baking with marmalade :: 1


I first made Nigella’s Store-cupboard Chocolate-orange Cake many years ago, and was a little disappointed by the results: it was too sweet, lacking the bitter kick I had expected from the marmalade. But, with several jars of ‘vintage’ marmalade to finish up, I decided the recipe was worth revisiting. And I’m so glad that I did. I think the mistake I made first time round was using a jar of cheap Golden Shred-type stuff from the corner shop.

This version, made with homemade Seville orange marmalade, is exactly what I was after: rich and chocolatey, with that distinctive bitter orange finish, and studded with soft chunks of peel. It smells fantastic as it cooks and it tastes delicious, especially when eaten warm. It’s quite a grown up cake and apart from Matilda the girls were not at all enthusiastic about it. But all the adult guinea pigs wolfed it down, which is why the only photos I have are rather dark ones from my phone.

IMG_2411I will certainly make this cake again, not least because it’s so easy. All the ingredients are mixed in a saucepan, starting with the butter and ending with the flour and the molten mass is poured straight into the baking tin. And, though I hate to mention the C-word so early in the year, with a little tweaking this cake has real possibilities as an alternative to Christmas cake and/or Christmas pudding.

For those who want to have a go …

INGREDIENTS: 125g unsalted butter*; 100g dark chocolate broken into pieces; 300g good marmalade (Nigella says thin cut, but I think chunky could work too as long as the chunks are soft); 150g caster sugar; pinch of salt*; 2 large eggs, beaten; 150g self raising flour.  1 X 20cm Springform tin, buttered and floured — if this is done thoroughly there is no need to line it. Preheat oven to 180 C/ Gas 4

METHOD: Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan and then once nearly melted add the chocolate and stir to ensure that it melts too — you may need to take the pan off the heat at this point. Next add the rest of the ingredients in the order above (taking particular care with the flour which you should add a bit at a time), stirring in each addition until you have a lovely thick, gloopy, glossy mass. Pour the mixture into the tin and place it in the oven for around 50mins. Worth checking after 45 minutes and then at 5 min intervals until a skewer comes out clean. I have found that almost all the recipes in How to be a Domestic Goddess are slightly off time-wise; I’m guessing that it’s because Nigella has some form of industrial blast furnace in her kitchen.

* I always cook with Lurpak slightly salted butter and simply omit the pinch of salt in any recipe that demands one.

happy christmas

P1190649                                   We had a lovely day, hope you did too.


and, better late than never, our wreath …

P1190516made from a swatch of weeping birch twigs which I found on the pavement on Christmas morning last year and kept for just this purpose. A rare (and embarrassingly excessive), bit of forward planning.

wreath round-up

P1190454Last year I became so obsessed with the wonderful local wreaths I started photographing them, much to the embarrassment of the girls who were usually with when I took the pictures. This year, having made a note of the whereabouts of my favourite Christmas displays, I went out alone and photographed them over the course of one very circuitous walk up to school. I recognised some of the wreaths from last year, though the brussels were adorning a different door last December.



This is by no means a comprehensive survey of local weaths – since taking these photos more and more have appeared, all very photogenic but the weather has been against me  (incessant rain and terrible light), so I haven’t been able to photograph them.

I haven’t been able to photograph our wreath either, as it only went up an hour ago and the light had gone, so I’ll post it tomorrow along with a picture of the tree – though I’ve discovered that Christmas trees are very hard to photograph.

NB There is another nice wreath round-up at Spring Cottage.

back on track, sort of…

P1190367A week has passed by in a blur of coughing and paracetamol. Ten days ago, I was
ahead of the game, this morning I realise that this is no longer the case and the annual Christmas panic, the panic I was hoping to avoid this year, is upon me once more. It’s
part of the tradition, I suppose. On the bright side, the girls made some paper chains, and there is a half-decorated tree in the sitting room.

P1190369 I had planned a few more Bristol Christmas shopping posts, but time is running out on that front. I will however, mention two nice shows which are worth visiting if you are in Bristol and  still searching for one or two special presents.

centre space

The first is the annual Centre Space Studios Christmas exhibition, Spruce, a mixed show featuring prints, paintings, textiles and sculpture. Prices range from £5 to several hundred pounds. The gallery is open daily from 11am to 5pm until Thursday 20th December. The gallery is on Leonard Lane, just off Corn Street and a stone’s throw from St Nicks, so you can easily combine a visit to both.

P1190112The second show is The December Gallery Group at Bristol Guild, which includes works by five Bristol-based artists, the most interesting of whom is Joanna Wright. I must register a slight bias here in that I have known Jo all my life, but the fact remains her paintings, her prints and her exquisite screen-printed, appliquéd and beaded cushions, are all really wonderful. I am a huge fan of her work, not least I suppose because so many of her images contain my two great passions – plants and lovely old bits of china.

P1190117 P1190116My photographs really do not do justice to her work, but the show runs until Christmas Eve so if you are rushing about on Park Street over the next week or so, make a point of popping in to The Guild, and head up to the top floor gallery space.

christmas: making and baking

baking plansTime to dust off a favourite cookery book – Linda Collister’s Christmas Treats to Make and GiveThe girls are still in full baking mode (both Martha and Bea have been to GB Bake-off themed birthday parties in the last fortnight, and their cousin is threatening Matilda with something similar along the lines of Come Dine With Me), so I thought it would be a good idea to channel their enthusiasm and get them to bake some Christmas presents.

For my part, I am planning to make a few treats from Diana Henry’s excellent Salt Sugar Smoke. I have already raided Ikea’s kitchen department and have a large stash of jars at the ready, along with some really lovely labels (also from the Swedish giant). Just need to brave the high street in search of the ingredients…

only in bristol…

P1190130Since moving to Bristol six years ago, barely a week has gone by in which I haven’t thought “only in Bristol…” at some point; usually in a good way, though sometimes (whilst waiting for the unbelievably s l o w arrival of a cup of coffee), in a bad way.

Today’s “only in Bristol” moment was 100 per cent good …

P1190137P1190136P1190146… several hundred Father Christmases (and one Kermit the frog!) rumbling and roaring down Park Street on their motorbikes. At one point it looked as though a very noisy red carpet had been rolled down the hill – if you squint at the rather bad photo below you’ll get some sense of what I mean (oh, for a telephoto lens!).


The event, Santa’s on a Bike, takes place each year apparently, though this is the first time I’ve been lucky enough to witness it. Bikers gather all over the South West before converging on Bristol and heading to The Children’s Hospice South West laden with gifts.


We have a tradition in this household, fairly new, I admit, but firmly established nonetheless, of having panettone for breakfast on New Year’s day. This began a couple of years ago when I was shopping frantically for various last minute bits and pieces on New Year’s eve, and I spotted the glossy red boxes in the window of Carluccio’s – a glorious pyramid of half-price panettone.

So now on New Year’s eve I head into town with a one-item shopping list. Though sometimes I come back with two of them, as I did this year. We ate the one in the red box on January 1st: a bit at breakfast, some more around tea time and then finished it off after supper as an Italian bread and butter pudding.

This morning we cracked open the white box – the chocolate version, which the girls prefer. We have friends coming to stay this evening, so the rest will no doubt become a fragrant bread and butter pudding too. I’ve never made a panettone, but I’m tempted to give it a try. Perhaps that will be my one resolution for 2012 – though the minute I typed that about thirty other things poured into my mind like a stream of mental ticker tape.
I can feel a To Do list coming on…

a wreath* lecture

I love walking around our neighbourhood in the run-up to Christmas. Day by day the windows acquire decorations and twinkling trees. Some of these appear as early as the 1st of December, others spring up on Christmas Eve. In some cases the front gardens are decked out with fairy lights as well. But it’s the front doors that I’m most interested in.

Wreaths seem to increase in popularity each year. Where once perhaps only a few doors would carry a wreath, now almost every door is resplendent with a Christmassy creation. I like the mix of shop-bought, homemade, natural, fake, gaudy, tasteful, chic and vulgar that can be found in this one neighbourhood. On a cold, bleak afternoon, a dutiful wander with the dog is improved immeasurably with a little wreath-spotting.

The girls think I’m mad to photograph them, and they are quite embarrassed when I stop to take out my camera (oh, god mum! come on, let’s go…). Even Sybil does a passable imitation of cringing shame as she tugs at the lead, ears flat trying to pull me on.

I have now amassed quite a nice library of wreath portraits. These are by no means the cream of the crop, but they are what I managed to snap over the past week or two.

This last wreath is my own rather shambolic affair, cobbled together just half an hour before our neighbours all came round for Christmas drinks on Tuesday evening. My plan had been to weave some pretty lengths of ivy, complete with flower heads and berries into an old ring of hazel twigs which I use each year as a base. But when the moment came to make my festive creation, I realised a) I had no idea where I’d put the ring after last year’s outing and b) we had no ivy – we’d cut it all back in the summer when we terraced the garden. Not to be defeated, I trudged out into the rain-sodden garden and gathered what I could – some hazel twigs, again, and lots of soggy dead sedum heads. It’s not as pretty or perfect as the other wreaths I’ve admired, but I like it all the same.

Time to go and wrap some presents now. Happy Christmas everyone!

*Slightly pointless pun on the Reith Lectures.


Whilst photographing Mary’s lovely felt decorations I spotted a couple of lame horses amongst the biscuits on the tree – a hoof missing here, a leg there. It was bound to happen to one or two of them I reasoned, but then, as I looked closer, I saw that almost all the biscuits had been picked at – all stars were at least one point short. Grrr.

Of course the girls tried to blame Sybil. It was the dog, they chorused, faces solemn. But I’m not that stupid. And anyway, Sybil has been banned from the sitting room since the biscuits appeared on the tree – one whiff of them sent her trotting around the room like a demented show dog, nose in the air as if held up by an invisible thread, hungrily drinking in their scent. I knew the biscuits wouldn’t last long, and they are meant to be eaten, but I had hoped the girls might share them with their cousins on Boxing day. Fat chance.

scrappy decorations – thank you mary!

On Monday morning, along with a number of packages from the likes of Amazon, I received a rather special parcel. It was from Mary as part of our scrappy decorations swap, and although I knew it was on its way, I had no idea what it would contain, all of which was rather exciting – a bit like having a Christmas stocking again.

Inside I found lots of lovely decorations and some wonderful treats. First out was a
flock of birds which look so good in the kitchen, they won’t be making the flight
upstairs to the tree, not this year anyway.

Next came some felt baubles which I love – they look fabulous on the tree and I think I might even have a go at making some more myself. And last, but by no means least, on the decorations-front anyway, two little houses made from scraps of fabric, which you can see to the left on Mary’s banner. Mary is far better at sewing than I am, as you’ll see if you take a look at her blog, and as well as all the decorations she also sent us some lovely handmade accessories – a bag and cloth-covered notebook for me and hair toggles covered in vintage fabric for the girls, which they adore.

Thank you SO much Mary and Happy Christmas!

And thank you to Ali at Very Berry Handmade for organising the swap.