February 27, 2010

The best Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake with buttercream




This recipe makes a gorgeous Carrot Cake and is much better than the Rachel Allen one I made! Steve’s Mum declared it the best Carrot Cake she’s ever tasted (and she’s quite the expert!), hence the rather arrogant title! The texture is moist and light, plus the walnuts give a nice crunch.


It’s such a simple cake to make and doesn’t require much effort as it’s made with oil, so there’s no creaming of butter and sugar necessary.


I don’t like coconut, but you can’t taste it in the cake and it gives it a better texture, so it’s worth adding. The walnuts are optional of course, but we had some knocking around the house as Steve’s Mum always buys the ones in their shell for Christmas and they never get eaten unless I use them in baking!


Carrot Cake royal icing


There was a bit of a debate in the house about which icing people preferred, so I covered half with a simple buttercream (Steve’s choice) and half with a runny royal icing (Steve’s Mum’s and my choice) as we had some leftover from last week’s birthday cake decorating.


  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C
  • Oven shelf: middle
  • You will need: a greased and lined 8 inch square tin



  • 150ml (¼ pint) sunflower oil
  • 100g (4oz) light soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 75g (3oz) golden syrup
  • 175g (6oz) self raising flour, sifted
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g (4oz) carrots, grated (approx. 1 med-large sized carrot)
  • 25g (1oz) desiccated coconut
  • ½ Tablespoon walnuts, chopped



  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4/350°F/180°C.
  2. Whisk together the oil, sugar, eggs and golden syrup using an electric hand mixer.
  3. Add the flour, spices, bicarbonate of soda, carrots, coconut and walnuts and gently fold into the mixture with a spoon until well incorporated. Don’t overmix as this will make the cake heavy.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. A skewer inserted should come out clean. If it’s not done yet, return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes. If the cake is getting too brown then lightly cover with a sheet of foil.
  5. Cool in the tin for about 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before icing.


To make the buttercream icing for half the cake: Beat 25g (1oz) soft butter until pale and creamy. Add 100g (4oz) of sifted icing sugar and just enough milk to create a soft and fluffy icing. Beat well then spread on top of the cooled carrot cake.



  • You can freeze the cake un-iced

February 26, 2010

Grow Your Own 2010!

I’ve been eagerly awaiting for Spring to arrive so that I can start sowing my seeds! I’m a lot more organised this year and I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the winter planning what I’m going to grow and gathering all my bits and pieces. For Christmas I asked for tub trugs to grow carrots and squash, a pair of decent secateurs and also a windowsill propagator. I’ve also bought some new gardening gloves that actually fit my childish hands, some small pots for transplanting and 2 large propagating covers to go over my raised bed to create a greenhouse effect (the good kind though!).


Last year my seed growing was a bit slap-dash to say the least, so I wanted to make sure I grew my seedlings properly this time. I now know I made a few mistakes last year, such as not transplanting my tomatoes into smaller pots before planting out. I also planted them out too early and didn’t let them grow tall enough. I still got loads of tomatoes so it wasn’t a complete disaster, but I’m hoping for much better results this year.


I had a lot of seeds leftover from last year, but I decided to buy a lot of new seeds as I wanted to try new things. I bought most of my seeds from a company on Ebay called Premier Seeds Direct. Their prices are brilliant, with dirt cheap postage costs and they have a really good range of seeds. I’ve also got a lot of seeds for free – check out my Gardening Freebie/Discounts for the latest gardening goodies that you can get your hands on!

I’ve decided to use the Square Foot Gardening approach for my raised bed this year. After some rough calculations I worked out I could grow the following in it:

  • 1 Tomato plant
  • 3 French Bean plants
  • 3 Pea plants
  • Spinach
  • 1 Sprouting Broccoli plant


I will be growing carrots and squash in 14 litre trugs. I decided to try the Uchiki Kuri variety of squash as I read on other blogs that it is quite easy to grow. I didn’t have much success with my Butternuts last year, but I still have some seeds so I might give them another shot.

Last year I bought 2 types of thyme, rosemary and parsley as small plants. I pretty much killed off the rosemary by cutting it too short. So I bought some seeds to try and grow it myself, plus I wanted sage (to go with my homemade ravioli!) so I’m growing that from seed too. I’ll also be having another go with basil as the plants only last for 1 year.

So anyway, here’s my new windowsill propagator! It’s from Marshalls.

Propagator Propagator-1 Propagator-2 Propagator-3

You fill the 49 plant modules with compost and then turn the transparent lid upside down and press down to create seed holes. Some of my seeds needed to be sown a bit deeper so I just used an old pen to create a deeper hole. I used proper seed compost instead of multi-purpose and it is definitely much finer. I wet the soil before sowing my seeds and then just put some more water in the bottom tray. I then put the lid on and placed the propagator on a sunny windowsill.

Prop filled 26 Feb 
Here is my diagram so I know what I’ve planted/plan to plant:

Prop grid


I planted the following in my propagator on Friday 26 Feb:

  • Basil
  • Peas
  • Rosemary
  • Tomatoes


On Monday 1st March I planted:

  • Chillies
  • French Beans
  • Sage
  • Sprouting Broccoli
  • Squash – Butternut and Uchiki Kuri


Here’s a table to help me keep track of when to sow indoors/outdoors, when to transplant and when I’ll be able to harvest!

Temp’ for seeds
Sow Under Cover Plant Out Sow Direct Harvest


15-20 Jan–Dec May May–Jun All year
Carrots 7.5+

Mar–Jun May–Nov






French Beans 12 Mar–Jul May–Aug Apr–Jul May–Oct


10 Feb–May May–Jun Mar–Jun May–Oct
Rosemary 15-20 Feb–May Apr

All year
Sage 15-20 Feb/Apr May

All year
Spinach 10

Mar–Oct Jan–Dec
Sprouting Broccoli 18-24 Mar–May Jun–Jul Apr–May Jan–Apr


15-18 Mar–May Jun–Jul



18 Feb–Apr Apr–Jun



Last year I sowed things in short rows in my raised bed. This year I decided to try ‘Square Foot Gardening’. Well, sort of square foot. The bed measures 100cm long by 50cm wide, so by dividing the bed into 6 squares, each square is roughly 33cm by 25cm (a true square foot is 30 x 30cm).


At the beginning of the year I had planned to grow tomatoes, beans, peas, spinach and sprouting broccoli in the bed, but I keep changing my mind. I didn’t realise that the sprouting broccoli takes such a long time to grow, so I might plant them in pots instead. Then I remembered the tomatoes I grew in the bed last year got totally out of control and I said I wouldn’t be planting them in the bed again! I also have 4 squash plants that are growing really well, but I only have 2 trugs, so I might plant the 2 Uchiki Kuri squash in the bed and train them up canes.


So here’s what I’ve planted in my raised bed so far:

  • 2 French Bean plants (will sow more seeds direct)
  • 4 Mange Tout plants (will sow more seeds direct)
  • 1 row of Spinach seeds (will sow more seeds later)


10-04 Raised bed plan

February 23, 2010

Naan Bread – Hairy Bikers



In their ‘Hairy Bakers’ series Simon and Dave made naan bread when they visited the Peak District. I’ve made flatbread before, which was good, but their naan bread looked really lovely and more authentic. So I looked up the recipe online and found it on the bbc.co.uk website.



I had to halve the recipe because I only had a 150g pot of natural yoghurt (which worked out as 100ml) but it worked out fine. It was a really sticky dough and I only used about 100ml of the 150ml of milk. With most bread recipes you have to use the recipe quantities as a loose guide and adjust them as different types of flour need a different amount of liquid.


The website recipe said to knead for 20-25 minutes, which I thought was really excessive, so I only kneaded for about 10 minutes and it was fine. I decided to double check the recipe by watching the episode again on YouTube. I found that the method was completely different, in that they added the ingredients in a different order. Plus on the show Si says to knead for 15-20 minutes, which I think is still quite a long time for bread.


It was an easy dough to work with because it was so soft and kneading it was easy, apart from the stickiness. I had to add quite a lot of flour, but if you watch the video of the episode then you will see Dave spill flour all over the board because the top falls off the flour duster and Si says “That’ll do, that’s perfect that dude!” so I wouldn’t worry if you need a lot of flour.


I would advise to add the milk to the dough very gradually, so I would follow the “wrong” BBC recipe as it tells you to add the milk at the end.



Despite the BBC website providing the “wrong” method, my naan bread was actually really nice. But it wasn’t like proper naan bread from an Indian restaurant, it was more like focaccia, which is still delicious! So I would make this recipe again, but I would treat it like a focaccia bread or pizza and load it with toppings.


So here’s the BBC recipe that I’ve adapted to show the half recipe:


  • Makes: 4 or 8
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 9/475°F/240°C



Full recipe – makes 8 Half recipe - makes 4

500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp dried yeast
2 tsp poppy seeds*
2 tsp fennel seeds*
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking powder
1 free-range egg, beaten
2 tsp olive oil, plus extra for glazing
200ml (300g) plain yoghurt
300ml whole milk, warmed

250g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp dried yeast
1 tsp poppy seeds* 
1 tsp fennel seeds*
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp baking powder
½ free-range egg, beaten
1 tsp olive oil, plus extra for glazing
100ml (150g) plain yoghurt
150ml whole milk, warmed

* I substituted the poppy and fennel seeds for cumin seeds.



  1. Mix the flour, yeast, poppy and fennel seeds, salt and baking powder in a large bowl until well combined.
  2. Add the egg, olive oil and yoghurt and stir with a plastic spatula until well combined.
  3. Add two thirds of the warm milk to the dough mixture and stir until well combined. Gradually add the remaining milk as necessary until the dough is smooth and soft (you may not need all the milk).
  4. Using floured hands, knead the dough on a clean, floured work surface for 10 minutes, or until soft and elastic. Put the dough into a clean lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and set aside in a warm, draught-free place for one hour or until the dough has doubled in size.
  5. When the dough has risen, divide it into 4 or 8 parts. Using your hands, stretch and flatten each of the naans until they are thin and even, then transfer to a baking sheet. Brush each naan with olive oil.
  6. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 9/475°F/240°C.
  7. Bake the naan breads for 7-10 minutes, or until pale golden-brown but still soft inside.



  • You can freeze them after they have been baked. Defrost and then reheat in the oven at Gas mark 6/400°F/200°C for about 5-7 minutes.

February 20, 2010


Well I turned the ripe old age of 29 on Wed, which is shocking for anybody new that I meet because I look so young.  I did some work experience recently and everyone asked me what I was studying (I really hope they meant at University and not College!). Anyway, I’m sure I will appreciate my youthful looks when I’m in my mid-life. I am quite pleased that I didn’t get asked for ID in the pub on Friday, which makes a change!


MM bday cake 29

Steve’s Mum made me this lovely cake. I don’t have a recipe because she did it secretly and she never makes a note of actual quantities for the decoration! It’s 2 basic sponge cakes sandwiched together with strawberry jam, then covered in buttercream icing. She bought some wires from a cake shop and then cut out shapes from fondant icing and stuck them on the wires.

MM Chris Cake

Today it’s Chris’ birthday (Steve’s brother-in-law) , so I helped Steve’s Mum make him a cake. He’s recently really got into skiing, so this is a slope made of the same sponge cake, covered in royal icing. I made the boots and hat from fondant icing (coloured red using Wilton food gel), the legs are chocolate fingers and the skis are kit kat fingers. Steve’s Mum made the trees from green fondant icing and she used small scissors to snip the icing to create the tree effect. She used chocolate fingers stuck inside for the trunk. I’ve only worked with fondant icing once before, so it was fun to make this with Steve’s Mum because she’s quite a dab hand!


Chris Bday Brownie

Tomorrow we’re having a bit of a tea party for Chris at his house, so I made brownies which everyone loves. I used melted white chocolate for the writing and I’m pretty pleased at how steady my hand was! I used my squeezy bottles fitted with a No.2 nozzle and it was really nice to write with.


For a moment I thought I’d spelled ‘Birthday’ wrong and that I’d created a Cake Wreck! It could easily have gone that way if Steve hadn’t come in the kitchen after I’d done the swirls, because I was about to add more decoration and he said that would have been over the top.

February 15, 2010

Lemon Loaf – Hummingbird Bakery

Lemon Loaf




After the success of the Chocolate Cupcakes that I’d made from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, I decided to try out the lovely looking Lemon Loaf. This is one of the recipes which suffered from a misprint in the first edition of the book. Luckily my edition has the correct weight for plain flour as 350g and a baking time of 1 hour 15 minutes.


Just like the cupcake recipe, the method was a little unorthodox, but I followed it strictly and I am pleased to say that the recipe was a success. The cake was a little heavier than I expected, but it was full of zesty lemon flavour and it kept perfectly for a full week. I actually preferred to eat this warm after it had been nuked in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

Lemon Loaf-1

Even though this was a good recipe, I’m not sure if I’d make it again because the sponge was a little heavy. I will probably just add some lemon zest to a different sponge recipe, but I would definitely use the lemon syrup again.


Lemon Loaf-2

  • Makes: 8-10 slices
  • Oven temperature: Gas mark 3/325°F/170°C
  • Oven shelf: middle
  • You will need: a 23 x13cm loaf tin, greased and dusted with flour



  • 320g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs (I used large)
  • grated zest of 2 lemons, unwaxed
  • 350g plain flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I omitted this as I used salted butter)
  • 250ml whole milk (I used semi-skimmed)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 200g unsalted butter, melted
  • freshly squeezed juice and zest of 1 lemon (I only used the juice as I ran out of zest!)
  • 50g caster sugar



  1. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 3/325°F/170°C.
  2. Put the sugar, eggs and lemon zest in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) and beat until well mixed.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a separate bowl.
  4. Combine the milk and vanilla extract in another bowl.
  5. Add one-third of the flour mixture to the sugar mixture and beat well, then beat in one-third of the milk mixture. Repeat this process twice more until everything has been added. Turn the mixer up to high speed and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  6. Turn the mixer down to low speed, pour in the melted butter and beat until well incorporated.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and bake in the oven for about 1 hour 15 minutes, or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched.


For the lemon syrup: while the cake is baking, put the lemon juice and zest, sugar and 100ml water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over low heat. Raise the heat and boil until it has reduced by half, or until it has a thin syrup consistency. When the hot cake comes out of the oven, put it on a wire cooling rack and pour the syrup all over the top. Leave to cool slightly in the tin before turning out onto the wire cooling rack to cool completely.



  • I used my silicone loaf tin as it was the perfect size. It didn’t need any greasing or lining and it was a doddle to turn the cake out.

February 13, 2010

R.I.P Fizz


There has been a severe lack of blogging recently because sadly we had to put Steve’s family dog to sleep last Wednesday. Fizz suddenly became paralysed in her hind legs and although we had considered getting her a wheel cart, she was so distressed and not eating, that we felt it was unfair not to put her down.

Steve bought Fizz for his Mum when she was just a puppy and they had her for 10 years, so she will be very much missed.

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