Archive for March, 2013

Foodie Penpals March 2013



My foodie Penpal package from the lovely Louise – thank you! All the tea is now gone (and lovely it was too – much more subtle than Twinings’ version), and the chocolate eggs have also been opened – perhaps unsurprisingly…


Simnel Cake and Spring are here!



Spring is here! At last! There has been sun, and bird song, and walking, repotting of plants!

Not only that, there has been Simnel Cake making! We’re having a quiet long weekend, with a couple of friends popping over for lunch on Easter Sunday. So I thought I’d take the chance to make a traditional Easter cake – the Simnel Cake.

Simnel cakes have been known since at least the medieval times. They would be eaten on the middle Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (also known as Refreshment Sunday, Mothering Sunday, Sunday of the Five Loaves, and Simnel Sunday), when the forty day fast would be relaxed. More recently, they became a Mothering Sunday tradition, when young girls in service would make one to be taken home to their mothers on their day off. The word simnel probably derived from the Latin word simila, meaning fine, wheaten flour. (taken from Wikipedia).

Simnel Cake


For the filling and topping
To decorate
  • 1 free-range egg white

  • organic primroses (or alternatively other edible spring flowers)

  • handful caster sugar

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Grease a 20cm/8in deep round cake tin and then line the base and sides with baking parchment.

  2. Cut the cherries into quarters, put in a sieve and rinse under running water. Drain well and then dry thoroughly on kitchen paper.

  3. Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and creamy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, to prevent them from curdling. Sift in the flour and mix it in a little at a time. Stir the fruit, peel, zest and mixed spice thoroughly into the mixture. Place half the mixture into the prepared tin and level the surface.

  4. Take one-third of the marzipan and roll it out to a circle the size of the tin and then place the circle on top of the cake mixture. Spoon the remaining cake mixture on top and level the surface.

  5. Bake in the preheated oven for about 2½ hours until well-risen, evenly brown and firm to the touch. Cover with foil after one hour if the top is browning too quickly. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack.

  6. When the cake is cool, warm the apricot jam in a small saucepan. Brush the top of the cake with a little of the jam and roll out half of the remaining marzipan to fit the top of the cake. Press firmly on the top and crimp the edges to decorate. Mark a criss-cross pattern on the marzipan with a sharp knife. Form the remaining marzipan into 11 balls.

  7. Brush the marzipan with beaten egg and arrange the marzipan balls around the edge of the cake. Brush the tops of the balls with beaten egg, too, and then place the cake under a hot grill to turn the marzipan golden-brown.

Caramelised Pear and Cardamom Cupcakes with Dulce de Lech Mascarpone Icing


Hello all! Very sorry for the radio silence of late – I recently started a new (and much better!) job, which has kinda drawn all my focus, of late. Will do better in the coming months 🙂

So, recently I’ve been all about the innovation. I entered the Hummingbird Bakery Cupcake Challenge*, which had about 1000 entries in all – impressive stuff! There were lots of gorgeous looking and sounding cupcakes for the judges to choose from (they haven’t posted the winners names yet, and given that it’s now a month since the comp closed I’m thinking I wasn’t a finalist).

What bugged me, however, were the number of people posting recipes which weren’t innovative in any way, given that that was the focus of the competition – lemon drizzle, key lime pie, chocolate etc etc They’ve either been popular flavours for a long time, or are a recent ‘internet sensation’ – bacon and maple-syrup cupcakes? Who HASN’T seen them? So in a comp which is specifically looking for something new, why post something which has been done to death already (this is especially true of those posting cupcakes with popcorn and salted caramel as if it were something totally out-there)? Or even do something old in a new way, or with a twist – Blackberry, chocolate and port cupcakes – why the heck not?! I don’t mind the ‘internet sensation’ bakery ideas, in fact I totally love quite a few of them, but I hate that there were people submitting them as if they came up with the original idea.

I acknowledge that it can be hard to come up with something new and original – and even professional bakers and chefs have to draw their inspiration from somewhere. I hold my hands up to the fact that my entry drew inspiration from all over the the place, and it’s by no means perfect, but it’s mine* (as far as a thorough trawl of the internet can tell). 

Caramelised Pear and Cardamom Cupcakes with Dulce de Lech Mascarpone Icing

  • First, make the caramelised pears:

Caramelised Pear Ingredients:

2 ripe pears, peeled, cored and quartered

50g unsalted butter

30g caster sugar

Seeds of 10 cardamom pods


1 In a heavy bottomed frying pan melt together the butter and sugar on a low temperature until completely liquid and smooth, then turn the temperature up to medium.

2 Add the cardamom seeds and wait until the butter mixture starts to caramelise.

3 Turn the temperature down slightly, and add the pears to the pan, round side down.

4 Cook the pears for about 25 minutes, occasionally basting the pears in the syrup mixture, until the pears are tender and have taken up the colour from the syrup.

5 Remove the pears from the pan, and set aside the syrup mixture for later.

6. Dice the pears into small chunks and leave to cool while preparing the cupcake batter.

  • Second, make the cupcakes.

Cupcake Ingredients:

75 g ground almonds
50 g S/R white flour
1 pinch salt
5 ml baking powder
125 g unsalted butter
125 g caster sugar
1 egg
5 ml vanilla extract
125 ml milk

Diced caramelised pear pieces

1 Cream together the butter and sugar until white and fluffy.
2 Add egg and beat well.
3 Sift together flour, almonds, baking powder and salt.
4 Mix milk with vanilla extract.
5 Mix in the flour and milk alternatively into the egg, starting and ending with the flour.
6 Put 12 paper cases in a 12-part cupcake tray, and fill with the batter.
7 Bake at 180°C until golden and the cakes are springy – about 30 minutes.
8 Transfer to a wire wrack to cool completely.

  • While the cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting.

Frosting Ingredients: 
60g soft unsalted butter

150g mascarpone cheese

80g icing sugar

a tablespoon of lemon juice

4 tablespoons dulce de lech

the retained cardamom syrup


1 Cream the butter until light and fluffy, add the mascarpone and mix to cream.

2 Sift the icing sugar over the creamed mascarpone mix and gently fold it in. Mix in a bit of lemon juice, to lighten the flavour slightly.

3 Chill the mascarpone mixture for 30 minutes.

4 Mix together the dulce de lech with a few tablespoons of the cardamom syrup (avoiding the seeds)

5 Take the mascarpone mixture from the fridge and mix through a few tablespoons of the dulce de lech mixture until it reaches a nice marbled effect.

  • When the cupcakes are completely cool, then cover with the mascarpone frosting using an icing bag, and drizzle with more of the dulce de lech if desired. 


(*Here’s the boring legal bit: as I entered this recipe into a competition it is now the intellectual property of The Hummingbird Bakery – but I don’t think they’d be d*ckish enough to have a go at me for posting it on my blog, given that I can be 99% certain I didn’t win the comp, and I posted it way after the closing date. Any issues, I’m sure they’ll let me know…)

Foodie Penpal Package – February 2013


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