Dark fennel seed cake with orange zest icing

Dark fennel seed cake with orange zest icing
My fiancé has been asking me to make this cake ever since I obtained Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet years ago. The recipe in the book is called dark aniseed cake, but I substituted the aniseed for fennel seeds as suggested in the recipe, hence the different name of dark fennel seed cake. I stuck to the recipe for pretty much everything else, and ended up with one of the most surprising, delicious cakes I’ve had in some time.

There were a few new ideas for me to grapple with in this cake – especially using spelt flour and baking with fennel seeds – and I also had to use a round tin instead of a square one as stated in the recipe, because my square tin wasn’t deep enough. So, there was plenty that could have gone wrong (especially as it calls for ale, which meant I had to drink what I didn’t use…)!

Happily, the only thing that went wrong was the consistency of the icing (made with orange zest and juice), which was a bit too runny and slopped over the sides rather messily, hence the lack of a photo of the entire cake. But runny icing really doesn’t matter when you have a delicious cake that manages to combine the liquorice flavours of fennel seeds and treacle with the fruitiness of prunes and orange, topped off with the comforting heft of the spelt flour.

Dark fennel seed cake with orange zest icing

Let’s admire my Wonder Woman mug for a minute…

We honestly couldn’t stop eating this cake. It’s such a good autumn cake thanks to the spicy flavours, but it’s a world away from your normal ginger or fruit cake. I would really recommend this recipe if you love autumnal flavours in your baking, but want to try something a little bit different!

Chilli paneer

Chilli paneer
Ok, so this is clearly not a baking effort, but I made this chilli paneer for the first time last week and was rather chuffed with how it turned out, and a friend asked me to post the recipe, so here it is!

If you’re not familiar with paneer, it’s one of the few cheeses that originate in India and is similar to halloumi in firmness and texture, but with a milder taste. I believe chilli paneer is actually based on Chinese cooking, which is quite an intriguing fusion! It’s a hugely popular dish where the paneer is cubed and cooked with tomatoes, peppers, copious amounts of chilli and the not-so-secret ingredient of tomato ketchup.

I’m a big fan of my mum’s chilli paneer, but as she doesn’t do recipes, I had to make it up as I went along. I found a recipe online that I used a couple of ideas from, but the rest is based on my own instincts as a now-experienced maker of Gujarati curries. It turned out pretty much the same as my mum’s chilli paneer, which I’m very pleased about! Be warned, though – my recipe is very spicy!

There’s not a lot of sauce with this curry, so it’s best eaten with naan bread or chapatis (see my recipe for chapatis and chickpea curry, which you could also serve as part of an Indian feast) rather than rice. Paneer is now widely available in supermarkets (I get mine from Tesco) and also from Indian grocers/cash and carries, so you should hopefully be able to find it pretty easily – or you can make your own.


Chilli paneer recipe

Serves 2; easily doubled

  • 2 tbsp sunflower or vegetable oil
  • 200g paneer, cubed
  • 4 tbsp cornflour
  • 0.5 tsp cumin seeds
  • 0.5 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 thin green chillies, finely chopped (use less if you don’t want it very spicy – 1 chilli will still be quite hot)
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
  • 1 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 0.5 tsp turmeric
  • 1 pepper, chopped (I like to use a mixture of colours)
  • 2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • splash of soy sauce
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 0.5 tsp ground cumin
  • handful of fresh coriander, chopped
  • salt, to taste
  • naan or chapatis (recipe), to serve


  1. Toss the paneer in the cornflour and half a teaspoon of the red chilli powder.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan. Cook the coated paneer over a medium heat until brown, stirring occasionally. This should take 5-10 minutes. Set the cooked paneer aside.
  3. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 1 tbsp of oil. Add the cumin seeds and black mustard seeds and cook over a low to medium heat until the mustard seeds start to pop. Add the onion and peppers and cook until softened.
  4. Add the chillies, garlic, ginger, remaining half a teaspoon of red chilli powder and turmeric. Cook for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the cooked paneer and stir. Cook for 10 minutes.
  7. Stir in the tomato ketchup, soy sauce, garam masala and ground cumin, then mix in the coriander and take off the heat. Season with salt to taste and serve.

Coconut and cardamom barfi

Coconut and cardamom barfi
As you or may not know, we had Diwali and the start of the new Hindu year earlier this week. For the first time in a few years, I couldn’t take the day off to go to the temple with my mum, so I settled upon trying my hand at making Indian sweets for the first time courtesy of an easy-looking recipe for coconut and cardamom barfi.

Indian sweets (also known as mithai) are notorious for their richness and sweetness thanks to the copious amounts of sugar and dairy that go into them. They definitely are the Marmite of Indian cooking – most people either adore them or can’t stand them. Needless to say, having grown up with Indian sweets being wheeled out for every celebration and occasion you can think of, I absolutely love them!

Sweet-making is a bit of a fine art, so I thought I’d make just one type of Indian sweet and concentrate on perfecting it. I found this recipe for coconut and cardamom barfi (or burfi, if you prefer not to think about a certain bodily process when stuffing yourself full of sweets) on the Guardian website, and thought it looked like a good entry-level recipe.

Of course, things didn’t go quite to plan! As you can see from the photo above (the only one I took, sorry!), the sweets turned out a bit crumbly, when the texture is supposed to be slightly soft and hold together as a result. Unfortunately, I overcooked the cream and sugar syrup – I wanted to be cautious and keep the syrup on as low a heat as possible to avoid burning, but when it still hadn’t got to the thread stage after 10 minutes, I turned the heat up to speed things up a bit… for a bit too long.

I did use a thermometer halfway through to make sure I had the right temperature (one website informed me that I was looking for somewhere near the 110C mark), but either it didn’t work or the website was wrong!

I persevered anyway, as I knew the sweets would at least taste good even if they didn’t look quite right. And they did! I used fresh cardamom from the pod that I ground in a spice grinder rather than use ready-made cardamom powder, which I think intensified the flavour nicely against the sweet coconut.

I would definitely try this again now that I have a good idea of where I went wrong. I’d like to experiment with different flavours, especially almond, pistachio and rose, so stay tuned for next Diwali…!

Spiced oat thins

Spiced oat thins I really am on an autumnal baking kick at the moment! I couldn’t quite let go of my spices after the rye apple and cinnamon cake I posted about last time, so I decided to knock up these spiced oat thins from Ruby Tandoh’s book, Crumb, one lazy Sunday afternoon.

This recipe (which I can’t find online, unfortunately, hence the lack of a link) contains an impressive list of spices, but they should be things that are in the cupboard anyway if you bake fairly regularly. The biscuits contain cloves, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and black pepper – nothing too exotic, but combined, they make for a rather spectacular flavour.

Spiced oat thins
The biscuits were really easy to make – you just melt unsalted butter, golden syrup and dark brown sugar in a pan, before stirring in the spices and then the plain flour and rolled oats. And that’s it!

The recipe says it makes 18 spiced oat thins, but I got a bit more out of the mixture, which is always nice. They should spread a fair bit in the oven, but I found this wasn’t consistent across all of the thins, which is probably due to my oven having areas that are hotter than others.

Spiced oat thins
These really were delicious – they reminded me a bit of parkin, but in biscuit form! The chewy yet crispy texture is lovely, and goes perfectly with a cup of tea. The spices come through very well – and they also make the house smell rather nice when they’re in the oven. This would be a great bake for (dare I say it) Christmas, or just any time of the year, really. It’s worth getting hold of Ruby’s book for this recipe alone!

Rye apple and cinnamon cake

Rye apple and cinnamon cake Call me behind the times, but I’ve only recently managed to start investigating flours that aren’t your plain, self-raising, strong or wholemeal variety. I bought a bag of rye flour the other week to bake a particular cake, but I didn’t have all of the other ingredients for it, so I settled on this rye apple and cinnamon cake from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet instead.

The recipe calls for this being made in a small tin, but as I only had a large one, I threw all caution to the wind and used my 20cm round tin instead (I really do know how to party…).

Rye apple and cinnamon cake 2
This cake is definitely my favourite kind – really easy to make. Melt butter, golden syrup and sugar together, mix in the other ingredients and fold in chunks of apple coated in cinnamon before topping with almonds and demerara sugar, and baking. Job done!

I found that I had to leave the cake in for about 15 minutes longer than the recipe said, which was partly due to my dodgy oven and partly because of the different tin I used. I expected to have to bake it for significantly longer than a standard cake anyway because of the rye flour (which is similar to wholemeal flour in terms of density), but that didn’t seem to make too much of a difference – perhaps because it was mixed with ground almonds.

Rye apple and cinnamon cake 3
This cake is very much of the comfort food variety – you wouldn’t wheel this out for a special occasion, but it’s just the thing for teatime on a dreary autumn day. The texture is fairly rough due to the rye flour, but the flavour of the apples and cinnamon really comes through. I think it helped that I used Bramley apples, but you could probably use standard dessert apples too.

Definitely one to make again!

Pear, chocolate and almond cake

Pear, chocolate and almond cake I bought some pears a while ago with the vague intention of using them in a bake. When I finally remembered that they were still knocking about, I did a bit of research and decided to amalgamate two recipes to create this promising-sounding pear, chocolate and almond cake.

The two recipes I found were from Good Housekeeping and Tinned Tomatoes, which both looked excellent. I mainly followed the method from Tinned Tomatoes, while incorporating the almonds using Good Housekeeping’s method.

All went relatively well – I had to leave the cake in for longer than the recipe said, of course, but that’s nothing new for my oven! I only got a chance to properly taste it the next day, and was impressed by how fudgy the cake looked when I sliced it up.

Pear, chocolate and almond cake
However, the taste wasn’t quite what I expected. The almond flavour came through so strongly I could only just about taste the chocolate, and the pear was hardly anywhere to be seen! It was a bit disappointing, although it was still a lovely cake. I think perhaps my almond extract was overly strong (I used 1 tsp of it), and the pears weren’t ripe enough.

If I make this again, I’ll use a lot less almond extract (if any) and riper conference pears rather than the not-so-ripe dessert pears I actually used. I might also try adding dark chocolate to the mix or, failing that, serving the cake with a rich chocolate sauce!

The recipe below takes the above into account – it’s worth going slowly with the extract and tasting the mix as you go along.

Pear, chocolate and almond cake
Pear, chocolate and almond cake recipe

From Good Housekeeping and Tinned Tomatoes

Serves 8-10

  • 50g cocoa
  • 150ml hot water
  • One-quarter to half a teaspoon of almond extract, depending on its strength
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 125g butter, softened
  • 125g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 75g ground almonds
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 very ripe conference pears, peeled and sliced lengthways
  • 25g flaked almonds


  1. Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/gas mark 4. Grease a round 20cm springform tin and line the base with baking parchment.
  2. Dissolve the cocoa in the hot water and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugars and almond extract until light and fluffy.
  4. Add the ground almonds, eggs, cocoa mixture and flour, and beat until smooth.
  5. Pour the batter into the tin and place the pear slices on top. Scatter the flaked almonds on top.
  6. Bake for at least an hour. Check the cake with a skewer (it’s ready when the skewer comes out without any mix on it) and leave for 10 minutes a time, checking with a skewer each time, until the cake is cooked in the middle.
  7. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack and leave to cool completely before serving.


Garlic and parsley soda bread

Garlic and parsley soda bread This was a bit of a spontaneous bake. I really fancied some garlic bread to go with some pasta, but didn’t have any in, so I decided to knock up some garlic and parsley soda bread instead. It took a little under an hour to make from start to finish and was surprisingly delicious!

I think I’ve made soda bread once before, but have always found traditional bread more appealing. However, the bread episode of this year’s GBBO, where the contestants had to make flavoured quick breads, must have stuck in my brain and unconsciously persuaded me to make my own.

I used a Jack Monroe recipe for this, and followed it to the letter, but you could easily substitute/add to the flavours to suit your taste. I can image the bread being lovely with some parmesan or mature cheddar worked into the mix, or perhaps some sundried tomatoes and olives for a more Mediterranean flavour.

Garlic and parsley soda bread
The texture was very light, albeit pretty different to a standard bread – the crust wasn’t very crusty for a start. However, it really was tasty and went well with the pasta – I would definitely make this again in the event of another craving for quick garlic bread!

Blackberry Victoria sponge

Blackberry Victoria sponge
When my fiancé turned up with a jar of homemade blackberry and apple jam, I just knew I was going to incorporate it into a cake somehow. And even though it didn’t feel like that long since I last made a Victoria sponge, I really wanted to make another one with blackberry jam instead of my usual strawberry – so here’s my blackberry Victoria sponge.

It’s just my normal Victoria sponge recipe with a different jam, so it feels like a bit of a cheat to blog about it, but it was so delicious! The jam was perhaps a little more subtle than the strawberry variety, but that might also have something to do with me being a little overenthusiastic with the buttercream…

Blackberry Victoria sponge
It’s well and truly blackberry season, so this would be a great cake to make if you have lots of blackberry jam on your hands. If you’re not in the habit of making your own jam, you could try making a thick blackberry compote to use instead, or even just slice up some fresh berries and toss them in a bit of sugar instead.


Cream crackers

Cream crackers I think I must like baking a little too much when I reckon it’s less effort to make a batch of cream crackers than nip 5 minutes down the road to the shop to buy some! Seriously, that’s exactly what I did. I must be crackers (sorry).

As this was a bit of a spontaneous effort, I pretty much alighted on the first British recipe for cream crackers that I found online and went with it. I had a look at a couple of US recipes, but I was very confused by the addition of actual cream to the mix… I’m pretty sure that’s not required!

Cream crackers
The dough was pretty straightforward to make (although it was a little difficult getting the dough to flatten out), but I was a little flummoxed by the actual baking of the crackers. The recipe suggests that gas mark 4 is too low, so I baked the first batch at 5, but they were still a little doughy well after the baking time was up.

However, I hit the jackpot with the second batch – they went in at gas mark 6 and voila! Perfect cream crackers after 20 minutes of baking. I think it also helped that I’d tried to flatten the dough a bit more than with the first batch. The photo directly below is of the first batch, whereas the other photos in this post are of the second batch. I think you can see a definite difference between the two.

Cream crackers
I was actually really surprised by how much they tasted like shop-bought cream crackers. It’s definitely the quality of the butter and the seasoning that makes them so perfect, so be sure to use a decent butter and don’t forget the salt!

The recipe below is my version of the one I used, with tweaks to show what worked for me. Do get the dough as flat as you possibly can – it really does make a difference to the crispiness of the crackers.

Cream crackers
Cream crackers recipe

Based on this recipe

Makes around 25 crackers, depending on size and shape

  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 0.5 tsp salt
  • 55g good quality salted butter
  • Cold water


  1. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6/200C/180C fan. Line 1-2 baking trays with greaseproof paper.
  2. Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mix resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  3. Add the water a little at a time and mix until you end up with a manageable dough that’s not too sticky.
  4. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a rough oblong, making it as thin as possible.
  5. Mark the oblong lightly into three equal sections, fold one third over the middle and fold the opposite third on top. Turn the oblong 90 degrees and roll flat again before folding again.
  6. Repeat this process once more, keeping the dough as thin as you possibly can all the while.
  7. Trim any curved/rough edges with a knife, then cut the dough into squares or rectangles. Prick each one with a fork and transfer to the baking trays.
  8. Bake the crackers for 20 minutes, until golden and beginning to turn dark brown around the edges.
  9. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before eating.

Rock cakes

Rock cakes
I fancied making something quick and easy the other week, so I opened my newly acquired Delia’s Cakes book and landed on this recipe for rock cakes.

I can’t really remember the last time I had a rock cake, but I had a vague idea of them being a bit cakey and a bit biscuity (but most likely to be biscuity if they’re not homemade). This recipe actually gets the balance spot on – especially when you have one that’s still a bit warm from the oven!

Rock cakes
The main flavours come from mixed dried fruit, nutmeg and mixed spice. I used flame raisins and mixed peel for the dried fruit, and stuck to the spices specified by Delia (although you could use anything you like, really).

You start making the dough as if you’re making scones or shortbread – by rubbing butter into flour and sugar to create ‘breadcrumbs’. Everything else goes in to create what Delia calls a “stiff dough”, but what I call a bit of a crumbly mess! Luckily, it’s a crumbly mess that holds together long enough to shape into rough peaks.

Rock cakes
The rock cakes were baked in just under 20 minutes and were ready to eat not long after that. They were absolutely delicious – buttery and soft on the inside and crumbly on the outside. The fruit and spices went very well together – the flavours reminded me a bit of Christmas! I can imagine the recipe working well with other spices too, such as cinnamon and cardamom.

This is a great recipe to make if you want something nice with a cup of tea, but can’t be bothered making a proper big cake – and do try the rock cakes warm!

Rock cakes