life on a smallholding

not quite a business, but more than a hobby

Mini bakes and a product review — Thursday, 26th September

Mini bakes and a product review

Mini Victoria Sandwich with grapefruit and lime curd and buttercream
Mini Victoria Sandwich with grapefruit and lime curd and buttercream

I had been coveting the Lakeland 12 hole mini baking tray for some time and was delighted when I received it as a gift.  It was a good solid product with loose discs in the bases and a few spares too, in case of loss.

Mini 12 hole baking tray
Mini 12 hole baking tray

Before jumping straight in as I would normally do, I read all the reviews on the website and took note of the fact that some people had experienced problems with the tiny sponges sticking.

To avoid falling into the same trap, I was particularly careful whilst greasing each indentation.

For the batter, I used their own recipe on the website for Mini Lemon Curd Sponge Cakes but I created my own grapefruit and lime curd (recipe below).  I made sure not to overfill each one, stopping at three-quarters, however, I found that there was too much mixture for the twelve cases.

Once the first batch were baked I fill another 4 and baked again.  The second lot came out looking like big top tents!

Sponge cake or pork pie?
Sponge cake or pork pie?

I needn’t have worried as the sponges didn’t stick at all, in fact they all came away from the sides and popped out really easily.

I was a bit surprised at them, as they looked more like pork pies than sponges and they were very small.  At first I was rather disappointed, but that didn’t last long as when I sliced them in half and filled them with curd and buttercream, they looked magnificent and tasted fantastic, light as a feather, with the zestiness of the curd, cutting through the sweet buttercream.

Grapefruit and lime curd

A slightly different curd
  • 1 grapefruit
  • 1 lime
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 125g caster sugar
  • 75g butter
  1. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and juice from the grapefruit and lime in a heat proof bowl
  2. Place over a saucepan of boiling water and cook gently stirring constantly
  3. Do not allow to boil
  4. Eventually the mixture will thicken to a mayonnaise consistency
  5. Remove from heat and whisk in the butter
  6. Leave to cool
  7. Refrigerate until use
Grapefruit and lime curd
Grapefruit and lime curd
Better baguettes — Saturday, 18th August

Better baguettes

Fabulous baguettes

I was thrilled recently to receive a £10 voucher for Lakeland which is choc-a-bloc full of exciting things for dabbling bakers.  After a good look around the site, I settled on a baguette tray for £9.99.

Baguette tray
Baguette tray

I make bread two or three times a week, usually in my rectangular loaf tin but sometimes I shape the dough into rolls.  I like a nice baguette but have found that when I make them, they tend to spread out sideways, so I end up with a flattened loaf which isn’t great for our sandwiches.  This product looked like it may well put a stop to that problem.

When it arrived I discovered that it was floppy rather than the rigid pan I was expecting – should read the blurb properly before ordering.  I wasn’t sure how it would cope when the dough was in the grooves as when I use my silicone loaf tin, the dough tends to push the sides outwards when it expands rather than rising upwards.

It also meant I had to use a baking sheet under the tray and when I balanced it on my solid oven shelf, I came across another small problem in that the shelf is quite a bit shorter than the tray.  I realised that it may well be too long for the oven.

First batch with tapered ends
First batch with tapered ends

I decided to hope for the best, laid out my 3 lumps of dough in the channels of the tray and left it sitting on the shelf above the Rayburn to rise.

When it was ready, I carefully slid it into the oven and although it was a tight fit, I managed to get the door closed.  I glanced in a couple of times during the baking and I could see that because the dips in the tray aren’t very deep, as they were rising, the loaves were joining together at the sides.  I had visions of getting one big flat loaf.  However, when they came out of the oven and I put them on the cooling rack, they pulled apart easily into three lovely looking loaves.

Baguettes ready for the oven
Baguettes ready for the oven

The first time I used it, I shaped the bread so that the ends were tapered, which caused them to bulge outwards in the middle.  With subsequent loaves I have made the dough even all the way along the length and I’ve found that the bread rises upwards and doesn’t join forces with the one next door.  This way I end up with perfectly straight baguettes.

Overall I am delighted with this product, it has been a huge success with both white and wholemeal loaves and I have made some delicious garlic baguettes.  This loaf tin gets my vote and 5 stars.

Baguette rolls
Also excellent for baguette rolls

Milk and honey baguettes

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Milk and Honey Baguettes
  • 500g Strong white flour
  • 325g Milk
  • 1 tbls Honey
  • 10g Salt
  • 1 1/2 tsps yeast
  1. Preheat oven to 190C.
  2. Warm the milk to approx blood temperature (38C).
  3. Stir in the honey
  4. Add the yeast and leave to stand for approx 15 minutes until it starts to froth.
  5. Pour into bowl of food mixer and add flour and salt.
  6. Using dough hook mix well until a dough is formed. (Alternatively you can mix by hand).
  7. Turn out onto a lightly floured worktop and knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is elastic.
  8. Oil a large bowl and place the dough in it.
  9. Put in a warm place, cover and leave until doubled in size.
  10. Tip out onto a floured worktop and cut into 3 equal pieces
  11. Roll each piece into a sausage shape using your hands.
  12. Place each baguette onto the baking sheet.
  13. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise for around 30-40 minutes.
  14. When well risen, slash* the top and leave for another 10 minutes.
  15. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until well risen and golden brown.
  16. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
  17. Move to a wire rack to cool completely or enjoy warm.
Notes: *I use a razor blade to slash the bread as it makes a better cut than a knife.


The perfect baguette
The perfect baguette

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A surprising cake — Thursday, 19th July

A surprising cake

A surprise centre in a Victoria sandwich
A surprise centre in a Victoria sandwich

I love Lakeland.   Our nearest store is in Aberdeen and one day we drove all the way there, me filled with excitement and Himself with trepidation, only to find it was closed for refurbishment.  I know I can shop online but sometimes you just need to see and feel the things in real life.

My experimental flan case
My experimental flan case

I was browsing a little while ago and I came across the Silverwood Victoria Surprise Cake Tin.  I desperately wanted it but with a cupboard full of cake tins, I couldn’t really justify the cost.  The fact that you could also bake sponge flan cases as well as cakes, made me want it all the more.  However, after examining the pictures carefully I rummaged around and pulled out a couple of stainless steel bowls, the kind you use to feed dogs (I would just like to point out that I haven’t used these bowls for dog feeding).  I put the smaller one upside down inside the other, made a fatless sponge and managed to turn out a flan case of my own.  It was a bit on the deep side but I filled it with orange roasted rhubarb, poured over a fruit jelly and left it to set.   It was quite pleasant served up with some goat’s milk ice cream.

I mentioned my experimental baking to my mother and within a few days, a parcel from Lakeland turned up on my doorstep.  Inside was the Silverwood Cake Tin.  I was thrilled and wanted to get started on my cake immediately but unusually for me, I had no sugar.

Insert baked into the cake
Insert baked into the cake

A few days later, with bags of sugar at the ready, I milked Lily and ran it through the separator hoping for a big jug of cream.  For some reason the milk only produced a few ml so I had to think of something else for the filling.

I had studied all the reviews on the website and I knew I had to grease and line the inserts to prevent sticking so I didn’t stint on my prep.  I made the batter according to the recipe on the leaflet that came with the tins – see recipe below.

In the oven the cakes had to sit on different shelves but both rose beautifully, although rather unevenly but that is the fault of my Rayburn.

When both were done I left them to cool for 10 minutes on a rack before turning them out.  I was delighted when they slid out easily until I discovered that the inserts had been baked into the sponge.  For some reason the cake mix had managed to get in between them and the base.  I had to cut them out.  It rather ruined the look of the sponges which was a great shame.

Sponge halves or flan cases
Sponge halves or flan cases

With the minuscule amount of goat cream, I made a vanilla buttercream filling for one half and in the other half I put leftover lemon and ginger that I saved and preserved in sugar syrup, from my recent ginger beer brewing.  Getting the two halves together was a bit tricky and I did think the top sponge was going to break up as I plonked it on top of the bottom, but it survived.

It sealed up quite well, hid the uneven bake and the filling and with a quick sprinkle of icing sugar, actually looked quite spectacular.

Cake done, hiding the filling
Cake done, hiding the surprise filling

I left it overnight in the cool utility room and the following day served it up after lunch.  As we excitedly cut into the cake, I warned Himself that since it was stuffed full of the rich buttercream, he may only want a small slice but that didn’t stop him.  Despite it’s unevenness, it still looked pretty impressive, but the sponge did look a bit stodgy.

Overall when you got the mix of sharp lemon and tangy ginger plus the sweet vanilla cream and sponge it tasted superb. The only thing that let it down was that when it came to eating the edge, you got more sponge than filling and it was a bit bland. If I can overcome the problem of the inserts, it should be capable of producing a superb cake.

A surprising cake

  • 175g butter, softened
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Filling
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 280g icing sugar
  • 50ml double cream
  • ½ tsp vanilla essence
  • ½ jar jam
  1. Heat oven to 180C. Beat all the ingredients together into a smooth batter then spoon into the prepared tins and spread evenly
  2. Place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and springy to the touch
  3. Remove from the oven but leave in the tins for 10 minutes to cool
  4. Turn out onto a cooling rack and remove inserts and greaseproof paper
  5. Leave to cool completely
  6. Make buttercream filling by beating the softened butter with icing sugar, double cream and vanilla essence until well mixed and fluffy
  7. Spoon the buttercream into the well in one half of the sponge and spread out evenly
  8. In the other half spread the jam
  9. Carefully place the half with buttercream on top of the half with the jam
  10. Decorate with sifted icing sugar


The smallholder that got the cream — Tuesday, 24th January

The smallholder that got the cream

Cream separator
Cream separator


After much procrastination we finally decided to go ahead and order an electric cream separator.  The purpose of the machine is to separate milk into cream and skimmed milk.  We had been using an ancient manual Vestifalya, on loan from our friends, which had to be clamped to the table before use.  There was nothing wrong with it, it did the job perfectly but it was hard work and really needed two people, one to turn the handle to get it up to speed and another to pour in the milk and make sure the jugs were in the right place to collect the output.

After years of striving to reduce our bill, I tend to prefer gadgets which don’t use electricity. There is a manual version available and I did consider it but in this instance I thought some power was essential.

There are a few separators on the market, Ascott do some nice looking ones, but they were all way beyond our budget which consisted of my birthday money.

I scoured the internet and found a site aptly called Cream Separator.  They sold machines made in the Ukraine and not only were they fairly reasonably priced, they were also based in the UK.

Inevitably I turned to eBay (a search for “cream separators” will bring them up) and I found the same devices for sale only quite a bit cheaper, the only drawback being that the companies selling them were based in the Ukraine.  Now I know we are all part of Europe, but it’s still a bit of a worry ordering from distant shores and hoping that the goods will arrive in one piece and not get confiscated in customs.  Their feedback was pretty good and a couple of them gave you the opportunity to “make an offer”.  My first two offers were rejected but the third was accepted and I managed to bag the whole thing including delivery for £110.98.

We were then faced with the anxious wait for it to arrive and followed its journey tracking closely, worrying every time it seemed to be held up.  It took 13 days to finally land on our doorstep and we couldn’t wait to try it out.  The only negative was that it seemed fairly light.

Because we had used the manual Vestifalya which weighed half a tonne, it was no mystery to us how it worked so the fact that the instructions were in a foreign language didn’t bother us.  It did come with a DVD in English.

It was a smart red cylinder with a huge aluminium bowl – I bought the metal rather than the plastic version as I read somewhere that they were more robust.

The drawback was that it came with a two pin plug and to get it working we had to borrow an adaptor from the electric fence and hope that all the beasts didn’t make a break for it.

We put it together, plugged it in, switched it on and thankfully it worked.  It is fairly noisy but not deafeningly so.   It takes a little while to get up to speed and does vibrate and rattle until it gets there.  Once the correct speed is reached it sounds much more healthy.  We made sure that the tap was closed and with the machine running poured the milk into the bowl.

Bowl and tap
Bowl and tap

As with the Vestifalya we gradually opened the tap (which is plastic) and after a short while the skimmed milk started flowing.  It was some time before the cream began to accumulate in the second spout and the litre and a half of that morning’s milk that I put through was not sufficient to move the cream down the spout and into the jug.  I warmed up milk from previous days to around 30 degrees C and poured that into the bowl (if the milk is straight from the goat or cow, it is not necessary to heat it as it is usually warm enough), the cream began to flow.

We found that the cream was very thick and realised that some adjustment would be needed to thin it down a bit.  When we opened up the unit after all the milk had gone through, we found a lot of cream stuck inside and scooped it out with a spoon.

The cream was lovely and silky and tasted great, but I think that was more to do with the goats than the machine.

After use you need to take it all apart for cleaning and the drum assembly does contain a large number of discs that all need washing.

Washing up
Washing up

On the second use we adjusted the screw at the top of the drum with the tool supplied and the cream was much thinner but as we learnt from the Vestifalya, one of the things to remember is to tighten the nut at the top otherwise milk will leak out.

My only reservation is that it is not as robust as the Vestifalya which will probably last for another 100 years but I’m hoping that this machine will be adequate for my needs.  I have two goats in milk at the moment, one a maiden milker who only produces around a pint a day, making their total milk output approximately 2 litres a day.

I shall probably use it once or twice a week, putting a few litres through at a time.  It does recommend that you let the motor cool down in between batches but I don’t think that will be necessary with my small amounts.  It does claim to be able to handle 80 litres an hour.

In summary, for the smallholder that just wants to produce a pint or so of cream on a weekly basis to use in cooking or to make butter I think it is ideal.  If you have a cow producing many litres twice a day its probably not the machine for you.