Gone Dotty Chocolate Cake

A ‘spot’ of baking was in order for BBC Children In Need last week, and so emerging from my kitchen was a rather chocolatey offering.

Encasing a cocoa-enriched cake sandwiched with home-made damson jam was a creamy dark chocolate ganache, lavishly decorated with chocolate fingers, Maltesers and Smarties. If you’ve got the aforementioned treats lurking in your cupboard, this cake is one sure-fire way of putting them to a deliciously good use!

Gone Dotty Chocolate Cake

Gone Dotty Chocolate Cake

For the cake:

8oz golden caster sugar

8oz butter, softened

4 large eggs

6oz wholemeal self raising flour

2oz good-quality cocoa powder

For the filling:

A berry-flavoured jam of your choice

For the ganache:

100g dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)

50g butter

1 heaped tablespoon golden syrup

For decorating:

A couple of tubes of Smarties

A large bag of Maltesers

A box of Cadbury’s Milk Chocolate Fingers – or two, if like me, you have a habit of munching on them!


Pre-heat the oven to Gas 5 / 180 degrees / 160 fan. Grease and line 2 x 7-inch sandwich pans.

To make the cake, cream together the butter and sugar using an electric whisk or beaters until light and creamy, to get maximum fluffiness for your effort and to save your arms from dropping off (wooden spoons are sooo last season!). Beat in an egg a time, accompanied by a tablespoon of the flour, until all the eggs are used up. Now carefully fold in the rest of the flour and cocoa powder using a metal spoon until combined, treating it like a delicate flower – this is how you end up with a light cake, so avoid beating the life out of it!

Divide the mix between the two pans and give them a good tap to level out the mix. Pop in the oven and bake for around 25-35 minutes, until a skewer or a cocktail stick comes out clean when inserted into the middle. Ovens vary! Once cooked, allow to cool for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, sandwich the two cakes together with your choice of jam in the middle (or Nutella if you fancy!).

Now it’s time to prepare the ganache. Be warned – this is a bit of a pesky one and can go from liquid to solid in about a minute, so you need to be ready to work fast! Have to hand a palette knife (for smoothing the ganache over the cake) and have all of your decorations lined up ready to stick on before it sets!

Here we go: melt the chocolate, butter and golden syrup in a glass bowl over a barely simmering pan of water – don’t let the bowl touch the water! Stir well then allow to cool until it becomes thick – the test is when it falls of a spoon in a robust dollop as opposed to a thin pour. To speed things up, (as it can take a while to cool), I tend to pop the bowl in the fridge and take it out for a stir at 4-5 minute intervals.

When it’s at the stage that it can be spread without a) running down the side of the cake or b) going stiff to the point of unmovable, then coat the cake from the top down to the sides. If you go past the point of no return and the ganache has gone hard, simply pop the bowl in the microwave on defrost for 5 seconds and stir it until it gets to the right consistency again. It’s trial and error with this one, but well worth the attention! Smother with decorations in any design you wish – be arty and have fun! I like to put a chocolate finger ‘fence’ around the sides and a pretty pattern of spots on top, but feel free to go where the wind takes you with this one!

If you have any goodies left at the end, pop the kettle on, make a cuppa and eat them selfishly before the hubby or kids see them; you’ve earned it!

Pick Me Up Porridge

Pick-Me-Up Porridge

So it would seem that with the onset of summer, the weather has taken a turn for the wetter, which has come as a bit of a disappointment after such a glorious May Bank Holiday weekend.

However, such situations should not always seem to be viewed negatively. There’s always a silver lining, and in the case of The Pinny Project, an opportunity in the kitchen.

When I wake up to a dull and dreary day, there’s only one pick-me-up on my mind…and that’s a bowl of sweetly satisfying porridge, served steaming hot alongside a comforting cup of tea. Heavenly!

I find it sets me up for the entire morning…and it tastes mighty fine to boot! And with no added unnatural nasties and plenty of flavour packed in for good measure, you could do a lot worse than a bowl of this hearty helping to kick start your day.



Pick-Me-Up Porridge

To serve one, you will need:

A teacup of oats

A teacup of organic soya milk (or any other milk of your choice)

A teacup of water

A handful of blueberries (frozen are as fine as fresh)

A tablespoon of honey (I like heather honey)

In a small saucepan over a medium heat, place the oats, milk, water and blueberries. Stir from time to time until the oats begin to swell and the mixture becomes thick and gloopy (in a satisfying way!) – it usually takes about 5 minutes. As the berries melt into the oats, the porridge takes on a marvellous bluey-purple colour, which is a delight to behold! Feel free to add a little more milk to reach the consistency of your liking.

When you’re ready to serve, pour it into your favourite bowl, spoon over the honey and tuck in until your heart (and your tummy) is content.

The most wonderful thing about porridge, is that once you have the basics of oats, milk and water, you can customise it to suit your exact tastes. Anything goes, so be experimental!

Why not try these suggestions of how to ‘pimp’ your porridge:

  • Add in any soft fruit during the cooking stage to make a meltingly delicious fruity version – try chopped banana, strawberries, raspberries or blackcurrants – they will give your breakfast a fantastic colour, too
  • Add a little spice by popping a teaspoon of cinnamon or a grating of fresh nutmeg in with the oats and milk before cooking
  • Be indulgent and add a teaspoon of cocoa powder to the oats, or even a tablespoon or two of desiccated coconut, and then cook as normal
  • The choice of toppings is almost endless and you can play about with textures too. For a spot of crunch, try adding pumpkin seeds or nuts, such as walnuts, almonds, pecans or hazelnuts. You can also throw in a spoon or two of seeds into the oats before cooking, too
  • Porridge tastes delicious without anything added to sweeten it up, but if you feel like it, try a drizzle of maple syrup, a flavoured honey such as heather or eucalyptus, or even a spoon of home-made jam. If you fancy sugar, go for the unrefined, golden variety
  • For a fruity topping, try stewed rhubarb, chopped bananas, berries or even dried fruits such as figs, dates, raisins and cranberries
  • For a different taste altogether, you could try a range of milks, such as oat milk, soya milk or rice milk – or you could just use water on its own

Here are some combinations you could try, from the classic to the Caribbean, via the Black Forest:

  • Cinnamon-spiced porridge topped with sliced banana and honey
  • Cocoa porridge topped with blackberries and home-made cherry jam
  • Banana porridge with sultanas and maple syrup
  • Creamy coconut porridge with fresh or dried mango
  • Linseed porridge with a stewed rhubarb topping

Here’s to a happy, healthy start to the day for all.

Sweet Sunday: Tarting it up

My husband loves a good tart. Of the pastry variety, naturally. And today’s offering, to finish off a laid-back Sunday lunch for two, was of the Bakewell ilk.

You can’t beat a good thick layer of raspberry jam, sitting snugly on top of a golden pastry base, before being smothered in frangipane and topped with ribbons of glace icing and flaked almonds.

My mother’s pastry recipe (which was, in turn, passed down to her by her grandmother) has stood me in good stead, and indeed it has fared well for my mother and her mother before that too – and aside from the very occasional miss – it’s proven to be a hit.

Whether it’s a sweet or savoury tart, this recipe is one that will befit any occasion. I hope it transcends throughout the generations of bakers in your family in much the same way as it has in ours.

Nanny Jones’ Perfect Pastry

225g plain flour

100g cold butter, cubed

Pinch salt

Cold water 

2 tablespoons sugar (if making a sweet base)

Place the flour and salt into a bowl and give it a brief mix. Using your fingertips, gently rub the butter into the flour until it resembled breadcrumbs and no large clumps of fat remain. (It’s best if you have cold hands for this – and try not to rub using your palms as this is the warmest part). If you’re making a sweet pastry, now add the sugar.

Taking a tablespoon or so of water at a time, start mixing the liquid into the mix until it starts to come together to form a dough – be conservative at first as it’s always easier to add water than it is to remove it!

When the pastry forms a soft but not sticky ball, wrap in cling film or greaseproof paper and chill for at least half an hour in the fridge.

When ready to use, roll out on to a floured surface to the desired shape and size, then line your tin with the pastry, using a little of the excess rolled up into a ball to push the pastry into the corners (This helps to avoid your fingers or nails making rips or holes!)

Leave a little overhanging, say 1cm or so, then trim off the excess (don’t be tempted to throw this away though – use it up making jam tarts, or pop it in the freezer for another day!). Chill for a further 30 minutes, as this will help avoid shrinkage when you bake.

If filling with something hot, prick the bottom and pour in the hot filling, then bake the tart for the time required of the recipe. If, on the other hand, you’re baking the pastry ahead, or are filling it with something cold, you’ll need to blind bake.

To do this, simply prick the bottom with a fork, pop a piece of baking paper on top and fill with baking beans (if you don’t have these, you can use lentils or rice, or even the crusts of some bread – essentially anything that won’t ‘cook’ but will be weighty enough to hold the pastry base down).

I tend to blind bake on 180 degrees (160 fan, gas 5) for 10 minutes. Then I remove the baking beans and grease proof paper and finish it off for another 5. Naturally, your oven may vary, so my best advice is to check it regularly so as to avoid an uneven colour…or worse…burnt edges.

Then fill and either chill, or bake, according to what the recipe demands.

Now it’s time to enjoy a nice piece of tart. Of the pastry variety, naturally.

Bakewell Tart made with Nanny Jones' Perfect Pastry

Lady Marmalade

Seville, the Spanish town famous for its sunshine, its architecture (and its barbers, according to the composer Rossini), but perhaps more humbly, it’s renowned for its bitter oranges – the type that befits the joyous pleasure (or so it is described) of being turned in to the burnt-sienna tones of the morning wake up call for the senses: marmalade.

Today was my first ever attempt at making marmalade, and whilst I would like to say it’s been a stroll in the park, it’s been more of an uphill slog across undulating ground in chronic rain.

All seemingly started well – the last of the season’s Seville oranges were mine for the taking at the local market yesterday; indeed, the stall-holder congratulated me on taking home the last of his bounty and I felt coyly smug in the knowledge that I was going to turn these seasonal short-livers into the most glorious rays of bottled sunshine.

Well, that was the plan in any case. And the enthusiasm was most certainly there. So after juicing, slicing, de-pipping and soaking overnight, today heralded the start of my marmalade marathon.

Out came my mother’s old pressure cooker (cheaper than a Maslin pan and much more comforting to the soul, bringing back happy childhood memories of that whistling sound from the kitchen that always preceded a Sunday roast). Although of course, any heavy-bottomed pan will suffice, I’m led to believe, whether it comes with memories or not.

Upon bringing the mix of water, pulp, pith and all to the boil, it was time for it to simmer down for 2 hours until it had reduced (which took a lot longer than I expected, and in fact, it didn’t reduce). The first in my catalogue of marmalade errors. It’s at this point where you question your intuition and the recipe individually then pitch the two against the other to see which prevails.

My instinct was telling me that there was no way the orangey mass had reduced by a third in two hours but the recipe said it should take two hours. On virgin marmalade-making territory, it’s a battle of will versus word. So the question arose – continue to simmer in the hope of a reduction…or plough on knowing it’s had its time? The latter won and so in went the sugar and lemon juice.

That’s when the panic started – the mixture had now increased by a third (well, naturally it would, owing to the dissolving sugar) and the volume of the pan was now worrying me. Maybe I should have kept it going on the simmer? Ah well, too late now. So I read on and the recipe says to bring to a rolling boil for around 25 minutes until the marmalade has reached setting point (cue much reading about setting points and how to test). A minefield of options.

Twenty-five minutes go by and we’re still a long way off the setting point – at least in the eyes of the time-old ‘crinkle’ test. Had it been a ‘trickle down the plate and drop off the edge’ test, it would have been done and dusted. But no…so I continue to boil it beyond the recommended time. And then I move onto test number two and get the sugar thermometer out. Hurrah – it’s reached its 104.5 degrees! Bingo.

Hmm, but it’s still very watery, I say to myself. But the jars are ready and I start pouring the syrupy gloop in. And then, in steps husband to say ‘that doesn’t look like marmalade!’. And he’s absolutely right. It tastes like marmalade, it’s the colour of marmalade, but by nook and by crook, I can’t get it to set like marmalade.

Now it could have been my total ignorance and naivety talking, as it might be that the real magic happens when you put it into the jars and leave it to cool – but who is to know when it’s your first go?

Back in the pan went the contents of the jars and the consensus was: turn it off, have dinner and then boil it again later to reduce it down. And that’s what we did, for another hour. By now, the marmalade had endured over three times the amount of heat that it should have, along with numerous bouts of prodding with a spoon, measuring with a thermometer and countless crinkle tests. By this point, I was ready to chuck the lot down the sink, but that’s not the point of The Pinny Project…so I jarred it and now I’m hoping for the best.

So here I present the fruits of my labour, or rather, the toiling labour of my fruits:

Three of the ten jars of marmalade I made today

Three of the ten jars of marmalade I made today

If there are any fellow marmalade makers out there who can shed some divine inspiration on my wrongdoings or share your Seville successes, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I’ve booked myself on a summer-time jam-making course. That ought to do the trick.

Pinny Girl