Banoffee Cake

If the name fusarium oxysporum cubenese doesn’t strike fear into your heart, you are probably like most people in the world. When information about pathogens, whether they affect humans, animals or plants, is disseminated to the public, the full scientific name of the causative agent is rarely used – if it is used at all. This is because most people don’t care about the tiny fungus/bacteria/virus etc. as the science of the pathogen is irrelevant to them. What they want to know is what this thing does and how it can be treated – in the cause of fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubenese, what is causes is Panama disease.

You are far more likely to have heard of Panama disease than the fungus that causes it. The name rolls off the tongue better, it’s short and it mentions a place that you probably recognise. It is also the biggest threat facing bananas. The fungus is resistant to fungicides and as it displays no symptoms on around 40% of growing stems and buds is easily spread when cuttings of the plant are taken. Banana plants are reproduced asexually – cuttings are taken and grown into new plants – so there is almost no genetic variation across the community. The most commercial variety is the Cavendish banana – the classic curved, yellow, sweet bananas you buy in shops – and the near identicality of the plants makes them highly vulnerable to disease. Genetic variation within the banana plants relies on random mutations which results in far less diversity than is gained by reproduction which requires two plants.

Panama disease has struck before. Back in the 1950s, it almost completely wiped out the Gros Michel banana – the variety that was most commonly available at the time – and banana farmers were forced to change to a new variety (the Cavendish banana) or face bankruptcy as their crops failed. There are currently some varieties of banana which are resistant to fusarum oxysporum cubenese Race 4, the type that affects the Cavendish banana, but these are not commercially available yet. Changing an entire species is an expensive thing to do, the plants take time to grow and there is always the threat that the fungus will mutate again to affect the new variety of banana at a later date.

The disease has been known about since the cultivation of Gros Michel bananas started in the late 1800s – this was fusarum oxysporum cubenese Race 1. The first formal identification was in Panama, whence the name derives, but the disease did not reach its devastating pandemic levels until the 1950s. When a plant is infected symptoms display first on the older leaves and sections of the tree before spreading to the newer growths. The fungus causes the equivalent of an immune response in the plant which causes it to secrete a form of gel into the xylem (the vessels which carry water around the plant – think of them like the veins of a plant). This gel forms a barrier inside the xylem that blocks it off preventing any flow along it. The plant gets the equivalent of thrombosis before the affected areas start to wilt and die.

There is still hope though. As I have mentioned, this has happened before and the banana survived so don’t be too afraid. There is a lot of ongoing research into new, resistant strains of bananas and of course, fungicides which will actually affect fusarum oxysporum. That being said, you should still definitely make this cake as soon as you can because it would be a shame to miss the opportunity. The cake takes the classic flavours of a banoffee pie and transfers them into a new form: banana bread style layers sandwiched with caramel buttercream and brûléed bananas. It simply must be tried to be fully appreciated!

 

 

 

Banoffee Cake

Time: 4+ hours including cooling

 

Caramel:

200g caster sugar

90g unsalted butter

250ml double cream

 

For the cake:

290g plain flour

125g caster sugar

100g brown sugar

250g butter

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

4 bananas

150ml buttermilk

2 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs

 

Icing:

To fill between the layers, use the quantities below. If you want to cover the sides of the cake too, double the recipe.

200g butter

300g icing sugar

 

Brûléed bananas:

5 bananas

A sprinkling of brown sugar

(you will need a cooks blowtorch)

 

 

To make the caramel:

Tip a third of the sugar into a heavy based steel pan – non-stick pans encourage crystallisation which ruins caramel.

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Heat the sugar on a medium heat and as it starts to melt, use a wooden spoon to gently move some of the unmelted sugar into the melted areas. Move the pan on the hob so no area gets too dark when melting. You don’t want to burn the sugar. Turn the pan onto a medium to low light for the rest of this.

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Once about half of the sugar in the pan has melted, sprinkle on half the remaining sugar and gently stir the melted areas. The sugar may start to clump but don’t worry!

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As more of the sugar melts, sprinkle on the remaining sugar and continue to agitate the melted areas in the pan to prevent burning and to bring the unmelted sugar into contact with the heat.

Once the sugar has all melted, you should have a light caramel. If it is cloudy, that means not all the sugar has melted! Swirl the sugar in the pan a little to help stir it but at this point, do not use the spoon as it will make the sugar crystallise.

When the caramel is clear, continue heating slowly until it is a deep golden colour. Swirling it gently will help to mix it in the pan so it doesn’t burn.

The moment the caramel is a rich golden brown, turn the heat to minimum and immediately pour in the double cream. BE CAREFUL – the cream will bubble and steam vigorously so make sure you are using a big pan so it doesn’t spit out of the pan. Stir the caramel to make sure it is all mixed. The area with the cream may be thicker than the melted sugar as it is cooled a little but it will remelt and everything will mix together nicely.

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Add in the butter chopped into small cubes or slices. Do this slowly and mix after each addition.

Leave the caramel to cool.

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To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (200°C).

Line three eight-inch cake tins.

Peel the bananas and put them into a bowl. Using your hands or a fork (I find hands are much faster, more efficient and give you a better end result) mash the banana.

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Pour in the buttermilk and stir it through.

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In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

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Add the baking powder and bicarbonate of soda to the flour.

Beat the eggs into the butter mixture one at a time. If the mixture begins to look curdled, add a small amount of the flour.

Slowly beat in the flour in three additions.

With the mixer on minimum, add the banana mixture and stir it through.

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Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool in the pan for ten minutes before removing them and leaving them to cool fully on a wire rack.

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To make the buttercream:

Beat the butter until light and fluffy. I find this easiest with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer but you can use the paddle instead.

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Sift the icing sugar and add a third of it with the mixer on slow as you do not want to cover your room in a cloud of sugar. Once the icing sugar has mostly been incorporated, switch the mixer back to high for a minute to beat everything together again.

Repeat with the rest of the icing sugar.

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Add a couple of tablespoons of the cooled caramel until you get to your desired flavour. Remember that the caramel will soften the buttercream so don’t add too much if you want to do intricate pipework.

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This stuff is delicious

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Once the buttercream has been made, you are ready to brûlée the bananas and assemble the cake.

Peel the bananas, slice them into 1cm thick rounds and lay them out snugly on a heatproof mat or surface.

Sprinkle with brown sugar until there is a thin layer over them.

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Using a chef’s blowtorch, caramelise the sugar – it is ok if it burns in a few places!

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Leave for five minutes to cool.

 

If your cakes are very domed, you may wish to level them but this step is up to you.

Place one layer onto your serving dish/cake board and spread a thin layer of icing over it.

Lay half of the banana on in a single layer on the top of the cake. You may wish to pipe a thin border around the edge to ensure they do not slip out but this isn’t strictly necessary.

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Add another layer of cake, icing and the remaining bananas.

Add the final layer of cake and top with the rest of the icing.

Optional: if you also wish to ice the sides, spread a thin layer of icing around the sides and on the top. It is ok if you can see the cake through this as this is only a crumb coat. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes and then add the rest of the icing to the outside, smooth it with a bench scraper or another flat edge that is taller than the height of the cake. You can buy specialist tools for this if you so wish.

Decorate as you see fit. I decided that I wanted to dye some of the remaining icing yellow and ice it with the same design I would use for cream on a real banoffee pie but it is totally up to you. Yolanda Gamp at How To Cake It, where the idea for this cake came from, uses toffees along with banana and plantain chips to cover the outside and give another texture if you are stuck for ideas.

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This cake made me happy

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you have a sweet tooth and are thinking of other caramel recipes, my chocolate and caramel layer cake and tart are both amazing or you could push the boat out with my white chocolate mousse and raspberry caramel tart. For something a little bit more on the simple and savoury side, my hummus and falafel recipes have gone down tremendously well so why not have a go at one of them?

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe and I will be back next week with a recipe that has survived the test of time, it originated over 4000 years ago!

H

Chiffon Cake

Chiffon cake is probably the most complicated of the classic sponge cakes. It is like a combination of a genoise and a Victoria sponge. Like the genoise it is a whisked sponge but, unlike the genoise, there is a lot of fat in the recipe, much more similar to a Victoria sponge. The finished product is a flavourful, light cake with a texture far more spongey than any other cake I have had the pleasure to try.

A classic chiffon cake is baked in a tube pan. These are like bundt tins but have flat sides and a flat base – something I will discuss later. The pan provides several elements which are essential for a successful chiffon cake. The most important thing is to not line the tin, either with butter or parchment paper. This is because the cake will cling to the sides of the tin allowing it to rise magnificently in the oven. If the sides are greased, the cake cannot stick to them so will collapse around the edges dragging the rest down with it. The addition of the tube in the centre of the tin provides another wall for the batter to rise up, giving a more even shape and bake. Because the cake must adhere to the tin to rise properly, it must be cut off the tin when it is fully cooked otherwise you won’t be able to remove it. This is why the tin must have flat sides and a flat base. You need to be able to run a knife around the edge to release the cake which is not possible if you use a standard bundt cake tin.

One of the trademarks of the chiffon cake is its texture. It is absolutely jam packed with air. This gives it a light, fluffy feel in the mouth but like everything else to do with the chiffon cake, it introduces another requirement to prevent cake disaster – in this case, collapse under its own weight. We all know how aggravating it is when a cake you have spent time on collapses after baking leaving a huge dent in the top and a dense texture beneath but at least, with most cakes, there is an easy way to avoid this: cook the cake fully and do not open the oven during baking. With a chiffon cake, there is an extra step: you must cool the cake upside down (a technique also used when making angel food cakes). Cakes firm up as they cool but when they come out of the oven, they are still very soft and delicate. For a chiffon sponge, the structure inside is so fragile that its own weight can crush the cake. It will not spark joy. To avoid this, many chiffon pans have legs which will hold the tin upside down while the cake cools. Because the cake adheres to the tin, this will not crush it –  in fact, the cake must now fight gravity if it wishes to sink!

There are four main flavours used for chiffon cakes: vanilla, lemon, coconut and pandan. This is because a light sponge requires a light flavouring. All of these can be paired very well with some sort of flavoured or unflavoured cream or even a curd. Cream and fresh fruit are the optimal items for decorating a chiffon because buttercreams are too dense so their texture would not match that of the cake. Pandan is a Chinese leaf which is normally blended with milk or water before the liquid extracted from the pulp is used to flavour the cake. If you want to try one of these, the pandan extract is used to replace the coconut milk in this recipe. You could even swap the coconut milk for normal milk for a vanilla or lemon sponge, or any flavoured milk if you want to experiment with flavours.

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Pandan turns the cake a remarkable shade of green

The cake in this recipe is a lightly coconut flavoured sponge which is split and filled with cream, fresh mango and passionfruit. I would definitely describe it as ‘tropical’ flavoured. Like most chiffon sponges, it is huge – despite having fewer ingredients than a normal cake – so you can feed a lot of people with it. I hope you enjoy the recipe.

 

 

Chiffon Cake

5 eggs

80ml vegetable oil

80ml coconut milk

150g caster sugar

150g plain flour

1tsp baking powder

¼ tsp cream of tartar (or unflavoured vinegar)

½ tsp salt

Flavourings of your choice (eg. Vanilla extract, coconut essence, lemon rind, pandan)

 

To fill:

300ml double cream

Fresh fruit of your choice

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 3

Separate the eggs.

Add 75g of sugar to the yolks and beat until light and fluffy. This is easiest using a hand-held electric whisk.

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Beat in the oil and then the coconut milk. If you have extra flavouring add it now.

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Sift the baking powder and flour together.

Beat this into the egg yolk mixture and set aside.

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In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form.

Add the cream of tartar/vinegar.

Beat in the remaining caster sugar a little at a time until it is all added.

Continue to beat until the meringue reaches stiff peaks. It should be bright white, glossy and smooth.

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Take one third of the egg white mixture and gently stir it into the egg yolks and flour. This is to loosen the texture of the yolk mixture so you can mix everything evenly later. If you try to fold the egg whites without doing this, you will end up with unmixed batter. I find a balloon whisk is best for this step.

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Fold the rest of the meringue mixture through the batter in two additions and fold until you are certain that there is no unmixed batter or meringue left. The batter should be thick and smooth.

Slowly pour the batter into an unlined, ungreased tube pan from at least a foot above the pan. The slow pour stretches out large air bubbles and causes them to pop giving a nicer final structure to the cake.

Use a spatula to spread the batter evenly around the pan. Insert a skewer and swirl it through the batter to help release any air pockets that survived the trip into the cake tin.

Bang the base of the tin onto the counter a few times to pop the larger bubbles which have risen to the surface.

Bake for 60-75 minutes, until the top crust is a deep golden colour (but not burnt).

52293379_321461278555344_1511697165271957504_nRemove the cake from the oven, invert the pan and leave to cool completely

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To release the cake, run a knife around the outside edge and remove the cake and base of the tin.

Run the knife around the inside edge and also the base of the cake.

Invert onto a plate and remove the rest of the tin.

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The cake can be served straight up or spit down the middle and filled with cream and even fresh fruit.

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe. This cake is super light and airy with an amazing texture – it’s just so spongy! If you are a fan of cakes with less icing, check out my recipe for lemon drizzle cake.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for…

H

Fruitcake

Fruitcake is a bit of a ’marmite-y’ food. You either love it or hate it. Clearly it’s the dried fruit that causes the issue as the recipe for a basic fruitcake is a standard sponge cake but uses brown sugar instead of white and often has no raising agent. The thing about fruitcake that really sets it apart is that it can last for years. Properly stored, you can keep a fruitcake for up to 25 years and still eat it without having to worry about food poisoning. This is probably because of the copious amounts of brandy in which this cake is soaked. A good fruitcake will be regularly ‘fed’ brandy for a month or so before it is stored and left to mature until it is needed.

Christmas cake is distinguished from normal fruitcake by the time of year at which it is eaten. The recipe is the same…. it’s just eaten in late December rather than at any other time. Whilst the darkness of the cake can come from using light and dark brown sugar, a properly deep brown colour is achieved by adding black treacle. Treacle is the bitumen (tar) of the sugar world. It is what is left over at the end of the refining process when the corn syrup, standard sugar and other lightly coloured products have been removed. It is full of ‘impurities’ which would ruin normal sugar syrup but are really only the minerals in the sugar beet or sugarcane, things like iron, magnesium, calcium etc. These minerals are so concentrated in black treacle that some brands have even been used as a health supplement.

The alcohol added to the fruitcake gives it a very moist crumb and an intense flavour without making it too boozy. This is because while the cake is maturing, all the liquid diffuses evenly throughout it whilst the alcohol evaporates leaving only its flavour behind. The hardiness of fruitcakes is what makes them so perfect for weddings. Cakes can be cut and pieces posted out to friends and family without the worry that all that will arrive will be a mushy mess.

The cake is very rich so you will get a lot of servings out of it – you cannot eat much at any one time. I hope you enjoy the recipe (and the cake in about two months time).

 

Fruitcake

450g currants

300g sultanas

275g raisins

200g glace cherries, rinsed and roughly chopped

100g mixed peel

250ml brandy

10oz flour

10oz brown sugar

10oz butter

5 eggs

1 tbsp black treacle

¾ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

¾ tsp mixed spice

Zest of 1 orange

 

Tip the sultanas, currants, raisins, peel and cherries into a large bowl.

Pour over the brandy, stir, cover tightly and leave to stand for 24 hours.

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Turn the oven to gas mark 1.

Line an eight-inch square tin or a nine inch round tin with a double thickness of baking parchment.

Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Do not skimp on this stage. It should take at least five minutes.

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Beat in the treacle.

Beat the eggs lightly to combine.

Add the egg a tablespoon at a time beating after each addition to prevent curdling. If the mixture looks like it is beginning to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour.

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Once the egg has all been incorporated, add the flour and spices and lightly beat until just combined.

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Drain the dried fruit and reserve the brandy for later (it will be used to feed the fruitcake).

Add the fruit to the cake mix and use a wooden spoon to combine by hand. This prevents the fruit from being pulverised.

Tip into the tin and spread out evenly.

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If you are using metal tins, tie a strip of baking parchment around the outside of the cake so that it comes up to at least double the height of the tin. Also cut out a circle/square of parchment which will fit over the top of the cake – this will stop it from browning.

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Bake for four hours.

Remove the parchment covering the top and bake for another 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean (it may be a little wet but not mushy). If the cake begins to brown too much, place the parchment back over the top.

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Remove the cake from the oven and leave to cool.

Once it is cold, prick it all over and spoon two tablespoons of the brandy over the cake. Leave for an hour to absorb and then wrap the cake tightly in baking parchment and then foil.

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Leave the cake to mature for at least two weeks (although preferably a month) feeding the cake brandy twice each week.

After the cake has matured, you can serve it as it is or decorate it with marzipan and royal icing to make a proper Christmas/wedding/decorative cake.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love cake, be sure to check out the recipe for my beautiful chocolate raspberry layer cake.

Have a good one and I’ll be back next week with a winter warmer to keep you going strong into the new year.

H

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Chocolate Spider Cake

This cake makes a perfect, child-friendly dessert for a Halloween party. It’s not too in your face with the spiders but there are enough of them to make the cake look a little bit creepy. The cobwebs are also super fun to create which is always a bonus when baking. Hidden away beneath the spiders is a rich devil’s food cake sandwiched together with whipped cream. The cream cuts through the richness of the cake, helping to balance the flavour, and acts as a strong glue to keep the cake in one piece.

Devil’s food cake has been around for just over one hundred years. It is a variation of the red velvet cake and is generally distinguished from a classic chocolate cake by the addition of water as the primary liquid. This increase in water (and decrease in egg content) results in a very dense, rich, moist cake which I far prefer to a classic chocolate sponge cake, which can get very dry. The other main difference between a devil’s food cake and a classic chocolate cake is the addition of not only baking powder but also bicarbonate of soda. The raising of the pH by the bicarbonate of soda causes the cocoa to turn a far darker shade of brown, leading to the almost black appearance of the cake.

The decoration on this cake looks really cool but I would check with the people you are making it for because, although they are not real, the spiders on top can really upset some people. Arachnophobia is an interesting condition because it would have helped our ancestors to avoid contact with spiders – they knew that spiders were dangerous but didn’t know which ones could kill. It is interesting that such a small creature can pack such a powerful punch and it makes sense that a healthy fear of them keeps you alive longer. The thing about arachnophobia is that the extremeness of the fear is not healthy. Like all phobias, arachnophobia isn’t just having an aversion to arachnids, it is an overwhelming sense of fear and panic which is completely disproportional to the danger being posed. For some people, the sight of webs or a picture of a spider can cause heart palpitations, panic attacks or even fainting.

Spiders permeate many different cultures. From Arachne in ancient Greek mythology, to Anansi in African folklore, to Aragog from the Harry Potter series, spiders have woven their way into stories for thousands of years. They are usually representative of some sort of trickster god or betrayal – whether this came before the fear of spiders or after is a cause for debate – and rarely have positive connotations. It is interesting that such a small animal can have such a big effect on ancient stories and even how we act today.

Living in a country where you can almost guarantee that any spider you see will not be dangerous, I find it fascinating how strong a reaction some people can have to them. Even for people without a genuine phobia, the unease felt around spiders is what gives this cake its creepiness and what makes it perfect to serve up around Halloween.

 

Chocolate Spider Cake

75g cocoa

150g brown sugar

1 ½ cups (375ml) boiling water

180g unsalted butter

225g caster sugar

340g plain flour

¾ tsp bicarbonate of soda

¾ tsp baking powder

1 tbsp vanilla extract

3 eggs

 

For the filling and icing:

200g soft butter

300g sifted icing sugar

50g sifted cocoa

1 tbsp milk

300ml double cream

2 tsp vanilla

 

To decorate:

200g marshmallow

Small round chocolates (Halloween themed spheres and maltesers both work)

50g milk chocolate

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4.

Grease and line three eight-inch tins with butter, cocoa and baking parchment.

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Place the brown sugar and cocoa into a bowl together and pour over the hot water. Stir until combined.

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Cream the butter and caster sugar together in a bowl.

Add one egg and a spoon of flour and beat to combine.

Repeat with other eggs to mix them in.

Add the bicarbonate of soda and baking powder along with half of the remaining flour.

Turn the mixer onto slow to avoid covering the kitchen in a cloud of flour.

Once the flour has mostly mixed in, add the rest and beat again to combine.

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Finally, pour in the liquid chocolate from earlier and slowly mix together until you have a smooth, glossy, chocolaty batter.

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Divide this batter between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cakes have risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean.

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Turn the cakes out onto a wire cooling rack and leave until they are cold.

 

To make the icing, beat the butter with the whisk attachment on a stand mixer until it is soft and fluffy. Using a stand mixer is far easier than a hand held one but if you don’t have one, any electric set of beaters will do!

Add half of the icing sugar and beat slowly until the sugar has been mixed in. Then increase the speed of the mixer and beat the icing for another minute.

Repeat the above step with the cocoa and then with the remaining icing sugar.

Tip in the milk and beat the icing for another five minutes to make it ultra fluffy.

Once the icing is done, add the vanilla to the cream and beat until the cream just reaches hard peaks. Make sure not to overwhip it or you will end up with butter!

 

To assemble the cake:

Level each layer of cake – it doesn’t have to be perfect as you can bulk out small dips with extra cream and icing (no one will mind).

Place the bottom layer on a cake board and pipe a circle of icing around the edge. Fill the centre with the cream.

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Add the next layer and pipe more icing onto it before filling the centre with cream.

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Finally, place the top layer onto the cake and cover the cake with the remaining icing. There should be enough to give a thin layer of icing on the top and the sides of the cake – you will still be able to see the cake layers through the side of the icing. If you want a completely opaque layer around the outside, multiply the icing recipe by 1.5 and make the layer around the cake much thicker.

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Place the cake into a fridge for at least half an hour to set the icing.

 

To decorate the cake:

Melt the chocolate.

On a sheet of baking parchment, pipe lots of little chevrons about 1cm tall and 1.5-2cm wide. These will become the legs of the spiders so make sure to pipe at least 9 per spider so you have a spare for when one of them inevitably snaps. Put these in the fridge to set.

Cut the base off each chocolate sphere (about ¼ of the way up the sphere)

 

Once the cake has been sufficiently chilled, you can make the webs.

Pour the marshmallows into a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.

Stir them and microwave again until all of the marshmallows have melted. You may want to stop heating when there are a few lumps left as these will melt if you stir the mixture.

Continue to stir the marshmallow for three or four minutes until it becomes super stringy.

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Pick up a blob and use all of your fingers (wash your hands first!) to stretch it out into a white sheet or a large number of strings. Wrap this around the cake and continue to wrap the strings or marshmallow around the outside until they snap.

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Continue to add layers of cobwebs to your cake until you are happy with the appearance. You want to still see the icing underneath as it gives a good contrast. (Wash your hands again to remove residual stickiness!)

 

Use the stickiness of the marshmallow to stick the balls of chocolate all over the cake and add eight legs to each of them. Pipe a small head at one end of each spider.

For added colour, brush a tiny amount of lustre dust over the back of each spider.

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This cake looks really cool and is perfect to serve up on Halloween for a party or just to an arachnologist at any point of the year. It can look super creepy and with multiple layers of cobweb, the 3D effect stops the cake looking too flat and boring.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you are looking for another Halloween recipe, check out my amazing brain cake – it’s super gory but looks really cool! Of course, if you want something a little bit more tame, why not treat yourself to a wonderful coffee and walnut cake – or even a lemon drizzle cake!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a delicious lunch which is as good cold as it is hot.

H

Halloween Brain Cake

As we approach Halloween, it is time to start thinking about horror cakes for parties. I have never been trick or treating but I love the opportunity to use face paint (which I may overdo ever so slightly) and the inspiration that Halloween gives to cooks is truly remarkable. From cute spiderweb biscuits to witches’ hat cupcakes, the wealth of Halloween themed food out there is incredibly vast. The cake which inspired this recipe was created by Yolanda at How To Cake It and I have been saying for about three years that I would recreate it for. Finally, I have.

Hidden beneath the terrifying exterior is a delicious red velvet cake which can, of course, be baked and eaten without any of the extra work required to scare it up. Although most red velvet cakes are now coloured with red food colouring, the original colour was completely natural. The cocoa powder most of us use has undergone the Dutch process which increases the pH of the cocoa (making it less acidic), darkens it, and rounds out the flavour. The raw cocoa is very high in an indicator known as anthocyanin (check out more about that in my purple sweet potato soup recipe) which turns red when exposed to acid – such as the vinegar added to a red velvet cake. This natural indicator was the original dye used to colour these cakes. The addition of buttermilk and replacement of butter with oil ensures that the cake is super moist although the softer crumb can often be harder to work with than a standard sponge cake.

The title of velvet was introduced when the cake was created to tell customers that the cake was softer that the cakes they were used to. It was created during the Victorian era and was iced not with cream cheese frosting but with ermine icing. This involved making a roux as the base for the icing which helped to stabilise it – especially in warm temperatures as the icing won’t melt as fast as either cream cheese or standard buttercream in the summer sun. Boiled beetroot juice was added during the second world war as this gave a far more intense red colour to the cake and beetroots grew well in England so were in good supply.

Somewhere during the decoration of a brain cake, there is a point at which the cake starts becoming horrifying to look at. It is a bizarre experience as you know that it is still a cake but for most of us (who haven’t seen a brain) the realism of this cake is decidedly unnerving. It would make a great food to bring to a Halloween party – or a viewing of The Silence of the Lambs. You could also use it to teach people about different areas of the brain if you are that way inclined. Whatever you do with it, you are sure to be remembered by all those who eat this cake. I had the misfortune of taking this cake on the train and I received (understandably) many weird looks from people who were standing around me.

I hope you enjoy making this as much as I did and that any Halloween party you take this to will remember you forever.

Red Velvet Brain Cake

Serves: 20

Prep time: 30 minutes (only about 15 minutes if you are making the classic red velvet cake, not the brain)

Cook time: 20-30 minutes

Decoration time: 1 hour (for the brain cake)

Cooling and resting time: 1 hour

500g plain flour

2 tbsp cocoa powder

4 tsp baking powder

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

550g light brown sugar

1 tsp salt

4 eggs

300ml vegetable oil

1 tbsp vanilla extract

2 tsp white vinegar

200ml plain yoghurt

200ml water

Concentrated red food gel (you must use the gel as liquid colour isn’t enough. I used around 20g for this cake)

Cream Cheese icing:

125g butter

180g (one tub) soft cream cheese

400g sifted icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 pinch salt

Decoration

500g marshmallows

900g sifted icing sugar

2 tbsp water

Yellow and red food colouring

1 jar of seedless raspberry jam (you can use normal jam and force it through a sieve)

4 tbsp water

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4

Line two large swiss roll tins with baking parchment – or if you are doing a traditional red velvet cake, four eight-inch round tins.

Sift together the flour and cocoa into a large bowl.

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Stir through the rest of the dry ingredients

Mix together the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

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Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ones and beat the cake mix until it is smooth.

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Divide the cake mixture between the tins and bake for around 20 minutes for the large flat cakes or around 25-30 minutes for the circular ones – or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

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Once the cakes are cooked, let them cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the tins (leaving the baking parchment on the base of the cakes) and leaving to cool completely.

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To make the icing:

Beat the butter until it is fluffy.

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Add half of the icing sugar and beat on slow until the icing sugar has mostly been absorbed before increasing the speed of the mixer. The icing will be quite stiff at this point.

Tip in the rest of the icing sugar along with both the vanilla and the cream cheese. Again, mix on slow to mash the sugar into the rest of the ingredients before beating on a high speed until the icing is fully combined.

For the fondant:

Place the marshmallows into a bowl along with two tablespoons of water.

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Microwave in 30 second bursts, stirring between each one, until the marshmallows have melted.

Add a small amount of red and yellow food dyes to make the marshmallow a pale peach colour (like the colour of a brain – I refused to look up a photo of a real brain online).

Tip in around 2/3 of the icing sugar and used a spoon to mix together until the mixture looks lumpy.

Pour it out onto a work surface knead the fondant together. Add the remaining sugar as the fondant becomes sticky. The fondant is ready when a small amount pinched between your fingers can be pulled about an inch away from the main blob of fondant without breaking off. Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge.

To assemble a standard red velvet cake:

remove the baking parchment and stack the layers with a quarter of the icing between each one before spreading the remaining icing on the top of the cake.

To make a horrifying brain cake:

Cut the slabs of cake in half width wise.

Stack them on a board with a quarter of the icing between each one.

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Carve the cake into the rough shape of a brain with a thin cleft down the middle. I googled cartoon pictures of brains to get a good idea of the shape without making myself feel sick.

Spread the remaining icing around the outside of the cake to create a crumb coat.

Place in the fridge for half an hour to set.

Once the cake has set, it is time to turn it into a brain.

Divide the fondant icing into quarters and roll one of them out into a snake about 1cm thick.

Cut the snake in half and then arrange each piece in symmetrical looping designs at the front of each hemisphere of the brain. It is easiest to start at the base of the brain to give the fondant some support from beneath, so it won’t fall off. Make sure that you leave a small gap down the centre of the brain to show the divide between the two hemispheres.

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Use two more of the quarters to repeat the above process to cover the outside of the brain.

Take the last quarter and cut it in half. Roll each half into a short, thick sausage and flatten half of each one. These will make up the cerebellum which is a different shape to the rest of the brain. Indent lines along the outside of each of the sections of the cerebellum.

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Place the cerebellum onto the serving plate and place the rest of the cake on top (ensuring the cerebellum is at the back).

Mix the jam with the remaining four tablespoons of water to thin it down.

Use a pastry brush to paint the entire outside of the cake with jam to make the brain look moist and fresh. If there are any sections with gaps in the fondant, add a little jam into the gap to make it look like the brain is oozing blood.

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This brain cake is truly horrifying to look at and you don’t even need to clean down the serving plate as a little extra ‘blood’ just adds to the effect. The cake is moist and has a light chocolate flavour which works wonderfully well with the tangy cream cheese icing. It is sure to a lot of attention when you bring it into a room or even just have it sitting in the centre of a table when people arrive. The best way to serve it is to cut down the centre of the brain and then serve slices from each side.

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love cake but would rather make one that is a little less terror inspiring, why not treat yourself to a beautiful unicorn cake? It’s ombre on the inside too! Of course, if you are more of a savoury person than sweet, you could always make yourself a big bowl of Laksa. It’s perfect to keep you warm as winter approaches.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a flavour packed rice dish.

Ombre Unicorn Cake

Who doesn’t enjoy a good birthday? The only thing I struggle with is what to get my friends as presents. I always want to get something meaningful that is not single. Sometimes people drop hints, which is fantastically useful, but other times I am stumped. My solution in this scenario is cake. A good cake shows that you have put effort in, you have thought about what they would like flavour wise and can also be made to look beautiful. A good cake will be remembered.

While I was at university I made many birthday cakes. They are great gifts when you are on a budget, as a basic cake can be made for around £10 and will be far better than most things you can buy for that amount in a shop. Birthdays are fun, but birthdays with a homemade cake are just a little bit better. Everyone will enjoy the food more and the overall atmosphere will be just a little bit happier – of course, if you don’t have time to bake something, a bought cake is not going to ruin the day. My view is that if someone provides me with cake, I am going to eat it!

Of course the most important part of a birthday is not the cake, it’s the people. If you are busy with university or work, it can often be hard to find time to meet up with friends but birthdays are a perfect time to come together and celebrate throughout the year. It can be a nice break from the stress of day to day life and regular catch-ups with friends are always good fun.

This week’s cake recipe can obviously be made without the added unicorn features to create a standard ombre cake or, vice versa, you can use the unicorn instructions to turn a normal sponge cake into a beautiful masterpiece. I made this for one of my best friends. She loves rose gold and pink so I went with an internal pink ombre and decorated with a gold horn and pink and purple swirls. You can obviously customise the colour to whatever you fancy – you could even do a rainbow inside!

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Photo creds to A Whimsical Rose for whom this cake was made. You should definitely check out her blog as she makes some great content!

I hope you enjoy making this cake as much as I did. It was definitely a labour of love (I mean come on, I lined eight tins for this – if that doesn’t show that I was willing to do whatever it took to make this cake amazing, I don’t know what will). Either way, I think a multi-layered, colourful cake is something that everyone should try at some point, even if it is only to say that you have done one, and if you are putting all that effort in then you can easily elevate it to unicorn status with very little extra effort.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ombre Unicorn Cake

10 oz. unsalted butter

10 oz. sugar

10 oz. self-raising flour or plain flour mixed with 2 ½ tsp baking powder

5 eggs

60ml milk

1 tbsp vanilla extract

 

For the syrup (optional but prevents the cake from being to dry):

3 tbsp sugar

3 tbsp water

25ml liqueur (optional) – I like to use raspberry

 

For the Icing:

400g salted butter at room temperature – I find that salted butter gives a much better tasting buttercream as it prevents the icing from being too sickly sweet.

600-650g sifted icing sugar

1 tbsp vanilla extract

Gel food colouring

 

Extras:

A small block of fondant icing

Black food dye

Paint brush

Gold lustre dust

A small amount of rosewater or vodka

One wooden dowel (for the centre of the horn)

Two cocktail sticks.

 

 

 

Cream the butter with the sugar and beat until light and fluffy.

Add the vanilla extract and beat again.

Mix in the eggs one at a time followed by a tablespoon of flour.

Once the eggs have been mixed into the rest of the batter, tip in the remaining flour and beat until completely combined.

Finally, add the milk and beat one last time.

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Preheat the oven to gas mark 3 (160°C)

Split the cake mix into eight parts and add a small amount of food dye to each one increasing the quantity of dye each time.

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Butter and line as many 6 inch baking tins as you have and bake for 18-20 minutes.

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While the cakes are baking, place the sugar and water for the syrup into a pan.

Heat and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.

Remove from the heat and stir  the liqueur.

 

To prepare the icing, place the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Using the whisk instead of the K-beater allows for a much lighter, softer buttercream.

Whisk the butter until it is soft and the colour begins to pale.

Turn the mixer down to its minimum speed and add half of the icing sugar. The slow speed prevents you from covering the entire kitchen in a cloud of sticky sugar.

Once the first batch of icing sugar has been beaten in, add the vanilla extract and turn the mixer to high and whip the icing for another minute to soften it up again.

Turn the mixer back to a slow speed and pour in the rest of the icing sugar.

Slowly beat it in and then return the mixer to a high speed before beating it for five minutes to give an incredibly pale, soft icing. If the icing seems a little stiff, you can always add a tablespoon of milk.

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Remove a third of the icing and set it aside for decoration later.

 

 

To assemble the cake:

Take the darkest layer of cake, level it and stick it to the cake board with a small amount of icing.

 

Use a pastry brush (or a teaspoon if you don’t have one) and brush the top of the cake with syrup.

Spread a thin layer of the icing over the cake and repeat with the next darkest layer.

Continue adding layers to the cake until you have the white layer left for the top.

When you place the final layer, place it upside down so that its base becomes the top of the cake providing a flat surface to work on later.

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The levelled tops of each cake displaying the colour gradient inside

Use the remaining icing that was not set aside to cover the entire cake in a layer of frosting. If you have time, use a small portion to make a crumb coat but otherwise, you can get a smooth, clean layer of icing by being careful.

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The crumb coat

 

Take the fondant and remove two balls about an inch across.

Flatten these out and mould them into ear shapes about an inch across and an inch and a half high. Insert the cocktail sticks into the base of each ear.

Roll the remaining fondant out into a long snake making one end thicker than the other.

Starting with the thin end, coil the fondant around the wooden dowel making sure to cover the tip. Leave a good two inches at the base of the dowel for it to stick into the cake to support the horn. Place the horn and the ears onto a tray and set aside to dry for half an hour.

 

Divide the remaining icing into thirds and colour each of them to your desired colour. I like having a dark version and a light version of the same colour along with a different colour for contrast.

Load the icing into piping bags fitted with star nozzles and pipe rosettes and kisses all over the top of the cake. Decide where you wish the front of the cake to be and pipe a rosette over the edge at the centre of the face.

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Use the black food dye and a brush to paint eyes onto the face of the unicorn. I like them to be about two thirds of the way up the cake. It looks very good just to paint on winged eyeliner for the eyes as it shows where they are without being super fiddly to do which can mess up the cake (you only get one chance to do these).

Use the remaining icing to pipe a mane of rosettes and kisses down the side of the cake as if they are hair which is overflowing off the top.

 

To finish the horn and ears, place a small spoon of the lustre dust into a bowl and add a tiny amount of either vodka or rosewater. Mix this together to make a thick gold paint. It should have the consistency of single cream.

Brush the centre of each ear and the entirety of the horn with this gold paint.

Using a pair of scissors to support the base of the horn (these help with grip as well as preventing the horn sliding down the dowel), place it slightly to the front of the centre of the cake.

Stick the ears into the cake just next to the base of the horn.

Repaint any sections which may have been smudged during transition and voila, you have just finished your ombre unicorn cake!

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This cake is a real showstopper and is sure to draw in lots of attention. As the icing prevents you seeing any of the layers inside, no one will expect the colourful interior and you are guaranteed to be remembered by anyone who has the privilege of eating this.

If you love cake, be sure to check out my chocolate and orange drip cake or, one of my personal favourites to both bake and eat, my coffee and walnut cake. If you are looking for something a little bit more on the savoury side, why not treat yourself to some delicious soup? My coconut and sweet potato soup tastes great and is also incredibly vibrant – it’s sure to bring a smile to your face.

Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a fantastic curry with homemade curry paste. It is so much easier than you think.

H

Honey Cake

One of the coolest things about honey is that it doesn’t go off. It is so sweet that microbes cannot grow in it and while the sugars can crystallise over time, the honey itself will remain unspoiled in a sealed container for years and years.

Honey is one of – if not the – oldest ingredients used in cookery. Unlike flour, fruits and processed sugar, honey hasn’t really changed since we started harvesting it almost eight millennia ago. There are cave paintings from the Mesolithic era which are found in Valencia, Spain which depict hunters gathering honey. The cave painting is surprisingly unambiguous. You can clearly see a human, surrounded by little bugs, reaching into a hive with one hand and holding a basket in the other. There is also physical evidence of honey from around 5000 years ago, when honey was found on the inside walls of clay pots in Georgia. The fact that the honey was sill recognisable is a true testament to how well it keeps.

This post has come about because it is approaching Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year – which falls this weekend). Honey is used as a symbolic way of wishing people a sweet new year and as a result, is added to many different foods. Honey cake is the obvious one, but we also use honey to sweeten bread and during the Rosh Hashanah meal, slices of apple dipped in honey are eaten. It also appears in Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism along with the Ancient Greek pantheon of gods. It is normally seen as a food of immortality and food of the gods as well as possessing great healing properties.

Outside of cooking, honey has been used as a medicine for a long time. It was used to help bind herbs in salves and pastes since the Romans and was particularly prominent in Celtic medicine and druidic rituals. This use most likely stems from the fact that honey is incredibly sticky so would hold the salves in place whilst also creating a seal to keep out infection. Nowadays, there is very little evidence that honey actually helps with treating any medical condition although it is very good for soothing a sore throat – just mix a spoon of honey into a cup of hot water with a few slices of lemon and drink it.

The cakes below are amazing fresh out of the oven but are even better if you let them cool, wrap them up in foil, and allow them to sit for a week in a pantry or on the side in your kitchen. The time allows the flavours to mature creating a far more complex taste. Cinnamon, ginger, orange and mixed spice all help give these cakes their distinctive flavour which must be tried to understand how amazing it is. This recipe is from Evelyn Rose and to be honest, I wouldn’t want to change a single thing about it. As an added bonus, these cakes are dairy free.

 

 

Honey Cakes

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Makes two cakes

 

12 oz. (335g) plain flour

6 oz. (170g) caster sugar

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp ground mixed spice

16 oz. (450g) honey – I just used a whole jar

½ cup (125ml) vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Zest of two oranges

250 ml orange juice

 

 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180°C).

Line two 9×9 inching tins with baking parchment.

Fill a jug with hot water and place the jar of honey (still closed) into it. The heat will slacken the honey up making it far easier to use later on.

Mix the flour, sugar and spices in a bowl and make a well in the centre.

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Pour in the honey, eggs, orange zest and oil before beating together – you can do this by hand but it’s a lot easier if you use an electric mixer.

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In a jug, whisk the bicarbonate of soda into the orange juice and after it has foamed up, pour it into the cake mix and beat it all together.

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Pour the cake batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes, or until the cakes are fully cooked.

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Move the cakes onto a cooling rack but don’t remove the baking parchment from them.

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Once the cakes have cooled, wrap them up in foil making sure to seal around the edge before leaving them for a week of two for the flavours to mature.

 

I hope you enjoyed the recipe. The cakes are delicious but very sweet – we don’t tend to eat them very fast at home because you only have a small piece at a time. It is fantastic to eat alongside a cup of tea. If you love baking but are looking for something a little bit less sugary, check out how to make some delicious shortbread or if you want something more on the savoury side, why not make yourself some delicious ginger tofu. It’s fab both hot and cold.

 

Have a good one and I will see you next week with a rich, flavourful, savoury crumble.

H