life on a smallholding

not quite a business, but more than a hobby

My take on the Bake Off — Friday, 23rd August

My take on the Bake Off

My idea of a perfect sandwich cake
My idea of a perfect sandwich cake, filled with mascarpone and blackcurrant jam

This week saw the eagerly anticipated return of the Great British Bake Off, now in its fourth series.  I love that programme, a bunch of home bakers working their way through a number of challenges, some triumphing and others ending up with egg on their faces.  The tension is incredible when their cakes go into the oven, will it rise, won’t it?  They are often on their knees watching through the glass oven door.   The judges are firm but fair, none of this nasty sarcasm and the presenters add a much-needed touch of humour to the proceedings.

No fancy plates full of minuscule meals, just good robust baking.

I almost felt tempted to apply myself.

However, after watching this time, I couldn’t help but be disappointed.  The format was the same, so were the presenters and then there were the judges.  With all the recent scandal in the papers surrounding one of them, it was difficult to take him seriously.  But worse, the bakers themselves were no longer the dedicated home dabblers that I’ve come to know and love, they seemed like a bunch of semi-pros.

The first challenge was a simple sandwich cake, any flavour.  One person attempted, unsuccessfully to carve his cake into the shape of a lemon and another baked hers in a sandwich shaped mould and wrapped it in a sheet of fondant icing to resemble a paper bag.

What happened to the simple sandwich cake?

The technical challenge was as good as ever.  They couldn’t do anything lavish, just follow the recipe for an angel food cake.  It’s amazing how many variations you can get from the same sheet of paper.

Then finally there was the fancy chocolate cake.  Most of them were well over the top with hidden squirrels inside the sponge, bears made out of modelling chocolate (who even knew that existed) and elaborate chocolate collars around the cake.

Some looked very professional, others were just a mess.

Personally I’m not a fan of all this over the top icing and decoration, it makes them difficult to eat, which after all, is the point of a cake.  I think they just need to be pleasing to the eye, but more importantly, taste good.

I shall be watching the rest of the series, couldn’t miss it, but after that show-stopping start, it makes you wonder where it can go from here.

Bring back simple home baking, please!

After watching the show I just had to bake a sandwich cake and lately I’ve been very impressed with the recipes of Dan Lepard in the Guardian.  Years ago I bought my first ever bread book written by him, The Handmade Loaf.  Not only does he create brilliant bread, but his other concoctions are fabulous too.

This recipe for a Victoria sandwich is based on his, although the quantities are more what you would expect in a typical sponge cake.  What is unique, is that it uses a rather diverse method, beating some of the flour in with the butter, before adding the eggs.  It certainly makes a difference to the sponge and it is quite literally the best sandwich cake I have ever made or tasted.

I think Dan may be Mary and Paul all rolled into one.

Simple sandwich cake

This is the best ever recipe for a Victoria sandwich
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 225g vanilla caster sugar
  • Zest of a lemon, finely grated
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • Jam and mascarpone or cream
  • Icing sugar for decoration
  1. Grease and line the base of two 20cm cake tins with greaseproof paper.
  2. Beat the softened butter in a food mixer until pale, light and fluffy.
  3. Add the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla paste, then beat well until pale and fluffy.
  4. Beat in a third of the flour and baking powder until smooth, then beat in the eggs, one at a time.
  5. Add in the remaining flour and baking powder and ensure it’s well combined.
  6. Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake at 170C for about 35‑40 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean and the sponges are just starting to come away from the edge of the tins.
  7. Leave to cool in the tins for 10 mins then turn out onto a cooling rack.
  8. Remove the paper from the bottoms.
  9. When cold, fill with jam and/or cream and assemble the sandwich.
  10. Dust with icing sugar to serve.
Notes: I filled my sandwich cake with two home made mascarpone and blackcurrant jam

Rich tea anyone? — Wednesday, 7th November

Rich tea anyone?

Rich tea with a cuppa
Rich tea with a cuppa

For once my day wasn’t jam packed with chores so I thought I would continue the theme of making biscuits I didn’t really like in the hope of improving them with a home-made variety.  We have a concept of “emergency biscuits”.  A jar on the dresser in the kitchen is kept stocked just in case Himself needs a quick snack while he’s working hard.  It needed filling so I started thinking about my next challenge.

I was suddenly struck with the memory of Butter Osbornes that my late grandmother was very fond of.  I’m not sure I ever ate one and had no idea what they looked like but I thought a search on the internet would yield results.  However, I could find very little information on them.  It seems that Huntley and Palmers who used to produce them, have discontinued them.

Rich tea biscuits
Rich tea biscuits

There was no recipe to be had anywhere so I settled for Rich Tea biscuits which I’ve always found to be rather bland.  They are far from my favourite choice but I have to admit they are great for dunking in tea.

Even though to me they are an uninspiring biscuit, I discovered that they have quite a history.  A bit of research told me that they are a plain, round biscuit, developed in Yorkshire in the 17th century.  Originally called Tea Biscuits, they were designed as a light snack between meals for the Yorkshire upper-classes.

After that I was keen to find out if home-baked would improve the not-so-humble Rich Tea.

Makes approx 18 biscuits

  • 2 tbls golden syrup (I used 1tbls golden syrup & 1 tbls maple syrup)
  • 85g butter
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 1 egg
  • Pinch of salt
  1. Heat oven to 180C.
  2. Melt the butter and syrup in a pan then add to the dry ingredients in a food processor.
  3. Mix until it resembles breadcrumbs then add the egg to form a soft dough.
  4. Roll out to about 3mm thick onto a floured surface and cut out the rounds with a cookie cutter.
  5. Place on a non-stick baking tray and prick with a fork.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown in colour.
  7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly then move to a wire rack and cool completely.
  8. Enjoy by dunking in a cup of tea – preferably Lady Grey.

And the verdict?  Overall – disappointing.  A pale, crisp biscuit with not a lot of taste.  I think they would have been better rolled out thinner and I also found that they didn’t stay crisp for long but started to soften after a very short time.

A great biscuit for dunking
A great biscuit for dunking
Baking and the weather — Wednesday, 26th September

Baking and the weather

American apple and apricot cake
American apple and apricot cake


At the beginning of the week the news was full of weather warnings and indeed, England did seem to be suffering with vast amounts of rainfall resulting in flooding.

The forecast said that it was heading our way and would be accompanied by gale force winds with gusts up to 72mph.

Apple tree
Scotch Dumpling apples firmly fixed to the tree

On Monday night it was getting a bit breezy so Himself ventured outside to batten down the hatches and Tuesday morning arrived with a blast.  Some guttering blew down but we didn’t suffer any real damage.  The sheds stood up to it and thank goodness we no longer have tiles on the steading roof to get blown away.

One thing that did concern me was the apple trees, some of which had been laden with fruit.

This morning I pulled on my waterproof trousers, as it’s the only safe way to walk through the fruit garden with all those killer stinging nettles, donned some gauntlets up to my elbows and ventured out there to collect the windfalls.

I was stunned to find all the apples still firmly attached to the trees, especially since they were directly in the path of the gales.   They obviously can’t be ripe just yet.  Rather than retrieving them from the ground, I picked a few from the tree and came inside to make this week’s cake for the  Weekly Bake Off.  Taken from Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes. it was the American Apple and Apricot cake (the recipe can be found here) or as I’ve decided to call it, the Triple A Cake.

A slice of my Triple A cake
A slice of my Triple A cake

I had a problem with the loose bottomed cake tin as some of the mixture leaked out all over the oven.  Perhaps I should invest in some better baking tins but overall the cake turned out nicely.  Maybe it was the slightly unripe apples but it wasn’t a very sweet cake.

And now for the verdict from Himself.  As soon as he cut into it and spotted fruit, he was immediately on the lookout for stodge but in fact it was a good bake, although the top was rather uneven so it scored only 8/10.

First beer, then ice cream — Monday, 25th June

First beer, then ice cream

Lemon and ginger ice cream
Lemon and ginger – fruit and root ice cream

I generally have chunk of root ginger lurking in the salad drawer of the fridge and although it’s used, it can often be forgotten.  A while ago I came across a recipe for proper ginger beer which presented an excellent opportunity to make use of that ginger which was getting past its best, along with a couple of lemons.

Ginger beer
Delicious fizzy ginger beer

It was simple to make but after straining the liquid I was left with a bowl full of sliced lemon and chopped ginger that seemed just too good to throw away.  Instead I added sugar and water and simmered it for a couple of hours until it was soft and the syrup was thick.  I ladled it into a sterilised jar and popped it in the fridge.

A couple of days later I was making a vanilla ice cream to accompany our Devonshire apple cake and was looking for something to liven it up a bit.  I spotted the jar of fruity syrup and decided it would be perfect to add a bit of zing.

Our pudding was served up with a large dollop on top of the cake with some sprinkles of lemon crystals which just make your mouth water – delicious!

This month’s blog challenge on Kavey Eats was fruit, so it was very fortuitous.  Here is my recipe for lemon and ginger or fruit and root ice cream but if you want to try it, you will have to make the beer first!

Fruit and root ice cream


Lemon crystals
Mouth watering lemon crystals
  • 400ml milk (I used fresh goat’s milk)
  • 4 tbls dried milk powder
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 4 medium egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • pinch salt
  • 2 heaped tbls lemon and ginger in syrup
  • Lemon crystals for decoration


  1. Put the milk, dried milk powder and salt into a pan and bring just up to boiling point.
  2. In a bowl beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla essence until pale and fluffy.
  3. Allow the milk to cool slightly and then with the mixer running slowly, pour the hot milk onto the egg mixture and stir until thoroughly blended.
  4. Leave to cool.
  5. Pour into the ice cream maker and start churning.
  6. When the ice cream is just beginning to freeze spoon in the lemon and ginger with the paddle running.
  7. Continue churning until done.
  8. Serve on a warm pudding with sprinkles of lemon crystals

Enhanced by Zemanta
Back to the bake-off — Sunday, 24th June

Back to the bake-off

Chocolate and vanilla marble loaf
Chocolate and vanilla marble loaf

It’s been a few weeks now since I’ve entered the Weekly Bake Off from Mary Berry’s 100 Cakes and Bakes.  The challenge was a Chocolate and vanilla marble loaf and the recipe and instructions can be found HERE.  I’ve been out of synch with my cake making but this week it just so happened that we were in need of cake and I had the correct ingredients.

It’s an easy enough cake to make although I did end up smothered in cake mix probably the result of having two separate bowls of the stuff.  I have to say the chocolate batter was absolutely delicious raw and it reminded me of when I was a child, baking with my mother.  I always wanted to eat the uncooked chocolate cake mix but of course I wasn’t allowed.  I vowed that when I grew up I would make the mix and eat it straight from the bowl.  Can’t say I’ve ever done it but I was tempted by this one.

When the cake rose in the oven it looked like the rocky mountains and just when I thought it was cooked, it erupted like Vesuvius and ended up more uneven.  I tried slicing the top before icing but settled for hiding the worst of it under a chocolate layer.

The first batch of white chocolate I tried to melt for the decoration went thick and lumpy so I had to start that again but in the end it didn’t look too bad, although I wouldn’t enter it in any competitions, except this one of course where I have the option of selective photography!

When I cut into it, I was quite pleased with the two-tone effect – not quite up to Mary’s perfect horseshoes but not bad.

And now for the verdict.  Himself gave it 8/10.  I was expecting gasps when I revealed the chocolate and vanilla marbling but he seemed underwhelmed by it.  Said it was a nice bake although bordering on the dry side but it hasn’t stopped him eating it even though dark chocolate is not his favourite.

Full view of cake
Nowhere to hide – here it is in all it’s uneven glory