The Friday Five – from home ground flour to dough and beyond


As Real Bread Week comes to a close for this year, it seemed appropriate to look at books to inspire great bread baking, and these take you from the very beginnings with great flour, all the way through to fancy endings.


The Essential Home Ground Flour Book - great cookbook gift for a food lover who likes to do it themselves


The Essential Home Ground Flour Book

Here’s something I’d never thought of doing at home. Probably because I still have visions of Windy Miller (apologies to those that didn’t have childhoods in the 70s) busy grinding my flour for me. But as an alternative to mass industrial milling, then this might be interesting to do, and be interesting to see how different any resulting bread was. Though I can’t see whether in the list of equipment need it starts with “first, build your windmill”. Hopefully not.


Toast - great cookbook gift for a food lover



And once you’ve done the grinding, the mixing and the baking, then toast is one of my favourite things to do with bread. This book covers things like bruschetta, open sandwiches and canapes, so not just instructions for making cheese on toast. I like both the writing style and the photography in this book, definitely makes me want to get in the kitchen.


War Time Breads and Cake - great cookbook gift for a nostalgia loving food lover

War-time Bread and Cakes

Bread has played such a staple role in our diets, and this is a great book for those food lovers and bakers with an interest in the history of food. There’s a whole section covering how to bake bread without white flour, and then further chapters on doughs with and without yeast. Whilst I don’t think the national loaf of rationing was ever going to win on the taste front, I’m quite intrigued to have a play with some of these recipes, knowing last year I had fun making boiled fruit cake from a Marguerite Patten recipe of the era.


The New Bread - great cookbook gift for an adventurous baking food lover


The New Bread

So, from the old to the new. If you didn’t think there was anything possibly new in bread, then this book claims to know otherwise. This is actually focused on gluten free baking, which on the bread front I’ve had some very mixed results. It mentions baking with rosehip flour, which I’ve not come across before at all, so fascinated by that. Overall a good book for either those looking for gluten free, or just curious and adventurous bakers looking for something a little different.


One Dough Ten Breads

One Dough. Ten Breads

This is a great book for someone who perhaps hasn’t done a lot of bread baking, as it takes you step by step through a basic dough and loaf, and then shows you how to step that basic recipe up to the next level. You might start out with a sandwich loaf but this book will have you making crackers, pizza and country-style breads by the end.


I think there is very little that beats the satisfaction of making bread at home. There’s the stress relief of all that kneading, the practising of patience waiting for it to prove, and the reward of the house smelling of baking bread. And then more patience of waiting for it to cool just a little when it comes out the oven so you can devour that first slice, covered in butter.

That’s why I’m never giving up bread.


Squires Shop – great online source for add on twiddly bits for baking


I came across Squires as a link from something else, and as often happens, have lost the original trail! But as I imagine there’ll be a great deal of baking coming up for the Jubilee, then might be worth a visit.

I really love this crown mould, which it says is for modelling paste but imagine could work with a few other things too:


Crown moulds from Squires Kitchen Shop


And this Meri Meri British Cupcake set is lovely:


Meri Meri British Cupcake Set


But I’d be just as happy with these!Appropriate cupcake cases for the Jubilee

So, if you’re struggling to find something locally for your street party or other Jubilee jamboree, then I can imagine that Squires is worth a look. Happy baking!


Making rhubarb lovable


Waiting for the cake to cool


We have the weekly contents surprise of our veg and fruit box from Soy Foods, which sometimes is great (fresh hazelnuts), sometimes is no surprise (more cauliflower) and sometimes just head scratching on how to make it into something that everyone here will eat.

And last week’s rhubarb is one of those. But then cake is one of those things that this house loves, so surely there had to be an answer there somewhere? Thanks to Pinterest, I came across a recipe for rhubarb, vanilla and soured cream cake, which sounded like it might do the trick. Except I lacked two of the ingredients, so this is a slight variation, being rhubarb and yogurt crumb cake.



Butter for greasing
275g rhubarb (untrimmed weight)
50g caster sugar
2 tsp plain flour
For the cake
6 tbsp Greek style yogurt
1 large free-range egg, plus 1 yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g plain flour
100g caster sugar
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
75g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g ground almonds or hazelnuts (I used a mix of both, as I had them both to hand)

For the crumbs
50g unsalted butter
25g light muscovado sugar
40g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g plain flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
Icing sugar for dusting


First, you need to make the crumbs (not bread, think crumble). Melt the butter in a small pan over a low heat. Remove from the heat, add both sugars and stir constantly until dissolved into a smooth, toffee-like sauce. Add the vanilla extract, pour into a small mixing bowl, stir in the flour and salt until it makes a stiff, biscuit-like dough. Press the dough firmly into the bottom of the bowl and put to one side to go cold.


Getting the base for the rhubarb cake right


Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C, then grease and line a shallow 20cm square, 5cm deep loose-bottomed cake tin with baking paper. Wipe the rhubarb stalks clean, trim off the ends, and cut into 2.5cm pieces, then put into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and flour, stir into the rhubarb and set aside, stirring now and then, until the flour and sugar mixture has become moist and clings to the rhubarb. Set aside.


Rhubarb, rhubarb. Best in cake I find.


Now start on the cake. Stir the Greek yogurt, egg, egg yolk and vanilla in a small bowl and sift the flour, sugar, bicarb, baking powder and salt into another bowl. Add the butter and mix (I used my Kenwood Chef, but you could use a hand-held electric mixer) until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the nuts, then gradually beat in the soured cream mixture until smooth.


Soured cream mixture in, cake batter ready for the tin

Spread the cake mixture into the base of the prepared tin, then scatter over the rhubarb mixture. Break the crumb mixture into hazelnut-size pieces (or smaller if you prefer) and scatter over the cake.


Rhubarb crumb cake ready for the oven


Bake for 40-45 minutes until golden and a skewer inserted into the cake comes away clean (don’t forget – if you hit a piece of rhubarb it will still be moist). Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then dust with icing sugar. You could serve it warm with cream or custard, but we just cut slices when it was cold.


The finished rhubarb crumb cake fresh out the oven



My new favourite brownie?


I make brownies quite a lot; they are often requested by my team when I say I’m going to bake, especially the peanut butter ones. But this week I’ve been making some for an 18th birthday that needed to be very chocolatey, no nuts and something a bit special. Which is how I came to be making a white chocolate and raspberry version and also salted caramel.


Salted caramel brownies

This may have been a little foolhardy, as I’d never made either variant before, but both seem to have come out okay. They were both variations on the same recipe, with the salted caramel being the simpler of the two. I did rather cheat on this one, as I added about three quarters of a teaspoon of fleur de sel to jar of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Rich Caramel Dipping Sauce. Swirling this over the top of the batter in the tin worked a treat though.


White chocolate & raspberry brownie


For those who asked though, here’s my recipe for the white chocolate and raspberry:

375g unsalted butter, room temperature

375g dark chocolate (I always use 70% cocoa, I like the richness)

500g golden caster sugar

6 large eggs (free range, preferably organic)

1 generous tablespoon vanilla extract

225 g plain flour

1 teaspoon salt

500g raspberries (fresh or frozen, depending on the season)

300g white chocolate, roughly chopped (I quite like a mix of larger chunks and finer pieces)


Tin about 33x23x5cm, greased and lined


Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan oven (unless it’s one like mine that cooks far too hot, in which case 150C).

In a large pan, melt together the plain chocolate and butter. Whilst that’s going on, whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla in bowl or wide-mouthed jug. Sift the flour into another bowl and add the salt.

Let the melted butter and chocolate mixture cool slightly, then beat in the eggs and sugar, then the raspberries and white chocolate chunks.  If you’re using frozen raspberries, I would defrost them first, and then drain them before adding in, otherwise there is too much liquid being added in.

Finally beat in the flour until smooth, and pour into the prepared tin.

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Keep an eye on this stage, you don’t want them to cook too much otherwise you lose the fudginess in the middle. Leave to cool in the pan for 5 minutes, and then turn out onto a cooling tray. Depending on how generous you are with your slicing, makes a good 36 pieces.

These keep well in an airtight tin for a couple of days. If you can get them to last that long! These are definitely my new favourite, and will definitely be making these again!


White chocolate & raspberry brownies


Hurray for National Baking Week!


What Sunday afternoons are made for whether or not you're a food lover


You might have gathered by now that I’m pretty keen on baking. I’ve written about the a to z of cookies, and unusual cake tins that I’m still not quite sure about. I’ve written about cake in far off places, and cake being at the heart of what it means to be home for me.

There’ve been new bakers like Baking Buddha and Edd Kimber, and old school like Mary Berry. There was baking for Christmas, baking for Easter, even baking for Halloween, which was definitely one of my favourites.

Basically, to me there is something suitable to bake every day, with whatever time you have available. My advice? Just bake, National Baking Week or not. You’ll feel better, and those on the receiving end will love you for it. Just don’t bake angry, makes for rubbish sponges!


The Friday Five – making time for tea


What Sunday afternoons are made for, especially for food lovers


I adore a proper tea, whether it’s a posh afternoon cream tea or a proper Yorkshire tea from childhood. If you don’t have time for a full lunch or dinner, then nothing to beat getting friends around for tea. Here’s five choices in case you’re lacking tea time inspiration.

Tea with Mrs Simkins: Delicious Recipes for Making a Meal Out of Tea Time – covering everything from the savouries to the sweet stuff, you couldn’t fault the selection to really make tea time a real event. It has ideas for a picnic tea, a cream tea, even a cricket tea and a relaxed chatty tea. There are hiking biscuits and marmalade cake, cheese spread and fish paste, and Welsh rarebit, one of my teatime faves.

Taking Tea with Alice: Looking-Glass Tea Parties & Fanciful Victorian Teas – I work with someone that I think would love this book. Alongside great recipes you get poetry, table settings and ideas for games as well, something to burn off the delicious food. Whimsical and a little different.

The Vintage Tea Party Book – I guess this is a more up to date, yet still vintage version of the Alice book, based on the “trendy London vintage scene” according the blurb. Tasty, unique and eclectic, but I still think you’d turn out some brilliant teas from this. It’s also a very beautiful looking book, with stunning illustrations and photographs. Some great sounding recipes too, like cherry and dark chocolate trifle shots or crab choux.

Tea with Bea: Recipes from Bea’s of Bloomsbury – I think I’ve featured this before, but going to do so again, if only on the basis that the cakes look so truly delicious. I wouldn’t know where to start: vanilla coconut cake with lemon curd and cheesecake filling, gingerbread Guinness cake with poached pears and cream cheese icing, or even the amaretto cheesecake with caramelized peaches. What’s not to love?

Scones – well, the best teas to me are the ones that include scones, and this book has them all. From the savoury world of the cheese scone and beyond, through to more unusual sweet scones, like the Christmas Cake Scone. Still, for me, you can’t beat a perfect fruit scone, or for a real treat, a cherry scone.

Whether you throw a tea party in the garden to make the most of the gorgeous weather most of us are supposed to have this weekend, or its a few weeks time around a roaring log fire, then I guarantee that those taking part will think it an incredible treat.


The gifts I’ve been waiting to write about


Fabulous baking hamper from Joules, perfect gift for every kind of baker from keen to novice


Many of you will know that in my day job I work for Boots, in something not even related to food (I look after the best interest of two fantastic beauty brands in our shops, this one and this one). But my desk until very recently was next to the Gift Food team. Which meant from about April onwards I’ve been seeing this year’s selection developing, and been getting very excited about some of them.

In fact, I’ve been practically sat on my hands waiting for them to be available so I could write about them, and now a lot of them are! So here’s what I can’t wait for, what’s on my list for various people, myself included:

* I love all the gifts that Joules have done with a food theme, but no surprises for guessing that the Brilliant Baking Hamper is top of my list. Beautiful metal hamper (which I so nearly took home one night when working late, obviously by accident) contains cookie cutters, stencils, cupcake cases, mixing bowl, cake boxes…in fact pretty much everything you’d need for a major baking session except the ingredients. The Joules range sold out really quickly last year, so I wouldn’t hang around on this one. At £8, the egg cup set would make a great stocking filler as well.

* I love measuring cups, but mine are very boring stainless steel ones. I could happily have them replaced by the hand decorated measuring cups from Rosie’s Pantry. Great for vintage lovers but who don’t like stuff that’s chipped or cracked.

* Fairtrade is looking very fair this year, with great tea, coffee or hot chocolate gifts to choose from. Given that they are only £10 each, and the famous Mix and Match three for two will be running, I would say these are worth buying as a great standby gift, as you’re bound to find someone that these will work for. Especially in a last minute panic situation!


And this is just what you can see at the moment, as there is more to come, which I’ll write about when it’s available. Meanwhile, see you in the queue for the Baking Hamper! Because, lets face it, three months today and it’s present opening time!


Baking the easy way but with taste


Baking Made Easy from Montezuma's - great gift for a food lover who'd like to bake with ease


We were joking about Shake a Cakes the other day, which would most definitely not be something I would suggest sending anyone as a gift, not even as a joke. But very interested to see that Montezuma’s are now doing Baking Kits, which look like they could turn out very tasty results.

Building on their great chocolate credentials, these kits only need eggs, butter, a bowl and a whisk, and shortly afterwards you could be tucking into Dark Chocolate and Salted Peanut Butter Brownies or Chocolate Chunk and Hazelnut Cookies, or even White Chocolate and Butterscotch Blondies. Maybe they’d make a gift to pack someone off to uni with, as long as you give them all the equipment, as imagine the friends they’ll make if they whip up a batch of these and share them around!

Of course, you could pack them off with a huge amount of chocolate as well and it might well have the same effect!


UPDATE: Sadly these packs are no longer available.


Encyclopedic knowledge of the best cookies of every description


The Cookiepedia: Mixing, Baking and Reinventing the Classics - great cookbook to gift to a food lover with the baking bug

Let me just say this first: I love this book! I was sent The Cookiepedia as a review copy, and I love it. I even cope with the fact it doesn’t tell you a helpful conversion for a stick of butter, other than cups or tablespoons, but other than that it’s a delight.

I mean, what’s not to love a book that gives you the space you really need to scribble your own notes in, as you tweak recipes to really suit your own tastes. And then biscuits and cookies of every description, without getting too fancy. In fact, I would say this is perfect for the weekend, if it’s going to be wet and you’re going to be home with kids. I used the brownie recipe from here with MGG, and it was perfect, given that it uses cocoa rather than needing to invoke a bit of double boiler action.

There’s everything from chocolatey ones to fruity ones, and pretty much everything in between. I think it would make a great gift for a keen home baker, if not for a very competent, experienced one. This is not showstopping stuff, just the sort of stuff you would want to eat at home, with a cup of tea.

If you want to go to town with this as a gift, then you could add in a baking sheet, or some fun cookie cutters. I’ve written before about those I’ve been lusting after, but you could definitely follow a theme given the huge variety now available. Of course, all this depends on you being able to give this great book away! Sorry, but it’s a keeper for me!



The best (kitchen) things about home


Home Sweet Home - the best things about the kitchen at home


We’ve made it back from our northern escapade exploring the highways and byways of some of the North of England. No bones about it though, I am a complete homebody and there is nothing to beat that moment when you first reopen the front door.

Well, apart from when “someone” forgot to put the kitchen bin out before we went away. But that’s a tale of forgetfulness to save up for another day’s brownie point scoring.

For now, I’m enjoying wandering round my own kitchen, marvelling at all the useful bits of kit that I can put my hand to, and the extraneous ones we had whilst away. For a start, there are decent knives with sharp cutting edges, and steel on hand for when they’re not. There are my mugs, ones that hold a decent cup of tea, not half measures.

Here there is a non designer toaster, but it sure as heck does a better job at toasting than the three times the price version. I know, we had one of those before, it was rubbish at toasting and then it blew up. There are dozens of different things for if I feel the urge to knock up a cake or six, which feels quite likely if only because I promised my team back at the day job that I would.

And then there’s the beloved Gaggia. Well actually, I love it that much, missed it so much all the time it was in the repair shop, and knew I’d need good caffeine for all the stuff I was going to be doing, that I took it with us. Look, it’s not as though I was going to France and would need the space to bring back wine. If I’m staying in the UK, then the Gaggia comes too. And didn’t Iappreciate it?

So whilst the cottage we rented had a great kitchen that was one of the best equipped for holiday let that I’ve ever had, there really is no place like home for me. And my home is never, ever having one of these:


What’s wrong with an ice tray?


Home Sweet Home pic by Diana Parkhouse on Flickr.