Blueberry Jam Flapjacks

I can’t decide how I feel about Richard Curtis’ latest film About Time.

Curtis is certainly an excellent PR machine for English tourism. The film progresses through soft-tinted shots of beautiful Cornish countryside, white fronted villas of South Kensington, and delves joyfully into the London art and culture scene. There’s even a whole sequence utilising the quirks of the London Underground.

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The usual Curtis elements were all present and correct – posh Hugh Grant voice-clone, American leading lady, kooky kid sister, eccentric parents and oh yah, we are Terribly English dahling!

Yeah it was an alright film to escape away to for a few hours. I guess I had a problem with the fact it was so soppy in a “I might vom if they go down that escalator in that smug-coupley-matchy way again”. And the other issue was Curtis’ usual message that at the end of the day “Love Conquers All.” I realise this is a rom-com and doesn’t reflect real life at all, but I guess you grow more cynical and grumpy-old-woman with age, eh?

All this has very little relevance to these blueberry jam bars, but I suppose if I had to really stretch for a link, how about the Anglo-American angle from Richard Curtis’ films summed up into the Anglo-American that is a very English flapjack sandwiched with blueberry jam?

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It’s very easy to make, and I confess that I did use the blueberry jam mostly as a way of preventing waste. Nobody in this household appreciates it on their toast, which is sad, because blueberry jam is a truly lovely thing.

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Note, despite my mixed feelings about About Time, I do like the Ellie Goulding cover of the song playing during the Underground scene.

The Return of the (Carrot) Cupcake

Currently re-reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s amazing how many new layers you can uncover about a book when you pick it up again after years. I’d never noticed before quite how funny Austen’s satire genuinely is.

Going back to oldies but goodies, after a long hiatus, I baked cupcakes. As anything with a bit of autumnal spice is floating my boat at the moment, it was time to grate the carrots!

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The first time I made these carrot cupcakes, I forgot to add any baking powder. They’d already been in the oven, so cue gnashing of teeth and googling “what-to-do-with-unrisen -cakes” (but in the end the family human dustbin ate them). Batch 2 fared better, I didn’t forget any raising agents, and they puffed up like little cakey beauties.

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The Hummingbird recipe remains my favourite – see this post for all the reasons why. I got 7 cupcakes out of my mixture, which is based on one third of all the ingredients in the full carrot cake recipe.

Carrot Cupcakes

  • 1 egg
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 75ml vegetable oil
  • 25ml milk
  • drop of vanilla extract
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1/3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/3 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 100g carrots, grated
  • 30g walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Beat the egg, sugar, oil, milk and vanilla extract together with a whisk until smooth. Sieve over the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, ground ginger and salt, and fold in with a large metal spoon. Fold in the carrots and walnuts. Fill the cupcake cases, and bake for 20 minutes until springy and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Ice when cold, I used the standard Hummingbird Bakery cream cheese icing. I’m a bit weird, and it’s a real waste of food, but I’m one of those people who love slathering a cupcake with icing (it looks prettier, see?) but then I scrape it all off when it comes to the eating. Sorry.

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Despite the cream cheesyness of the icing, do not refrigerate these cupcakes. The cooler temperature for some reason I cannot fathom, makes the sponge lose some of its light fluffiness. You have been warned.

Victoria Sandwich with Blueberry Conserve

I seem to have developed a real aversion to oil-based cakes. Very odd. I’m pretty sure (99.9% certain) that my palate hasn’t undergone any other drastic changes, but for now, let’s play on the safe side.

Old-fashioned English tea time treats use a veritable abundance of butter. Not so good for the heart, but very yummy, c’est vrai.

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One of the most traditional is the Victoria sponge. It is the first cake I learnt to bake. I would say nowadays that it is a simple cake to make, but I can recall the awful eggy abominations I used to produce, so there are many ways it can indeed go wrong.

There are manifold variations of the Victoria sponge; the classic tweaked and teased in cookbooks and over the internet. Never mind those. I still think it is best in its original incarnation. Soft salted butter, caster sugar, eggs, and self-raising flour. Not even the addition of vanilla is necessary.

My victoria sponge took a surprisingly short amount of time to bake, being ready after only 18 minutes in the oven! I put this down to using a relatively small quantity of cake batter and 15cm tins.  Still, it rose beautifully, and I happily slathered a generous layer of blueberry conserve on. Originally I was intending to go for a more traditional raspberry or strawberry jam, but the blueberry worked brilliantly.

Victoria Sandwich Cake

  • 130g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 130g spreadable salted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • milk
  • jam

Preheat the oven to 170 or 180˚C. Grease and line two 15cm cake tins. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs in, one by one, and then fold in the flour until just combined. Add a spoonful of milk to get it to a dropping consistency, then divide between the two cake tins and bake for 18-20 minutes until gently golden and springy. Unmould from the cake tins and wait until cooled, then sandwich the cakes together with a slathering of jam.

Friday Lasagne

It’s been a really tough week, and there are few things better than rounding off Friday with a spot of homemade lasagne, a good book, new Cath Kidston pjs, and a handful of dark chocolate-and-ginger biscuits. The lasagne is a bit different from my other recipe although it runs along the same lines – I just chucked in a lot more veg to bulk it out, and give it a higher nutritional value.
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Lasagne always seems to taste better when the ragu has been cooked in advance. So a great thing is to assemble the ragu in the middle of the week when you have a spare moment, let it bubble away whilst you’re catching up on some TV, and whip it all together in a matter of minutes on Friday evening.
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Friday Lasagne 
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  • 400g organic pork mince
  • half a leek, sliced finely
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 6-8 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 courgette, diced
  • 150ml red wine
  • stock cube, dissolved in a little hot water
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • salt, pepper
  • fresh oregano leaves
  • 50g salted butter
  • 2 spoonfuls of flour
  • pint of milk
  • grated nutmeg
  • packet of fresh lasagne sheets
  • half a ball of mozzarella torn into strips
  • handful of grated cheddar

Brown the mince in a pan until thoroughly cooked. In another pan, sautee the leek, carrot, mushrooms and courgette until soft. Combine the vegetables and mince together in one pan, then stir in the red wine, and leave to simmer on a low heat until the liquid has reduced completely. Then stir in the stock thoroughly. Mix in the tin of chopped tomatoes. Swill the tin with a little water and tip that into the simmering mince mix as well.  Leave to simmer on a low heat until the liquid has almost completely reduced. Season with salt, pepper and fresh oregano leaves. If you’re not making the lasagne immediately then leave it to cool down, and put it into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave in the fridge for about 2 days maximum until needed.

Make the bechamel by melting the butter in a pan, then stirring in the flour, and finally the milk bit-by-bit to form a smooth sauce. Season with a dash of nutmeg.

Pour 1/4 bechamel onto the base of an ovenproof dish and cover with a layer of lasagne sheets. Spoon in 1/3 of the ragu. Then spoon the second 1/4 of the bechamel over this, followed by lasagne sheets, and another 1/3 ragu. Spoon over the third 1/4 bechamel, then another layer of lasagne sheets, the final 1/3 ragu and top with the final 1/4 bechamel. Sprinkle with cheese, and pop into the oven to cook for around 30 minutes until golden and bubbling.

The Perfect Carrot Cake

With autumn, it’s all about the spices, and the cakes made out of the allotment glut. While I have, as yet to bake anything with courgettes, pumpkins, or squashes, I am very fond of good old carrot cake.

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The recipes I tested were stupendously varied. And here they were:

  1. The Hummingbird Bakery carrot cake
  2. The Hummingbird Bakery carrot cake, adapted
  3. BBC Good Food yummy scrummy carrot cake
  4. Ottolenghi’s carrot cake
  5. Geraldene Holt’s Cakes

The first recipe I made was the Hummingbird Bakery one, which I enjoyed very much, although the quantities did make for the most enormous cake of truly American-sized proportions. This was a few years ago, when I first started baking, and although I loved the recipe, one niggle was the large volume of oil that was going into the cake. I read on the internet that others had managed to cut it down substantially, so I did that, replacing the lost volume with milk instead. It worked beautifully – I had a light risen sponge, with shreds of carrot running throughout, studded with walnuts.

BBC Good Food have a recipe that has hundreds and hundreds of positive reviews. Not all that different from the Hummingbird recipe, I was anticipating great things. Unfortunately, I was disappointed.   Like the Hummingbird Bakery recipe, it relies upon a very large volume of oil, and here, I could really taste it. Eau de vegetable oil was not appealling. Plus points – it was indeed moist and fluffy, and certainly had potential for improvement.

Ottolenghi obviously always gets thumbs up all over the internet, and his carrot cake has been cited as a favourite by loads of food bloggers out there. It was a nice sponge, but I just didn’t think it was as tasty as the Hummingbird recipe. I did make a very small sponge (what with testing so many recipes) so perhaps I shall try and make a full-size version in future and see what that is like. Additionally, I also feel many Ottolenghi recipes improve with keeping, so this may be a cake to make, and wait, before judging.

Geraldene Holt’s recipe looked promising. It doesn’t use oil, which is a change from the recipes above, instead relying upon melted butter. The cake is packed full of orange zest, dried fruit, and nuts, and at the end, is much denser than any of the recipes above. My testers liked it, but I felt that it didn’t seem like carrot cake anymore, and seemed closer to a Christmas fruit cake, or a hot cross bun. I did use the wrong sugar, and perhaps a lighter one would have produced a more desired taste, but this wasn’t what I was looking for from a carrot cake.

So final verdict? Well, it was overwhelmingly in favour of the Hummingbird Bakery recipe, in its adapted form, which got the most ticks in the box.  I really love, love love this recipe, and will be posting it up soon!