Victoria Sponge Cake

Posted in British food, recipe on January 13th, 2018 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

Victoria Sponge Cake, or Victoria Sandwich Cake, is a deceptively simple recipe. Only 4 ingredients. But as you know, the simpler a recipe, the more any flaws show, so the secret to a good Victoria Sponge is to practice, practice, and practice again, which gives you a good excuse to use up all the jam you have been making, doesn’t it 🙂

Preheat oven to 350f / 180c.

  • 4oz (114g) butter
  • 4oz (114g) caster sugar (powdered sugar)
  • 4oz (114g) self raising flour, sifted
  • 2 large eggs
  • Cream the butter and sugar. Whisk the eggs and slowly add them to the butter mix. Fold in the flour. Place in a greased, floured baking tin – this amount makes a nice 6 or 7 inch cake.

    Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Cake should be a light brown colour.

    Allow cake to fully cool to room temperature, split in half, then fill with your preferred filling. We like home made jam and clotted cream, but feel free to improvise as you see fit.

    Dust cake with caster (powdered) sugar just before serving with a nice hot cup of tea.

    Well… OK. Size isn’t everything, you know!

    You can double or treble the ingredients, but I would suggest making two 6 or 7 inch cakes rather than one large cake. This is a delicate cake that can dry out quite easily, so on your own head be it!

    For a double batch in a 9 inch pan, preheat oven to 325f / 160c. Bake double batch for 20 to 25 minutes, using same check.

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    Christmas Cake

    Posted in British food, recipe on December 31st, 2017 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

    Christmas cake is best made early in the year. This allows the maximum amount of time for the flavours to mature, as well as allowing the regular sousing with brandy, whisky, whiskey, or bourbon to deepen the flavours.

  • Preheat oven to 325f / 160c
  • 10oz butter
  • 10oz brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon black treacle or molasses
  • grated rind 2 lemons
  • 5 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons brandy, rum, or sherry
  • 12oz plain / all purpose flour, sifted
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1.5lb currants
  • 12oz sultanas
  • 12oz raisins
  • 4oz blanched chopped almonds
  • 4oz chopped mixed candied citrus peel
  • 4oz chopped glace cherries
  • Cream the butter, sugar, and treacle with the lemon rind until light and fluffy. Whisk the eggs and liquid together and slowly beat into the creamed mixture, adding a little of the sifted flour if it looks like it’s curdling. Gently mix in the fruit, nuts, peel, spices, and flour until just incorporated.

    Put mixture into a greased baking pan and bake at 325f/160c for 1.5 hours, then drop the oven temp to 300f / 150c and bake for another 2.5 to 3 hours until a skewer inserted in the middle of cake comes out clean.

    Store the cake in a cool dry place, in a sealed container, until it is Christmas time. If you make this more than a month in advance… which you are doing, right??… souse down the top surface with 1tbsp to 2tbsp of brown liquor (brandy, whisky, whiskey, bourbon) once a month. This will help preserve the cake as well as adding depth and complexity to the flavour.

    You might want to look at my substitutions article, as well as my comments on Christmas Pudding when it comes to tweaking the recipe to taste/allergies.

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    Christmas Pudding

    Posted in British food, dessert, recipe on December 31st, 2017 by stuart — 1 Comment so far

    This is a 1968 recipe, based off many older recipes. I retrieved it from “Marguerite Pattens Every Day Cookbook“, which you can buy from second hand. See * substitutions below.

  • 1lb raisins*
  • 12oz sultanas*
  • 12oz currants*
  • 4oz chopped candied peel*
  • 2oz blanched almonds*
  • 2oz flour
  • 3.5 tsp spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc)
  • 8oz sugar
  • 8oz fresh white breadcrumbs
  • grated rind 1 lemon
  • 4oz shredded suet (or freeze and grate 1 stick butter)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 pint whisky OR Old Ale OR Imperial Stout OR milk OR orange juice
  • Mix together all the dried fruit, peel, and almonds. Sieve flour and spices together then add to the fruit mixture along with the sugar, breadcrumbs, rind, and suet (grated butter). Beat eggs and then blend with the 1/2 pint of wet stuff. Stir** the egg/alcohol mixture to incorporate into the dry ingredients.

    Put batter into a pudding basin (or split among several smaller basins), cover with greaseproof paper and foil, then steam for 4 to 8 hours depending on size of pudding basin. After steaming, uncover and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover with fresh greaseproof paper and foil and store in a cool, dry place until Christmas day. Steam for 3 hours to warm through, serve with hard sauce or brandy butter. (You can also souse with heated liquor and then set fire to it at the table. Make sure you have a wet cloth to hand in case it goes wrong!)

    * replace with any similar other dried fruit, such as craisins, cherries, blueberries, chopped apricots, or other such ingredients to allow for allergies and personal tastes. I replace all these ingredients with more dried fruit which works out great for us!

    ** British tradition is “Stir-Up Sunday”. Make the pudding on the first Sunday of Advent, and invite all members of the family to stir the mix at this point – it is supposed to bring luck for the coming year.

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    Posted in information on December 31st, 2017 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

    A note on some basic substitutions you can make to accommodate differences in what is available in stores.

    Some stores in the US are now selling “beef tallow”. Beef tallow is rendered out suet. It also tends to be painfully expensive. is now selling Atora suet, which is cheaper than the tallow, but still somewhat costly. Whether it is worth buying for the sake of flavour is a decision I will leave to you!

    I find that frozen and grated butter works fine as a substitute.

    The ideal situation is to just buy a pudding basin. They are not too expensive, but they are uni-taskers. Any glass or metal container which is roughly twice or thrice as tall as it is wide will make a decent substitute.

    Pumpkin pie spice is fine as a substitute. You can also make your own mixed spice blend to taste, just use the sweet spices such as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, etc.

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    Microwave Lemon Curd

    Posted in recipe on December 8th, 2017 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

    Lemon curd is delicious, and you need to make some now!

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs (yolks and whites)
  • 1 cup fresh lemon juice (about 4-5 lemons)
  • zest of 3 lemons
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • In a large microwave-safe bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs until smooth and thoroughly combined. Whisk in lemon juice, lemon zest and melted butter.

    Cook in the microwave on full power for one minute intervals, stirring after each minute. This process will take about 3-5 minutes depending on the strength of your microwave. You will know the lemon curd is done cooking when it coats the back of a metal spoon.

    Remove from the microwave, push through a fine, mesh sieve and pour into sterile jar or container.

    Once the curd has cooled to room temperature, cover it with a lid and store it in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. The curd will thicken as it cools.

    There are recipes out there for shelf stable lemon curd you can hot water bath process. This is not one of them… eat it on toast, crumpets, or with a spoon!

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    Fresh custard recipe

    Posted in dairy, dessert, frugal living, information on December 3rd, 2017 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

    It’s funny how you can get a mental block about something. In my case, it was custard. I always saw custard being made from Bird’s powder, and even when I moved to the USA I carried on buying it, albeit at a stupid price.

    Then, recently, I decided to check out how to make custard from scratch.

    Wait… only 5 ingredients?!!? That I already have in my pantry?!! Sign me up!

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons corn (starch)/(flour)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Combine the first 3 ingredients in a pot. Slowly heat while whisking until the milk is “scalded” (just beginning to bubble at the edges, or a little steam coming off). Take milk off the heat while you whisk the eggs and vanilla together.

    Temper the hot milk into the egg mixture – that is, pour a slow stream into the eggs while whisking vigorously. This prevents you making weirdly sweet scrambled eggs, which is not what you are looking for.

    Once you have incorporated about half the milk mix into the eggs, pour the egg mix into the pot and cook for a few minutes until it thickens up and coats the back of the spoon.

    You should mentally stick a * next to each ingredient after the milk. You can increase or decrease the corn starch/flour to make it thicker or thinner. You can make it more or less sweet. You can make it more or less eggy, or swap out the whole eggs for 4 egg yolks which will make it much more rich and indulgent. You can add more or less vanilla, or other flavourings such as almond. Once you have mastered the basic recipe, go ahead and customise it to your heart’s content.

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    Instant hot chocolate

    Posted in dairy, frugal living, recipe, sugar on December 2nd, 2017 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

    Hot chocolate comes in two varieties: the ones worth drinking, and the ones that you can afford.

    With 4 simple ingredients you most likely already have in your pantry, you can make your own!

    3 cups dried non-fat milk powder
    2/3 cup sugar
    2/3 cup baking cocoa
    1/2 tsp salt

    Shake ingredients thoroughly to completely incorporate. Add 1/4 cup of the mix to 1 cup of boiling water and stir. Instant hot chocolate.

    This mix makes a little over a quart of instant hot chocolate powder. The extra mix over the quart? Well… you need to taste test it, don’t you 🙂

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    Clotted Cream

    Posted in basic principles, British food, dairy, recipe on March 30th, 2017 by stuart — 4 Comments

    Scones without clotted cream just aren’t the full shilling. That’s a fact.

    Unless you are in the British Commonwealth, however, getting your hands on clotted cream is somewhat of a challenge. Finding clotted cream at a reasonable price is even more so.

    Just before you go to bed one night, take 1 pint whipping cream and pour it into a baking dish. Place the baking dish in your oven which is set to a very low temperature: 180F, 80C.

    When you wake up in the morning, switch off the oven, take out the baking dish, and allow your now freshly clotted cream to cool down slightly. Carefully and gently transfer to a secure container, lid up the container, and refrigerate. Total time in the warm oven should be around 10 to 12 hours.

    You may have some liquid cream under the clotted. This is normal, so don’t worry about it if you do. It is still edible, and may well be a delicious experiment if you drink that heathen beverage, coffee (ducks for cover!).

    Enjoy your clotted cream on your treacle scones which have also been spread with some lovely home made jam. Serve with a nice strong cup of tea!

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    Treacle Scones

    Posted in British food, recipe on March 27th, 2017 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

    Now that you have made some delicious treacle – you have made some treacle, right? – it’s time to make something delicious with it.


    British scones are different from American scones. They are dryer than American scones, due to the way they are presented: British scones make up for the lack of fat in their ingredients by all the clotted cream you add when you serve them.

  • 200g / 7oz / 1 2/3rd cups all purpose (plain) flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon mixed spice (pumpkin pie spice)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 50g / 1/2 stick softened butter
  • 1/4 cup treacle
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Add all the dry ingredients to a bowl and stir to mix. Cut in the butter and mix until the dough looks like bread crumbs. Pour in whichever treacle you prefer (golden or dark – we prefer dark…) and stir gently to combine. Pour in most of the milk and stir, adding in the reserved milk if you need it to make the dough just come together – the dough may feel slightly dry, but should hold its shape without falling apart.

    Lightly flour your counter top and turn out the dough. Shape it with your hand until it is a square shape roughly an inch thick. Cut out with your favourite cookie cutter. Place scones on a lined baking tray and cook in a 400F / 200C oven for 10 to 12 minutes until the top is lightly browned.

    Place on a cookie rack to cool slightly. Split in half along the natural break line, then cover one half with clotted cream* and the other half with some nice, low-sugar home made jam.


    * don’t worry, I will tell you how to make clotted cream, too!

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    Posted in British food, sugar, syrups on March 24th, 2017 by stuart — Be the first to comment!

    In British cooking, “treacle” is a general reference to sugar syrups. In theory, molasses and corn syrup could be considered “treacle”, but in realistic terms it refers to Lyle’s Golden Syrup or their Dark Treacle.

    One problem is that Lyle’s Golden Syrup is achingly expensive in the USA, and dark treacle is basically unheard of. (Many recipes will suggest substituting molasses for black treacle. This will work on the science of cooking, but not at the flavour level: dark treacle is different to molasses.)

    As usual, the answer is “make it yourself”.. but you wouldn’t be here if that wasn’t an option, would you 🙂

    Here I will show you how to make both Golden Syrup and Dark Treacle. The only difference is in the technique.


  • 200g / 7oz sugar
  • 60ml / 1/4 cup water
  • 600ml / 1.25 US pint boiling water
  • 1kg / 2.2lbs sugar
  • 1/4 lemon / 1.5tbsp lemon juice
  • Get a deep pot and put the first two ingredients into it. Apply medium low heat and use a candy thermometer to track the temperature until it hits “hard crack”, 150C/300F. You do not need to stir this mixture, it will take care of itself.

    Once the syrup hits the target temperature take it off the heat, remove the thermometer, and add 600ml / 1.25 US pints boiling water slowly, stirring all the while as the water will boil up. Once all the water is added, add 1 kg / 2.2lb of sugar and 1/4 of a lemon (or 1.5 tablespoons bottled lemon juice), squeezing the lemon into the pot before you drop the wedge into the pot.

    Bring the syrup back to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes. After that, allow the syrup to cool slightly and strain the lemon bits through a sieve into hot mason jars. One batch should make about 1 quart of golden syrup.


  • 200g / 7oz sugar
  • 60ml / 1/4 cup water
  • 500g / 1.1lbs sugar
  • 250ml / 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 lemon / 1.5tbsp lemon juice
  • Welcome to Golden Syrup’s evil brother, Dark Treacle (cue thunder).

    You start the same as Golden, with the first two ingredients into the deep pot. You will not need the thermometer as we are going way beyond the point most candy thermometers can go!

    Apply medium low heat and watch the sugar solution. You will need to watch carefully, because you are going to basically burn all this sugar. Keep watching and smelling as the solution goes through the colour stages, from golden to brown to mahogany almost all the way to black. You will see smoke coming off the sugar, which is the point at which your nerves will start to twitch: you need to get ALL this sugar solution to black, while stopping short of a fire in the pot!

    Once the starter solution is jet black, take it off the heat.


    Allow the boiling syrup to cool down slightly for a minute or two, then add 500g / 1.1lb of sugar. The sugar syrup will want to seize up, but this is OK. Now add 250ml / 1 cup of boiling water and, as before, squeeze 1/4 of a lemon OR add 1.5 tbsp lemon juice to the mix. Bring the dark mess to a boil then reduce to a simmer for between 30 and 45 minutes.

    This is where the technique gets tricky. With the dark molasses, you will need to test the syrup with the jam test: take a small amount of the treacle (a teaspoon) and drop it onto a very cold plate or saucepan lid. Once it has cooled down, give the treacle a poke with the spoon: if it’s too liquid, it needs more cooking. If it’s too thick (sets solid) add about 1/4 cup boiling water, stir well to integrate, then do the test again.

    How can you tell if the consistency is right? It should be about the same texture as corn syrup: thick and syrupy, but not set solid.

    Once you have made Golden and Dark syrups, what can you do with them? Well, they both go great on pancakes… but I have a better use for them. Watch this space!

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