Saturday, 25 April 2009

Victoria Sponge – how hard can it possibly be?

Sometimes there are days when everything works out, and occasionally there are days when everything goes wrong. This was one of those days – the later sort.

A box of duck eggs had been sitting on the counter for a couple of days, just asking to be used. Then I remember a comment by neighbour’s husband, ‘they make a wonderful Victoria Sponge’. After a quick phone call to my mum to get her recipe, I set about making my sponge. First problem – how many duck eggs are equal to 4 hen eggs?

P4190057 Visiting my neighbour to ask her opinion resulted in me leaving with a fresh goose egg to use instead (and apparently 3 duck eggs = 4 hen eggs). Goose eggs were even more unfamiliar to me, but the prospect of cooking with one was quite exciting! Armed with the knowledge that a goose egg is equal to 3 hen eggs and the advice that I would really need to whack the shell to get it to break, I hurried back to the kitchen.

P4190059 If 1 goose egg = 3 hen eggs, then by my calculations I would need a hen egg too. In my haste to get started, I mixed the beaten egg with the butter. This was the source of my second problem. I should have creamed the butter and sugar, not the egg, I must have written it down wrongly. Luckily, I saw the magimix at this stage so the egg, butter and sugar, were duly blitzed. The third problem, was slightly more serious: an absence of self-raising flour. OK, this should have been easily remedied, I just needed some plain flour and baking powder, easy when you’ve got plain flour (how could I possibly be this disorganised?). A root-around in the cupboard and I found some local stone-ground flour - great! After sifting the flour to remove some of the coarse bits and adding the baking powder, I was back on-track. Making a cake really shouldn’t have been this difficult. The mixture rose wonderfully, but then I couldn’t get the sponge out of the tins, why had I even started baking this morning? I’d greased them thoroughly, but next time I’ll use greaseproof paper in the bottom.

P4190064 The stone-ground flour gave the sponge a coarser texture than usual and I felt the sponge was a little too dry and crumbly (I think I may have cooked it for a few minutes too long). The result was certainly not the prettiest of cakes I’ve ever made, but it tasted good. With the number of things which wrong, I couldn’t really have ask for anything more – especially as most of my problems were brought on by me, and me alone! (You’ll be glad to know I’ve now stocked-up on both plain and self-raising flour).

Apart from the sugar, all of the ingredients turned out to be Cumbrian: the butter and the damson cheese were bought from local producers at Damson Day, the eggs were from the hens and geese behind the house and the flour was from a local mill. This wasn’t the original aim of making the cake, but it was a wonderful side-product of my comedy of errors!


8oz butter (at room temperature)

8oz sugar

8oz self-raising flour

4 hen eggs (or one goose egg + one hen egg)

2oz butter (at room temperature)

4oz icing sugar

a few tbsp of jam

Method (this is what I should have done – thanks mum!)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together, add half the egg and a tablespoon of flour.
  3. Then fold in the flour, this is important as it keeps the sponge fluffy.
  4. Split the mixture between two sponge tins (lined with greaseproof paper) and put in the oven until risen and firm to touch, about 20-25 mins.
  5. Turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool.
  6. Make the butter icing by mixing the remaining butter and the icing sugar.
  7. Smooth the butter icing onto one half of the sponge, spread the jam on top of the icing, and then place the second half of the sponge on top. Dust with a pinch of icing sugar.
  8. Enjoy with a cup of tea.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Garlic Day – Wild garlic pesto recipe

P4180041 Following on from Damson Day, today marked Garlic Day. Wild garlic is just starting to come into flower, and like Damson Day, Garlic Day seems to celebrate the beginning of the season. We have many pockets of wild garlic, in slightly damp, wooded areas in the lanes around us. One, which is just off of the route I drive through each day, is ideal for stopping at on my way home to grab some leaves to add to a salad.

Using the wild garlic l gathered yesterday, and some from closer to home, I made a super-quick wild garlic pesto. I made this pesto into a creamy sauce, added some left-over chicken and served it between homemade sheets of pasta with the wild garlic flowers pressed in dough. A very ‘garlicky’ meal to celebrate the day!

Pesto recipe


15gr wild garlic leaves

5gr fresh basil leaves

15gr parmesan, chopped into small cubes,

P419007715gr pine nuts

70ml olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. Roughly chop, or rip, the garlic and basil leaves.
  2. Put the cheese and nuts in a magimix for a few seconds until both are chopped.
  3. P4190080Add the leaves and blitz until all the ingredients are combined.
  4. Add the olive oil and the salt and pepper and blitz for a few seconds.
  5. Using a spatula, transfer the pesto into a jar and top up with more oil so that mixture is covered.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Damson Day and Almond Ice Cream

P4180018 Today was Damson Day in the Lyth valley. We found out about the day earlier in the week and thought it would be fun to go along. Admittedly, I was a little unsure as to why Damson Day was being held in April, surely it should be when the fruit is harvested in late summer? My neighbour then pointed out that it was to celebrate the blossom on the trees.

In years gone by, people used to gather in the Lyth Valley each spring to see the blanket of white blossom in valley from the damson orchards. In recent years, Damson Day has been held by the Westmorland Damson Association to help promote the resurrection of the damson orchards and raise awareness of the small deep purple fruit, which resembles a small dark plum. Damsons are commonly used to make all sorts of jams, cheeses, jellies, gins, syrups and wines. They are also used in meat dishes, especially alongside game, duck and pork. But one of the best things about them is that the trees are extremely hardy and survive the strong cumbrian winds without a problem!

P4180015 We set out this morning to the farm which hosts Damson Day, expecting a small affair, only to find it was packed with people! A small farm, with it’s buildings and associated fields, was filled with stalls selling all sorts of damson produce, other locally produced goods, various crafts stalls and demonstrations including spinning, rope making, basket making and you could even make your own besom broom (like a witch’s broomstick!).

P4180003 The only food and drink stalls were: a local brewery, a soup and sandwich stall organised by the local school and beef stew stall. All of which looked wonderful! We opted for sandwich and cake, with the sandwich filling being local cheese and damson chutney, it was delicious. It was also refreshing to only have good quality, wholesome food available.

P4180011 After finding a quiet spot on which to sit down and munch our sandwiches, I found a solitary seat in the marquee for the cookery demonstration. This was a total surprise. The demonstration was about black pudding and scrambled eggs! Black pudding is something I’ve always avoided because I don’t like the idea P4180009of it, but, after being told about the ingredients (onion, herbs, spices, barley, salt, etc), the history of it and the nutritional qualities I plucked-up the courage to try some. It’s not something I’ll be eating all the time, but it was not as bad as I thought it would be!  


P4180022Desperate to escape the crowds, we set-off down the narrow lanes to explore the surrounding area and the damson orchards. The blossom really is blissfully beautiful, especially against the spindly damson trees.

(I also found some wild garlic ready for Garlic Day tomorrow!)


P4180012Although there were no damsons for sale (wrong time of year - I’ll have to wait until later in the summer for those) I did buy some damson syrup. As soon as we got home I set about making almond ice cream for after supper. We had this drizzled with a little bit of the syrup. A perfect end to a really special day.

Almond Ice cream


1 pint of double cream

250ml semi-skimmed milk

1 tsp of vanilla extract

6 egg yolks

40 gr caster sugar

2 tsp of almond extract



  1. P4180049 Put the cream, milk and vanilla in a heavy based saucepan and warm gently.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the egg yolks and the sugar together. When the cream is hot, but just below the boil, add this to the eggs, whisking continuously. Then, using a spatula return all of the mixture to the pan and continue to heat.
  3. Stir the mixture until it begins to thicken. However, you only want it to just coat the back of a spoon.
  4. Once it has reached this point, tip the mixture into a clean bowl and place this bowl in a sink of cold water which reaches about half-way up the bowl.
  5. P4180050 Leave the bowl in the sink for about 30 mins, then transfer it to the fridge to finish cooling completely (about another hour).
  6. Add the almond extract and stir well. Tip the mixture into the ice cream maker.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Apple and cinnamon hot cross buns - recipe

P4120192 Life still seems like it is a bit of a rollercoaster, I’m desperately trying to catch-up with everything which has been put to one side over the last few months like bills (oops!), cleaning, work, seeing friends and trying to spend a bit of time relaxing. Things are slowly coming together and beginning to settle again.

Despite the busyness, I couldn’t possibly let Easter pass without some baking, so what better to make than hot cross buns!

This recipe is a slight variation on the Richard Bertinet’s recipe in last month’s Sainbury’s magazine. I really like M&S apple and cinnamon hot cross buns, so I thought I’d try to make my own using this recipe as the base. The result was good!

Don’t expect these for breakfast (unless you get up at 4am). I started at about 8.30 am and we ate the first one about 3pm.


500gr strong bread flour

60gr butter, cut into small cubes

7gr dried yeast

80gr caster sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tbs mixed spice

2 tbs ground cinnamon

175gr sultanas

75gr dried apple rings, chopped

3 eggs

250ml milk

50gr plain flour


  1. Rub the butter into the bread flour in a mixing bowl until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Warm the milk so that you can hold your little finger in it.
  3. Stir in the yeast, 40gr sugar and salt.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the dried fruit with the spices so that they become completely coated. Add this to the flour mixture.
  5. Add the milk and 2 eggs and mix them with your finger tips. When they are completely combined you should end up with a really sticky dough. Turn this out onto a lightly-floured surface (but don’t add any more flour until I tell to you to!).
  6. Knead the dough for about 15 mins by pulling, stretching, pushing the heel of your hand into the dough and slamming the dough onto the surface. (The slamming part I found quite therapeutic – especially as I had some bad dreams last and was in a strange mood this morning).
  7. You’ll know when the dough is ready as it will no longer be sticky, but smooth. It shouldn’t stick to the board/work surface. You can now add a little bit of flour, shape the dough into a ball, place this back in the mixing bowl, cover with a clean tea-towel and place in a warm place to rest for a couple of hours.
  8. When the dough has risen, split it into 16 pieces and make each one into ball. Place these close together on a baking tray. Take the last eggs (beaten) and brush on to the balls of dough (keep any remaining egg, we’ll use it later!). Cover. Leave to rest again somewhere warm (I took them outside in the sunshine)for at least an hour and half, or until the balls start to squish into one another on the tray.
  9. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius.P4120173
  10. Mix the plain flour with 2 tbls of water, adding the water slowly, until a paste is formed. Transfer the paste to a piping bag (or a plastic food bag with the end snipped off) and pipe crosses on the tops.
  11. Place in the oven for 15 mins.
  12. Lastly, you need to make the glaze. Place the remaining 40gr sugar with 40ml of water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Don’t let it boil for too long, just a minute or two (mine turned to caramel because I let it boil too long…)
  13. When the buns are cooked, brush the sugar glaze on top, then remove to a wire rack to cool.
  14. Serve warm, cut in half with butter!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

In the bag…Bacon, Leek and Cheese Tart

This is a very, very late entry to the ‘In the Bag’ event hosted by ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’ and ‘A Real Epicurean’, but when I made this tart this morning, I couldn’t resist!!

My partner got back yesterday from a week skiing in France (lucky thing!), and returned with a ton of cheese in his suitcase! So, combining some of the cheese with the bacon and leeks I picked up from the farmer’s market P4050148-1yesterday, I  made one of my favourite lunchtime tarts…

We took this to the beach and had a wonderful picnic in the sunshine. It feels very strange, but very nice, to actually have my weekends back!

Bacon, Leek and Cheese Tart


250gr puff pastry

120gr leeks (cut into sticks)

60gr butter

130gr bacon (chopped into 1cm squares)

60gr cheese (grated), I used Beaufort, but Gruyere or anything else that needs using-up is fine!

2 eggs

100ml double cream

A pinch of dried thyme


  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius.P4050137
  2. Spray or wipe a loose-bottomed flan tin with oil.
  3. Roll out the pastry and place in the tin. Put some greaseproof paper on top, followed by some baking beans. Place in the oven for 20 mins.
  4. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the leeks and cook for about 15 mins.
  5. P4050135When the leeks are soft, remove from the pan and drain on kitchen-paper. Add the bacon to the same pan, turn-up the heat and fry for about 5 mins until crispy.
  6. Mix the eggs with the cream, thyme and some salt and pepper.
  7. After removing the greaseproof pastry and beans from the pastry case add the leeks and bacon.
  8. Pour over the egg mixture and top with the cheese.
  9. Place in the oven for 20 mins, or until the tart is set.


Friday, 3 April 2009


Hello! I feel awful that it’s taken me so long to get round to writing this – I’ve not really wanted to go near my computer…

The thesis was finally submitted on Tuesday morning after some last-minute hiccups! Hurrah! I’ve been a walking zombie since then, and I was straight back to work on Wednesday morning.

I want to say a huge ‘thank you’ for all the supportive messages I have received over the last few weeks, I’ve really appreciated them. So, here’s a list of everyone I want to say a special ‘thank you’ to, it’s in no particular order. I’m pretty sure I’ve included everyone, but if you’ve been missed off, just let me know!

5 Star Foodie

Oyster Food and Culture

Laura at The Spiced Life 

The Cottage Small Holder

Giz and Pyschgrad at Equal Opportunity Kitchen

Julia at A Slice of Cherry Pie

Suzie at Essentially Healthy Food

Lucy at Teen Baker

Jules at Domestic Goddess in Training

Claire at Purely Food


Mr and Mrs Dirty Boots at A Self Sufficient Life


Holler at Tinned Tomatoes

Femin Susan at Vegetable Art

Louise at A View from Carmine Superiore (you won’t believe how many time I looked at your picture of ‘the devil’s in the detail’!)


Christelle at Easy Does It

Ivy at Kopiaste and BloggerAid (thank you for your patience concerning the recipe!)


Talking (or writing) of BloggerAid, most of my time since submitting the thesis (between sleeping and working) has been spent finalising my recipe for the BloggerAid Recipe Book, admittedly submitted somewhat belatedly!        

Mint Chocolate Rice Pudding


Here’s a picture to whet your appetite, but if you want to know the secret of the recipe you’ll have to buy the recipe book!!! All the profits from the sale of the recipe book go to the World Food Programme’s project, School Meals:

Among the poor, there is often not enough food at home, and most schools in developing countries lack canteens or cafeterias. School meals are a good way to channel vital nourishment to poor children. Having a full stomach also helps them to concentrate better on their lessons. In countries where school attendance is low, the promise of at least one nutritious meal each day boosts enrolment and promotes regular attendance. Parents are motivated to send their children to school instead of keeping them at home to work or care for siblings. In the poorest parts of the world, a school feeding programme can double primary school enrolment in one year. Among the key beneficiaries are girls, who otherwise may never be given the opportunity to learn” (

It’s a great project to support, and from some of the other photo’s posted on other people’s blogs, it promises to hold some wonderful recipes. So, if anyone’s thinking of Christmas presents already… I think the aim is to have it available Nov/Dec-time. Watch this space, or take a peek at the BloggerAid website for further updates.

I’m off now to go and start catching-up on all of your recent blog posts, get some sleep and then heading to the farmers’ market in the morning. I can’t wait!