Category Archives: Baking

The easiest apple pudding

Apple pudding

We’re approaching the beginning of May, but winter has made an unexpected return this week. Icy winds are ruffling the pink blossom, and we’ve even had a bit of snow. Which all add up to the perfect excuse for a hot pudding.

This is a quick, easy pudding which will satisfy hungry children and adults alike.

You’ll need: an ovenproof dish (Pyrex is ideal), a cooking apple, sultanas, self-raising flour, caster sugar, milk, an egg, margarine or butter and a sprinkle of cinnamon. 

Pre-heat your oven to 180ºC.

Apple pudding

Lightly butter your dish. Then peel the apple and cut into thin slices. Arrange over the base of the dish and then sprinkle over a handful of sultanas or raisins.

Apple pudding

Weigh your egg in its shell – mine weighed 60g. Measure out the same weight of flour, margarine and sugar.

Cream the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg, followed by the flour and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Mix well, then add a tablespoon of milk. You should have a soft, dropping consistency.

Pour your cake mixture over the top of your fruit and spread it evenly. Don’t worry if you have a bit of fruit poking through.

Apple pudding

Bake in the oven for between 25 and 35 minutes. You’ll need to keep an eye on it – cake on top of fresh fruit always takes longer to cook. Keep testing it until a skewer comes out (reasonably!) clean.

Apple pudding

Serve with custard or ice cream!

Apple pudding

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A tale of two chocolate cakes. Is less ever more?

Healthy chocolate cake recipe testing

Can a chocolate cake ever be healthy? Or is it better to indulge in the real thing every now and again?

I’m saving you the bother of trial and error by testing two recipes for you. One is a classic, rich, chocolate cake. The other is a ‘virtuous’ chocolate cake. Can the healthy option compete – or it just tasteless cardboard in disguise?

First up is Nigella Lawson’s Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake (ingredients and instructions here). This really is a classic cake. As Nigella puts it, this cake is ‘melting, luscious and mood-enhancingly good.’ I first made it about eight years ago, and I keep the memories of it on a special pedestal in my mental cake gallery. It’s dark, velvety and just sweet enough. Why did it take me so long to come back to this recipe? Probably because it’s so unhealthy. 

Nigella Lawson's Old Fashioned Chocolate Cake

There’s just something that works so well about this cake, and it’s incredibly easy to make. If you have a food processor (I don’t) it’s even easier. Both the cake and the icing contain sour cream – which makes everything beautifully moist, fresh and glossy. The icing is a dream to put on – it spreads easily, and the sponge is firm enough not to dissolve into crumbs.

Nigella Lawson's Old fashioned chocolate cake

Oh, and the taste. We were all in raptures over this. It’s rich and sumptuous, but never cloying. It also keeps rather well, if you can manage not to eat it all at once. I think it actually tastes nicer the day after it’s made, and ours was still tasting nice five days after I made it.

Nigella doesn’t tell us how many calories it contains, but it’s probably squillions. Luckily a small slice is very satisfying.

If you’re looking for something a little more virtuous, I can point you in the direction of Angela Nilson’s Lighter Chocolate Cake fits the bill. It’s not a fashionable cake. It doesn’t contain avocados, raw cacao nibs or expensive unobtainable syrups. The secret ingredients? Ground almonds, quark, and natural yoghurt.

BBC Good Food lighter chocolate cake

The cake itself is very easy to make, and the instructions are clear. It didn’t rise particularly well, but wasn’t disgracefully bad. The icing contains light cream cheese and quark. If you haven’t heard of quark, it’s a special sort of German curd cheese. Find it in the supermarket next to things like mascarpone and buffalo cheese.

The overall taste of the cake wasn’t bad, but it was rather unusual. The icing had a very fresh yoghurty taste. Nice, but perhaps more so eaten out of yoghurt pot. The sponge was also a little dry and lacklustre. It looks pretty, but was a bit disappointing. Like getting a carrot stick when you really wanted a cheese straw.

Lighter chocolate cake

Due to the overall yoghurt and curd cheese theme, it also didn’t keep very well. There was no room for it in my fridge and it went mouldy after three days. It does, however, only contain 260 calories a slice. According to BBC Good Food Magazine, most normal chocolate cakes will contain about 500 calories. I suspect you can probably double that for Nigella’s offering.

But when it comes to chocolate cake, is less really more? If you’re going to have an occasional treat then you might as well do it in style. A slice of chocolate cake shouldn’t be a compromise. Eating the lighter cake gave me little pleasure, and I could have easily lived without it. Nigella’s cake, on the other hand, was all about pleasure – the taste, the velvety texture… and that’s what a chocolate cake is all about isn’t it? I’d rather go without than compromise.

What do you think?

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Gingerbread: the perfect last-minute Christmas present

Christmas Gingerbread

I’ve just finished putting together a big batch of gingerbread for the children to give to their teachers this Christmas. If you’re looking for an inexpensive, simple homemade gift then it doesn’t get much better than this!

Christmas gingerbread

Bake your gingerbread (I used my usual recipe) and then ice with royal icing and an assortment of festive sprinkles. This year we made snowflakes and wreaths, decorated with holly sprinkles and glimmering dust from Waitrose.

Christmas gingerbread


Once the icing is dry (leave overnight), you can wrap these up prettily with cellophane, ribbons and labels. I bought a large sheet of cellophane from Wilkinson’s and cut it to size, but you could buy bags.

Christmas Gingerbread

Christmas Gingerbread

Stir-up Sunday

Stir-up Sunday

This Sunday is Stir-up Sunday!

This day, which is always the last Sunday before Advent, is the traditional time to make your Christmas pudding and cake. Everyone in the house stirs the mixture and makes a wish.

Stir-up Sunday

In common with most children, my boys are not particularly keen on Christmas cake or pudding. They do, however, still enjoy joining in with the rituals of making the cake: putting the fruit on to soak, stirring the mixture and – of course – icing it when the time comes.

Every November I consult my recipe books and try to decide which cake to make this year. I’m a big fan of Mary Berry, Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson, and tend to rotate the recipes each year. Make your cake now and it will have plenty of time to mature in time for Christmas.

I have decided to make a small cake this year, so I’m going to follow Nigella’s traditional classic recipe, which gives you three different size options. I can’t find this recipe online, but it features in her Christmas book. Mary Berry’s recipe for a Victorian Christmas cake is also excellent. And you can’t go wrong with Delia’s Classic cake either.

I made the Mary Berry one last year and it was a winner!

Christmas cake

This year, I’m considering making my own Christmas pudding too. Sixpences, or other small tokens, were often traditionally added to puddings. Our family has never done this, but this year the Royal Mint are giving away 2,015 free sixpences to encourage people to revive the old tradition. I’ve signed up for one and I’m crossing my fingers that I get it in time. If I do, then it’ll be just the excuse I need to made a traditional pudding this Sunday. I’ll almost certainly turn to this recipe from Delia.

What will you be stirring up this Sunday?

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The Great HomeSense Bake Off

HomeSense Autumn bakeware

We’re all glued to the Great British Bake Off at the moment. The boys love it and we save it up to watch together on Friday evenings.

Although I enjoy baking, I rarely push myself out of my comfort zone. I tend to stick to simple things: scones, sponge cakes and sometimes bread. My baking equipment has seen better days too and is looking a bit sad and rusty.

Inspired by the wonderful things I’ve seen on the Bake Off, I set off for my local HomeSense in search of new ideas. As well as cushions, furniture and the like, HomeSense also has a huge range of baking supplies and cookery books. Amongst the many books were some brilliant baking names – Mary Berry and the Hummingbird Bakery to name just two – all at a fraction of their original price.

HomeSense Autumn Baking

As I wanted a new challenge, I chose an American baking book – The Model Bakery Cookbook (£6.99). It’s full of recipes like cinnamon rolls, Danish pastries and red velvet cupcakes – the kind of fancy things I lust after on Pinterest, but rarely find the time to make myself.

HomeSense Bake off

Armed with my book I decided to invest in a some new bakeware. You never know what you’re going to find in HomeSense, and true to form I was thrilled to find lots of Bake Off-branded bakeware. Lovely gleaming, cream-coloured cake tins and trays – so much nicer than my rusty old ones. I invested in a new 20cm deep-sided baking tin (£4.99) and a muffin tray (£6.99).

HomeSense Autumn Baking

While the boys were at school, I spent the day in a warm fug of baking pretending to be in the Bake Off tent. Using my new book, I made Cinnamon Buns and Morning Glory Muffins. Without my little helpers, I got stuck into some seriously precise, Bake Off-style creating. I even used a ruler for my cinnamon buns!

HomeSense Autumn Baking

Although the recipes were American, they were also converted into English measurements. The recipes were long, but easy to follow. Having said that, the method for making the schnecken dough for the buns was a little unusual, and I did feel like I was in the technical challenge at times! It was such a pleasure using my new tins – made in Britain and really fabulous quality.


I think Paul and Mary would say that my buns were a little over-baked – and they’d probably have noticed that I forgot to put coconut on top of my muffins. Fortunately my young judges were more forgiving and loyally said I was the winner.

Cinammon Buns

Morning Glory Muffins

If you’re looking for some baking inspiration this Autumn, why not visit your local HomeSense?

I was kindly sent a voucher to spend at HomeSense, but all ideas, words and photographs are my own. 

Little Jam Puddings

Little Jam Puddings

There’s been a bit of an Autumn chill in the air lately. That’s all the excuse I need for a hot pudding. These are incredibly quick and easy – as comforting as a steamed jam pudding, but with none of the faff.

You will need:

jam, self-raising flour, margarine (or soft butter), one egg and a little milk – I will explain about quantities later

4 miniature non-stick pudding tins or oven-proof ramekins

Little Jam puddings

1. Grease your little tins really well with margarine and pre-heat the oven to 180℃

2. The reason I didn’t specify quantities for the cake ingredients is that the easiest way to make a sponge is to use this simple formula: Weigh your egg in its shell. Now measure out equal quantities of everything else – except the milk. For me, this worked out at 64g each of flour, butter and sugar. One egg makes the perfect quantity to fill four little dishes – if you want to make more, use more eggs and match the weights accordingly. This method never fails!

3. Cream together your margarine and sugar. Add the egg and flour and mix well. If your mixture is a little stiff, add a dash of milk to loosen it.

4. In the bottom of each tin put a tablespoon of jam.

5. Dollop the cake mixture in over the top, dividing equally. Be gentle, you don’t want to mix up the jam and the cake.

6. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes – or until the sponge is golden and springy to the touch. The jam may bubble over so it’s a good idea to bake these on a tray.

7. Allow to cool for a few moments, then carefully run a knife round the inside of the tin to loosen the pudding. Tip out on a plate and hope for the best! Mine slid out pretty well, but don’t worry too much about perfection. The jam will be boiling hot, so please be careful and keep little people out of the way.

Little Jam Puddings


When you have black bananas…

We often end up with lots of black, over-ripe bananas. They sit looking at me reproachfully until I do something with them.

Black bananas

My favourite way to use them up is to make banana muffins, which the boys love for breakfast or snacks.

Banana muffins

My best-ever recipe for banana muffins comes from Susan Reimer’s fantastic book Muffins: Fast and FantasticThis really is the best muffin book I’ve ever come across and it’s completely foolproof. Most English recipes for muffins come out wrong and end up more like dry, dull cakes. I’m sorry to say that even Nigella’s don’t work. The muffins from this book come out exactly as they should – light, fluffy and moist. Muffins are also lower in fat and sugar than most cakes – what’s not to love? The recipe for banana muffins is here, but I urge you to go and buy this book – you won’t regret it, and it’s only £5.99!

If you fancy some other ideas for black bananas, how about banana bread? Our favourite recipe is this one from River Cottage. I make it time and time again – the crunchy sugar topping is wonderful.

Banana Bread

Or how about a seriously naughty banoffee pie?

Banoffee pie

I like this recipe by Gizzi Erskine – although it’s so sickly it really should come with a health warning!

What are your favourite ways to use up black bananas?

Ruth’s honey flapjack

Honey flapjack

A while ago my mother-in-law, Ruth, gave me her recipe for honey flapjack. It’s a really nice recipe that’s relatively low in sugar and has a deliciously mild, subtle taste. I do love a sticky, golden-syrup laden flapjack, but sometimes you want something a little less cloying – and these fit the bill nicely.


  • 140g butter
  • 55g soft brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 225g oats

1. Set oven to 180℃

2. Grease a small, shallow baking tin

3. Melt butter, honey and sugar in a pan over a gentle heat

4. Remove from the heat and stir in the oats, mixing well.

5. Press into the tin and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes – or until going slightly brown at the edges.

6. Cut into fingers while hot, then leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.

TIP: Honey is never going to have quite the sticking power of golden syrup and so these are quite crumbly flapjacks. You’ll need to make sure you leave them in the tin until completely cold before removing them. I like a soft flapjack, but if you like them firmer, try increasing the baking time a little.

Making flapjacks with children

My favourite scone recipe

Scone and jam

Scones are my idea of afternoon tea heaven. So much lighter and altogether yummier than a sticky cake. And if it comes with jam and cream too, then even better!

I think everyone has their favourite kind of scone, don’t they? I’ve tried lots of different recipes over the years – plain ones, tiny ones, fruity ones, lemon ones…. but I always come back to this simple recipe for fruit scones. Nothing fancy – but it really is the best I’ve found. I always prefer a fruited scone – plain ones are a little dry and boring. These are lovely with just butter, but are even better slathered with jam and clotted cream.

Scone with jam and cream

The recipe is taken from the Be-ro cookbook – which regular readers will know is a favourite of mine. My copy is falling apart now as it gets used so much! The ingredients are the same, although my method is slightly different to the original.


  • 225g self-rasing flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 50g margarine
  • 25g caster sugar
  • 50g of currants or sultanas
  • 1 egg – beaten and mixed with enough milk to make about a quarter of pint of liquid
  • A fluted cutter – I usually either use a large 6.5 cm one, or sometimes a 3 cm one.

1. Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C (the recipe suggests 220 but I find this a little too hot). Grease or line a baking tray

2. Place flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and add the margarine. Rub in gently until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

3. Stir in the sugar and fruit

4. Pour in the liquid a little at a time until the mixtures comes together as a soft dough. I like to use a table knife to do this. You may not need all your liquid and remember to leave a little behind to glaze the tops. Be careful not to add too much at once as the dough will be sticky and unworkable.

5. When your dough is soft, but not too sticky, turn out on a floured board. I never roll out my scone dough as over-working it makes the scones tough and they lose their lightness. Instead take half your dough and gently pat it out to a depth of about 1cm and then cut out your scones with a fluted cutter. Do not twist the cutter as this will stop the scones rising as much.

6. Re-use your trimmings for more scones, then move on to the other half of your dough. Be as gentle and light as you can.

7. Place scones on the baking tray and brush the tops with the remaining beaten egg and milk mixture.

8. Bake for about 10 minutes. Big scones may take slightly longer, little ones a bit less. You’re looking for a nice golden colour.

These are perfect eaten while still warm, but will keep well for several days! 

Tom with scone


Retro Trifle

At the weekend we really fancied a retro trifle – the sort of thing we remember from our childhood. No fresh fruit, garish colours and lots of sprinkles. If you fancy having a go too, here’s how to make one…

1. Use some leftover cake to line the bottom of your suitably retro bowl. We used some lemon cake. Prepare some raspberry jelly and pour it over the cake. Refrigerate for a few hours, or until just set. Lemon cake and raspberry jelly combined taste like bubblegum – which is a bit odd.


2. Cover the jelly and cake with a tin of custard. 


3. Whip some cream and spread it over the custard. Encourage your husband to match his outfit and apron to the trifle.


4. Decorate your trifle with sprinkles – the brighter the better. 

What are your favourite retro puddings? We are currently planning a chocolate trifle involving Angel Delight and Swiss Rolls.