Month: August 2015

Milk Chocolate Bramble Cake

Berries jacketI have been hopeless about writing posts this summer, but I do have an excuse; I am writing a book on berries. I am writing it with Sally Hughes and it will be similar to Quinces – a mixture of cookery, gardening and history. This one will also include foraging, as there are so many delicious berries one can collect on country walks or even in city parks and gardens. The book isn’t published till June 2016 but, in the meantime, here is our recipe for Milk Chocolate Bramble Cake.

This is a gentle chocolate cake, rich, but mild in flavour. You need to use dark chocolate in the cake mixture as the flavour of milk chocolate is lost in cooking. For a more intense chocolaty taste, use dark chocolate for the icing too. It is best made with small, foraged blackberries as the large cultivated ones tend to make the cake soggy in parts. Earlier in the summer raspberries are a delicious alternative.Milk Chocolate Bramble Cake 4

  • Cake
  • 200 g butter
  • 100 dark chocolate
  • 4 eggs
  • 200 g caster sugar
  • 200 self-raising flour, sifted
  • 175 g blackberries
  • Icing
  • 100 g good quality milk chocolate
  • 140 g butter, softened
  • 140 g icing sugar

2 x 20 cm loose-bottomed cake tins

Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas 4. Grease the tins and line the bases with baking parchment.

To make the cake:

Bring a large pan of water to boil. Break the dark chocolate and put it and the butter into a bowl which will fit inside the pan. Put the bowl into the boiling water, ensuring that the water does not bubble over the rim. Once the butter and chocolate have melted remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Add eggs and sugar to the chocolate mixture and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. This shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes.

Reserve a handful of the blackberries for decoration and add the rest to the flour. Stir to coat the berries and then gently fold into the chocolate mixture.

Divide the mixture evenly between the two tins and bake for 30-35 minutes. The top should be nicely risen and a skewer should come out pretty well clean. Remember the berries will make the cake juicy.

Remove from the oven, allow the cakes to cool in the tins until you can handle them, 10 minutes or so, and then turn onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water as before, remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Beat the butter and icing sugar until creamy and then mix in the melted chocolate.

Level the top of one cake, if necessary, and spread half the icing onto it. Put the other cake on top and spread the remaining icing evenly over the top. Decorate with the reserved berries.

Amongst other things, we’ve also made (and eaten) Gooseberry and Elderflower Loaf Cake, Raspberry Lemonade, Raspberry Brownies, Heart Attack Pudding, Tartes aux Myrtilles, Cranberry Scones and Strawberry Butter. Perhaps our next book should be on lettuce leaves. Jane.

A Secret Garden

Midhurst in West Sussex is a charming town, conveniently placed for an early elevenses stop on the way to the seaside at West Wittering. There is a nice bookshop, an Aladdin’s Cave hardware store and lots of cafés. The Vintage Tearoom is particularly good, serving crumpets, cupcakes and much more on dainty, mis-matched china. Our cupcakes were Sticky Toffee and Chocolate, but I’m afraid they were eaten before I thought of taking a picture.

3What I hadn’t known, until yesterday, is that Midhurst is also home to one of the prettiest walled gardens that I have ever seen. Hidden, a little back from the main street, are Cowdray Ruins, the remains of a grand Tudor house. In its day, the house boasted visits from Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, Robert May as its chef in the 1630s and Capability Brown as its garden designer in the 1770s. Unfortunately in 1793 the house was largely destroyed by fire. The ruins are splendid, but what caught our attention was a little sign saying ‘Walled Garden this way’.

Behind the converted stables or outbuildings is The Walled Garden at Cowdray; a secret Tudor pleasure garden. It is used for weddings and parties, so presumably at certain times it is closed to the public, but we simply wandered through a couple of deserted reception rooms and came out into the full glory of the garden. Apart from a solitary gardener, it was empty, with a riot of flowers and fruit trees, all vying for our attention. On various websites a café and shop are listed, but neither seemed open when we were there. No matter, the garden is delightful on its own. There is also apparently a £3.50 entrance charge, we saw no sign of this either, although I would happily have paid as the garden is worth much more. The day we visited was cloudy and rather misty, but the garden was still enchanting.

In 2001 Jan Howard of Room in the Garden discovered the ruined garden and by 2005 the restoration was complete. It is laid out as a Tudor pleasure garden, with a central lawn, walkways, pools and beds bursting with colour. There are immense drifts of Verbena bonariensis, engulfing stone lions and stately yellow verbascums, but in a light, airy manner.

There is a little orchard and lots of roses, most of which were past their best, but it really didn’t matter, they were still lovely. Dotted round the garden are seats which look as if they have escaped from Alice in Wonderland; a turf bench, two ornate, metal rocking chairs and a host of others that manage to be quirky, charming and comfortable.

The plant supports are mostly rusty metal and they too have a character of their own – there are arches with giant thistles poking through, obelisks festooned with clematis and one or two pieces that are simply interesting in their own right.

There are neatly trained apple trees, laden with fruit and bed after bed of lovely flowers. In one there were clumps of particularly pretty pink and white cornflowers, far more attractive than the ones I have grown.

The garden was quiet and peaceful when we were there, but it is clearly a perfect place to hold a party. There is floodlighting and lanterns with tea lights along all the paths and it must look magical at night. As we left we saw a solitary wine glass; the only evidence that revelry had taken place. Jane.Wine glass