baking with marmalade :: 2

P1270246This, my second marmalade cake, got a thumbs up from the entire family — I expect this had something to do with the fact that it was iced. But it’s also a lighter, brighter-tasting cake than the chocolate version in the last post.

The recipe is from Jane Brocket’s Vintage Cakes and it works a treat. I made two slight modifications — using the juice and zest of Sevilles rather than ordinary oranges, and a mix of Muscovado and caster sugar because I didn’t have any soft brown sugar to hand.

It’s the usual sponge cake method, with marmalade, orange juice and zest incorporated after the sugar, butter and eggs but before the addition of the flour. It takes ten minutes to whip up and then around 45 minutes to bake, depending on your oven. The difficult part was resisting the temptation to dig in before the cake had cooled enough to be iced.


And that’s it on the baking front for the moment. I do have a few more marmalade recipes up my sleeve, but I think it is possible to have too much of a good thing, so I’m calling time on the cakes for a while (the recipe, however, is at the end of the post).

I’ve had a rather domestic, low-key start to the year, which has been a real treat. But work is gearing up again. Last week James and I visited several exciting houses in Bristol and today I’m off to London for a really lovely shoot for The Guardian. The house is in Peckam, my old neighbourhood, and belongs to a very talented friend, Rachael,  whose work you can see here. More on all of this next week.


Ingredients: 175g soft butter; 175g light soft brown sugar (or mix as described above); 3 eggs; grated zest of 1 (Seville) orange; juice of half an orange (Seville in this instance); (optional: 25g candied peel, which I didn’t use as my marmalade was quite chunky); 3 rounded dessert spoons of marmalade – I made mine very generous; 200g self raising flour.

Method: preheat the oven to gas mark 4 or 180c

1/ beat or whisk butter and sugar until light and fluffy and then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

2/ add the grated orange zest, juice and marmalade (candied peel too, if you are using it) and mix in gently. Next sift the flour into the mixture and fold in gently.

3/ spoon the mixture into a greased and floured tin and bake in the preheated oven for around 45 minutes, but start checking after about 30.

Ice once completely cool using 150g icing sugar mixed with the juice of an orange. Again, I used a seville (I’ve still got another 20 or so to get through!).

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.

thank pippin it’s friday!

P1250472At the girls’ primary school, SATS week is known as doughnut week because the children’s efforts are rewarded with a daily doughnut. Some might see that as a double-dose of ill health, but the doughnuts certainly take the edge off the exams and really, in the greater scheme of things, where’s the harm in a one-off week-long doughnut binge? Slightly more questionable is Doughnut Day, a ritual which our family has embraced with alarming ease, and celebrated with grave commitment, ever since Joe first came across the Pippin Doughnut stall on Wine Street.

P1250471I comfort myself with the fact that our Doughnut Day doughnuts are no ordinary doughnuts — and they really are, as you will see, extraordinary doughnuts — but there’s no way round the fact that what we are talking about here is a ball of dough which has been fried and then rolled in sugar. I’m not sure whether I’m trying to excuse our addiction or justify it, but the bottom line is Pippin doughnuts are delicious  I say that as someone who doesn’t even like doughnuts — and the reason we have just one doughnut day each week is entirely down to the fact that the Pippin Doughnuts only come to Bristol on Fridays*. They are also rather expensive at £1.30 each, £6.50 for six, or £10.95 for twelve.

P1250468But then again, the ingredients used to create the doughnuts are far from cheap and the dough, which is proved twice to improve texture and flavour, takes a long time to make. With homemade fillings as delicious and varied as gooseberry jam, lemon curd and rhubarb & custard, I think it’s fair to say that Pippin doughnuts are about as far removed from your usual supermarket doughnuts (Krispy Kreme included) as you can get. I think of them as being like Stella Artois: reassuringly expensive and much, much tastier.


P1250480 P1250482The girls may forget their school books, PE kit, packed lunches, front door keys, shoes and socks even, but every Friday, whilst grumbling at each other over the breakfast table, they remember to place their doughnut order.

P1250486In the photographs above you can see last week’s box which contained three Bear Claws (this is what a Canadian friend says the oddly shaped cinnamon-coated doughnuts are called back home, but I think Pippin just list them as cinnamon and sugar), one chocolate ganache, one gooseberry and, just out of sight, a cappuccino doughnut with a coffee custard filling and topped with coffee icing and a dusting of cocoa powder.

P1250487Gourmet cup cakes your days are numbered, the designer doughnuts have arrived!,, 01793 496210                            Pippin Doughnuts Wine Street, Bristol every Friday apart from the last Friday of the month. 

back at the plot

beaSeptember is always a busy month. This year it seemed crazier than ever: Bea started at secondary school and two weeks later we celebrated her twelfth birthday; the roof was fixed and in the process scaffolders failed to arrive several times (what is it with scaffolders?); a stray cat wandered into our lives for a few days, filled the house with fleas and helped herself to Bea’s birthday cake — if you look closely at the photo above you can see the slightly ‘bald’ patch where she licked the icing away; Martha went off to school camp and returned with her head full of nits, a suitcase filled with stinky clothes and her body covered with bites: it was “the best camp ever!”

And last, but by no means least, Matilda’s lovely German exchange partner, Lisa, arrived. We’ve had fun introducing Lisa to English treats such as marmite (she’s not a fan), scones and clotted cream (big thumbs up), and this Friday she’ll get to try fish and chips (I hope it lives up to her expectations).

P1230018Beyond the chaos on the domestic front, the garden has been quietly doing its thing, and now that October has arrived, the mood is distinctly autumnal. I feel the garden peaked in early July and looked pretty, though increasingly frazzled, until the end of August. But some pruning, cutting back and general poking around on my part pulled it all back into focus. I need to think about how I can extend next year’s show.

IMG_0879P1240975 P1240974 P1240962I’m planning to sift through all my garden photographs so that I can write a proper round-up of what worked and what didn’t. Until then, I’ll leave you with Sybil, my ever-present, ever/over-eager and often quite annoying gardening assistant…

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simnel cake :: 2

cakeHere it is, this year’s Simnel cake basking in the only sunshine we’ve had this Easter.

According to Jenny Baker, who cites The Art of British Cooking, by Theodora Fitzgibbon, as her source, Simnel cake derives its name from the Roman siminellus which was a special bread eaten during spring fertility rites. Later, the name attached itself to a fruit cake enriched with marzipan which girls in service were allowed to take home to their mothers on Mothering Sunday. Perhaps the Roman bread was transformed over the years, and it became the enriched cake. Who knows? Either way, the cake has become associated with Easter and, like its Christmas cousin, it is a cake that keeps well. So although Easter Sunday has been and gone, for most families the school holiday has only just begun, which means that there is plenty of time to bake and consume this cake.

So here is the recipe I use, from Jenny Baker’s Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool,  though I imagine that there are many other versions out there online.

This one calls for an 18cm (7inch) tin with tall sides, and I think the dimensions are important as the cake doesn’t rise much — there is no raising agent.


350g marzipan (the recipe in the last post will give you more than enough, I roll the scraps into balls and dip them in melted chocolate as you can see here if you scroll to the end of the post); 100g butter or margarine; 100g soft brown sugar; 3 large eggs, beaten; 150g plain flour, sifted; 1/2 tsp mixed spice; 350g mixed dried fruit; 50g chopped mixed peel;1 lemon, grated rind and juice; Apricot jam;1 egg white for the glaze.

Heat oven gas mark 3/325/160. Grease and line tin.

Take one third of the marzipan and knead it and roll into a disc the same size as the cake tin. Set to one side

Cream butte and sugar together and once it is light and fluffy add the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the sifted flour, mixed spice , dried fruit, mixed peel, lemon juice and zest.

Pour HALF the mixture into the tin, level it and then place the marzipan disc on top. Pour the rest of the mixture on top, smoothing it over.

Bake for 1 hour at gas mark 3 / 325/160 and then lower the temperature to gas mark 2/ 300/150, and bake for another hour.

Allow cake to cool and turn it onto a rack after about ten minutes. Once totally cold, brush the top with apricot jam, roll another third of the marzipan into a disc and place this on top. With the remaining marzipan make eleven balls (to represent the eleven faithful apostles). Brush with egg white and then return to the oven for ten minutes until the top is lightly browned – gas mark 4/350/190.

Simnel cake :: 1

P1210316I first ate Simnel cake when I was a teenager, whilst on holiday in Wales. I still remember the thick layer of marzipan buried in the middle of the cake coming as a delicious surprise. A surprise twice over, as I was never really a fan of marzipan: I’ve always found it tooth-achingly sweet, though this does ease off during cooking.

I don’t think I came across Simnel cake again until I started making it myself, nine years ago, shortly after Martha was born. I’m not sure what prompted me to make the cake — possibly the discovery of this simple recipe for marzipan — but I have made one every year for the last eight years. Tomorrow I will make my ninth, but today I made the cake’s key ingredient: marzipan.

This recipe is so easy, so satisfying, and frankly, so delicious, that I’ve never bothered with shop-bought packets since. Be warned though, the flavour is far more subtle than the gritty, bright yellow blocks available in the supermarket: gently lemony and not especially sweet and the texture is softly grainy. I’ve blogged about the ease of making marzipan before, but here is the recipe again, this time with step-by-step pictures to prove that it really is a cinch to make. First gather your ingredients …

350g ground almonds; 225g icing sugar (sifted); 3 egg yolks; juice of one lemon.

P1210318Next, mix the almonds with sugar and beat the egg yolks with lemon juice. Then combine the two mixes, and knead together into a ball with your hands, rather like making pastry.

P1210321And voila! Marzipan. It’s quite a sticky mixture, so if you find your hands are still coated with mix, dip them in a little icing sugar, rub together and let the ‘crumbs’ fall onto the ball of marzipan and then dab them in.

The recipe comes from Jenny Baker’s marvellous book Kettle Broth to Gooseberry Fool.

Now I’m off the make the Simnel cake itself.

bea’s brownies

I like to think that she’s been inspired by me, but I suspect that Bea’s sudden passion for baking is really due to her obsession with The Great British Bake Off. Over the past two weeks she has made two loaves of bread, cheese rolls and now these brownies.

Bea used the recipe from Paul Hollywood’s book How To Bake, and it requires marginally less butter and chocolate, and crucially, I think, fewer eggs, than Nigella’s brownie recipe which, despite repeated attempts, I’ve never made successfully (the squidge v cake balance is all out of whack – too wet and not cakey enough for my liking).

Bea doesn’t like walnuts so she used pecans instead and we had no cranberries so she made do without. I hovered in the background whilst she worked, biting my tongue. I was quite surprised by how controlling I am when it comes to other people using the kitchen. Matilda is also obsessed with The Great British Bake Off so I can see that I am going to have to learn to ease up a bit and just let them go for it.