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Tracy’s Carrot Cake

This is a classic carrot cake recipe from my very dear friend Tracy. My family and I have been making this for literally decades, and I think it’s the best one ever. It always works, and it’s always loved by everyone.

As written out by Tracy. I learned recently that ‘soft cheese’ ie Philadelphia, is not really cream cheese, and proper cream cheese will make a a thicker icing. I will try to get hold of some next time.

It’s easy to make too. The dry flour mixture goes in the bowl, and then the sugar, oil and eggs are mixed in to make a smooth, thick batter. At this point it doesn’t look like a cake batter, but do not worry! Once the carrots, pineapple, walnuts and coconut are mixed in the batter loosens up.

Nowadays it seems to be very difficult to get tinned crushed pineapple, so I use pineapple chunks and then chop them after they’re drained.

I’ve always made this in a 13” x 9” tin but my sister makes it in 2 x 8” round tins and sandwiches them with the cream cheese frosting.

As you can see I don’t grease and flour the tin, but line it with baking parchment.

It’s so full of carrots, pineapple and walnuts that you can kid yourself it is healthy. Of course it’s also full of sugar… but hey – it’s a special occasion.

We didn’t manage to get all the candles lit! They kept blowing out. Next time I’ll get those candles that re-light themselves.
It didn’t last long!
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Blueberry muffins for a Sunday breakfast

The best thing about baking at home is that you can change things around to suit your own taste. You know exactly what’s gone into your creation, and there’s no hidden chemical nasties. Back in 2019 I wrote a post about blueberry muffins which you can read here.

Today’s blueberry muffin recipe is basically the same one, but different because I used fresh blueberries (instead of frozen) and rapeseed oil instead of butter. I also halved the sugar, and didn’t top with anything (in the last post I topped with cinnamon and Demerara sugar).

Here is the basic muffin recipe that makes 12 ( it is from Joy of Cooking):

Put 12 paper muffin cups in the muffin tin and pre heat the oven to Mark 6 or 200* C.

In one bowl whisk/combine the dry ingredients:

2 cups flour; 1 tbsp baking powder; 1/2 tsp salt

In another bowl whisk/combine the wet ingredients:

2 large eggs; 1 cup milk; 1/3 cup sugar (the recipe was twice that – this is how much I used); 4 tbsp rapeseed oil; 1 tsp vanilla

Add the wet ingredients to the dry, combining lightly, there should still be a few lumps. Add 1 1/2 cups of blueberries. Put the batter in the muffin cups, and bake in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes until the cake tester comes out clean. Today it took a bit longer than 15 minutes. Without fruit it might be quicker. Let stand in the tin for 3 minutes before removing and cooling a on a rack. Best eaten fresh, but can be frozen, or warmed for a few seconds in the microwave the next day.

They are quick to make, and very tasty to eat!

Juicy blueberries!

Running update: I am trying to increase the distance I am running as it has slipped a bit in the last few months. In 2019 I ran a half marathon every month – give or take – sometimes it was 10 miles, and sometimes 16. So on Friday I ran 19.5 km, going along quite a long section of the canal towpath in Greenford – where I came upon a barrier across the path. I really didn’t want to go the long way round so I tried to squeeze past. Definitely NOT a good idea as I managed to poke a hole in my leg on a piece of wire. As it was bleeding quite a lot I had to squeeze back again and make an even longer detour to the pharmacy to get some plasters! Anyway – lesson learned – follow the signs.

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Waste not want not! Buttermilk Scones

If you look closely as the photo of the ingredients you may notice that the best before date on the buttermilk pot was 27/12 – in the year 2021! Yes that’s right – 18 weeks ago. I am a great believer in the look, smell and taste test, and when I opened this pot of buttermilk, lurking in the fridge behind a jar of pickle, it looked all right, smelled all right and tasted all right! Scones are so easy and quick, and can be frozen very successfully so I made a batch.

I used a recipe from the BBC Good Food site which you can find by clicking here. I didn’t use a food processor, I rubbed the butter in by hand because I prefer it and it’s easier to wash up.

Before they went in the oven!

Scones are so delicious. Although it’s traditional to have them with cream and jam in the classic ‘cream tea’ they are also very nice with butter, or even just jam. In 2019 I wrote a post about a proper cream tea, complete with homemade jam – you can read it here. I used a different recipe this time, but they are all very similar really. Today’s recipe used quite a bit more sugar – recipes can be adapted so feel free to reduce the amount of sugar. Next time I would use less sugar as I found these quite sweet.

First batch out of the oven – a little pale. The next lot stayed in a couple of minutes more.

Don’t forget that the ‘best before’ date is just an indicator. It does NOT mean that the food is unusable after this date! Use your taste buds and common sense my friends!

Beautifully risen and fluffy.

Frozen scones should be defrosted, and then warmed gently in the oven to recreate that ‘just baked’ taste.

Too eager, too warm! Collapsed under the knife. But still delicious with home made strawberry and gooseberry jam.

What’s your favourite scone recipe? Perhaps a cheese or other savoury scone is more your thing? Cheese scones go really well with a bowl of soup for a very satisfying lunch. Maybe I’ll try them next!

Fluffy and soft.
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Lemon-almond-olive oil buns

I’ve made these buns before, and I wrote about them here. Today I made them with Portuguese olive oil instead of Spanish. I think they came out a little heavier than last time, although it’s hard to remember!

The Portuguese olive oil was special, extra virgin and unfiltered, from the harvest of 2021. Full of flavour, you can almost just drink it neat.

Before
And after!
I glazed the buns with a lemon water icing.

The recipe can be found on this lovely Spanish recipe website. The recipe is for one cake – it was my idea to make it into small buns. I have just had another look through the site, and it has some yummy sounding recipes that I’d like to try.

The original post (2019) was full of photos from our holiday in Majorca. This time I’m going to show you some recent photos that showcase Spring!

Fresh new water lilies in the WaterLily House at Kew. Every year the pond is emptied and cleaned, and then restocked with new plants.
Lilac – the scent is so amazing
Tulips at Kew
Hanwell locks on a bright spring morning

PS. I am still running! Just not quite as much as usual – I seem to be doing a lot of walking lately. You can read about some of my walks on my other blog: Walking the London Loop. I also have a little plan up my sleeve for my running journey – and hope to write about it soon!

Bake for Ukraine – Sochniki

I am sure that many many people around the world are shocked and horrified at the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent devastation of people’s lives, and the tearing apart of families. It is easy to feel helpless faced with such an enormous tragedy.

Living in London with neighbours from all over the world, it is hard for me to see people at work, in the local shops, friends and family upset, sad, angry and quite frankly heartbroken by what is happening.

As well as donating money to charities such as the Red Cross or Unicef I can bake. For this post I decided I would bake a typical Ukrainian pastry: sochniki. Simple ingredients, an easy technique and a delicious pastry to enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea. The recipe is from this website, check it out for more authentic Ukrainian recipes. There’s a hashtag doing the rounds on social media – #cookforukraine, and a related JustGiving page raising money for Ukraine. Here is the link to the page.

All the ingredients – except some icing sugar which I forgot to put in the shot.
Before they went in the oven
And after they came out!
Sweet pastry filled with a not too sweet cheese filling. Ypou could add a little grated lemon rind for extra flavour. Or maybe some rum soaked sultanas?
Field of sunflowers (photo from this website) Sunflower seeds and oil are a major export from Ukraine
Beautiful sunflowers – the national flower of Ukraine

Let’s hope that this awful time is over soon.

Nadiya’s Banana Thyme Loaf Cake

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Here is another recipe for banana bread/cake! This time it is from the lovely Nadiya Hussain, who won the 2015 series of Great British Bake Off. I was really intrigued by the addition of thyme, and also the fact that the ingredients include olive oil, and no eggs.

Mmm caramel, yum

So I set to. The cake was not a total success. But not an unmitigated failure either. And I know where I went wrong, and it’s totally my fault, not the recipe!

All the ingredients for the loaf cake.
Mixing in the milk and olive oil.

Gathering everything together before I started I was pleased that I already had a half a pot of double cream for the caramel. And exactly 4 small bananas, at the perfect level of ripeness for banana bread. However. I did not have any self raising flour. Oh well, I thought, not a disaster, I will use baking powder. But. No baking powder.

Before it went in the oven

At this point it was 8.30 on a Sunday morning, pouring with rain and blowing a hooley. And I was still in my pyjamas! I did not feel like going down to the shop just to get some baking powder. So – I will make my own baking powder. I looked up the proportions of bicarbonate of soda to cream of tartar (1:2 if you’re wondering). I calculated how much I would need for 300g of flour. All good. Oh but, no but, no. Somehow I managed to put in a little too much raising agent, which meant that the the cake rose and rose far too quickly and then sank like a soggy stone!

Before the caramel
With a nice thick caramel ‘drizzle’

The outcome was a loaf cake with a deep well along the middle. But the caramel needs a place to settle, right?! And the caramel is good! So, although it definitely didn’t come out as the handsomest cake ever, which is a shame as the sliced banana on top does look pretty cool, it was very tasty. We decided it tasted a bit like those yummy toffee bananas you get as pudding in Chinese restaurants.

With an extra dollop of caramel!

And the thyme? It’s very subtle, but there is a hint of herbal tang and aroma which lifts this cake from the ordinary. I will have to make it again, with a proper flour/ raising agent mix.

You can find the recipe on the BBC website by clicking this link. (You really need to click on it to see what it is supposed to look like!) I didn’t change anything much (except the crucial specified flour 😂). You could make this without the caramel – but don’t. The salted caramel lifts it to another level.

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Irish Barmbrack – a tasty fruit loaf

I have made a very similar loaf to this before – Welsh Bara Brith, which I wrote about in this post here. This version was in the Guardian Food section on Saturday and you can find it online next week, unless you happen to have bought a hard copy today, or subscribe. (As soon as I can I will add the link.) The article discussed different versions, and then came up with a ‘classic-best-recipe’. In Ireland this fruit loaf was traditionally made at Halloween, but nowadays is popular all year round. Like bara brith it was originally a yeasted bread, and some recipes still use this method. However it’s usually made as a quick bread now with baking powder.

Chock full of fruit

Ingredients

200g currants

200g sultanas

300ml strong tea

50ml whisky – or an extra 50ml tea

25g mixed peel – roughly chopped if it’s not already

25g glacé cherries – quartered

25g chopped blanched almonds (texture) – or I used ground almonds

150g light muscovado sugar (I used 130g of a mix of dark brown and golden caster sugar because that’s what I had)

210g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mixed spice

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg, beaten

Method

Soak the sultanas and currants in the tea (and whisky) for at least 6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180 deg C (160 fan) Gas 4. Grease and line a 13cm x 20cm loaf tin. Stir the peel, cherries and almonds into the soaked fruit.

In another bowl which together the sugar, flour, baking powder, spices and salt. The stir into the fruit with the beaten egg. Tip the mixture into the loaf tin and bake for 90 minutes, covering the top after an hour if it’s getting too brown. A skewer or cake tester should come out clean.

Leave for 15 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.

In the recipe as written there is an optional sugar glaze but I really don’t think it needs it. The main difference between this recipe and the Welsh one is the amount of fruit, which is way more in the Irish version. It comes out really squishy and damp. And yummy! The spice is just right, and with a little bit of butter it makes a very delicious tea time treat.

I’ve also been thinking it would make a good snack when on a long walk. Which brings me to my new venture – I’ve started a new blog called Walking the London Loop, which is all about – well you can guess! If you have the time and inclination take a look.

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Happy New Year!

So it’s 2022. Yay! And traditionally it’s the time to look back on the last year. I do wish I had managed to write a few more blog posts, but I have been so busy, and at times quite unmotivated if I am honest. But there have been many good things this year. I managed two trail runs which were a lot of fun. And I also did the wonderful Ealing half marathon, as well as the Ealing parks challenge which was wonderful – getting into all the corners of Ealing borough that I would never normally go to.

A corner of Acton I probably won’t ever visit again! 🤣 (shame about the graffiti…)

As always I feel grateful to live in an area where there are so many nice places to run that are in green spaces – right on the doorstep!

Sunrise over the river Brent and the allotments

I was very lucky to be able to get away to the beautiful Isle of Arran in July for a walking holiday. I feel so grateful that my friend and I were able to do that, given the horrible winter we seem to be having lately. Thinking about all the lovely things that happened in 2021 certainly picks me up when things feel hard.

Lochranza on the Isle of Arran.

I also had a holiday in Suffolk, and ran some familiar routes there. The weather was good, and it was lovely to be by the sea with good friends for a few days.

The old lifeboat station in Aldeburgh

I have not done so much baking this year, or perhaps I just haven’t written about it as much! I’ve made some nice things and some not so nice (!). Highlights were the apple buns and the magic custard cakes!

My husband’s (the love of my life) 60th birthday cake – a truly scrumptious chocolate layer cake – the filling is like a chocolate mousse.

In May all the family managed a few days near Buxton in Derbyshire when the babies – my beautiful grandsons – met for the first time since being born on the same day in 2020!

They’re walking and talking now! (And they have hair.) Love them so much.

Today was the first day of a new year, so time to start as you mean to go on – a nice easy 6km run around one of my favourite parks – Pitshanger Park. It was so warm I went out in shorts and a t-shirt and was still too hot!

On my run today – a photo of one of my favourite oak trees, that lost a major branch in a storm a couple of years ago.

I haven’t yet decided on any ‘challenges’ for 2022… right now there’s enough going in my life without any more challenge thank you very much!

The medal haul from 2021 – plus that ridiculously massive one that hangs from a hook out in the garden!

I am hoping to write a bit more regularly – I’ve been sharpening the pencils and filling the inkwells in readiness.

Happy New Year to all my readers! Wishing you all good health and happiness. 😊

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Nigella’s Banana Bread

I make no apology for writing yet again about banana bread. Since 2019, when I started writing this blog, I have tried out several different banana bread recipes: a classic banana bread from the Little Red Barn Baking Book, another classic banana bread by Felicity Cloake, a marbled chocolate- banana bread, a spiced banana bread (using garam masala to spice it up) and a blackcurrant banana bread.

Three of these recipes were baked during the 2020 lockdown baking mania that seized people across the nation. Banana bread was a popular choice for many – but why?! I asked the oracle known as Google. It gave me some answers, which I am sure you would be able to give yourself if you thought about it for just a few minutes. Banana bread is easy. It is delicious. It is relatively cheap to make. Everyone always seems to have a few bananas going black in the bowl that nobody wants to eat. It is versatile – just look at the versions I have already tried – and now I’m going to give you another!

An article in The Grocer about baking in 2020 has some fascinating statistics about who baked what in lockdown. For example banana bread (or similar loaf cake) was baked by far more people in London and the south east – 45% of bakers – compared to just 24% of bakers in the north west of England! And there’s a great article here about the psychology of baking things like banana bread, especially in times of national and personal stress.

21 years old and still a constant go-to recipe book
Can you see that left over rum in the little bowl top left? Cook’s perks!

So – let’s get to this iteration of the wonderful thing that is banana bread. Nigella Lawton’s How to be a Domestic Goddess is 21 years old now, but the recipes still feel up to date, and like modern classics. This banana bread has rum soaked sultanas and walnuts. I made a tropical variation of this a week or so ago, with chopped flaked coconut and soft dried pineapple. It was good. But the original is even better! It’s really just delicious. That’s the reason banana bread is so popular.

Here’s the recipe. I grease the tin and line with a strip of baking parchment. And don’t throw out the drained rum! Drink it!
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Cherry and walnut cake

What do you do when you’re awake at 4am (again…)? Well why not make a cake! Recently I have started following a great blog called Eating with the Ancestors where the writer is gradually unearthing her great grandmothers’ recipe books, researching their lives, and cooking some of the recipes. The latest recipe was for a pound cake. Pound cake was traditionally made with a pound of flour, butter, eggs and sugar – plus any flavourings you like. It’s a versatile recipe and can be used as a blueprint for many different cakes. A couple of weeks ago I made a seed cake which was basically a version of pound cake with caraway seeds. Caraway is quite an old fashioned flavour, and took me right back to childhood, as seed cake was something my grandmother made.

Seed cake – flavoured with caraway seeds

Nowadays a cake made with a pound of flour (about 450g) would be pretty enormous (or perhaps they made two?) and it’s more usual to find a recipe based around half a pound, or 200-220g. Looking in the cupboard I found some glacé cherries and some mixed peel, plus some walnuts. I used this recipe as the inspiration and tweaked it a bit. I added chopped peel, a few more cherries than stated (might as well use up the pot!) and also a couple of tablespoons of ground almonds for texture as well as flavour. And I used butter not margarine – again for flavour.

Top tips: if your eggs are straight from the fridge it’s a good idea to bring them to room temperature – they beat up better. If you don’t have time for that then put them in a bowl of tap hot water (you don’t want to cook them) for a few minutes – while you get everything else ready. The texture of the cake batter should be quite soft but not runny. To see if you have to add a bit more liquid – milk in this recipe – get a good dollop of mixture on your wooden spoon and tap sharply on the side of the bowl. If the mixture plops off nicely then you are good to go. If it’s stubborn then add a little more milk. Just a little or it will turn into pancake batter!

I’ve made cherry cake before – see the post and recipe here – and sometimes just cherries is what you want. Today I thought it would be nice to have some walnuts too. One of the advantages of a pound cake, compared to a sponge, is that they tend to keep moist for longer. They’re also denser than a sponge because they contain more flour proportionally. They’re ‘store cupboard’ cakes, and in my mind a good every day sort of cake. Not that I eat cake every day!

This type of cake is good with a cup of tea or coffee. Madeira cake, which again is based on a pound cake flavoured with lemon, was enjoyed with a glass of Madeira wine and was popular in the nineteenth century.

I think the cherries may have sunk to the bottom.

Once you’ve got the hang of the basic recipe it is easy to make it your own with whatever you like, or whatever is to hand. And it is such an easy recipe there’s no reason not to try it this very weekend!