Archive for June, 2012

Foodie Penpal – the big reveal!


This is my first month participating in Foodie Penpals – and we’re off to a great start! My parcel this month came from the lovely Nova McGinty from the North East of England, who supplied all sorts of lovely goodies, local, interesting and unusual. My parcel went to Diary of a Dashing Fashonista, who has written a very kind post re my items 🙂


 A Stottie Cake – A Geordie specialty; this is a lovely, doughy, springy bread which is slightly reminiscent in texture of a really good doughy Nan bread, but much thicker and less oily. It is gorgeous! The OH and I had this warmed slightly, and served it with a Daal soup. And Nova very kindly supplied a recipe for making Stottie cakes, so the OH (bread-master) will be making these very soon. And this time we may wait long enough to make a batch of Peas Pudding to put in them 🙂

Saspirilla Tablets: To my knowledge I have never had anything saspirilla-like in my life, so I was delighted to have a chance to try these, and they were quite morish. They tasted a bit like really juicy summer fruits mixed with aniseed. I shall have to have a look and see if I can find any around here!

Chocolate, Cherry and Chilli dessert sauce: Nova mentioned that Scrummee Cherry, Chocolate and Chilli Dessert Sauce is made not far from her – and my goodness it looks great! This should go very nicely with some rich vanilla ice-cream, perhaps with a side of cherries soaked in a little whiskey? Suggestions very welcome!

 Stockley’s cinder toffee: This is something I’ve always meant to make, but never got around to. But now that I have it I’d better make some plans – otherwise I’ve just going to eat the whole lot out of the bag. Bad idea for my teeth and my waist-line, methinks! This could be mixed into home made ice-cream, or coated with tempered chocolate to make some cool sweets.

 Giant chocolate stars: For the pretties! I’m looking forward to using these on some cupcakes soon 🙂

 Dried lavender flowers: At last! I have them! Having tried everywhere in Edinburgh to find them with no luck, by sheer chance Nova sent some 😀 I’m thinking Chocolate and Lavender cupcakes or Brownies. Also I can finally make some long-awaited Lavender crème Brulee (as made at La Geriggue, Jeffery st, Edinburgh). (See post on Lavender Skolleboller post!)

Poppy seeds: Yup, lemon and poppy seed cake – om nom nom nom 🙂 But there are a lot of them, so I’ll have to see what else I can use them in. A topping to a nice loaf of bread, perhaps.

 Schwartz Piri Piri spice mix: These are a great idea – rather than just chucking all the spices into one pot this gives you an idea of contents and quantity, which is really useful. I’m looking forward to piri-piri-ing some chicken some time soon.

 Cosmopolitan drink mix: As Nova said “after all the baking”, and quite right too! I look forward to relaxing on the sofa with this later on 🙂

And, of course, a lovely selection of recipes from the North East: Toad in the Hole, Singing Hinnies, Peas Pudding, and Stottie Cake. I’ve always lovely Toad in the Hole, and am thoroughly looking forward to having a go at the other recipes 🙂

 So, all in all, I’d say I’ve been very lucky with my first Foodie Penpal 🙂 An interesting selection of snacks, ingredients and ideas!


Right, I’m off on holiday for a week – now the important thing of the day is done, I had better go and pack…


Lavender Skoleboller (Lavender Custard Buns)

We’re very lucky in Edinburgh to have a huge number and variety of interesting international restaurants, cafes, bakeries and delis. It’s easy to feel a bit spoilt for choice! Two of my favourites are La Garrigue on Jeffery St (, and Peter’s Yard on Middle Meadow Walk (

La Garrigue is a fantastic little French restaurant serving rustic Languedoc cuisine in a warm and inviting setting, tucked away from the hectic bustle of the city centre. I’ve been there numerous times over the years, and each and every time I have the same pudding; Lavender Crème Brulee. It is rich, aromatic, creamy, and utterly heavenly. The satisfying crack of the burned sugar crust releases a waft of warm air straight from the lavender fields of the French heartlands. Bliss!

Peter’s Yard is wonderfully located in the new(ish) Quartermile development, just of Middle Meadow Walk. The high ceilings and full-height windows of three sides make it the perfect people-watching haunt, and it is usually (quite rightly) packed! The food, however, is the real draw. Peter’s Yard specializes in Scandinavian bakery; crisp breads, sourdoughs, pastries, cakes galore. If baked goods are your bag, then there is no way you will be left wanting – as a full-blown bakery-bag, I should know!

And so, in the night, these two wonderful places gave birth in my brain to Lavender Skoleboller. And as sheer luck would have it, I got a packet of dried lavender flowers in my Foodie Penpals package a few days ago (a full post re Foodie Penpals on 29th June).

Traditionally Swedish Skoleboller are cardamom flavoured buns with a vanilla custard centre, and I sourced the basic recipe from:


Lavender Skoleboller (Lavender Custard Buns)
Recipe makes about 14- 6” buns or 24- 4” buns (or 40 small buns!)
(recipe can easily be halved)

For the buns:
480ml milk (preferably full-fat, but 1% or 2% will work too), luke warm
50 gram Fresh yeast, or 2 tbs active dry yeast
100 grams butter, melted and cooled
115g caster sugar
650- 750 grams Plain flour

For the lavender custard:
4 egg yolks
60g caster sugar
420ml full-fat milk
1 tbs dried lavender flowers
1 tbs cornstarch
1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the luke warm milk. Add the melted (and cooled) butter, the sugar, and 5 cups (550 grams) of the flour. Blend well.

2. Slowly add more flour until a smooth, slightly sticky dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured work surface and knead for a minute or two until a soft dough is formed. Add another tablespoon or two of flour, if needed to prevent sticking.

3. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic, leave in a warm place, and allow to rise to double its’ size, about 1 hour.

This would be a good time to make your vanilla custard (ingredients above and instructions below):

4. Punch the dough down, divide into small balls (12-14 will make the traditional, large skoleboller, while 22-24 will make nice, Weight Watchers portions, or, if you’re me and miscalculate entirely – 40 of varying sizes!).

5. Form each ball into an evenly round, flat bun. Place on a parchment-lined baking tray with at least an inch between each one. Cover with a clean dishcloth and allow to make a second rise for about 20 minutes. In the mean time, preheat oven to 400F (200C).

6. After the 20 minute rising period is up, use the back of a spoon to create a good-sized indentation in the center of each bun (about the size of a soup spoon).

7. Place a generous spoonful of the egg custard in the center of each indentation. Bake on the bottom rack for 10-12 minutes. Take your skoleboller out when they begin to slightly brown on the tops and the egg custard is just starting to set.

8. Allow to cool on a wire rack. The custard will set a bit once cooled down.

To make the lavender custard:

1. Soak the lavender flowers in the milk overnight.

2. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together very well.

3. Bring the whole milk to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Slowly pour the egg yolk mixture into the milk, whisking briskly. Strain off the lavender flowers and return the milk to the pan.

4.While your egg and milk mixture is still simmering, add the cornstarch, little-by-little, whisking briskly. Allow the cornstarch to fully dissolve and the custard to thicken while stirring the entire time. It will take about 3- 5 minutes for the custard to thicken enough.

5. Allow to cool on a ice water bath.

 I wasn’t 100% happy with the custard for this – the flavour was good if delicate, but the texture was a bit grainy. I’m not sure whether this was because I had done something wrong, but I think in future I might just use a custard as per a Creme Brulee recipe. This one works well enough for a first go, though!

As you’ll see in the photo, I’ve added crushed toasted almonds to the top of a few of these buns, just for a bit of variety. I’ll make these again, to the proper scale, and I think what I’ll do is add a bit of pear at the bottom of the dent before adding the custard – I suspect pear and lavender would go quite well together!

Roasted Rhubarb and Strawberry Clafoutis on a rainy Sunday evening

As with much of the country it is raining – pouring, in fact. I’ve been bunkered up in the kitchen most of the day, cooking and baking. Lots of comfort food – Lamb and Apricot Stew, Oatcakes, and Roasted Rhubarb and Strawberry Clafouties.

Last night I made Roasted Rhubarb to go with a rice pudding (which I managed to lose most of by pouring all over my hand and the oven – painful and quite disappointing to be deprived of when you’ve waited 2 hours for it to cook!) and there was a little left over


I have very strong memories of my Mum making Cherry Clafouties and it really is the ideal comfort food – sweet and stodgy, but not terribly unhealthy. And served in individual dishes it looks like a fairly big portion! The combination of strawberries and rhubarb at this time of year is perfect – in fact the first of the strawbs from Tayside are starting to appear in the shops, and they are big, juicy and very sweet 🙂

Roasted Rhubarb and Strawberry Clafoutis

Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking: 30 minutes
Serves: 6


3 large free-range eggs, with 1 egg separated
150g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g icing sugar, and some for dusting
100ml whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
butter, for greasing
300g Strawberries, halved
100g roasted rhubarb


1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5 (170C fan assisted ovens). In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, icing sugar, milk and vanilla extract.

2. Lightly butter a shallow 20cm baking dish and scatter the strawberries over the bottom and dot the rhubarb in between. Pour in the batter around the fruit. Bake for 30 mins, until the batter is just set. Dust with icing sugar to serve.

For the Roasted Rhubarb see:

Parental request cake #2: Pear and Cardamom Cake


I try and avoid baking just for myself and the OH, because my already precarious waist-line would inevitably suffer even further. So when I went home over the weekend I took some of the two varieties of Cucumber Cake that I had previously made. Although it was agreed that the cakes were maybe no the first choice of flavour they would go for, there were still a lot of positive remarks. I’ve become rather keen on the basic cake mix for the Cucumber Cake in my last post. The concept might be something of an acquired taste, but the texture and moistness were pretty perfect!

And so there came a Parental cake request, this time from Mum: a Pear and Cardamom Cake. And I was delighted to see if it would work. And it did – rather well! The process was exactly the same as with the Cucumber Cake, but replace the cucumber with the same quantity of grated pear (preferably still quite firm) and add the crushed seeds of 5 cardamom pods. Simple!  I would probably go further and add a couple of tablespoons of a pear liqueur just to bring out the flavour.

And I’m quite proud of the picture to go with it this time; thank goodness for sunny gardens for a bit of set-dressing!

So I think I might stick with variations on this recipe for another bake (as a treat for work colleagues) – I’m thinking perhaps an Apple and Elderflower Cake. After that I think I’m going to have to move on to something new – maybe biscuits or traybake.

Also, while I remember, I have signed up to Foodie Penpals this month – and I’m really quite excited about the package of goodies winging it’s way to me as I type 😀 I’m planning to get my package together over the weekend to send on to my penpal – a mix of healthy and naughty goodies has been planned and I’m quite looking forward to getting it all together!

(Cool as a) Cucumber Cake: Variations on a theme

In the past couple of years recipes for Chocolate Beetroot Brownies, Courgette Cake, Parsnip Cake and so on have been popping up all over the place. And I must say I am delighted. I have been a lifelong fan of the humble carrot-cake, and so the use of a wider range of vegetable matter in my baked items is joyous. And, miraculously, the Chocolate Beetroot Brownie has presented me with a way I can eat beetroot without wanting to gag! Spectacular!

 But lately I’ve felt uninspired by the usual range of garden offerings. The solution: to Google! “Find me an interesting cake”, says I, “preferably one I can play around with and add interesting flavours to!” And Google did not fail me. Up pops Cucumber Cake.

 I am a fan of Cucumber, especially during the summer – Pimms would not be the same without it, nor would a Hendricks G&T. It’s a bit of a British staple item. But I’ll admit that it would not have been my first guess for a baked item (other than the cucumber sandwich, of course).

 The basic recipe comes from

 The original recipe uses chopped nuts (and cinnamon), which I removed as a matter of necessity. No, I’m not allergic, but if I’m giving this to my Grandparents then their Dentist (my father) will not appreciate the potential broken teeth involved.


Cucumber Cake


Prep time: 15 mins

Cook time: 1 hour


  • Plain Flour – 315 grams to 330 grams
  • Sugar – 200 grams
  • Baking Powder – 1 tsp
  • Baking Soda – 1 tsp
  • Cinnamon powder – 1 tsp
  • Sunflower Oil – 205 grams
  • Fresh Cucumber – 2 – (approx 600 grams)
  • Eggs – 3


  1. Preheat oven to 160 C and keep a bread/cake tin greased and dusted.
  2. Wash, peel the cucumbers and coarsely shred them in to a colander. Apply slight pressure to the shredded mix to remove out moisture so that they are moist enough but not overtly drippy. Set aside.
  3. Combine all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the shredded mix, eggs and oil. On a medium speed, beat all the ingredients till they are combined well (approx 2 minutes).
  4. Pour the batter in to the prepared cake tin
  5. Let it bake at 160 C for 60 minutes or till an inserted skewer comes clean.
  6. Serve plain or with any topping as desired.

 Well, I can say that this cake is light, tasty, and wonderfully moist! It has a fantastic springy texture and holds its shape without a problem. I made two versions: one in a round spring-form tin, and the other divided between 2 2lb loaf tins. Both worked very well.

 Variations on a Cucumber Theme!

 I tried a couple of variations on the basic recipe above.

 1)      Cucumber and Mint Cake with a Lime Icing – add a bit of chopped mint to the cake batter, and ice with a basic lime/icing sugar mix once cooled.

 2)      Cucumber and Lime Cake with an Elderflower Icing – Add some lime zest and juice to the cake batter, and ice with an Elderflower cordial/icing sugar mix once cool.

 Both these combinations worked well, but I noticed (oddly) that although I had expected the cucumber to have a very delicate flavour it was in fact quite resilient. So if you’re worried about drowning the flavour out, don’t be – it can stand up for itself!

The original recipe suggested that this is a good breakfast item (note my glee!). I think I would like to try making this again, but using whole wheat flour, nuts, cinnamon and maybe chuck in some dried apple and reduce the sugar (to make it at least seem a bit healthier), and maybe replace a bit of the oil with low fat yogurt. I’ll need to have a play around with it so the texture isn’t ruined, but I think I can say that Cucumber Cake maybe a new breakfast friend!

Strawberry Cheesecake Blondies – Summer themed experimentation

Hello one and all! Sorry for the recent radio-silence: work and holiday time has kept me away from the kitchen and computer. It has been a wonderful Jubilee weekend (even if I’ve been avoiding the hype) – lots of socialising with friends, but back to work/reality tomorrow.

So, Summer is here and there are berries everywhere! It’s wonderful! I love strawberries, especially Scottish strawberries (they are the sweetest and most flavourful ones you’ll get in Europe, in my opinion) – and as soon as they are in season I find myself buying them a couple of times a week, easily.

But I’ll admit that I have great difficulty using fresh fruit in baking: everything just seems to go wrong! The fruit sinks to the bottom of the cake, the batter doesn’t cook through, the flavour of the fruit isn’t strong enough for the cake. My fruit based failures are something I want to sort out, so I went into experiment mode!

I’ve made Brownies often enough (and I’ll post a recipe for super-rich and super-low-cal Brownies at some point) but I’ve never made Blondies before. I thought strawberry Blondies would work pretty well, and they’d be nice to take into work for afternoon tea before the holiday weekend. And so Strawberry Cheesecake Blondies happened!



Makes 18 pieces


  • 100g butter, chopped
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup self-raising flour, sifted
  • 3/4 cup plain flour, sifted
  • 250g fresh strawberries, washed and hulled, chopped
  • 1 pack (30g approx) of strawberry fruit flakes or similar (optional – give a concentrated flavour)
  • Up to 80g low fat cream cheese (add until you reach a colour you like!)


  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan-forced. Grease an 18cm x 28cm (base) rectangular slice pan. Line base and sides with baking paper, allowing a 2cm overhang on all sides. Melt butter and chocolate in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Remove from heat. Pour into a large mixing bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to cool.

  2. Put the strawberries into a pan with a tablespoon of water and a little sugar, and heat until the fruit becomes very soft. Strain the fruit over a bowl, discard the pulp and return the juice to the pan, and add the fruit flakes if using. Reduce the juice until it gets a bit syrupy. Allow to cool slightly, then whisk in the cream cheese.
  3. Add sugar, eggs and sifted flours to the mixing bowl. Stir to combine, then swirl in the strawberry mix but not too heavily. Spread into prepared pan. Bake for 40 minutes or until edges are firm and top golden. Cool in pan.

I took the basic recipe from the recipe for Cherry Blondies at: and then adapted it.

I had a couple of goes at this – the first one was nice, but rather weak. The second (as pictured) were better but still quite delicate. As these were for work colleagues I didn’t do the third experiment (which I will for a future post) which would be Strawberry and Black Pepper Blondies! I think these would work rather well, and I’d like to try a couple of experiments with strawberry and balsamic vinegar at some point soon. If you have any suggestions for strawberry flavour combinations I’d be delighted to hear them 🙂




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