Auntie Margo’s rock cakes

An alteration in the treatment of my APS / Hughes Syndrome – more meds, many more meds – is rendering me seriously redundant at the moment. And that includes keeping me away from the kitchen. Unfortunately for my other half, that means that he has been subjected to lots of easy repeat meals and ready meals when he makes it in from work after a long day.

I did make a major effort today to put together a slow roast lamb shoulder – not that it takes major effort, of course. I managed to serve him the lamb accompanied by red cabbage, green beans and roast potatoes. It might have knocked me for the rest of the day – I haven’t moved off the sofa since –  but he was mightily appreciative of some proper home cooking.

Since I have been slogging along, I have turned instead to my cook books and to my archive, reading through to find some recipes I have missed to tackle when I eventually get back in action. And I came upon something I requested from someone a long time ago, but haven’t yet shared on the blog.

When I was young, I was looked after by a woman named Margo, an absolutely wonderful lady who I still call ‘auntie’ and visit to this day. Every day when I arrived at her house after school, I’d enter the back door to step right into a kitchen full of wonderful aromas and counters laden with home baking.

In addition to whatever she was making for her own family that evening – my dad would have long picked me up before that was served – she always had cooling trays and tins of homemade buns and cakes on the go, including shortbread, drop scones, regular scones, fairy cakes (with the proper ‘fairy wings’ on top), plain buns with raisins or chocolate chips and, my favourite, her rock cakes.

When I took my place at her kitchen counter, she’d let me have one of them halved and buttered along with a glass of milk. It was a really lovely regular treat, one I look back on fondly, and so a few months ago, I wrote to her to ask for the recipe.

IMG_7050She was as modest as ever in her reply – “as you know I’m no baker” – but take it from me, she could whip up delicious treats in no time with no need for a recipe. She was an absolutely wonderful home cook. And she had included her recipe for my favourite rock buns along with her version of queen cakes plus the lovely mince dinner she’d given to me when I stayed with her during school holidays.

I will keep the letter and the recipes in her handwriting for all of the rest of my life and I’m so chuffed to have them. She means the world to me and these simple little cooking memories are a surprisingly powerful source of joy. While I’m feeling a bit rough, I’m more than happy to indulge in this trip down memory lane.


Jus-Rol Bake-It-Fresh part 2: pain au chocolat

It was inevitable that I’d purchase another one of these enticing yellow boxes, given the success of the delicious cinnamon swirls (previous post).

And even though we didn’t absolutely love the choc chip brioche (which just weren’t very brioche-y), they were still nice enough for us to keep the faith with Bake-It-Fresh.

Thank goodness, because we’d have missed these lovely little pain au chocolat. Hats off once again to Jus-Rol for their ease and resulting taste.


The cardboard packaging conceals the tube of dough and a little pack of chocolate sticks. The crystal clear instructions advise you to unwrap the dough…


and unroll it to expose the marks where you’ll easily tear it into sections.


As you can see from the picture, you end up with four lovely sections and two not so pretty ones from the end:


But, with a little bit of gentle stretching into shape, they’re absolutely fine. They need a bit of help so that their chocolate sticks fit on as such –


After the choc sticks are in place, you simply roll in each end towards the middle and turn them upside down to place them on your lined baking tray.


The instructions note that a little bit of glazing might be of benefit, so I used my trusty spray glaze – beaten egg or milk would of course do the same job.

Twelve minutes at 200 degrees celsius (180 fan) later, and you have six luscious little pastry packages which conceal hot, melting chocolate.


I’m just glad there are three of us in this house – 2 each and no fighting!


Next week, we’re going to give the croissants a go. Here’s hoping they’re majorly yum.





Jus-Rol’s easy peasy Bake-It Fresh cinnamon swirls

When I spotted these bright yellow packets in the supermarket, I instantly thought of those moments when we as a family fancy a homebaked sweet treat.


And these would enable us to indulge in just that – without me having to do a lot of cooking and messing around, especially at the weekends when I prefer to sleepily stagger around in pyjamas for a few hours.

I gave the husband the option of which we’d try first and he quite fancied a cinnamon swirl so off I went to preheat the oven.

The instructions are incredibly easy to follow and it all works just as it should. You open the tin as directed…


and expose the log of dough inside –

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Then you cut in into six sections and lay them evenly on a lined baking tray or baking sheet.


Then all you need to do is bake them for 11 minutes or so on the middle shelf of the oven.


Final touch? A drizzle of icing, easily done thanks to the little pot of icing sugar which was also included in the packaging! The three of us demolished them in seconds.


We will definitely be trying the rest of the products in this range: pain au chocolat, pains aux raisins, croissants and chocolate chip brioche. Treats at weekend brunches are going to be a doddle 🙂

A therapeutic chocolate (with a swirl of peanut butter) banana bread

We’ve had a rough time of late, hence the lack of any cooking action on this blog. Sadly, we lost another baby boy to Hughes Syndrome (APS) and I have been distracted by illness and, of course, the grieving process.

I have been dementedly trying to occupy myself, however, tidying and cleaning and working from home – anything to prevent me from sitting still, thinking about things and failing to cope with the day.

A very welcome distraction came when I spotted this sight on top of the microwave…


Who could resist turning two blackening bananas and their soft companion into Nigella’s banana bread?

The recipe is one of my favourites – it’s from How to Be A Domestic Goddess – and I always tend to make the chocolate version which she details at the bottom of the page. I don’t bother preparing the sultanas with the rum and it has still never tasted anything less than magnificent.

This time, I needed to use up some Hershey’s swirled peanut butter and chocolate morsels, so in they went instead of the usual dark chocolate. Banana and peanut butter are a good combo, and it proved to be a very successful experiment.

I revelled in the smell of the kitchen as it cooked, and after cooling and cutting some generous slices, I finally dared to take a moment to sit still and enjoy it. Two days later, it’s going strong – and is especially nice with some butter on it, Northern Ireland-style (we love a bit of butter on anything).


A rainbow birthday cake for some special friends

There are some people for whom it is worth going the extra mile – definitely the case when two of your oldest schoolfriends are celebrating their birthdays, and you’re going to see them at a reunion weekend.

So, the research began. What cake to make to feed 12 adults whilst also communicating the gratitude for the good friendship of the two leading ladies?

I cannot help the cake magpie in me which means I am drawn to colours and glitter and sprinkles – my favourite childhood cake was plain sponge tray bake, iced white with sprinkles on top, purchased from a fab cafe in Derry called The Acorn. Mum bought me one on our Saturday trips into town and they remain in my head as a ideal bun to have with a cup of tea. Simple yet special.

So I went for colour – and sprinkles. I made four plain sponge layers, dyed each a different colour and then layered them with buttercream. The sponge was so light the crumbs were pulling away and I had a mini fit, but it sat tight in the end.

Add the afore mentioned sprinkles, some glitter writing icing and a rainbow ribbon (for a hint of what lay within) and it was done.

the rainbow birthday cake pre cutting

My happiest moment of its planning, cooking, construction and devouring was when I cut into it with a knife and was able to remove a solid slice of four colours. Relief!

the rainbow birthday cake

Cath Kidston cottage cake decorating masterclass

When I arrived home at the end of this evening, I made my other half laugh by gushing to him that It was one of the best nights of my life, but it really was quite something! It was actually him who bought me the ticket – £35 for the masterclass, which included a cake to decorate, plus an apron and tea towel to take home. So off to London I went, for a once in a lifetime trip to Cath towers.

I have been a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Cath for many years so there was no way I was going to miss the opportunity to get into Cath towers and to see the famed Cath’s caff where staff are lucky enough to have their lunch every day. I think I floated up in the lift and it was hard not to squeal in excitement as I made myself a cuppa there in a beautiful Cath cup.

It was just a complete kitchen chic dream, with white tiles, the amazing digital printed Cath wallpaper and a fantastic light fixture made from a cluster of beautiful shades.

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There were a number of tables laid out with our ingredients and the Cath equipment we would be allowed to use during the class, including the beautiful ceramic rolling pin from the new collection. We each had a Madeira cake, plus some ready to roll icing in various colours, and large bowls of icing were on the tables too.

The masterclass tutor took us through the process in stages. We cut the Madeira in half, cut the top of one half off and put the other on it to create the body of the cottage. Then we applied green icing all the way round, which proved to be an unbelievably frustrating process because we were all trying to avoid getting crumbs in the icing!

Then we piped on a red icing roof in strips before rolling and cutting the icing into the right shapes for windows, doors and whatever other decoration we wanted. Small flower cutters proved to be very popular, adding real vintage charm with a simple press and press again.

I had such a laugh cutting and pasting and icing, and it reinforced to me the real pleasure of cooking and baking and making, especially with other people. We couldn’t believe the range of cakes that were produced on the night, and there was cuteness overload when they were all lined up together.

If you get the chance to do a similar class, jump at it! The staff of CK couldn’t have been more welcoming and friendly, waving us off into the night at the end as we gingerly carried our treasured creations home. What a 5 star experience 🙂 Thank you Cath & co!