life on a smallholding

not quite a business, but more than a hobby

Condensing — Thursday, 19th September


Condensed, sweetened goats milk
Condensed, sweetened goats milk

The Great British Bake Off episode this week was another gem.  Traybakes, tuiles and towers of biscuits.  Loved the first two challenges but the third was a little over the top.  I can’t help but worry about having to eat the confections and I really didn’t fancy a bite of that Dalek.

I think certain contestants are beginning to win me over with their personalities, if not there baking and there certainly seems to be a great sense of camaraderie this year, which is lovely to see.

The tension was as sharp as ever and I found myself gasping when they were wrapping those thin bits of baked batter around the spoon handles, remembering a similar experience when I made my own ice-cream cones.  You really do need asbestos fingers. traybakecut

This week coincidentally, I made my own traybake.  Toffee shortbread, recipe here.  The challenge for me was not the bake but the fact that I made my own sweetened, condensed milk from my goats.

It really is simple to make but unless you happen to have a Rayburn that’s running all day, every day, it could work out quite expensive.  The milk needs to barely simmer for at least 4 hours.

I left it steaming away whilst I got on with my day and eventually it was ready to strain and leave to cool, when it thickened up nicely.  Although it did seem to separate slightly, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the taste.

Smoothing the shortbread
Smoothing the shortbread

For the shortbread layer in my traybake I used goat’s butter.  The resulting mixture was rather like putty so instead of trying to roll it out, I pressed it into the base of my tin and smoothed it out with my cake polisher.  It worked really well and made a good foundation for the next layer.

The condensed milk worked perfectly and made a lovely golden toffee which I poured over the shortbread and left to firm up before finally adding the chocolate.  As Himself is not keen on plain I used half milk chocolate.  I also added a couple of tablespoons of cream – goat’s cream, of course!

When the chocolate had set, I cut the whole thing into 9 fairly large squares.  Whilst it tasted fantastic, it was incredibly sweet and a whole square was just too much in one sitting.  In fact I experienced quite a sugar rush.  We decided that half a square was a more appropriate portion.

My first experiment with condensing was a great success and I’m guessing that you could make evaporated milk in the same fashion but just leave out the sugar.

Another great use I’ve found for my plentiful goat’s milk

Sweetened condensed milk

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 litre milk (I used goat’s milk)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbls butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  1. Pour the cold milk into a saucepan and place on a low heat.
  2. Add the sugar and stir until well combined.
  3. Let the mixture warm up until it is just starting to simmer.
  4. Keep the temperature low to prevent the milk separating.
  5. Leave to reduce for at least 4 hours or longer.
  6. A skin will form which can be removed.
  7. When the milk has reached the desired consistency, remove from the heat.
  8. Strain through muslin into a clean bowl.
  9. Stir in the butter and vanilla and mix well.
  10. Pour into a clean jar and seal the top.
  11. Allow to cool and then keep in the fridge until completely cold where it will thicken up a bit more.
  12. Use as normal condensed milk.
  13. It should keep for a week or so in the fridge.

A whole square was just too much for one person
A whole square was just too much for one person
Toffee shortbread
A more appropriate portion of toffee shortbread
Goat butter pastry — Sunday, 14th July

Goat butter pastry

Homemade goat's butter
Homemade goat’s butter

Making your own goat butter is not an option open to everyone and although you can buy it in the supermarket, I have no idea how it compares to homemade.  With it being pure white, it looks more like lard, but I have found that it makes a really lovely, crispy pastry, which tastes lighter than that made with butter from a cow.

Goat butter pastry

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A buttery pasty, perfect for pie crusts

  • 225g plain flour
  • 170g butter
  • pinch salt
  • enough iced water to bring it all together
  1. Sift the flour and the salt into your bowl.
  2. Cut the butter into cubes and add to the flour mix.
  3. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour leaving largish lumps. The butter should still visible throughout the flour.
  4. Gradually add the water until the mixture starts to come together and forms into a ball.
  5. Tip the mixture out onto cling film, pat into a circle, wrap firmly and leave in the fridge for about an hour.
  6. When ready to use, sprinkle a little flour on the worksurface, unwrap the cling film and take out as much dough as you need for the pie base, returning the rest to the fridge.
  7. Roll out to the desired shape and size, then place in the bottom of your pie dish.
  8. Make sure you roll out the pie lid before putting the hot filling in the dish.
  9. You may find it easier to roll out the dough on some lightly floured cling film and then use this to lift the pastry onto the dish.
  10. This is a very soft pastry and if it does break, it can be patched up easily.


Making pastry
Making pastry
Cheddaring — Thursday, 11th October


Goat's cheese
Goat’s cheese “cheddar” air drying

Whilst soft goat’s cheese, feta and other quick ripening cheeses are nice to have, let’s face it most of us like a decent cheddar.  According to The British Cheese Board a mild cheddar is typically ready at about 3 months of age; medium matured cheddar at 5 to 6 months; mature cheddar at around 9 months, extra mature at around 15 months and vintage at 18 months or more.

As it matures the flavour develops and deepens.   Personally I prefer a mature cheese, whilst Himself likes the vintage which I sometimes find a bit overpowering.

My cheese fridge
My cheese fridge

We eat quite a lot of cheddar, mainly in sarnies, so in order to enjoy some mature “cheddar” in the future, I’ve got to start now hence my latest project, making a cheese a week.

It takes me 3-4 days to make a “cheddar” from start to finish which includes pressing and coating.  Each one is labelled and left to ripen in my little cheese fridge, which will very soon be full so I shall have to look for extra storage elsewhere.  The first tasting is still a long way off and I’ll just have to hope that the recipe I’m using produces a decent cheese as by the time we get to eat the first, we’ll have a whole load of the same already made and awaiting their turn on the cheese board.

Painting cheese
Painting cheese

In the past I have tried bandaging my hard cheeses or dipping them in hot wax but now I’ve discovered a coating which you can paint on.  Two or three coats and it almost feels like wax but is still breathable.

The only drawback is that each coat takes a while to harden.  From my experience the best way to dry it, is to leave it on the windowsill with the window open and a good stiff breeze blowing – not that we’re short of a gust or two in these parts.

I think it will be quite some time before I shall be crossing cheddar off my shopping list.


  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 5 litres goats milk (I use raw milk)
  • 1/2 litre goats cream
  • 1 cube previously made starter*
  • 1.5 ml animal rennet dissolved 1/4 cup of boiled and cooled water
  • 1 tbls salt
  1. Pasteurise milk first if preferred.
  2. Mix milk and cream and warm (or cool if pasteurised) to 21C and stir thoroughly.
  3. Add starter, stir well and leave for approx 1 hour in a warm place.
  4. Warm milk to 30C, add rennet and stir thoroughly.
  5. Leave in a warm place for approx 1 hour or until a solid curd has formed.
  6. Cut the curd into cubes and leave to settle for 5 mins.
  7. Very gradually heat the curd to 38C while stirring gently with your hand.
  8. Drain curd through muslin and leave to form a solid block.
  9. Cut the block into 3 and stack one on top of the other (known as cheddaring). Leave for 15 mins.
  10. Change the order of the blocks and leave for 15 mins.
  11. Cut the curd into small pieces and sprinkle with salt. Mix thoroughly so salt is evenly distributed.
  12. Put the curd into a muslin lined mould and press lightly. Leave for an hour.
  13. Gradually increase the pressure over the next few hours until maximum is reached. Leave for 24 hours.
  14. Take the pressed cheese out of the mould, line with a clean cloth, turn over and press for a further 24 hours.
  15. Remove the cheese from the mould and dip in water at 66C for 1 minute.
  16. Leave to air dry and then bandage, wax or paint with coating.
  17. When dry store in a cool place and turn daily for the first 7 days and then every few days.

*You can buy cheese various starters for cheese.  I make the solution then freeze in ice cube trays until needed.


Curds chopped
Curds chopped

Home made cheese press
Home made cheese press
I can’t believe I made butter — Tuesday, 11th September

I can’t believe I made butter

Pure white goat butter
Pure white goat butter

It seems to be all the rage these days, the celeb chefs are telling you how easy it is to make your own butter and in theory I suppose it is.  Just pick up a couple of cartons of double cream and beat it in your food processor until it separates into butter and buttermilk.  Drain it off, and there you go – home made butter.


That all sounds very simple and although I’ve never tried it, I’m sure it works.  However, my path to butter making wasn’t quite so easy.  In my case it starts with my goats.  At present we have plenty of milk, the kids are almost weaned so it’s all for our own personal use, which means that I have at least 5 litres to dispose of on a daily basis.  I make ice cream, cheese, yoghurt and even use it in my breadmaking but if I’m not careful, it could become a full-time job just processing the milk.  I am lucky enough to have a cream separator which gives me more options, but even so, how much milk can you cope with?

We have long since been self sufficient with regard to milk, I don’t think I’ve bought any for over 2 years but I still buy cheddar and butter so my goal is to put a stop to that.  I’ve tried many times to make goat butter but it’s never worked out very well.  Instead all I’ve managed is to create a dense cream.  No matter how much I beat it, it wouldn’t separate.

I couldn’t understand where I was going wrong but suspected that I had taken my eye off the ball and actually missed the moment the butterfat and the liquid had parted company and had continued beating until they had fused again into a solid mass.

Soda bread with flamenco duck eggs
Soda bread with flamenco duck eggs

I was determined to overcome my problem with butter making and so for three days I milked the goats and put all of it through the separator saving the cream in a jug.  I ended up with approx ¾ of a litre which I left on the worktop for about half a day to warm up.   I then poured it (or rather spooned it, as it was quite thick by this time) into the bowl of my Kenwood, attached the paddle beater and gently at first, began whisking it.

I gradually increased the speed, watching all the time and after about 10 minutes, it suddenly split into solids and liquid.  I switched off the machine immediately.  I was excited, this could be it.

I drained it through muslin, tipped the buttermilk into a jug and then poured cold water over the “butter” to rinse the milk out.  It was very soft and squidgy but I dumped it out onto a board and attempted to shape it with a couple of wooden spatulas.  Thanks to the Rayburn, it is always very warm in my kitchen so it wasn’t easy.  In the end, I spread it all out and sprinkled ground sea salt over the top, then worked it in with the spatulas.  It was far too soft to make into a roll so I scraped it into a bowl and put it in the fridge.

Antique treen butterpats

A couple of hours later and it was set hard just like butter.  It tasted like butter but was much easier to spread straight from the fridge.  The only real difference was the colour, it was pure white.  If I want yellow butter I will have to add a colouring called “annatto” which is a plant extract used to dye foods, but I don’t think I’ll bother – au naturel suits us fine.

I used the butter in rough puff pastry, cakes and of course as a spread and the buttermilk made a delicious soda bread.  But I really wanted to be able to shape the butter into a block so I turned to eBay and found myself some “antique treen” butterpats.

Butterpats at the ready I was all set to have another go.  I wasn’t expecting much but was amazed to find that they were brilliant at handling the soft butter and I quickly formed it into a log which I wrapped in cling film and left in the fridge to firm up.

So I’m happy to say I can cross butter off my shopping list, permanently.  Now onto cheddar.

Finally, my own goat butter
Finally, my own goat butter
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