Chocolate Orange Cake – it’s all mine!


Every year at Christmas, since I can remember, my mum has bought me a Chocolate Orange and put it in my stocking.

I love the taste of chocolate with orange, so when I saw a recipe for this and there wasn’t one of the Christmas treats included in the recipe I was sceptical that it would live up to its name.

But, boy, did this cake pack a punch! It was delicious and not something that should be kept in reserve for the festive season.

I doubled the recipe below to get enough sponge and frosting for a four-sponge chocolate cake. I used 20cm round tins and cooked the sponges for 20-25minutes.

You can also use this recipe for cupcakes – use the amount below and it should make around 20-21 muffin-size cakes.



70g unsalted butter (softened)

210g caster sugar

105g soft light brown sugar (I used normal white sugar and didn’t feel it detracted from the final result.)

2 large eggs

1tsp vanilla essence

1tbsp finely grated orange zest

255g plain flour

50g cocoa powder

2tsp baking powder

1/4tsp salt

240ml whole milk


600g icing sugar

100g unsalted butter softened

250g full fat cream cheese (only use Philadelphia)

60g cocoa powder

3tsp finely grated orange zest



Preheat oven to 190ºc.

Using an electric hand held mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment cream together the butter and both types of sugar until pale and fluffy.

Beat in the eggs one at a time on a medium speed, followed by the vanilla essence and orange zest.

Sift together the remaining ingredients, then add to the creamed mixture in three batches with the milk alternating between each and mixing on a low speed.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition, and once everything has been incorporated, raise the speed to medium and continue beating until the batter is well mixed and smooth.

Divide the mixture between each tin. I also lined each tin first.

Place in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until the sponges spring back when you gently press them.

Allow to cool for a short while in the tin, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.


Whisk the icing sugar with the butter on a low speed, using either an electric whisk or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until crumbley in texture and no large lumps of butter remain.

Add the cream cheese and cocoa powder and continue to mix, on a medium speed, until the frosting is smooth and light.

Add the orange zest and stir by hand.

Trim the sponges so that they are even and flat. I usually chill the cakes for 20 minutes beforehand to reduce the amount of crumbs.

Chill the sponges again after cutting and before frosting. After the chilling, put a reasonable layer of frosting between the sponges and layer up the cake.

Using a spatula put more frosting around the sides and on the top of the cake and smooth it. Do not use all the frosting at this stage – it is just a crumb coat. Chill the cake again for 20 minutes before final layer of frosting.

Finally slap on the last lots of frosting with a spatula smooth around and then decorate however you would like. I used my spatula blade to make lines up the side and swirl on the top.

Happy decorating!

This keeps for about three days in an airtight container in a cool place. But I defy anyone who has made this cake to have any left at the end of this time!


Lemon curd meringues with lemon-infused cream


Nothing was more exciting than receiving my first-ever batch of goodies to review on my blog.

In my hand was a jar of luxury lemon curd and six homemade meringues. My mission was to use them in a recipe and let people know what I thought of them.

I ummed and ahhed about what to make but thought the best way was not to mess with the raw ingredients too much.


Lemon curd

Double cream (whipped to soft peaks)



I feel embarrassed telling you what to do here as it is so simple but whip the cream, fold through a tbsp of lemon curd and sandwich the meringues together with cream and more lemon curd – according to your own taste.

It was a simple recipe and made even more delicious by the fact that it tasted exactly like my own lemon curd and meringues but that I hadn’t had to slave for ages making them.

As a child, I couldn’t understand some people’s fascination with lemon curd. The violently yellow shop-bought varieties just held no appeal.

As I’ve gotten older and taken to the kitchen more, I’ve made my own lemon curd and loved it. I would still never choose to have it in a sandwich or on a piece of toast but as blog readers will know, it makes up part of my cheating cheesecake recipe.

Sargies luxury lemon curd is exactly what it says on the jar. Luxurious and creamy and so lemon-y it was a delight. And the meringues, well if I had been told they had come out of the oven that morning, I would have believed them.

What a result. Products billed as homemade that actually taste like they are homemade! Even better, I have loads of lemon curd left to make lemon meringue cupcakes at the weekend – thanks Sargies!

Sargies is based in North Cornwall and produce a small, but high quality, range of hot puddings, seasonal desserts, hand piped meringues and luxury lemon curd.

You can find out more about Sargies and where to buy their products from: and

If you’re a social media junkie, you can also follow them @ChefSargie or like them on Facebook:

A Baker Needs Good Tools ….

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Okay, okay – I’ll admit it, baking cupcakes and the quest for the perfect swirl became a bit of an obsession of mine.

I scoured magazines, cookbooks, blogs – anything I could get my hands on to find out how to get myself started.

What I never could find was a list of things that I might need when trying to replicate these cake beauties. So I thought I’d compile a short tool kit with links to where you can source your items.

Of course, experienced bakers won’t need this but anyone feeling a little unsure of what may be needed I hope this will be helpful.

Oh, and you don’t have to have all of this before making your cakes. I’ve built my tools up over time.

One or two good quality 12 hole muffin tins. I faffed about for ages buying cheap versions that rusted after months of hard use, two six-hole trays which just added to the – and ended up spending a fortune.

Most recipes make at least 12 cakes, so it makes sense to have a 12-hole tray. It took  me nearly two years to figure this out. Oh, and I don’t like the idea of silicone bakeware but if it floats your boat, then go for it!

Lakeland have some excellent trays – and usually have a Buy 2, Get 1 Free offer – but they are uber-expensive.

But my top tip for bakeware? Amazon. They nearly always have some kind of sale on and there’s usually free delivery too. I have two of these and they have lasted for ages and have not tarnished in any way. Good price too.

Tip: Only use it for baking cakes. This may sound simple but I let my husband use one of my trays for Yorkshire puddings thinking it would be okay with a wash and it was ruined. Any pretty cake cases that were used afterwards were coated in a greasy residue – not the look I was going for!

Electric scales. For their accuracy and easy storage, it’s a no brainer.

Free standing mixer or an electric hand-held mixer.

I know I’m lucky to have a KitchenAid mixer and it was something I had lusted after for years, never being able to justify the expense. Last year, my husband got fed up of the moaning and bought me one.

Not a new one, but one that had been previously owned and then returned to the store because it had arrived with a chip on the enamel. It meant we were able to knock about £180 off the price and I was in love!

It has been indispensable to me while baking and I couldn’t imagine cooking without it now. I can knock up huge quantities of buttercream in next to no time and cakes are so light.

But, I survived – and made lovely cakes too – with just a handheld mixer. Don’t expect it to be able to cope with massive amounts of batter or frosting but it will more than suffice for a normal family-size amount.

Disposable icing bags.

I have been buying these in boxes of 10 from Sainsbury’s for about £2, I think, for a while now. If you’re not using them much, then that’s fine but I have recently discovered job lots on eBay. Managed to pick myself up 100 for £5.53 and free P&P. Just search for disposable piping bags and there’s oodles to choose from.

Wilton 1M or 2D icing nozzles.

Everyone who doesn’t bake always asks me how to get a perfect rose swirl on their cupcakes. And, the answer, and one I had to search for hours on the net to find out is – it’s all down to the nozzle!

Get yourself a Wilton 1M or 2D nozzle and search for rose swirl in buttercream on You Tube and the mystery will unravel before your eyes! After that, it’s just down to practice and the consistency in your buttercream.

They are roughly £3 per nozzle:

or you can buy it as part of a set:

Small spatula and an angled one for larger cakes

These are a must if you want to decorate cupcakes with a ‘Hummingbird-style’ swirl or load three or four-layer cakes with frosting. Again, watch You Tube videos to find out how to decorate larger cakes. I have taught myself and am getting better – and more confident – with each cake that I make.

Hope this helps!

Homemade pasta with stuffed beef rolls in a tomato sauce(ragu)

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Weekends when I was younger consisted of timing our visit to my Nan’s house just in time for her to dish us up dinner.

And Saturdays in our curious Italian-Anglo family deep in the heart of Wiltshire was always pasta day.

Sometimes homemade pasta, sometimes not but always delicious.

My Nan was from a tiny village near Naples and what she didn’t know about cooking pasta, pizza and vegetables didn’t warrant knowing.

As I got older, I’d turn up earlier and earlier on these Saturdays and she would put me to work – helping to make pasta and the meatballs that may accompany it or grating so much parmesan that my hand would ache.

When I finally moved into my house, she bought me a pasta machine back from one of her trips home and it is one of my most treasured possessions.

I was overwhelmed with a wave of nostalgia for those Saturdays and my Nan, who died five years ago, last week while watching Two Greedy Italians – chefs Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carlucchio’s new BBC2 show.

They visited Naples and the Amalfi coast – a trip I had made with my Nan and Gramp, a Wiltshire man who’d fallen in love with the Mediterranean visitor when she came to work in a hospital in England in the 1950s.

She’d taken me to visit her family home in Candida when I was nine and I loved every second of it.

So, spurred on by this memory, I decided to make my family a sample of what was a typical meal when I was a child.

Stuffed Beef Rolls

Cheap, thin cut, quick fry steaks – I had under 500gs for this recipe and it was enough for 2 adults and 2 children.

Sliced garlic cloves (around five thin slivers per piece of steak

Flat leaf parsley

Grated parmesan cheese (I had a mix of parmesan and its cheaper alternative Grana Padano)

Salt and pepper

A little dried or fresh oregano

Cocktail sticks.


Take the steak, cut into 8-10cm in length and 5c-7cm wide strips and bash with a rolling pin until thin and beaten.

Season the strips of steak with salt and pepper.

Take the garlic slices and place around 4-5 on each piece of steak, followed by a generous sprinkle of parmesan and top with the flat leaf parsley.

Roll up and fasten the meat with a cocktail stick.

Seal the parcel in a frying pan and then leave on a plate until you are ready to place them in the tomato sauce to cook for around three hours.

Tomato Sauce (ragu)

This is a really simple sauce and the base for all my pasta sauces. There’s only a few tips I can give you. Cook it for three hours minimum and buy the best quality tinned tomatoes and passata that you can afford. If you buy cheap, watery tomatoes, then your sauce will be cheap and watery.

As this sauce will serve at least ten people, there is plenty leftover for freezing for quick and easy meals later in the week or perfect for use as a pizza sauce (which is what I’m making my family tonight!).

2 of the small tins of concentrated tomato puree

2 tins for top quality tinned tomatoes – like Ciro or Fortuna. Even Napolina is nice.

1 jar of passata.

2 cloves of garlic

1 small finely chopped onion (if you wish, I don’t use onion in my pasta sauces as my Nan never did.)

Gently fry the chopped garlic (and onion if you have opted for it)  in some olive oil in a large pan with a lid.

Add in the tinned tomatoes.

Dilute the tomato puree in a little warm water and add to the frying garlic and tomatoes.

Then add in the passata, stir together and add in the beef rolls previously made and sealed.

Lid on and cook on a low heat for three hours. Season with salt to taste at the end of the cooking time. I usually use around 4-5tsps but it is dependent on taste.

Homemade pasta

115g Type O (sometimes called Pasta Flour) Flour

1 egg

This will make 1 serving of pasta. On Saturday I used 345g Flour and 3 eggs. It made more than enough for me and my husband with some leftover too. The leftovers would have made two child portions.

Put half of the flour into a bowl and add in the egg/s.

Mix together with a spoon until it forms a dough and gradually add more of the remaining half of the flour until you get a pliable ball of dough.

Tip all the contents onto a clean, dry surface and knead together, adding more flour until it is not sticky.

Once the ingredients are combined, place in a dry, clean tea towel and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

You can either use a pasta machine or a rolling pin to roll out your dough and make the shapes you require.

Once the dough is rolled out to the required thickness, leave the sheets to ‘dry’ a little for 30 minutes – 1hr. The pasta will cut better then.

Once cut, the pasta should be left to dry for a further hour or so before cooking.

Boil some salted water and throw the pasta in for 3-4minutes before adding to some sauce and serving.

Traditionally in Italy, the pasta is a first course with the sauce and the meat is then served as a second course with salad.

My lemon pie brings all the boys to yard …

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That’s all I can say about this Lemon Meringue Pie. It was simply the hugest pie I’ve ever made in my life but one of the most satisfying to make.

Not only did I make my own lemon curd – I know, I know, life’s too short – but I made an Italian meringue topping and was impressed with the results – even if I do say so myself!

The recipe is below but if you’re planning this just for a family meal, halve the quantities and use a smaller pie dish. The meringue doesn’t keep that well and it’s best eaten as soon as it’s cool straight from the oven.

I wouldn’t recommend making the whole pie beforehand. By all means make the base, filling and pile up the meringue misture, leaving the final baking of the meringue until you want to eat it.

Also, I used a biscuit base instead of pastry.

Lemon Meringue Pie – Recipe

Makes 10-12 massive slices


  • 8 egg yolks
  • 2 x 397g tins condensed milk
  • Freshly squeezed juice and grated zest of 8 unwaxed lemons
  • 1 Basic Pie Crust, partially blind baked (ingredients and method below)

Simple meringue topping

  • 6 egg whites
  • 330g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Or Italian Meringue Topping

  • 400g caster sugar
  • 7 egg whites
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Basic Pie Crust

  • 260g plain flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 110g unsalted butter


  • a 23cm pie dish, greased
  • baking beans


o Make the Pie Crust

  1. Put the flour, salt and butter in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined. Add 1 tablespoon water and beat until well mixed.
  2. Add a second tablespoon of water and beat until you have a smooth, even dough. If the dough is still a little dry, add another tablespoon of water, but be careful not to add too much water – it is safer to beat the dough at high speed to try to bring the ingredients together.
  3. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and leave to rest for 1 hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3.
  5. Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and roll out the dough with a rolling pin. Line the prepared pie dish with the dough and trim the edges with a sharp knife. Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper over the dough crust and pour in the baking beans.
  6. Partially bake the pie crust in the preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans and bake for a further 10 minutes. The dough should still be pale and slightly raw in the centre.

To Make the Lemon Meringue Pie

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) Gas 2.
  2. Put the egg yolks, condensed milk and lemon juice and zest in a glass bowl and mix gently with a balloon whisk until all the ingredients are very well incorporated. The mixture will thicken naturally.
  3. Pour into the partially blind-baked pie crust and bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes. The filling should be firm to the touch but still very slightly soft in the centre (not wobbly!). Leave to cool completely, then cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or overnight if possible.

To Make the Simpler Meringue Topping:

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) Gas 2.
  2. Put the egg whites in a freestanding electric mixer with a whisk attachment and whisk until frothy. Gradually add 2 tablespoons of the sugar at a time, whisking well after each addition. Once you have whisked in all the sugar, add the vanilla extract and whisk again until stiff peaks form.
  3. Spoon the meringue on top of the cold pie, making sure you completely cover the pie filling. Create peaks and swirls in the top of the meringue with the back of a tablespoon.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the meringue is golden brown and crisp to the touch. (Note: With this method, the egg whites are not cooked through, so should not be served to the very young, the very old, those with compromised immune systems or to pregnant women.)
  5. Leave to cool completely before serving.

To Make the Italian Meringue Topping:

  1. Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F) Gas 2.
  2. Put the sugar in a small saucepan and just cover with water. Set over medium heat and bring to the boil.
  3. While the sugar is on the hob, put the egg whites in a freestanding electric mixer with a whisk attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed. Whisk until the egg whites are light and foamy.
  4. When the sugar has been boiling for a short while, it should reach soft ball stage. (This is when the bubbles go more syrupy. To check, dip a spoon into the sugar, then drop it directly into a glass of cold water. The sugar will firm up on contact with the water. You should be able to form a soft ball out of the sugar. If it sets to hard to be able to form a ball, it has been boiled too long and has reached hard ball stage. Be careful, as the sugar goes from soft ball to hard ball stage very quickly. Don’t touch the hot syrup with your bare hand until you have dipped the spoon into the glass of cold water, otherwise you will burn your fingers.)
  5. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the egg whites. Once all the syrup is incorporated, turn the mixer up to maximum speed and whisk for about 10-15 minutes, or until the meringue has tripled in size and is very white and fluffy.
  6. Turn the mixer back down to medium speed and continue to whisk for a couple more minutes until the meringue has cooled down slightly.
  7. Spoon the meringue on top of the cold pie, making sure you completely cover the pie filling. Create peaks and swirls in the top of the meringue with the back of a tablespoon.
  8. Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the meringue is golden brown and crisp to the touch. Leave to cool completely before serving.