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!).

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…

rose petal jam: part 2

I must start by saying that this is not a fail-safe recipe. I think there are far too many variables involved to make such a claim. So much depends upon how heavily scented your roses are, maybe even how large the petals are, and of course their colour must play a part too. And then there is the issue of what time of day you pick them and whether they have been baking in the heat of the sun or pounded by a summer downpour.

It’s probably best to use my recipe as a sort of jumping off point, and then experiment until you get a flavour and consistency that you are happy with. And because it really isn’t very practical to make a large batch, it won’t feel so very awful if it all goes wrong. Above you can see the second batch of jam made from 40g of petals, below you can see both versions, and the runny first attempt, made using 30g of petals, is in the Kilner jar.

The first batch, although delicious on a crumpet, was far more successful stirred into a rhubarb fool and later some plain yoghurt. I’d happily use the method again if I wanted a rose-scented syrup for a pudding.

Both methods are very straightforward the only time-consuming part of the process is picking or cutting off the pale section at the bottom of each petal which is boring, but worth doing as it’s bitter and will affect the flavour.

1) Rose petal jam / syrup

30g petals (white part removed), 60g jam sugar, 500ml water

I began by massaging half the sugar into the petals as I had read somewhere about the importance of bruising them in order to release  colour and oils. I left them in the pan for a couple of hours with the lid on. Then when I was ready to make the jam I added the water to the petals. One method I had consulted suggested placing petals in a measuring jug and then using the same volume of water. On reflection I should have pressed the petals down a little as I had far too much liquid. The smell was wonderful and the water quickly turned a fabulous garnet colour. I stirred in the rest of the sugar and raised the heat to a rolling boil. After half an hour I poured the liquid into the Kilner jar and once cooled I placed it in the fridge. If you feel the rose flavour is too faint, you can always boost it with a dash of rose water.

2) Improved rose petal jam

40g rose petals, 80g jam sugar, 80g water,

This time I weighed my water and then having tipped 40g of water over the petals, I decided it needed another 40g.

So – take your rose petals, white bits cut off, and massage them in half the sugar. Leave for half an hour or so – I don’t suppose it would matter if you left them overnight even – and then add the water. If you like to test your setting point with a cold plate, put that in the freezer now. Bring the water and petals to a simmer and stir in the remaining sugar, taking care that it doesn’t catch as there isn’t much liquid. Then turn up the heat and once you have a good rolling boil, set the timer for five minutes. I had a set after the first five minutes.

Inspired by a comment left by Thrifty Household, I used most of this batch in a cake.

40g of petals also produced enough jam to cover a few slices of toast as well, and would have gone further were it not for the girls who preferred to eat it from their fingers.

I shall certainly be making more of both the jam and the syrup throughout the summer. And I think I enjoyed the process almost as much as the jam itself – the whole business of stripping petals from the flowers, and then stirring them with sugar and water took me straight back to childhood potion making.

and we’re off…

Phew! The school term is over and we are now galloping towards the 25th. It’s not as though the date comes as any sort of surprise, yet every year I feel slightly caught out by Christmas. Anyway, having had the requisite seasonal bout of Bah! Humbug, a trapped nerve in my shoulder and the three-way bicker-fest that heralds the start of all our holidays… seasonal cheer has finally entered the household, and at last we have a tree. All we need now are some decorations. Yesterday evening biscuits were baked using this recipe, which I wheel out every year, and wonder why I don’t use at other times.

And this morning we sat and iced them. And someone tested them. Quite thoroughly as it turns out. And now I am wondering whether we might not need a second batch.

This afternoon, once the scattered siblings have regrouped, we will hang the biscuits  on the tree and I will feel ready for the drink that at any other time of year dare not speak its name: advocaat. I’m not even sure that I like it that much, but for some reason it seems to suit the business of decorating the Christmas tree. In fact I’d say that the way in which my thoughts turn to this sticky, custardy gloop as soon as I start fiddling about with fairy lights and baubles is Pavlovian.

this week’s biscuit

The Nanowrimo challenge grinds on, and it seems to get harder every day. I am now over 30,000 words into the task and despite the pain, boredom and frustration that I experience each day, I am enjoying the process. I can’t bring myself to call what I’m writing a novel, as currently it’s just a thicket of ideas with barely a squeak of a plot, but a story of sorts is emerging. Obviously this calls for more biscuits.

These chocolate and nut bars have proved very popular with the girls too, which is a surprise as they all claim to hate nuts. The recipe is from a very old cookery book, The Cook’s Companion, by Josceline Dimbleby, which my mother gave me twenty years ago, and which I still turn to on a regular basis. These little bars can be run up in ten minutes or so as everything is made in a pan, and they take twelve minutes to cook. Although only the thickness of a biscuit, they have a slightly cakey consistency which I think means they occupy that part of biscuitdom normally only inhabited by the Jaffa Cake. They are great on their own, but brilliant with ice cream. I have used toasted hazelnuts as the recipe suggests, but I think any nuts would do.

Chocolate and Hazelnut Thins

125g butter; 25g plain chocolate broken up; 1tsp instant coffee; 75g soft dark brown sugar; 1tsp vanilla essence;  1 egg beaten lightly; 25g plain flour; 1/2 tsp salt; 50g skinned hazelnuts, toasted and chopped up.

Preheat oven to 190/375 gas 5; Butter (and I also line) a 25 x 30cm Swiss roll tin.

Melt the butter and chocolate together over a low heat, stirring all the time. Add the instant coffee and stir to dissolve. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar and vanilla essence and then the egg. Sift in the flour and salt and mix until smooth.

Pour the thick mixture into the tin and spread evenly, or tilt the tin to get it to level out across the base. It will look like a very scant amount, but don’t worry. Sprinkle with the chopped toasted hazelnuts.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, turning the tin halfway through to ensure that it cooks evenly.

Leave in the tin for a few minutes before lifting to a wire rack to allow them to cool. Alternatively, eat them straight away, whilst still warm.

NB – late addition here: I didn’t bother with the 1/2 tsp of salt as I used lightly salted butter rather than unsalted.


Having signed up to a mad, month-long writing project which involves attempting to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days (NaNoWriMo), I find that all I want to do is bake stuff. And biscuits, in particular, have become very appealing: they are quick to make and, perhaps more significantly, easy to eat whilst alternately drinking coffee and typing. Or, more typically, staring into space.

The biscuit obsession began during half term when Bea rustled up a batch of peanut butter and chocolate cookies for her godmother, Jess. Whilst overseeing production, I was struck by the speed with which biscuits can be made, cooked, and dispatched.

I know there are recipes out there for cakes which can be whipped up in minutes (Delia has a very good basic sponge that springs to mind), but even so, biscuits seem quicker. I suppose it’s partly because biscuits tend not to be iced, which means that you don’t need to wait until they’ve cooled before diving in. In fact these cookies are particularly delicious when they’re still warm. The recipe is from Christmas Treats by Linda Collister.

But of all the biscuit recipes I’ve looked at recently (and it’s been quite an intense period of research), shortbread must be the easiest. It only has three ingredients, all of which are store cupboard basics: caster sugar, butter, flour – cocoa powder if you’re feeling flash.

The recipe for this chocolate shortbread came from The Great British Book of Baking, which accompanied the first series of The Great British Bake Off. It’s very rich.

And finally, for now anyway, from the same book, Jumbles. So called, I guess, because you sling a jumble of whatever nuts, fruit or chocolate you have to hand into the basic biscuit mix. Quick and easy, Jumbles are delicious and smell heavenly as they bake. All three of these biscuit recipes have been made on a loose rotation for the last two weeks. I have plans for some freezer biscuits this weekend – you make a dough, freeze it and then, when you want biscuits, you take it out and let it thaw slightly before slicing off the number of biscuits you want to bake. I love this idea. Though I can see some problems – chief among them being the temptation to bake a biscuit or two with every cup of tea.

Of course all this domestic goddess malarky is just a complicated, and fattening, way of avoiding my daily word count. Still, making biscuits is more fun than the endless vacuuming I found myself doing when I was trying to revise for my RHS level 2 exams.

Fortunately my daily walks with Sybil go some way towards ensuring that my bottom doesn’t take on bus-like dimensions as I sit in front of the computer.

These walks also give me a chance to get outside to enjoy my favourite season.

Enough! I have biscuits to bake. No, what am I saying? I have a novel to write. My cardboard characters are demanding a better plot. They say their situations are boring, their motives shaky. I am inclined to agree*. All my baking, walking, gardening**, quilting***, knitting, and blogging, have conspired against The Great Project. It is now 2,000 words behind schedule. Back to the grindstone.

* I don’t really care though, the exhilarating thing about Nanowrimo is that you just plough on, churning out words without a backward glance. I know that when the 1st of December dawns I will have some cringe-inducing prose awaiting me, but I will have thrashed out the framework for a story I’ve been thinking about for years.

**Despite several mornings on my knees, I still have 200 bulbs left to plant. 

*** It’s finished! I will write a post about this later. 

PS If anyone wants the recipes, just leave a message and I’ll post them as soon as I can. I’m sure it’s alright to post someone else’s recipe as long as it’s credited. Just can’t face typing them up right now.