Monthly Archives: December 2015

Gingerbread Cake and a ‘I Did That!’ List

Happy New Years Eve everyone! I hope you are all planning festivities of some kind. I will confess, I am a New Years Eve grinch. This is mostly due to my hatred of enforced fun and this evening is the worst kind of enforced fun. But, I am willing to go out and have a drink and see what happens. I have found over the years, the key to a good evening is to not have any expectations. So I am embracing that.


But I did not want to spend the last post of 2015 lamenting the terror of the evening. Rather, I have become, like almost all bloggers and writers I have read this week, reflective of this year in the past few days. I know that normally people post goals and resolutions for the coming year. I have certainly done so in the past. But then my friend Jen shared a link on Facebook, an article written by her friend, Karen Milford titled ‘You Were Awesome in 2015’. Intrigued, I read it and found an excellent idea – one that I have since chatted to Jen about and agreed is something we should do more often, but acknowledge this reflective period at the years end is probably the best time for it. The idea is to come up with a list of five things you are proud you accomplished in the year just gone. It is a stroke of genius. Instead of looking forward and feeling like a failure for all the goals you haven’t yet reached, the list allows the opportunity to look back and reflect on things you have actually done, however small. I’m calling it the ‘I Did That!’ List.

_DSC2811After much deliberation, here is my ‘I Did That!’ List.

1.) I finished my PhD and graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy. This seemed almost impossible at this precise point last year, when I’d just received comments back on my first draft. But sheer bloody mindedness and determination to get it done won out in the end.

2.) I moved in with Andrés, taking that big leap of faith in a shared life.

3.) I took the plunge and finally attended an education conference. I spent most of my PhD feeling like a really didn’t fit into an Education department, and attended more sociology and food studies conferences as a result. I finally got up the courage to go to BERA’s (British Educational Research Association) annual conference and presented my work. I discovered, with sheer joy, a number of other young researchers working in my field and we are now looking at collaborating on different things. And I discovered I do actually fit into Education, however obscurely, and that I am fascinated by other research in education, particularly that around teaching children the history of contested places.

4.) I travelled to Spain with Andrés, to meet his family. I was nervous and plagued by the usual ‘but what if they don’t like me?’ anxiety. We spent a week there, communicating in two, and sometimes three, languages, and I had a wonderful time. I did find I hated being unable to express myself adequately and so now I am learning Spanish.

5.) I learned to ski. I am often scared (and sometimes secretly thrilled) but I can get myself down a mountain or two on a pair of sticks strapped to boots. Proof that you really can learn to do anything if you set your mind to it.

So that is my list. What is yours?

And to round out the year, here is a final recipe. I made this for Boxing Day – baking it on Christmas Eve so it could mature. It is a supremely fantastic cake and the cookie butter icing will make you swoon. (Don’t be put off by the long ingredient list – it is essentially a melt and whisk cake.) I adapted the recipe for ingredients I had to hand and to make a small, one pan cake that could be sliced in half and iced.

Gingerbread Cake

Adapted from BBCgoodfood magazine (November 2015)

75ml milk

1.5 tbsp treacle

200g plain flour

1.5 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda

60g light brown sugar

130g light muscavado sugar

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

3/4 tsp ground ginger

a pinch of ground cloves

115ml sunflower oil

75g plain yoghurt

75g creme fraiche

1.5 eggs

1 tbsp rum

3/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170C and line one 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin with butter and parchment paper (line the base and the sides).

Heat the milk with the treacle until just warm and the treacle emulsifies into the milk. Set aside.

Combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb, spices, and sugars and whisk together, making sure you break up any sugar lumps.

Whisk the oil, yoghurt, creme fraiche, eggs, rum and vanilla together until combined. Then whisk in the milk/treacle mixture.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and whisk in the wet ingredients until smooth. Pour the mixture (it is quite liquid) into the cake tin and bake for approximately 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Leave to cool on a wire rack for half an hour before unmoulding and cooling completely before icing.

For the cookie butter frosting:

125g unsalted butter, softened

300g icing sugar

150g philadelphia cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

100g cookie butter (Lotus biscuit spread smooth is good)

Combine the butter and half of the icing sugar. Beat until smooth. Add in the cream cheese and beat again until smooth. Add in the rest of the icing sugar, cookie butter and vanilla. Beat until soft and fluffy.

I found this makes enough for a crumb coat and a generous layer of frosting. I only wanted a crumb coat/naked cake look so I used half and have frozen the other half for use later. To ice the cake, slice it in half and sandwich it together with the frosting. Place the other half on top and cover the top and sides with frosting. If you want a clean finish, ice this layer quite thinly, and don’t worry about crumbs. Place the cake in the fridge for 30 minutes and then completely cover the cake with frosting again, taking care to smooth the sides and top. Decorate as desired.

I hope your 2016 is bright and light and full of wonder.



I think I have finally found my cookie.


I’m spending the day in the kitchen (apart from a small trip out to pick up bread from Small Food Bakery and the last of the groceries for tonight and tomorrow). We are having a small Christmas this year, feasting tonight with friends and planning a relaxed day tomorrow. I am cooking as everyone else is still working (the joy of working in the hospitality industry), but we are gathering this evening to eat and drink which is my family’s tradition and a Spanish one – a happy coincidence.


I had some of these cookies for breakfast, slightly warm, the icing not quite set yet. I love a spice cookie at this time of year. This is a soft cookie that is slightly crispy at the edges and smells of winter and warmth and spices. It is milder than regular gingerbread cookies and sweetened with honey rather than sugar which adds to its fragrance.

Hope you all have a happy festive time over the next few days with much celebrating, feasting and love.


(Adapted from a recipe torn from a magazine, sadly I’m not sure which one).

Makes about 24


200g runny honey

100g unsalted butter

grated zest of one lemon

300g plain flour

3 tsp baking powder

100g ground almonds

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp mixed spice

pinch of salt

generous grind of black pepper (approximately 1 tsp)


1 egg white

100g icing sugar

Heat the honey, butter and lemon zest in a saucepan until the butter is melted.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir the honey/butter mixture to emulsify and then pour into the dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate until cold and stiff.

Preheat the oven to 170C and line a baking tray with parchment or a silpat mat.

Using a teaspoon to break up the dough, roll the dough into small balls (about the size of a walnut). Press these onto the baking tray, flattening the balls so that the edges crack a little.

Bake for 12 minutes. Check the cookies. If they have puffed up, flatten them down again and bake for a further 2 minutes, turning the tray around to get an even bake.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack completely before icing.


To make the glaze, whisk the egg white and icing sugar together until smooth. Paint this onto the cookie tops using a pastry brush. Leave the icing to set. Store in an airtight container. They will keep for 5 days, although I doubt they’ll last that long.


A reading list

I hope you are all out enjoying the holidays (and this strangely warm winter we are having)! I’ve been tying things up at work, not baking much (with the exception of some caramel raspberry brownies) and trying to use up food in our freezer in preparation for Christmas leftovers. Oh and I introduced Andrés and our friend Mar to the joy that is a Hand and Heart Sunday Roast.

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I will be around again soon with new cookie recipes (and possibly some notes on trifle) but in the meanwhile, here is what caught my reading eye this week!

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Dining in NYC – a rather appealing list, not to be looked at when hungry.

Enabling people to buy fruits and vegetables from farmers markets. Do these kinds of programmes challenge the elitism and middle-classed nature of such places?

At this time of year I start to lust after snow. And ski trips. And chalets. And drinking wine near wood-burning fires. So obviously, this is where I want to ski next.

Judith Jones. Because, Judith Jones.

Are you making excessive amounts of holiday cookies? Because these ‘browniest cookies’ over on Smitten Kitchen caught my eye and I am so trying them this weekend!

Rebecca Solnit, again. This time writing about gender in literature.

On food in literature.

I finished The Seed Collectors. I am unsure what I made of it. It was, in a word, weird.

I am now reading A Late Dinner. It is the first of my Christmas books and is an attempt to further understand Spanish culture, food and traditions, of which my knowledge is woeful at best.



Reading List

I was away this weekend with my mom. We were in Cambridge (lunch at Fitzbillies!) where we took in some Ronald Searle cartoons in the Fitzwilliam and then we went to London yesterday and took in Celts art and identity before eating a rather lovely afternoon tea. So just a reading list today!

An interesting short video on a call to action for US food systems. ‘A Plate of the Union’ aims to demand new changes regarding food and farming in the US, and aims to lobby the 2016 presidential candidates.

In Praise of Ugly Food – a brilliant essay on the food-photographic age of our time and the need to not only photograph ‘pretty dishes’. I particularly love this: ‘I know it may seem foolish to use a visual medium to capture the way we eat, but until Smellstagram and Snaptaste technology appear, it’s one of the best ways we have to celebrate the overlooked, while at the same time documenting our not-so-camera-ready colloquial chow for future generations. Unless, of course, we want them to think we were a civilization fueled entirely by green smoothies, avocado toasts, and baked goods tied up with red and white baker’s twine alongside mini milk bottles.’  (Thanks Jen!)

And talking about ugly food – an article on a group who are selling ugly fruits and vegetables for less. An initiative in the US that mirrors campaigns here to stop supermarkets throwing away perfectly good fruits and vegetables that don’t look pretty.

Honey fences– a friendly way to protect farmer’s crops from elephants, with the added bonus of honey!

Cultural factors influence food consumption but they can also influence eating disorders. This is a very interesting article on how eating disorders are mostly researched on Caucasian populations and less is known about eating disorders amongst other ethnic groups.

New season of Serial! Anyone else excited? Tentatively curious? Supremely interested?

We’re nearly out of all the paté we bought back with us from Paris so I’m considering making this for snacks next week.

Birch, in Bristol.

I always think it might be nice to make a gingerbread house but these are just in a league of their own.

Salted Caramel (and a reading list)

It is that time of year when I like to pretend I am an organised domestic goddess and will make gifts for people. It is also the time of year when I decide this is far too much effort and planning and resort to bracing the mad crowds of people in town. But, my sister is visiting this week and so I made a batch of salted caramel so that I could gift her a jar. (Sorry Princess, no gift surprises.)

I know that salted caramel is like EVERYWHERE and I am the first to admit that I am slightly over it. But not quite. Especially with this recipe which is a) easy and b) rather divine and c) works incredibly well in frosting.

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It sets up fairly solid so if you choose to keep it in the fridge, you’ll need to warm it through when you want to use it.

Salted Caramel

Adapted from The Violet Bakery Cookbook

250g golden caster sugar

2 tbsp golden syrup

6 tbsp water

150ml double cream

2 tsp vanilla extract

65g unsalted butter

1/4 tsp salt

Sterilise a glass jar if you intend to keep the caramel and are not using it immediately for say, frosting. (To sterilise either wash the jar and its lid in your dishwasher or in hot soapy water. Then heat the oven to 180C and heat the jars in the oven until hot – 5 minutes or so.)

Heat the cream with the vanilla in a saucepan until scalding point. Set aside. Have the butter and salt ready to add in.

Place the caster sugar, golden syrup and water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Heat on a medium heat until the mixture starts to turn golden. Swirl the pan to distribute the sugar and prevent the mixture from burning on one side. Cook until the mixture is a dark caramel – if you’ve used golden caster sugar as I suggest, you will reach a dark caramel a few degrees sooner than the ‘caramel’ label on a sugar thermometer. As a rule, caramel is darker in the pan than in actuality but absolutely do not burn it! You will be able to smell the changing sugar!

Remove the caramel from the heat and add in the warm cream mixture, followed by the butter and then the salt. It will bubble violently and then subside. Stir with a wooden spoon to ensure it is all incorporated. If you are using it straight away, set it aside to cool. If you want to store it, pour it into your hot jar and seal. Then leave to cool. Store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. Use in frosting. Eat with a spoon. Spread on pancakes. If you’re desperate, you can freeze it.

Reading List

This was an interesting read titled ‘The ‘Myth’ of Easy Cooking‘ (thanks Jen! for sending it over). I think the call to talk ‘realistically’ about what is involved in ‘from-scratch’ cooking is a good idea. Who hasn’t felt guilty that their Wednesday night meal was eggs on toast, or *horror* a take-out from the local Chinese, rather than a made-from-scratch dish with all the latest go-to flavours? I’m the first to admit that I’ve started to stock my pantry with ingredients like za’tar and sumac so that when I do want to make recipes that call for such things, I actually have them to hand (and don’t have to risk a post-work, hangry, exhausted supermarket run where I end up buying ridiculous things and binge eating them standing in the kitchen whilst my actual dinner cooks). Dunn writes: ‘And the weight of expectation imposed by our cooking culture, which offers unrealistically complex recipes while at the same time dismissing them as simple, can be crushing’. This seems to speak of recent trends in food. We must have it all, including the homemade meal cooked at the end of a long day.

This is a fascinating story about learning a new language. I am trying to learn Spanish at the moment and it is a struggle. I enjoy the learning process but I am mute when it comes to vocalising the sounds. They always sound so much better in my head and then out comes this halting, mispronounced voice that is not mine. My teacher said recently that learning another language is also about learning how a culture perceives its place in the world, which struck me as the perfect explanation as to why conjugations and masculine/feminine rules are so hard. (I have secret plans to go and live in Cadiz a while so I can master the language.)

Christmas cookies! So much of cookies this month. I started the great cookie bake-off of 2016 yesterday with gingerbread reindeerLucky Peach details some of the cookies eaten in the Netherlands this month, and particularly around Sinterklass, whose birthday was yesterday. And Food52 have a cookie world map. I have my eye on a few recipes to try out, particularly the nanaimo bars.

The rise in demand, from China, for Ibérico ham.

I finally finished The Goldfinch! Yay! I’m still not sure what I think about it. Parts of it were quite painful to read but in the end, I was fascinated enough in Theo and his life that I read the last half in a week.

I am now reading the new Scarlett Thomas. Another favourite writer, her The End of Mr Y was one I stumbled across randomly, in the bookshop where I used to work, and then once I’d started, I couldn’t stop reading. I then made everyone else read it and read all her other novels too. This one is about gardeners, plants and seeds. And is a mystery story to boot.

I love this series from The Guardian Cook – poking around people’s kitchens.

If you’ve not read Fanny Zanotti’s blog, Like a Strawberry Milk, you really really should. She is French, used to work in London and is now living in Sweden. Her prose and photographs of the Nordic winter are wistfully romantic.