Friday, 21 September 2012

Chocolate Banana Cake

I've made a few challenging things over recent months on this blog, but today was one of the hardest of all. This afternoon we made a birthday cake for our beloved husband and daddy who died 8 months ago.

Reuben and I had a conversation a while ago which made me decide I wanted to make a chocolate and banana cake. A friend of mine recently made a fantastic one and kindly passed on the recipe. I must say this one came out very differently - I seem to have a problem with particularly flat cakes at the moment, and the banana was much more chunky and noticeable in this one, but I *loved* it. It was even more moist than last time I tried it, and I added a little more cocoa. It's really, really good!

Monday, 17 September 2012

Pasta Sauce

I've thrown tinned tomatoes at pasta many a time, adding some kind of herbs/garlic/wine combo to try and make it interesting, but it's always disappointing.

Recently I bought a jar of pasta sauce and it was good. Really good. The little guy gobbled it down and I enjoyed it too. But for a long time I have wanted to try and nail a good homemade version, and last week I finally did. Well, I made a good homemade version, but I'm not sure if I quite nailed it... I would have liked a bit more depth and richness to the flavour, it was a little light and tangy. But it's a good place to start, nothing beats cooking something off like this to bring stronger flavour. You can play around with this recipe as much as you like - barely anything in it is essential.

I read a few recipes and put together some different ideas, starting with one I found on the Taste website. All recipes suggested fresh basil but we're in the wrong season for basil in my garden, so I used dried oregano and fresh parsley. I chose to add a teaspoon of sugar towards the end of cooking as the sauce was very tangy. The sugar added a little depth and softened it a bit, though not as much as I wanted. I almost wondered if it needs a little stock added - call me crazy, but I did come across the idea of adding a mirepoix which is a vegetable base for many stocks and sauces. I may not go this far next time, but I would probably add more tomato paste, and go out of my way to get some really good tinned tomatoes. For now though, feel free to just grab what you have in your pantry. If you have any thoughts on improving this recipe, I would love to hear them.

I wanted a smooth texture, so blitzed it in the blender after cooking.

Pasta Sauce

1 tablespoon oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 x 400g tins whole plum tomatoes
Splash of wine (red is ideal, white is fine)
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper

Simmer chopped onion and garlic in the oil and butter until softened but not brown.
Add the tomato paste and stir for one minute, then add the tomatoes and wine and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add sugar, salt and pepper and herbs to taste.

PS - an easy meal idea is to chop up some mushroom, capsicum and really fine bits of broccoli and add it to the sauce. You may even want to do this before you freeze it. A great way to get more veg in to kids, if you find that a challenge. I had some of this leftover recently and put it in an omelette for lunch. Yummo!


I thought I would sneak you an extra post occasionally - a little off the topic but worth recording.

Birthday season has arrived in my family. My brother's birthday comes first, and while we didn't have a family celebration this year, I made him some shortbread on the weekend and we sat round on the floor with our kids to eat it. Reuben ordered candles and singing, so it felt like a real party.

Mum's Shortbread

1/2 pound of butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornflour
2 cups flour

Soften butter then add sugar and beat until creamy.
Add flours and mix.

Press in to a greased, lined tin, using the bottom of a glass to smooth the surface.

Bake at 150 degrees for 35-40 mins.

To do what I've done here, add in the juice of a mandarin to the buttery mixture, and an extra shake of flour. Top shortbread with mandarin zest and a sprinkle of fine grated chocolate.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


I'm just going to come right out there and say it. I think I have the best recipe around for scones. It's not like it's any credit to me or anything - I just happened to buy the right recipe book (and actually use it). I had an interesting discussion with a friend recently about good recipes, and a tendency many have to not want to share their best recipes. Perhaps we like the glory we get from producing

something that no one in our circle can do as well. But the chances are the recipe was passed on to us, and surely we can share? My friend told me that some women in years gone by were known to pass recipes on when asked, but purposely leave out a key ingredient to ensure their friend's failure (RB I promise I didn't do that to you!). Have you ever been tempted to do such a thing, or just ducked and dodged when asked for a recipe? If ever I feel the temptation rising in me, obviously I have to quell it fast for the sake of this blog. And if ever I were to feel the temptation rising in me, it would be now, with this scone recipe.

I had a long phase of making these scones when living in London a few years ago, and had them regularly for morning tea. I like a really good morning tea when working full time in an office, but also like to avoid too much sugar. So these were perfect. I gained a bit of a reputation for eating them every day, and occasionally snuck one to my two favourite work mates to cheer up their mornings.

Reuben is not a big fan of baking and I was rather disappointed when he shunned these without even trying! I have long since given up trying to give them to him, but recently made these baby size scones for baby Esther, and was stoked when she scoffed the lot! That's my girl. And you know what? Even Reuben had some.


The instructions below are for standard size muffins, whereas I have made smaller ones in these pics. The recipe comes from Marie Claire Kitchen, with a few small changes from me. I recommend also trying cheese scones, just omit the sultanas and add grated cheese (a good half cup or more) and a sprinkle of chilli powder. Of course swapping the sultanas for dates is always a popular option too. The recipe has eggs in it which is very unusual for scones, and the mixture is really wet. Rather than pressing the dough out and cutting with a knife, you will be scooping it out of the bowl and on to the tray with a spoon.

I have tried all kinds of ways of rubbing butter in to flour, as i hate doing it with my fingers. My Mum had one of those scoopy half circle wire thingamies when I was a kid, but I don't find those very successful. I have tried grating butter in and imagined squeezing it through a garlic crusher, but still this doesn't make it fine enough. What a twit I felt like when my cousin said she just beats it hard in the mixer. So obvious. I have never looked back. Turn it up hard and fast and grease your oven tray while you wait.

And actually, if you do take "my" recipe, give it a try and make it "yours", I would be delighted!


 400g flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
85 g butter
200 mls milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup sultanas

Pour boiling water over the sultanas to soak while preparing the other ingredients (this helps to stop them burning while cooking). Drain really well in a sieve before using.

Put the dry in ingredients in to mixer bowl and combine. Dice butter in to squares and blitz in the mixture until well combined (or rub butter in to flour mixture if you are doing by hand). Add sultanas. Whisk milk and eggs together and add to mixture.

Spoon 12 scones out on to a greased and/or floured tray and bake at 200 degrees for approx12 minutes.

I have almost cheated by including this recipe on The Cook's Sponge, as it has not been part of my current learning experience - it's an old one. But I do think it needs to join the Best Recipe file, I'm keen to share it with you, and the pics are my best yet don't you think?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Mini Marmalade Bread and Butter Puddings

So then. The English and their puddings. What can I say? When we lived in London I worked for an organisation that had, among many other fantastic things, a cafeteria. A number of my otherwise discerning work mates would get very excited about the array of puddings on offer throughout the week. I can't remember them all, but they were the old-school classics, custardy things, roly polys, sponges, crumbles, spotted dick (I definitely remember that one) and bread and butter puddings. Really nothing could ever convince me to get in to this stuff (though I will eat a good crumble) and I would turn up my Antipodean nose at all of it, in much the same way that the locals know how to turn up their noses at us Antipodeans for all manner of things. But I digress.

I did find a recipe for bread and butter pudding that I tried, perhaps because it was so far from the original concept. Classic b & b pudding is made with slices of buttered white bread baked in a mixture of whisked milk, cream, eggs and sugar, and sprinkled with sultanas. The recipe I came across was made with brioche (sweet and buttery bread), extra egg yolks and loads of chocolate. Really, everything that is bad for you could be found in that one recipe. It tasted very, very good and I have never, ever made it again. It's a once in a decade calorie laden special. And to be honest I think it barely qualifies as real bread and butter pudding.

Towards the end of our time in London we lived with another couple, and Helen and her visiting mother made a bread and butter pudding which they kindly shared with us. They decided to try making it with panetone, a sweet Italian bread made with raisins and citrus flavours. They also added marmalade to the mix and it was *amazing.* From then on I was convinced that bread and butter pudding, with the right ingredients, could be something special.

To add to this list of exciting experiences, when back in Wellington a friend and I went to Flori's for afternoon tea and she chose a muffin sized bread and butter pudding. I snuck a bite, wished I had got it for myself, and haven't stopped thinking about it since. It was flavoured with I can't remember what - perhaps berries?- but there was only one thing at the top of my list when it came to make this pudding myself.

There are only about two foods in this world that my mother won't eat - marmalade and tamarillos - and when she and her sister were given marmalade toast as children by a kindly relative, they threw it out. I think it's going to be hard to convince her, and other marmalade haters, to give this a try. And then there are all the bread and butter pudding sceptics out there. I told a broad minded and widely experimenting baking friend about my awesome b & b pudding discoveries and she struggled to believe me. I am determined to turn her around, but I haven't heard from her after delivering her one of these gems the morning after baking, so I am nervous. And to be honest, I wonder if I have convinced any of you.

To create the puddings below, how could I start anywhere other than with Delia, the Queen of British cooking? I found that she has a recipe for bread and butter puddings that included marmalade, so I just added sultanas to mine, and adjusted the cooking time to make mini puddings in large muffin tins. I am a big cream fan, and for the first and perhaps only time in my life, recommend runny cream rather than whipped. Yoghurt has its place, but I'm afraid I can only recommend cream for this particular recipe...

I made 8 mini puddings. I could have fitted the mixture into 6 tins which would have made for less washing up, but obviously the puddings would have been bigger, and they are pretty filling. You decide. If you only have standard muffin tins you could try making tiny ones; just remember to reduce the cooking time.

Mini Marmalade Bread and Butter Puddings

6 thick slices white bread, with crusts
Butter for spreading
Marmalade for spreading
Handful of sultanas
275 ml full cream milk
60 ml cream
3 eggs
75g sugar
Demerara sugar for sprinkling
Orange zest/candied peel (optional)

Generously butter all 6 slices of bread.
Spread marmalade thickly over 3 slices, then top with the other 3 slices to make marmalade sandwiches.
Spread butter across the top of all 3 sandwiches.
Chop or tear roughly in to pieces, and spread pieces out amongst 6 - 8 large muffin tins, adding sultanas as you go.
Whisk together the milk, cream, eggs and sugar, and pour over the bread.
Sprinkle with demerara sugar and zest and peel if you wish.
Bake at 180 degrees for approx 25 minutes.