Making Week 21: More than I expected

Some time ago I cut a recipe out from the newspaper. Actually, if I’m honest, this is a regular occurrence. They then sit in a growing pile on the kitchen table and, when the pile threatens to topple, I sort through them and throw away at least half. This one survived the first cull and I’ve now bought the book it comes from: Aran Bakery by Flora Shedden. I’m not particularly good at following recipes, even when I’m supposed to be recipe testing, but I did follow this one as it told me to “mix the butter and sugar till smooth”, rather than the usual ‘mix till resembles fine breadcrumbs’ that I’m more used to for pastry. The result was delicious: pastry with a very slight spongy texture. What didn’t work were the quantities. I had enough for two tarts with some left over. The first was the correct apple, the second a combination of what I could find in the kitchen: one Bramley apple, one Granny Smith, a handful of raspberries and a large splodge of apricot conserve. The pies fall apart terribly when cut but both were delicious.


Making Week 16: Making, but Nothing That will Last

Although our seasons are no longer reliable, November is heading towards the end of autumn. Next month, regardless of the temperature, it will be winter. I decided to spend today doing a little autumnal baking. First Nanaimo Bars, for which a friend gave me the recipe, saying they were amazing. They are a Canadian speciality and have even been featured on a postage stamp. Since Canadian trees are famous for their autumn colour, this clearly counted as an autumnal recipe. Called a dessert bar, I’m not sure whether they should be eaten as a pudding or at tea-time. They are a sort of unbaked traybake and staggeringly good. I think elevenses, lunch, tea or supper would all be suitable times.

I am the generation that prefers Guy Fawkes Night to Hallowe’en and my childhood Guy Fawkes Nights were always accompanied by toffee apples (as well as jacket potatoes cooked in the embers of the bonfire and the obligatory burnt fingers). I wanted to make an apple cake and reasoned that the addition of toffee would only improve my standard recipe. I was afraid the toffee would melt and run out of the tin so I added most of it about ten minutes before the end. The result was apple cake with an almost impenetrable layer of toffee on the top. It’s very good but needs a little refinement.


Each Month in my Garden: September by the Seaside

September is one of my favourite months. Partly because it is ‘autumn’ but nearly always behaves as if it is still summer; it feels like stolen time, a sort of permanently sunny bank holiday. At the end of the month I went to Devon and, driving there, I was surprised how autumnal the countryside looked. It may still have been summer in London but the fields and woodlands of Hampshire, Dorset and Somerset all had a distinctly golden tinge. It was lovely but in a slightly wistful way. As I was driving, in the interests of safety, there are no photos.

My friend lives by the seaside and this too had tipped from the buckets and spades of summer to deserted expanses of sand. But it was still warm enough to paddle.

This has nothing to do with gardens but it was one of the best puddings I’ve had for a long time. It was called something like ‘Every Child’s Worst Nightmare’ and tasted every bit as good as it looked. Thank you Relish in Ilfracombe



Twelve Books for Christmas: Book Nine: The Christmas Diaries, Nigel Slater

I would be the first to admit that I have too many books. Also I probably have too many unread books, not books I don’t want to read but ones which I am intending to read ‘very soon’. The problem is that ‘very soon’ can stretch to years, with some books remaining in situ long enough to be dusted. Last year Nigel Slater wrote The Christmas Chronicles. I was very excited as I love his writing as much as his recipes. It was arranged by date, starting in early November and going through to Candlemas on 2nd February. It immediately appealed to me as I use Candlemas to mark the end of the Christmas season too – January can be a grim month and a few fairy lights make it a little brighter. In the days when I lived in a small and cluttered flat, my tiny tree often remained up until then too, becoming a temporary winter ornament.

His selection of dates meant the book covered just over three months. Surely I would manage to read daily entries for such a short period? The book has sat on my kitchen table for just over a year, the bookmark sticking out accusingly on the entry for 7th November. This year I moved it to a more inconvenient place on the table and resolved to read it. I have, and it is wonderful – why did I wait a whole year?

Nigel Slater loves winter, relishing its arrival in the same way that many people welcome summer. I now like all seasons. When I was young I loved winter: Christmas and snow (yes, I’m old enough to remember reasonably reliable snow at roughly the correct time) and summer – the long (and always sunny) freedom of the summer holidays. Spring and autumn largely passed me by apart from jumping clumps of daffodils on a pretend pony (sadly accompanied by my pretend dog), walking through deep layers of crisp leaves and playing conkers.  That has all changed, mainly through gardening, and I now appreciate each season for its particular joys.

When does winter start? Officially in Britain 21st December, the Winter Solstice, is the first day of winter. This I cannot agree with. For me the Winter Solstice, with its shortest day, marks the turning point towards spring and light – from then on it is (almost) downhill all the way to light spring mornings and long summer evenings. In all my books I mark 1st December as the beginning of winter, not because I particularly regard November as part of autumn but because I cannot think of February as spring (working on the assumption that each season lasts three months). Nigel Slater’s winter begins on 1st November but before that the book has a delightful twenty-five pages of general wintery writing. Pictures in winter gardening books annoy me as, almost without exception, they show gardens covered in a crisp white frost or atmospherically clothed in a romantic mist, whilst the reality of most winter days is a sort of murk somewhere between the two. Nigel Slater’s winter manages to encompass all the best of winter without becoming unrealistically rosy-eyed about it. Yes, I know these photos are ridiculously romantically rosy-eyed but I have to remember that even London is, on occasion, deep and crisp and even. 

So far the recipes look delicious and most are his trademark easy preparation: a New Toad-in-the Hole involving marmalade, Crumble-Topped Mince Pies and Sweet Potato and Kale Bubble & Squeak. Lentils and Basil sounds a wonderful combination (particularly with added cream and mushrooms) but surely this is a dish for late summer or autumn? My basil plants would not allow me to take ‘a good handful of leaves’ in November, although perhaps it would be a fitting way to say farewell to the plant and eat the lot rather than trying to nurse it through to spring on a chilly windowsill.

The book also includes wintery musings: Christmas markets, the story of the Magi and a mass of fascinating information about candles, including the fact that in winter he writes by candlelight! I am enchanted; this will be my New Year’s resolution. I write everything first in fountain pen and have often thought that using a quill pen might be even better. This may be the first step towards that.  

Looking slightly ahead, to Christmas Day I see that, unlike Delia (see Book Six) Nigel recommends the following for mid-morning: ‘May I suggest that you sit down and take it all in, as I do. Collect your thoughts – there is still much to do – but also take in the scene . . . . Five minutes in which to settle your spirit.’  So far I have followed this book date-for-date, rather like a literary advent calendar. I have every intention of continuing to 2nd February.  


As always we would like you to buy this book. Also, as always, we would like you to buy it from your local bookshop. Without your support it might not survive.

Twelve Books for Christmas: Book Six: Delia Smith’s Christmas

This is obviously a brilliant book. The Parmesan-Baked Parsnips are the only way to cook parsnips, the Caramelised Cheese and Onion Tartlets are recommended as party nibbles for vegetarians but are far too good not to be made (in huge quantities) for everyone and the Truffle Torte is, as it says in the book, the best chocolate dessert. All that said, this book is actually included in this list because it makes me laugh. There is a chapter called The Last 36 Hours in which the reader is calmly taken though the run-up to the Main Meal. So far so good, the instructions have probably saved many Christmas Days from disaster. What makes me laugh is the entry for 8.55am: the turkey is in the oven, the bread sauce made and the frazzled cook is allowed to ‘take a break’. Everything should be under control and Delia suggests you ‘help the kids unwrap their presents, have a coffee or TIDY THE HOUSE’!!!!! Who tidies the house on Christmas Day – surely part of the fun is that every surface should be littered with wrapping paper, ribbon, chocolates, half-written thank-you letter lists and wine glasses? And one final quibble; her timings make no allowance for the Queen’s Christmas Message, unless one eats lunch very quickly.


As always we would like you to buy this book. Also, as always, we would like you to buy it from your local bookshop. Without your support it might not survive.

Twelve Books for Christmas: Book Four: Roast Figs and Sugar Snow, Diana Henry

Wintery food is so much more inviting than summery fare. Admittedly summer has scones with cream and jam sitting on the lawn, ice cream on a beach and chilled white wine (that is food, isn’t it?) but I can’t, at the moment, think of much else. Winter has luscious, rich, recipes and this book contains the very best. Sadly, I’ve never been able to make my favourite recipe in this collection: Sugar-on-Snow. This is a kind of toffee which appears in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. It is very simple – all you do is heat maple syrup and butter to the required temperature, which you test by spooning the mixture onto snow. If it sets and forms a web of toffee, it’s ready. Apparently in New England they have parties with dill pickles (this I’m not sure I like the sound of), mulled apple juice and doughnuts.

The book also contains Tartiflette; the most ridiculously over-the-top concoction of potatoes, bacon, onion, Reblochon and crème fraiche, Pumpkin Tarts with spinach and gorgonzola (which taste even better heated up the next day), and the delightfully-named Peasant Girls in a Mist (softened apples layered with sugary-cinnamony breadcrumbs and topped with thick lemony cream).  Even the salads look tempting (which is high praise from me) with cured ham and potatoes, a farmer’s salad helpfully topped with fried eggs and a Friulian Winter Salad with chestnuts, pancetta, spicy Italian sausage, walnuts and pomegranate, oh, and a few leaves to justify the name. Writing this, I realise that this is one of my most-used cookery books. I just wish I could make the toffee. Perhaps this year.  


As always we would like you to buy this book. Also, as always, we would like you to buy it from your local bookshop. Without your support it might not survive.

A New Job, a Late Resolution and Some Biscuits

I have a new job. Well, more accurately, at the beginning of the year my job at Hatchards was tweaked a little and I have become The Shop Scribe. The title was mentioned jokingly at first but it has stuck and I rather like it. The images it conjures up are of dusty Dickensian desks and quill pens. My reality is a laptop that the cat uses as a bed, that is, when she’s not helping me edit.

In addition to writing the shop’s catalogue I am writing a weekly newsletter and reviews etc as and when they are needed. A quick look at the website revealed that the last blog had been written in 2016 so I am also writing a monthly blog, selecting books loosely based on an event or particular date: The Boat Race, St George’s Day, The Chelsea Flower Show. I was telling someone how shockingly out of date it had got and they replied ‘Yours isn’t much better!’ Rubbish, I thought…… but then I checked and realised that our track record isn’t much better. So, my not-so-new-year’s resolution is that when I write a blog for Hatchards I’ll also write a post here. My hope is that resolutions made in mid-March are easier to keep than those made on New Year’s Day. I prefer the word post to blog but a little distinction between the two may not be a bad thing; Hatchards customers probably won’t want to know my opinions on gardens, although they might want this wonderful biscuit recipe.

One of the most important dates in culinary history was 1977. This was when the recipe for Delia Smith’s Chocolate Orange Biscuits appeared in her Book of Cakes. Over the years I have adapted it for all manner of fruits and nuts, combining them with dark, milk or white chocolate. Particularly good combinations that Sally and I discovered for our books Berries, Nuts and Cherries and Mulberries (to be published in June) are:

  • Hazelnuts and milk chocolate

  • Walnuts (replace the orange juice with maple syrup)

  • Dried cranberries and white chocolate

  • Dried cherries, cocoa and dark chocolate
  • Dried mulberries and white chocolate (don’t be put off by the appearance of dried mulberries; they look rather like something you might put on a fishing hook. Once cooked they disappear into the biscuits, giving a lovely chewiness)


  • Makes 25-30 biscuits
    125 g / 4 oz / 1 stick soft butter
    175 g / 6 oz / 1 cup caster sugar
    225 g / 8 oz / 2 cups plain flour
    25 g / 1 oz / ¼ cup cocoa (if using)
    2 teaspoons baking powder
    75 g / 3 oz / ½ cup dark, milk or white chocolate, chopped into small chunks
    1-2 tablespoons orange juice (or 4 tablespoons maple syrup) as necessary

100 g / 3 ½ oz dried berries, chopped OR 30 g / 1 oz nuts, chopped OR for the original biscuits, grated zest from 2 oranges

Heat the oven to 180 C / 350 F / Gas 4

Beat the butter and sugar together till pale and creamy. Sift the flour and baking powder and mix well. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. You should have a stiff, slightly crumbly dough. Don’t be tempted to add too much orange juice.

Lightly flour a work top and roll out the dough to roughly ¾ cm / ½ inch. It will be very crumbly but that doesn’t matter, just squish it together. The biscuits will hold together once cooked. Cut into 5 cm / 2 inch rounds and place on a greased baking tray. Allow space between the biscuits as they tend to spread. Bake on the top shelf for about 10-12 minutes until golden, be careful not to burn them. Leave to cool on the baking tray for a couple of minutes to firm up and then transfer to a wire rack to cool fully. In the unlikely event that any are left, these biscuits can be stored in an airtight tin.



This, and many other delicious recipes, come from Jane’s new book, Nuts, Growing and Cooking, which she wrote with Sally Hughes. The first time we discovered Bløtkake (pronounced ‘blurt-kak-ir’) was in Tilly Culme-Seymour’s delightful book Island Summers.  It is a Norwegian birthday cake; at least it was the cake Tilly always had and the moment we read about it we knew we wanted it as our birthday cakes too. It is a wonderful concoction of sponge, cream, fruit and marzipan and makes a perfect centrepiece for any tea table, birthday or otherwise. In the book the cake has to make a fraught journey in a small boat from the mainland bakery to the island, this is not something we would recommend, although one Jane made survived a bike ride to Piccadilly.

Island Summers does not include a recipe for the cake but when Tilly came to sign her books she confirmed that our recipe was pretty near her original.

Ready-made marzipan is fine for this cake but use white, rather than golden for authenticity. You can use any combination of berries, according to your inclination and what is in season.

Serves at least 12; this is very rich and substantial cake, a little goes a long way.


  •             300 g /10 oz / 3 ½ sticks soft butter
  •             300 g / 10 oz /1 1/3 cup caster (superfine) sugar
  •             6 eggs
  •             300 g / 10 oz / 2 ½ cups self-raising flour
  •             2 ½ teaspoons baking powder


  •             300 ml / 10 fl oz / 1 ¼ cups double (heavy) cream
  •             4 drops vanilla extract
  •             3-4 tablespoons apple juice
  •             3-4 tablespoons strawberry jam
  •             100 g / 3 ½ oz / ¾ cup chopped walnuts


  •             300 g / 10 oz marzipan
  •             200 g / 7 oz strawberries
  •             200 g/ 7 oz blueberries
  •             icing (confectioners’) sugar, for rolling out and to dust the finished cake

To make the cakes

Preheat the oven to 180 C / 350 F / Gas 4. Grease 3 x 23 cm / 9 inch loose-bottomed cake tins and line the bases with baking parchment. Even if you have to cook them in batches, it is much easier to cook three separate cakes rather than trying to cut one into three layers. They also rise better.

Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and cream together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a little flour after each egg. Gently fold in the remaining flour. Pour the mixture into the tins and level out. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. The cake will have pulled away from the sides of the tin and a skewer should come out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few moments. Take the cakes out of the tins, remove the paper and leave on a wire rack to cool completely.

To assemble the cakes

Once the cakes are totally cooled put the bottom layer onto the plate you wish to use; the cake will be almost impossible to move once you have decorated it. Whip the cream and vanilla extract till it forms reasonably stiff peaks. Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of apple juice over the bottom layer of cake; this will ensure it is deliciously moist and gooey. Spread with a layer of ½ the jam and then add a layer of about 1/3 of the cream. Sprinkle half the chopped walnuts on top. Put the next layer of cake on top and repeat the apple juice, jam, cream and walnut layers.

Put the top layer of cake in place and cover the top and sides with a thin layer of cream. This is not the final coating but merely a ‘glue’ to hold the marzipan in place. Roll out the marzipan into a thin circle, large enough to cover the top and sides of the cake. Remember to roll it out on icing (confectioners’) sugar, not flour. Using the rolling pin, drape the marzipan over the cake. Trim any excess; tuck the edges neatly under the cake and smooth over any cracks.

Cut a large cross in the centre and peel back the four triangles of marzipan. You should have sufficient marzipan left to cut away the triangles and replace them with fresh ones. This isn’t vital but it saves cleaning off the cream and cake crumbs from the underside of the triangles which are now exposed. Hull the strawberries, cut into quarters if they are large and pile into the centre with the blueberries, or whatever fruits you are using. Put the remainder around the cake. Dust with icing (confectioners’) sugar and put into the fridge. The cake is best made an hour or so ahead to allow the filling to soak in. It is fine made a day ahead. Keep in the fridge and ideally remove an hour or so before serving.



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 Feast of Vegetables

DSC00114Yotam Ottolenghi has now published five books, of which “Jerusalem” is perhaps the best known and the latest of which, “Plenty More” (Ebury Press, 2014, full cover price £27.00), covers vegetarian cooking. Jonathan Lovekin’s photographs occupy as many full pages of the book as the text itself does and show excellent composition, balance and saturation of the intense colours associated with the best vegetarian food. They contribute enormously to the pleasure of reading and possessing the book as well as helping visualise sometimes exotic ingredients and dishes.

This is a book both practical enough to cook with and sumptuous enough to keep on display, even if not on a coffee table. It is the sort of book you might give or be given as a present, admire for its visual fireworks and relatively trendy subject matter; and then surprise yourself by actually using it, again and again.

Its production was clearly a team effort, from an outfit that now embraces restaurants, provisions and media. Ottolenghi’s acknowledgements to those he works with are both fulsome and full of character, for example he writes “Lucy, who’s in charge of Ottolenghi’s purchasing and of my life in general, isn’t hard to please but can be highly observant”

The author points out in his introduction that the prospect of vegetarian cooking can worry many people, as it once did him. Firstly a lot of the dishes, techniques and possibilities are not commonly known and secondly he, like many people, suffered an initial terror of running out of ideas. No danger of that once you’ve been using this book for a couple of weeks.

Its twelve chapters are respectively headed Tossed (salads), Steamed, Blanched, Simmered, Braised, Grilled, Roasted, Fried, Mashed, Cracked, Baked and Sweetened. They demonstrate the range and variety of dishes that can be prepared without the use of meat or fish and those I have tried are frankly delicious. A tart apple and celeriac salad is made special by the use of quinoa, coriander, thinly sliced red onion, poppy seeds and chilli. A rice dish is boosted by the use of cinnamon stick, lemon and fresh curry leaves; delicious pasta made with tagliatelle incorporates roasted walnuts and lemon juice as well as judicious amounts of cream and grated parmesan.

Given his culinary history and background it is unsurprising that Middle Eastern seasonings, ingredients and techniques play such a major part in this book. As the author points out with dishes like these, quality of ingredients is paramount and freshness and condition essential to a first class result. Some of the ingredients may be difficult to obtain outside large cities (verjuice, panch phoran and shriracha sauce seem to spring to mind) but many can be obtained through Ottolenghi’s website (

A small caveat is that, while nothing in the book is actually difficult to make, knife skills are definitely required and the amount of chopping, cutting, peeling and dicing is non-trivial. These are dishes to be prepared with concentrated love and eaten with serious pleasure. On the other hand the recipes are sufficiently filling, interesting and varied to ensure that if you so wanted you could eat off them happily for a very long time.

If you can get a competitive price at your local independent bookshop (it is heavily discounted at certain online outlets) please do consider using them to obtain it. As we always point out, you will probably miss them if they go.