September 18th, 2011

A Very Chocolatey Birthday Cake Category: Recipes

My Dad was 60 in August so my task was to make a cake as usual, however, he isn’t he biggest fan of sweet buttercream and doesn’t like the amount of icing normally accompanying the traditional maderia style cake.

So I got my thinking cap on & after discounting making a train cake (his present to is learn how to drive a steam train!) I remembered the cake Lorraine Pascale had made on her TV series with chocolate sponge with chocolate buttercream (which isn’t too sweet) and fresh fruit – the ‘I can’t believe you made that’ cake.

Now I did leave it a bit late to co-ordinate what I needed as Anthony and my brothers were taking part in a 24hr mountain bike race which also involved our first camping holiday so I was quite busy balancing a few things. The result of this was a lack of chocolate cigarellos. I had assumed I would be able to order them from my usual online cake suppliers but they didn’t sell them. A number of others do, but I was very surprised at how expensive they were and I would have had to pay for fast delivery.

After some thought we abandoned the cigarellos and used the retro-sweets Matchmakers (orange flavour).

Se here we go – one chocolate cake with fresh raspberries.

The cake on the table

The cake went down really well and everybody enjoyed it.  It wasn’t too sweet and the matchmakers worked well, but a word of warning they are fragile so if you are transporting the cake any distance maybe take some extra matchsticks & a small pot of buttercream to glue back into position!

The cake on the plate

One alternative to matchmakers I had been considering was using wafer cigarillo type biscuits but I couldn’t source what I wanted at short notice. However, I have since found that the Harvey Nichols pop-up shop in Liverpool One selling them & think these would work just as well.

The cake on the table

The Recipe – from Lorraine Pascale

You will need a 20cm/8in round deep cake tin and a 20cm/8in cake board.


  • 200g/7oz butter, softened (plus a little extra to coat tin)
  • 200g/7oz caster sugar
  • 4 free-range eggs
  • 140g/5oz plain flour
  • 60g/2½oz cocoa powder
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 400g/14oz plain, milk, or white chocolate cigarillos (about 75–80 in total)

For the buttercream

  • 250g/9oz butter, softened
  • 500g/1lb 2oz icing sugar
  • 100g/3½oz good dark chocolate (at least 70 per cent cocoa solids), melted and slightly cooled

For the decoration

  • Fresh raspberries or strawberries


Preheat the oven to 180/C/350F/Gas 4

Line the cake tin with baking paper and rub a little bit of soft butter around the tin

Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until they begin to go pale. Add half of the eggs and half of the flour and mix well. Add the rest of the eggs, flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder and beat for a minute or two.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for about 30–40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.

To make the buttercream – put the butter and icing sugar in a bowl and whisk together until the mixture goes fluffy. Add the cooled, melted chocolate and whisk for a further two minutes.

The original instructions are to leave the cake in the tin until it is completely cool, however I prefer to take mine out & cool on a wire rack.

Cut the top of the cake flat with a large serrated knife and turn the cake upside down on the cake board so that the bottom now becomes a flat top. Split the cake horizontally and sandwich the top and bottom together with a 1cm/½in layer of buttercream.

Spread half of the remaining buttercream all over the top and sides of the cake, making it as smooth as possible. Put it in the fridge to set before doing another layer – this makes it much easier to get neat squared-off edges.

Gently push the cigarillos, or matchmakers, vertically onto the sides of the cake, positioning them as straight as possible and making sure they touch the bottom.


August 8th, 2011

A Review: The Spotty Blue Teapot Category: Reviews

The Spotty Blue Teapot is a tea room that opened in Hoylake earlier this year. Its aim is to be a chic, healthy living tearoom with children in mind.

We heard about it via Twitter when it opened but we only got round to visiting it today. We went for lunch but as we’d had a late morning we didn’t get there until just before 2pm so we were pleased to see that it was quite quiet (they are holding storytimes through the summer holidays & whilst we wanted child friendly we didn’t want anything overrun and too busy!)

We found a table & looked at the menu which can also be found on their website. There was a nice choice of lunches and Elodie picked something from the children’s menu so I went to order at the counter.

I had somehow managed to miss the massive large steps by the counter allowing children to get up & presumably ask for things & pay for themselves. A nice touch, but its a shame Elodie didn’t really get acknowledged by the staff given how quiet it was. Then the lady taking my order answered the phone, that’s usually fine but there was no apology or let somebody else answer it. You can probably tell by now that it didn’t give us the first impression we were expecting.

I took Elodie over to the small play area whilst we waiting for the food and drinks – it was a few playmats, toys, books, paper and pencils and small tables and seats. Simple but a nice touch & one that many parents would appreciate. My only gripe was that I couldn’t really leave Elodie there to play whilst I had a cup of tea as I couldn’t see her from the table. In fact there were only two, maybe three tables that were close enough to the play area.

Elodies food arrived first – 4 Toasted Cheesy Squares. Ok I presumed they would be ‘toasties’ but what arrived was cheese on toast cut into quarters and then alongside that a plate of cucumber slices which cost me an additional 75p! I like to give Elodie fresh salad or vegetables with lunch so felt slightly obliged to get some but she only ate a couple and we were left with the remaining 10!!  She enjoyed her cheese on toast though and we enjoyed our lunch as well – fresh coronation chicken sandwich & jacket potato.

The cafe use local produce were possible & the food was good quality. The salad was fresh and crispy which is seemingly rare these days.

We left feeling a bit underwhelmed by the experience, the staff were not rude, but neither were they happy. The food was tatsy and the quality was good but it was a bit on the pricey side.

The one thing that really *did* bug me, however, was the children’s party leaflet. Three options for parties that looked nice, food and drink included and a story at the end, time permitting! Then they mentioned the birthday cake.  You are not allowed to take in your own birthday cake. Seriously.  They deem themselves ‘professional bakers’ so ask that you don’t bring your own cake but instead they would be happy to  discuss you cake requirements. I’m sorry but that really made me angry. You may make fantastic cakes (I dont know we didn’t try one today) but at least give people the option.  You cant have a children’s birthday party without cake can you?

The overall impression was that they were trying to do too many things at once rather than pick one or two and make them really good. And that making as large a profit as possible was slightly too high on the agenda.

Saying that we would probably go back and try again but I dont think it will be a regular place to go and that’s maybe more of what we’d expected & have liked.

July 5th, 2011

Strawberry Picking, Jam & Scones Category: Recipes

We spent a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon at Claremont Farm Pick Your Own with Elodie. I wasn’t sure if she would enjoy picking strawberries, but they are one of her favourites at the moment & when we mentioned a tractor ride she was rather excited about it!

She took to picking strawberries like a duck to water and had the biggest advantage – little legs so less bending down! Anthony was supervising the strawberries she picked for her basket & between us we quickly filled up two containers.

So, what do you do with 2kg of Strawberries? Jam was high on my list (as it has been on my To Make list for too long) but by the next morning I no longer had 2kg of fresh juicy strawberries I had 1kg & something left after everyone had been helping themselves. But I still had enough for 1/2 the amount!

The recipe I used was an Easy Strawberry Jam from the Womens Institute.  I am glad to say it worked & was relatively easy to make.  First of all I washed & prepared the strawberries

Then they sat in the pan for just over an hour with the jam sugar & some lemon juice

When the jam jars had been sterilised & drying in the oven I put the heat on & simmered away until the jam reached its setting point (it took me nearer 25 minutes to get to this stage rather than the 15-18 minutes the recipe mentions)

I misread the recipe & didn’t leave the fruit to stand for 15-20 minutes which is supposed to stop the fruit from rising in the jars.  But the fruit was no longer in big pieces so I guess it doesn’t matter! The jam was carefully spooned into the jars & the lids put on tightly.

However, the lid of the first jar didn’t stay on for long.  Elodie enjoyed warm jam sandwiches for lunch & I made some scones later in the day.

From field to scone in 24 hours.  Not too bad?!

July 2nd, 2011

Nanny’s Shop, Shieldaig Category: Reviews

Its that time again, when we have been on our annual holidays in the Highlands of Scotland except this year we ventured to the West Coast.

We spent a week in a really lovely holiday house in Annat which is just South of Torridon.  I will do another blog about our holiday but one of the highlights of our holiday was our quick visit to Nanny’s Shop. A fantastic little shop which was re-opened in 2008 by owners Lynn & Lisa.  The shop is quaint and stocks so many beautiful things. It also serves fresh coffee, fantastic cakes and you can even get some fresh smoked salmon (or order some fresh seafood for the next day if you get there in time).

The shop has a lot of history & I believe it is much unchanged from the previous owner, Nanny Grant, who had run the shop since 1950.  Before that her father (who built the shop in 1918) ran the shop when he had also been carrying on the family tradition.

It now attracts visitors from all over with its modern, chic interior and offers a really friendly service, quality gifts & fantastic food and all set in a beautiful location overlooking Loch Shieldaig. I mean, how lovely is this…

If you are in the area, we really would recommend a visit, a coffee and a cake!

June 5th, 2011

Birthday Cake – Newcastle Shirt Category: Uncategorized

A colleague in work asked me if I would like to bake her a cake for her partners 50th in the shape of a Newcastle football shirt.

I looked into getting a Wliton T-Shirt shaped tin but found (a) they are discontinued – why?! (b) cake shops on the internet don’t hire tins over the web (c) my local trusty cake shop have shaped tins but not in the shape of a t-shirt. I thought it was going to be a bit easier but hey ho shaping the cake was the only way to go.

I hired a 10″ square tin and the cake ended up being approximately 10″ by 9″ so I didn’t waste too much cake.

I had asked Anthony to print off a template for me to use but for one reason or another he could get it printed to the right size so I had to free-style a template based on the smaller one.  I have to say though, I was happy with the size and shape.

The cake was filled with raspberry jam and buttercream then had a buttercream layer applied to help stick the icing on.  I had to roll out the icing for the cake as well, in the past I have managed to get away with a pre-rolled icing but the cake was far too big for that!

I had invested in an icing smoother & was happy with the results – I think it was noticeably smoother, shiny icing.

Then I covered it in black stripes.  Again I free-styled the first one and traced around it to make the other one the same.  The middle strip and sponsor badge completed the design.

The cake made it to work for the handover after a 40 minute drive into Chester. Nervewracking! I just hope it tasted nice when it was eaten yesterday.

May 30th, 2011

B is for Baby Cakes Category: Uncategorized

A few weeks ago my friend had a lovely little Baby Boy so I made a couple of cakes to take round with a present…