewed quite strong and quite quickly too! Sam

Tastes quite like a white tea but with quite a strong aftertaste. Rosemary

Light taste, refreshing. Easy to drink. J9

Nice scent. Indifferent flavour. Jane


Two testers tried this and both declared that they’d be happy to have a box in a cupboard at home.

The packet said: “A refreshing infusion with a clean, fresh taste. The cool aroma of mint is refreshing and peppermint leaves have traditionally been used to soothe the stomach and aid digestion. The peppermint leaves, with their naturally high essential oil content give this infusion its really refreshing taste”.

Very refreshing!

Nice smooth drink! Sandra

Peppermint & Nettle

Four people tried this – three would go out and buy a box, and one was unconvinced.

A lovely surprise!  I’ve had these flavours separately but was surprised when I saw them in one, as I couldn’t imagine the combination. It proved to be a really nice mixture that I really enjoyed.

Matches the description perfectly. Nettle is peppery and peppermint is minty. Nice subtle tea.

I liked this blend – nettle alone can be bitter, and peppermint can be a bit sickly, but together they balanced out very nicely. Anna

Rose Garden

12 people tried this, and most liked it and would consider buying some. There was a bit of a split, with some tea testers liking it with and some without milk.

The box said: “A light black tea with the sweet scent of rose. Make a cup, take a moment and prepare to be wooed”.

Our Tea Testers' Quotes:

Turkish delight in a cup! This is like marmite – you’ll either love or hate it. JM

Fruity rather than rosy. Better without milk. Lynn

Peculiar! Nicer with a drop of milk. Robert

Subtle flavour, light on the rose flavour, nice aftertaste. Nice light black tea for a non-tea drinker. Phil

Surprisingly well balanced without overpowering florals. Quite tasty! Improved by a dash of milk – much smoother! Kirstin

Where can I buy it? Not seen this variety anywhere. Excellent! Ursula

This is stupendous!! Make it more available! Tim TW

Definite taste of rose without being overpowering. Might be nice iced! Amanda

Spring White

This tea split our eight tasters - some liked it and others were not in favour.
Those who liked it said they might pick up a box.

The box said: “An easy and light white tea made from spring picked buds, this is tea at its purest. Handpicked while the dew glistens to create a delicate, refreshing flavour bringing a little hint of crisp dewy mornings with every sip.”

Our Tea Testers' Quotes:

Little bit too “earthy” for my taste. Adam

Don’t leave the tea bag in too long! Paul

Aftertaste too bitter. Daz

Light, clean flavour.

Tasted like English breakfast but vastly inferior. Richard

Refreshing but tasty. V nice!

Nicer than green tea. Delicate taste.

Twinings Voyage Russian Tea / Russian Taiga – available overseas and brought to this tea party by a tea tester!

3 people tried this – two liked it a lot, and one was indifferent.

Soft, touch of citrus. Low tannin. I could drink this all day. JM

Palatable black tea, not overpowering with the lemon flavour which is good. A tea to be enjoyed slowly, and no perfumed aftertaste. Phil.

Very good – a strong crisp tea. Refreshing with a hint of lemon. I would love to see this range introduced into the UK.

Monday, September 13, 2010

dutch bonfire cake

People often wonder what the motivation is behind teaandcake.
There are lots of reasons why Mike, Janine and I put time into this site... but the one I'll confess to today is that it's really just an excuse for me to hound people for cake recipes I like and to then store these in an easy to find place.

That this place is public and I could improve the quality of cakes in the wider world by sharing the best recipes... that's just a fringe benefit.

Without further ado, I shall hand over to the lovely Tina Sparkle who said "of course you are welcome to the recipe. It is a Dutch one, from my father's stepmother..." We all know those are the kinds of credentials every Truly Great cake has.

This is a seasonal recipe for autumn gales and winds. The sugar sprinkled on the top gives it a lovely fairytale sparkle.

Dutch Bonfire Cake

8oz self raising flour
pinch salt
4oz butter
40z sugar (I use brown)
1lb coking apples, diced
6ozs raisins (if wanted, I don't bother cos I'm not a fan)
1 beaten egg
2tbs milk
1tsp cinnamon or mixed spice (the original recipe uses mixed spice, I use cinnamon)
sugar to sprinkle on top

Rub in flour and butter.
Add sugar salt, spice, apples and raisins.
Mix to stiff consistency with eggs and milk.
Turn into greased baking tray (recipe says 8" square, mine is maybe a bit bigger) and sprinkle with sugar.
Bake at 180 degrees c for 50-60 mins.
Cut into squares.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The First, First Tea Company Enlistment Fair!
TeaandCake team up with the Extraordinary Dr Geof for teaandcake based mayhem with a comic twist. Also happening in the main Piece Hall is Big D's Mods & Rockers themed Biker show with DJs, stalls, and a giant sand pit. £3 entry (free to concessions).
This Sunday (8th August), Legacy Comics, Piece Hall, Halifax, 11-5pm.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Laura's Carrot Cake

I first ate this at a friend’s wedding. I then spent six months asking around to find the woman who’d baked it for the recipe. Huge thanks for Laura for writing out the below on the back of a scrap of paper for me – she works at CafĂ© Concerto in York, where the cakes are wonderful, and this is their recipe. I’ve only amended it slightly (the recipe I was given was expressed in catering quantities and baked 5 cakes, I suspect is a bit more than most of us would take on). The honey and high lemon content make this carrot cake something really special.

Cake Ingredients

170g strong white flour
145g wholemeal flour
100g raisins
100g sultanas
270g grated carrot
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
1tsp baking powder
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
50g chopped nuts (walnuts are traditional, however I like pecans and could imagine this working with hazelnuts
170ml milk soured with
the juice of half a lemon
3 eggs (mixed)
140g butter or margarine
½ a jar of honey

Icing Ingredients

140g cream cheese such as philedalphia
75g butter, softened
360g icing sugar
Grated zest of ½ a lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
20g whole nuts to decorate (note as above).

You will need
A large springform tin
To bake the cake on gas mark 3 (160 degrees c)

To Bake

Put the oven on to pre-heat (160 degrees c, gas mark 3)
Mix all of the dry ingredients in one bowl.
Melt the butter and honey gently and put aside to cool slightly.
Whisk the eggs, and mix the lemon juice with the milk.
Then add all of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, mix quickly (it will be quite a liquid batter), flatten the top and pop into the preheated oven.
Bake for 45 minutes (a skewer inserted into the centre of the tin should come out clean.

Leave the cake in the tin to cool.

When completely cool, remove from tin and put on display plate.
Mix all of the icing ingredients together until well combined and spread evenly over the cake, using the nuts to decorate as desired.

Friday, July 16, 2010

picnic in the park

To celebrate’s second birthday we’re meeting up for a picnic in Rounday Park on Sunday 25th July at 1pm.

Last year was such fun, we wanted to do it again! The Park Rangers are expecting us this time ;-)Also, we were recently contacted by Twinings tea, who very generously offered us some of their huge selection of teas for tasting. We’ll bring them on the day for you to drink and give us your feedback for the website.

We’ll have:-
- Golden Oolong
- Spring White
- Blossom Earl Grey
- Limited Edition Rose Garden
- Green Tea Selection
- Mint Tea Selection
- Fruit and Herbal Selection
- Black Tea Selection

Oh and some Yorkshire tea too... so please bring along your own mug, and a thermos of hot water (we'll provide the tea bags!) if you can manage it and any cakey creations you’d like to share.We’ll be at the bandstand near the top lake (just look out for the bunting!) with an assortment of teas, cakes & sandwiches and we’d love to see you there.

Where: Roundhay Park, LeedsDate: on Sunday 25th July
When: from 1pm

Fingers crossed for a fine day, and we hope you can come along and join us

Janine, Sam and Mike

P.S. This isn’t a formal organised event, there are no fees for attending, and we don’t have public liability insurance or anything, so come at your own risk. The biggest risk factor we can identify is the British Weather, the bandstands in Roundhay are fairly big, so we’ll be there regardless!

P.P.S. If you can't make it along, don't be too disappointed - there is still a way to join in with the tea testing! Order a couple of teabags from Twinings: & send your feedback on what they taste like through to us at ! :D

P.P.P.S afternoon tea in London?
Are any of you familiar with London and places for afternoon tea? Janine is looking for a place to go in London for a special occassion afternoon tea. Please email with any suggestions! Many thanks in advance

Monday, May 24, 2010


We had a grapefruit that needed using, and S has started liking chamomile (when did that stop being chalomile? Is it just inside my head that it was ever chalomile?) tea, but tea can be a bit much in this weather, so I suggested grantia. Granita is probably the simplest frozen dessert imaginable, unless you're in the habit of filling ice cube trays with OJ; it's frozen juice, just broken up a bit. So I made a litre of chamomile tea, got all the flesh out of the grapefruit, cut most of the zest away from the pith (slicing finger in the process), boiled up the well-steeped tea with the flesh and zest and about 75g sugar (dissolve sugar, bring to boil then boil for 2 mins), strained the lot and after cooling naturally, froze the results. You're supposed to break it up with a fork every half hour, but I forgot; no matter, breaking it up when you remember is fine, and if you really forget just tip the whole lot into a blender and blitz it. Results taste awesome and look like this:
I imagine that any citrus and aromatic tea - not ordinary black tea, though, the tannins could be too much for most citrus - would work quite well. If summer continues in a similar fashion expect further experimentation.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lemon Madeira Cake by A Bloke

As Mike has claimed that anybody can make a cake and as Lemon Madeira Cake appears to be one of the most popular recipes on the website, we decided it was time to hand it over to our newest columnist to see what he would make of it (literally).

Some say that he thinks that Madeira cake is actually made from the Island of Madeira itself and that all the cakes in world are hand made by Mr. Kipling. All we know is that he is A Bloke...

Lemon Madeira Cake

After being handed the recipe, the first challenge was to locate the kitchen. This was easy as I knew it was the place that contained the microwave which is used to reheat the remains of the previous night’s take away. With that done, the next logical step was to check the ingredients on the list. A trawl through the kitchen cupboards revealed not only kitchen equipment I had no idea that I possessed (anybody else own a penguin shaped ice cream scoop?) but that I was short of one fresh lemon and butter, with all the other ingredients being present as a result of living with my girlfriend who is rather good at this baking and cooking malarkey. I did toy briefly with the idea of substituting the lemon juice for beer which was in the fridge and ignoring the whole lemon zest thing but as I needed some butter and the cake was called Lemon Madeira Cake and not Beer Madeira Cake, a trip to the shops was in order.

After locating butter and spread section at my local generic supermarket, I started to release that the whole baking a cake thing was not going to be, well, a piece of cake as I was presented with a wide selection of butters and margarines. Ruling out margarine as an option because the recipe stated butter, it still left me with the choice of unsalted or salted butter. With no guidance on the packaging about which was the most suitable for the cake I was making (perhaps something butter manufactures may consider doing in the future for us novice chefs?), and not wanting to look like a plonker by asking my fellow shoppers which butter I should be using, I had to resort to using my brains to think my way through this tricky dilemma. This was not an easy thing as everybody knows that a bloke only thinks about three things; beer, sport and girls so the additional thinking about cooking was going to involve serious mental exertion and possibly a complete rewiring of the neural pathways in my brain.

I knew three things about salt; it tasted good on chips, it is an awesome flavouring for crisps and that it was used in the past as a food preservative. On that basis then salted butter looked like a winner, but Lemon Madeira Cake is neither chips nor crisps and it was not intended to preserve it until the end of time (although that did appeal to me as a way of leaving my mark on the world). My internal debate was finally settled not on my non-existent knowledge of cooking but on the fact that the recipe was called Lemon Madeira Cake and not Salted Lemon Madeira Cake and thus unsalted butter was the victor. Besides, salt was not in the ingredients list and if its name ain’t on the list, it ain’t going in my cake.

With the butter dilemma out of the way, the lemons were quickly found. I was relieved to find that unlike the butter there was no options to make regarding the salt content of said fruit so I picked one that conformed to my idea of a lemon, (i.e. yellow all over and oval in shape) and made my way home via the checkouts to continue making my cake reasonably confident that I had made the right ingredient choices.

Once back home, with all the ingredients laid out before me and a nice cup of tea in hand, I was now ready to assemble the cake. It was at this point that I encountered my second dilemma. The opening instructions were to cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy and this gave me two things to debate.

Firstly, what was meant by cream as the ingredients didn’t state the need for cream or for milk. Was it an oversight by the recipe by missing off a vital ingredient? Being a rugby fan and ex-player, the phrase ‘he got creamed in the tackle’ was often used but I could not see how taking the butter and sugar outside and onto a rugby field to repeatedly jump up and down on them until they submit would help get this cake made. Besides, how would I get the grass and dirt out of the mixture?

My brain was also telling me that adding milk to the recipe seemed to be wrong and this would probably result in a sugary-buttery milky mess that would taste awful. Also milk or cream wasn’t in the ingredient list so the same rule applied to the milk as had applied to the salted butter, so it wasn’t going in my cake.

Luckily for me my new embryonic cooking neurons (Discovered at the local generic supermarket) came up with the idea that perhaps cream in this case actually meant mixing. This appeared to make sense as at some point everything would need mixing together so why not start at the beginning? With cream = mix sorted, the second issue with the instruction now needed to be tackled.

Being an Engineer by trade who often has to mix noxious chemicals together, I’m use to such instructions as mix for 10 mins until a viscosity of 10 centistokes has been reached. As such, mix until light and fluffy was a new concept. My engineering brain therefore required a reference for light and fluffy. Candyfloss would seem to be the ideal light and fluffy food reference but with no candyfloss in the house and with no Travelling Fair in town to get some, I had to settle on clouds. Thus the first instruction changed from cream until light and fluffy to mix until cloud like. With that sorted, the butter and sugar were weighed into a bowl and the first of two mistakes raised their ugly head.

The first, although I did not know it at the time was the wrong choice of mixing implement. The second was that I had neglected part of the recipe. With the ingredients ready to mix, I chose a whisk to do the hard work based solely upon the thought that that the whisk is what every self respecting cake chef would be using. With whisk in hand I started to mix but I noticed that all wasn’t well. Depending on where I started, the whisk either moved the lump of butter around the bowl or just flicked sugar the sugar about leaving me with a sugar coated butter stick. This was not the cloud like mixture I was aiming for and resembled more of a mouldy yellow brick – light and fluffy it certainly was not.

In an effort to work out where I had gone wrong, I consulted the recipe instructions and noted the word ‘softened’ in front of butter in the ingredients list. It was at this point I released that I had veered off the recipe as I had been using the butter straight out of the packet with no softening involved what so ever. Confident that this was the case, I turned to the only piece of kitchen equipment I knew how to competently operate, the microwave.

Ensuring that the microwave was clean from any previous reheating explosion tragedies, the bowl and mix was placed into it and all that was left was for the timer to be set. Knowing that the recipe said softened and not melted, a short heating time would be the order of the day. With the fear of making a molten sugar butter drink, a heating time of 30 seconds was chosen on the basis that if the butter wasn’t soft enough, I could whack it back into the microwave to reheat. In the end, 30s proved to be a good choice as when the mixture was removed from the microwave, the butter was just about to turn into a liquid.

With my soften butter and sugar, I picked back up my whisk and started to mix the two ingredients together and low and behold, a fluffy mix started to appear before my eyes. This wasn’t without incident however as the choice of using a whisk was now appearing to be a bad one. Although mixing was going well, he problem I was encountering was that the soften butter and sugar mix was disappearing through the gaps of the whisk and being held there. At one point, the whole mixture was contained within the whisks metal bars like it had been sent to cake prison for assault against human taste buds. This I felt was unfair as my cake should be at least completed and tasted before being praised or condemned.

I broke my mix out of jail by use of a knife being poked through the bars to prod it back into the bowl. Once free, the whisk was removed from mixing duties and replaced with what I believe is an old kitchen favourite – the wooden spoon. With the substitute implement in use, and while cursing the recipe under my breath for not stating ‘Use a wooden spoon’, mixing proved to be a lot easier and after 5 mins of mixing, the state of light and fluffy and cloud like was achieved. I should point out that the term light and fluffy appears to be artistic license on the part of the recipe as in my opinion the final mix resembled mashed potatoes.

The next part of adding the lemon zest proved to be the easiest part of the recipe after I had looked up what zest actually meant (Courtesy of the Tinterweb – Zest = the outside bit of a lemon). The only concern at this point was that the amount of zest required wasn’t stated so I zested (if there is such a word) the whole lemon using a cheese grater and dumped the gratings on top of the wannabe mash potato mix. The zest grating did lead to a brief internal debate about which size holes to grate with and thus utilising my new found cooking thinking neurons, the smallest holes were chosen. The thinking behind this was that I have never seen people walking down the street tucking into a big bag lemon peel or ordering it in a cafe as a taste alternative to a bacon butty, so therefore having big chunks of lemon skin in my cake was probably a big no no.

With the zest added and sitting on top of the mix, things didn’t look quite right as it now looked like I had mashed potato with yellow dandruff. Even though the recipe didn’t state it, my engineering skills kicked in and I picked up my now trusty wooden spoon and mixed the zest in for a couple of minutes to get an even distribution of lemon peel throughout the mix. Once I was happy with my zesting, it was time to add the eggs and flour.

Not knowing if the flour to be added with the eggs was part of the 210g stated in the ingredients list, I decided that it was as I didn’t want to deviate from the Ingredient lists. With the flour weighed out in a separate bowl, it was time to get the eggs from the fridge. Cracking open the eggs would be a new experience for me so taking one delicately in my hand, I gently tapped the outside of the egg against the mixing bowl. A few attempts like this failed to yield a cracked egg so I decided to use a bit more force.

As it turned out, I used a bit too much force as the first egg smashed in my hand resulting in a nice sticky mess running down the side of the bowl. Luckily, I managed not to get any shell in the bowl as anybody who has experienced eggshell in a fried egg butty from a greasy burger van outside a football ground knows; the shell severely affects taste by making you think that you have inadvertently eaten wall plaster.

After cleaning up the resulting mess, the fridge was inspected again and lurking at the back was a spare egg for me to use. Modulating my egg bashing strength, the next egg was successfully cracked and added to the bowl. As per instructions, a tablespoon of flour was added straight afterwards and again my trusty wooden spoon was called upon to mix the ingredients together. After each addition of egg and flour, the mixture started to change colour and saw an increase in mix viscosity. This didn’t pose a problem as I managed to utilise my egg smashing skills to continue mixing but things started to look a bit iffy.

As the rest of the flour was added, the mixture started to become lumpy with the same consistency of wallpaper paste as the flour started to clump together. Vigorous mixing with the trusty wooden spoon failed to rectify the problem. In fact I found the only way for the wooden spoon to get through the lumps was to smash the spoon over their heads. However this had the unwanted side effect of covering the kitchen walls with mix and not wanting to add the chore of cleaning kitchen walls to the washing up of all the cooking implements I was using, another mixing tool was required.

While pondering the issue, I glanced over to the sink and saw the discarded whisk waiting to be cleaned. Buoyed by previous successes, the new and developing cooking neurons contained within my bonce flared into life. They suggested that the whisk wires that previously entrapped my mix may now be the thing to destroy the lumps plaguing it. With the wooden spoon retired for the day, the whisk (after cleaning) was given an opportunity to redeem itself.

In a comeback worthy of England against Australia at the Headingley cricket test in 1982 and with me cursing the recipe again for not stating ‘use a whisk’, the floury lumps that had called my mix home were disintegrating in the onslaught of the whisk. 5 mins of whisk mixing resulted in a smooth, lump free mix that was not trapped between the whisks wires (WOOHOO!) and was now ready to have the lemon juice added.

After taking the zested lemon and cutting it in half with a big knife, a method of removing the juice from the lemon was required. After briefly considering using my egg smashing strength to squeeze the life out of each half, I remembered that my initial scouting of the kitchen for ingredients had revealed the presence of a lemon juicer and so I decided that to appear to be as chef like as possible, the juicer should be used rather than brute strength. Once all the juice had been extracted from the lemon, it was added to the other ingredients.

Again, the recipe instructions didn’t state the need to mix the juice into the other ingredients but as it now resembled a bowl used to catch drips from a leaking ceiling, my engineering instincts told me to mix it all together. This now gave me an interesting choice to make. The wooden spoon had proved useful when mixing the soften butter and sugar together but failed with the flour. The whisk had proved useful with the flour but useless with the butter and sugar so which one to use now to mix the juice into the mixture? The solution to this was simple as the whisk was chosen on the basis that the wooden spoon was already in the washing up water and would therefore need drying before use. A couple of minutes mixing lead to the juice being well mixed in and ready to face the oven. It also lead to my final problem of the day.

The recipe called for a 450g loaf tin. This initially didn’t cause a problem as I knew from making crisp sandwiches that a loaf is rectangular in nature and therefore a loaf tin should presumably be rectangular as well. Having found the tins I required lurking at the bottom of the cupboard, the problem I encountered was that the tins were not labelled with their weight as I expected. A quick guestimate of comparing the size of the mix against the size of the tin narrowed the choice down to two likely candidates. Not wanting to have a tin that was inadequate for the job in hand, I once again called upon my engineering skills to resolve the issue.

Taking each tin in turn, they were placed upon the weighting scales, tared and filled with water as I knew that (ignoring temperature and pressure and impurities within the water) 1ml of water = 1g, thus the weight of the water in the tin would reveal the tin to use. And so it proved to be the case as one tin proved to be right one for me.

Once dried, the tin was prepared for use. Using the last of the butter, the tin was greased to within an inch of its life before being filled with the cake mix. Again, it appears the recipe instructions use artistic license by describing the filling mechanism as pouring as in reality the mix has to be scooped out and scraped into the tin but this does make a satisfying splatting noise as it hits the tin, bringing back fond memories of making mud pies to throw at my sister in the back garden as a child.

With the mixture in the tin, the oven was successfully lit with only few singed hairs on the back of my hand and set to the required temperature. Unlike frozen pizzas, the recipe didn’t state whereabouts the tin should be placed within the oven so I chose to place it on the middle shelf just like I would with my favourite meat feast pizza. With an hour to kill until it was cooked, I glanced over at the washing up and decided to go and prod some serious buttock on my favourite console game and tackle the dirty pots much, much later.

After one hour and a new high score, the cake was removed from the oven. The mixture had risen, had turned a golden yellowy colour and a split down the back just like the Pennines split the back of the country. Forgoing the skewer test on the basis that it would have added to the washing up, the cake was left to cool before being removed from the tin by holding it upside down and bashing the bottom until it came free. Luckily the cake didn’t fall all the way out and onto the floor and so it was eased onto a plate. A brief taste test by me did indeed confirm that I had produce an edible cake and so it was left for the nice ladies of Tea and Cake to pass their final judgements as I wandered off for a beer safe in the knowledge that my skills wouldn’t yet be required on Master Chef but strangely looking forward to my next challenge, hoping that the next one will have better defined instructions than this one.

Lemon Madeira Cake Recipe


240g softened butter (i.e. an entire pack, once you have greased your tin)

200g caster sugar

Grated zest and juice of one lemon

3 large eggs

210g self raising flour

90g plain flour

Based on a Nigella Lawson recipe

Based on Blokes Experience



450g loaf tin, buttered and lined

450g loaf tin, buttered and lined

Oven at 170 degrees c / gas mark 5.

Oven at 170 degrees c / gas mark 5.


Wooden Spoon

Lemon Juicer

Weighing Scales



Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Soften the butter in the Microwave for 30s before using a wooden spoon to mix the butter and sugar together until it resembles Mash Potato

Add the lemon zest.

Use the small holes on a cheese grater to grate the whole of the outside of the lemon, add to the mix and mix in.

Add the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon of flour for each.

Add the eggs one at a time with a tablespoon of the 210g of self raising flour for each egg

Next gently mix in the rest of the flour.

Mix in the rest of the self raising flour and plain flour using a whisk

Finally, add the lemon juice.

Use the lemon juicer to juice the lemon, add to bowl and mix

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared loaf tin

Grease loaf tin using remains of the butter before scooping out mix from the bowl and into the tin

Sprinkle the top with caster sugar

Sprinkle the top with caster sugar

Bake for one hour (a metal skewer inserted into the cake should come out clean when the cake is done).

Bake for one hour on middle shelf of oven

Let the cake cool in the tin before you try to move it.

Remove from oven and let it cool before removing from tin


Picnic this summer, anyone?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Poppyseed cake a la Hugh F-W


This was Huge F-W's Poppyseed lemon cake recipe from Saturday's Grauniad. Let's get one thing completely clear; this cake is, comparatively speaking, a faff and a half to make. It requires no less than three bowls and a jug, where my usual cake recipe requires one bowl and a sieve. But... it's really worth it. So! Creaming butter and sugar, so far so normal. Mixing the flour & poppyseeds seperately, ok... then mixing the egg yolks with yoghurt. Uh, what? Then making meringue base with the whites... ah. Yes, this is a pretty complicated cake.


What made it worse was that the instructions said "add flour to the butter, then egg/yoghurt, then flour, then egg, then flour" and after putting the egg mix on the countertop I promptly knocked the second half of it over, covering the kitchen, me and my camera in glop. I had to guesstimate how much I'd already put in - it certainly wasn't an accurate half - and as any parent will tell you, a small bit of yoghurt can go a long way when it comes to making a mess.

The results, though. Oh, so worth it.


The acidity of the yoghurt with the bicarb and the egg whites both make this an incredibly light cake, with lots of air and a great texture. It could perhaps have done with ten minutes more in the oven at a slightly lower temperature (180C for 40-45mins said the recipe, I had it at 170 for about 50 and it would have worked with 160 for an hour), but it was very good nonetheless. The lemon syrup was fun, too; if you've ever tried to zest a lemon using a vegetable peeler you know it doesn't work (which is why I have a microplane grater) but the recipe wanted strips of peel, so I had to depith the zest. That worked but only because I have insanely sharp knives. The whole thing is really very tasty; the poppyseeds give great texture, the lemon is sharp and sweet, the texture is sublime. As the kids say, this cake is full of win.


So, give it a go! The cake really is worth it but I can't yet vouch for the keeping qualities claimed in the recipe because there's only half of it left.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Macarons, attempt one.

Macarons are perhaps past the peak of their popularity now, but they're still incredibly tasty. A French confection, a bit like our very own macaroons but smaller, more delicate and filled with tasty creams and coloured like flowers, macarons are starting to be found in locations outside London. Quelle horreur!

The usual suspects in London are Ladurée and Pierre Hermés in Selfridges, but I noticed Maison du Chocolat had started knocking them out in little boxes and other places - bakeries and patissieres - experimenting. They are highly flavoured, delicate, soft and crunchy at the same time, very sweet and also often bizzare. The classics are peerless; I have a particular fondness for Ladurée's caramel-filled and their coffee macaron are heaven. You can only eat a couple at a time because they are rich and sweet, but the texture and flavour explosions are sublime.

Finding them in Leeds, of course, is not likely to happen anytime soon so the only way to get them here is to make 'em. If you've ever tried making meringue before you'll know it takes more than just a smile and a quick whizz of the whisk; everything can affect how well they come out, and macarons are worse. A friend's father-in-law is a genuine, honest-to-goodness French patissier and even he steers clear of macarons because they are a faff to make. The sugar you use, the almonds, the humidity of the kitchen, and even the heat distribution of your baking sheets can make a huge difference, and if you over or under-mix by the tiniest amount the difference can be a soggy puddle or a cracked brick.

Sounds like a challenge to me.

Having read the delightful Not So Humble Pie's macaron 101 I decided that simple would be better, and I wouldn't start messing about with colours just yet. Concentrate on getting the macaron right first, get a decent filling and then start making them look pretty. This, obviously, wasn't going to happen on my first attempt. I'd picked up a copy of Hisako Ogita's I Love Macarons and decided to follow the recipe for French macarons, just because I didn't like the idea of making sugar syrup in the microwave just yet.

I'm not detailing the recipe here (not until I have a fully working example!) but basically you go through the following steps:
  • Mix ground almonds and icing sugar.
  • Whisk egg whites.
  • Add sugar to egg whites and whisk some more.
  • Add sugar/almonds to egg whites.
  • Pipe onto baking sheet...
  • bake!

See? Simple. Except it isn't; I have a fear of overwhisking egg whites, after doing it a few years ago and turning my lovely, stiff peaks back into mush (by hand, too). And there are certain rules that you have to follow to enable the results to be called "macarons". I didn't really get the results I should have, so all I can call them is "almond cookies". Very tasty almond cookies, though.

First of all; they didn't rise the way they should have. I didn't beat the egg whites enough, and they cracked, and coloured too much, so the oven was too hot (despite the oven thermometer) and I didn't leave them to dry out enough. I suspect the mix was too runny, and the foot (la pied) didn't rise anywhere near as much as it should. Indeed, on many it didn't rise at all. My baking sheet wasn't totally flat and I cooked them on parchment, so didn't lift off as easily as they should have. The edges got a little singed, and one batch accidentally caught on fire when the parchment got a bit too close to the oven flame.

But, they tasted fantastic. I made a coffee buttercream filling for half of them, and some lemon curd (well, I needed to use the yolks) for the other half. The coffee ones looked like this:
Coffee Macaron

Seriously tasty.

Hints for next time: after filling, put in the fridge in an airtight box, not on a plate. These things soak up atmospheric water like... well, like meringues. They are very hygroscopic. The filling needs to be stiffer, too. I need new baking sheets (if anybody reading wants to send me review copies of baking sheets, I'll happily give them a try!) and I should try using Teflon instead of parchment. Colouring, and flavouring the macarons themselves should be attempted. And I need to be braver when it comes to beating the egg whites.

So this was attempt number one. I'll be trying this again soon, and will let you know how I get on.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Millionaire Shortbread

Millionaire Shortbread

This weekend saw me making millionaire shortbread. Generally speaking, shortbread by itself is lovely, lovely stuff. Adding a layer of caramel to it, and then a layer of chocolate could be seen as gilding the lily slightly. But as a delivery mechanism of high-class carbs and fat there are few things finer. But - and this is a big but - it has to be home-made. Shop-bought millionaire shortbread has a too-thin layer of chocolate and caramel, and the shortbread itself is strange stuff. Come to think about it, even the chocolate and caramel is a bit peculiar, but the shortbread is often more like cheesecake base than proper, crisp, shortbread, and is far too crumbly. The chocolate layer is far too thin and to get it that thin it has to be too warm and probably contains oil and a stabliser of some description. The caramel? Invariably it's dulce de leche, or rather an industrial variant thereof. It tastes of sugar and vegetable fat, with none of the creaminess or texture a good caramel should have.

There's a rant about caramel that I've had for a while; boiling a tin of condensed milk does not make a caramel, it makes dulce de leche, a sticky, thick-ish sauce that tastes of, well, condensed milk. A good caramel is soft and slightly chewy and creamy and has a slight overtone of whatever sugar you used to make it, which is why I make caramel with a mix of sugars (recipe below). And if you're making millionaire shortbread you can't use dulce de leche, because it's too runny. I'll admit, in certain circumstances it's ok stuff (sort of, I'm not really a huge fan), but as a sauce or flavouring, not an structually integral part. Anyway, making a caramel is really very easy, which is why my rant gland starts up whenever I see a jar of dulce on the shelves (at some ridiculous price).

(Technically, a proper caramel is just boiled sugar which has undergone pyrolysis, but for the sake of this post I'm talking about dairy caramels.)

We've established that good millionaire shortbread is homemade, and one more reason is that you can change the thickness of your layers to how you like them, and adjust portion size accordingly. Also, you know what's gone into it and if you like to experiment adjusting the various ingredients to suit your own tastes is simple, and can make some quite exciting treats. Let's look at the basic recipe.

1. Shortbread. This can be as simple or complex as you like. My base recipe (8" square tin) is 150g butter, 75g caster sugar creamed together, and 175g plain flour and 25g semolina beaten into it to form a soft, quite sticky dough. Line your tin with baking parchment so that it covers the base and sides and squish the dough into it with your fingers so that it forms an even layer, then poke the base with a fork a few times and bake at 160C for 25 minutes, ish, until it is golden brown in colour. But, tweak the recipe to suit your tastes; add lemon zest, or lavender, or cardamom to the butter & sugar. Swap some of the flour for cocoa. Add toasted hazelnuts to the mix, or finely chopped stem ginger.

2. Caramel. Once the shortbread has come out of the oven, make your caramel. Don't mess about with this too much - although experiments are good - as the ratios have to be fairly close to stop it recrystallising. I like my caramel to be chewy, but not so much that it'll pull fillings; it does have to have some structural integrity as the chocolate layer needs supporting, so it'll need to hit the soft-to-firm ball stage. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan put 225g caster sugar, 25g butter and 140ml (a small pot, IIRC) of double cream. Over a low heat, gently stirring constantly, melt everything together, then once the sugar has dissolved turn the heat up and boil until it reaches 120C. If you don't have a sugar thermometer boil for five minutes, take a teaspoon of the caramel and drop into iced water, then try to form the caramel into a ball using your fingers; if it keeps its shape when you take it out of the water it's done, otherwise put the caramel back on the heat for another two minutes (or longer, if the caramel didn't form into a ball underwater) and try again. If it's done, add a good pinch of salt and stir, then pour onto the shortbread; it should spread itself out evenly. To experiment with this layer, you could add similar flavourings to above, but I wouldn't bother. I would, however, tinker with the sugar; use 50/50 white caster and light soft brown, or dark soft brown, or even demarera. You can over or undercook the caramel to make it more or less chewy, but be careful of this. I'll do a post on caramels as sweets in a couple of weeks.

3. Chocolate. Melt some chocolate - about 100g will cover an 8" tin - with a knob of butter and pour it over the caramel. Do what you like here; add chili, more lemon zest, peppermint oil, or melt some contrasting coloured chocolate and swirl it using a cocktail stick, whatever you like. then leave to cool, and refrigerate until completely set. Then take the whole lot out of the tin on the baking parchment and chop into squares, bars, circles, whatever shapes and sizes you like depending on how much of a diabetic coma you like.

Tadah! There's a lot of words up there, but you can summarise them as "make shortbread, make caramel (don't be tempted by dulce de leche), and melt some chocolate". And the results? Oh, so worth it. And it's really difficult to make a bad millionaire shortbread.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mmm teapot papercraft

Oh! Just fallen in love...
The I Love Cake card might be the best thing I've seen all week...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Gingerbread men! Lots and lots of gingerbread men!

Concerning gingerbread people.

You know, if we were professional bakers we probably could have had this done and dusted in half the time. A third of the time. Total man hours required for myself and Sam (of Tea and Cake fame) to make 100 gingerbread people turned out to be about 14; my standard hourly rate (for callouts) is £50, which makes these some of the most expensive gingerbread men ever made. Or, would do, if we were charging for anything other than ingredients.

But, we did it, they are done and we did them. 100 gingerbread people, as a T&C enterprise for one of Sam's friends, getting married one Saturday in November and wanting wedding favours for people. You know how I say things like "try everything once, just so you know you'll never have to do it again"? Well, without a bigger oven, a higher working surface and something to pulverize crystallised ginger without gumming up I'm never making this many gingerbread men again...

The recipe was the standard one that I swiped from my mother, and modified slightly with some different spices and some maple syrup, with the extra addition of a couple of tablespoons of blitzed crystallised ginger. It's a bit gummy, that stuff, so my hand mixer didn't really like it very much. It makes quite a difference to the mixture, though - a bit of texture and some more ginger in there, without having big lumps of mouth-searing surprise. Fifty raw gingerbread men look like this:

Dough Raw

... and as they were cooling, but before I put them in airtight tins, they looked like this:

Awaiting decor


They stayed crisp overnight (hoorah!) in the airtight tins, but I did have to make another batch before going to bed because some were a bit too singed around the edges and were more like those biscuits you get in plastic packets when you order coffee in hotels that are trying, but don't quite get coffee. Perfectly edible if you like that sort of thing, but not really suitable.

Met Sam at the station, we went home and took out the ladies that she'd done, melted some chocolate (which set really quickly, so I decided that properly tempered chocolate was a luxury we couldn't afford in this situation and went for speed and simplicity over my own "technique above all else!" aesthetics), and decorated the ladies.


Then we set the chaps out, melted more chocolate, and did them. By the time we got to the end of the chaps it was 10pm, we were shattered and backs were really aching, and you can tell by the lack of suits and more... odd decor some of the chaps got. There was a skellington, someone in an X-ray machine, and a member of the Syndikat.


We did special ones for the bride and groom, too. Lots of chocolate! We did comment on the decoration as we were doing it; some of the ladies were very obviously grannies, some were in evening wear, some in dungarees. The gents were... eclectic, I think.

We certainly had fun making them - a lot of fun - but it's hard, hard work. I have much more respect for bakers, especially ones who do artisinal things like this. We could have done single colour, five blobs and a smile, and be done in ten minutes, but where's the artistry in that? This was all about the handmade product, the joy of uniqueness, and I think we did a pretty good job with that.

Richard was a star and ran out for tupperware with mere minutes to go before Sainsbury's closed; when packed up, the 100 gingerbread people looked like this:

What 100 Gingerbread men looks like


Makes approx 24 5" men, 50 3"

340 g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarb
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
1 heaped tsp ground mixed spice
120 g butter
170 g light soft brown sugar
30g golden syrup
40g maple syrup
1 large egg, beaten.
1 heaped tbsp finely processed crystallised ginger

Oven at gas 5/190c

Sift together flour, bicarb, and spices. Rub in the butter, then stir in the sugar and crystallised ginger. Beat the syrup and egg together (if it helps, pop the syrup tin in a bowl of hot water to soften before weighing it out) and stir into the dry ingredients to form a soft dough. Thinly roll out some of the dough onto a floured surface - about the thickness of a £1 coin - and stamp out shapes. Put shapes well spread out onto a sheet of baking parchment and put in the fridge for 15-20 minutes.
Take out of the fridge and put into the oven for 15-20 minutes. While that batch is baking you can gather the offcuts, re-roll and stamp, and put that batch into the fridge to chill. If you use two baking sheets - one for cold, one for hot - and just transfer the baking parchment you can have quite a production line going! Cool on a rack, and when cold pop into airtight boxes, where they should keep crispy for about a week. Don't leave them overnight to cool, though - they'll go soggy.