Spelt & buttermilk chocolate cake


All my friends and family know that I don’t like chocolate – or coffee. There is something about them that really doesn’t work with my body. I can take both in strongly diluted form, but otherwise, I start feeling sick immediately. As a baker, I’ve never made a proper chocolate cake, or seen the need to, since everyone around me probably knows what they should taste like more than me. This year, I’ve decided to break that pattern and use my dear friends as guinea pigs (they don’t seem to mind!). My first attempt was a spelt and buttermilk chocolate cake, based on this recipe. The first version was made with honey, since the test person in question did not tolerate standard sugar. It was tasty, but a little bit dense. The second version I made with golden caster sugar (reduced amount – the original recipe calls for more sugar than flour!) and an extra egg.

Overall, this cake is a bit volatile. It either turns out the most perfect cake you’ve ever had, or the biggest disaster to emerge from your oven. Maybe has to do with the American cup conversion? In any case, I have tried to modify the recipe so that this volatility is significantly reduced, because the perfect version of this cake is just too perfect to have anyone miss out on it – even chocophobes like me!

This is the result:

225ml water
125g unsalted butter
40-50 g cocoa powder

300g white spelt flour (you can also use plain white or wholemeal spelt)
250g sugar – I use a combination of golden caster sugar and vanilla sugar (or you can add vanilla flavouring)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

3 medium eggs
1/2 pot of buttermilk (about 150ml)

In a pot or pan, heat the water and dissolve the butter. Stir in the sieved cocoa powder.
In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, vanilla and bicarbonate of soda.
Mix the liquid with the dry ingredients, and add the buttermilk and eggs.

Put everything into a large round cake tin and cook at Gas Mark 5 (180 degrees) for about 40-50 mins.
Dust with icing sugar before serving.


Beetroot and potato salad

Image: beetroot and potato salad (bottom of image); my friend’s roasted quince, potatoes, peppers, refried beans and guacamole (top of image)

Shallots or onions


Boil potatoes and beetroot in their skins. Drain water after cooking, briefly cool down with cold water and take of the peel. Leave to cool for a bit or cut into cubes straight away, if you want to eat the salad very hot. I prefer it cold.
Chop shallots very finely and add to the salad. Make a dressing from oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and mustard. If you get bored, vary the dressing e.g. with yoghurt and herbs such as dill. If not a vegetarian/vegan, add fish, meat or feta/goat  cheese.

Mince Pies


Our mince pies went down really well at the café. I assembled the recipe by combining three different ones, but lost it. I tried making it again, but they turned out differently. Thankfully, I think I know what went wrong, so here is the reconstructed recipe. Please not that this isn’t a budget recipe at all. Mince pies are quite work and cost intensive, which was the original idea.

2 cooking apples such as Bramley
1 cup of Brandy
500g mix of raisins, sultanas, etc. I used a fruit mix from Waitrose, which also has a bit of pineapple in it
1 veg or standard suet
250g soft brown sugar
1 bag dried cranberries (or use fresh ones)
handful of dried, chopped plums
handful of dried, chopped apricots
a few dates, stoned and chopped
vanilla sugar or some other vanilla
pot of mixed peel (about 100g)
juice and grated peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1/2 ground nutmeg
small bag of flaked almonds
dash of cinnamon (not too much)
small grated ginger root
a few ground cloves

The cranberries were super nice, and one recipe also used grated carrot, which seemed like a nice addition. Wasn’t so sure about the same recipe adding glacé cherries, but cocktail cherries might be a nice addition, if you like almond flavour.

Pour brandy over the raisin based fruit mix. Soak for a few hours. Add all other ingredients, and slowly heat and simmer for about an hour. Suet, sugar and juice needs to have soaked into the fruit really well. If too try, add citrus fruit juice. Mandarin juice is also nice.

Ladle hot mixture into sterilised jars and leave to sit for at least 2 weeks. If you like booze, top the jars up with a little bit more brandy.


When it’s mince pie time, make some pastry and also add a few things to your mincemeat to lift it up a bit. I added 1 large chopped bramley apple and some fresh orange peel and juice (or you can chop in some satsumas).


Pastry recipe:

375g plain flour
250g unsalted butter, softened
125g caster sugar or combination of caster and icing sugar
1 large egg
vanilla flavouring

1 beaten egg, mixed with bit of milk for glazing
and icing sugar for dusting


Combine ingredients for pastry and place dough in the fridge for at least 30 mins.
Roll out dough and cut out circles with a cookie cutter, a cup/bowl or other device. Place discs on top of the moulds on the tray and gently push them down. Make sure, you have put a stick of non-stick paper in them, so that you can lift the mince pies out more easily. You can also butter and flour the moulds, if no baking parchment is at hand.
Next, spoon in some of the filling. Lastly, cut out some star or other shapes from the rolled-out dough to cover the pies. Brush them with the egg-milk mixture.

Put mince pies in the oven for about 15-20 mins at 200 degrees celsius.

Before serving, dust with icing sugar!

Carrot & banana cake


I hadn’t made carrot cake for a long time, after being repeatedly traumatised by enforced commercial carrot cake consumption. I now have to make lots of them for the café, so I started experimenting again. The other night, a friend told me she was going to be in town the next morning, and, as I had some carrots in the fridge, I decided to bake her an experimental version, using whatever was in the house. The recipe worked really well, and a super fussy friend said that it was the best carrot cake he’s ever eaten.

Cake dough:
175 light brown caster sugar
1 tbsp vanilla flavouring
175 ml sunflower oil
3 eggs
2 large carrots, grated
1 banana, mashed (I know, a bit of a sacrilege, but it works really well!)
large handful of raisins or similar, finely chopped
handful of pecans, chopped (didn’t have walnuts, but pecans worked really well, if not better!)
a handful of crushed almond flakes (needed using up!)
grated orange peel
a bit of freshly grated nutmeg
a little bit of cinnamon (I really don’t like overpowering cinnamon taste in this)
175 g plain flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

a few heaped spoonfuls of icing sugar
about 50g butter
a few scoops of cream cheese, strained yoghurt or quark

Combine all ingredients for the dough. If too runny, add a little more flour. Fill into rectangular box tin (loaf tin) and bake for approximately 1 hour.

Make a creamy icing by combining icing sugar with room temperature butter and whatever tangy milk products you have in the house. I only had quark, so I used that. I’m quite partial to cream cheese icing, so I would have preferred that, but the quark icing was nice and fresh, too.

Pepper & pear soup


There are many people who don’t like mixing fruit & veg, or whatever is culturally, rather than botanically, defined as such. I’m not one of them. I love mixing flavours across categories. I first encountered pepper & pear soup at a café called The Crypt in Glasgow. It’s an amazing place inside an old church that offers simple, but tasty meals to students and other people in the vicinity of the university. Their soups are always excellent, and pepper and pear is my favourite one. They have published a little booklet with recipes, but I have lost it while moving back to London.

The main thing about making pepper and pear soup is that you have water, red peppers and pears. Everything else around it can be improvised. Basically, the fewer ingredients, the longer you cook it at a lower heat to draw out all of the flavour. Tonight’s recipe included:

3 red peppers
2 Williams pears
2 shallots
1/2 red chilli
tomato puree
vegetable stock

Cut the peppers into halves and roast them under a grill or over a gas flame/open fire/barbecue until the skin is charred. Peel off the skin and cut the peppers into pieces.

Heat oil in a pot or sauce pan, but not too hot. Peel and chop the shallots and pears. Add to the pot along with the pepper pieces and the chopped chilli. Stir for a while.

Next, add the vegetable stock. Cook everything until tender and blend until smooth. If too liquid or too bland, add tomato puree, a bit of sugar and/or more vegetable stock.

You can also add other vegetables – many people add carrots and herbs – but I prefer the soup quite basic. Try to get very flavoursome peppers and pears, though the soup will also work with blander types.

I usually have the soup with bread, butter & raspberry jam.

Cornmeal banana porridge

I’m currently working at a British-Caribbean café, and one of the things that they do is cornmeal banana porridge. It is the most amazing thing, and not only great for breakfast. There are infinite variations of it, and I’ve been experimenting with different ingredients at home. Cornmeal banana porridge is especially handy for people with gluten intolerance, and even vegan versions can be made.

This is my current favourite:

1 banana (ripeness depending on your own personal taste)
about 1 cup of milk
generous dash of evaporated milk
vanilla sugar
a few spoonfuls of superfine cornmeal

Blend all ingredients and heat them in a small pot, stirring constantly. Once the porridge begins to thicken, regulate the thickness with milk. I like mine neither very thick nor runny.

For a vegan porridge, use coconut milk and/or cream.

You can also add plantain (as in the above video) for a more substantial porridge, add various spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg, or vary the types of sweeteners (e.g. honey, syrups, overripe bananas). I also like a combination of cow’s milk and coconut milk. The one thing I haven’t tried out is adding other types of ‘bits’ (nuts, fruit etc) or flours (e.g. coconut or almond flour). It often depends what’s in the house.

Rose lemonade


It’s summer! Well, sort of, in the UK… Been been trying out different types of lemonades, partly because of a glut of mint, basil and rose water/rose syrup. Am working my way through various experiments. Here is my fail safe rose lemonade:

500 ml water (still or carbonated)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon of honey + a large shot of rose water OR: a large shot of rose (or rose and elderflower) syrup
small bunch of mint leaves

Put mint leaves into an empty resealable glass bottle. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the mint. Seal bottle and chill. Tastes good fresh, but for a mintier taste wait until the following day.

Basil and other herb experiments to follow…