Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Most Marvellous Chocolate Cake Bake Off !

Every Domestic Goddess should have a favorite chocolate cake recipe, however for a long time I have been wondering what the price per slice difference is in cost from each supermarket?  Is the price between say Waitrose and Aldi huge?  Double?  Or perhaps Tesco and Sainsbury prices are more similar than I think. More importantly perhaps is which ones taste better?  Do more expensive ingredients mean a better tasting cake?  Or are we simply paying for the experience of shopping in a lovely environment?

I am certain a chocolate cake would show up the best quality ingredients. .. the freshest eggs, the creamiest butter and the richest chocolate!

Well I’ve decided  we should answer theses questions on 1st April LIVE on the BBC Radio Kitchen Garden show at 10am at 22-36 Kettering Road Abington Square northampton NN1 4AH

Eight cakes are being made, each one from the own brand ingredients from all the major Supermarkets Waitrose, Sainsbury, Tesco’s, Morrisons, Asda, The co-op, Lidl and Aldi and Marks and Spencer.

The cakes will be judged independently at Most Marvellous on the  Kettering Road in Northampton by William Sitwell, the editor of Waitrose Kitchen with some help from Helen from Fuss Free Flavours .. it’s tough job  .. but someone has to do it !

Take Part

Four of the cakes have been signed up for  .. but there are 5 still left  .. If you would like to participate please let me know by emailing me and indicating which supermarket’s own brand you would be willing to bake. .. it is important that you don;t let on which supermarket you are baking from as the judges will have no idea as they taste the cakes ! 

Places are very limited so please let me know ASAP.

The cakes must be made using stand mixer ..  so they are all made in the same way and presented on a white plate, with the receipt in an envelope stuck on under the plate, with the full cost of the cake and a price per cake.. so we can make quick comparison at the end.

 There will tea and coffee and lots of wonderful things to see and buy in this retro emporium  & café, and we’ll have a definitive answer live next Sunday for the Most Marvellous Chocolate Cake bake off !

Or simple come along anyway  ... 

Chocolate & Raspberry Cake

Now I’m guessing vinegar, cream cheese and sea salt aren’t the kind of ingredients most people expect to find in a chocolate cake. You have to trust me on this one – I don’t do sickly sweet chocolate. Instead, this cake is deep, rich and resonating with dark chocolate and fruity raspberry tones. It’s straightforward to make and a real showpiece, so if you have people to impress, this dessert will do just that.

Serves 10
Prep time 20 minutes
Cooking time 1 hour
Suitable for freezing Yes before decorating

For the cake

250ml milk
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
160g dark chocolate,
100g butter
30g cocoa powder
300g self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, sifted
125g dark muscovado sugar
100g caster sugar
2 eggs
Pinch of sea salt

For the icing

125g dark cocoa chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids)
50g butter
75ml double cream

For the filling
150ml double cream
70g cream cheese
1 medium punnet of fresh raspberries

1 Preheat the oven to 180˚C/gas mark 4. Grease a 24cm round, deep cake tin and line it with baking paper.

2 Mix the milk and vinegar together.

3 Melt the chocolate  and butter using a bain-marie or a heatproof bowl placed over a saucepan of simmering water, then pour into a large mixing bowl. Add all the other ingredients  and mix well.

4 Pour in the milk mixture and beat with an electric hand whisk until it is well-mixed and forms a smooth batter.

5 Pour into the cake tin and bake for 1 hour, or until it is firm in the centre. Test for doneness by inserting a knife in the centre; it comes out clean, it’s ready; if not, then return the cake to the oven for 5 – 10 minutes and repeat the test.

6 Cool for 10–15 minutes in the tin, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

7 Meanwhile, make the icing. Melt the chocolate and butter in a bain-marie or in a heatproof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water. Stir well until smooth, then beat in the cream. Allow this to cool a little, but not completely; it should be thick and yet still viscous.

8 Whip the cream and cream cheese together for the filling, taking care not to be too thick.

9 Cut the cake in half through the middle, place the bottom half on a cake stand or plate and cover it with the cream cheese mixture.  Arrange the raspberries on top of this, then place the top half of the cake on the raspberries. Pour the icing over the top. 

Rose Blossom Bakery

In February I took my three children to The V & A Museum.  As we got to the shop I gave them each £10. The speed at which they spent their money was impressive. If it were down to my children we certainly wouldn’t be in a recession.   The persistent request for more money for the rest of the day drove me mad.  The big eyes.  Oh Pleeeease mummy. No I said. No.  I felt mean .. despite being anything but.

They have no idea of the value of money.  Not a clue.  It means so little to my children, and they see me as a permanent source of pocket money.  It’s not right I thought.  I have to teach them the value of a pound.

It was an article by Rose Prince in the Telegraph that grabbed me a few days later, about how her teenagers made their pocket money by running a small bakery.  It was a though a light bulb went off. This .. this is the answer.  It is the way to teach my children the value of money, and as I'd worked out the price of a sourdough loaf to be 35p this seemed like a great way to make some dough !

We sat at the kitchen table for a family conference and agreed that we should have a go ourselves.  I’ll give you three weeks, said my husband, ever the optimist.  The children were ecstatic and decided that the bakery should have the name Rose in it ..  as an acknowledgment to Rose Prince's children’s bakery, and so our bakery is called The Rose Blossom Bakery.

Of course my eldest daughter, who is just nine ( you can see her here in one of the Rachel Ashwell aprons that  I bought the other week) has been making sourdough almost every weekend since we went on a sourdough making course with the lovely Dan Lepard.  Although I did managed to kill the original starter Dan gave to us luckily Andrew Whitley of Bread Matters sent me some more to get going again !

The children designed leaflets, printed them and them posted them through all the neighbours doors, we had our first order  and we were in business! Despite a great start, our first couple of weeks we couldn’t quite get the dough right.  The crumb was too tight and the loaf, although lovely, was just too heavy.

Luckily between a phone call to Dan and a serious adjustment in the water quantities and a lesson & calculation from the lovely Lucas Hollweg (author of Good Things to Eat) we now have the absolute perfect sourdough loaf, and we make 12 loaves at a time. 

The first week we sold 4 loaves, one to a neighbour, one to grandparents and the other two were ordered by aunties.  The second week we added a batch of scones and sold 7 loaves and now we are baking 12 loaves to order and sell out each week.

It is such a wonderful thing to teach my children - the joy of baking, the pride of producing such beautiful bread.  The real life math’s as they count out the change to their customers, who smile and correct them.  They are learning the basics of running a small business and watching as the three of them have decided which jobs they like to do and work it out as a team is wonderful. 

Of course we have had to register the kitchen, I already have my hygiene certificates and a five star rating for my kitchen, (and I am insured through my work by the NFU  .. which incidentally are great at doing this kind of insurance because they often have to help farmers who diversify on to the farmers markets.)

Of course we had to prove my husband wrong .. we are way past three weeks now, and as for teaching my children the value of a pound. ..  when I mentioned how hard to was to earn money last week my children looked bemused, and shrugged off this suggestion with childlike honesty  .. saying they just thought it was just great fun to earn money -  so I'm not entirely sure I got the point I wanted to make over !

The thing that I love the most about our Saturday mornings though, is that our bakery has a sense of community. We have no shop in our village, and the post office was closed several years ago.  There, as we stand at the bottom of the driveway with our beautiful hand made sourdough bread we have met and chatted to more of our neighbors in the last few weeks than we have in the ten years we have lived here.  People stop by and gossip together, neighbours laugh, reminisce and tell stories of the people that lived in our house long ago.  They smile and chat then take home their warm bread, and we become part of the story ourselves.


Today is the first day of spring.

I wander outside in the morning with my tea and for just a moment, before the day rushes at me I look at the blossom and remember a poem. 


From blossoms comes 
this brown paper bag
 of peaches
 we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, 
from hands, 
from sweet fellowship in the bins, 

comes nectar at the roadside succulent

peaches we devour, dusty skin and all, 
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside, 

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into 

the round jubilance of peach
There are days we live 

as if death were nowhere 

in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,

from blossom to blossom 
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Bea's of Bloomsbury

"No, I thank you; I have had an elegant sufficiency of the numerous delicacies. Any more would be an unsophisticated superfluity, for gastronomic satiety admonishes me that I have reached the ultimate stage of deglutition consistent with dietetic integrity. " Anonymous  (although an often cited early reference is the line by James Thomson (1700-1748): "An elegant sufficiency, content, ..." (cited by The Imperial Dictionary, 1878)

It takes something rather special to impress me.  It’s not that I am snooty about cake at all  .. but I am fussy and rarely do I ever find a cake that is made commercially that compares to one I might make at home. A couple of weeks ago my friend Helen (who writes the most wonderful blog called Fuss Free Flavours) and I went out for afternoon tea to Beas of Boomsbury.

 It was a lovely café, pretty and lively and relaxed.  I’d just eaten a fabulous lunch at Corrigan’s in Mayfair so the very last thing I wanted to do was eat more .. however Helen ordered a Chocolate Peanut Butter  Swirl Cheese Cake and offered me a taste.  I gingerly popped a small piece on the fork and oh …. oh .. how I wished it had been a more generous piece!

 Despite having had an elegant sufficiency  I unashamedly, without hesitation took a second. Luckily Helen pretended not to notice my overindulgence and I am delighted to have found the recipe in Bea’s delightful new recipe book Tea With Be  so watch this space because I shall be making more from this beautiful book of delights.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Mothers Deserve More!

I was actualy going to ignore Mothering Sunday. I am up to my ears writing at the moment,  however, something really got my goat  .. and so I must write something !

I’ve read three press releases this week that are busy telling people that all mothers really want is a lie in, a bath, a home made card and a cup of tea.

Absolute tosh!  

I am standing up for mothers who deserve more than this!  

A lie in is a given,  I bath several times a week already! I do love hand made cards .. I really genuinely hate bought cards.  But just a cup of tea and a hot bath and a lie in?   I think not!  I want spoiling! I want to be appreciated! 

On Mothering Sunday what I’d really love is beautiful scented flowers that make me smile, with some handmade artisan pure butter fudge to eat with my cup of tea, and a fabulous aromatic, cotton candle wick, wildflower scented candle to light in my bathroom for a truly romantic bubble bath!

For this is the moment when you can show your mother just how much she means to you.  That you really appreciate all the things she does.  Picking up dirty socks, washing, cleaning, shopping, ironing,  flushing the loo after you ( my children are 5,7 & 9) driving you from A to B and back again. Running the things you have forgotten about to you - wherever you are , despite reminding you not to forget them in the first place! 

Picture courtesy of

Last week I came across a poem when I was at Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture and as I stood there reading it I had to take a deep breath and willed my eyes not to well up.   So instead I took a photo and shall share it here (with her kind permission.)

I really do believe that a gift is a visual representation of the love that you feel  - so I suppose for me this is not the moment to be anything other then generous with your mother.  This is the time to give her something the show her how you feel about her.  A gift that says soft kisses, gentle hands, perfumed moments of warmth, laughter, trust, love, a beautiful smile, kind words, and unconditional acceptance. Mother. 

  ..... and a home made card!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Emergency Chocolate Cake

I’m not known for being organized .. but the cake that I made the weekend before last was a total emergency chocolate cake.  It all happened because we started a pop up bakery after reading about Rose Prince’s children starting their own bakery we held a family conference and decided to do the same. However this post is not about the bakery.  This weekend will be our 3rd week and when I get a moment I will write about it.  This post is about the emergency birthday cake, and I mention the bakery to set the scene ….

 For the first week we made our bread and scones and set out the stall.  Nobody came. We are in a sleepy village and so, not to be defeated we closed up and took the bread and scones door to door, giving out samples and getting orders for the following week.  I was so determined that our baking shouldn’t go to waste I forgot the time.  I forgot that I had arranged a birthday tea party for my youngest daughters birthday.

We chatted with our neighbors, passed the time of day and took the first orders for the following weeks sourdough.  This, I thought, is the most interaction I have had with the people I live l close by to ever, and we chatted our way around the village in the bright February sunshine.

As we stopped to look at the early daffodils coming up I dreamily looked at my watch  expecting it to be about lunch time .. and practically had a meltdown on the spot.  It was 3:30pm.  Oh God .. ..the birthday party … the promise of a cake .. I had exactly one hour to bake the prettiest pink birthday cake ever that I had promised to my five year old.

I practically ran up the driveway.  my husband smiled and asked had I got a minute?   A minute? !! I snapped back at him so hard that I had not got a moment to spare with such force that he took a step back.  I flew into the kitchen and tried to work out if I had time to get in and out of town to Waitrose and buy a cheats cake. No.  With parking and Saturday traffic that was impossible.  The only option was to bake as fast as I could.

I practically threw in the ingredients into my trusty Kenwood.   Whenever I am in a hurry I resort back to old measurements.  An 8 oz chocolate cake, with a bar of 65% cherry chocolate bar chopped up and stirred in was in the oven in less than 5 minutes  .. fortunately it was still warm from the baking earlier in the day.

I ran about wiping up the flour and cleaning the baking bombsite my children and I had made such a mess earlier and then checked in my cake-decorating box.  45 minutes later as the cake came out of the oven the first guests arrived to a kitchen full of the smells of chocolate cake.

There was not time to ice the cake, besides it was just too hot, so I sifted a very generous amount of icing sugar over the cake, wrapped a pink ribbon about it, melted chocolate and used this to stick the sugared roses I had on and popped the kettle on.

A quick application of lip-gloss and a smile later and the tea party began. 

As I brought cake out my delighted daughter declared it to be the prettiest cake in the world  .. ever.  I cut an extra large apologetic slice for my husband and the other mothers all marveled that the cake was still warm!

A Visit to Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture Shop in London

Taking on a house that needs renovating is so exciting,. It’s also hard to get a balance and sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed.  I want to renovate .. but truthfully there is comfort and beauty living in what is effectively real shabbiness!  I joke about feeling quite aristocratic on a rainy day because  breakfast consists of "pass the marmalade darling ..oh  .. and could you move the bucket .. there’s a new leak!"

That said  I do feel really at home when it’s not quite perfect. The paint is worn, the carpets are fraying and the windows rattle when the wind blows .. but unlike my last house the untidiness here seems romantic .... as opposed to slovenly!

Having bought Rachel Ashwell’s new book a couple of weeks ago I decided to go to her London shop called Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic Couture .. She also has shops in New York and Los Angeles. 

 Going in to London from the countryside it’s quite a trip and I had all three children with me and I was quite apprehensive Of course working the hours I do it’s not always practical to leave my children behind for a day out .. so I was worried that the staff in the shop might not be happy that I had my children with me.  As I travelled up on the train I thought about why else I felt apprehensive.   Rachel’s book is so gorgeous and I suppose a part of me was worrying that it just wouldn’t be as lovely or that it would be really too expensive for my limited budget, or that the style that I love just wasn’t practical for a real family, with chickens, cats, mischievous children who will sneak a slice of chocolate cake to eat on the sofa .. and a husband who sometimes forgets to take his boots off. 

I needn’t have worried.  To my delight the shop was even lovelier that I had imagined. The branch manager Paulina was completely taken with the children, and the prices seemed affordable and the style really will work in a real family home.  

I ended up coming home with lots of lovely things.. but more exciting than that is that I learnt about the home design service on offer.  It's exactly what I need and so I've booked a visit in a few weeks time from the team.  They are so friendly and have amazing creativity and it now feels more like I have a girlfriend with great taste coming for a chat and a coffee and  I've stopped feeling quite so daunted by everything. 

My children were made to feel welcome too. 

Monday, 5 March 2012

What is the Secret to the Best Perfume?

One of my earliest memories is of my mother glamorous in black and sparkling with diamonds, she would pop in to my room and kiss me good night wearing perfume. Her scent would linger in my bedroom. She was gone for the evening. I would be left lying in bed feeling that the most beautiful person in the world had abandoned me!  I smile now of course as my own children are also uniquely selfish and demanding of me on those rare occasional I actually go out in the evening .. .. but perhaps that is why I keep my best bottle downstairs, and spray a mist just as I walk out of the door. 

My favourite perfumes are from Annick Goutal.  I think that they are very reasonably priced for such a boutique fragrance. It is written that the secret of her sensuous perfumes lay in her talent for transforming emotions into fragrances. Each unique creation I was told by the lovely Eric in the shop on Moncombe Street , represents a moment of happiness, a treasured emotion, or even a powerful memory  that is connected to a significant event  a loved one or just a moment captured in eternity.

 The first time I went in to he shop I wasn’t instantly doused in perfume the way many shops do seem to love spraying you from top to bottom!   Eric chatted with me, asked me about myself, and was intrigued by my love of food and flavour.  I wasn’t expecting to buy a perfume.  It normally takes years for me to find a scent I love and yet after finding out all the things I love and like Eric sprayed two perfumes on a card. To my astonishment one of the perfumes was the most divine scent and is called Mandragore Pourpre  It has bergamot, mint, star anis, rosemary from Spain, geranium and black pepper in it and Camille Goutal and Isabelle Doyen created this spicy romantic scent  in 2009. It's me. 

I’m not expecting  people to rush out and buy the same perfume I love …  we all have different tastes .. but what I find particularly fascinating is the food elements woven in. the layers of scent are almost musical in their tones. There is rhythm and the scents are blended like a cord played on the piano.  Base notes, top notes and balanced in harmony using ginger and lemon, violet, sage, black pepper and vanilla. It is the way I develop my recipes and flavours as a cook ...  so I wonder is the is the secret to a really amazing perfume is that it makes you smell utterly delicious?

ANNICK GOUTAL20 Motcomb Street
SW1X 8LB London
tel.: 0207 823 2176

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Add Instant Romance with Vintage Candlesticks

I’ve spent this morning with the children baking sourdough and scones .. they have started their own village bakery.  This article by Rose Prince inspired us and the children named the bakery in honour of Rose Prince calling it The Rose Blossom Bakery....  it's only their 2nd week and they made a profit! 

Now that the kitchen is finally flour free,  the sun is going in and my delighted daughter is practicing her violin in the background I just have time have a cup of tea and write about these gorgeous candlesticks I found before friends arrive for supper. 

I’ve been memorized by Rachel Ashwells new book  .. it has captured the feel for our new home exactly. So when I spotted these candlesticks I instantly fell in love , they add instant romance. I know that they don’t match, they are slightly battered and not polished and one of them wobbles slightly but that only adds to their appeal.  They were on sale at Most Marvelous the new retro and antique centre in Northampton and had been reduced to £4 each.  How could I resist?  

So as I have guests for supper this evening I thought we'd skip pudding and just have a beautiful candle lit cheeseboard  .. it will will look amazing, but modern candles just didn't go with this look so I’ve used these gorgeous tapered dinner candles made from 100% beeswax.

 I love that they are hand-dipped by people with learning disabilities mental health problems and other special needs .. they must be so proud to produce such fabulous candles ( they are made at Camp hill)   They are made available to buy courtesy of this wonderful site with all sorts of artisan British gifts called The Hen and Hammock

The only down side is that they are so lovely that I almost don’t want to light them!