The Taste Test: Raspberry Jam

Well, I chose raspberry jam, because that’s my favourite jam. ‘That’s everyone’s favourite jam’, said James, but I don’t think that’s true? I feel like quite a lot of people would say strawberry? Anyway, me being me, my actual favourite jam is probably some obscure homemade artisan Morello cherry and Cognac monstrosity that I haven’t even tried yet, but certainly my favourite day-to-day jam is raspberry. It’s lovely on croissants. It’s excellent with peanut butter. Pop it in-between some cakes and you’ve got yourself a party.

Also, obviously I went for jam with seeds because I don’t get seedless jam. Just why?

As before, I feel I need a rambling disclaimer: obviously, I am doing this in my kitchen and not in a lab and I am not a scientist. These are the opinions of one person – that said, one person who has been trained to taste for quality. Also, the products used in this series are just examples – obviously each supermarket has, say, eight or nine different types of jam or whatever the product may be, and I’m not going to try every single one because what am I, made of money?

Finally, I should highlight that I tasted all the products blind, and at the time of tasting and making my notes I didn’t know which product came from which shop. I sat in one room while my glamorous assistant (er, my husband), prepared the samples in another. Any notes added regarding packaging and so on were only done after blind tasting, when I learned which who had made product A, B, C, D, or E.

The Blind Taste Test: Raspberry Jam


Raspberry Jam
per 100g
Sainsbury’s Organic
St Dalfour
Bonne Maman
Grandessa Aldi

A – St Dalfour – 6/10

  • Firm, holds its shape well on the spoon. Very, very seedy. I like seeds but this might be a bit much for me – it’s like a seed paste. Good balance of sharpness and sweetness, and decent raspberry flavour.

B – Waitrose – 7/10

  • Smoother and less seedy than A. Sharper too, with more of a raspberry flavour than A. Tastes naturally fruity – very enjoyable.

C – Grandessa Aldi – 6/10

  • Much less structure, running off the spoon, very loose. Very sweet – a bit too sweet for my palate. Not a bad flavour though. Would probably be nicer on toast with the neutral bread to balance the sweetness.

D – Bonne Maman – 8/10

  • Dark, rich, and thick, holds shape well. Substantial. Not too sweet, a great balance. Full on raspberry flavour.

E – Tesco – 3/10

  • Holding shape well, not running everywhere. Much lighter in colour than some of the other samples. Tastes a bit artificial and cloying with sweetness – like raw jelly cubes – with an odd texture and aftertaste.

F – Sainsbury’s – 5/10

  • Fine, but nothing special, and again a bit too sweet. Another one with an odd texture.


Well, here we have a Taste Test where the fancy, pricier brands won out. I guess it makes sense here, in a way: more expensive product = higher fruit content and less bulking out with cheap sugar. Most of these would be fine for casual toast-consumption, but if you want to go for something a bit special, for an event cake for example, then I wouldn’t kick that Bonne Maman stuff out of bed, and the Waitrose one was nice too. Neither were actually the most expensive either, which is an unexpected bonus.


The Bake Off Bake Along: Pear, Chocolate, & Almond Cake

The Great British Bake Off is back. I, for one, couldn’t be happier. Yes, all things being equal, I would have preferred for the show to remain on the BBC, but at least in part for fussy logistical reasons. I don’t like advert breaks, and I don’t like All 4 as much as iPlayer. But I still think everything’s going to be okay. I love Mel and Sue, and I love Mary, but I can hardly go complaining about Prue Leith as a replacement (having somewhat of a Leiths connection…), and I think Sandi and Noel stepped admirably into large shoes. They kept the music. I’m happy. So, here we are again, for the Bake Off Bake Along. And here’s my pear, chocolate, and almond cake. Really, any excuse to make a chocolate cake.


I’ve got a rather busy couple of months coming up, as I’ll be commuting to London and working full time for a while. Unfortunately, this busy period coincides exactly with the time to Great British Bake Off is airing. so while I’m going to try to have a stab at the Bake Along, I’ll be taking the path of least resistance every time. This week, that means a fruity cake.

Mini rolls are lovely and all, but fiddly and hard to make look pretty. And the showstopper was never going to happen. One of the things I am most terrible at, baking-wise, is making cakes look like other stuff. If it’s tasty and looks like a cake, I’m all for it.

And this pear, chocolate, and almond cake is tasty. And it looks like a cake. A chocolate cake, at that.


If you want to know what this Bake Off Bake Along shindig is all about, check out this post by Amanda over at Rhyme and Ribbons here. It’s just an excuse to watch TV and bake cake, really.



Loosely adapted from this recipe.


This lovely chocolate cake just so happens to be gluten free, but doesn’t use any fancy special flours or ingredients. It’s moist, soft, and keeps well. You could, of course, try it with other fruit. The fruit will sink into the cake quite a bit as it bakes, but don’t worry, you’re going for a rustic look.


100g butter, plus a little extra to grease
100g 70% dark chocolate
2 tbsp rum (you can skip this if you want)
100g caster sugar, plus a little extra for the tin
3 eggs, separated
100g ground almonds
2 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and quartered
100g raspberries
icing sugar to dust and cream or ice cream to serve, if you like


  1. Heat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4. Put your butter and dark chocolate in a glass bowl above a pan of simmering water to melt together. Butter a 23cm loose-bottomed or springform cake tin, line the base, butter everything again, and then pop a couple of tbsp caster sugar into the tin and roll it round to coat the base and sides.
  2. Remove your melted butter and chocolate from the heat, stir in the rum if using, and leave to cool. Pop your caster sugar in a bowl with your egg yolks and whisk with an electric whisk until thick and mousse-like. Fold this into the chocolate mixture, then add the ground almonds and fold those in too.
  3. In a separate bowl with clean beaters, whisk your egg whites to stiff peaks. Beat a big spoonful of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to loosen, then fold the rest in carefully. Gently pour your mixture into your cake tin, then arrange your pear slices and raspberries on top of the batter. Bake for around half an hour, or until risen and firm. Leave to cool in the tin for at least 15 minutes before trying to remove it, as it’s quite delicate. Serve with icing sugar, cream, or ice cream, if you like.

Ginger Cake with a Lemon Drizzle and Rhubarb and Raspberry Compote

I ate the most unbelievable amount of junk food when I was at school. Not only was school food itself usually pretty spectacularly unhealthy, but also any money I had usually went on books, costume jewellery, and chocolate. I could quite happily go through a 100g bar of Dairy Milk without much thought; I still could, if not for the fact that it would pain my conscience. It’s truly both a blessing and a curse, but I can really eat pretty much anything. Quite apart from being lucky enough not to have any allergies, I also have tremendous capacity: when other people are groaning that they are painfully full or feeling sick from sugar, I would usually be happy to keep going.


Of course, when you’re young you don’t worry as much about trashing your body, and it’s the done thing – or at least it was when I was at school – to make regular trips to the corner shop to stock up on all things sweet. My best friend from those years, Ella, and I did this regularly, and to be honest I can’t remember any adults fussing particularly about stopping us, although it’s entirely possible I may have just blanked any admonitions out. Ella and I lived a five minute walk apart and we were practically inseparable for years, both at school and in our free time. I have a very specific memory of us sitting in an empty classroom across the corridor from the school library and eating an entire McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger cake between the two of us in what must have been about seven minutes.

Times change, but not very much, it seems, because here I am with another massive ginger cake which I am planning to eat a great deal of. True, I’ve fancied it up a bit, but basically this is still the essence of a delicious ginger cake – moist, flavoursome, and comforting. I don’t know what Ella is up to these days, but I hope that she’d like it.


Source: The base ginger cake recipe has been adapted from Ready for Dessert, by David Lebovitz, which is a fantastic book.

Notes: This cake will keep well for about four or five days. You don’t have to make the compote, or even the drizzle – it would be good plain, too. But if you want to make it a bit fancier for a dessert then these are nice accompaniments. I also think it goes very well with crème fraîche, which cuts through it nicely.


115g fresh ginger (peeled weight)
200ml golden syrup
50ml black treacle
200g caster sugar (or brown sugar would work well too if you have it in)
250ml corn oil (or other flavourless oil)
350g plain flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground pepper
200ml water
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 large eggs

for the compote

4 sticks or so of rhubarb
1 vanilla pod, if you have one kicking about
50ml water
50g sugar (or to taste)
1 punnet/ 150g raspberries

for the drizzle

juice of 1 lemon
150g icing sugar



  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4, and grease and line a 23cm cake tin – you will need a pretty big tin or the cake won’t bake through, and if it’s springform it will make your life easier. Chop your ginger very finely, or whack it in the food processor and blitz it down (if you are lazy, like me). In your largest bowl, mix together the golden syrup, sugar, and oil. In a little pan, bring your water just to the boil (but don’t let it boil away), and stir in the bicarb, which will make it fizz up excitingly. Then whisk your water into the sugar mixture and stir in the chopped ginger.
  2. Sift your flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and pepper over your wet mixture and slowly whisk it in. Finally, crack your two large eggs into the bowl and whisk them in too. The mixture will seem very wet and loose. Don’t worry, it will all come out okay. Pop it in your tin and bake for around 1 hour. It’s a long bake time, so if it starts looking a bit too dark a bit early then turn your oven down a touch. Make sure your cake passes the skewer test before you bring it out.
  3. Meanwhile, while your cake is baking, make your compote. Chop your rhubarb into 4cm pieces, or thereabouts, and pop it in a saucepan with your sugar, water, and a vanilla pod split in half if you have one. Leave on a gentle heat to cook down for about 20 minutes, or until your rhubarb is soft and your compote is syrupy. Stir in your raspberries and cook for 5 minutes more. Leave to stand and thicken.
  4. When your cake is out of the oven, make your lemon drizzle. Sift the icing sugar into a bowl and gradually whisk in drops of lemon juice, until you have a drizzle-able icing – you may or may not use all the juice. Careful, because it’s very easy to add too much liquid and make it too liquid. Drizzle it artfully over the cake and serve with the compote.

Raspberry and Nectarine Frangipane Tart – Bake Off Bake Along Week 6

So, flaounes. What a random pick for a pastry technical, no? I suppose that now that they’re on Season 6 of Bake Off they are running out of obvious things to pick. Mastic? Mahlepi? If I had infinite time and resources then I would probably be more inclined to hunt for obscure ingredients to make the technical challenge recipe but, you know, we don’t live in a perfect world. The full list of ingredients for the flaounes is pretty extensive. Plus I was rather put off by the bakers smelling the mastic and retching. Pretty much the minimum I expect from baking is for the process not to make me sick.

Every week I adore Tamal more. Just putting it out there. Quote of the week is surely ‘This is basically inspired by a sandwich that I had a few years ago. It was in the top two sandwiches of my life… I think about that sandwich quite a lot.’ Also Nadiya is great and hilarious.


So, I made a frangipane tart. Even I am not very excited by this, to be honest, because I’ve made them before. But I’ve already said why flaounes weren’t going to happen, and I have no idea what I would do with 48 vol-au-vents either. Giving away cheesecakes was one thing, but for some reason giving friends armfuls of vol-au-vents seems a bit odd. They will probably all chime in now and say I’ve given them weirder things in the past.

Anyway, I love nectarines and I don’t think I have used them in a dessert before, so here we go. I thought raspberries would be a good accompaniment both taste and colour wise. And they were. This tart was nice. Not particularly exciting, or groundbreaking, or challenging. But quite nice.

Things could definitely be worse.


Source: I took the basic frangipane tart recipe from Leiths: How to Cook, but have adapted it and added my own fruits and flavourings.

Notes: It sounds weird, but I think the thing that makes this tart is adding almond extract. In with the almonds. It seems a bit belt and braces, but since I was using ready-ground almonds rather than toasting and grinding my own, I think they needed a bit of a flavour boost. I mean, really you should toast and grind your own, but it was what I had in the cupboard.


for the pastry

250g plain flour
20g caster sugar
pinch of salt
140g chilled butter, cut into small cubes
2 egg yolks
3-4 tbsp cold water

for the frangipane

1 egg and 2 egg yolks
150g butter, softened
150g caster sugar
150g ground almonds
1 tsp almond extract
40g plain flour

1 large ripe nectarine (or 2 small ones)
handful of raspberries
raspberry jam (optional)
apricot jam (optional)


  1. First, make your pastry. Put your flour, sugar, salt, and butter into the food processor and pulse until they reach breadcrumb stage. Whisk your egg yolks with your cold water and slowly drizzle the liquid into the breadcrumb mixture with the food processor running until it starts to come together. Stop when it starts to come into a ball. It should not feel wet or sticky. Gently and briefly knead the pastry together (I normally tip it into a bowl to do this) and then wrap it in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
  2. While it’s chilling, make your frangipane. Beat the butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Beat the eggs and egg yolks together, then beat them into the butter and sugar. Stir in the almonds, almond extract, and the flour.
  3. Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll it out on a lightly floured surface to around a 3mm thickness. Line your tart tin – mine is 22cm. Ideally, you should now cover it with cling film and pop it back in the fridge for another half an hour to chill but I never have time for this. You could also pop it in the freezer for ten minutes. While you’re waiting, you could prepare your fruit – stone your nectarine(s) and cut them however you want to present them.
  4. Heat your oven to 200C/180C fan/ gas 6. Pop your tart case on a baking tray, line it with baking parchment and baking beans, and bake for fifteen minutes. Remove the parchment and beans and bake for five more minutes.. Take it out of the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4. If you’re using jam, spread this over the base of the pastry case. Cover with the frangipane. Arrange your fruit as you wish, and push this down gently into the frangipane.
  5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the frangipane is well-risen, golden, and set. Remove from the oven. If you want to glaze it, do so while it is still warm. Sieve around 5 tbsp apricot jam and gently warm it in a pan until runny, then brush it over the tart.

Trio of Chocolate Cheesecakes – Bake Off Bake Along Week 4

Confession: before this week, I had never made a baked cheesecake. It was one of my page-turners. Everyone must have page-turners, right? You know when you’re flicking through a recipe book (or, in this day and age, more likely a blog or online magazine), and you see a certain ingredient or instruction and automatically think ‘No, thank you!’, turn to the next page, and move swiftly along? Well, every time I see instructions to wrap a springform tin in cling film, then in foil, then fill it with cheesecake mix, then sit it in a water bath, then bake the cheesecake, then leave it to cool with the oven door oven, then let it sit overnight… well, I tend to think ‘Sod that’, and go and make a fridge-set cheesecake instead. It’s a combination of fear and laziness, really.


So, I thought this week would be a good opportunity to finally get over my baked cheesecake prejudice and make one. Well, make three. I don’t have enough ramekins for crème brûlée, and I’m certainly not going out to buy them. And although I do like meringue, I don’t think anyone could really like meringue enough to get through a whole Spanische Windtorte. Also, it would leave me with a dozen egg yolks that I wouldn’t know what to do with. Somehow, making three cheesecakes started to seem like the most sensible option.

Spoiler alert: it was definitely not the most sensible option. It was actually a huge hassle, and all of our friends will be eating cheesecake for days.


Nonetheless, I made three baked cheesecakes and managed to stack them into a tower that didn’t collapse, so I am definitely calling this a win, despite the fact I had to literally buy a kilogram of cream cheese to make this and nobody should ever really be doing that.

I’ll be really interested to see what everyone else tries to make this week, because I imagine lots of you will have the same problems and reservations that I did regarding crème brûlée and Spanische Windtorte, but making three tiers of cheesecake doesn’t exactly feel like the easy way out. Oh, how I miss cake week. Next week is free-from baking – you know, sugar free and gluten free and such – and I can’t imagine that will be any easier.


Can we also just take a moment to mourn the departure of Sandy from the tent? She was never one of my picks for the final, but she was definitely one of my favourite bakers. Some of the things she said literally made me laugh out loud.

Also, Ian winning star baker is now getting boring. Three weeks in a row?!


So, on to the cheesecakes. I will admit that these are not going to be winning any beauty contests. By the time it got to the decorating stage, I was short on time and very stressed, so it was all a bit of a rush job and I am terrible at tempering and piping chocolate, so I basically threw things on top of them and hoped for the best. I also had to move the delicate cheesecakes around so much – first to stack them and then to separate them – that they started to crack a bit. Nonetheless, they were really delicious. Once I have gotten over the trauma of this, I might actually make a baked cheesecake again.

On the show, Paul and Mary kept complaining about fruit bleeding into cheesecake, but what’s wrong with that!? I actually like that, and purposefully mashed up my fruit a bit in the cheesecake batter to encourage the pretty colours rippling into the smooth, pale cheesecake.


Source: I started with a plain baked cheesecake recipe from Leiths How To Cook and then adapted it. A lot.

Notes: I very much doubt that anyone wants to be as insane as me and make this whole recipe start to finish, so I am not going to give any instructions for stacking or decorating, which is all common sense in any case. The method is exactly the same for all three cakes, only with different quantities and some variations on ingredients, so I am going to provide the ingredients for each cake and only write out the method once.

One of the reasons I went for this particular base recipe was that it didn’t ask you to mess around with a water bath or wrapping the tin, and I am inherently lazy. It seemed to work out fine just bunged in the oven like a regular cake.

This would have looked far better if I’d had a smaller top tin, but I didn’t, and didn’t want to buy a new one just for this, so such is life.


for the little white chocolate, blackberry, almond, and ginger cheesecake (16cm)

for the base
50g butter
65g ginger biscuits
20g ground almonds

for the cheesecake mixture
3 tbsp caster
10g cornflour
240g cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
2 medium eggs
90ml cream
100g white chocolate
100g blackberries

for the medium milk chocolate, hazelnut, and raspberry cheesecake (20cm)

for the base
85 butter
125g oat biscuits
25g chopped skinned hazelnuts

for the cheesecake mixture
5 tbsp caster
15g cornflour
415g cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
3 large eggs
100ml cream
200g milk chocolate
150g raspberries

for the massive dark chocolate, apricot, and pistachio cheesecake (23cm)

for the base
100g butter
150g digestives
30g roughly chopped pistachios

for the cheesecake mixture
6 tbsp caster
20g cornflour
500g cream cheese
2 tsp vanilla
4 large eggs
200ml cream
150g dark chocolate
4 apricots, stoned and chopped


  1. Preheat your oven to 200C/ 180C fan/ gas 6, and grease and line your tin. Melt the butter for the base. Crush the biscuits, either by beating them in a plastic bag with a rolling pin or whizzing them in the food processor. Put them in a bowl and mix in your nuts. Add the butter, mix, and then press the mixture evenly into the base of your tin. Bake the base in the oven for ten minutes, then remove and leave it to cool. Lower the oven temperature to 150C/ 130C fan/ gas 2.
  2. For the topping, set aside 2 tbsp of the sugar. Put the rest in a large bowl with the cornflour and beat with the cream cheese and vanilla to combine. Separate the eggs, and then beat the yolks into the cream cheese along with the cream.
  3. In a large clean bowl, whisk the egg whites to medium peaks, and then whisk in the saved 2 tbsp of caster sugar. Gently fold the egg whites into the cream cheese mixture.
  4. Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Gently fold it into the cheesecake mixture, along with the fruit.
  5. Pour the mixture over the biscuit base and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until just set with a slight wobble. Leave it to cool in the tin. Chill in the fridge.

Peach, Raspberry, and Almond Loaf Cake with Cream Cheese Topping

I am not musical at all. I love music, but I can’t read it or produce it in any way. I can’t sing, or play an instrument, or keep time very well. I can’t even dance.

Yet, every Monday, you’ll find me at band practice.


When James and I first got together, I knew he had an unruly folk band. I’m still not totally sure how many people are in it – twelve? thirteen? – because people come and go, and it’s never really clear what everyone’s status is at a given moment. There are people on maternity and paternity leave. People get jobs that take them away from the band for a while, like being in other bands, or taking acting jobs, or working abroad. And that’s part of the joy of the band. You don’t quite know who is going to turn up to a rehearsal, but it’s always enough people to make some sort of music.

I fluttered around the periphery of the group for a little while, and then I starting going to the rehearsals. I initially thought my being there would be a bit pointless. What was the use in showing up when I couldn’t play a thing? But I just sort of… kept going. I sing along in the loud bits where hopefully no one can really hear me, and I mess around with the simplest percussion instruments, and I force huge amounts of food on everyone. I take photographs and videos at gigs and have people round for dinner and go to band parties. Mostly, I chat to people.


The band is a mongrel mash-up of members from completely different backgrounds. The age range spans about thirty years. Some people are trained classical musicians who have jumped from those hallowed heights into folk’s cushioning, beery embrace. Some people are self taught musicians who can’t read music but can play along with anything from Bellowhead to Beethoven to Björk by ear on five different instruments. Some people are scientists, some are actors. We have a counsellor and a software QA engineer, a publishing professional and a policeman.

Even though I’m not really ‘in’ the band, I am at least with the band. I’ll see and talk to people socially, outside of rehearsals. I’ve helped some of them move. They’re all invited to our wedding.

Less than two weeks ago, a band member gave birth to an absolutely beautiful baby girl. I am one of those incredibly annoying people who will coo over babies for hours until their parents gently prise them from my arms so that they can, you know, go home and get some sleep, so I have been ridiculously excited about this pregnancy and the imminent arrival of the baby for months. Tomorrow, I get to go and meet her for the first time.

Of course, I’m not going empty-handed. I asked if I could bake a cake, and the request came in for something summery, with peaches. I couldn’t quite find a recipe that I liked the look of enough to fit the bill, so I made up my own.


Notes: The core of this cake is similar to a Madeira cake, but with a higher proportion of almonds than you would normally find, and no lemon or other citrus because I wanted the peaches and raspberries to shine through. It’s essentially a cake for summer fruits, fairly light and very moist, and content to be the background for whatever delicacies you fancy – apricots, nectarines, plums, blueberries, strawberries…

If you fancy making this, please don’t skip the almond extract in the topping, because it’s really important to the flavour of this cake. I buy it at the local Sainsburys, so it shouldn’t be hard to get hold of.


for the cake

175g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
175g sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
100g ground almonds
150g self-raising flour
2 large or 3 small/flat peaches, fairly ripe
100g raspberries – either fresh or frozen is fine

for the topping

50g butter
150g full fat cream cheese
50g icing sugar
1 tsp almond extract
handful of toasted almond flakes
handful of freeze dried raspberries (not essential, but pretty)


  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4. Find your largest loaf tin (mine is 30cm x 15cm), and grease and line it with parchment paper. Beat your butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in your eggs, followed by the vanilla extract. Fold your almonds into the mixture, then sift your flour and salt together and fold that in too.
  2. Cut your peaches into fairly chunky slices, and pop them in another small bowl with your raspberries and around 1 tbsp of flour. Shake it all about a bit so the flour lightly coats the fruit (it will help to stop all the fruit sinking to the bottom of the cake). Fold the fruit into your cake mixture, then dollop the mixture into your prepared tin and smooth over the top. Pop it in the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the cake is firm and golden and passes the skewer test. Let it cool for ten minutes, and then get it out the tin and let it cool completely.
  3. Make your topping. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until it’s soft, and then beat in the cream cheese. Sift the icing sugar into the mixture, fold it in roughly, and then beat it properly until the mixture is smooth. Add the almond extract and beat once more. When your cake is completely cool (absolutely and completely – I have learned this the hard way many times), spread the topping onto it, and sprinkle it the cake with your toasted almond flakes and freeze dried raspberries.