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.

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. 😊

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!

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!

Hello! I’m back with spiced apple and rum buns!

Dear loyal readers, it’s been 2 months since the last post. Where does the time go?! I have been running, and I have been baking – just not writing much (anything). There have been a few apple crumbles, a very simple apple pie with shop puff pastry, some disastrous Polish cheese buns that were almost inedible (I think I just rushed the rising bits) and now continuing the September apple season baking theme I’ve made Benjamina Ebuehi’s spiced apple and rum buns from the Guardian.

Helen and Emily’s very own apple and raisin plait. So easy – stewed apple and shop puff pastry!
Epic fail. Inedible. Look lovely – went in the bin!

I love apples, especially English apples. Sadly only about 31% of apples sold in the UK are grown in the UK. Such a shame because English apples (in my opinion) have the best taste, and we used to have a huge range of cooking apples and eaters. Modern tastes and long shelf requirements have reduced the range available. For my buns I used two apples from my garden (unknown variety) and two Worcester apples grown in the garden of England – Kent.

I was feeling a bit apprehensive about making these buns since my last attempt at yeasted buns ended up in the bin. And while making them the filling seemed like a lot for the amount of dough – wouldn’t it all end up really soggy?! But I already had the spiced rum in the cupboard so – nothing ventured, nothing gained – this recipe was a must for today.

Before baking
And after

And – it’s officially carb loading day today as the Ealing half marathon is less than 24 hours away now! Can’t wait! Look out for the race report..

I try and learn from my mistakes so these buns have taken me several hours today on and off. Started with the dough at 8.30 – let it rise until I got back from a (gentle) session with Quit the Gym in Lammas Park. So exciting to see all the prep for the Half Marathon as we did our lunges and squats, bicep curls and burpees, right by the finish line! The wonderful Sandra and Christina (race directors) were right there raising the actual finish arch.

Then back home to make the fillings. Then time to empty the dishwasher and tidy up a bit while they cool. Then assemble the buns – oh my goodness, sticky! And a quick FaceTime in the middle of it all with my beautiful grandson!

Finally into the oven while I make the rum syrup for drenching the amazing-smelling gorgeous-looking (yes yes I know I made them and I should be modest but really..) buns!

So how did those buns turn out? Well – they were great!

The secret with yeast baking is not to rush it. Pick a day when there’s time to really let them rise properly, take time with filling, rolling and twisting. It’s worth it!

It’s a winner Benjamina Ebuehi! Thanks for the recipe!

Cherry-berry pie

Two years ago I wrote about a cherry pie I made with morello cherries from my friend Margaret’s garden. I can’t believe it’s 2 years ago! This week Margaret kindly gave me some cherries again, and I made another pie. What is it about pie? Even the word pie is a good word, it feels warm to say. It conjures images of wholesomeness, of something that is more than just pastry and filling, more than just good to eat. Pie is going to make you happy, always.

Mmm cherries 🍒

I made a bigger pie this time, and augmented the cherries with strawberries and a few blackcurrants. I made the same quick flaky pastry using a mix of vegetarian fats this time – butter, Stork and Cookeen – what I had in the fridge really. No lard! Because I dislike overly sweetened food I didn’t add too much sugar, and the filling was pleasingly tart.

It was a good combination!
The pie says “eat me – and you will be happy!” Believe the pie – what it says is true.

Served with vanilla ice cream pie is one of life’s small joys. Homemade pie is even better. Fresh pie, just still warm, crispy pastry and juicy filling. Anything better?!

Thank you Margaret for the cherries, they always seem to inspire a pie!

Run for a bun!

Yesterday afternoon when I got home from running I decided I fancied a bun..I found a recipe for Norwegian Cinnamon Buns in Nigella’s How to be a Domestic Goddess. Now I usually don’t have any problems with recipes from this book, but although I followed the recipe exactly (unusual for me!) the dough was extremely liquid at the beginning. Not just sticky, I can deal with that, but actually so sloppy I had to resort to adding flour. I noticed today that on the website someone has commented on this, and said they use half the amount of milk.. I think I would try with less milk next time too.

How the ones in the recipe book look…
How mine looked..

However, that said – once I had got the dough to the right consistency they worked brilliantly! They did however take longer to bake fully than the recipe said. Perhaps this was because of the larger quantity of dough, or perhaps my dish was a bit smaller than hers, or perhaps it was because I used a glass dish instead of metal because I was too lazy to delve in the cupboard and the glass one was to hand…

Before..

And I forgot to line the dish with baking paper too – although I did grease it thank goodness. I don’t think the buns would have been easy to remove if I hadn’t done at least that bit!

There is something very comforting about the aroma of cinnamon, even more so when intertwined with the amazing smell of baking yeasted dough. Another comment on the website mentions cardamom, which is a very Scandinavian flavour, and would be very good here I think.

And after. Not quite as pretty as the picture in the book… but very tasty and that’s what matters right?

Baking with yeast is very satisfying and is honestly so easy. Yeasted dough is much more forgiving than pastry I think, as you can’t really overwork it. And can there be anything more yummy than a warm, fresh bun and a cup of coffee/tea? No.

Give it a go and let us know how it turns out!

Nigella’s Rhubarb Cornmeal Cake

My rhubarb plant is sprouting crazily as usual. It seems to be an early version as other members of my family are still waiting for their rhubarb to get big enough to pick. Nigella is right when she says that the early ‘forced’ rhubarb makes for a prettier cake, studded with pink chunks. One day I will get round to buying a rhubarb forcer and giving it a go myself. In the meantime I like the ordinary stuff, even it isn’t as pink and sweet!

Nigella’s recipe comes from How to be a Domestic Goddess. I am too lazy I’m afraid to write it out. Here is a photo of the page:

A less lazy blogger than me has written the recipe out here

The cornmeal gives a pleasing texture to this cake, contrasting with the soft and juicy rhubarb chunks. I added a little ginger as well as the cinnamon, and I think I would emphasise this flavour a bit more next time. In fact, while searching for the cake online I found a very nice sounding version at this website. Added almonds and spices such as cardamom, plus little chunks of crystallised ginger sound delicious! Another flavour that goes well with rhubarb is orange – which is also very much in season as the moment. I think I’m going to have try another iteration next weekend!

Even as it stands, plain and simple, this cake is very good. As Nigella points out it is a versatile cake, good for pudding, teatime and all other occasions in between and beyond. Plain and unadorned, or accompanied by cream (muscat-mascarpone cream if you are Nigella) or custard, rhubarb cake is moist and delicious served any way.

My cake took quite a bit longer to cook than recipe stated – I would advise testing regularly so that you don’t take it out of the oven too early.

Do you have a favourite rhubarb recipe? I’d love to know! Or perhaps you can’t stand it?! Give it a chance and try this cake 😊.

A little bit of this and a little bit of that

Is everyone feeling a bit ‘meh’ at the moment? I think a year in to this mess most of us are feeling a bit unmotivated, and basically down in the dumps at least some of the time. Me: “How are you feeling?” Person: “Oh well, ok, you know, [pause] ok.” That is – not really ok.

I haven’t written anything for the last three weeks, because sometimes I’m too busy, and sometimes, if I am honest, I’m just lacking the motivation. However I know that if I don’t get started again it will get harder. So today is a bit of an update, random bits and pieces of the last couple of weeks.

Lemon meringue pie instead of birthday cake! Not made by me but my talented son Jack. It was so good, sharp lemon and sweet meringue – perfect combo.
Spring time! Sunday run a couple of weeks ago down to the Town Wharf pub in Isleworth, by the river Thames. Can’t wait for the pubs to re-open…
Blackthorn blossom. Down by the river Brent in Greenford.
Before and after proper rice pudding. Goodness me this was truly special.
This was a mincemeat pie, with thin orange slices on top of the filling, and then topped with orange blossom flavoured meringue. Personally I thought it was too rich and a bit sickly – but it didn’t last long in this house!
The pond scrapes in Perivale Park early evening 14th March.
#nofilter – after work run this week. It really was glowing like this!
Today I ran 16km (10 miles) along the Thames path. This is the view towards Richmond bridge.

The last few weeks I have been trying to increase the distance of my long runs as I was due to do a real life actual 24km trail run in Suffolk at the end of April. Sadly this has been postponed until November.

Things to look forward to:

* Getting back outside for the wonderful Quit the Gym! After 29th March look out for us in Lammas Park, Ealing. Zoom gym just ain’t the same..

* Going to Suffolk (end of April) and running a half marathon, by myself…

*Running in the thirteen parks chosen by Ealing Half Marathon for the Queen of the Suburbs in April. This was such a lot of fun last September and I am so glad they’ve done it again!

*Final thing (for the moment – and the best thing) fingers crossed – end of May we get to see our eldest son, his partner and the baby who we haven’t seen since the beginning of September.

And of course, in between, lots more lovely runs watching spring springing. Keep on keeping on people!

New shoes and chocolate magic cake!

So – first. The chocolate magic cake. It seems I was definitely not the only person to have the idea that magic cake would be pretty good in chocolate, because when I searched the internet there were loads of versions! I found a lovely one at this website, with the amazing name of Unicorns in the Kitchen. And let me tell you – it is GOOD! If you haven’t tried a magic cake yet you really must soon. Like this week. Actually I’m really glad I found that website because it turns out that: “Unicorns in the Kitchen is your one-stop source for all of the best Persian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes.” Which is brilliant because I absolutely love this type of food. And now I’ve found another source of great recipes! Like this one for green lentil soup. Did you know that lentils and pulses are great at regulating blood glucose, keeping it balanced and level. Those glucose highs (and subsequent lows and crashes) are kept at bay by eating these complex carbs, which are also really good sources of protein.

Just look at those chocolatey layers. Yum.

Second subject – new shoes! Not too long ago I posted about my many running shoes. Well, I have had a major clear out since then, and got rid of several pairs of old shoes, and a couple of pairs that were actually not that worn out, but just didn’t fit or feel right. They all got recycled so it’s ok. Then I realised that I didn’t buy a single pair of new running shoes in 2020. And then I found out that I could get 30% off Adidas shoes with a code. Nothing to stop me. A few days later: I’m running in the lovely new bouncy shoes that are Adidas Solar Glide, and trying to avoid the muddy puddles because I don’t want to get them dirty! And I have another pair of Adidas Supernovas, but these are more summer shoes because they have mesh uppers which will keep my feet cool in hot weather.

Lovely new shoes!

Although I’ve worn other makes of shoes in the past, and do still have a great pair from Decathlon, I find that generally Adidas seem to fit my feet well. The best advice I ever heard, and what I advise people who ask, is that your shoes (any, not just running) should feel comfortable right from the start. There shouldn’t be any need to ‘wear’ or ‘break’ them in. If they don’t feel good when you first put them on then I would suggest think very carefully whether they’re the right ones before handing over your money.

Here are the Supernovas, ready for some warmer weather.

My new shoes took me on a 14km (8.6 miles) run this morning down to the River Thames and back. I have been trying to increase the distance on my long runs, because in a couple of months I have an actual real life run in Suffolk that was postponed last year. It looks as though it may be able to happen (fingers crossed) at the end of April. I entered for the long route which is 24km – yikes! It is possible however to change your mind before the day, or even on the day, so I may end up doing a shorter distance.

Half way at the river. It was quite cold today and a bit grey, as you can see.

I have also entered the Queen of the Suburbs challenge again! You may remember that this was a definite highlight of 2020, and I wrote about it here. This time there are 13 different parks to visit, in April. I can’t wait, and have already printed off the map and begun to think about how I’ll get to them all.

The days are getting noticeably longer now which is great. It’s nice to be able to run after work before it gets dark. Just a little warmer would be nice too! Although we’re not quite out of the woods yet it feels like a positive step having a real race in the diary.

Have a great week, and let me know if you try the magic cake!