Quick and Easy Chocolate Cake

Rich’s company keeps on growing and therefore I must keep on baking…

I was meant to be having some drinks with the team  on Friday evening to take requests, but as I have a nightmare project at my work, by the time I got to the bar almost everyone had gone. Therefore I have had to believe that Rich has spoken to his team and this cake represents their requests. The direction I was given was chocolate.

As always, I opened my copies of Nigella and went to her chocolate section – when I did carrot cake she was unfortunately lacking. It was a toss up between her Malteser Cake from Domestic Goddess or her Old Fashion Chocolate Cake from Feast ; both looked amazing but the icing on the latter won me over. My favourite chocolate icing has been the sour cream one from Delia’s classic complete cookery course. Anyway, I could go on forever about my favourite cook books but I should really get on with the recipe!


Welcoming Stephen to the Company

Recipe: Quick and Easy Chocolate Cake

Ingredients: The Cake

  • 200g Plain Flour
  • 200g Golden Caster Sugar
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/2 tsp Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 1 Pinch Salt
  • 50g Cocoa Powder
  • 175g Butter – Room temperature and very soft
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 150ml Sour Cream


  1. This is super easy.
  2. Preheat the oven to GM 4 (180 C) and grease & line 2 circular 20cm cake tins with plenty of butter and grease proof paper.
  3. Either, add all of the ingredients to a cake mixer and quickly mix or put them into a bowl and mix with a whisk – the electric sort makes it a lot easier! The batter that you get is quite thick but don’t be alarmed, it makes a lovely cake.
  4. Split the batter between the two cake tins and then put into the oven. Cook for about 25 minutes, test and if it’s not ready (ie bounces back when you touch it) put it back in for another five minutes.
  5. Once the cakes are done, leave them to cool on wire racks.

Recipe: Sour Cream Icing

Ingredients: The Icing

  • 75g Butter
  • 175g Chocolate – I use 65%
  • 1 tbsp Golden Syrup
  • 125ml Sour Cream
  • 1 tsp of Vanilla Extract
  • 300g Icing Sugar


  1. On a very low heat, in a heavy pan, melt the butter and the chocolate; keep an eye on it and don’t let it get hot so that nothing goes wrong!
  2. Sieve the icing sugar into a large bowl to get rid of the lumps.
  3. Add the golden syrup to the chocolate – to get the syrup out I find it easiest to heat a tablespoon over the gas and then put that into the syrup and it slides off the spoon. Don’t heat it too much as it might ruin chocolate!
  4. Next, add the sour cream to the sweetened chocolate and then the vanilla.
  5. Whisk in the icing sugar so that the colour lightens and texture smooths.

To decorate the cake put one third of the icing on to the bottom layer and then add the next layer on top.

Add the rest of the icing on to the top of the cake and gently work it down the sides with a knife.
Decorate the top of the cake with bits of fudge or chocolate shavings or nothing.
Eat the cake 🙂
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Nelson the Spider

Nelson on One of His Midnight Web Making Missions

Just a really really quick (and slightly pointless) post about Nelson, our spider.

We haven’t seen him for a few day but I would like to thank him for all of the fun that he gave us whilst he was making his web. For anyone that doesn’t like spiders watching them at their work is amazing, plus Nelson was a bit of a character. Here are a few pictures of him and his work.

Nelson's Work in the Morning Dew - Fabulous!

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The last time I had focaccia was when Rich and I were in Italy, last year, and it was made by an Italian Mama outside a trulli on a Puglian hillside. The first thing that struck me about it was how wet her dough was; it was basically like a cake batter! It was cooked in a traditional pizza oven and was amazing. The sort of bread that you can’t (and don’t) want to stop eating.Suffice it to say, I didn’t really fancy making it.
Then, when I was watching the BBC’s “Great British Bake-Off” one of their technical challenges was to make focaccia. For anyone that has not seen the TV genius that is GBBO, this is when the contestants are given the outline of a recipe and they need to use their knowledge to fill in the gaps. It was amazing how many people didn’t add all of the water as they thought it was already wet enough. But to me, even those that did use all of the water didn’t have a wet enough dough. After watching it on the telly I decided that I should make focaccia and see what all of the fuss was about – so here is my recipe!

This is a bread waiting to go into the hot oven

Recipe: Focaccia


  • 1 tbsp Dried Active Yeast
  • 3 tbsp Olive Oil – Extra Virgin please…
  • 400ml Hand-Hot Water
  • 1 tsp Sugar (or honey)
  • 500g Strong White Bread Flour
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • Addition Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt (as always I use Maldons)


  1. With the yeast that I use you need to bring it back to life by warming it up and giving it some food. Therefore in a bowl add the water, sugar and yeast. Give it a stir and then leave it in a warm place to “wake-up” for about 15 minutes. Once there are bubbles over the surface you are ready for the next bit.
  2. Weigh out the flour and then mix in the salt in a large bowl. Give the yeast mixture a stir and add to the flour with the olive oil; mix everything thoroughly.
  3. Then you need to kind-of kneed the dough/batter which is easiest to do in the bowl using the sides to draw the mixture in.
  4. After about 10 minutes of this you will notice that the batter has changed consistency and feels silkiey – although it will never form one of those satisfying balls that normal bread turns into.
  5. Leave the mix in the bowl covered in a tea-towel or oiled cling film in a warm place for about an hour until it has doubled in size.
  6. Knock the dough back and kneed for about five minutes on a thoroughly oiled surface – make sure that your hands are also oiled.
  7. Shape the mix into a well oiled roasting tin. I used my large shallow one which is about 12 inches by 20.
  8. Leave in a warm place to prove for about another hour.
  9. After this time poke at the dough with your fingers to make the characteristic dimples, drizzle with yet more oil and sprinkle with salt.
  10. Put it into an oven at GM 7 for about 20 minutes, until it is golden brown.
  11. Serve with a tomato salad and east as soon as possible

Quick notes

Use a really good olive oil for this and you won’t be disappointed the flavour really comes through.


Add a sprinkling of chilli or herbs

Preparation time: 3 hour(s)

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Diet type: Vegetarian

Number of servings (yield): 8

Culinary tradition: Italian

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Italian Grand Prix

Trulli Castagno Puglia - a perfect place for a holiday

At last the Grand Prix has left the realms of Northern Europe and heavy foods. So back into the sunshine and the endless possibilities of Italian food. As you can probably tell from my blog I am  into Italian food – in a big way. I love their use of few ingredients to make combinations of  bold flavours.

Rich and I were entertaining our vegetarian friends for the race which meant that the menu had to deviate slightly from anti pasti, pasta, meat and dessert formula that any decent Italian meal follows. But being vegetarians, our friends are very into their cheese (personally I don’t understand how you can eat rennet but not meat but hey-ho!). Italian cheeses are perfect for cooking and I managed to get one into each course. The vegetables that I grow in my garden are also perfectly suited to Italian cusine and our tomato crop this year has been a bumper one.

Italian Vegetarian Feast



  • Trofie Pasta with Cavelo Nero


  • Borage and Ricotta Cannelloni


  • Amaretti & Raspberry Marscapone
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Malaysian Grand Prix

As we are currently having our Grand Prix summer break I thought that I would try to catch up on some of the cuisines that I haven’t blogged about earlier in the season.

I started my Grand Prix dinners before I started the blog so I have recipes for the Turkish (an amazing Turkish breakfast/brunch) Spanish (Spanish chicken which I repeated for the European GP) and Monaco (decadent Provençal style tapas). The problem was that I didn’t take any pictures, which was a complete over sight!

Last weekend I thought that I would try Malaysian food; for last year’s race a made beef rendang so I thought that I would try another typical Malaysian dish. I am a huge fan of south-east Asian flavours and in Malaysia, as they are a trading island, almost all of the spices imaginable are present. I decided to make chicken curry kapitan which is a typical example of nyonya cuisine. The spices in this dish reflect this melting pot with fice spice from China, lemongrass from Thailand, cinnamon from Sri Lanka and the holy trinity of garlic, ginger and chilli from India.

Kota Bharu Market, Malaysia

image credit: exfordy

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Tomato Pasta Sauce

In my garden I always grow tomatoes. One of the reasons that I grow them is because they are relatively easy but also because so often you find the supermarket ones kept in the fridge. It seems crazy to me to buy a tomato that has been in the fridge as putting them in the there fundamentally changes their texture. They get that nasty cotton wool like texture which completely ruins my enjoyment.

Anyway, one of the issues with growing tomatoes is what to do when they all become ripe. I always sew too many, it doesn’t matter how much I try to stop myself I simply can’t resist growing at least two varieties; this year Gardeners Delight an easy cherry and Sungold a golden cherry both suitable for ripening in the English sunshine or lack there of. Obviously you can make a tomato salad but this sauce makes something more substantial and can easily be made in 20 minutes.

Sungold & Gardeners Delight Tomatoes

Recipe: Tomato Pasta Sauce

Summary: Simple fresh pasta sauce


  • 1 Tin of Anchovies
  • 400g Fresh Tomatoes
  • Dried Pasta – 60g per Person
  • 1 Clove of Garlic
  • Pinch of Chilli Flakes (optional)
  • Handful of Basil Leaves
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil


  1. In a shallow pan (I use my big sautéing pan which is a bit like a flat bottom wok) on a gentle heat melt the anchovies.
  2. Add the tomatoes, roughly chopped. Cook for about 5 minutes until the tomatoes break down. There will be a lot of juice that comes out of the tomatoes which will reduced and create an intensely tomatoey sauce.
  3. In a pan of boiling, well salted water add the pasta shape of your choice – for me it really depends on my mood and what I have in the cupboard.
  4. Add the garlic and chilli to the tomatoes, reduce the heat and cook until the pasta is ready. If your sauce becomes a bit dry add a little of the pasta water to loosen it.
  5. Just before you are going to serve add the torn basil leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I am currently using a peppery one from Puglia in the south of Italy.

Spaghetti with a Tomato Pasta Sauce

Quick notes

This tomato sauce is the starting point for so many of the traditional sauces. In fact by adding the chilli it goes from a simple pomadoro to arribatta.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cooking time: 15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 2

Culinary tradition: Italian

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Hungarian Grand Prix

After basically spending all of last week slagging off German food (spot the irony – my new project is in Munich!) I was not looking forward to attempting Hungarian food. I believed that it was basically goulash and stews; it is not the same as German food but it does rely on the same heavy sources of meat and potatoes. One of the things that I am excited about are the spices, especially the peppers; I love cooking with spices and enjoy punchy flavours. Hungary is seen as a melting pot of Europe, influenced by the Turks, Italians, Germans and Slavs and luckily all of their different foods.

Goulash the Leonberger

Image Credit: mo pie

One thing that I know that like is their white wine – by that I mean their Tokaji. It is typically a sweet wine but Rich & I had a bottle the other day that was medium dry which was lovely. But as Rich is away in Seattle speaking at MozCon (although I’m not entirely sure why he has to stay until Sunday when he was speaking on Wednesday…) I am not going to go all out on the booze and the puddings. I have also restarted on WeightWatchers which means that traditional pancakes are probably not the best option! Although, saying that, I did take my sister (Mill) to the Berkley yesterday for her Birthday treat and I am not sure that 6 courses plus wines fits into my daily allowance!

Anyway, I digress. I will have to make some sort of Goulash this weekend, as it’s what you think of when you think of Hungarian cuisine but I am also going to cook a traditional lentil soup.

FYI – I was looking for pictures of Goulash on Flickr and kept on getting pictures of this gorgeous dog called Goulash hence the picture

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Ham and Knödel

I did want to try cooking pork knuckle, as it seems to be the most traditional German cut of pork. Unfortunately, it’s not a very common cut in the UK and I didn’t manage to order it from the butchers in time. Instead I went to Waitrose to see what they could offer me in the way of pig produce. When I got to the store I was slightly confused as they are having a major refurb and nothing was in the right place!  But I soldiered on and managed to get a bargain that my Mum would have been proud of; I bought an Organic, Free Range gammon joint for £5 reduced from £12. It actually worked out better than the fatty knuckle and was amazing; Rich said that it was his best Grand Prix dinner yet! To go with it I served Knödel and schwarz grünkohl (Cavelo Nero / Black Kale).

Ham and Knödel with a Selection of German Booze

Recipe: German Ham

Summary: This is my interpretation of “German” ham using caraway as the predominant flavour. I have also added some vinegar as traditionally the ham will be cooked with Saukraut


  • 1kg Gammon Joint
  • 1 tsp Caraway Seeds
  • 1 tsp Peppercorn
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 tbsp White Wine Vinegar


  1. Place all of the ingredients into a pan and cover with water, bring to the boil.
  2. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about one hour.
  3. Once the ham is cooked take it out of the water and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes (make sure that you keep the water to cook the knodel in). To test that the ham is cooked, check if the juices run clear.
  4. As the ham has been boiled it doesn’t look too attractive. If you can be bothered brown the fat in a hot pan.

Quick notes

he ham can be served cold the next day and makes amazing sandwiches

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cooking time: 1 hour(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Culinary tradition: German

Recipe: Knödel

Summary: These dumplings are very satisfying and easy


  • 400g Potatoes Boiled – Cold
  • 1/4 cup of Self Raising Flour – Plus more for shaping
  • 1/4 cup Breadcrumbs
  • 1 Egg
  • Generous Seasoning
  • Nutmeg


  1. Either user a ricer or a fine grated to get really smooth mashed potatoes
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix thoroughly, make sure that you add plenty of salt and pepper because they seem to soak up seasoning
  3. Shape the dumplings, by hand, to about walnut size flouring them thoroughly and place on a floured board; this mix should make about 16 dumplings.
  4. Bring the ham stock to the boil and gently drop the dumplings into the water.
  5. Decrease the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes.

Quick notes

You can add a lot of different seasoning and ingredients to this basic mix for example herbs, bacon onions…the list is endless!

Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 20 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 4

Culinary tradition: German

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Courgette Pasta Recipe

This is one of the many recipes that I have devised to use up the massive glut of courgettes that you get in the summer time (if you grow them yourself or even if you have a veg box).

The inspiration came from the classic Italian pasta dish of broccoli and anchovies but I have added some dill to give it an additional dimension. In my mind there is no need to have any cheese with this dish but of course you can add it if you wish. At the weekend I will cook the onions for longer but during the week I don’t have over 30 minutes to wait for the onions to soften. To speed it up, I will cook them on a slightly higher heat and accept that they won’t have dissolved into a sweet puree and move on.

Romanesco and Gold Rush Varieties - Grown from Seed

Recipe: Courgette Pasta


  • 1/2 Tin of Anchovies
  • 1 Medium Onion
  • 3 Courgettes – Thinly Sliced
  • 1 Clove of Garlic – Finely Chopped
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Dill – Roughly Chopped
  • Dried Pasta – I like Orecchiette but any shape will do


  1. Add the anchovies, with their oil, into a pan on a gentle heat.
  2. Soften the onions in the melting anchovies with a lid on for about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the sliced courgette and garlic, stir thoroughly and replace the lid. Cook for a further 15 minutes on a low heat.
  4. Put the pasta into plenty of rapidly boiling salted water; this should take about 10 minutes.
  5. Keep stirring the courgettes, after the pasta has been cooking for 5 minutes add a ladle of the pasta water to the courgette mixture. The pasta water helps to stop the courgettes drying out and also brings the flavours of the sauce together.
  6. When the pasta is cooked, strain it and drizzle with extra virgin oil in its colander. Make sure that you put colander over the cooking pan to catch any of the starchy oil.
  7. Tip the pasta into courgette mix, add the dill. If it’s a bit dry, add some of the starchy oil in the cooking pan and some additional olive oil.

Quick notes

You can speed this dish up by putting the heat up and stirring constantly. It won’t be as subtle as if you have cooked it slowly, but it will be lovely all the same. I use a mix of varieties of courgettes as that is what I grow. I do believe that they do have more flavour than the shop bought ones but they do work as well.


I sometimes add some other greens, like broccoli or kale, into this. It also works well if you add a little bit of chilli at the beginning, not to make it spicy but to give it a subtle kick.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cooking time: 30 – 60 minute(s)

Diet type: Pescatarian

Number of servings (yield): 2

Culinary tradition: Italian

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Apple and Blackberry Kuchen

Now I realise that the German’s do have good taste – this sweet bread is beautiful or as Rich said “well nice – doughy, fruity, not too doughy, light and fresh”.  If you really want to sell your house you should bake this instead of plain old bread. The aroma is heady with spice and citrus; actually I am pretty surprised that supermarkets don’t bake this in store.

For breakfast, coffee, tea or any time

Recipe: Apple and Blackberry Kuchen



  • 350g Strong White Flour
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 50g Caster Sugar
  • 3.5g Easy-Blend Yeast or 7g of Fresh Yeast og 1/2 tbsp of Dried Yeast
  • 2 Large Free Range Eggs
  • 1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • Grated Zest of 1/2 a Lemon
  • 1/4 Nutmeg Grated
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) Milk – Luke warm
  • 1 tsp Vegetable Oil


  • 1 Large Free Range Egg
  • 1 tbsp Cream
  • Grated Nutmeg
  • 3 Apples – Peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • A Handful of Blackberries
  • 1 tbsp Demerara Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Caster Sugar
  • 2 Allspice Berries – Finely crushed
  • 2 tbsp Flaked Almonds



  • 3 tbsp Icing Sugar
  • 1 tsp Water



  1. Mix the milk yeast and 1 tsp of sugar in a bowl; leave is a warm place for the yeast to activate; this should take about 10 minutes. You’ll know when the yeast has started to work as there will be bubbles on the surface.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, the rest of sugar and salt.
  3. Add the eggs, lemon zest, nutmeg and vanilla to the bubbly, yeasty, milk.
  4. Tip the liquid into the dry ingredients (flour etc) and mix to form a loose dough
  5. As the dough is quite rich it is very loose and sticky, if you use the traditional method of flouring your surface it will dry out the dough. Then it won’t be as lusciously soft when its cooked. Instead you need to oil the surface. Pour a little of the oil onto your surface and oil you hands (I always think that it must be good for your nails) it should be lightly oiled not an oil slick. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it turns silky smooth.You will probably think that this will never happen but persevere, it will.
  6. Put the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover will oiled cling film or a tea towel. Leave in a warm place for about 1 1/2 hours for it to double in size. You can do all of this in the evening and leave it to prove over night if you like.
  7. Once the dough has doubled in size knock it back – the easiest (and most satisfying way is to punch it a couple of times). Knead the dough for 30 seconds and then shape it to fit into your oiled tin. Cover with a tea towel (or oiled cling film) and leave in a warm place for 20 minutes. Put the oven on at gas mark 6 or 200 degrees C.
  8. Mix the egg, cream and the nutmeg. Brush the glaze over the proved dough; don’t feel that you need to use all of it.
  9. Combine the sugars and allspice.
  10. Scatter the chopped apple and blackberries over the glazed dough.
  11. Sprinkle the spiced sugar over the apple and blackberries. Place the cake into the oven for 10 minutes.
  12. Take the bread out and sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Return to the oven and lower the temperature to 180 degrees C or gas mark 4, cook for another 20 minutes.
  13. Remove from the oven and place the cake onto a wire frame
  14. Mix the icing sugar and water to form a paste; drizzle over the warm cake using a knife. I like to think of myself as a bit of a Jackson Pollock at this stage.
  15. Leave to cool for about 10 minutes and then eat; I enjoy it with tea or a glass of bubbly.


You can use any fruit that is in season but you may need to adjust the sugar amount

Diet type: Vegetarian

Number of servings (yield): 8

Culinary tradition: German

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