Chocolate almond macaroons

Sun shining, a day out to the nearest edge of the Cotswolds for a first posh lunch out as a trio since 2019, then an ice cream in the shadow of Broadway Tower. Cow parsley, buttercups, long long grass, hawthorn blossom and stinging nettles.

Broadway Tower

Back home, the foxgloves are in flower, majestic spikes of pink, peach and white, marked with spots of purple and orange. Foxgloves are absolutely in my top 5 flowers – so architectural and plain weird – and even better, these all self-sowed so cost not a penny. Here I’ve placed them with alliums and sweet william for an interesting mix of height and form.

Foxgloves, sweet william and allium now cropping

I made a big batch of chocolate gelato at the weekend, overcome by the hot weather. It was good – very good – but even better are these chocolate almond macaroons that use up the left-over egg whites. They’re now my go-to recipe whenever we have egg whites hanging around, say after a carbonara or custard, and – unlike meringues, which never get eaten – they’re a firm favourite for both pre-schoolers and early-middle-agers. I found the recipe from a blog about living in a vicarage, so this is recipe is also known as Church Biscuit No.70.

Chocolate almond macaroons

Chocolate almond macaroons

2 egg whites
200g ground almonds
30g cocoa powder
175g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180c and line a baking sheet with parchment. Sift the almonds, cocoa and icing sugar into a bowl and using a wooden spoon, mix in the unbeaten egg whites to a firm dough. Simple.

With wet hands, roll out walnut-size balls of mixture and place on the baking sheet, flattening each one slightly as you go. Bake for 11-15 minutes, until dry on top and slightly cracked. You want to keep a certain squishiness in the middle. Cool before serving.

These last several days in the tin and are good on their own or as an accompaniment to ice-cream.

Also this week:
Harvesting: sweet william, foxgloves, last of the spring rocket, last of the chervil.
Allotment and garden: Watering twice a week (it’s not enough, no rain for two weeks now) but the veg are still small despite the warm weather. Admiring the roses, now at their peak. Delphiniums just coming out whilst the aquilegia go over.
Eating and cooking: Lunch at The Fish of asparagus with brown shrimp followed by Fowey mussels. Rhubarb ice cream at Broadway Tower. Cost a fortune but a joy to be out at last. Made chocolate gelato from the Rick Stein Venice to Istanbul book. Eating more Greek salads than most Greeks at present.
Also: Reading Under a Mackerel Sky, Rick Stein’s memoir.

Chocolate mini milks

I’ve been remiss in documenting this year’s allotment, mainly because progress has been slow and steady and therefore not very dramatic to photograph. Plus we have new neighbours whose efforts put me to shame (that’s retirement for you). Something has flipped in me this year though, because the self-seeded plants who have set up home on our allotment have become friends rather than foes. Last year, everything felt like a struggle, partly because I was running a festival and HAD NO TIME. This year it’s a wee bit more relaxed, though I’m only spending an hour or two a week down there and I can only do what’s possible in the time I have. The thistles and groundsel I do remove, but there’s no point fighting the borage, nasturtium, mullein and poppies. The pollinators love them and actually their colour and form are welcome elements to this year’s allotment (I have harvested some poppy seed heads for drying). Even those annoying brambles are swelling with the promise of a bumper crop of blackberries.

Perhaps because of my tardiness, the broad beans have been fine but no major success this year. They are full of weeds and I do wonder if they needed less competition. It’s a similar story with the climbing beans, whose base are overrun with nasturtium. I think the Cobra will do OK, but the purple and borlotti beans are sluggish. We will get a crop but it will be late, partly because my first set of plants were zapped by that late April frost so these are Maytime afterthoughts. The runner beans, incidentally, have completely vanished, which makes me wonder if I planted any in the first place. I’ll pop some seeds directly into the ground next time I visit, in hope of an autumn bean surge.

The long view, with bean sticks, squash plants, sweetcorn and amaranthus. Also plenty of self-sown ‘weeds’ – borage, nasturtium and poppy.

The things that we leave alone often do the best. The dahlias were over-wintered in the allotment, I never water them, and they are now the biggest plants on the plot. There is something to be said for leaving tubers in situ. They are just now beginning to give a crop, as are the new tubers planted last month on the gritty thin soil at the top of the path.

The March-sown corn plants with dahlias behind

The onions have become fat, their leaves beginning to flop, and next to them – miraculously – we have a line of pale green parsnip seedlings that finally germinated on the third attempt.

onions, leeks and tiny parsnips plus some hastily planted zinnia to plug the gaps

August’s cut flowers will be dominated by cosmos, chrysanthemums, ammi and sunflowers. The sweet peas are fading now, their velvet shades become mottled as they give up the ghost.

Ammi visnaga and cosmos, with chrysanths and strawflower behind plus the inevitable self-seeders mullein and poppies
sweet peas, nasturtium and cornflower
Sunflowers are romping away now

The hop is one of those plants that is hidden in plain sight. It’s so part of the furniture that I rarely see it these days, only to look up last week and notice that one bine has collapsed under its own weight.

A bine has collapsed on the hopolisk

Because of my transformed attitude to weeds, plus the success of this year’s planting plan (every inch of ground is covered with something), the July allotment is a pleasure rather than the burden that it was threatening to become. The crops are coming weekly but in small number, which doesn’t make for good photos but does make for a more manageable life. We’re talking a courgette and a bag of broad beans a week, leaves from the trug at home, plus a few berries and two or three vases of flowers. Come August all this will change of course and the glut will hit.

The regular haul of sweet peas, cornflower, nasturtium plus first dahlias and cosmos

Do you remember when it was warm? No I don’t either but I have pictorial evidence that, just a few weeks ago, the sun shone. At these time I become one of those highly irritating super women who produces home-made ice lollies for her offspring. (Don’t be fooled by this, because the rest of the time he exists on chocolate buttons and Aldi’s own-brand Ritz biscuits.) These chocolate mini milks are really easy and use up those smushy black bananas that are always lurking in the fruit bowl. They’re also a good way of getting milk inside him disguised as a treat.

You’ll need a blender and some lolly moulds. Little hands can join in, but make sure they know which end of the lolly handles to put into the moulds…

Remember to put your lolly sticks in the correct way up

Chocolate mini milks

In a blender, whizz together 1 banana, 1 tsp cocoa powder, 2 tsp icing sugar and about 200ml milk. Pour into lolly moulds and freeze.

Chocolate mini milks

Also this week:

Harvesting: last broad beans, first courgette, lettuce, rocket, blackcurrants, blueberries, alpine strawberries, cornflower, sweet peas, dahlia, first sunflower, nasturtium, poppies. Also finding peaches, nectarines, plums, strawberries and red/white currants in the shops and farmer’s market.

Cooking and eating: Nectarine, plum and strawberry crumble. Inevitably, pasta prima vera with courgette and broad beans. Chicken marinated with Moroccan spice mix, yoghurt and garlic, roasted in a HOT oven and served with chopped salads, yoghurt and chips. Toscakaka. Black banana cake.

Also: Reading the biography of Elizabeth Jane Howard. Working back at full tilt without ever feeling any richer. Slow but steady progress on the office renovation. Taking Harry for his first hair cut since February, and then only because his fringe had become and health and safety issue.

Almond (and chocolate) crescents

You know how you get Instagram food and then you have real life food? Instagram is usually style over substance but the home-made stuff, whilst not being pretty, is actually where we can find real heart-warming soul-bolstering cooking. It’s the same with cookbooks – the things we covet on paper somehow don’t carry the true essence of what is real. The expensive images can’t give the impression of the kitchen filled with the fug of bubbling chicken stock, or the furtive treat of stealing the first biscuit off the tray before anyone’s noticed. They can’t give the life-preserving feeling that you get from a slice of proper toast slathered in salty butter. Nor do they give room for the truth that some of the best cooking actually happens when we mess it up a bit.

On that note, I’ve been tinkering about my cinnamon bun recipe (yes, it is an obsession), thinking it would be fun to try something else that’s Scandi and calorie-laden, and my eye was drawn by these, Gifflar med kanel, or cinnamon crescents, from The Nordic Baking Book. Have you ever seen a thing of such dough-based beauty? Look at the swirl! Look at the shine! Look how NEAT they are!

What a Crescent is meant to look like…

So obviously I had a go and, inevitably, my version look utterly crap. Big and puffy, with all the filling oozed out, like I’ve made some cheesy sausage roll from my Mum’s 1970s M&S Picnic Cookbook. But do not be deceived, for this swirly ugly mass is a thing of caramelised unctuous gorgeous heaven.

…and the homemade version!

Instead of the cinnamon filling that is traditional, I used an almond version called remonce, the type used in Danish pastries and Mandelbullar (almond buns). The almond actually comes from marzipan, creamed with heart-stopping quantities of butter and sugar, so imagine this: Sweet dough baked golden in a puddle of marzipanny-buttery caramel. Then think of the illicit pleasure of peeling the leaked caramelised butter-almond off the paper in shards, shovelling them in your mouth before your 2 year old sees and wants them for himself.

Then imagine a chocolate version. Dear God.

Roll your dough out more thinly that you’d expect, and you might succeed in making crescents that are slightly better looking than mine. These freeze well so any that don’t get eaten can be stashed for future breakfasts, brunches or midnight feasts.

Almond crescents
Makes 32 crescents. Recipe adapted from various things in The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson.

For the dough:
320ml milk
150g unsalted butter
1 heaped teaspoon ground cardamon
15g dried yeast
1 egg
125g caster sugar
1 teaspoon fine salt
750g strong wheat flour

In a jug in the microwave, melt the butter into the milk then leave to cool slightly. In a large bowl, place the salt, the flour, the yeast and cardamon (in that order so that the yeast and salt don’t come into contact with each other) and mix thoroughly with a scraper. Whisk the egg into the milk mixture, then tip the lot into the flour and mix to combine. Once you have a sticky mass, tip onto the work surface and knead for a good 10 minutes until you have a soft, elastic dough. Or you can use a stand mixer if you have one. Don’t stint on the kneading, this dough needs it! Shape the dough into a ball, put back in the bowl and cover with a tea towel. Leave to prove for about 2 hours or so, until really risen and puffy. Meanwhile, make your filling:

Lys remonce – Danish pastry filling
125g unsalted butter, very soft
125g caster sugar
125g marzipan

Place the butter and sugar in a bowl, then grate the marzipan over using a box grater. Cream together thoroughly and set aside.

For the crescents:
Preheat the oven to 220c. Prepare three or four (depending on their size) baking sheets or roasting trays with baking parchment. Tip the dough out onto the work surface with the tenderness that you would treat a newborn baby. Gently shape it into a circle then divide into 4 pieces.

To make crescents, roll each piece into a circle using a rolling pin. They should be quite thin, about 1cm deep or thinner. Spread a quarter of the filling over the circle using an off-set spatula, then cut into 8 equal triangles. Roll each triangle up from the thick edge to the thin, then place on a baking sheet. Repeat and repeat until all the dough is used up. Leave to prove for another 30 minutes or so, until puffy.

If you want, at this stage you can egg wash the crescents, or simply leave them plain as I do. Bake for about 10 minutes until risen and golden. You may need to turn the trays around mid-way through baking to avoid burnt bits. Leave to cool before tucking in but take every opportunity to munch on the crunchy almondy caramelised bits that have leaked from your buns.

Variation: Almond & chocolate buns
To make a sinfully good chocolate version, break up some shards of 70% dark chocolate and scatter on top of the dough after you have spread it with the remonce filling. Either shape as crescents or make into traditional cinnamon or cardamon bun shapes, as I have done here. Bake as before.

The chocolate almond version. Ugly but mind-blowingly good.

Chocolate sorbet

I start with a warning: when grinding steel to make a new top for the hopolisk, remember to wear goggles. Matt failed to do so, got a fleck of steel in his eyeball, and had to go to the hospital for a jab from a doctor with a sharp implement.

When grinding steel always wear a mask, else you may end up with a trip to the eye hospital

With both eyes now intact, we disappeared for a long weekend in the Peak District, which was happily imbued with Royal Wedding spirit, warm sun and abundant blossom. I had forgotten what it is to wake up to the sound of birds and sheep rather than buses – what a life affirming joy it is to be close to the land. Especially the land in May, the kindest of all months.

Abundance of apple blossom at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire

Cow parsley is at its best right now

A hangover from Christmas on a dry stone wall

Royal Wedding day, and Her Maj and Prince Philip hang out on the roses

Harry loved being away. In the last two months he’s become incredibly skilled on his walker – it’s his passport to freedom. Turn your back for a second and whoooooooosh! He’s off!

Harry tried to escape but gravel stopped play

At the end of 2012 my Dad and I went to Australia to visit my brother, who is based in Adelaide. We had a few days in Sydney, staying in an apartment-hotel directly above Bill Granger’s restaurant in the Surry Hills. I booked the hotel purely on the basis of the Bill Granger connection but ended up not eating there – the prices were so offensively expensive, no sane person can spend THAT much on scrambled egg with avocado. However by happy accident we discovered that the street was full of interesting independent restaurants and food shops including the most brilliant gelataria, Messina. There were queues trailing down the street for this little ice cream shop and when I finally got to the front of the queue I panicked at the masses of choice and asked for a cup of chocolate sorbet whilst thinking “chocolate sorbet? are you mad?”

It turned out to be glorious of course. I went back the next night for another go. I have never forgotten that chocolate sorbet and everytime anyone goes to Sydney I tell them: find Messina! It’s AMAZING! I’ve tried to recreate that chocolate sorbet a few times but never had any joy until I found this recipe, by Angel Adoree in the Vintage Tea Party Cookbook. Her trick is to use proper dark chocolate rather than cocoa, which makes for a smooth texture. I would add that it’s important to ensure that the syrup isn’t so hot as to make the chocolate seize when you mix them together. Use 70% chocolate and you’re all set.

Dark chocolate sorbet
From The Vintage Tea Party Cookbook

Ensure that your ice cream maker is properly frozen before you begin. In a saucepan, melt 200g caster sugar into 500ml water until completely dissolved. Turn the heat off and leave to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Make a syrup with 500ml water and 200g sugar

Meanwhile chop 200g dark chocolate into shards. I used 70% cocoa solids chocolate but it’s nothing posh, just Aldi own brand.

Chop 200g dark chocolate – I used Aldi’s own brand with 70% cocoa solids

Put the chocolate into a heat-proof jug, pour the syrup on top, then stir until the chocolate has melted. Don’t pour boiling syrup onto your chocolate else the chocolate will seize. Put the jug into the fridge and chill thoroughly (about 2 hours).

Pour the warm syrup onto the chocolate, then stir to dissolve and chill thoroughly

When the syrup is properly cold, churn to a slushy sorbet in the ice cream maker, then freeze until firm.

Churn to a sloppy sorbet, then transfer to the freezer to harden up

When you want to serve, take the sorbet out of the freezer for at least 10 minutes to soften slightly. This is really really intensely chocolatey but it doesn’t have the lingering cloyingness of chocolate ice cream. I like it with sliced strawberries and a suggestion of cream.

Chocolate sorbet – lovely with strawberries and cream

Also this week:

Allotment: Planted out sweet peas, courgette, squash, zinnia, rudbeckia, borage, chrysanthemums. Tomatoes went into the greenhouse (hard work – it was 40c heat in there). Finally dug over the sunflower patch. Went on a trip to Worcester to buy new hazel poles for the sunflowers from Worcester Coppice Crafts. With the warm weather, long days, a happy baby and the last few weeks of maternity leave, I’m finding I can get loads done….it’s like a shot of energy and enthusiasm.

Eating & Cooking: Cream tea at Chatsworth Farm Shop, chips at one of the numerous chippies at Matlock Bath. Make a lovely lentil salad rich with mustard and garlic, tossed with sausages and rocket from the garden.

Reading: Travel books written in the 1950s from the wonderfully OTT Lawrence Durrell

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Chocolate crispy cakes

After last weekend’s August-like temperatures, we’ve dipped back to the more-normal low teens. It’s not a bad thing – too much heat and all the delicate spring flowers go over in a heartbeat. As it is the daffodils are now nearing their finish point, the forget-me-nots are dusting beds with delicate blue, and bluebells are nearly out. This wild garlic will flower within a week, which means that it’s past its peak. Yesterday I picked a load to be chopped into butter as flavouring for my Easter turkey.

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Wild garlic, just coming into flower

There’s a lot going on at the moment – why is it that intense work periods seems to coincide with holidays? It means that even when you’re off, you’re not really off, because something is either needed urgently or the down-time is being used for a bit of workplace problem solving. The other day I came home after a particularly difficult meeting, dumped the laptop, and right there-and-then whisked up a batch of Easter chocolate crispy cakes. Cooking doesn’t make the crap go away but it does release a pressure valve.

There must be no-one on the planet who doesn’t enjoy a crispy cake, no matter how grown up and sophisticated you are. They fall into that litany of Easter cooking which in my house will also include one or more of the following: a gooey chocolate cake covered with ganache and chocolate eggs; Easter biscuits; a roast dinner of some persuasion; spanakopita (there’s a close connection in my mind between Easter and Greek religion/tradition), a proper cream-based dessert (e.g. pavlova) and of course hot cross buns.

Like most people I don’t follow a Lenten fast, but I do think of Easter as a time for feasting. It’s better than Christmas – no stress over presents, it’s warmer and lighter and you can cook without all that pressure to do it all ‘perfectly’. I’ve been theming my yoga classes around Easter, seasonal change and fertility all week (lots of Tree and Goddess poses); all part of noticing and honouring the change of the seasons.

So, for – I quote – “the best chocolate crispy cake I’ve ever eaten” (says Matt) you need to melt together in a large saucepan 2oz unsalted butter, 2oz sieved icing sugar, 2 tablespoons golden syrup, 2 tablespoons sieved cocoa (I use Bournville) and a tiny pinch of salt. Give it a good stir until it’s smooth and combined.

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Melt together butter, golden syrup, cocoa and icing sugar

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Make sure it’s smooth and runny

Whilst your coating is melting, place 12 paper cases into their appropriate baking tray (I make muffin-size cakes). Measure 4oz cornflakes or rice crispies. Incidentally I have seen loads of recipes that call for shredded wheats here, as they look more like birds-nests when finished and are healthier. I can only ask that you don’t go down this route, because they taste horrible. It’s Easter, let’s indulge a little.

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Have ready your cornflakes

Tip the cornflakes or rice crispies into the chocolate mix, give it a thorough mixture, and that’s it – child’s play.

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Mix it all together

Obviously it’s not Easter without a few mini eggs!

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You’ll need some of these…

You need to work fairly quickly to spoon the mixture into paper cases, as it does set rapidly. Make a well in the centre and press down your eggs and then pop into the fridge to set.

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Et voila, chocolate crispy cakes for Easter

I’m not sure if it’s the whack of cocoa in these cakes or the gooey syrup, but they are epic. Not just for the kids!

Also this week:
Allotment: Matt began tidying up the grass edges, emptied the compost bins and more digging, digging, digging.
Sowing: Sweetcorn, rocket, lettuce mixes and I will start the sunflowers this week
Harvesting: Lots of tulips!

Squidgy chocolate-chestnut roll

Today is the first day of meteorological winter. The winter solstice, the shortest day, the darkest night.  It’s natural at this time of year to pause, reflect, and perhaps shed ourselves of that which we no longer need. I’ve been sifting through boxes of old papers, letters and cards, some of which date back to the 1980s and 1990s…the ghosts of years past. Some mementoes I’ll keep, but most have been ditched; it’s so liberating, deciding to let go of the old.

As of tomorrow, we work ourselves back towards the light. When I was younger and less attuned to the natural world, I didn’t realise that although it’s dark now in mid-December, true winter (i.e. the really cold bit) doesn’t tend to get going until January or February. Get outside and you’ll find that there’s still loads of life out there; early daffodil shoots are pushing through, the trees have set their buds ready for spring; the ivy is in full flower and the squirrels are still gathering up their nuts. Yesterday I went to Woodgate Valley Country Park for the first time, a haven of wildlife just a stone’s throw from the M5 – great respite for any city-dweller desperate for some country air. Were it not for the tower blocks in the distance, I could believe myself to be back in the Shire.

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Woodgate Valley Country Park

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Believe it or not, this is Birmingham!

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The nosey robin is the only shot of colour on an overcast December day

Some ‘old’ things are worth getting rid of, but others should be cherished. If it’s an old recipe, then I’m definitely interested. This dessert is inspired by the 1990s Queen of Christmas, Delia Smith: a squidgy chocolate log filled with a light chestnut cream. Delia’s original uses chocolate mousse and whipped cream, but I’ve swapped the chocolate for some chestnut puree, which feels appropriately seasonal. It’s kind of like a yule log, but without the rich icing; a great way to feed a crowd, or just a greedy couple.

(Note: As is a recent theme, the images on this post are terrible. I blame my dark kitchen. Santa, if you want to bring me some decent lighting for Christmas, that would be marvellous).

First, make the sponge. This is a flourless cake, so it’s super light and squidgy. (It’s just occurred to me that the new phrase for flourless is ‘gluten free’. That phrase hadn’t been invented in the 90s!) First whisk egg yolks with caster sugar until pale and thick, then fold in sifted cocoa powder and stiffly whisked egg whites until the batter is smooth and super light.

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Beat sugar and egg yolks until thick

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Whisk egg whites until stiff

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Fold cocoa and then the stiff egg whites into the egg yolk and sugar mixture

Spread the batter into a prepared swiss-roll tin and bake for about 20 minutes until risen and cooked through, but be careful not to overcook else it will never roll.

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Smooth into a swiss roll pan and bake for about 20 minutes

Whilst the sponge is baking, place a piece of baking parchment onto a tea towel, and sprinkle a little caster sugar onto the paper. When the cake is cooked remove from the oven and leave to stand for two minutes, to take the extreme heat away, then tip the cake upside down onto the baking parchment. Whilst the cake is still warm, roll it up from the short side, using the baking parchment and tea towel to help you, then leave to cool on a wire rack. Rolling the cake now makes it easier to re-roll later. It may crack a bit; that’s just the way it is.

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Put the cooked sponge upside down onto sugared baking parchment and a tea towel, roll up and leave to cool

Whilst the cake is cooling, make the filling. Loosen some chestnut puree in a bowl (if you’re using unsweetened puree then you might like to add a little sugar) and whisk some double cream until light and thick. Fold the chestnut into the cream along with a shot of rum (or brandy), then leave in the fridge to chill.

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Beat chestnut puree to loosen

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Fold chestnuts into whipped cream with a tot of rum

Finally, finish the cake! Unroll the sponge, and if the ends look scruffy then trip them with a bread knife. Spread the cream mixture on top of the cake, then re-roll as tightly as you can. It you use LOADS of cream like me, it is impossibly to roll it tightly and the cake will be like a cream-filled log. If you go easy on the cream, it will be easy to roll tightly and will look more like a swiss roll…it’s up to you. Pop back in the fridge for a few hours to firm up then serve.

This is an indulgent dessert that manages to not be overtly sweet and cloying. I think is actually gets better the next day, especially with a few raspberries on the side to cut through the richness. Enjoy!

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Spread the cream onto the sponge and roll up into a log. Chill for several hours then serve.

Squidgy Chocolate-Chestnut log

Inspired by the Squidgy Chocolate Log in the Delia Smith Complete Cookery Course (1989)

6 large eggs, separated

150g caster sugar

50g cocoa (I use Bournville)

300ml double cream (or 200ml if you’d prefer a tighter roll)

150g chestnut puree (I use Merchant Gourmet)

1 tablespoon rum

Extra caster sugar, for sprinkling and to serve

Pre-heat the oven to 180c. Grease and line a swiss-roll tin. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with the caster sugar until thick and light (ribbon stage). Sift the cocoa on top and fold in gently but thoroughly. With a clean whisk and in a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the yolks; it’s easiest to do this in three stages. Gently spread the cake batter into the tin, level with the spoon or spatula, then bake for 15 to 20 minutes until risen and springy to the touch.

Whilst the cake is baking, place a sheet of baking parchment over a clean tea towel, then sprinkle the paper with caster sugar. Remove the cake from the oven, leave to stand for two minutes, then turn out onto the paper. Roll up from the short end and leave to cool.

Loosen the chestnut puree with a spoon. If using unsweetened chestnuts, add a spoon of sugar until sweetened to your liking. Whisk the cream until thick, then fold into the chestnuts and rum. Place in the fridge to cool.

When the sponge is quite cold, unroll. You may wish to trim the edges of your cake to neaten them. Spread the cake with cream, then roll from the short end as tightly as you can. Place back in the fridge to firm up for several hours, then serve.

Go-to chocolate muffins

The Birmingham Mail tweeted this morning that the UK is colder than Siberia. Whilst I don’t know about that, I do know that it’s now sufficiently chilly for the heating to have flipped itself on this morning. Only one thing for it…the furry all-weather boots have come out.

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Nature is giving us a lot of mixed messages at the moment. I think she likes to play with our nerves. Look one way and it’s still summer, look another and there are all the signs of autumn. I’ve closed the greenhouse door for the first time since, when, June? After all their mollycoddling, I’m not letting the tomatoes get a chill and fail at the final hurdle.

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Some say SUMMER!

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Others say AUTUMN!

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But these say…cosy.

The chard and spinach I put in last week have already germinated, a row of tiny green spots under the fleece.

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Spinach seedlings

It seems that I am the only gardener in the whole place who is incapable of growing a marrow. Truly, I am trying. The courgette we’re growing is Romanesco, a type I’d read about in various cooking journals, most enthusiastically in Joan Gussow’s extraordinary book This Organic Life.

I first came across Gussow in Manhatten Food magazine. She’s a lecturer at Columbia University (well into her 80s I should add) who pretty much pioneered the organic food scene in the US. I don’t mean the fluffy-lifestyle cashmere-and-champagne-and-flicky-hair organics, I mean the proper academic debate that challenges the widespread use of petrochemicals in agribusiness. Gussow is one of my food heroes.

In her book she raves about Romanesco as being a no-fail courgette and she’s right, we’ve had some pretty good courgettes. But they don’t grow into marrows, not proper ones. I have left one on purposefully to try it out and it’s now long as an arm but refuses to get fat. Looks like the classic Mum-food dish of stuffed marrow might have to be put on the back-burner.

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Romanesco ‘marrow’

We’ve been picking raspberries since June, with no end in sight. Raspberries need sponge and cream (to my mind) and so I whipped up a batch of my go-to chocolate muffins. I’ve been using this recipe since the mid 1990s, taken from an Aussie Women’s Weekly cookbook found in Upton Upon Severn library. I then wrote it into a notebook I took to university (1998) and still use it now.

These are good muffins. MAKE THESE MUFFINS.

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My 1998 cooking notebook

Chocolate Muffins

(It’s an old recipes so it’s in ounces. Just go with it)

4oz self raising flour

3oz plain flour

2oz cocoa

2tsp baking powder

8oz caster sugar

4oz butter

8floz milk

2 eggs

Pre-heat oven to 180 celsius.

Melt the butter in a measuring jug, then stir the milk in. If your milk is cold the butter may solidify a bit, but no matter.

In a large bowl, sift together the flours, cocoa, baking powder and sugar.

Stir in the milky butter (I just use a wooden spoon) and then beat in eggs one at a time. It will be a sloppy mixture.

Spoon into muffin cases and bake for about 20 minutes, or until done.

This also works really well as a large cake but you’ll need to up the baking time – about 45 minutes for an 8inch round cake.

Serve with raspberries, cream, ice-cream…

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A tray of joy