Chocolate Graveyard Cake

Autumn 2019.jpg

Hello, autumn. And hello again procrastination recipes, it’s been a while. I won’t go over everything that’s happened since I last posted, but the headline is that we’re now in a new team at work, and I find myself surrounded by some excellent bakers. With Halloween coming up, we decided it was time for an office competition – and so, the Data and Student Analytics (Survey Office) Great Halloween Bake Off was born.

My original idea, of a spooky ghost cake made from a hemispherical cake draped in white fondant icing was unceremoniously stolen by the goth baker from this year’s Bake Off, so I had to think again. I’ve wanted to make my own pumpkin pie spice for a couple of years, so I came up with this idea for a rich chocolate cake, filled with orange and pumpkin spice buttercream, covered in orange chocolate ganache and decorated to look like a graveyard… Then I remembered the great roasted cocoa cookies from Dan Lepard, and decided the cake needed roasted cocoa to make it really dark and spooky.

Here’s the final result…


Spooky graveyard cake – fully approved by Jade!

And here’s the recipe.

Chocolate Graveyard Cake. (Vaguely based on Prue Leith’s all in one chocolate cake recipe… but heavily modified!)

For the pumpkin pie spice:


  • 4 tbsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp ginger
  • 1 tbsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • ½ tbs allspice


  1. Mix all 4 spices in a jar. Shake well.

For the cake


  • 60g cocoa
  • 170g plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 110g soft brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g soft butter
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp vanilla essence
  • 1 tube black food colouring (yes, I know it sounds like a lot!)
  • 4 tbsp espresso or very strong instant coffee


  1. Toast the cocoa – pre-heat oven to 150 C, line a baking tin with greaseproof paper and spread the cocoa out in a thin layer. Toast for 25 minutes until a good couple of shades darker. Allow to cool.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 180 C
  3. Line a 20cm cake tin with greaseproof paper.
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and all but 1 tsp of the toasted cocoa into a large bowl. Add the sugars, eggs, butter, vegetable oil and vanilla essence. Beat with an electric hand mixer until fluffy and well-mixed.
  5. Add in the black food colouring and espresso and mix again.
  6. Spoon into the prepared cake tin, level the top.
  7. Bake for 50 minutes, or until it’s firm to the touch.
  8. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out and cool completely.

For the spiced orange buttercream:



  1. Soften the butter, sift the icing sugar into a very large bowl
  2. Add the zest, spice and orange food colouring
  3. Mix with an electric hand whisk until light, fluffy and very orange.

For the ganache:


  • 180g very dark chocolate
  • 160ml double cream
  • 2 tbsp dark soft brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp cointreau


  1. Melt all ingredients together in a saucepan over a low heat.
  2. Stir constantly until they melt together and become smooth and glossy.
  3. Allow to cool and thicken.

Putting it all together

  1. Slice the cold cake horizontally in half.
  2. Spread the buttercream over the bottom half, sandwich the top half on top.
  3. Spread the ganache evenly over the top and sides.
  4. Sprinkle over the remaining toasted cocoa to look like soil.
  5. Decorate with spooky gravestones and a menacing cat. I used these shapes from Hotel Chocolat. 


I WON!!!

Here’s our Director awarding me my medal…


Some glorious cakes, me and Begoña 😀

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Bakewell Turnovers

Walton Pond under inclement skies, perfect crocus, Ouzel Valley floodplain doing what a flood plain should.

Walton Pond under inclement skies, perfect crocus, Ouzel Valley floodplain doing what a flood plain should.

I’ve found something really interesting – well, interesting to me at least! Re-reading Neuromancer for the writing course, I came across the idea of ‘sanpaku’, or the idea that if you can see white underneath or below someone’s iris, it’s a bad sign. (Whether the person is doomed or dangerous depends on whether it’s above or below, according to this idea.) I went back over the eeriest faces from my last study and guess what? They’re the ones with smiling faces and wide, fearful eyes – sanpaku faces, in other words. Look:

The (left-hand) happy face with fearful eyes was found to be the eeriest…

As far as I can establish, there isn’t much in the way of face perception literature about any correlation between this superstition (or folk belief? I’m not really sure what to describe it) and our perceptions of personality from facial appearance but that may be because I don’t read many Japanese psychology journals. I do wonder if I’m onto something there though…
So, what do I do when I have something on my mind? I bake! Like a lot of people, I’ve been watching the SU2C Great British Bake-off and there’s always one of the bakes that I’d like to try – or, in this case, adapt. The Male Judge’s fruit turnovers looked good, but it’s the time of year for Bakewell Tarts, so I decided to combine two things, and make bakewell turnovers. I have to say at the outset, this was an exceptionally lazy way of doing things, with only seven ingredients and not even making my own pastry… Paul Hollywood would be appalled… Still, they came out pretty well – and I need to have a think about whether I do some more reading around sanpaku faces – and, come to think about it, get back to the paper I’m actually supposed to be writing!

Bakewell Turnovers (makes 10: 4 normal-sized turnovers plus 6 mini bitesize ones)


One turnover.

  • 1 320g pack puff pastry (I used Jus Rol All Butter Puff Sheet)
  • 1 425g tin cherries in syrup (I used Epicure Black Cherries in Syrup)
  • 1 200g roll of marzipan (I used Odense Mandelmassa Almond Paste)
  • Milk, for brushing
  • 200g icing sugar
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • ½ tsp almond essence


  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 °C / 400 °F / Gas mark 6.
  2. Drain the cherries, saving the lovely syrupy juice to make into cocktails. (Equal parts cherry brandy, amaretto and cherry juice with a squeeze of lemon would be very good indeed.)
  3. Unroll the pastry, and score into squares, see pic.
  4. Slice the marzipan up into triangles, and press into the corner of each slice.
  5. Distribute the cherries on top of the marzipan.
  6. Brush the edges of the squares with milk to help them stick.
  7. Fold the empty corners of each square over the filled corners and press the edges down well.
  8. Seal the edges with a fork and brush with remaining milk.
  9. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and puffed up.
  10. Leave to cool until completely cold.
  11. Mix together the icing sugar, lemon juice and almond essence and drizzle over the cold pastries.
  12. Leave the icing to set.
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Beetroot and Chocolate Brownies

Winter 2018

The Concrete Cows, Floodplain at the Ouzel valley, Winter berries, Frozen bouquet @ Crownhill Cemetery, Heron at Lodge Lake.

Hello, occasional reader 🙂 It has been a while, hadn’t it?! It’s not that I’ve not been procrastinating, I have, but it’s not been the sort that sends me into the kitchen. However, I am a creature of habit and like night follows day, when I step back into a bit of academic writing, the urge to bake comes back full force*. It’s probably a good thing I’ll never make professor, I’d need a new kitchen!

There’s a paper I’ve not been writing since I graduated, and it feels like unfinished business. I had some really unusual and interesting findings in my last study but every time I’ve tried to turn my thesis chapters into something publishable, all I’ve managed have been false starts or distracting segues into reading other people’s studies that seem much more interesting at the time! (Or finding new discoveries in the world of the uncanny – yesterday I came across this terrific cat-robot. Tell me that wouldn’t distract you from the niceties of face perception literature for half an hour or so?!)

Continue reading

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Trekkers Toffee Apple Pie


*blush* This week, I went for a walk at lunchtime and came home with a collection of apples from the local orchard. I wanted to make this pie for Jef, and was sure that I’d posted the recipe to the blog last year… no, it was sitting here as a draft from almost exactly one year ago. I know I’ve been bad at keeping up with things, but this is really ridiculous!

So, here’s a recipe and a story about an old pub that I meant to post last year. I made the pie again this weekend, but the photos are all from last year. Enjoy 🙂


Once upon a time, there used to be a pub in Milton Keynes called ‘Trekkers‘. It was a science fiction theme pub, and as you can imagine, this household was rather excited when it first arrived in (I think) 2002. It was a proper theme pub, with jokey menus, themed cocktails and a life-size Dalek that lurked in one of the back rooms. I managed to track down a copy of the menu from the wonderful Wayback archive so here you go, have a good read!

They went to town with the decor as well, lots of lava lamps and star scenes. Back in those days me and Jef were involved with a local goth group which met once a week and went around the pubs of Buckinghamshire, taking it in turns to go out in Milton Keynes, Aylesbury and High Wycombe. Rather a lot of those meetings took place in Trekkers – there’s a pleasing overlap between goths and science fiction, I find!

Anyway, this week I was looking for a way to use up the large haul of apples I’d scrumped from the Woughton Community Orchard on my lunch break, and Jef reminded me of the Trekker’s apple pie, a multi-layered thing of beauty. Pie crust, topped with spiced apples, topped with caramel, topped with crumble. Wow! That was going to be a challenge, but I was up for it. The recipe below makes 2 individual sized pies – I was willing to experiment, but didn’t want us to have to eat a sad failed pie for the next few days if it didn’t all go to plan. These mini pies were perfect…

Trekkers eventually closed down in 2004, and I think the owners went on to open up another version in Ireland. The pub is still there and has been through a few different guises over the years, and most recently has had a remake into an Italian restaurant. It’s actually the pub I went to to celebrate my viva, just over a year ago now – to be fair, it was mainly because it was the nearest one to the OU! But I’ve never had a meal there. Trekkers was a long long time ago now, but I do still miss it. Still, we have a version of their pie, and that’s something.

Trekkers Toffee Apple Pie


For the pie

  • Butter for greasing
  • 250g ready made shortcrust pastry (or half a standard supermarket block)
  • Icing sugar to roll out
  • 2 tbs custard powder
  • 250g eating apples, peeled and cored
  • 1 rounded tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tin dulche du leche (or Carnation caramel)

For the crumble topping

  • 60g plain white flour
  • 60g brown sugar
  • 30g cold butter, cut into small pieces


  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/190C Fan/Gas 6.
  2. Grease two mini pie tins with butter.
  3. Grate two third of the apples. Chop the rest into small chunks.  Mix the cinnamon evenly through the grated apple.
  4. Make the crumble topping by stirring together the sugar and flour then rubbing the butter through until it looks like coarse breadcrumbs.
  5. Roll the pastry into a ball and roll into a circle about a third larger than the pie tins.
  6. Drape the pastry into the tin and press gently into the flutes.
  7. Sprinkle the custard powder into the bottom of the cases.
  8. Fill the cases with the apple and cinnamon mix.
  9. Cover the fruit filling evenly with the dulche du leche and then top with the crumble.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes until the pastry is golden and the crumble is well browned.
  11. Serve with cream, custard or ice cream – or if you’re my husband, all three 😉
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Simnel Cake



Hello, folks! Happy Easter – it’s not a festival that I tend to mark much, apart from generic delight at having a few days off work and a hope that the sun will shine, but this year I decided to mark it with cake. Much as Easter is a little similar to Christmas in many ways, but without the pressure and/or fun of presents, this is basically a Christmas cake but without the long time spend waiting for the booze to settle in during the long dark days of winter. This is a lighter, cheerier, springy-er version all round. I do like the fact that it has marzipan in the middle!

So, what’s been going on since I last blogged? Well, I handed in the posh bound copies of my thesis, as pictured above, and I had confirmation through that the OU were happy to confer upon me the title of Dr back in December! I will do the full graduation ceremony thing but not until quite late this year, just because of when the dates for my local ceremony have been set. (October 28th, I must think of a suitable cake to bake!)

So, now what? After ten years of PhD, I managed less than a month before signing up for another OU course, but this one is much more fun – photography! It’s only a short, 10 week introduction but I’m loving it so far. Some of the photos above are ones I’ve used in my assignments. I’m never going to be an expert but I enjoy the process of hunting down images that make me smile.

And, of course, getting back to baking after a long, long pause. Because this cake reminded me of Christmas, I put my December 2015 playlist on while I was baking (all hail Spotify and my obsessive habit of making a playlist for every month!) and, well, I’ve not listened to that playlist since December rolled away and I had other songs to listen to. So, while I was stirring the batter, it was a bit of a shock to be reminded that in amongst my festive tracks, I’d added one of the songs that was due to appear on David Bowie’s ‘new’ album, and when it started playing it stopped me in my tracks. ‘Lazarus’. A song about someone rising from the dead, listened to at Easter, sung by someone who died just a few days after I added that track to my playlist. For a moment, all the colour went out of the day and I went very, very cold. I thought I’d shaken off the shock and upset from that death, but music can be amazing at making things come back and bite. What a loss.

It’s been a long, cold winter and I’ve not been very good at being happy. Wish I knew how to do better at that, but I don’t. Still, here’s a cake for a day where we’re forecast thunder but at the moment it’s sunny and bright. Eventually the sun comes out.

Simnel Cake (based on St. Mary’s recipe here)IMG_5458


  • 100g/4oz glacé cherries
  • 225g/8oz butter, softened
  • 225g/8oz light muscovado sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 225g/8oz self-raising flour
  • 225g/8oz sultanas
  • 100g/4oz currants
  • 50g/2oz chopped crystallised ginger
  • 2 lemons, grated zest only
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice

For the filling and topping

  • 1-2 tbsp apricot jam, warmed
  • 1 wodge of marzipan, courtesy of Grandma Lay’s recipe


  1. Preheat the oven to 150C/280F/Gas 2. Grease and line a 20cm/ 8in cake tin.

  2. Prepare the marzipan according to the recipe above.
  3. Cut the ginger into large chunks.

  4. Place the ginger in a bowl with the butter, sugar, eggs, self-raising flour, sultanas, currants, candied peel, lemon zest and mixed spice and beat well until thoroughly mixed. Pour half the mixture into the prepared tin.

  5. Take one-third of the marzipan and roll it out to a circle the size of the tin and then place on top of the cake mixture. Spoon the remaining cake mixture on top and level the surface.

  6. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 2½ hours, or until well risen, evenly brown and firm to the touch. Cover with aluminium foil after one hour if the top is browning too quickly. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out, peel off the parchment and finish cooling on a wire rack.

  7. When the cake is cool, brush the top with a little warmed apricot jam and roll out half the remaining marzipan to fit the top. Press firmly on the top and crimp the edges to decorate. Mark a criss-cross pattern on the marzipan with a sharp knife. Form the remaining marzipan into 11 balls.

  8. Brush the marzipan with beaten egg and arrange the marzipan balls around the edge of the cake. Brush the tops of the balls with beaten egg and then carefully place the cake under a hot grill until the top is lightly toasted.


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Mince Pie Flapjack

Winter 15

My favourite three little words at the moment are ‘Academic requirements met’.

I saw that in the subject line of an email that came in on Thursday and it’s one of the best emails I’ve ever been sent! It means, finally, that I’ve done all the work that I need to do, and the OU have decided that my research meets the standards set for a PhD. I can’t quite believe it! At every stage, particularly this year, I’ve been sure that someone official was going to pop up and say ‘You know what, no. Daft idea, rubbish execution, written like a five-year old – we’re pulling the plug.’

But they didn’t! To be honest, I should have known  this since August, as I only had some minor corrections to make after my viva but there’s still that nagging bit of doubt. So now they done, and they’ve been checked and I’m good. All I need to do now is get several copies printed and handed in for the library to put on their shelves (!!!) and I’m done.

This is fantastic news for me, of course, but also for my long-suffering husband, because it means I get more time to bake. These are for Jef, with love.

Yesterday, Jef was wondering why, in a world of Lotus biscuit spread, Malteser’s crunchy chocolate spread and nutella, don’t we have a spreadable version of mincemeat that could be used in sandwiches. A fair question – I’ve heard of people spreading leftover mincemeat on hot toast, perhaps with a bit of marzipan grated over the top, for an indulgent Boxing Day breakfast, but the sandwich spread issue seems to be the presence of those lumps of suet. Mincemeat needs heat. So I decided to try a filled flapjack approach to see how that would work.

Mince Pie Flapjack with orange and cinnamon icing (Based on this recipe here)


The icing came out slightly more pink than I expected

(Makes 12-16, depending on how large you slice them)


For the flapjack and filling

  • Your chosen mincemeat. I made a batch of pies last weekend using half a jar of Waitrose’s spiced mincemeat so allow 200g or so for this flapjack
  • 100g mixed dried fruit (I used currants and sultanas)
  • 3 tbsp whisky
  • 250g butter
  • 3 tbs golden syrup
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup (I used this cinnamon spiced one)
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 500g oats

For the icing:

  • 200g icing sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 3 tsp orange juice


  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190ºC/170ºC fan.
  2. Charlotte recommends lining a baking tin with greaseproof paper but I had a silicon baking tin so used that instead.
  3. Put the dried fruit and whisky in a small bowl and microwave for 30-60 seconds, until it steams nicely. (If you were organised, you could just leave it to soak the night before – I wasn’t!)
  4. In a large saucepan, melt the butter, sugar and syrups together, stirring occasionally.
  5. When melted and well-combined, remove from the heat and stir in the oats.
  6. Make a base layer of the buttery oat mixture in the bottom of your tray, pressing down very firmly.
  7. Spread the mincemeat in an even layer across the base.
  8. Drain the boozy soaked fruit and sprinkle over the mincemeat.
  9. Add the remaining oat mixture and again, press down firmly.
  10. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until golden brown.
  11. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool thoroughly.
  12. While the flapjack is cooling, sieve the icing sugar and cinnamon into a large bowl. Add the orange juice and stir to give a thin icing.
  13. Drizzle the icing over the flapjacks when they are completely cool and leave to set.
  14. Slice into 12 or 16 pieces, and enjoy with a mug of tea. Or pose with a twinkly Christmas tree!





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Chocolate Whiskey Layer Cake

I love that 10 minutes from my desk, I can be walking in the countryside.

I love that 10 minutes from my desk, I can be walking in the countryside.

This feels like the first autumn in years that I’ve actually been able to enjoy. For ages now, feeling stressed and overwhelmed has meant that a change of season has meant time is running out and I’ve not done enough. It feels very very strange not to have that massive invisible clock ticking away at the back of my mind – strange, but nice! It’s meant I’ve had time to start baking and cooking properly again, to use my lunch breaks for walks in the countryside around the OU, and to really notice all the little changes in the trees, the light, and the quality of the air that indicate we’re moving to a colder season. I’ve said before that Milton Keynes becomes breathtakingly beautiful in the autumn as the city of trees turns red and golden, and this year looks like it’s going to be particularly stunning. Or maybe I’m just noticing it more this year, because I have time.

Autumn also means – Mum’s birthday, and Jef’s birthday! Mum’s isn’t until early October but last weekend was our closest visiting opportunity to the big day so I made a cake. Oh, what a cake. I’ve been a fan of the Little Loaf blog for a while now, and have had this recipe for a show-stopping chocolate layer cake bookmarked for just this event 😀

Kate uses Jack Daniels in her recipe and while I know that would go down well, some of my party aren’t that partial to its smoky edge, so I went for the smoother, gentler burr of Glenmorangie. It worked beautifully in the buttercream, syrup and chocolate truffles. Oh, that buttercream! The addition of the condensed milk – or it might have been the whisky – did something magical in turning it mousse-like and glorious.

This is probably the best cake I’ve ever made. I’m so proud of it! Thank you to Kate for the recipe! Happy birthday, Mum.

Chocolate Whiskey Layer Cake

Baking before breakfast again

Baking before breakfast again

Original recipe here, and followed to the letter, with the exception of swapping Glenmorangie in, instead of the Jack Daniels.


For the cake

  • 340g plain flour
  • 525g golden caster sugar
  • 128g cocoa powder
  • 2 ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 2 ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 3 large free range eggs
  • 375ml full fat milk
  • 188ml groundnut oil
  • 3 tsp vanilla extract
  • 375ml boiling water

For the whiskey syrup

  • 100ml water
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 50ml whiskey

For the buttercream

  • 150g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 350g icing sugar
  • 4 tbsp condensed milk
  • 2 tbsp whiskey, or to taste

For the ganache

  • 250g dark chocolate, chopped
  • 250ml double cream
  • 100g light brown muscovado sugar


For the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line three 20cm cake tins.
  2. Sift the flour, caster sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk for one minute to combine. You could also do this using an electric whisk.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs then add the milk and groundnut oil. Pour into the dry mixture and whisk for two to three minutes until well combined.
  4. With the whisk running, add the boiling water to your mixture a little at a time until combined. The batter will be extremely liquid.
  5. Pour into your prepared cake tins and bake in the centre of the oven for 25 – 35 minutes, or until the tops are firm and a skewer or toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven.

For the whiskey syrup

Parsley, Mum's 3rd child ;)

Parsley, Mum’s 3rd child 😉

  1. Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes until the sugar has dissolved. Add the whiskey and simmer for one minute more then remove from the heat.
  2. Trickle the syrup over the top of each cake while still warm then set aside to cool completely.

For the buttercream
Make sure your butter is nice and soft. In a stand mixer or using an electric whisk, beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar and whisk to combine, then add the condensed milk. Continue to beat until light and fluffy, slowly incorporating the whiskey until fully combined.

For the ganache

  1. Place the chopped chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl.
  2. Heat the cream and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and simmer for one minute.
  3. Remove the cream from the heat and allow to stand for one minute – pouring it directly over the chocolate will cause it to split. Once it has rested, pour over the chocolate and stir until smooth and glossy, using a rubber spatula or whisk.
  4. Set aside for thirty minutes or until it has cooled to a spreadable consistency

To assemble the cake

  1. Smear a small amount of whiskey buttercream on a serving plate or cake stand. Place one round of cake on top. Slather over half the quantity of whiskey buttercream, top with a second round of cake and repeat. Top with the final round of cake and smooth any buttercream that has squidged out the sides.
  2. Dollop your ganache on top of the cake then use a spatula or palette knife to spread it down and round the edges. Use a slightly heated palette knife for a smooth finish.
  3. (Steph) Despite applying the ganache like I was plastering a small cottage, I had rather a lot left over. I added another generous splash of whisky, stirred it in and put the bowlful of now-very-alcoholic chocolate in the fridge to chill. I then rolled tea-spoons full of the mix into balls, rolled them in cocoa powder and lo – chocolate truffles for the top of the cake. Well – one or two might have ended up in the cook rather than on the cake! *hic*  
Alight and glowing

Alight and glowing

Look at those layers!

Look at those layers!

Happy birthday to Mum!

Happy birthday to Mum!

The Cake.  In all its truffled glory.

The Cake.
In all its truffled glory.

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Dulche du Leche Salted Caramel Brownies


Hello again. Oh, what a summer it’s been. A few of you probably saw this post when it went up in July – I’d planned it ahead to post on the day of my viva, but things went awry and the viva ended up postponed until August. As you can tell from the writing here, I’d geared myself up for the event and was thoroughly shaken when it didn’t actually happen. I definitely didn’t think about my blog! And it’s only now that I’m getting back to thinking about baking again – and blogging again too 🙂

So, I’m putting this back up for completeness. I’ll finish off the story of my viva in later posts – I’ve got quite a few new bakes to write up and share…

This is a bit of a sneaky post. Forgive me. The premise of this blog has been me procrastinating about working on my PhD – and if you’re reading this, it means that it’s July 15th and about now I should have finished my viva and know whether or not I’ve passed. (There are only a handful of people in the whole world who knew the date beforehand. It’s daft of me, but I wanted to keep it secret because I have a horrible fear it’s not going to go well.)

Of course, I’ve queued this up in advance so this will probably end up being the post of crushing, heart-breaking, appalling disappointment that has been the subject of every single nightmare I’ve had since I submitted the thesis on March 22nd. It’s not even funny – I’ve had nightmares where I’ve found that the content includes swearwords, where it includes random holiday photos in the place of my graphs and tables, and even where content from this blog got mixed up with the real text!

It’s something of an understatement to say that I am petrified about my viva. Smugly, I had always thought that if anyone gets to the point of submitting the thesis, the viva should just be a ticky-box exercise where friendly examiners chat through the work you’ve done and agree you’re a competent researcher. That might be the case for some people, but I think it’s going to be a bit more challenging for me. I do not expect to pass.

But that’s ok. It has to be. It just needs to be over. I’ve not had much in the way of happiness or relaxation since March. I’m just so scared, all the time. I have had weekends wiped out by panic attacks that take away my ability to think straight. I cry, most days, and I haven’t been able to feel happy, it has been a very long time since I smiled. Every morning, I wake up terrified about my viva, and it’s physically hard to make myself get up and get through the day of my proper-job – which is also difficult and stressful. I’ve been a right royal pain in the arse to my loved ones, friends, family and colleagues because I’m so miserable. (So sorry, all.)

[By the way, there is no counselling or support available for part-time PhD students at the OU. I checked, back in December.]

However today goes, it’s an end where I can stop feeling that my life is constrained, limited, defined and damaged by my choice to do a part-time doctorate. I’ve given up so much, broken so many things, closed off friendships, relied too heavily on friends and family, (and pissed them off mightily, I’m sure!) and probably given up any chance of being a parent. Ten years. For something I honestly expect will be a failure.

Sorry, folks. This is the fear talking 🙂 Either way, afterwards I’m going to get more time to bake!

So. Those brownies I lured you in with in the subject line. These were made exactly three weeks before VIVA DAY. And the scenic photos above were taken that day too. It’s too late to wish me luck, but please be kind if/when the outcome isn’t a pass. Thank you.

Dulche du Leche Salted Caramel Brownies

Here’s the recipe – not mine! The original is at this site:

  • 175g good quality dark chocolate
  • 175g butter cubed
  • 25g good quality cocoa powder, sifted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 225g caster or soft light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g plain flour
  • ½ of a 397g tin of Carnation caramel or dulce de leche
  1. Pre heat the oven to 180ºC
  2. Place the chocolate, butter and cocoa powder in a microwavable dish and cook on HIGH MICROWAVE for 3 mins*. Remove from the oven and stir well, put to one side to cool.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs sugar and vanilla extract together for 2 mins until light and creamy.
  4. Add the chocolate mix and continue to whisk until well combined.
  5. Fold the flour through with a metal spoon.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin. Using a teaspoon add blobs of the caramel all over the surface of the brownies. Then using a sharp knife or skewer, run it around in swirls for a marbled effect.
  7. Bake in the oven for 25 mins. When cooked it should be dry on top but still slightly gooey and fudgy inside. Don’t be tempted to leave it in the oven any longer.
  8. Allow to cool in the tin, and then cut into squares.


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Banana, Pecan and Ginger Muffins

A collection of photos from over the winter - a sunset, a moody church, a padlock, a path, bright daffodil, a skull in a tree, and three tiny glimpses of snow!

A collection of photos from over the winter – a sunset, a moody church, a padlock, a path, bright daffodils, a skull in a tree, and three tiny glimpses of snow!

Hello! It’s been a while, I know. I’ve been busy working on the last chapters for my thesis – I’m back on track to hand everything in by the end of March which is terrifying, unbelievable and wonderful all at the same time. However, it’s not really left much time for baking. Today was an exception – these only took 5 minutes to mix up and 20 to bake and I’m so glad I did. They’re delicious.

These are a mix between a Nigella recipe and a Delia idea – I’ve stolen the muffin base from Nigella, and the topping from Delia. Never mind, I added lots of other bits to it to make it mine 🙂

Banana, Pecan and Ginger Muffins with Pecan Streusel Topping

The crunchy topping really makes these special...

The crunchy topping really makes these special…

Makes 8 muffins


  • very ripe or overripe  bananas 
  • 125 ml vegetable oil 
  • large eggs 
  • 100 grams soft light brown sugar 
  • 150g strong brown bread flour
  • 30g crystallised ginger
  • 50g finely chopped pecan nuts
  • 175g plain flour 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 20g pecan nuts
  • Another teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 20g soft brown sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 and put 8 paper cases in muffin tins. I needed 2 tins as mine are only 6 hole ones.
  2. Mash the bananas by hand or with a freestanding mixer. Still beating and mashing, add the oil followed by the eggs and sugar and cinnamon.
  3. Chop the pecan nuts finely – add 50g to the mix, reserving the rest for the topping. Stir in the crystallised ginger too.
  4. Mix the flours and bicarb together and add this mixture, beating gently, to the banana mixture,
  5. Spoon it into the prepared papers.
  6. Mix together the reserved pecans, cinnamon and sugar to give an even crumbly mix of nuts, sugar and spice. Sprinkle about a teaspoon of this over the top of each muffin.
  7. Bake in the preheated oven for 15–20 minutes, by which time the muffins should be dark, rounded and peeking proudly out of their cases. Allow to cool slightly in their tin before removing to a wire rack.
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Chocolate Birthday Cake

Quadruple layer chocolate cake!

Quadruple layer chocolate cake!

I made this for Angela’s birthday – I was really happy with how it turned out! It was very quick and easy to make, and looked stunning. I went for the square tin because that’s the only one I could find in a rush, but it would work well in two round tins too. The recipe suggested 22cm ones.

Moody-looking cake under my new cherry tree light

Moody-looking cake under my new cherry tree light

Chocolate Birthday Cake with Wonderful Chocolate Ganache (Original recipe here)


With all the candles lit

With all the candles lit

For the cake

  • 225g/8oz plain flour
  • 350g/12½oz caster sugar
  • 85g/3oz cocoa powder
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 250ml/9fl oz milk
  • 125ml/4½fl oz vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 250ml/9fl oz boiling water

For the chocolate icing

  • 200g/7oz plain chocolate
  • 200ml/7fl oz double cream

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Look frantically for the cake tins you should be using, find a silicone brownie tray instead, decide that will have to do!
  2. For the cake, place all of the cake ingredients, except the boiling water, into a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon, or electric whisk, beat the mixture until smooth and well combined.
  3. Add the boiling water to the mixture, a little at a time, until smooth. (The cake mixture will now be very liquid.)
  4. Pour the cake mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for 25-35 minutes, or until the top is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  5. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool completely, still in the tin, before icing.
  6. For the chocolate icing, heat the chocolate and cream in a saucepan over a low heat until the chocolate melts. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk the mixture until smooth, glossy and thickened. Set aside to cool for 1-2 hours, or until thick enough to spread over the cake.
  7. To assemble, turn out the cake then slice in half across its waist and then again down the centre to make four equal pieces.
  8. Place one of the neater pieces on a serving plate. Spread a little chocolate icing over it, then sandwich another on top. Repeat until you have a  stack of four layers.
  9. Spread the rest of the icing all around the outside.
  10. To give a nice, shiny and smooth appearance, heat up the blade of a knife in boiling water, then wipe dry with kitchen roll and use to smooth the icing all over the top and sides of the cake.
  11. Garnish with candles, and admire!
Happy birthday!

Happy birthday!

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