Cherry, Coconut, and Almond Cake

As you may have noticed, I am all for huge decadent cakes covered in stuff. But sometimes, even I am looking for something a bit more low-key. The sort of thing that you can knock up in a spare half hour. The sort of thing that doesn’t involve stacking layers, or making any buttercream. This cherry, coconut, and almond cake is not at all needy or precious. It’s a very ‘throw it together’ sort of cake. It’s low-maintenance. Robust. And it’s delicious.


Something about the combination of coconut and the almond in this cake results in a beautifully moist and tender crumb. Studding it with fruit just makes it even more delicious. It’s a crowd-pleaser, and it will stay that way for a few days, kept at room temperature in an airtight container. It really does do a lot of heavy lifting, considering how easy it is to put together.


There’s also something comfortingly spring-like about this cake, even though it uses store cupboard ingredients. It’s a gentle hug of a cake, but its nutty fruitiness makes it light and promises of warmer days to come. You could imagine serving a cherry, coconut, and almond cake at Easter. Then again, as I write this it’s snowing heavily outside onto an already thick carpet of the stuff, so perhaps spring will never come anyway.



You can put whatever fruit you like in this, almost. I love it with cherries but it would also work well with strawberries, blueberries, blackberries…

I’ve suggested using canned or frozen cherries here, because they are stoned. I don’t have the patience for stoning cherries. And it’s not cherry season. But you do you.


Adapted from the delicious blueberry cake in the excellent Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh.


200g butter, melted
180g ground almonds
70g dessicated coconut
250g caster sugar
80g self-raising flour
½ tsp salt
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
200g frozen or tinned cherries
30g flaked almonds

  1. Pop the butter on to melt. When it’s melted, set it aside to come to room temperature. Quarter your cherries. Grease and line a 23cm springform cake tin. Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 4.
  2. Put your ground almonds, coconut, caster sugar, flour, and salt in a large mixing bowl and give them a quick stir to make it even. Beat your eggs together lightly in a measuring jug, then whisk in your melted butter and vanilla. Gradually pour this into the dry mix, beating all the while, until evenly combined. Fold in three quarters of the cherries and pour the mixture into your cake tin – you will have a very loose batter.
  3. Sprinkle the reserved cherries on top, followed by the flaked almonds. Bake for 45-55 minutes, or until risen, golden, and passing the skewer test. Let it sit for at least 20 minutes before trying to get it out of the tin.

Mocha Cupcakes

So, let me level with you. The reason these mocha cupcakes exist is because I fairly recently got a kitchen blowtorch and since then I have wanted to blowtorch everything. I got the idea of topping cupcakes with an Italian meringue and finishing them off with the blowtorch and got a bit obsessed with it. You might, rather reasonably, be thinking ‘well, I don’t have a blowtorch so this recipe is of no use to me’. I hear you. I get that most people do not have a blowtorch. But the Italian meringue topping these cupcakes is still perfectly delicious un-blowtorched.


When you make Italian meringue, the hot sugar syrup you incorporate into the egg whites cooks the egg, so going over it with a blowtorch is for effect and a bit of toasty flavour rather than cooking. And if you cannot really be bothered with the whole meringue deal anyway, you can simply top these delicious chocolate cupcakes with buttercream. Or leave them plain and shove them, unadorned, directly into your mouth. It’s all good.

But, should you wish to go down my mocha cupcake route, then do read on to the recipe below.



The recipe makes around 18-20 cupcakes.

The coffee in these cupcakes is mostly to boost and enhance the chocolate flavour, but it’s not really dominant. This is because I do not drink coffee. But if coffee is your jam, do feel free to up it here by raising the quantities of espresso powder, adding coffee extract, or brushing the finished cupcakes with a coffee syrup.

If you are making the meringue, you will need a sugar thermometer and some sort of electric whisk – hand held or a stand mixer will do it.


for the cupcakes

170g butter
170ml very strong black coffee
3 tsp espresso powder
40g cocoa powder
85g dark chocolate, finely chopped
225g light brown soft sugar
2 tsp vanilla
½ tsp salt
3 eggs, plus 1 extra yolk
130g plain flour
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda

for the meringue topping

50g of egg white
100g of white granulated sugar
25ml of water
2 tsp espresso powder


  1. Heat your oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Line two muffin tins with around 20 paper cases (if you only have one tin, just bake in two batches). Put your butter and coffee in a large pan over a low heat to melt the butter, then add the espresso powder and stir to dissolve. Whisk in your cocoa and chopped dark chocolate until the chocolate is melted. Add your sugar, vanilla, and salt, and mix again. Mix in your eggs and extra yolk. Finally, sieve your flour and bicarb over the pan and fold that in too. You should have a very runny cake mix.
  2. Fill your paper cases two thirds full (I use an ice cream scoop). Bake them for 15 minutes, or until your cakes are risen and fairly firm.
  3. While your cakes are baking, make your meringue. Beat your egg whites with an electric whisk or in a stand mixer until they form stiff peaks. Put your sugar, water, and espresso powder in a pan and heat gently, stirring a little, to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved, whack the heat up and let it bubble away until it hits 120C on a sugar thermometer. Then pour the syrup into the stiff egg whites in a thin stream, beating all the while on high speed. When it’s all in you should have thick, glossy meringue. Keep whisking it for around five minutes, until the bowl is cool to the touch.
  4. When your cupcakes are baked, top them as you wish. If you’ve made the meringue, you can either spoon or pipe it onto the cakes, and you can blowtorch them or leave it at that. You could also top the cupcakes with buttercream or leave them plain.

The Bake Off Bake Along: Chocolate & Pistachio Caramel Cake

I was embarrassingly excited about caramel week from the moment I heard of its existence. ‘Now that’, I thought, ‘is going to be a fun bake off bake along week’. I mean, who doesn’t love caramel? People who are wrong, that’s who.

Stroopwafels are one of my favourite things ever… but I don’t have a waffle iron. I was very torn. There was a serious moment when I considered buying one (I got to the ‘looking up prices on Amazon’ stage), but it seems a bit too insane and profligate to buy an expensive bit of kit just for the sake of making one bake off bake along technical challenge. Even on caramel week.

Realistically I would never use it again, and in my teeny tiny kitchen every single bit of kit has to be there for a good reason. It’s a bit rubbish, actually, for them to set a technical challenge that requires an obscure bit of equipment, so people at home generally can’t join in. Also, considering that every single person messed up the stroopwafel caramel, I reckon they were either given insufficient instructions or insufficient time. I mean, if half of them messed it up then fine – but all of them?


So, down to a choice of two things. I absolutely love a millionaire’s shortbread, but since I have done the signature challenge every single week for the bake off bake along so far, I thought this was perhaps my one chance to give a showstopper a go. You know, when it wasn’t something insane, like a biscuit board game or a bread sculpture. A caramel cake seems pretty reasonable. I make stupid huge cakes fairly often.

It felt like cursing myself to think this, but I have never been particularly scared by the concept of making caramel. One of the things I bake most often is salted caramel brownies, so I make caramel for those all the time. And it hasn’t gone wrong yet. Cue targeted lightning strike from the heavens directed at my kitchen and everything blowing up.


It was actually fine. But I did cheat slightly in that I didn’t use a spun sugar decoration. I’ve done spun sugar at culinary school, and I love playing with it, but… well, to be honest, it’s an absolute and total pain cleaning up little bits of spun sugar when they are scattered and hardened all over your kitchen, and now that I’m working full time I have to cram these bake along sessions into sneaky little grabbed hours.

So here we have it: a chocolate brownie and pistachio cake, sandwiched with a salted caramel layer and a pistachio buttercream, decorated with raspberries, homemade honeycomb, and pistachio caramel shards. It’s not the prettiest thing ever. It’s fairly messy, and I was rushing. But it was tasty. And it has caramel, chocolate, and pistachio. And those are three of my favourite things.


So where’s the recipe?

This might be a bit of a cop out, but I’m not sharing the recipe, because it would be incredibly long and complicated. Two different types of cake, salted caramel, pistachio buttercream, honeycomb, pistachio shards… I am assuming no one is going to be casually making this! Do let me know in the comments if you’re particularly after the recipe for any of the elements of the cake and I will happily provide it.

Another week, another bake off bake along done, and enough caramel made to use up all the white sugar in my baking cupboard. And there was a really serious amount of sugar in my baking cupboard.

The story so far: bake along one, two, and three


Courgette, Lime, & Coconut Cake

The courgette cake hasn’t yet taken off quite like the carrot cake. I’m not sure why. I think it’s a shame, really, because a good courgette cake is just as simple and delicious as a carrot cake. While the natural sweetness of carrots works wonderfully in desserts for obvious reasons, a courgette is a more neutral vegetable. The advantage of that is that it’s a great vehicle for all sorts of exciting flavours. Here, I’ve added lime and coconut to go for a kind of tropical vibe. Even though courgettes are possibly the least tropical vegetable ever.

I am good at looking after children and animals but, for some reason, totally useless at keeping plants alive. We don’t have a garden so I don’t have anywhere to practice. But really, that’s just an excuse: I’ve never been able to grow things anyway. I always get confused (too much water? not enough water? who knows?) and then forget about whatever plant I’m supposed to be tending to.


Luckily, we have plenty of lovely neighbours who are digging their way to victory, and occasionally we will receive donations of tasty home-grown vegetables. I say donations, but the neighbours from whom we got the magnificent courgettes that went into this cake were practically begging us to take them off their hands. They seemed slightly panicked about the sheet volume of courgette they had managed to produce. One of them was the size of my arm.

So anyway, obviously if you have an abundance of courgettes you could put them in a stir-fry, or on a savoury tart, or make courgette fritters. Or, you could add a load of sugar and make a courgette cake. I bet you can guess which direction I went in.



Adapted from this recipe.


I think this recipe would also work brilliantly well with lemon or orange, if you have them lying around. Or if you don’t like lime, I guess? I don’t think I have ever met anyone who doesn’t like lime though.

If you want a quicker or more simple courgette cake, you can leave all the stuff at the end and have it unadorned. It’s really easy though, and I promise it only takes five minutes.


for the cake

350g courgettes, unpeeled
150g soft brown sugar (or any brown sugar, or coconut sugar if you have it)
50g desiccated coconut
125ml sunflower oil, or other neutral oil such as vegetable or corn
3 large eggs
zest of 2 limes
100g sultanas, or raisins if you prefer
300g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder

for icing and finishing

100g icing sugar
juice  and zest of 1 lime
handful of desiccated coconut


  1. Preheat your oven 180C/160C fan/gas 4, and lightly grease a large non-stick loaf tin. Grate your courgette, then pop it in a sieve and try to push and squeeze as much liquid as possible out of it, to stop your cake going soggy.
  2. Pop your courgette in a large bowl, then add your sugar, coconut, oil, eggs, lime zest, and sultanas, then give it all a good mix. Add your flour and baking powder, then quickly stir until just combined. Pour your mixture into your loaf tin, then bake for around 40-50 minutes, or until the cake is firm and well risen, and passes the skewer test.
  3. Mix your icing sugar with enough lime juice to make a thick icing. Let your cake cool, then zigzag it with your lime icing, and finish with a sprinkling of the lime zest and a bit more desiccated coconut.

Apricot, Hazelnut, & Dark Chocolate Cake

This apricot, hazelnut, and dark chocolate cake was one of the very first cakes I made for local literary event Short Stories Aloud, which means I must have been making it for a few years now. Which is frightening, because I feel like I only discovered it a couple of months ago. Time seems like it’s rushing by in disconcertingly huge dollops these days.

The joy (well, one of many joys) of Stories Aloud is that if you bring a cake then you get in for free. This almost feels like cheating to me, because I bring cake pretty much everywhere, whether or not it is wanted, so being given entry to an event in return feels pretty jammy, not going to lie. This is typical of the Stories Aloud mentality though. It’s an event quite unlike any other that I’ve attended, full of intelligent, warm, generous, funny people. It helps that it was founded by the wonderful Sarah Franklin, who is a totally top human being. Making cake for them each month has forced me to get my act together and produce something on more than one occasion. Everyone is always unfailingly polite and appreciative of my efforts.


This cake certainly didn’t look quite like this when I first started making it though. I fiddled and embellished and mucked around and was inspired by a Victoria sponge (which was also made for Stories Aloud, funnily enough). Now, suddenly, we’re at this odd hybrid of a cake. It’s studded with rich dark chocolate and sharp, fresh apricots, and stuffed with toasty chunks of hazelnut to give it a bit of satisfying crunch. We’re in apricot season round these parts and my are they glorious. Apricots are one of my favourite fruits when you catch them at their best.

This cake is simple enough to whip up with relative ease, but probably pretty enough for a birthday or a special gathering if you cover it in a loads of miscellaneous bits and pieces, like I did. It is robust, and keeps well, and is unusual enough to be a nice change from a standard recipe, if you’re into that sort of thing.

In short, I would thoroughly recommend it.



Adapted from the chocolate, pistachio, and apricot cake in Anne Shooter’s excellent Sesame & Spice.


Obviously I have covered this cake in all manner of stuff, because I am in the habit of gilding the lily. Here, the cake is topped with buttercream, raspberries, apricot slices, pomegranate seeds, chopped hazelnuts, and edible flowers. Related: they have started selling edible flowers in Sainsbury’s! I am overjoyed about this. If I need a large or specialist order of edible blooms then I buy from Maddocks Farm Organics, but only for special occasions. Since I don’t have a garden and can’t grow anything myself, I am very pleased that I can get edible flowers cheaply and easily at Sainsbury’s for more casual cake-decorating needs.

Anyway, do of course feel free to skip all this rubbish and simply leave the top of the cake plain, or dust it with some icing sugar. It will still be delicious. I’m just a crazy person.


200g dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70%)
100g whole blanched and toasted hazelnuts (or take the skins off yourself, if you prefer, but who has time for that really?)
150g softened butter
150g golden caster sugar
around 10-15 cardamom pods
3 eggs
150g plain flour
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp baking powder
5 ripe apricots, stoned and diced

for the filling

100g softened butter
250g icing sugar
1/2 jar of apricot jam


  1. Heat your oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 4. Grease and line two 18cm (or thereabouts) cake tins. Either blitz your chocolate and nuts in a food processor until they are rubble, or chop them together fairly finely.
  2. I do this next stage in a Kitchen Aid, but it would be fine with a hand whisk or simply a wooden spoon if you prefer. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Crack open your cardamom pods in a pestle and mortar, then remove the seeds and grind them until fairly fine. Beat the cardamom into butter and sugar. Beat your eggs together then add them gradually to the butter and sugar mix, beating all the while. Finally, beat in your flour, salt, and baking powder, then fold in your diced apricots, chocolate, and nuts.
  3. Divide the mixture as evenly as you can between your two tins, then bake for 30-35 minutes, or until firm and passing the skewer test. Let your cakes cool completely while you make your filling.
  4. For the filling, beat the butter until very soft, then gradually beat in the icing sugar until you have a smooth, fluffy buttercream. Beat in 2 tbsp of the apricot jam (or more, to taste). When your cakes are totally cold, cover one with remaining apricot jam, then either pipe buttercream on top of the jam or simply spread it onto the other cake and sandwich them together. Leave plain, or decorate however you like with fruits and nuts.

Wine Cake

Are you a lark, an owl, or a hummingbird? I am a lark, and have been for as long as I can remember. I find it really genuinely hard to sleep in of a morning: I wake up early and once I’m awake, that’s it, I am not getting back to sleep. Even if James and I have been out until 2am, I can’t stay in bed past 8am. As soon as I am up my mind is going full pelt and I am usually chatty and busy and keen to organise the day in excruciating detail (this is incredibly annoying for my husband, because he is an owl and cannot hold a real conversation until he is dressed, breakfasted, and topped up with coffee). I do my best work first thing in the morning: I will sit down at my laptop and start blasting through emails and tick seven tasks off my list before 9am.

If you are thinking that I am incredibly smug and irritating and getting ready to slap me, then let me tell you the flipside of this: I am utterly, completely, totally useless in the evenings. I can’t do any meaningful mental work past about 9pm, and really ideally I’d stop all work before dinner. I find it nearly impossible to stay up late – if I had my way I’d sleep from about 10pm to 6am, but sadly my life doesn’t allow for this as I teach in the evenings and we do a lot of late-night socialising. I have fallen asleep on friends’ sofas and in pubs and on the backseats of cars because I have been forced to stay out late and my body is just not having it. I am always to first to bail out of any rowdy late night social occasion. Basically, I am deeply uncool.


And I am in the minority! I understand this. Most people glare at me when I start cheerily rambling on at them at 7am. Everyone sighs at my pathetic nature when I leave the pub and head for bed at 9.30pm. Normal people have decadent weekend lie-ins and wish for a later start to the workday, while I merrily got up at 5.30am for a year and trundled onto the 6.55am train to get to London, loving the empty streets and sunrises.


Anyway, here is my effort to join in with the crowd that is out late drinking, whilst still being at home before dark and spending all my time baking instead of socialising. Wine cake. I should really call this cake something more sophisticated but, guys, let’s be real: it’s got Moscatel and grapes in it. It’s wine cake. Wine. Cake. What is not to love?

Source: Adapted from BBC Good Food.

Notes: Dessert wines often have hints of honey, apricot, and other citrus fruits. That’s why I think the demerara sugar and the lemon and orange are lovely in this cake, it all works together. It’s not overly wine-y – it just has a pleasant backnote of wine. The oil makes it lovely and moist, and it keeps well.

I talk about using a mixer (which could be a hand whisk, a food processor, or a kitchen aid type thing), but it would be fine to do it by hand. I am just lazy.



250ml dessert wine (dessert wine can be super-expensive, but I use Sainsbury’s Moscatel de Valencia, which is only £5.35)
175ml extra-virgin olive oil
200g light muscovado or light brown soft sugar
100g softened butter
zest 2 oranges
zest 2 lemons
3 eggs
225g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
150g seedless grapes, any colour, halved
5 tbsp demerara sugar


  1. Bring the wine to boil in a small pan over a medium heat, then simmer for around ten minutes to reduce to 100ml. Pour into a jug, then add the olive oil and leave to cool. Meanwhile, butter a 23cm cake tin, then shake 1 tbsp of plain flour around it and tap out the excess. Heat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.
  2. Beat sugar and butter together with the zests until creamy and smooth then, with the mixer running, add the eggs one by one. Weigh your flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. With the mixer running, pour around a third of your wine and oil mix into the batter, then a third of your flour mix, then a third of your oil mix, and so on, alternating the liquid and dry mixes until everything is in and it’s all well-combined. You will be left with a smooth, fragrant, fairly liquid batter.
  3. Pour the batter into your tin, then scatter it with the halved grapes and the demerara sugar. Bake for around 50 minutes, or until it’s firm and risen and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Start checking at around 40 minutes. Leave to cool for fifteen minutes in the tin before removing, and eat warm (lovely with cream or ice cream for a dessert) or cool.

Pistachio, Blackberry, and Lemon Loaf Cake

Working from home is a funny old way of life. I’ve gone from school to university to 9-5 jobs to getting my culinary diploma. Now I’ve washed up teaching and running the administration for a cookery school, alongside freelance catering work and making the odd birthday or wedding cake. This means that my hours are mostly my own to organise, for the first time, really, in my life. Apart from actually showing up to teach classes and attending the odd meeting, I don’t generally have to be anywhere in particular for work, and can get stuff done as and when I like.

Mostly, it suits me. I never liked having to be in an office at fixed times, regardless of how much work I had on, and I’m a terrible employee in that I hate being told what to do (yes, this was often a problem). I am bossy, obsessive, and controlling (but quite a nice person generally, honest), so sorting out my own time instead of adhering to someone else’s schedule is usually advantageous.


It’s tricky, too, though. This morning, for instance, I answered three emails, raised two invoices, dealt with some website maintenance, updated a voucher spreadsheet, and researched a recipe before 9am. However, I did all this on the sofa, in my pyjamas, whilst eating toast and cuddling the cat. So it’s easy for me to feel like I am being lazy, especially as my husband is dressed and out the door to go to the office by 8.15am.

I do as much work now as I did when I had a ‘proper job’, but not all of it feels like work (recipe testing and ingredients shopping, I’m looking at you), and lots of it is done at funny times. I work best early in the morning, so I will get a lot done first thing, but then I will often be out doing something at some point during the day when everyone else is stuck in the office. Then again, I am usually doing work late into the night and always on weekends – I once received a surprised and delighted reply from a customer when I answered her email at midnight on Christmas Eve. Plus on most Thursday, Friday, and Sunday nights, you can usually find me teaching and not getting home until 11pm.

I don’t know. I am sure (read: I hope) most people who have an unconventional job and/or work from home suffer from this slight guilt and nervousness. I always feel like I am somehow getting away with something when I have a long lunch with a friend on a weekday, or spend an hour bobbing up and down the Cowley Road to find obscure Asian ingredients on a Wednesday afternoon.


Anyway, as I said, one of the pre-9am things I did this morning was researching a recipe, and that recipe is for this Pistachio, Blackberry, and Lemon Loaf Cake.

I love pistachios. Love love love them to a disturbing degree. They’re so versatile, playing excellent roles in both sweet and savoury dishes, and completely beautiful in their enticing shades of soft purple and vivid green. I have been wanting to make a pistachio cake for a while, and then I thought of the juicy purple of blackberries against a soft nutty green, with the kick of brightening lemon, and this cake was born.


Source: The base loaf cake recipe is adapted from this one at Smitten Kitchen.

Notes: I love blackberries here but I am sure this would work well with blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries. You could also leave out the lemon if you don’t fancy it, and skip all the decoration on the top.


150g roasted pistachio kernels
200 grams granulated sugar
1 tsp sea salt
zest of 1 lemon
145g butter, cut into rough cubes (from the fridge is fine)
3 eggs
60ml cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 scant tsp baking powder
120g plain flour
1oog blackberries

for the icing and finishing

100g icing sugar
juice of 1 lemon (roughly)
handful of pistachios
handful of blackberries


  1. Preheat your oven to 170C/150C fan/ gas 3. Roast your pistachios in the oven for 5-10 minutes until they are slightly darkened and smelling lovely. While that’s happening, grease and line your loaf tin (you can maybe get away without doing this if you have a non-stick tin, but I am always too scared to risk it).
  2. Pop your pistachios in a food processor with the sugar and salt blitz it all until it’s a rough powder – you want it as well blended as possible but you don’t want to go too far and make the pistachios release their oil and become wet. Chuck in your lemon zest and cubed butter and blitz again – it will look weird and clumpy for a while but eventually smooth out, so just keep running the mixer. With the mixer running, add your eggs one by one, and pour in your milk and vanilla.
  3. You should now have a rather thin, green, fairly smooth mixture. Take it out of the processor and pop it in a bowl, then add your baking powder, plain flour, and blackberries, then fold to just combine but don’t mix further. If your blackberries are huge you might want to cut them in half for more even distribution.
  4. Pour your mixture into your prepared tin and pop in your preheated oven to bake. This is a slow, gentle bake – my cake took 60 minutes in my quite fierce oven, but as with any cake with a long baking time it will vary quite a bit depending on your oven. Check at 45 minutes and then keep checking every ten minutes until the cake is risen and firm and passes the skewer test.
  5. You can absolutely keep it as it is, but if you want to gild the lily, sieve your icing sugar into a bowl and gradually add lemon juice, whisking it into an icing that is fairly thick and falls off a spoon in a slow drizzle. Let your cake cool in the tin, then turn it out and finish it with a flair of lemon icing and some artfully arranged blackberries and pistachios.

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

It’s very weird that it’s taken me so long to post this recipe, because this chocolate banana bread is the thing I bake more often than anything else. Even more than brownies. James’s work snack of choice is banana bread, and every couple of weeks I made a this loaf, slice it up, and freeze it so that he can take a piece out every morning. I actually buy more bananas than I know we can eat for the purpose of letting some of them go past their best in order to turn them into banana bread. I fear I am missing the point of fruit.


Banana bread has sort of gained an unearned reputation for being a healthier choice. I do have a recipe for spelt banana bread which is sort of ‘healthy’ (as it uses spelt and wholemeal flours, greek yoghurt, and maple syrup, rather than white flours and caster sugar) but it’s still, inescapably, cake. Banana bread, you guys, is cake. Let’s not be fooled by the fruit contained within and the sober sounding ‘bread’ in the title. Baking it in a bread tin does not make it bread. It’s no more virtuous than a Victoria sponge. Especially not when you do what I have done here and stuff it with chocolate. But why wouldn’t you? It’s so tasty.


It is a delight of a cake. It’s moist, decadent, and full of flavour. It’s very easy to make, and would be a fun, simple one to do with kids. It keeps beautifully, even if you don’t freeze it. You can make it with whatever chocolate you like, or mix it up and add nuts. None of the ingredients are obscure. I’ve drizzled the pictured banana bread with melted white chocolate, but this step could certainly be skipped.

You could even keep up the charade and pretend it’s healthy because it has bananas in it, if it will make you feel better. I won’t tell.


Source: Recipe adapted from the ever-excellent Smitten Kitchen.

Notes: This, and indeed any banana bread, will not work unless your bananas are very ripe. They can be over-ripe, almost completely black-skinned, but they can’t be firm and green.

You can use any type of chocolate for the chunks in the banana bread, but I love baked white chocolate and like the contrast between the dark cake and the pale chocolate here.


3 large ripe bananas
115 grams butter, melted
150 grams light brown soft sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
125 grams plain flour
40g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
100g white chocolate

50g white chocolate for drizzle (optional)


  1. Put your butter on to melt gently. Heat your oven to 170C/ 150C fan/ gas 3. Grease a non-stick loaf tin. Mash your bananas in the bottom of a large bowl – if they are ripe enough, you should just be able to attack them with an electric hand whisk. Whisk in the melted butter, light brown soft sugar, egg, and vanilla. Place a sieve over the bowl and weigh the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into it, then sift them over the wet mixture. Break your 100g chocolate into squares and add to the bowl. Fold everything together until only just combined, but do not mix further.
  2. Pour your batter into your loaf tin and bake for around 40 mins, or until the banana bread is risen, firm, and passes the skewer test. Let cool in the tin for around 20 mins, then turn it out to cool completely (or just cut chunks off and stuff it into your mouth when it’s warm, as I definitely do not do every time). If finishing it with more white chocolate, simply melt the chocolate and drizzle over the cake, then leave to set at room temperature.



Leiths: Advanced Term, Week 8

Week 8, my friends, and I am winding down against my will. The commute seems longer than ever, the lashing winds and chilling rain that ushered in June were less than appreciated, and I find myself fantasising about things like sleeping in until 7am, reading for pleasure without guilt, and cooking things that have nothing to do with the syllabus. This state of mind is unhelpful, because we still have Weeks 9 and 10 of cooking to get through, followed by exam week, but I am simply bone-tired, would really rather not have another round of terrifying tests both theoretical and practical, and am ready to hang up my necktie and stop doing four rounds of whites washes per week.

That said, if I were to have given up completely, I’d have missed Tuesday’s WI style session, in which we baked cake and made jam and chutney. Granted, the cake was a fiddly genoise base for a Gateau Opera, rather than a comforting lemon drizzle, but it was still a lovely calm morning. Our strawberry jams bubbled away happily, making the kitchen smell amazing, and our spiced pear chutneys reminded us, seasonally inappropriately, of Christmas.

In the afternoon, we were treated to a visit from charismatic cheese expert Tom Badcock. Tom told us that when he dies he wants to be buried with a large amount of Roquefort, and I can well believe it. The man knows his cheese. We sampled over a dozen varieties of the stuff, ranging from the standard ricotta and mozzarella to more unusual (and expensive) fare such as cave aged Kaltbach Gruyere, Munster, and Testun Barola. He also knows pretty much everything about the history of milk and cheese, and regaled us with interesting stories.


Wednesday morning’s cooking session was an odd combination of Opera cake and grilled sardines. I very much like both of these things, but not together, and it was odd jumping from butterflying fish to soaking sponge with coffee syrup. We also over-ran by about forty five minutes due mostly to the sheer complexity of the cake. Nonetheless, I managed to produce the cake you see above – a layered creation with sponges soaked in coffee syrup and stacked with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. Below is my delicious but unphotogenic lunch of griddled sardines, salsa verde, and roasted Jersey Royals. An optimistic summery meal to counteract the dismal weather.


In the afternoon we were visited by Hilary Cacchio, a bread expert who specialises in wild yeast starters. I have gently dabbled in making sourdough at home, but my starter is currently dormant with a layer of hooch sitting on it in the fridge, as I haven’t had time for serious bread making while at Leiths. Anyway, Hilary showed us how to do it properly and I’ve been doing it all wrong, so perhaps it would be best for me to start from scratch when I’ve finished at school. I learned loads from Hilary – I have been using unfiltered water and non-organic flour, for instance, which is apparently a  bad idea – and all the breads she made us were delicious.


Thursday was the day of the shellfish massacre. I mean, I’m being dramatic, but that’s basically what it was. We were cooking crab and lobster, and had to kill and prep them both. Reader, I am ashamed to say I couldn’t do it. I am not a vegetarian. And I mean I’m really not a vegetarian; I’ll eat offal, veal, raw meat, whatever. Yes, I am a hypocrite. It’s one thing to be comfortable with eating meat, but another thing to be comfortable with killing it yourself, and as someone who isn’t skilled or confident in the arena of crustacean murder, I was afraid of causing the crab and lobster allocated to me more suffering than was necessary. I love animals and don’t even like to kill spiders; I am also overly empathetic to a fault and feel the pain of other living things. Although I am not squeamish and am fine with butchering something already dead – I had no problem prepping the shellfish once they had been killed – I just couldn’t stab a knife through a lobster skull or a steel through the belly of a crab. Watching them being killed upset me: they wriggled and panicked and tried to get away. It is the first time I have ever actually considered vegetarianism, if only in passing. But no: I am not ideologically against eating meat that is raised and killed humanely. I’m just not happy doing the killing with my own hands. I was surprised at myself, but the reaction was immediate and completely innate, and although I was embarrassed about it – everyone else in the class was fine with killing the crab and lobster – there was really nothing I could do. I had to leave the room while someone else killed both my crab and my lobster for me.

Anyway, I also made scallops with hazelnut and shrimp crumble and pea purée, so that was nice.


Moving swiftly on, we ended the week with a relaxed cooking session on Friday morning, during which we only had to make one dish: the starter portion of grapefruit jelly, crab mayonnaise, avocado purée, diced grapefruit and avocado, white crab meat, and micro-herbs you see above. Considering it was such a tiny little dish, polished off in three bites or so, it took a surprising amount of time and skill to make. I had never picked all of the meat out of a whole crab before, and, though it was actually quite satisfying, my hands now bear lots of little cuts from sharp pieces of shell.

Coming up next week: a creative rabbit dish; my first time working with red mullet; and a foray into fois gras. Have a lovely weekend.


Almond Citrus Drizzle Cake

A couple of months ago, Felicity Cloake reminded me of the existence of the humble choc ice, the prize and delight of children at my primary school: I daresay that these days they have been replaced by something actually resembling a legitimate foodstuff, but when I was eight that slightly soggy cardboard box of reassuringly rectangular ice cream bars covered in something roughly approximating chocolate was pretty much the best thing going.

My favourite (read: only significant) choc ice memory is of the day at primary school when I fell in the playground and sprained my wrist. For some reason there were no ice packs available – perhaps they had been dispatched to other clumsy children – and so the school receptionist sent me back to my classroom with two choc ices secured around my injured wrist with rubberbands.

Of course, like any reasonable child, I promptly ate them.


It was around this age that I started baking. I began with the basics, as I guess most kids do: my family’s chocolate fudge cake; cookies; and the much-loved standby that is lemon drizzle cake. I don’t quite know what it is about the humble lemon drizzle, but it seems to have almost magical properties. When I am going to visit someone and I ask what cake they would like me to bring, lemon drizzle is the most common answer. People request it even more than they request chocolate cake (which would be my choice, every time, if someone offered to bring me a cake. Just, you know, FYI).

So I’ve made many lemon drizzle cakes over the years, and for a while I stuck to a very standard loaf cake. Which was great, but not particularly special. Then I stumbled across a recipe from the wonderful Jane Hornby – my idol, the person I want to be when I grow up – and saw the potential for something much more exciting. I had a play around with it and this is the result. Now, if anyone asks me for a lemon drizzle cake, they are getting this.

Apologies for the awful photos. I had a five minute window in a morning of baking an excessive amount of cake for a tea party and had to abandon any aesthetic principles I may sometimes pretend to have.


Source: Adapted from this absolutely and completely excellent book: What to Bake & How to Bake It, by the wonderful Jane Hornby.

Notes: I have kept the base of the cake much the same, substituting ground almonds for polenta and specifying full fat Greek yoghurt, which I use all the time in baking and generally in life because it’s glorious. It’s the finishing that I’ve messed with here, adding the step of a soaking syrup to veer us into the traditional lemon drizzle territory and finishing with the much-beloved glaze.

I like to do this with a mixture of citrus fruits, partly to add interest and vary flavour but mostly, I must admit, because I think the sprinkling of orange, yellow, and green zest looks pretty. However, if you have a particular preference or are limited by what’s knocking about in the fridge, do feel free to go for all lemon or all lime.


2 lemons
2 limes
1 orange
225g butter
200g caster sugar
4 eggs
125g plain flour
125g ground almonds
pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
125g full fat Greek yoghurt

for the syrup

50g caster sugar
juice of 1 lemon, 1 lime, and 1 orange

for the drizzle

100g icing sugar
juice of 1 lemon


  1. Heat your oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4, and grease and line a 22cm square tin. Zest the lemons, limes, and orange, then juice them. It’s fine to mix all the zests together, but keep the juices separate. Beat the butter and sugar with 2 teaspoons of the mixed zest, reserving the rest. Beat the eggs in a small bowl, then gradually add them to the butter and sugar, beating all the while.
  2. Mix the flour, ground almonds, salt, and baking powder together, then sift half of it over the butter, sugar, and egg mixture and fold it all together, tossing in any ground almonds left in the sieve. Fold in the yoghurt, then sift and fold in the remaining flour mixture. Scrape batter into tin, level surface, then bake for 20 minutes, or until golden and risen. Turn the oven down to 160C/140C fan/gas 3 and bake for 15 minutes more.
  3. While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Mix the citrus juice (feel free to adjust to take) and the sugar in a pan, then heat gently for a couple of minutes until the sugar has dissolved. When the cake comes out of the oven, leave it in the tin and poke around 20 holes in it with a skewer, then pour over the syrup and let it sink in.
  4. Leave the cake to cool completely. Make the drizzle by sifting the icing sugar into a bowl and gradually, a teaspoon at a time, whisking in the lemon juice. You want a thick icing that holds its shape, and it’s very easy to add too much liquid, so go slowly. When the cake is cool, chuck the drizzle on in an artistic manner and then sprinkle over your leftover zest.