Category Archives: Sweet baking

Honey, Honey

I’ve had a couple of great honey moments over the last few days. Firstly, going back to one of my all time favourite places in London: Honey and Co. I love understated restaurants like this, there’s no ponce or finery to detract from the fabulously tasty Middle Eastern food. I’d escaped from my work just off Regent Street in the mid-afternoon and wandered through Fitzrovia to Warren Street. I always feel like a tourist when I work in London, it’s great to explore new areas- I’d never found Fitzroy Square before – it’s glorious… but back to Honey and Co.

Husband and wife team, Itamar and Sarit, are originally from Israel, they worked for Ottolenghi amongst others, and long dreamed of having their own neighbourhood restaurant. Now they have it, Honey and Co, and it’s heaven (lots of reviews here) Others have said it before, and it does sound corny, but the food really does ooze love and care.

By the time I got there, around four, I was ready for a cup of fresh mint tea and a small slitherette of something sweet. The window sill is always crammed with cakes but these are no ordinary cakes, they’re not M&S cakes either, they’re one off, eat-with-your-eyes-but-just-wait-’till-you-taste-and-they’re-simply-sublime-cakes. The warm, kaffir lime and mango cakes were recommended. Itamar had bought a box of kaffir limes a few days before and these were the first results. They’ll be too late to make it into The Baking Book which is out next month, and if any of you don’t already own the first Honey and Co, Food From The Middle East cookbook ( v.v. inspiring and a great read too) then you’d better buy the pair. My next visit will be for lunch, and not just a cake.


I have to admit I’ve never really known much about honey. I always  buy a pot of local stuff when I visit my sister in Devon but I’ve never thought too much about tasting and using a variety of honeys. I know that I adore heather honey and I’m not so sure about chestnut honey and that’s about it. Now we have a selection of four delicious honeys on the go  (LOVE the lemon blossom honey) as a result of one of my latest book purchases,  Spoonfuls of Honey by Hattie Ellis. There’s a great glossary on bees and honey, tips about keeping the bees happy in your garden, a guide to different honeys and masses of savoury and sweet recipes….altogether a very lovely book and, most importantly, one I really want to get into the kitchen with.

Imi and I decided to make some Madeleines from the book yesterday for her to take to her friend  Lettie’s party. She gets very excited about making presents and spent as long decorating the box as making the cakes. But, just in case this all seems a bit syrupy, gorgeously homey-mother-and-daughtery you’ll be pleased to know that we did have a near melt down at the spooning into the tin stage. I dared to suggest that Imi could perhaps be a little more careful and sparing with the mixture and then had to take a hold of myself and STAND AWAY from a very stroppy child for a few tense minutes.

Madeleines – (recipe from Spoonfuls of Honey) makes 20-24

100 g unsalted butter, + extra for greasing
2 tbsp honey (Hattie recommends a medium/dark honey such as heather – I’d just fallen in love with the blonder lemon blossom honey and they still tasted GOOD)
3 eggs
100 g caster sugar
100 g self raising flour
50 g ground almonds
pinch of sea salt.

Melt the butter and honey together (I zapped mine on low in the microwave)

Whisk the eggs together with the sugar with an electric whisk. Hattie recommended 10 minutes in order to triple the volume, an 8 year old’s wrist was apparently going into spasm after about 5 so that’s all we managed.

Fold in the flour, almonds and salt. Now Hattie suggests leaving the mixture in the fridge to rest for a couple hours making it easier to spoon into the tin as it holds its shape better. We were running out of time so it only got 20 minutes. (Maybe this led to our slightly messy pan filling?)

Preheat the oven to 180ºc/Gas 4

Grease the madeleine tray and put a couple of teaspoons of mixture into each mould. Bake for about 7 minutes (check after 5) remembering, as Hattie says, that the madeleines will be browner on the bottom than the top.

Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes in the tray (Imi managed about 3 max!) and then unmould onto a wire rack to cool.

You can keep these in a tin for a couple of days but the fresh cakes, were (as they always are) simply the best.

I can see these elegant little cakes becoming a regular in my repertoire (I’m not much of a cake maker but I could memorise this recipe), they were so easy and worked brilliantly despite our shortcuts.
I did hesitate before buying another cake tin but as Hattie says “a madeleine mould is an object of beauty”. If you ask me the madeleine itself is the Juliette Binoche of the cake world; an absolute breath of fresh air in a world of fancy cup cakes and frosted doughnuts.

There’s so much left to say on the honey subject too; we have a  bottle of gold dust from the Nepalese honey gatherers that Peter brought back from his filming trip 20 years ago,  but more on that at a later date.


In Praise of Batty Bristol and Beetroot Chocolate Muffins

Bristol’s a fabulous place to live, I never feel trapped like I do in so many other cities; virtually every where you look there is a glimpse of countryside beyond the buildings. You’re a stone’s throw from wild Wales, Devon and Cornwall and yet you can be in London in under two hours. Better still is the fact that Bristol itself has such a dynamic heart – there’s the great food scene that seems to lack the ponce and showmanship of most big cities, there’s the earthy vibe that has earned Bristol the title of  European Green Capital 2015 and then there are the offbeat, quirky community events that just seem to flourish here.

On Saturday evening we set off on a “magical walking trail to light up winter” in Bishopston  (that’s just North of the city centre to any non-Bristolians). I’d chatted to a “balloon artist” in the sauna at The Lido earlier in the day (it’s where all the best conversations seem to take place) who was on her way to dress a shop window for the event. Shops and, better still,  households were lighting up their window displays between 5 and 8pm. There were over 150 random exhibits at Winter Wanderland– we saw about 40 of them, including meticulously crafted mini cinemas, a shadow puppet show, The Queen and Obama enjoying angel food cake and gin in the back of a camper van, a “live show” – dog lying on a sofa, lego displays, a pompom solar system – the sheer diversity was incredible. We snapped a couple of shots but you’d do so much better taking a peek here here.

Today I took the long way round to my local greengrocer Reg the Veg, walking along the glorious Georgian sweep of Royal York Crescent soaking up the sunshine. What a city! (Clifton pic’s coming soon) I was going to buy some fruit for the muffins that I’d promised to make with Imi after school but settled on some beetroot instead.

I’ve been meaning to play around with that great chocolate/ beetroot partnership in a muffin recipe for ages. I’m well chuffed with the results – still a hint of beetroot flavour, but hopefully not enough to scare off the kids, and some chunks of luxurious chocolate.

Beetroot Chocolate Muffins  – 12

200 g light muscovado, or soft brown sugar
100 g melted butter (use oil if you prefer)
2 medium eggs
100 g  (4 tbs) natural yoghurt
200 g  self-raising flour
4 tbsp cocoa powder
170 g beetroot
100 g dark chocolate

Pre heat the oven to 170 C,  Gas 3 and grease a 12 medium -sized muffin tray or line with papers.

Take a big bowl and mix together the sugar, butter, eggs and yoghurt.

Weigh out the flour and cocoa powder into another bowl.

Grate the beetroot on a coarse grater otherwise the mixture can become a bit too wet and sloppy (you could do this in the food processor but that’s a lot of pink washing up).

Chop the chocolate up roughly or use drops (I find it virtually impossible to get small domestic quantities of decent quality chocolate in the cooking drops)

Throw the flour mix, beetroot and chocolate in with the wet ingredients and stir it all together. Don’t be too zealous, it really doesn’t matter if there are a few lumps and too much stirring leads to solid, chewy muffins.

Spoon the mixture into the greased/lined muffin tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until well risen and baked through when tested with skewer (no gloop on the skewer – you’re done)

Leave to cool on a wire rack and eat as soon as possible.


Stilton, Eccles Cakes and New Year’s Resolutions

It’s time for New Year’s resolutions and once again I’ve resolved to give nothing up at all. The short, dark, cold January days can be a bit depressing anyway without depriving myself of chocolate, alcohol or anything else I truly enjoy. No….. I’m resolving to swim more often, which is hardly a chore as the beautiful Clifton Lido is just a ten minute walk away. I’m going to attack my accounts once a week (now that’s a serious challenge). And, most importantly as far as Imi and this blog are concerned, I am going to continue with the Monday Night Cooking Club.

A few weeks ago I decided that I really needed to commit to cooking with Imi on a regular basis. It’s too easy to be in a hurry, to be feeling in need of a little “head time” (I have a daughter who’d sweep the board on “Just a Minute”)  or just not to be in the mood to clean up a bomb site .. so much so that we hardly ever seemed to cook together. Bring on the “Cooking Club” as Imi has christened our Monday evening antics in the kitchen. Each week Imi invites a friend back from school and we make something. There’s really no getting out of it now, even if I wanted to, she already has a register with the next dozen participants lined up.

Last term we made:
-spinach and ricotta ravioli with her friend Avalon (great fun rolling the pasta, stuffing and cutting, and a fabulous way to get the girls eating spinach),
-pumpkin and coconut cake with Bea (plenty of spoon licking),
-meatballs and apple tarts with Lettie (a very good supper)
-and then Eleanor joined us baking Christmas cakes and then icing them a couple of weeks later. I’m loving it as much as they are, yes I have those moments on a Monday at 3pm when I question my sanity but it’s so satisfying.

Today Imi and her little friend Lettie made Eccles cakes for us to take out to Barcelona for New Year’s Eve tomorrow. The combination of Eccles cakes and Stilton was new to me until recently…….Was it a moment of Fergus Henderson magic to marry the two ( as he does at his restaurant St John)? Or, is this a long-held tradition? Perhaps you can tell me? Anyway it’s delicious. So, I’m going to reek of blue cheese at the rather glam’ party we’re going to with all our Catalan friends tomorrow night because I have half a Colston Bassett Stilton secreted in my suitcase (along with a 1/2 a kilo of clotted cream). I’ve used about 10 metres of cling film trying to hermetically seal the thing but it does seem that the waft will out. My hand luggage will be largely made up of tins of Eccles cakes, chocolate ginger thins and shortbread. There is some method in my madness as all this food will disappear very quickly leaving copious room for any small purchases that I might just make in Barcelona (ooh the shoe shops!)

Eccles Cakes with Stilton- Makes 12

40g butter
225 g currants
25g chopped candied peel
75g muscovado / dark drown sugar
1/2 tsp orange/lemon zest or mix
1 tsp mixed spice (or mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger)
pinch of salt

500 g  All-Butter Puff Pastry
1 egg white, beaten
Golden granulated or Demerara sugar

For the Filling
Just melt the butter and then mix in all the other ingredients and leave to cool for a few minutes.

Roll out the pastry to under 1/2 cm thick and cut out into squares – you should get about 12. Most recipes ask for circles but it’s more of a faff and you waste pastry. However, if you’re worried about ending up with just slightly square cakes ( and I’m not) then go for the circles.

Pile up a spoonful of filling in the middle of each square and then brush around the edge with some egg white.

Now pull in the edges to cover the filling and press everything together to seal. Turn over and roll gently to flatten and help into a circle-ish shape.

Make about 3 slashes in the top of each cake, brush with the egg whites and sprinkle with sugar. Chill on a baking tray for at least 20 minutes (or bake straight away if you’re an impatient child – slightly flatter pastry!).

Preheat the oven to 220 C and bake the cakes until really gold and and crispy.

Cool and store in a tin.

I’ll warm these a little tomorrow before serving with my amazingly creamy Stilton Cheese or with the clotted cream (that’s assuming that it hasn’t escaped all over the suitcase) .