Freak Cake – Fatless Sponge

So it’s been a while. I started off feeling guilty about this, but quickly gave into the realisation that the reason that the mummy bloggers are able to commit so much time to their blogs is that they’ve got time in one place, as opposed to dashing about the country in trains. [PLEASE NOTE BEFORE YOU TAKE TO THE TWITTERS WITH HORROR: I am not saying Mums have shedloads of time and life is easy. I am aware that babies are bloody hard work. What I’m saying is that a mum at home with a baby is more likely to have a stable internet connection and not have a drunk guy asking “What are you looking at? Pictures of food??”  while you’re trying to write about the amazing lasagne you made at the weekend. Props to the Mummy Bloggers, you’re all amazing.]

And while I’m sure you’re all dying to read my guide to cooking in a hotel room with a kettle and a teaspoon (seriously, it’s possible), there’s only so many blog posts you can read about yet another variation on  a salad.

That said, I do want to do more than just peer at spreadsheets on trains. And I’m going to have to get super creative with my time and energy in the next year, because the Lovely One went ahead and decided to ask if I’d share his insane last name. So there’ll be a hell of a lot of “WHY IS EVERYTHING SO EXPENSIVE” going on in relation to wedding shit.

In the meantime, I’m making use of the time I have to enjoy myself which means re-watching Game of Thrones and trying out insane recipes by the likes of Merle Parrish, Masterchef Australia sensation in 2011. Seriously, look at her, the crazy-eyed loon.

Don’t trust her. There’s INSANITY lurking beneath the surface. Also check out that icing thickness variation – methinks I’m looking at an underbaked sponge, Merle.

I’ve heard of fatless sponges, naturally. The original Victoria Sponge is meant to be made without butter and I’m obviously very keen on mastering the art of the Genoise in the fullness of time. But chucking a shitload of water into the mix and turning straight out of the pan and chucking a warm cake on the side is new on me, and I was relatively convinced it would go hideously wrong.

BUT IT DIDN’T. In fact, it was amazing. Basically, I’ve tried a whole bunch of shop-bought cakes in my time. I assumed that sugary lightness was impossible to recreate at home. Now I know differently, and it’s because of Merle. PRAISE BE UPON HER NAME.

Freaky Cherry Fatless Sponge 

serves 8 – adapted from Merle Parrish’s “Never Fail Sponge” from Merle’s Kitchen


3 eggs, separated

1 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup cold water

1 tsp vanilla essence

2 tsp baking powder

1 cup plain flour, sifted twice

1 tbsp cornflour

4 tbsp cherry jam

200 ml double cream, whipped with 1 tbsp icing sugar



Preheat the oven to 170C (Merle specifies 180 but I find it’s way too quick for delicate cakes) and grease and line 2 shallow pans of 20cm. Don’t, I repeat, don’t just chuck this recipe in a springform and hope for the best. It will be the worst and you will waste a lot of time and energy trying to eat a soggy biscuit/cake hybrid.

Take the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla essence and the half cup of cold water and beat the CRAP out of it with an electric whisk. Merle says to whip for 10 minutes until pale and very thick, but in honesty it really won’t go thick in the way you expect. After 7 minutes whisking you’ll be all OH HELL NO MERLE THIS IS NOT WORKING and it won’t really feel heavy on the whisk in the way you think it should, but you’ll beat for another 4 minutes and hope for the best. The amount of water means it will be light and voluminous and crazy airy but not really thick, it certainly won’t be ribbon-state when you trail the mixture over the surface. It will sort of look like angel delight, very bubbly and light, but runny. WEIRD STUFF YO.

Clean the beaters and whip up the egg white with the baking powder to stiffish peaks. You must work quickly so ensure you know where everything is. Sift the flour and cornflour over the surface of the egg yolk mixture and fold it in, then fold in the egg white/powder firmly but gently.

Pour into the prepared pans and put into the oven, and make sure you don’t open the oven again. You very much need to let this mother sort itself out. The mix will look rather runnier than you want and you’ll think there isn’t enough in the pan, which will be awfully unsettling. Set the timer for 20 minutes and sit back. Magic will happen.


After 20 – 25 minutes or so the cakes will look something like this and be airy as anything. A light touch will suffice to check if they’re done, a little springiness is what you’re looking for.

Now, take a clean tea towel and lay it on a rack, then run a knife round the outside of the pans and turn the cakes gently straight out onto the tea towel. Carefully peel off the paper,  watching for steaminess as you do so. Miraculously the cakes didn’t collapse into nothingness at this stage, as I was fully expecting. What kind of witchcraft is this, Merle?!


Fill with cherry jam and cream and sift icing sugar over the top. Enjoy the lightest, fluffiness thing you ever put in your mouth. God damn, it’s good.

Spanish Steps

The view from the cliffs at Denia. Simply delightful.

What comes to mind when I say “Alicante”? Straw donkeys, strange sticky bottle of green booze left over from a long-forgotten hen weekend? The dubious delights of Benidorm, perhaps?

This is hilarious. So, it’s two tower blocks, joined in the middle at the crotch like a pair of trousers. Except that there’s no lift inside. So the flats are empty. Ah, Benidorm!

Forget Benidorm. We were invited to the heart of the Valencian Community, the heartland which includes the Costa Blanca, but also stunning mountain ranges, wild cliffs, groves of almond, orange and loquat, and the most beautiful, gorgeous drives I’ve ever been a passenger for (Me? Drive? On those mountain roads? PLEASE). In terms, Benidorm and all of the stag and hen dos, greasy spoon egg-and-chip cafes and buckets of sangria are very much the exception, rather than the norm.

So, what did we find?


We just happened to hit Valencia for the end of Easter, a magic time for most  of Europe. We’ve seen the Fasnacht Bummel, but this is something altogether different. The tradition in this part of Spain is to build the most glorious floats, spectaculars and constructions, and then burn them down. As you do. This is accompanied by fireworks, the most glorious costumes, street parties and marching bands (yes, them again) and the most almighty amount of firecrackers.

While the burnings in Valencia are rightly famous and rather glorious, we stuck to the town of Denia, a gorgeous small old-fashioned town clinging to the coastline looking out to the bluest water you ever saw in your life.



The Costa Blanca is one of the most varied and beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The sandy coves, rocky rugged coast, cliffs and plains, orange and almond groves and terraces have coexisted since Roman times. Dotted around the countryside are the remains of communal ovens, little sheds which look like cowsheds but are in fact communal washing facilities, and beautiful windy roads with cyclists struggling up mountainous roads. It’s history and culture writ large across the countryside, and it’s beautiful.

The undeniable effect of tourism on the coastline is undeniable, with towns like Xabia (Javea in Castilian) exploding outwards with huge amounts of building in the last ten years. Sadly, many of these houses remain unoccupied following the economic crisis. However, the interior retains the character of the older arable landscape, with terraced groves of almonds, tracts of orange and lemon trees and valleys filled with loquats. Walking in the countryside around the house we were staying, we picked freshly-fallen oranges off the ground for a beautiful fresh treat. Apparently you’re allowed two oranges per day in this way. I hope they don’t begrudge us a quick snack.



On the final day, we braved the wiggly mountain roads past Alcalali and Benissa up towards the old Moorish fortress of Guadalest. While it was a horrid day, we made the most of it, seeing the ancient home of one of the oldest Bourbon families in Spain. The name escapes me, and frankly it doesn’t matter. Wandering through rooms of slightly damp-feeling, gloomy looking furniture with beaky inbred glares watching over us, we felt the need to escape back outside into the drizzle, to the gorgeous scenery and the stunning views. It was so incredibly picturesque, and I’m already looking forward to going back. A quick side note – on the road up to Guadalest is a rather beautiful little auto museum, with a handicraft shop selling local honey, chorizo and almond turron, as well as Spanish solid hot chocolate. I couldn’t resist a little cinnamon-scented block which makes sinfully rich and thick chocolate.

In the afternoon we went for a wet and drizzly walk with the dog, only for the cat to attend!


So, I’d spent time in Mallorca but had never gone to mainland Spain. And frankly I really should have gone earlier. Some highlights:

  • Delicious tapas by the sea between Denia and Xabia, at Helios cafe, with home-made chorizo, morcilla and fresh sausage.
  • A dinner in Denia while waiting for the burnings, a delicious feast of potatoes, little sausages and patron peppers with egg, albondigas (meatballs in sauce), prawns in garlic oil, freshly made bread with garlic mayonnaise and tomato sauce, and the most tender, beautiful iberico ham with manchego cheese.
  • An impromptu take-away paella, which I thought was going to come in a little dish, but in fact came in a steaming hot paella pan! (to be returned in the morning, of course). Travelling back to the house in our little hire car, knowing that we were getting a delicious freshly-cooked dish for two for less than the cost of a pizza was very satisfying.
  • A trip to the mountains to the tiny village of Masserof, to the restaurant of Casa Susi. A tagging specialist in the heart of the mountains, the restaurant is warm, welcoming and full of music, with a colombian chap playing music to you while you scarf down 24-hour cooked lamb with local almonds and raisins. Starting with hot vegetable lasagne and ending with a beautiful cream catalan, it was one of the most evocative, lovely and warm receptions I’ve had in a restaurant in a long time.


Easter Buns

A most delectable breakfast.
Fresh and hot!
Fresh and hot!

Easter is possibly one of my favourite times of year. It’s about family, relaxing and a four-day weekend after getting through a usually dark and depressing winter. It’s the promise of spring, warmth in the air and the smell of daffodils and herbs.

I’ve recently returned from Spain where they DO Easter in a big way, burning effigies and the like. There, the air is thick with orange blossom and rosemary flowers. Lewisham Easters are more about Magnolia trees and the budding of trees, and the Big Top coming to Blackheath. Which isn’t quite as exotic but is a homely and comforting reminder of childhood. It brings to mind being a little kid again, eating sweet toasted buns until you threaten to explode and picking marzipan off the Simnel Cake, because fruit cake is gross when you’re a child but marzipan is the BOMB.

With this in mind, I set to making it a little more Eastery in the Lewishambles kitchen, using a spare evening to play with a few recipes I’d been toying with for a while. I came up with a hot-cross-simnel bun hybrid, marrying the light yummy texture of a good hot cross bun with the yumminess of marzipan.

Beautiful iced buns, ready for my stomach. I mean, sharing. Honestly.
Beautiful iced buns, ready for my stomach. I mean, sharing. Honestly.

Simnel Buns

Makes 12 large buns. Adapted from The Pocket Bakery Cookbook by Rose Prince. Which honestly I’m trying to love but finding tricky, because I find the whole “my children started a profitable bakery using ONLY my network of professional food writers and chefs!” riches-to-riches story a bit sickening. Sorry. 

500g strong white flour

90g unsalted butter, cut into chunks

5g fine salt

1 tsp mixed spice

1 tsp cinnamon

a good fresh grating of nutmeg, about 1/2 tsp worth

Grated rind of 1/2 lemon and 1/2 orange

100g sultanas (I used posh Marks and Spencer mixed raisins which were very nice!)

Optional – 2 tbsp chopped mixed peel

1/2 pint whole milk, warmed to lukewarm

15g easy-blend yeast (yes, it seems like rather a lot but it totally worked so go with it)

60g caster sugar

About 100g golden marzipan

To ice: 5 tbsp icing sugar, enough water to mix


To mix, weigh out the flour in a large mixing bowl and stir in the salt. Take the butter and rub it in quickly and confidently. My friend the Jeweller once told me that when you rub in butter, you should use your fingertips as much as possible and only get flour up to your second knuckles. This seems ambitious but hey, it seems to work. The trick is to make the flour mix seem sandy and lovely-looking rather than lumpy. Here’s a nifty video I found which explains it nicely:

When that’s done, mix in your spices, sultanas and zest. If you’re using mixed peel, pop that in as well. The recipe said that you should choose between mixed peel and zest. To which I say PSHAW MADAM HAVE YOU NOT MET ME?! (Rose Prince has not met me, but I reckon we’d not see eye to eye on this matter).

Take your milk, warm it up (because honestly warming it before you do the other stuff is a waste of time since it will go cold again), then add the yeast. The recipe said “stir to dissolve” which makes me suspect the author has never actually used dried yeast, because it will simply float to the top of your milk and start clumping as it activates. That’s what it does – don’t panic. Stir in the sugar and the egg, stir vigorously to combine then pour the lot into your dry mix. Stir with a blunt knife to combine if you don’t want your hands to get yucky.*

This is the bit where you knead and honestly it’s a bit magic. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface (no need for flour here). It will be sticky and gross and you’ll be all OH HELL NO SISTER. It will probably need scraping out of the bowl and everything. Kneading it will be gross and sticky and you’ll think all is lost – but persevere! After about 3 minutes it will suddenly go silky and lovely and way less sticky. Let it sit for a minute or two and then knead for another 3 minutes until elastic and bouncy. This is the sort of moment when it’s really useful to put on a Beach Boys record, the songs are all about 3 minutes so you can time yourself really well.

Put the lot into a bowl, cover with cling and pop in a warm place until doubled in size – this will take about 1-2 hours. Sorry to be so vague, but it totally depends on how warm your house is. While this is happening, you can take the marzipan and roll it into 12 little balls about the size of walnuts.

After the dough has ballooned, punch it back and roll into a sausage, before cutting into about 12 equal pieces. They’ll have a gorgeous silky elastic texture and will feel very light and airy already. Roll each one into a ball, tucking a marzipan ball into the centre of each before popping on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Make sure the marzipan is completely enveloped by the dough or it will leak out! It doesn’t matter if the buns look a bit crowded on the tray, it’s nice to have them “kiss” to they can be torn apart later.

Let the buns rise for another 40 min or so in a warm place, until risen and about double the size again. About 20 minutes before they’re ready to go, set the oven temperature to 200C. Put the buns in for about 15 minutes until they’re a lovely even golden brown. You may need to turn the tray once if they’re not browning evenly. The kitchen, incidentally, will smell HEAVENLY. Which is appropriate at Easter, no?

When they’re ready, take them out and let them cool for 5 minutes on the tray (to prevent any escaping marzipan from making a break for it) before moving to a rack to cool further. I would totally advocate testing one while warm as the marzipan is still spreadable at this stage.

The interior will be light, fluffy and cloud-like, studded with plump raisins and with a blob of delectable gold marzipan in the centre like a yolk. You can leave them unadorned or, optionally, ice with a little water icing to create an easter cross.**

Lovely split and toasted under the grill with butter.

An Easter bouquet and buns
An Easter bouquet and buns
A most delectable breakfast.
A most delectable breakfast.


*I can’t tell you why I find the act of kneading dough so nice but mixing the dough so gross. The mess quotient is about the same, I think it’s because in mixing the dough you get a load of dry flour and wet mix on your hands which is nasty, but at least a sticky dough has a consistent texture. Any further ideas as to why I’m so weird about this in the comments please.

**I find the traditional flour-and-water paste cross disgusting and fiddly, and marzipan burns too easily. The original recipe suggested strips of sweet pastry which is just the sort of stupid suggestion a West London yummy mummy with a bunch of sweet pastry lying around going spare would suggest, but anyone who wants me to make a batch of pastry specially to decorate buns is a lunatic. And in any event, who doesn’t love icing on their buns?


Emergency Dinner Party: Shakshouka Tart

Ready to go! Check out the sweeeeet charring on the edges (I have no life).
After 15 minutes – ready for egging

It is a truth universally acknowledged that “It is a truth universally acknowledged” is one of the best starting lines in literature (Pride and Prejudice, people). It consequently is one of the most stolen and over-used. So I make apologies for noting that my use of it in this context is hackneyed, trite and boring.

BUT it is SO a truth universally acknowledged that dinners you weren’t quite prepared for are the most terrifying thing to try and get your head round when you have approximately 2 hours to prepare for them. PARTICULARLY when your lovely mate The Director has told his new girlfriend that you’re a really great cook and is bringing her around and you’re all “shit, I really can’t get away with just getting a pizza in, can I?” I had only myself to blame for this – a night on a sauce with colleagues the night before was not the best way to make magic happen in the  kitchen.

But improvisation under pressure is when sometimes really good things happen. Not always, naturally. I mean, I figure that’s the only explanation for things like The Jump, this absolutely terrifying British TV show where celebrities are made to do extreme winter sports. I really want to go back in time to the moment where a producer went “yeah, so, you know how winter sports are PROPERLY dangerous and loads of people die and you need crazy insurance for it? Well, I figured we’d get Lulu to do the luge and see if she puts herself in a coma.” Loads of them have ended up really badly hurt, and I figure its genesis was a bit like that scene in Alan Partridge where he just puts words together while trying to pitch a tv show to a producer.

That, or some bright spark at Channel 4 is trying to thin the reality TV herd at award shows by killing them off in hideous accidents. Which is probably also part of the motivation.

Anyway, back to the problem at hand – I needed a dinner, and fast. I had puff pastry in the freezer which seemed like a good start, and a load of eggs to eat up. I was thinking quiche but it seemed a bit boring. Then it hit me: breakfast food. Like Lesley Knope, we all know that breakfast food is the best. And my current favourite breakfast is Shakshouka – the delicious dish of braised eggs in spicy pepper sauce which allegedly is Berber/Tunisian in origin but which has antecedents all over europe, from Piperade in Spain to Menemen in Turkey. Why not make them into a tart? It would mean cutting some corners and perhaps short-routing some of the more traditional techniques, but I figured it would be pretty tasty. I’m not too humble to say that it was pretty much one of my finest off-the-cuff creations. BOOM.

Served alongside roasted cauliflower with my all time favourite tahini dressing, this was done in under 90 minutes and looked well good.

Shakshouka Tart with Roast Cauliflower and Tahini Sauce 

Serves 4

For the tart: 

1 x pre-rolled puff pastry

2 x peppers, deseeded and sliced into strips – red and yellow are my jam

1 x red onion – thinly sliced

1 x yellow onion – thinly slice

2 x cloves garlic – finely chopped

3 x nice ripe fat tomatoes, deseeded and cut into strips

3 x tbsp harrissa paste

thyme, about 2 tbsp leaves

4 x medium free-range eggs


Spice Mix: 

1 x tsp cumin seeds

2 x tsp coriander

2 x tsp turmeric

1 x tsp hot smoked paprika


For the cauliflower: 

oil for roasting

1 x cauliflower, broken into bite-size florets

1 small handful of fresh coriander leaves, chopped


For the sauce: 

2 tbsp tahini

3 tbsp pomegranate molasses

juice of 1/2 lemon

150g plain yoghurt


Preheat the oven to 180C.

First, make your spice mix. Toast the dry spices in a frying pan over a low heat until they smell good. Don’t add any oil etc to the pan, this will be a terrible idea. When they smell good, tip into a little bowl and wipe out the pan.

Then, take your onions and fry in a good slug of olive oil for about 5 minutes over a medium heat, until soft and beginning to go golden. I used a mixture of yellow and red so that the onions were super-sweet and looked attractive once cooked. The smell, naturally, was HEAVENLY. Add the peppers, garlic, 2 tbsp harrissa, the thyme leaves and half of the spice mix, mix well and let the mixture cook gently, covered for about 10 min or until softened. Turn off the heat and let cool slightly, and check if it needs seasoning. I always add a shit-ton of pepper and it needed a little salt, but shouldn’t need any sugar as the onions will be naturally sweet if they’ve been given time to colour. I deliberately didn’t add the tomatoes at this stage as I needed the mixture to stay relatively dry and I didn’t want them disintegrating into a sauce, which would cause SOGGY BOTTOM DISASTER. They can be mixed in shortly before the lot goes in the oven.

Peppers a-stewin’

Meanwhile, take the other half of the spice mix, mix with about 3 tbsp olive oil and toss with the cauliflower, then spread over a baking tray and pop in the oven for about 15 min, turning regularly until tender, caught here and there with slightly charred edges. Mmmm.

Now you’re ready to roll out your pastry. Simply take a large baking tray and roll it out to fit roughly, making sure you grease that sucker first. Spread with the remaining harissa. Prick a few times with a fork, add the tomatoes to the pepper mix (they’ll cook through in the oven, don’t worry) and pile onto the pasty relatively hodgepodge, leaving a little space around the sides for a crust to pop up.

It will already look pretty yummy.

Ready to go in the oven

Here’s the clever bit. Pop your tart into the hot oven for about 15 min, until it starts looking relatively puffed and lovely. Take it out and make 4 little spaces in amongst the veg on top, then take your eggs and crack them directly into the spaces. The veg need to be hot so that the egg doesn’t spread EVERYWHERE. By putting them onto a hot tart they sort of start cooking immediately. Return to the oven for another 10-15 min or until the egg whites look cooked through and the pastry is a red-gold around the edge. The yolks should stay soft, just give them a little touch every so often to make sure they aren’t going chalky.


I like to serve this warm rather than blistering hot. So when it’s ready, take it out of the oven to cool slightly and return your pre-cooked cauli to heat through if needed, and stir together the sauce ingredients (adjusting the quantities to taste – I’m obsessed by pomegranate molasses).

Sweet sweet nectar

Serve the tart in large wedges, accompanied by your cauliflower piled into a bowl with coriander on top, with the sauce in a jug to spoon over the veg.

Et voila – you have a dinner party in under 90 min.

NB – if you want to make a banging Shakshouka which is real and not incredibly cheaty, check out Helen Graves’ version which looks damn fine, if I do say so myself. Although I’d still add peppers innit.

Dubbel Chocolate Cake

A tribute to the best of 90s telly. A favourite phrase of the birthday boy.

No, it’s not a spelling error. For my good friend’s birthday I was invited to join him on a mini brewery tour of the delectable Maltby Street Market, home of the Kernel Brewery, Southwark Brewing Co, Brew by Numbers and the Bottle Shop. So when considering what cake to bring along, naturally my thoughts turned to incorporating his favourite treat into a straight-up celebration of all things booze.

The Blessed Nigella (peace be upon her name) has rightly been lauded for her impressive guinness cake – however, why drink guinness when you can drink Belgian dubbel beer? I figured that the rich plummy strong brew would fit in right alongside the chocolatey cake, and boy was I right!

A few things to bear in mind with this cake:

  1. The reason this is so rich and dark is because of the use of cocoa rather than melted chocolate. Do not be tempted to sub in posh chocolate, I’m serious. It screws up with the liquid content in this melted mix and will turn out a cake which is not only flat, but oddly dry. Cheaper is better, in this case.
  2. It’s a Nigella recipe, so be aware that it contains pretty much all the butter in god’s creation. If you’re looking to cut down, look elsewhere, friend.
  3. Nigella has suggested simply icing the top of this cake in order to echo the lovely top of a pint of guinness. This is an excellent suggestion but given the quantities, means you end up with a very thick wedge of cake with a huge amount of icing on top, which… eh. Not my jam. This variation, however, wow.

As an aside, the icing for this is something that has caused some consternation online, and generally I’d agree that something is rotten in the state of Philadelphia (or your general supermarket cream cheese brand of choice). If you’re used to the old-fashioned block cream cheese which came in packets which dented not unlike butter, you’ll be pretty unimpressed by the watery stuff you get these days, which tends to go awfully runny if you follow traditional recipes, which call for you to stir it as little as possible. In fact, stirring in icing sugar seems to turn it straight into soup. Most recipes ask instead that you stabilise the cream cheese with butter and gingerly sift in the icing sugar bit by bit. Now I aint got time for that shit. So instead I beat the shit out of it and it behaved, largely because of the high cream content. So there you are – keep it cold and whip it fast with an electric whisk, and you should be fine. I’ve given the recipe separately so you can refer to it without reading through all the cakery. You’re welcome.

At home in the Brewery. Apologies for the wobbly icing…

Dubbel Chocolate Cake

cuts into 16 rich slices. 

For the cake: 

250ml strong dark beer – try a Belgian Dubbel or even a Tripel!

250g grams unsalted butter (yes, you read that right)

75g cocoa powder

400g caster sugar

150ml soured cream

2 large eggs

1 tbsp vanilla extract

275g plain flour

2.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda

This is a simple melt-n-mix cake (praise be!), so be aware that you need to have prepped your oven at 180C and have a large 23in springform pan ready and lined.

When you’re good to go, start off with the beer in a large saucepan over a gentle heat. It needs to be large, trust me. Heat the beer until warm, but not boiling. You don’t want to lose the alcohol too early. Add the butter in chunks or slices, melting it gently into the warm beer. Then, whisk in the cocoa and sugar, and take off the heat. Stir together the eggs, soured cream and vanilla together, and beat vigorously into the mix, then whisk in the flour and bicarb. It should form a lovely thick batter.

Pour into the prepared pan, then pop into the oven and let it cook for around 45min to 1 hour – it will be ready when a skewer popped right into the centre comes out with a few damp crumbs clinging to it. Let it cool completely in the tin, on a cooling rack. You really really don’t want to try and unmould this while warm, because it will break. Promise. The fat content renders this hugely soft and so you need it cold to handle it successfully. When you’re ready to ice, peel off the paper and slice in half, ready for filling.*

The rich dark starting proposition. Words cannot fully convey quite how delicious this smelt. Rich chocolate, sweet toasted alcohol scents.


Ganache: 100ml double cream, 100g good dark chocolate

Icing: 300g rich cream cheese, 150g icing sugar, 125ml double cream

First off, your ganache filling. Simply melt together the cream and chocolate until it comes together as a thick rich dark ganache. Fill the centre of the cake with about 3/4 of this, reserving a little for decoration. Pop the top half on and get ready to ICE, ICE BABY.

Now it’s time to frost. In a large bowl, stir the cream cheese until smooth, then sift over the sugar and stir it in. It will be runny. DON’T PANIC. Pour in the cream, then apply an electric whisk. After a couple of minutes, it will whip up into a fairly thick, tangy cream. If you’ve the time, fridge it for 30 minutes and it will firm up further, but as long as everything was nice and cold to start with, it will go over the top and sides reasonably well with no further need for fridging.

Iced with the world’s strangest icing. I don’t don’t how or why it worked, but it did.

Top tip? Take beery chocolate cake, preferably decorated with minor obscenities, to a beer tasting. It goes down well.

*NB, this cake would also be super-elegant filled with raspberries and cream, or a simple buttercream. It pretty much goes with anything and would be an AMAZING cake for making constructions. f it weren’t for the fact it tastes so beery, it would be an ideal kid’s birthday cake. Save it for the big kid in your life.







A nice cup of tea and a sit down. And cake, obvs.


It was while rattling up and down to work a few weeks ago that I started dreaming about a nice cup of tea and a classic fruity tealoaf. You know, the sort your nan kept in a tin and pulled out every so often while you were both sat in front of the snooker while Mum was at work and after you’d just run up the hill after popping down to the corner shop to pick up Nanny’s B&H like a good girl. For which task you were rewarded with a kit kat while Nanny puffed away in front of Steve Davis (“he’s ever so good for a ginger, darling”) and she would nibble on a thin slice of loaf covered in a thick layer of butter.

I can’t eat this without nostalgia by the bucketload, but it’s really rather good and even better-tasting than I remember. I’ve started packing a couple of slices into my handbag, pre-buttered, for eating greedily in the break room or even (gasp!) on the train.

Earl Grey Tea Loaf

Makes one 900g loaf, keeps beautifully for about 4 days in a tin. Better on the second day, naturally. 

300ml strong earl grey tea (2 teabags for 5 min does the trick)

450g mixed fruit (currants, raisins and mixed peel is my current jam)

175g soft light brown sugar

350g self-raising flour

2 eggs

a splash of milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 tsp mixed spice

1 handful whole almonds, chopped

The night before: take your tea and pour over the dried fruit. Put to one side, covered, for the next morning.

(NB – if, like me, you “forgot” to do this – read, decided at the last minute I wanted cake and nearly cried at the thought of waiting – you can take the fruit, pop in a saucepan, and pour in 325ml water (allowing for a bit of reduction). Bring to a gentle simmer then pop in the teabags and let steep and cool. You must let it cool completely to give the fruit some chance of plumping!)

When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 170 degrees centigrade, grease and flour the tin and simply mix all the ingredients except the milk together. It will be a thick batter with tons of fruit and smell heavenly. If it looks a touch stiff, loosen with a few tablespoons of milk, but go easy.

Now, simply bake for about 45 min to an hour, checking the middle of the cake with a skewer to make sure it’s cooked through. It will be a rich brown and smell divine.

To eat, serve in slices with salted butter and steaming mugs of tea. Snooker optional.


Reboot… again

So I fell off the blogging wagon, big style… My defence is fairly weak, because when you’re laying up in hotel rooms frankly you should have something better to do than stare listlessly at Netflix churning on your iPad while you lay in a too-small bath in clouds of foam. That said, staring listlessly at your screen while you try to come up with another blog on why working away from home isn’t much fun is no better, I believe. While working in Manchester I got used to the thrum of commuter life, swaying on a Pendolino bound for The NorthTM and wondering which restaurant in the city centre was going to get my patronage that night.

But it’s a new year, a new start, and new challenges as I start afresh with a new posting an hour outside London, which makes it “technically commutable” (!) and means I get to come home and see what my flat looks like at least once during the week. This is valuable as it means:

  1. I don’t spend most of my weekend washing everything I own and planning for the week ahead – which really makes you Captain Fun on a Saturday night out; and
  2. I don’t spend the week worrying about the state of my stomach as I contemplate yet another room service pcik n mix (odd vegetarian burger and some garlic spinach? Why not?)

So, where is Lewishambles as we head into 2016?

First, I’m technically in training for the Bath Half, so am trying to run as much as possible while not shovelling all the sugar in god’s creation into my mouth. Second, I’m doing weeknight vegetarianism as much as I can, so as to lessen my feelings of guilt about *things* (I spent a lot of time up NorthTM watching docs about how everything I do will kill me, those I love and the planet – what larks!). Finally, the Lewishambles Tour don’t stop as Lovely One and I look set to travel to about 5 countries this year.

So it’s not all bad, even though the creator appears to be taking those I love most* away from me. I mean, look:


*NB, re the sad deaths of Terry Pratchett, David Bowie and Alan Rickman, I would like a report on the state of health of the following, please:

  • Ian McKellen
  • Patrick Stewart
  • William Shatner
  • Helen Mirren
  • Dame Judi Dench (yes, this title applies to other people on the list, but the Dame just exudes *Dameness* so her name is this now)
  • Maggie Smith
  • Anthony Bourdain
  • Delia
  • Henry Rollins
  • Frank Black
  • Alan Bennett and
  • GRR Martin (the man owes me, I spent a lot of time on those books).