Lavender and Lovage – book review 📖

I’ve always been an avid reader, but sometime ago I lost the joy for reading novels. I think it was when my interest in food rose, that my compulsion to read fiction waned. I didn’t lose my love for reading, I just found fiction less fascinating and I turned to cookbooks and the history, science and sociology of food and the occasional travel memoir. If you have ever seen me on holiday nose first in the leaves of a book, then it’s 99.99% certain I was scouring recipes or food history.

Disappointingly, many cookbooks aren’t actually up to snuff to being read this way, especially modern recipe books. I suppose there’s no rhyme or reason that someone who is good at recipes ought to be good at writing too. However, this seems to be a sad and increasingly common situation with modern cooks’ and chefs’ books. Yes, the recipes are flavoursome and imaginative, but the writing could be dull or, worse, misplaced and contrived. So, put off from modern cookbooks (excepting Nigel Slater and a few others), I normally read secondhand copies of past classics. Step forward Ms E. David (although I have now read everything by her) Jane Grigson et al, food history writers Bee Wilson, Clarissa Dixon-Wright etc or I reach for reproductions of historical recipes such as Francatelli, Carême, Apicius, Bugialli, Fry, Acton and others, some anonymous with their authors’ names lost in time.

Now, one brand spanking new book has appeared where the author has clearly had this dual role in mind: great recipes intertwined with narrative. Tellingly, it’s described as ‘part travel diary, part memoir, part history and all cookbook’. It’s going to give bookshop owners a headache trying to categorise it. I think its author, Karen Burns-Booth, must read in the same way that I do and wanted to create her own recipe book for that purpose.

Karen Burns-Booth is a familiar name to anyone with an interest in food, running the incredibly succesful Lavender and Lovage website and who has a long, prestigious roll call of recipes and food writing being published online and in printed media. A preview version of Karen’s book has happily landed in my hands (along with a number of fellow online food-addicts).

Karen Burns-Booth’s new Lavender and Lovage book. Don’t you just love the cover illustration and the colours?

If you’ve visited Karen’s website or seen any of her social media sites, you’ll not have failed to notice she makes – and styles – moreish, comforting food. This book is full of similarly tempting recipes, interspersed with her pretty photography.

The introduction is unmissable in this book. I’m sure you’ve picked up many cookbooks and not even bothered to more than skim read the intro. Yes? Me too. Here it’s both easy to delve into the friendly writing style and imperative to do so, in order to understand how Karen came to food writing and recipe development. Born in South Africa, Karen’s rich travelogue includes time spent in Hong Kong, Cyprus, the USA, France and North West England (amongst additional travels and holidays) which has afforded her an incredible melting pot of food cultures. Her taking root in France for a number of years and running a B&B (with a kitchen garden or ‘potage’) provides even richer layers to uncover. She imparts this information as if she’s sat you down, poured you a cup of tea and you’re mid-chat about what you made for dinner last night and the plans for your next weekend away.

One thing that’s charmed me in particular is that the chatty style of her memoirs is carried on throughout the whole of the book. Little titbits of information (or ‘snippets’ as Karen’s labelled them) intersperse the recipes, punctuating the food with relevant and endearing information. Sometimes she applies a geographic reference, explaining her experience with the recipe in context, sometimes it’s about the taste and the reasoning behind bringing the flavours and ingredients together or something else entirely that’s jogged her memory. It all ties the book together as a whole. Most cookbooks have a stand alone intro, then are divided rigidly into sections without considering continuity. By interleaving smaller stories and anecdotes between the recipes, Karen’s woven a holistic book, where the recipes only make full sense with the voice, and vice versa.

The recipes reflect the huge range of food that can be found on the Lavender and Lovage site – Karen’s not afraid to cover anything from the seemingly simple to extravagant food. Several of the recipes have caught my eye and I shall be trying them: from Pork Balchão – Goan pickles spiced pork, to a chicken satay recipe from the authentic newspaper clipping that Karen retrieved from her mum’s recipe scrapbook, to Alabama peach crisp  (a gorgeous looking crumble style dessert) to all of the soups. Don’t think because there are some well-known names of dishes in here that it’s all just the same that you’ve seen somewhere else. Karen has either created a dish close to the original from a location because she knows what it’s authentic taste should be, or she’s taken time to find a new, but not faddy, twist to a classic. There are even some surprising things that she’s written in for complete classics: for instance, I’m very well used to using a raclette indoor grill, but having had my experience in Switzerland I’d never seen anyone cook a pancake or omelette on one. That’s clearly a more French way of using it, but now I’m going to have to try this too.

It’s a soup, potage Crecy, a cream of carrot soup that I have tried first from her recipes (as I make more recipes I will add them here). I did halve the recipe quantity as it was given for six people. This smelt delicious while it was cooking; a ten minute sweat in oil with thyme, tarragon, parsley and a bay leaf brought out the aroma. The inclusion of rice to thicken it, as an alternative to more typical bread or potato, produced a fine-tuned result from what at first glance appeared to be a straightforward cream of carrot recipe and resulted in a very luxurious dish.


Lavender and Lovage, a culinary notebook of memories and recipes from home and abroad by Karen Burns-Booth is out by Passageway Press on 13th November.



Lean pasta sauce – Salsa magro

This is my adaptation of a tomato-based sauce by Pellegrino Artusi to account for my more modern palate and cooking methods. The original appears in the 1891 “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene” (Kitchen science and the art of eating well).

It’s described as ‘magro’ which means lean/skinny, but I’m making the assumption that ‘lean’ applied to the low number of fairly cheap ingredients, meaning it was more for ‘lean days’ rather than lean as in ‘diet’ or low in fat. His original use of 70g of butter may make you question the number of calories, but that divided between the five servings he suggests really isn’t that bad. It could also mean that it was a thin sauce, but as it’s served with spaghetti (not as a brodo/broth for pasta ripiena/filled pasta) I doubt that’s the case as it needs to have some body to it.

I’ve adapted it to use the more heart-healthy olive oil amongst other tweaks. I have also included the original recipe (translated) as a comparison and which you may want to try as it is a good recipe.

You may think it odd that an older pasta sauce recipe uses butter and not olive oil, but it’s not because olive oil is now everywhere, it’s because of the variety of climate in Italy and many northern regions traditionally using butter. The terrain and climate of the north favours dairy farming and not the growth of olive trees. Artusi himself came from Emilia-Romagna, a region known globally for Parmigiano Reggiano made from cows’ milk – the same milk which is used for the region’s butter. So, Artusi grew up in a region that favoured dairy farming and the production of butter.

Personally, I like both butter and olive oil (and other oils like rapeseed), but I do have a preference for their use in certain situations. Where I can I will go for the heart-healthy olive oil, but sometimes butter is needed, or indeed lard or dripping (though I use these very rarely and normally just in pastry). Olive oils I have begun to choose selectively by their quality and taste: that is, I’m not using extra virgin only because ‘it’s the best so I just buy that’ but I’ll select a light oil for a dessert recipe, a deeply fruity oil when I need the taste to come through, a classic for ‘everyday’ cooking etc. I appreciate this sounds like a lot of money to have a variety, but actually it is cheaper in the long run. Because milder, later pressing oils are significantly less expensive I use those when I can and save the posher, more expensive oils for when the time’s right and a little will do (rather than using up the expensive stuff on frying for example).

Notes on my tweaked version

  • Serves 4 with pasta (a more typical serving size than 5)
  • Also useful as a sauce for fish or chicken – will serve 6-8 in this case (add in capers for fish and sage or rosemary for chicken)
  • Also great as a perfect tomato sauce for pizza
  • This is an easy sauce; easy but fairly time consuming. It requires time to bring out the flavours. I’ve changed the tomatoes to pre-packaged passata which has cut the time down dramatically though
  • It’s a nice sauce to have simmering away while you prepare something else, perhaps making for tomorrow alongside tonight’s meal (once cool keep it in the fridge)
  • Alternatively, you can freeze it – I find freezing sauces easier and more convenient in ice cube trays. Once frozen you can pop out the cubes of sauce into a freezer bag so you can re-use the ice cube tray. It also means you can select the right amount easily and cubes defrost quicker than a large block, or you can just pop one frozen cube in a plain sauce to enrich it
  • Omit the anchovies to make it vegetarian/vegan


Note about ribbon pasta suggested in recipe and appropriateness

To be fair, there’s little reason for anyone who is home cooking to worry much about which pasta goes with which sauce unless you’re really interested and a) want to be authentic and b) want to learn about regionality. There is some basic guidance about which shapes work better with what, such as cupped shapes are good for chunky veg or spaghetti gets nicely covered in oily sauces (for example). Aside from that, it’s better to not worry about which pasta and just make the food, rather than worry about it so much it puts you off making the meal. Chill… use what you’ve got (penne, linguine, fettucine nests – though it won’t work with tiny shapes). And, if you do want to know, this may help:

Spaghetti is suggested by Artusi. Of course this is readily available, used throughout the whole of Italy and quick to cook. If you want to choose another ribbon shape or want to make your own instead (wider ribbons are easier to make by hand) I’ve suggested tagliatelle or trofie as close regional alternatives.

As mentioned above, the butter in the recipe (and Artusi’s homeland) suggest the recipe could have come from Emilia-Romagna and at least is a northern Italian dish. Tagliatelle is common to the same region (and also Marche, another northern area), which would link in with this assumption too and make it a reasonable choice.

Other ribbon pasta can be substituted, such as fettucine which is practically the same and you’d only know the difference if they were side-by-side or you were so familiar with either (or both of them) you’d ‘just know‘. Tagliatelle is typically a smidge wider and less likely to be found dried: northern region pasta is usually made fresh and eaten as the climate isn’t as amenable to drying, so any dried tagliatelle is a factory ‘construct’ and should properly be labeled fettucine. Fettucine is the Roman/central Italian version which also may be made and eaten fresh, but is much more likely to be the ribbon pasta found in dried nests.

Trofie are the little elongated and tapered short strand pasta shapes that are made by hand and then ridged, either with a knife or scraper or with the side of the palm to create sauce-trapping ridges. Trofie originate from Liguria, another northern Italian region. So, not Emilia-Romagna itself but the two regions share a long border, therefore trofie are a reasonably appropriate substitute if you want to make a hand-made artisan shape for this sauce.

NB although I’ve given appropriate region-based ideas for pasta shapes I have to tell you I’ve served this lovely sauce with all sorts of shapes (I really like it with orecchiette) and have included it in lasagne and on pizzas. It’s a great way to make up a tomato-glut from your garden in late summer instead of straight tomato passata or sauce. Just use enough tomatoes to equal 1 kg of passata.

Ingredients for my tweaked version of salsa magro

  • Dried spaghetti or fresh pasta (suggest a ribbon or strand shape such as tagliatelle or trofie – see above)  – 400g
  • Passata – 2 X 500g bottles
  • Chestnut or button mushrooms – 80g
  • Olive oil, extra virgin or gusto fruttato  – 140ml
  • Olive oil, mild and light – 2 tablespoons
  • Pine nuts – 60g
  • Anchovies 4 to 6, depending on how much you like anchovies
  • Two shallots, finely diced or one small red onion
  • Red wine vinegar – 1 1/2 tablespoons
  • Corn flour – 1 teaspoon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of sugar
  • Parmesan rind, chopped
  • Fresh basil and thyme


  1. First toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over a low heat until they start to go a golden brown (careful they don’t burn as they change colour quickly)
  2. Crush the pine nuts with a pinch of salt and the teaspoon of cornflour in a pestle and mortar or use a blender
  3. Gently fry the chopped shallots in the mild and light olive over a medium heat until they are just about to start going translucent – this will be about 10 minutes. Agitate or stir occasionally
  4. Dice up the anchovies and add them to the shallots and keep frying until the anchovies start to melt. Again, you’ll need to stir or agitate from time to time
  5. Now add in the tomatoes, the parmesan rind, the mushrooms, the fruity olive oil and season with salt and pepper and the large pinch of sugar
  6. Let simmer until the juice starts to dry off, stirring occasionally, and then add 120 ml of just boiled water
  7. Leave to simmer for 30 minutes, checking on it regularly to ensure it’s not catching on the bottom. If it’s drying out too quickly add a little more water
  8. You should know when it’s done when all the tomatoes have fully dissolved and the sauce is as thick as (lumpy) custard
  9. Add in the chopped herbs and taste, adjusting the seasoning to your taste
  10. Can be served immediately with pasta or gnocchi or it’s also nice to use as a sauce over chicken or fish (add a few capers or cornichons with the anchovies) or even for a vegetable bake or lasagna. Store in the fridge if not using immediately or freeze (see notes above)

Pellegrino Artusi’s original recipe – serves 5 (apologies for my translation – I’m a rusty reader but enough for most recipes, I can listen a little into conversations, but I’m appalling at speaking Italian myself)

  • Spaghetti – 500g
  • Mushrooms – 100g
  • Butter 70g
  • Pine nuts – 60g
  • Anchovies – 6
  • Tomatoes – 6 or 7 (large plum tomatoes)
  • Onion, finely diced – a 1/4 of a large onion
  • Plain flour – 1 teaspoon

Place half of the butter in a saucepan and sauté the pine nuts. Remove the nuts [once lightly browned with a slotted spoon to reserve the butter], dry and crush them with a pestle and mortar with the teaspoon of flour. Finely chop the onion and place this in the saucepan, when this is frying rapidly, add the chopped tomatoes, season with pepper and a little salt. When the tomatoes are cooked through, pass them through a mouli or sieve. Put this sauce back on the heat with the mushrooms and a little water, plus the rest of the butter. Boil for 30 minutes, adding water to keep the sauce liquid. Finally, melt the anchovies in the sauce [at a simmer]. Cook the spaghetti and dress with the sauce. Add parmesan if you want it richer.

Hot Water crust pastry technique – and wild boar and apple spiced hand raised pie recipe

tudorpiecutI love to make hand raised pies – I think hot water crust pastry is the most maleable, responsive and fun pastry type of all. I describe it to others as adult PlayDough! Actually it’s a similar reason as to why I love playing with (umm, making) pasta too. Pressing pasta dough through my machine reminds me of the PlayDough barbers I had as an infant, where you squeezed the dough through little holes in the heads of the little figures to make hair. I digress…

Homemade pies bear no resemblance to a typical shop or supermarket bought pie. Although if you’re used to buying an artisan pie hand made by a true food craftsperson you’ll already know the chasm of difference there is between the two, even if you’ve not yet made one yourself. You (yes I can see you, no hiding) can make a pie just as delicious as any that’s been hand crafted by a local farm, family butcher or artisan pie specialist.

I can’t lie and say it’s totally easy-peasy, but it’s nowhere near as difficult as you might think. After only one or two baking sessions you’ll get the knack for handling this lovely pastry and start making beautiful and delicious pies at home with ease. Honest. Well, that’s what happened to me anyway and I’ve no reason to think that you won’t be the same!

My first tentative attempt at a raised pie (many years ago now, I grant you – I think I had a go while I was a student) was a bit ‘rustic’-looking, but no worse for that as it was still delicious. The next one was much improved in looks and then there was no holding me back. Pies became straight(er),  pretty cylindrical, free from bursting and often covered in extra fancy pastry decorations and even started to hold fillings of all different types. If I can do this I’ve no doubt others can.

Be warned though – this is not a recipe that uses a tin. I’m explaining here how I make my hand raised pies. I suppose you could create this by baking it in a tin, but that’s a cop out and there’s nowt so satisfying as presenting a pie that you know has only had your hands to shape it. Plus, those specialist pie tins are a ridiculous amount of money and this is proof you don’t need to spend on them.

For your first attempt at a hand raised pie (or subsequent ones if you’re a bit scaredy, which is totally fine!) you can give the pie a helping hand by giving it a tied baking paper collar to help it keep its shape. I don’t think this is necessary for small or medium-sized pies (up to about 15cm/6″) once you’re used to making them, but if I bake a large pie I will still wrap that with a collar – just for double insurance purposes, you understand.tudorpieillustration

Notes about hot water crust and veggie and fat content alternatives

Although this is a total meat lover’s pie, please don’t think hand raised pies are only for carnivores. You can make the pastry with Cookeen or Trex instead of the lard and butter mix, making it vegetarian/vegan and then use a veggie filling. I’ve had great results with pies filled with a variety of mushrooms such as a Stilton, rocket and walnut filling and pies with layers of multi coloured veggies doused in spices and dried fruits.

It’s understandable (even for carnivores) to be a little squeamish about the use of animal fats like lard. So even if you have a meat filling, using Trex or Cookeen within the pastry can be an alternative to lard. I only rarely have lard (or dripping) in my fridge and am more likely to have a pack of Trex and I’m all for using what’s to hand or what needs using up rather than another shopping trip. (I often have Trex in my fridge as it’s great when making white icing to keep it ultra-white).

If you’re not of the squeamish persuasion, you might like to swap beef dripping for the lard – especially nice with a beef or venison filling.

Notes on this particular recipe and how I researched it

This is a slight variation on a typical layered pork sausage meat pie I make (that one uses Cumberland sausages and layered apricots with garam masala). This particular pie was created to bake along with a Tudor theme on a Great British Bake Off episode. I know this is a one-off bake (I normally only post recipes I’ve created two or three times to ensure they work), but because it is so similar to my normal pie that I’ve made dozens and dozens of times (the pastry is the same recipe, just the filling differs) I am confident the recipe will work for you.

I have tried to more-or-less stick to Tudor era spices, with a pinch of salt (see what I did there!?).

tudorpiebakedAs I don’t have to make this fully authentic I did want an edible, tasty pie, not one that was historic for historic accuracy’s sake. So I have used a lot of pepper, a bit of mace and some chillies. Chillies were brought back from the ‘Americas’ during the Tudor period. Incidentally, although Europeans didn’t really take them up at the time, it was during the early 1500s that the Portuguese took the plants to their colonies in Asia (such as Goa) and chillies entered the local cuisine there much, much earlier (for info: please read Lizzie Collingham’s Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors). They clearly were less suspicious of new ingredients and more adventurous than us Europeans of the time.

I am taking a large amount of liberty with the chillies. Although chillies may have been around, and may well have been presented and cooked for the European elite as a novelty in Tudor times, they would most definitely not have made their way onto ordinary dinner tables. So a turnip-picker or scullery maid as I would have been would not have even known they existed. That said, chillies were transported in this period, so I’m including them – this would be a fairly dull taste for modern palates otherwise. I’m no Dr Ruth Goodman (whose programmes I adore) so I’m happy to sacrifice full accuracy for something that’s tasty and edible.


Something I do for my pie fillings to ensure I have the spicing right is I fry off a teaspoon of the meat (or veggie) mix in a saucepan before I make the pie. This way you can adjust the salt, pepper or other spices to taste, rather than just rely on guess work.


If you have a wooden pie dolly (a smaller one – about 10cm in diameter) then please use that. However, I don’t have one and I use instead a medium sized glass pickle jar covered in greased cling film – you don’t have to spend on an expensive pie dolly if you don’t want to. If you do want the ‘proper’ kit as you think you may make more, this is the kind of wood pie dolly I’m referring to from the online Kitchen Cookshop (I will eventually get myself one when I feel flush, but I don’t believe it’s actually much better than my alternative glass jar technique, just pretty sitting on my shelf and always a joy to use a wooden utensil).

I haven’t included any jelly to add to the pie after cooling. There are several reasons for this: firstly, the sausagemeat will naturally give up some of it’s fates and liquids during baking to the pastry and there is a little jelly-like result at the end. Secondly, I like a good pie but I don’t much like the jelly (I always remove it when I’m eating one with jelly). Thirdly and finally, as this is a single pie recipe not one for a batch of pies it does not need to be stored for a long time (jelly was partially used as a preserver so that the meat inside the pie didn’t go off so quickly).


  • Saucepan
  • Bowls – two large, one smaller
  • Sharp knife, possibly two small diameter circular cutters (but not totally necessary)
  • Wooden spoon
  • Rolling pin
  • Frying pan
  • Cup/small bowl
  • Medium-sized glass jar, such a a jar of pickled onions
  • Cling film

Ingredients – hot water crust

  • Plain flour – 400g
  • Lard – 125g
  • Butter, unsalted – 125g
  • Water – 150ml
  • Eggs, medium – 2
  • Salt – a large pinch
  • Black pepper, freshly crushed – several turns of a spice mill or about 1 teaspoon
  • A little extra lard or butter for greasing

Ingredients – filling

  • Wild boar sausages (if you can’t find these a top quality pork sausage, preferably from a proper butcher will do) – 400g/6 sausages
  • Small strong eating apple, such as a Cox, Egremont Russet or James Grieve
  • Pepper*
  • Salt*
  • Nutmeg* – freshly grated, about 1 1/4 teaspoons
  • Chillies* – a ‘plainer’ not too hot variety (to keep vaguely contemporary) such as Cayenne – about 3
  • Shallots – 1 banana shallot or two smaller round shallots
  • Fat for frying: a knob of butter and a dash of oil (to stop it charring)

*  all seasoning to taste: add in to the meat mixture and fry off a small amount to tastes. Adjust as necessary

Method – pastry

  • Put the flour and salt in a large bowl
  • Pour the water into a saucepan and add the lard and butter and set over a medium heat
  • While the water and fats are heating, crack one of the eggs into the flour
  • Crack the second egg into a cup or small bowl and whisk lightly with a fork – you are doing this because you need one and a half eggs in pastry and it’s easier to divide a whisked egg in half
  • Tip half of the whisked egg into the flour as well, and set aside the remaining half an egg, as you’ll use this for the pastry wash later
  • Mix the flour and egg together with a knife
  • When the fats have melted, tip the contents of the saucepan onto the flour mixture
  • Don’t use your hands straightaway as it will be hot – use your knife to start to bring the pastry together
  • Once you’ve got as far as you can with your knife, it’s probably OK now to use your hands
  • Bring together the pastry and pick up all stray bits of flour from the bowl with it
  • Put the pastry in the fridge or somewhere cool while you ready your filling

Method – filling

  1. Finely slice and dice the shallots
  2. Gently fry the shallots in the butter and oil over a low heat and let them simmer and go transparent
  3. While the shallots are frying, core your apple and halve it. Slice each half thinly and place the apple in a small bowl filled with water and a couple of drops of lemon juice or white wine vinegar, to stop the apple discolouring
  4. Take the sausagemeat out of its casings and place the meat in the large bowl. Discard the casings
  5. De-seed one chilli and chop very finely – taste the chilli: is it a hot one? If so, you’ll need fewer chillies for this recipe as it should only have a light heat (you may like things spicy but it’s a recipe that is mimicking the Tudor tastes). If it is fairly mild, then chop them all
  6. Add a large pinch of salt, pepper from at least six turns of your black pepper mill, the freshly ground nutmeg and the diced chillies
  7. Take the shallots off the heat and tip them onto the sausagemeat too
  8. Mix the lot together with your hands – this is gooey but it’s the best way
  9. Take a teaspoonful amount of sausagemeat and fry off until browned and cooked through. Taste and adjust the salt, pepper, chilli (though remember it shouldn’t be too hot) and nutmeg to your taste, mix again if you have added more
  10. Leave the sausagemeat to one side while you start to prepare the pie case

Method – construction

  1. Retrieve your pastry- it will have hardened as the fats cooled and solidified.
  2. You need to work it a little with your hands – kneading lightly a couple of times to bring it up in temperature and become just pliable enough
  3. Rip off about a third of the pastry and put to one side. This will be your lid and decoration
  4. Take your glass jar and encase it in a layer of cling film
  5. Grease or oil your palms and then rub over the cling-filmed jar to cover it all over but not heavily
  6. Roll the large lump into a disc and flatten the centre area a little – place the glass jar in the middle
  7. Using the whole length of your fingers (not just the finger tips – this will create little dents) start to press the pastry up the sides of the jar (see my illustration below)
  8. Keep going back to the base and press the pastry from it up the sides – the base shouldn’t be left as a thick lumphandraiseillustration
  9. You’re aiming for the pastry to be about 4mm thick all over
  10. Keep pressing and squeezing gently, moving the pastry up the jar
  11. Try to even the top edge out as much as you can, but don’t stress about it as you will trim it. What I mean by this is try to keep it level all the way round – you are effectively making a pastry bowl
  12. When you’ve got the pastry up the jar and it’s the right thickness, take a knife and trim the top edge using the shortest point as a guide
  13. Ease the jar out of the pastry – if it’s still sticky use a knife to tease the pastry away ever so slightly. You can reshape the pastry a little by hand after the jar is removed
  14. Take the sausagemeat and halve it. Shape the first half roughly to match the inside size of the pastry pie case – and gently drop it in (I’ve seen videos where they’ve thrown the filling in at speed. I can only imagine this will damage the bottom, distort the case and also run the risk of flattening the whole thing completely if you don’t get it dead centre)
  15. Take the apple slices out of the water and dry them in a clean tea towel
  16. Layer the apple on top of the sausagemeat in the pie case
  17. Shape the final amount of sausagemeat and put in on top of the apple slices
  18. Now roll out the pastry you put aside for the lid to 4mm thickness
  19. Roughly cut the lid into a circle the same size as the pie case
  20. Wet the edge of the pie case and place the lid on top
  21. Pinch together the edges so they seal and using the index finger from one hand and your thumb and index finger of the other, push the pastry ‘in and out’ to create a wave effect all around the top
  22. Put your oven on to 180C fan / 200C conventional
  23. With the extra you pastry you have left, you can cut out some decorations. Make some simple leaves, be elaborate and make a Bacchanalian scene with vines and grapes or attempt this relatively simple Tudor rose which only needs a small round cutter and a knife:
I’ve made this pastry Tudor rose on a tabletop so you can see its construction more easily – I suggest you actually make it one the pie lid, so you can size it better and place it centrally.
rose1 rose2
1. Cut out five pastry circles, using a cutter about 2cm wide. Curl over the outside edge of each ‘petal’ by pushing with your finger. If you don’t have a small cutter, take a small ball of dough and press flat with your fingers to create a leaf. 2. Cut five arrow-head shaped pieces of pastry for your leaves.
rose3a rose7
3. Wet your fingertip and just dampen the bottom of the leaves. Tuck each behind the petal shapes, behind the gaps. (It’s easier to place the leaves behind after the petals, even though they are the first layer) 4. Cut five more petals – this time a little smaller than before and arrange them on top of the petal layer (dampen them first so they stick). Again, place these leaves covering the gaps in between the petals)
makingpetal tudor8a
5. Cut five more circles, this time using a slightly smaller cutter (or press out five rounds of dough with your fingers as before). Trim off a little bit at an angle on both sides of each circle so you have a keystone-shape) 6. Dampen the back of the smaller petals and lay them in place – so they cover the gaps between the petals and in line with the previous larger petals.
 7. You’ve now got a nice Tudor rose
  1. Now you need to create a hole in the top. Using the small cutter (or if you don’t have one an apple corer is ideal) make a hole through the centre of the Tudor rose and the pie lid – down to the sausagemeat inside
  2. Retrieve the half an egg you put aside earlier and using a pastry brush wash the pie with the egg
  3. Place the pie gently on a baking tray (at this point you can wrap a folded-over layer of greaseproof paper and tie in place with butcher’s twine if you’re nervy – although if you’re doing this I’d recommend that you don’t egg wash the sides of the pie)
  4. Bake for 30 minutes at 180C fan / 200C conventional, then turn own the oven to 160C fan / 180C conventional for a further 20 – 25 minutes
  5. The pastry will be crisp and darkly golden when done
  6. Serve warm or leave until chilled
  7. Should last a couple of days covered in the fridge

Iced Souvaroffs with rhubarb and apricot jams and pistachio cream


Now – who’s excited about the imminent new series of the Great British Bake Off? Almost everyone involved in the Twitter baking community for a start!

I’ve included some of my illustrations in this recipe to help you make these Souvaroff biscuits.

This year the fab and lovely Baking Nanna and Rob Allen have put together a  #GBBOTwitterBakeAlong baking fest via Twitter to coincide with the series – however as it’s starting a little later than we’d all anticipated we’ve all got a chance to do a little practice for a couple of weeks before the show starts in earnest and we bake along to match that week’s theme in “the tent”.

First up is biscuits.

I am going to try to do a “showstopper” for each of the weeks of the bake-along. I did struggle to decide what to do. Biscuits are one of my strong points, and if you’re familiar with this blog or my Instagram account you’ll know I’ve done some really complex and/or unusual ones in the past. I did think ‘go big’, but actually this week’s been a tad difficult and I had to do a bake that was split into parts; biscuits one time, filling another, piping later on. I didn’t have the ability to spend a few hours at a time.

I decided to do a new and slightly more intricate version of my own strawberry Souvaroff recipe. In the original I actually went and researched the history of the biscuits as well as develop the recipe. It’s the biscuit that inspired the jammy dodger – and actually is far superior. It’s genuinely worth trying to bake a batch.


  • because I used an intricate cutter and wanted a clean, sharp biscuit (in my head I am actually in the GBBO tent so am trying my bestest!) I actually baked the shortbread in one large slab then pressed out the shapes while it was still hot. If you don’t want to do this and want to prepare traditionally, you can cut out the biscuits before baking and arrange with spaces in between on the baking sheet
  • You can also omit the buttercream and just sandwich the biscuits together with jam (they’ll keep longer than with cream and jam)
  • Makes about 20 rounds or 10 finalised sandwich biscuits
  • If you’re feeling not up to the piping, you can either drizzle with the icing in a zigzag pattern or omit the icing entirely
  • Both apricots and rhubarb are low in naturally occurring pectin, so you will have to use preserving sugar (granulated sugar with pectin already added). This is widely available in supermarkets. Because I have made these jams in small batch amounts I have used preserving sugar – normally if I am making many jars of jam at a time I’ll calculate the sugar and pectin amounts separately, but here it is not worth it with just a jar sized amount. Much easier to use the prepared stuff in this instance
  • Make the jams in advance, allowing them to cool
  • Finally, not got pistachio paste or can’t be bothered to make your own? Just leave it out – not quite so completely delicious but still yummy


  • 1 large baking sheet, prepared with baking parchment or silicon sheet
  • Rolling pin
  • Palette knife
  • Large shaped cutter – about 6cm
  • Smaller cutter for the middle cut-out (I used a heart but any small cutter, 1 – 2cm in diameter will do)
  • Bowls
  • Piping bag with small circular nozzle
  • Clean small paint brush

If you are making your own jams, you will also need:

  • Sugar thermometer
  • Two large saucepans (or make one jam at a time and use a single pan)
  • Two sterilised jars and lids – see my tips on sterilisation in my lemon curd recipe

Ingredients – for the Souvaroffs

  • Unsalted butter – 200g
  • Caster sugar – 100g
  • Plain flour – 200g
  • Polenta (fine cornmeal) – 50g
  • Salt 1/2 tsp
  • Vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract – 1 tsp

Ingredients for the pistachio cream

  • Vanilla buttercream – about 100ml (make with butter, softened – 70g and icing sugar – 170g roughly). This is a small amount, so you might want to take some from a previous recipe or make more and freeze it for later)
  • Whipped double cream or clotted cream – about 60ml
  • Pistachio paste – two dessertspoons


  • Rhubarb jam: either:
    • half a standard 340/350g jar or
    • 4 stalks of rhubarb, chopped into small chunks
    • the same weight in preserving sugar (sugar with pectin already added) as the rhubarb weighs
  • Apricot jam: either:
    • half a standard 340/350g jar or
    • about 8 apricots, stones removed and chopped into about eight pieces each
    • the same weight in granulated sugar (sugar with pectin added) as the apricots weigh

Ingredients – icing

  • About a half cupful of royal icing to your favoured recipe or:
    • 1 egg white, whisked lightly
    • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
    • about 250g sieved (to remove any lumps) icing sugar (plus have a bit more handy)
  • Metallic food colouring* (if you don’t have this you can just use normal food colouring and add it to the royal icing as you mix). This requires painting on, as if you mix the metallic colouring in it loses its sparkle and is just a normal colour. *I used two colours in these pictures – a silver and a metallic purple

Method – jams

For the rhubarb jam

  1. Wash the chopped rhubarb and place it in the bottom of a large saucepan
  2. Clip the sugar thermometer on the side of the saucepan if you are using a bulb thermometer
  3. Tip the sugar in gently and add only just enough water to wet the sugar and no more (a couple of tablespoons)
  4. Turn up the heat and bring the fruit and sugar to a boil
  5. Do not stir, you may gently ‘swirl’ the sauce pan if you really think it’s necessary
  6. Heat to 104C – and let it simmer at this point for a couple of minutes
  7. Test whether the jam is done by dropping a little of the mixture on a cool plate – if you push the jam and it wrinkles as you push it, then it is ready. If not let it boil for a few minutes more and then re-test
  8. When done, carefully pour into the sterilised jar and leave to cool

For the apricot jam

  • Repeat all the steps as for rhubarb jam, obviously using the pre-prepared apricots instead

Method – biscuits

  1. Put your oven on – fan oven at 180˚C, or 190˚C conventional
  2. Mix all the ingredients together. Aim for a smooth dough but don’t overwork it
  3. You’ll need to dust both your work surface and your rolling pin quite liberally with flour for these biscuits (due to the high quality of butter in them)
  4. Cut the parchment to fit inside your baking tray (or ensure your silicon mat fits it)
  5. Roll out the dough to about 3-4mm thick on top of either a sheet of parchment or your silicon mat
  6. Gently lift up the whole paper (you made want to use a cake lifter, a couple of spatulas, a bread board or another willing pair of hands to help) and place the whole lot on the baking tray
  7. Bake in the bottom or centre of the oven for 10 – 12 minutes. It should not be browned at all
  8. Have your cutters ready
  9. Leave to cool for one minute – no more (only so they don’t burn you) – and then get to work immediately!
  10. Use your cutters to cut as many large shapes as possible, and then cut our smaller ‘windows’ from just HALF of those large shapes (you need half to be complete for the bottoms and half with a gap in for the tops)souvaroffFilling
  11. Leave to cool a little, then using a palette knife transfer the biscuit shapes onto a wire rack
  12. The leftover biscuit remnants and crumbs make a lovely crumble topping or are good for a cheesecake base – you can freeze them for later use

Method – cream

  1. Make the buttercream by whipping the icing sugar into the butter, adding a drop or two of water if needed
  2. Once made, whip in the cream and the pistachio paste

To assemble

  1. Spread a thin layer of the cream over the bottom half biscuit (ie a biscuit with no hole in it)
  2. Put a heaped teaspoonful of jam over the buttercream, in the centre of the biscuit (if you don’t put it in the centre you’ll end up mixing jam and cream together and it won’t look so nice as an end results) and spread outwardssouvaroffDrawingCuttingOut
  3. Press one of the tops (ie a biscuit with a shape cut out) onto the biscuit base you’ve just covered with cream and jam

To ice

  1. Make up the royal icing by adding the lemon juice and two thirds of the egg white to the icing sugar and mix together
  2. If it is not coming together and needs more liquid add the rest of the egg white
  3. If it is still not the right consistency for piping, add a few drops of water (add the plain food colouring in now too if you do not want to paint it on)
  4. If you’ve ‘gone too far’ and the icing is too runny, just add a little more icing sugar
  5. Put the royal icing in the piping bag fitter with the small round nozzle and pipe scrolls on the tops of the assembled biscuits. If you don’t want to attempt scroll work, neat zigzags will look great too
  6. Leave the icing to set for 20 – 30 minutes and then dip the paint brush in the food colouring and carefully paint over the piped scrollssouvaroffIcing
  7. I used two metallic colours and bled them into each other, but one colour on its own still looks fabulous

Chill slightly – as they include cream they won’t last longer than two days (Souvaroffs made with just jam will keep longer in an airtight container)souvaroffs1

Nasturtium pickles

nasturtiums3.jpgThis is a very old-school type of recipe but it feels like it ought to be ultra-modern, something that an experimental chef would devise.

It’s so easy, so cheap and provides such a great addition to your store cupboard, so it’s worth spending the time to make a jar or two. It only actually takes a few minutes of actual hands-on time, but there is a 24 hour pre-soak and the finished jars need to be laid down for a while for the pickling and flavours to take effect.

IMG_1218I confess, though I’ve known about making nasturtium capers since I was a little girl, I assumed it was a very ancient recipe – and much older than it actually is. This is because I also incorrectly believed nasturtiums were native Northern European (they look the part don’t they?) so I expected it to be a recipe from the middle ages. You know, making use of the scarce decent natural resources, a make-do-and-mend kind of attitude. But, no; the plants were brought over (like so many things) from South America in the late 1600s and then cultivars were developed in the Netherlands within just a few years. The earliest historical records of nasturtium pickles being used are from the late 17th century, so not long after they were introduced as a plant to Europe. The Oxford Companion to Food states that in the 17th century nasturtium capers were the ‘excepted accompaniment to leg of mutton’. Not sure why, but I find that amusing – I think it’s because of the grand term of ‘accepted accompaniment’. I can imagine you’d be ostracised for serving anything else once it was in vogue. Weird times.

I do like these little pickled seeds – and they’re practically free (give or take a few pence for the vinegar and herbs and spices). They add a peppery bite to salads – and ideal with a salad that also features the beautiful leaves and petals from the nasturtiums. They can be used in any dish where you’d reach for ‘normal’ capers (for example, tartar and other sauces for fish) and are great added to burger meat etc or a few added to a curry. I also just love the flowers as hot colours are my most favourite and I grow a huge amount of nasturtiums every summer.

Don’t be put off by the fact that you can forage these from your own (or a willing neighbour’s) garden. Traditional capers are just the seeds off the mediterranean caper bush, and those are typically prepared in a very similar way. Not sure why these have earnt the moniker ‘poor man’s capers’ because presumably normal capers get foraged in just the same way (when not being mass farmed) and were probably ‘poor man’s’ foraged food in their own right.


  • Jug
  • Sieve
  • Clean jam jar (doesn’t need to be sterilised, but it won’t matter if it is)


  • Fresh picked nasturtium seeds – about 75g-90g (this is about as much as you can hold if you cup both of your hands together)nasturtiums
  • Cider vinegar or white wine vinegar (I’ve not given an amount as it depends on how big your jam jar is)
  • Salt – about two tablespoons
  • Black peppercorns – about half a teaspoon
  • Mustard seeds – about half a teaspoon
  • Bay leaf – 1 large or 2 small (preferably fresh, but dried will ‘do’)
  • Your choice of 1 or 2 woody herbs – pick the ones you like the taste of – or try to think what you’ll use the capers for. Will it be mostly fish? Then which herbs do you like to enhance fish dishes – dill? Tarragon?
  • Do not use ‘soft’ herbs that will go mushy over time like parsley or basil
  • My suggestions to choose from are: rosemary, lavender (one flower head – don’t use if they are already going to seed), tarragon, hyssop, chives, sage, thyme, marjoram or add a couple of dried chillies or a small cinnamon stick or a star anise


  1. When you pick the nasturtium seeds select only the fully grown ones and discard any that aren’t a nice green colour (you don’t want old-looking ones, the little unsuccessfully grown ones or those with a yellow or red blush on them)
  2. Pick off any stems or dried bits of the petals and give them a good wash
  3. Fill a jug with water, add the salt and stir to dissolve
  4. Add the seeds
  5. Leave for 24 hours
  6. Drain the seeds and try them with a piece of kitchen towel or a tea towel
  7. Put the seeds in the jam jar and fill up with the vinegar – I always use cider vinegar for nasturtium capers, but white wine vinegar is fine too
  8. Add in the peppercorns, the mustard seeds, the bay leaf/leaves and a max of one or two more herbs. In the images I’ve just added tarragon to give a citrussy hit for fish dishes. I have another pot of nasturtiums capers made in the last few days in which I’ve added dried chillies and a star anise
  9. Leave for at least a month and ideally about three (I’m laying mine down now for opening around Christmas). I’d suggest using within a year and as long as you used a clean spoon to fish the little gems out each time they should keep that long in the fridge after the first opening


Pistacchio baci di dama

baci5Lady’s kisses – baci di dama – are tiny bite-sized sandwich biscuits. These mini morsels are traditionally made with fresh ground hazelnuts, and originate from the Piedmont area of Italy, where there is an abundance of hazelnut trees and a long history of hazelnut cultivation.

It’s possible that these biscuits were the Piedmont hazelnut alternative to the almond-based amaretti. They are made in pairs sandwiched together with chocolate ganache and area meant to either look like a set of pouting lips puckering up for a kiss or to represent two people kissing.

I have made the classic version before, but here I have substituted 50% of the hazelnuts for pistachios (or pistacchios if you want the correct Italian spelling) to add a slightly different taste and give the biscuits a little green sheen.

Also – you may have noticed! – I’ve had fun playing around with the shapes. Normally, you’d make little rounds only but I’ve gone one step further with a play on their name and made pairs of lips and hearts.


  • Makes 16 sandwiched biscuits (32 individual biscuit pieces)
  • Please see my additional notes on grinding nuts below


  • Bowls – 1 large, 1 medium
  • Large baking tray (or two smaller) lined with baking paper or parchment
  • Small saucepan
  • Tablespoon measuring spoon

Ingredients – biscuits

  • Hazelnuts, ground (see note below) – 50g
  • Pistachios, skins removed and ground (see note below) – 50g
  • Unsalted butter – 72g
  • Plain flour – 100g
  • Caster sugar – 72g
  • Fine salt – a pinch
  • and if you have it – a few drops of hazelnut extract

Ingredients – chocolate ganache

  • Good quality chocolate – 100g (use either a high cocoa content milk or a mild dark chocolate – something around 60 – 70% as these biscuits I feel are best without the chocolate being too bitter)
  • Double cream – 50ml

Notes on preparing the ground nuts

  • It’s best to freshly grind your own nuts if you can (and also it can be difficult to get hold of pre-ground hazelnuts and pistachios anyway)
  • To remove the skins, gently roast the nuts on a baking tray at a low heat (about 120C) for 15 minutes. You do not want to brown them, just crisp the skins (although this also adds a nice toasty element and brings out the nuts’ flavours)
  • To remove the skins, put a handful of the toasted nuts at a time in a teatowel and bunch it up then rub furiously together – repeat with all the nuts
  • It doesn’t matter if you leave a few bits of skin – it can give the biscuits a nice speckled look
  • Grind the nuts in a coffee bean grinder or blender but it’s better to pulse on/off and check frequently. Grinding nuts for too long will result in a nut butter (which can be useful for other recipes!) But you don’t want to get to that stage for baci di dama – you need the nuts to be like coarse flour


  1. Turn on your oven to 160C fan or 175C conventional
  2. Mix all the ingredients for the baci biscuits in the large bowl and bring together – you do not need to perform any rubbing in etc. Just make sure all the ingredients are evenly distributed then stop (always wise not to over-knead biscuits)
  3. Break off tablespoon-sized amounts of the mixture. In fact, use a tablespoon measure to scoop out the right amount of mixture and then level it off. This ensures your baci are the same size without laborious weighing
  4. Roll each piece between the palms of your hands and then flatten one side so you have a dome
  5. You can leave the baci in this traditional domed form if you prefer
  6. To make kisses and lips take two of the domes at a time (this way ensures you have all pairs and no single biscuit left over)
  7. Shape both pieces of dough into either separate lips or hearts and eye them in together so that they look pretty much the same (so you can match these later when sandwiching them together)
  8. Repeat for all the mixture – making sure you have even numbers of lips, hearts and domes (or whatever combination you’ve chosen)
  9. Bake or about 14 minutes
  10. These biscuits are fragile, especially when warm so leave to cool thoroughly on the baking trays before moving them
  11. To make the ganache
  12. Break up the chocolate into the smaller bowl
  13. Pour the cream into the saucepan and bring it to just boiling over a medium heat (stirring all the time)
  14. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until it is all combined
  15. Leave the ganache to cool
  16. When cool enough, pop in the fridge for 15 minutes
  17. To assemble,lay out matching pairs of baci
  18. Place a scant teaspoon of ganache on the underside of one baci and squash down with its twin
  19. Should keep for a few days in an airtight container – and pop in the fridge if it is warm as otherwise the ganache may start to melt and soften the biscuits
  20. These are better the day after (although that doesn’t mean they’re not nice straight away!)

Strawberry and cream Souvaroffs – the original jammie dodgers


These petit four sablés have been adapted from a very old French recipe I found (late 1800s). Although it was a French recipe, these biscuits had an intriguing Russian name and I tried to research where they came from or who they were named after.

I discovered one or two French websites that claimed the biscuits were named after General Suvorov, a Russian who fought in the Crimea (amongst other campaigns) and was reportedly Russia’s ‘greatest ever General’ because he was never undefeated. I’m not sure that’s quite right, but it’s quite a romantic notion. My heavyweight Larousse Gastronomique says that they were named after one of his descendants, Prince Suvorov (the Royal moniker was given to the General and then handed down). The Prince spent a lot of time and money in Paris restaurants in the late 1800s, which would make him more contemporary to the recipe. During the Victorian era (and continuing up to today), often a high class restaurant with an ambitious chef would try to please one of its very rich patrons by naming a recipe after them to ensure continued patronage (for example, peach Melba, a dessert named after Dame Nelly Melba).

A partridge dish has been named after this Prince as well, which adds to the likelihood that these little sablés bear his name too. Both the pheasant dish and the sablés have changed the spelling over time from Suvorov to Souvaroffs, probably because of colloquial pronunciation. These biscuits are basically rounds (or whatever other shapes you want to make) sandwiched together with jam, with the top biscuit having a central cut out so that you can see the jam inside. I’ve added a layer of cream to turn it into a posh jammie dodger, albeit one with quite an illustrious history. I wonder if these actually influenced the creation of the jammie dodger – Souvaroffs certainly came first.

  • I’ve decided to alter the original ingredients a little, by adding polenta. If you want to do the original recipe I found just omit the polenta and use 250g of plain flour instead.
  • I cut out the centre of the biscuits after they had been baked so that I had a sharper edge to the cut out. This meant I had several mini biscuits (the centre bits I cut out) but they didn’t go to waste and got eaten too – and they’re cute! You can do the cutting out before baking if you prefer, but it will ‘bleed’ during cooking as the biscuits spread.
  • You could also roll the dough into a log-shape, chill, then slice the rounds off.
  • If you don’t have a tiny cutter for the centres on the top halves, then you can use the large end of a piping nozzle.
  • You can also omit the buttercream and just sandwich the biscuits together with jam (they’ll keep longer than with cream and jam).
  • Makes about 20 rounds or 10 finalised sandwich biscuits.
  • These biscuits are quite short, that is they are crisp when cooked.
  • 2 large baking sheets, prepared with baking parchment or silicon sheets
  • Rolling pin
  • Palette knife
  • Large round cutter – about 6cm
  • Smaller cutter for the middle cut-out (I used a heart but any small cutter, 1 – 2cm in diameter will do)
Ingredients – for the Souvaroffs
  • Unsalted butter – 200g
  • Caster sugar – 100g
  • Plain flour – 200g
  • Polenta (fine cornmeal) – 50g
  • Salt 1/2 tsp
  • Vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract – 1 tsp
Ingredients for the cream
  • Vanilla buttercream – about 100ml (make with butter, softened – 70g and icing sugar – 170g roughly). This is a small amount, so you might want to take some from a previous recipe or make more and freeze it for later)
  • Whipped double cream or clotted cream – about 100ml
  • Strawberry jam – you’ll need the best part of a standard 340/350g jar
  1. Put your oven on – fan oven at 160˚C, or 175˚C conventional
  2. Mix all the ingredients together. Aim for a smooth dough but don’t overwork it
  3. You’ll need to dust both your work surface and your rolling pin quite liberally with flour for these biscuits (due to the high quality of butter in them)
  4. Roll out the dough to about 3-4mm thick and cut out as many rounds with the large cutter as you can – it’ll be around 20
  5. Place them gently on the prepared baking trays
  6. They will spread so leave some space between them
  7. Bake in the bottom or centre of the oven for 14 – 15 minutes. They should not be browned at all
  8. Leave to cool for one minute – no more – and then use your small cutter to cut out a shape from HALF of the biscuits (you need half to be complete for the bottoms and half with a gap in for the tops).
  9. Leave to cool completely
Method – cream
  1. Make the buttercream by whipping the icing sugar into the butter, adding a drop or two of water if needed
  2. Once made, whip in the cream
To assemble
  1. Spread a thin layer of the cream over the bottom half biscuit (ie a biscuit with no hole in it)
  2. Put a heaped teaspoonful of jam over the buttercream, in the centre of the biscuit (if you don’t put it in the centre you’ll end up mixing jam and cream together and it won’t look so nice as an end results) and spread outwards
  3. Press one of the tops (ie a biscuit with a shape cut out) onto the biscuit base you’ve just covered with cream and jam
  4. Chill slightly – as they include cream they won’t last longer than two to three days (Souvaroffs made with just jam will keep longer in an airtight container)

Alice in Wonderland Victorian fancies

victorianfondantfanciesandhanddrawnalicetagsThis was a little project I’ve been hatching for a while. It combines a bit of research into Victorian treats, a bit of illustration and drawing and some recipe reverse-engineering. It also marries an homage to Alice in Wonderland in its 150th birthday year (as I love the story and, in particular, John Tenniel’s original illustrations) to a ‘tea time treats’ challenge hosted by the Lavender & Lovage and HedgeComber blogs.

So, quite a list and suitably I’ve been working on it for some while (way before I stumbled on the Tea Time Treats challenge). One of the most tricky things for me on this project is that I don’t do ickle or dainty. I do try and make things look nice, but elaborate bakes are too time consuming to be an option for me as a working mum. My baking hobby has to get squeezed in between my normal day job and the rest of the chores. Plus, when I get time to bake patisserie is my go-to choice, not decoration. So, all in all, out of my comfort zone somewhat.

Tea Time TreatsTea time treats

This little project seemed to fit nicely with the June Tea Time Treats challenge run by the Lavender & Lovage and The Hedgecombers blogs (Karen Burns Booth and Jane Sarchet respectively) which calls for small cakes. I’ve not participated before.

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said

Because there are quite a few instructions just for the fondant fancies, I have not included either the recipe for the lemon and cucumber G&T in this post, else it would be a really long read:

Eat me

Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865, just four years after Mrs Beeton’s The Book of Household Management, so this should have proved a rich contemporary reference source for an appropriate recipe. I had already decided that I’d like a lemon sponge and read through Mme Beeton’s book and tried her recipe for lemon cake. Frankly, it was awful – doughy and oddly flavoured (the amount of orange flower water was a bit overkill). Many of her recipes have stood the test of time, but this one got fed to the blackbirds.

So, I went back to a more typical sponge ratio and concentrated on looking at construction and flavours from the contemporary period. I picked out an apricot jam filling and a marzipan covering, held in place by a layer of buttercream. I researched some contemporary food illustrations and settled on striped piping. To link to the Alice theme, I modelled some mini roses (white and then half painted in red, to mimic the book), a top hat or two and a Cheshire Cat to top off the cakes along with the pink pralines.

Drink me

The little cakes would definitely be the ‘eat me’ so I decided to have a ‘drink me’ item too and matched a G&T to the lemon flavour of the sponge with limoncello and lemon verbena. I also added a slice of cucumber, to evoke cucumber sandwiches in a British tea party – it was really lovely. The recipe is here.

Alice in Wonderland food tagsI’ve had such a curious dream

To link to Alice and give me an excuse to do a bit of drawing I drew up some eat me and drink me food tags. I was enjoying myself so much I ended up doing a few more…


  • 20cm x 20cm cake tin, greased and lined
  • Bowls
  • Palette knives: a small cranked handle one and a ‘normal’ large one
  • Rolling pin
  • Sharp knife
  • Piping bag with fine plain nozzle
  • Two circular tall biscuit cutters one about 5cm in diameter, the other about 6cm (just ensure that one cutter is quite a bit bigger than the other, as it will be used to cut the marzipan for the top of the fondants)
  • Whisk

Ingredients for the sponge

  • Caster sugar – 175g
  • Unsalted butter, softened – 175g
  • Plain flour – 175g
  • Eggs, medium – 3
  • Lemon – the zest and juice of 1 large lemon
  • Baking powder – 1 teaspoon
  • Bicarbonate of soda – 1/2 teaspoon

Ingredients for the buttercream

  • Unsalted butter, softened – 200g
  • Icing sugar – 200g
  • Lemon juice – 1 teaspoon

Additional ingredients

  • 2 x 200g packs of coloured marzipan
  • Royal icing (make up from icing sugar and a little added water and egg white and some food colouring) or buy in
  • Apricot jam – you’ll need about half of a typical sized jar
  • Decorations for the top of the fondant fancies – you don’t have to make your own as I did – or you can leave plain

Method – sponge

  1. Turn the oven on to 150C fan / 160C conventional
  2. Cream the sugar and butter together, then combine all the other ingredients
  3. Smooth into the prepared cake tin
  4. Bake at the bottom of the oven for about 40 minutes – test with a skewer to see if it’s done; the skewer should come out clean
  5. Leave to cool in the tin and then remove onto a cutting board
  6. Using the smaller biscuit cutter, press out 16 rounds from the cakePress out 16 cake rounds from the sponge
  7. Cut each of the sponge rounds in half with a bread knife
  8. Spread the apricot jam onto the bottom half of each of the mini sponges and then sandwich the two back together
  9. Pop all 16 of the mini cakes in the freezer for an hour, as this will make the next steps much easier

Method – buttercream

  1. Prepare the buttercream while the cakes are in the freezer
  2. Gently stir the icing sugar into the softened butter to incorporate it without creating a cloud of icing dust
  3. Add the lemon juice and adjust the consistency with a little water or more icing sugar as you see fit
  4. Once incorporated roughly, you can then whisk it for about 3 minutes (the longer you whisk the smoother and fluffier the buttercream)
  5. Take the cakes out of the freezer and paste the buttercream onto the sides and the top, making a small dome on the top of the cake, to round it off
  6. buttercreamSmooth it a little, but don’t worry too much – it is getting covered in marzipan
  7. Leave the cakes while you prepare the marzipan and the royal icing
  8. Method – placing the marzipan
  9. Each of the marzipan packs will cover eight of the cakes pretty much exactly
  10. Roll out one of the marzipan packs very thinly. It needs to be thin for two reasons – you don’t want an overwhelming taste of marzipan drowning out the lemon of the sponge and it also ensures you have enough to cover all the cakes
  11. Measure the height of the cakes with a strip of paper – and cut a long strip out of the marzipan with its width matching this height. This strips will wrap around the sides of a cake.
  12. Make sure the strip is a little longer than the diameter of the cake (if you want to really check, use a piece of string to measure the cake diameter and then lie it down along the marzipan).
  13. Cut a round out of the marzipan using the larger cutter
  14. Trim the end of the strip of marzipan to have a straight edge
  15. Put this straightened end on to one of the cakes and press the marzipan strip all around, wrapping the sides of the cake
  16. Overlap the rough end over the original straight end and take a sharp knife and trim the excess so that it fits exactly
  17. Smooth the edges of the marzipan strip together a little with the back of a spoon or the edge of a knife
  18. Place the round you cut out on top, and again smooth the edges down to try to hide them a little
  19. Repeat for all the cakes, including swapping to the second marzipan pack, so that you eventually have 16 fondant fancies, with eight in each colour

Method – piping

  1. Make up your royal icing and add some food colouring. As I had both pink and blue marzipan, I chose to use a single colour for the piping – purple, as it would go nicely with both. They would look lovely, though, with a combination of two or three complimentary colours if you really wanted to take it even further
  2. Using a fine circular nozzle, start from the top centre of one of the cakes and draw out a line of piping slowly and slightly away from the cake
  3. Fig 1.
    Fig 1.

    To get as straight a line as possible, you need to not pipe directly on to the marzipan but pull the icing out and over the cake in one continuous stream and let it fall down one side to the bottom – almost as if you were using a piece of string – like in fig 1.

  4. Once you have one line done, start from the top again and pipe three more lines in turn, making a cross over the cake (effectively marking the cake into quarter pieces)
  5. Fig 2.
    Fig 2.

    Eventually you need to have twelve lines piped equally spaced apart around the cake – making those first four quarters just makes it more easy to do it evenly. I’d suggest you do it in order as in Fig 2, but however you think best to get twelve lines

  6. Repeat for all twelve cakes
  7. Use a large palette knife slid under each cake to move them, if you need to while the icing dries
  8. If you are using a decorative topper, such as pink pralines or modelled roses, Cheshire Cats and top hats, pipe a small blob of the royal icing in the middle at the top of the cake and push the topper gently into it

 “…go on till you come to the end: then stop.”


Esterházy torte – nut dacquoise layer cake

Esterhazy cake

Esterházy cake is a dacquoise layer torte originating in Budapest in the late 1800s. It was created (as many famous/regional speciality cakes are) by a confectioner keen to impress one of the great houses of the Austrio-Hungarian Empire and one of its members in particular, Prince Paul III Anton Esterházy de Galántha. Its longevity as a popular recipe proves the Prince (or at least those around him who ate the cake) must have designated it a success. Some of the essential features of this torte are the fondant glaze with spider’s web pattern, the chopped (or slivered) nuts pressed into the edges of the cake, the number of layers separated by a French nut buttercream. Recipes vary in the number of layers and, as the recipe for the cake travelled and got more popular throughout mid-eastern Europe it naturally altered, as these things do due to taste and availability. Some variants are all hazelnut, some almond, some walnut and some a mixture.


The only thing I have altered was that I could only get ground almonds. I had wanted to use half and half almonds and hazelnuts, but as I don’t have anything that can successfully grind nuts or spices down without turning them into a mush, I had no option but to purchase pre-ground. Ground almonds are easy to get hold of, but ground hazelnuts proved trickier and I could only find them online (and I didn’t think they’d turn up in time so I bypassed them). I have used chopped hazelnuts on the outside of the cake though, so I think this balanced the flavour back out a little at least. Some recipes include alcohol (usually cognac) and some don’t; I’ve kept without it because there would be children eating it too and I’m not a massive fan of boozy cakes anyway. One last thing, this is me being pedantic but I piped the layers. Most recipes just say to spoon or spread the meringue sponge. I fully admit I’m OCD in the kitchen with trying to get my bakes (especially any patisserie) as exact as possible so there was no way I’d do anything else than use a piping bag and round nozzle. I piped the meringue sponge onto a pre-drawn circle (underneath side of baking paper) starting in the middle and spiralling outwards – this is a typical method to make large single macarons. You can please yourself – it doesn’t alter the flavour or texture and the top layer gets covered in fondant anyway. It’s just I knew it was there… 🙂 Don’t panic at the length of the recipe – it’s not as tricky as some might have you believe, it just has quite a few stages to it. The only tricky thing is piping the chocolate spiral. I did make this cake over two days, not because you really can’t make it all in one go, but that I started at about 8pm one night (after a full day’s work and the usual tidying and preparing dinner after getting home) and frankly ran out of steam to complete it that evening. This recipe was submitted for a Daring Bakers Esterházy cake challenge, hosted by Jelena from A Kingdom for a Cake.


  • Baking paper/parchment
  • Round template about 5cm (6 in) – a pan lid, plate or cake tin
  • Piping bag and large, round plain nozzle (about 8mm or 3/8in diameter) and another (or a plastic piping bag with the end snipped) with a small, plain nozzle (about 1mm / fine)
  • Saucepan and heatproof bowl for bain marie (or a double boiler if you’re posh/well equiped)
  • Bowls and stand mixer/handheld mixer
  • Stand mixer or handheld mixer (you can do the meringue by hand but it’ll be laborious)
  • Baking trays
  • Smaller items: pastry brush, palette knife or cake lifter, rubber spatula, marker or pencil

Ingredients – nut meringues / dacquoise

  • Egg whites – 6 large
  • Icing sugar – 180g
  • Caster sugar – 20g
  • Ground almonds – 200g (or 100g and ground hazelnuts 100g)
  • Plain flour – 60g
  • Vanilla extract – 1/2 tspn

Method for the dacquoise/nut meringues

  1. Mark out five circles on your baking paper using your circular template/lid etc
  2. Turn on the oven to 150 C
  3. Whip up the egg whites to stiff-ish peaks using a fast speed
  4. Slow the mixer a little to medium speed and slowly tip in the caster sugar and incorporate, then the icing sugar (a little at a time or in a slow stream – just don’t plonk it all in at once)
  5. Ensure the meringue is glossy and fully incorporates the sugar and remove the bowl from the mixer
  6. Mix in the ground nuts (about a third at a time) and the vanilla extract slowly with the rubber spatula in a figure of eight motion. Be gentle but do make sure all the ground nuts are spread evenly throughout the mixture
  7. Using a blob of the mix on your finger, fix down the baking paper (with the marked out circles on the underside) onto the baking trays – this will keep them fixed in place as you pipe or spread
  8. If you’re piping: place the mix in the piping bag with the large plain nozzle (you’ll have to refill) and start in the middle of the circle and pipe in a tight spiral round and outwards until you have a disc. It is better to overlap the spiral rather than have gaps, as you can spread out the mix afterwards. (spreading out the mix when there’s gaps will thin out the layer too much). You can smooth the discs a little with a palette knife
  1. If you’re spreading, spoon the mix onto the sheets and smooth it out to the edges of the circle. You’re aiming for just under 1 cm in height
  2. If you have a bit left over, pipe or spoon a small circle so you can test ‘doneness’ at the end of the cooking
  3. When you’ve done all five pop them in the oven for about 16 mins. Do NOT let them go brown, you want just under but definitely cooked. Judging this is fairly tricky, and they will carry on cooking slightly from the residual heat for a few minutes after you remove them anyway. If you were able to pipe a smaller circle you can test this – if you think it’s underdone, pop them all back in for another 2 minutes
  4. Take out and leave to cool on the baking sheets – don’t move them until you have to as the meringues are slightly fragile

French nut buttercream

  • Egg yolks, large – 6
  • Caster sugar – 125g
  • Unsalted butter, softened slightly – 150g
  • Ground almonds/hazelnuts – 75g
  • (Plus a little whipped double cream to lighten if you prefer)

French buttercream – recipe

  1. Made in a bain marie (a bowl over a saucepan with a few centimetres of water, although do not let the water touch the bottom of the bowl, or use a double boiler, if you have one)
  2. Bring the water to a gentle boil, put the yolks and sugar in the bowl on top and whisk while heating until smooth and thickened
  3. Leave to cool
  4. In a separate bowl, whip up the butter until fluffy and then beat in the yolks and the ground nuts until smooth and fully incorporated
  5. Just one note – to lighten the buttercream if you prefer fold in some whipped double cream (I know this doesn’t exactly lighten the calorie load but it can create a lighter feel and taste on the palette, as some people find buttercream too cloying). Should you wish to add a spoonful of cognac or other liquer, you could do that now

Assembling the layers

  1. For this don’t use all the buttercream – you’ll need enough kept aside for the sides and one teaspoon to add to the chocolate to thin it for piping
  2. Alternate the dacquoise layers with buttercream and build the torte – two things though: put the top layer on upside down (so it is flat at the top) and do not put any butter cream on the top

Apricot glaze method

  1. Warm the apricot jam and a teaspoon of water in a microwave or a saucepan
  2. Brush it over the top layer of the torte – let it cool/resolidify before you attempt to pour on the fondant icing

Icing method

  1. Mix together the icing sugar, a little lemon juice and a little water – you want it to get to only just starting to slip off the back of the spoon. It’s better to add the water a tiny drop at a time, as it’s so easy to make it too runny and you’ll need a lot of icing sugar to bring it back. As a guide for a cake this size you’ll need about 100ml in total
  2. Before you start pouring it on, ready the chocolate (see below) so it is to hand as soon as the icing is smooth
  3. Pour on the icing and smooth it out with a palette knife – if you’ve got a cranked one that’s easiest

Chocolate spiral method

  1. Melt the chocolate (in a microwave is easiest – zap it in 10 second intervals until it’s malleable) then stir in a teaspoon of the creme you’ve prepared
  2. Put it in the second piping bag with a small nozzle (or a new bag with the corner snipped off)
  3. Start in the middle of the cake, squeeze evenly and spiral the piped line of chocolate round and outwards, until you’ve got a nice spiral that meets the edge of the cake
  4. To ‘draw’ the spider lines you’ll be using a skewer or toothpick to alternate between dragging over the lines from the middle to the edge, then from the edge to the middle. Imagine a bike wheel – you’re drawing the spokes and it’s easiest to do an even number of lines so you can mentally divide the cake up easier to match the lines up.

Finishing the cake

  1. Using a palette knife spread the remainder of the creme round the edge of the cake and then gently press the chopped hazelnuts into the creme