Sep 15

Chocolate courgette brownies

We’ve never had much success with our vegetable patch, that is until this summer. Over the last few months we’ve had our fill of salad leaves, French beans, carrots, herbs – and the leeks and parsnips are growing well. There has however, been a glut of courgettes. Risotto, soups, raw in salads, pasta, sautéed with garlic – you name it we’ve eaten it and savoured the courgette flowers too. It has got to the stage where we are giving away our courgettes – having overdosed for the time being. So naturally I turned to baking with them!

Don’t be put off with the idea of courgettes in cakes. These brownies are kept extra moist with the inclusion of courgettes – do try them. No-one will guess the secret ingredient! We are all familiar with some vegetables in baking – carrot cake has become a national favourite and beetroot makes a great chocolate cake. In fact, vegetables in cakes are nothing new – recipes including parsnips and even potatoes can be found in old recipe books.


Chocolate courgette brownies
From: Seasonal Baking, published by Winfield Nicholson
Serves 16

For the cake
120g unsalted butter, really soft, in pieces, plus more for the tin
300g plain flour
4 tbsp cocoa, plus more to dust
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
140ml sunflower oil
400g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
140ml buttermilk at room temperature
180g peeled and grated courgettes, excess water squeezed out (prepared weight)
150g 70% cocoa solids chocolate, finely chopped


Preheat the oven to 170˚C/fan 150˚C/340˚F/gas mark 3½. Butter a 23cm square tin and line the base with baking parchment.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon and salt.

In the bowl of a food mixer (or in a bowl with a hand-held electric whisk), cream together butter, oil and sugar until very light and fluffy (this will take a good five minutes). Gradually add the eggs, vanilla extract and buttermilk. Gently fold in the flour mixture, followed by the courgettes and chocolate, and blend well together, being careful not to over-mix.

Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 55-60 minutes. Let cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.

Sift over a little cocoa, cut into 16 squares and serve.

Aug 15

Bakewell tart

I’m just back from a fabulous week in the South of France with my daughter. We drove many miles from Provence passing fields filled with “Van Gogh’s” sunflowers on the way and over to the Alpes.
We stayed in a little French town nestled deep in the mountains.


Twice during our stay the small town square was transformed into a wonderful market by local farmers and artisan food producers selling their wares. Sun ripened, sweetest ever deep red cherries, peaches, strawberries, raspberries etc. – we ate our fill!

Every morning we collected our breakfast croissants from the town’s boulangerie. We eyed up the window display of goodies – pissaladiere, patisserie of all descriptions, breads and an array of wonderful French glazed fruit tarts.

Back home in the UK, and I thought I would like to recreate some of these French goodies. I’m making a Bakewell tart this weekend – we do have our own equally delicious British tarts and cakes.

Our Bakewell tart, when freshly baked can be quite a revelation. If you’ve never tried – then do have a go as it is not difficult at all. It is every bit as good as those French tarts I think!
Really quite simple, a crisp pastry base (that is not too sweet), a layer of good quality jam all topped with an almond frangipane and toasted almonds. Very versatile too.


Perfect with a cup of tea or coffee any time of day, or served slightly warm as a pudding with a dollop of whipped cream or even take it on a picnic. (In the picture mine is decorated with two sugar paste cherries – just a bit of fun if you have the inclination!)

Those piles of sweet cherries on the market reminded me to make my favourite cherry and vanilla jam. Perfect for this Bakewell tart – but so is raspberry or strawberry jam.
Bonne Maman is a good brand to look out for – and widely available if jam making is a step too far!


Tip: Do always ensure your summer fruits and berries are at room temperature. Remove from the fridge a good hour before eating, as when chilled the flavour is dulled.
Tip: If you have over ripe berries, (or a mix) de-stone if necessary and whizz up in the food processor to a purée. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, sweeten to taste. Sieve and you have made a lovely fruit sauce. Freezes brilliantly if you have made a lot. It is great stirred into yoghurt, poured over summer fruits and berries or ice cream.

Bakewell tart

Serves 8

This has become a classic. Created by accident, I understand, in the 1860s in Bakewell, much mystery surrounds its origins… which, surprisingly to us modern fans, didn’t include ground almonds. Make sure all the ingredients for the filling are at room temperature.

For the pastry
100g unsalted butter, chilled and diced, plus more for the tin
200g plain flour, sifted, plus more to dust
Pinch of salt
40g icing sugar, sifted
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

For the filling
125g unsalted butter, softened
125g golden caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten, at room temperature
½ tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract
125g ground almonds
4 tbsp good-quality cherry, raspberry or strawberry jam
25g flaked almonds

To decorate (optional)
100g sugarpaste
Claret food colour paste
Christmas red food colour paste
Edible glaze spray
1 vanilla pod

To bake

Lightly butter a 23cm round, loose-bottomed metal flan tin (not ceramic; it won’t cook the pastry properly). To make the pastry, tip the flour, salt and icing sugar into a large bowl or food processor. Rub in the butter using your fingertips, or blitz. Lastly, add the egg yolks gradually until the dough comes together. If it is still too dry, add a very little cold water or, if too wet, a little flour. Try not to overwork the pastry as it will toughen it.

To line the tin, lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin. Roll out the pastry to about 3mm thick. Lift it with the rolling pin, line the tin with the pastry and prick all over with a fork. Trim the edges and press well into the tin. Chill for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 170°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Line the pastry case with a piece of baking parchment and fill with ceramic baking beans (or raw rice). Cook for about 15 minutes, remove the paper and cook for a further few minutes; the pastry will be pale gold. While the pastry is cooling, make the filling.

Place the butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until pale and fluffy. Start adding the eggs very slowly, then add the almond and vanilla extracts. Fold in the ground almonds. Spread the jam over the base of the pastry, then spoon the almond mixture over the jam – ensuring it is level – and sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the centre is firm to the touch. Cool.

To decorate

To make the two giant cherries, colour the sugar paste with the claret and Christmas red food colours . Divide in half and roll into two balls. Indent the tops of each with the end of a paint brush or similar tool, and spray with the glaze for a shine. To make the cherry stalks, split the vanilla pod nearly in half, keeping one end intact. If necessary trim the two stalks to neaten them, but add the valuable seeds or trimmings to a jar of vanilla sugar. Place the tip of each into the indent in each cherry, and position into the centre of the cooled tart just before serving.

Jun 15

Thai Rice and Coconut Cake

Last summer we spent a wonderful exotic family holiday on the island of Kho Samui in Thailand. Long lazy days on the sandy beaches sitting under the shade of the palm trees, boat trips out to nearby islands and cocktails on the beach watching the sunset. In the evenings we wandered through the colourful local markets searching out a little café or restaurant for our delicious Thai dinner.
Thai rice and coconut cake instantly transports me back to that happy trip.

fiona-thaiWe never ate it there – in fact I understand it was originally created by the cookery writer Roz Denny for Tilda Rice!
Deliciously creamy this cake is made with Thai jasmine rice, subtly flavoured with lemon grass, cardamom and coconut. It is a sublime most unusual cake and quite difficult to describe – I’ve never tasted anything even similar. Try it for yourself – and serve it at any summer party accompanied with a large bowl of raspberries or strawberries – or any soft seasonal fruits. It can be made the day before – just sit back and wait for those compliments!

Thai rice and coconut cake
After all the rich excesses of the festive season, this is especially delightful.

Serves 10
Unsalted butter, for the tin
10 cardamom pods
250g Thai jasmine rice
750ml whole milk
1 lemon grass stalk, crushed
2 fresh bay leaves
125g white caster sugar
150ml whipping cream
150ml liquid coconut cream (not coconut milk)
6 eggs, separated
A few physalis (or other seasonal soft fruit), to serve

200ml quark (low-fat soft cheese), or mascarpone
300ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
30g caster sugar, or to taste


Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Butter a 25cm round, deep cake tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment.

To de-seed the cardamom pods, split the husks with the point of a knife, empty all the little seeds into a mortar and grind them to a powder with the pestle. Sift to remove any pieces of husk.

Put the rice into a large saucepan of cold unsalted water, bring to a boil, then boil for three minutes. Drain.

Return the rice to the rinsed-out pan with the milk, lemon grass, cardamom powder and bay leaves. Add all but 1 tbsp of the sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool, still stirring occasionally, then remove the lemon grass and bay leaves.

Mix the whipping cream and coconut cream together and stir into the rice with the egg yolks. Whisk the egg whites until firm, then whisk in the remaining 1 tbsp of sugar until softly stiff. Fold into the rice mixture, and pour into the prepared tin.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35–45 minutes. The top should still wobble very slightly when shaken. Cool completely in the tin, then turn out on to a serving plate and remove the papers.

Loosen up the quark (or mascarpone) with a whisk, and lightly whip the double cream until just firm. Mix the two together with the vanilla, adding the lemon zest and sugar to taste. Spread over the top and sides of the cake, swirling with a palette knife.

Decorate with a few physalis (I twisted the leaves back up). This cake can be made a day ahead and stored in the fridge.

Jun 15

Chocolate cake

I can’t quite understand why it has taken a full year of writing this blog for Hello! to include a chocolate recipe! So, this month’s recipe is for all those chocoholics out there.

Many of us have a passion for all things chocolate – from cakes, desserts, hot chocolate drinks and maybe nibbling on a bar of 70% cocoa solids chocolate, savouring a special box from William Curley or Rococo but I must admit (usually when I’m very tired) only a box of Maltesers or a slab of Dairy Milk will do! No surprise then that the nation’s top favourite biscuit is a chocolate digestive!

Good quality chocolate, (in moderation of course) is we are told, good for us and has health benefits. This is not however referring to all the cheaper mass confectionery out there which is high in fat and sugar.

Choosing the appropriate chocolate for the occasion or for your recipe can be a little confusing. Faced with an array on the supermarket shelf, do take care to choose the chocolate specified. If the recipe indicated 70% (meaning cocoa solids in the chocolate) then that is the one to choose. Wine has percentages of alcohol – it doesn’t mean it is a good wine – so buy a good brand too – you can’t go wrong with Valrohna. Please do not ever be tempted by “cooking chocolate”!

My recipe this month must be the easiest chocolate cake ever! It is a very light, quite fragile cake – all the ingredients simply mix together in a bowl. It includes cocoa powder – so no percentages to worry about. This cake, which I’ve filled with British raspberries, very unusually contains no eggs, no dairy, no nuts and if you choose to ensure the flour is replaced with a gluten free flour (I like to use Doves gluten free flour, I think it’s the best gluten flour around and the baking powder is gluten free your cake becomes gluten free too.

Wait for the compliments before you tell your guests what’s not in the cake! They just might need a bit of convincing. Of course a perfect cake for those with certain food intolerances and allergies – a great summer party cake.

N.B. Please note, raw cacao powder is much stronger than cocoa powder and if substituting it for cocoa powder it needs to be reduced considerably (probably about half but you will need to experiment.)

Chocolate Cake

For the cake
140ml sunflower oil, plus more for the tins
360g self-raising flour
60g cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
400g golden caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 tsp white wine vinegar
400g raspberries
icing sugar, to dust

Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 160°C/340°F/gas mark 3 ½ Oil two 23cm cake tins and line the bases with baking parchment.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt. Stir in the sugar. In another bowl, measure the oil, 400ml water and vanilla extract, then add to the flour mixture, stirring in the vinegar last of all.

Pour the batter into the prepared tins and bake for 30–35 minutes, or until a skewer emerges clean. Leave for a few minutes in the tins, then run a knife around the rims and turn out on to a wire rack. Remove the papers and leave to cool completely.

Put one cake on a cake stand or serving plate, and top with most of the raspberries. Place the other cake on top, and scatter with the remaining raspberries. Sift over an even layer of icing sugar to serve.

Here are two options: Coconut Whipped Cream or Chocolate Ganache.

Coconut Whipped Cream

As an accompaniment, this delicious coconut cream I’ve suggested is of course dairy free too, as I felt it would be appropriate to the cake. If you don’t mind including dairy – fill the cake with a delicious chocolate ganache or accompany with a bowl of crème fraiche.

1. Place 1 x 400ml canned coconut milk in the fridge overnight so that the coconut milk liquid and solids separate.
2. Flip upside down.
3. Open it and pour liquid into a bowl (maybe use in your breakfast smoothies.)
4. Scoop remaining coconut cream into a chilled bowl and whisk, with a tablespoon or two of maple syrup (or honey), add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to taste.


Chocolate Ganache

100g of 70% cocoa solids chocolate,
100ml of double cream.

Chop the chocolate and place in a bowl. Put the cream in a small pan and slowly bring up to the boil. Remove and cool for a minute or so. Pour over the chocolate and leave alone – the chocolate will begin to melt. Take a spatula and begin to slowly stir in a circular motion, widening as you do and you will have a lovely swirly ganache. This is so versatile! You can pour it directly over a cake whilst it is liquid, leave it to thicken and spread it as a filling into your cake (Make sure it is completely cooled.) Let it set and you could even make it into truffles – adding flavouring.

May 15

Strawberry, mint and balsamic cheesecake

I wrote about strawberries in an earlier blog last year, and as summer fast approaches and our British strawberries appear it is time to do so again. For me only seasonally available British berries will do – as I’m sure you have gathered by now!

Strawberries -our most universally loved fruit can be complimented and enhanced in so many ways. We all know the British classic and summer institution-strawberries and cream-or afternoon tea with a freshly baked scone, strawberry jam and clotted cream. Hard to beat.

There are many other perfect partners for our favourite berry -vanilla sugar, buttery pastry(think of the French classic-Mille feuille , thin layers of puff pastry and pastry cream and strawberries). Also, soft cheeses, fresh mint, oranges and orange liqueur Grand Marnier, Amaretto (almond liqueur), rosewater, elderflower, balsamic vinegar-I could go on and on.

This month my recipe is a cheesecake – which can often be on the heavy side- but not this one. Perfect as a dessert to serve at any special summer dinner or lunch party.


It has a few stages-just read the recipe through as always-and begin the day before you will be serving it. If you are not used to gelatine, do follow the exact instructions in my recipe and you should be delighted with your result.

If time is short ,why not simply prepare a bowl of the strawberry filling and serve with pouring , clotted , lightly whipped cream or a bowl of yogurt. This will give you two or three servings –so of course multiply up for a larger gathering.

I am never without my vanilla sugar Kilner jar in my kitchen. Vanilla sugar takes less than 5 minutes to prepare and will transform your summer fruits berries in the next few months. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do anything else this month , please do make it( see my June blog 2014).

Next Month – a most delicious chocolate cake made without dairy, egg and nut and can be without gluten too.

I find many cheesecakes too dense, but not this exceptionally light, summery version. The balsamic vinegar enhances the flavour of the strawberries wonderfully.

SERVES 10–12

50g unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the tin
300g dark chocolate digestive biscuits
10 large mint leaves, finely chopped

300g strawberries, thinly sliced
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
10 large mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp icing sugar

3 tsp gelatine crystals
250g unsalted cream cheese, at room temperature
300ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large egg yolks
45g golden caster sugar

150–200g strawberries
few sprigs of mint

Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 160C/340°F/gas mark 31/2. Butter
very well the base and sides of a 23cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round
springform tin, making sure the flat side of the springform base is
uppermost (the lipped side makes it hard to remove the cheesecake).

Put the biscuits in a polythene bag, seal, then bash with a rolling pin
until very fine. Tip into a bowl and mix in the butter and mint. Lightly
press into the tin with a spoon. Bake for 15 minutes, then leave to cool.

For the strawberry filling, simply mix everything together in a bowl
and leave for 1–2 hours for the strawberries to absorb the flavours.
Drain the strawberries, reserving all the delicious juices.

For the cream cheese filling, place 3 tbsp cold water into a small,
wide-bottomed heatproof bowl and sprinkle over the gelatine. Every
single crystal must be wet, or it will turn to lumps later on. Set the
bowl over a pan of hot (not boiling) water until every crystal has
melted. Don’t let it get too hot or it won’t set properly.


In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. In another
bowl, lightly whip the cream and vanilla. Using an electric mixer
(or handheld whisk), whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick, pale
and doubled in volume. Carefully fold in the cream cheese, then the
cream. Take the strawberry juices and mix them into the gelatine
liquid, sieve out any lumps, then fold in a spoonful of the cream
mixture. Once well blended, gently fold in the remaining cream.

Spread the marinated strawberries over the centre of the biscuit base,
ensuring they do not reach the edges. Spoon on the cream, level the
surface and place in the refrigerator overnight to set.

When you are ready to serve, dip a knife into hot water, release the
spring and run the knife around the edge of the tin. Ease off the base
with a warm palette knife and transfer to a serving dish. Finally,
decorate with the sliced strawberries and mint sprigs.


Apr 15

Fairy cakes

We are very proud of our fairy cakes at Fiona Cairns Ltd, which since we first sold them a few years ago have proved one of our most popular cakes ever. We make them all year round-changing the designs seasonally. I’ve been asked more times than I can remember what is the difference between cupcakes and fairy cakes? The former tend to be larger, usually topped with buttercream and originated in the States, but the smaller fairy cake I understand was first baked here in Britain.

This month I am giving a simple fairy cake recipe -they are decorated with edible crystallised summer flowers in the photo. I ‘ve just picked a few spring edible flowers (see the other photo)- tiny primroses, cowslips, violas and yes even the humble garden daisy (from my lawn!) Just make sure they havn’t been sprayed with chemicals. These little cakes are just perfect for an afternoon tea, make a lovely gift or even could be piled high on a cake stand for a wedding or a Christening. In fact a lovely centrepiece for any spring or summer celebration.

I remember well the month of April -4 years ago. We were in the midst of creating the Royal wedding cake for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. We were on count down – only 4 weeks to go until the wedding – a little stressful I recall! The cake was 17 fruit cakes and 8 tiers high and stood about a metre high. Covered in handmade sugar flowers we crafted, and all selected from a list produced by the Duchess herself-from “The Language of Flowers”.


These little fairy cakes and decoration are so much simpler to create-and hopefully you will find a pleasure to make- totally stress free I hope!

Crystallised flower fairy cakes

Perfect for any garden party, these are as pretty as a picture. In this recipe, they are iced in very pale lavender and green pastels to complement the flowers used, but you can use any colours of your choice. For a large party or wedding, a stand of these on each table would make a fabulous centrepiece.


Makes 20-24

20-24 fairy cake cases

250g unsalted butter, softened

250g golden caster sugar

grated zest of 2 large oranges,

plus 75ml orange juice

4 eggs, lightly beaten

250g self-raising flour, sifted

Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 160°C/340°F/gas mark 3 ½ .Line 2 fairy cake tins with paper cases. Cream the butter, sugar and zest until very pale, light and fluffy (it will take at least 5 minutes in an electric mixer). Add the eggs gradually, beating between each addition, along with 1 tbsp of the flour to prevent curdling. Fold in the remaining flour and, lastly, slowly mix in the orange juice. Divide the batter evenly between them (make sure each is only just over half full, as you need space for the icing to set flat on top). Bake for 15 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen and spring back to the touch. Leave for 1-2 minutes in the tins, then place on a wire rack until cold.



600g icing sugar, sifted

5-7 tbsp orange juice

purple food colour

green food colour

20-30 edible crystallised flowers

and leaves (I used lavender,

tiny rosebuds, anchusa, daisies

and pinks, and geranium and

rosemary leaves, see below)

70g bag white royal icing

Divide the icing sugar between 2 bowls. Very gradually add a little orange juice to each until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add a very little purple food colour to 1 bowl and blend it in well until you achieve the desired shade. Cover the bowl with clingfilm (the icing dries out very quickly) while you colour the other bowl in the same way, using the green food colour. To ice the cakes, replace them in the fairy cake tins. This makes it much easier as the tins will hold the shapes of the cakes. Spread enough icing on to the cakes – using each colour on about half the batch – so that it is almost level with the top of the case, gently easing it to the edges with the back of a spoon. Allow to dry for a couple of hours. The cakes can be iced 2 days ahead, but add the flowers on the day they are to be eaten.

To finish, arrange the crystallised flowers and leaves on the cakes, using dabs of royal icing to hold them in place. Display on cake stands or plates, scattering any remaining flowers and leaves in between.

How to Crystallise Edible Flowers. A really simple and beautiful cake decoration.

photo 1

1 egg white, lightly whisked

white caster sugar

edible flowers and leaves,

such as whole roses or rose

petals, violas, pansies, violets,

mimosa, cowslips, pinks,

primroses, lavender, sweet

geranium leaves, mint leaves

small paint brush

florists’ wire (optional)

A quick and stunning decoration that requires very little equipment, just a quiet hour and a bit of patience. These should keep for up to 1 week in a dry place. Use unsprayed flowers that are completely dry. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment.

Place the egg white in a bowl and the sugar in another. Hold the flower, petal or leaf at the base and paint with egg, ensuring you cover every fold. Gently sprinkle on the sugar, again making sure every surface is covered, then shake off the excess. If crystallising whole roses, push a fine florists’ wire through the base of the bloom, then hook the wire over a tall glass. Leave overnight in a dry, warm place. The flower will dry while hanging. Lay petals or leaves on the lined sheet and leave overnight in a dry, warm place (an airing cupboard is ideal). They will harden in a few hours, becoming brittle.

Store in an airtight container, lined and interleaved with baking parchment. They are very fragile, so only make a couple of layers.

Please note not all flowers are edible and some are poisonous. So, ensure the flowers are fresh, dry unsprayed by pesticide(most shop bought flowers will more than likely have been sprayed). I prefer to pick mine from my garden when in season. In April ,see my list in the introduction for seasonal flowers. In a month or two the roses and lavender will be available.

Feb 15

Almond-Apricot Pansy Cake


Spring really is around the corner now – at long last. As if that wasn’t enough to celebrate – Mother’s Day falls on March 15th followed  closely two weeks later by Easter.

I’ve always loved this time – all the endless spring and summer months stretch out in front of us – longer , brighter , warmer days and the gardens unfurl. A  much  less stressful time than the madness that surrounds Christmas – far more relaxed entertaining – and more me that always includes  baking of course!


Photography: Robert Leveritt

The traditional Simnel Cake we have come to associate with Easter originally began as a Mother’s Day gift. Made by girls in service in Victorian times,  the cakes were   baked  in the large kitchens  and taken   to their mothers. The delicious lighted fruited cake  which  has  a layer of marzipan running through the middle   is topped with more marzipan and eleven marzipan balls to symbolize the apostles(minus Judas) .

My almond-apricot cake is a much simpler affair. I decorate  it with a few edible spring flowers picked from my garden-pansies, violas, primroses  all   these would be perfect. A little more effort than buying her a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers -but  a  so much more meaningful way to spoil her! Decorate it with little sugar eggs or edible flowers and serve it for a spring or Easter afternoon tea or dessert.


Photography: Robert Leveritt

Throughout March , we are showcasing a few of our cakes in  a  Harrods window. A selection of our cakes are always to be found in Harrods Food Hall (our first ever regular customer – dare I say  for the past 30 years!). To coincide with this very special Harrods promotion “Stealing Beauty” we are also selling the prettiest fairy cakes-decorated with tiny rosebuds and butterflies. Larger box will retail at £12.95 for a pack of six, or £5.50 for a pack of two.

Happy Mother’s Day and  Happy Easter baking!

Almond-Apricot Pansy Cake 

A wonderful cake to serve for tea, or as a dessert. It would be equally good with a blackcurrant or cherry jam.  I have decorated it with pansies on top, but primroses, violets or a mixture would be equally pretty. Serves 8



225g unsalted butter, really soft, plus more for the tins

160g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

60g ground almonds

225g golden caster sugar

4 eggs, lightly beaten

1 tsp almond extract

finely grated zest of 1 organic orange and juice of ½



200g crème fraîche

5 tbsp best-quality apricot jam

icing sugar, to dust

freshly picked, dry, unsprayed pansies


Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Butter two 20cm round tins and line the bases with baking parchment.


Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, stir in the ground almonds and set aside.


Put the softened butter and sugar into the bowl of a food mixer (or use a bowl and a hand-held electric whisk) and cream together until light and fluffy. Gradually whisk in the eggs, adding 1 tbsp of the flour mixture halfway through to prevent the mixture from curdling. Fold in the remaining flour mixture, almond extract, orange zest and juice.


Divide the batter between the prepared tins and bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes, or until firm to the touch, or a skewer comes out clean. Leave in the tins for a minute or two, then turn the cakes out on to a wire rack. Remove the papers and leave until cold.


When ready to serve, simply place one of the cakes upside down on to a serving plate or cake stand and spread the flat surface with the crème fraîche. Spread the flat surface of the second cake with the apricot jam and sandwich the two together. Sift over a dusting of icing sugar and decorate with the pansies.


Recipe from SEASONAL BAKING by Fiona Cairns, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson £25 © Fiona Cairns


Feb 15

White Chocolate and Cardamom Rosewater Sponge and Crystallised Rose Petals

February – the winter is dragging on just that bit too long and we all long for spring. There are signs of hope however, snowdrops and early bulb shoots appear in the garden and the days are slowly drawing out.

Valentine’s Day on February 14th – impossible to ignore, whether you love it or not. As soon as the Christmas decorations are down, all things heart shaped appear in the shops (as well as Easter eggs!)

Forgo the red roses this year (the easier option of course) and bake this quite delicious cake as your Valentines offering. If you don’t have a heart shaped tin, or the inclination to purchase one then use a deep 20cm round tin (or 2 x 20cm sandwich tins instead). Don’t be put off baking the cake if making chocolate curls and crystallising rose petals is a step too far. Simply scatter a little bling – heart shaped sweets or chocolates. This cake is also perfect to make all year round, for any girl’s special celebration.

Tip: There is a lot of overly sweet cheap white chocolate around – I always use a good Swiss brand, widely available in supermarkets. As always when melting chocolate – do so over a very gentle heat ensuring the bowl is not touching the water. This is described in the recipe.

Ideally rose petals to crystallise need to be organic, or at least pesticide free, and can be hard to find especially in February. I prefer to use garden roses when making this in the summer months or decorate as you wish.


Rose Petal Heart
An exquisite combination of white chocolate, cardamom, rosewater and raspberries. This cake is temptingly strewn with crystallised petals and white chocolate curls; both can be made a few days ahead, then stored in dry conditions in a cardboard box at room temperature.

Serves 8

1 x heart-shaped White
Chocolate and Cardamom
Rosewater Sponge with filling,
kept separate (see below)
250g fresh raspberries
200g icing sugar, sifted
2–21/ 2 tbsp rosewater
100g white chocolate, broken into pieces
12 crystallised pink rose petals
(see below)

Split the cake, spoon in the filling and the fresh raspberries, then turn it upside down on to a cake stand. Place the icing sugar into a bowl and gradually add the rosewater, mixing all the time until the icing is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour over the cake and let it drizzle down the sides. Allow to set for an hour or so.

To make the chocolate curls, place a small heatproof bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water, making sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Add the white chocolate to the bowl and heat until it melts, stirring only very occasionally. Pour it on to a plastic board, or a piece of marble, and spread out with a palette knife. Allow to set; a short spell in the refrigerator will help.

Run a sharp fine knife at a 45-degree angle across the chocolate (or use a vegetable peeler) and it will curl. Too cold and it won’t work; too soft and it will need 15 minutes or so back in the refrigerator. You’ll have to experiment.

Scatter the cake with the chocolate curls, then with the rose petals.


White chocolate and cardamom rosewater sponge

This is very delicately flavoured and the tastes of white chocolate, cardamom and rosewater marry beautifully. White chocolate ganache, which forms the filling, can be tricky. I’ve had my best success using Swiss white chocolate.

Serves 8

130g unsalted butter, softened,
plus more for the tin
20 green cardamom pods
170g self-raising flour
100g white chocolate, chopped
130g white caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract

100g white chocolate, finely
100ml double cream
2 tsp rosewater

150g icing sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 170°C/350°F/gas mark 4. I make this cake in a heart-shaped tin measuring 23cm at its widest point and 6.5cm deep, but otherwise use a 20cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round tin. Butter the tin very well, then line with baking parchment.

Deseed the cardamom pods: split them with the point of a knife, empty out the little seeds and grind them to a powder in a pestle and mortar. There may be a few pieces of husk mixed in, so sift the cardamom powder together with the flour to remove them.

Place the chocolate in a food processor with half the sugar. Process until as fine as possible. Take 2 tbsp hot water – not boiling water or the chocolate will seize – and leave it until you can just dip in your finger.

Dribble it into the chocolate, processing until most has melted.

Add the remaining sugar and the butter, cut into knobs, and process well. Add the eggs, flour and vanilla and mix again. Don’t worry if there are tiny pieces of chocolate left in the batter.

Pour into the tin and bake for 25–30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Rest in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out on to a wirerack, removing the papers. Leave until absolutely cold.

Meanwhile, make the ganache. Place the chocolate in a bowl and, in a pan, bring the cream and rosewater to the boil. Pour the cream over mthe chocolate, leave it for a few seconds, then gently stir until smooth.

Leave until cold, chill slightly, then whisk until it thickens.

Split the cake in half and invert so the flat base forms the top. Fill with the ganache and top with the second layer of cake. Place the icing sugar in a small bowl and add 1 ½ -2 tbsp water until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour it over the cake and allow to drizzle down the sides.

Jan 15

A Very Lemony Crunch Cake

After all the excesses and happiness of Christmas, January can be a little depressing. The days are dark and gloomy; spring seems far away – even though the nights are slowly, ever so slowly getting shorter as the days lengthen.

Many of us have made our New Year’s Resolutions, which in my case are a bit of a struggle to keep after a week or two. Each year I put away that biscuit tin, forgo my evening glass or so of wine, stick to healthy salads and soups and renew my gym membership thinking this year will be different! On top of that it is probably the most difficult time of the year to be hard on yourself!

Fortunately for us, the wide array of brightly coloured citrus fruits in our shops is now at its very best, so do make the most of them to brighten your day. Delicious oranges, lemons and grapefruits. Even if, like me you are trying to stick to all that is healthy, a small slice (or maybe two) of this simple and simply delicious lemon crunch cake will lift your spirits I guarantee.


A few baking tips: Remember when baking cakes – all ingredients need to be at room temperature. Eggs – if straight from fridge can be brought to room temperature by placing the uncracked eggs in a bowl of warm water for about 15 minutes. Butter – in this recipe it is melted anyway so no problem. However as in many cake recipes where softened butter is required, simply cube and very briefly blitz in microwave until slightly softened (not melted).

The eggs and sugar are whisked for a few minutes until they become pale and thickened – this is a key to success and then gently fold in the flour to ensure a light cake.

This moist sponge is doused in lemon syrup to give a wonderfully crunchy top.

RECIPE – A Very Lemony Crunch Cake
serves 6



175g unsalted butter, softened,

plus more for the tin

175g self-raising flour

a pinch of salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

175g golden caster sugar

zest, finely grated, and juice of 1

large unwaxed lemon


juice of 1 large lemon

100g white granulated sugar


Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 170°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Lightly butter an 18cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round springform tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment.

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl and set aside.

Melt the butter in a small pan and set aside to cool slightly.

Using the whisk attachment of an electric mixer, or a bowl and electric whisk, beat the eggs and sugar together until very light and fluffy (this may take 5 minutes).

Blend in the melted butter; then very gently fold in the flour and zest.

Finally, slowly fold in the juice.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the cake springs back to the touch, or a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make the crunchy topping by simply mixing the juice and sugar together in a small bowl. Immediately the cake comes from the oven, prick tiny holes all over it with a fine skewer or cocktail stick.

Pour the lemon syrup evenly all over the surface.

Leave to cool completely in the tin.

Dec 14

Gingerbread man cake and biscuits

Christmas seems to begin earlier each year (well in the bakery it certainly does, we are planning cakes for Christmas 2015 already!). We began making our Christmas fruit cakes in September-and have been producing 1000’s of seasonal cakes and biscuits of all shapes and sizes ever since-right up to a few days before Christmas Day. Maybe you have baked my delicious fruit cake (see November blog) and it is stored away maturing nicely. If not –as long as you still have a couple of weeks minimum for all the wonderful flavours to mingle, mellow and work their magic, then do bake it if you feel so inclined. This month I describe in detail how to marzipan and ice your cake, and decorate it simply with gingerbread men.

Alternatively make a simple batch of little gingerbread men –wrapped in cellophane bags they make great edible gifts, stocking fillers or hang on your Christmas tree!

These gingerbread men can be baked and decorated now all ready for Christmas-or cut out snowflakes, stars or Christmas trees-whatever takes your fancy!

TIP. If making tree decorations, make a hole at the top of the biscuit(you can use a straw or skewer), and on removal from oven re form, as the holes may have closed slightly. Once cold, thread a narrow ribbon through and form a loop. Alternatively, make the dough, cut out and layer the unbaked biscuits in freezer containers-layered up with baking parchment. Bake fresh as required.

Your home will be filled with the wonderful scent of Christmas!

Happy Baking and Happy Christmas!

Next Month. –a simple Lemon Drizzle Crunch cake. Just the thing after all the excesses of the Festive season.



A great classic Christmas cake for all the family; there’s always someone who doesn’t like fruit cake, so they can eat the gingerbread men!

Makes 40 slices

1 x Rich Tamarind Fruit Cake
1/ 2 x batch Gingerbread dough (see below)
4 tbsp apricot jam, warmed and sieved
1kg marzipan (see below)
1 tbsp brandy or boiled water
icing sugar, to dust
1kg sugarpaste
6cm gingerbread man cutter
9cm gingerbread man cutter
6 cocktail sticks
30g bag black royal icing
30g bag red royal icing
60g bag white royal icing
bag of mini chocolate beans

Turn the cake upside down on to a cake stand. A dab of apricot jam will stop it moving around. If there are any holes or the cake is a dodgy shape, correct it now with little bits of marzipan. Once you are happy, brush all over with jam. Knead the marzipan until pliable. Dust a work surface with icing sugar and, using a little more on the rolling pin, roll the marzipan into a rough circle slightly larger than the top and sides of the cake and about 5mm thick. Lift on to the cake, smoothing all over, and cut off any excess. Leave overnight to firm up.


Brush the marzipan with the brandy and, on a clean, flat surface, knead the sugarpaste until pliable. Dust the work surface and rolling pin with icing sugar and roll out the sugarpaste in a rough circle about 5mm thick and slightly larger than the diameter of the cake and sides. Lift the sugarpaste with your hands (or loosely wrap it around the rolling pin) and place it over the cake. Gently smooth with your hands and cut away any excess. Leave overnight to harden.

Preheat the oven to 180.C/fan 170.C/350.F/gas mark 4. Roll the gingerbread dough out to 4mm thick and cut out 12 large and 12 small men. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment and lay out the
shapes; smaller on 1 tray (they take less time to bake) and larger on the other. Press 2 cocktail sticks on to the backs of the legs of 3 smaller men so they will stand up later. Bake for 8–15 minutes, depending on size. The gingerbread will darken. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Pipe black eyes and red mouths on the large men and stick on red mini bean noses.


Pipe black eyes and red noses and mouths on the small. Stick 3 buttons on the large men and 2 on the small. Surround the cake with the larger men, propped against it, dabbing their heads with a little royal icing to adhere. Carefully position the 3 men on sticks on the top of the cake. You will have 9 little men left over to serve separately.



Once you have wrapped the dough in clingfilm to chill, you can store it in the refrigerator for a couple of days or freeze for up to a month so they are ready to bake at any time.

Makes about 40

350g plain flour, plus more
to dust
4 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/ 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
130g salted butter, very
slightly softened
1 egg yolk
150g light muscovado sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup
2 tbsp black treacle
zest of 1 orange, finely grated

Sift the flour, spices and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and add the butter, cut into small chunks. Gently rub together with your fingertips – or pulse in a food processor – until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs

Add the egg yolk, sugar, syrup, treacle and zest and mix together until you have a firm dough. If it’s too sticky, mix in a little more flour. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 180.C/fan 170.C/350.F/gas mark 4. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 4mm thick, and cut out with a 6.5cm round cutter. Bake for 10–15 minutes. The gingerbreads will have darkened a little.

Remove from the oven and leave to firm up a little for a few minutes, then gently transfer to a wire rack to cool. They will become crisp.


makes about 600g, enough to cover a 20cm cake

190g icing sugar
380g ground almonds
3 tsp lemon juice
3 egg yolks
4 drops almond essence

In a bowl, mix the icing sugar and almonds. In another bowl, mix the lemon juice, egg yolks and almond essence. Add the egg mixture gradually to the icing sugar and almonds and knead everything just until it forms a stiff paste. (It will become oily if overworked.) Store in a polythene bag in the refrigerator (use within a week).

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