Category Archives: baking

Chocolate brownies


I’ve had a couple of dinner parties lately mid-week and I’ve found that the best way to stay stress free is to do as much preparation in advance as possible, consequently, last Sunday afternoon, when I returned home from sailing, I made brownies.  They didn’t take long to make and were prepared and cooked in under an hour and made enough to feed 16 people for pudding comfortably.

I have read a lot of recipes that say you must use the very best chocolate when making brownies, however, I have found the cheap and cheerful chocolate from supermarket works really well and as such I’m disinclined to splash out on ridiculously expensive chocolate.  I would recommend trying different types of chocolate to see what works best for you and what you prefer.  My personal preference is anything with 70% or more cocoa.

What makes these brownies stand apart from others that I have made is that they are wonderfully gooey in the middle whilst retaining a slight crust. They are a perfect amount of decadence to finish off a meal.  I tend serve with a mixture of summer berries and either ice cream or soured cream depending on what I have available, but they are also excellent on their own.

Chocolate Brownies (makes 32)


  • 200g dark chocolate
  • 200g butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 200g granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • 50g white chocolate (roughly chopped)
  • 50g walnuts (roughly chopped)
  • 50g cocoa powder (sifted)
  • 85g plain flour (sifted)


  1. Preheat your oven 180C / 170CFan.
  2. Line a 20cm square cake tin.
  3. Melt butter and dark chocolate in a bowl above a saucepan of barely simmering water.
  4. Whilst the chocolate and butter are melting, whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla until trebled in volume.
  5. Pour in the chocolate mixture and continue to whisk until fully combined.
  6. Then gently fold in flour, cocoa, walnuts and white chocolate.
  7. Pour into the pre-prepared tin and bake in oven for 20-25 mins. Remove the brownies from the oven when they have a slight wobble but a firm crust.
  8. Leave to cool completely in the tin, once cool cut into roughly 32 triangles.
  9. Dust with icing sugar and serve.

Note:  These brownies keep for over a week if stored in an airtight container in a cool place.


Nectarine and almond tart

I caught up with some of my old school friends last week at a dinner party, we each got designated a course to bring. I have to say I do not think that I have eaten that well in a long time, we had four courses of scrummy food and the company was excellent.

My offering was a nectarine and almond tart.  With soft fruit coming into season at the moment it seemed a shame not to make a pudding that incorporated it some how.  I haven’t worked with pastry in a while, so I decided to make a dish that incorporated the two. The trick when making this pudding is to use fruit that is not too ripe so that it holds its form and doesn’t produce too much liquid when it is cooking which will cause the frangipane (which is an almond sponge) to become quite dense.

This tart can be eaten both hot or cold and is a great pudding to have in your repertoire for dinner parties or picnics.  Enjoy!


Nectarine and almond tart (Serves 8-10)



  • 8oz plain flour
  • 4oz butter (at room temperature)
  • 1oz caster sugar
  • 1 egg


  • 3 eggs
  • 5oz sugar
  • 3oz ground almondsimage[1]
  • 3oz plain flour
  • 6oz soft margarine
  • 1/4tsp baking powder


  • 2-3 firm-ish nectarines cut in wedges
  • A few flaked almonds to decorate



1.      Grease and flour a 20cm loose bottomed tart tin.

2.      Place butter, sugar and flour in a bowl and crumb together using your fingers. 

3.      Add the egg and bring the pastry together, be careful not to over work it.

4.      On a floured surface roll out the pastry until it is large enough to fit in your tin, place in the tin and gently push the pastry into the edges and using any excess pastry to patch any holes. Dont cut off any excess that goes over the edges yet .  Afterwards lightly prick the pastry with a fork, place in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill. 

5.      Remove from fridge and trim the edges of the tart pressing down slightly as you do so, place a sheet of baking paper over the tart and fill with baking beans.

6.      Blind bake pastry for 15 mins at 190C and then remove beans and bake further 5 mins.


1.      Whilst your pastry is cooking prepare your frangipane.

2.      Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together with an electric whisk for 2 minutes.

3.      Once your pastry is cooked. Leave to cool for 5 mins, before spooning in the frangipane, decorate the tart with the nectarine wedges and almond slices.

4.      Place the Tart in the oven and bake at 170C for 35-50 mins.


Lemon cake with mascarpone icing, lemon curd and summer berries

photo 2With my brother’s wedding fast approaching I thought I had better try out another cake idea that I have had for his wedding.  As it was my birthday and it is tradition at work to bring in cake I thought I would take the opportunity to try this cake out on a lot of people.  In the end I think around 40 people ended up trying the cake with a number of people sneaking back for seconds…

As I mentioned in an earlier blog (An idea for a wedding cake) my brother and his fiancé have decided to have a “bake off” at their wedding and are encouraging their guests to bring a variety of baked goods.  It is my understanding that the cakes will be judged on both creativity and presentation.  At the moment I am thinking that this is going to be the cake that I bake as I think will all the colours of the summer berries it is visually very pleasing, however, I think that I am going to have to make a few refinements to the cake to make it more structurally sound as ideally I would like to make the cake several tiers higher.

I ended up icing and decorating the cake at work as I could not face the idea of taking the finished cake onto the London underground.   I popped into the work canteen at around 8.30am and put the cake together within about 10-15 minutes.  All in all it was a stress free process as the beauty of this cake is that is does not matter how messy the cake looks after you have iced it because the berries will cover any mishaps that you may have.

So, why do I think that this is going to be the cake that I make for the bake off?  Well, as the wedding is at the end of August and we are all crossing our fingers that the weather is going to be lovely, I felt that a light cake that has a beautifully creamy filling which is countered by the sharpness of the lemon curd and summer berries would be the type of cake that people would want to eat.  However, we shall just have to wait and see how it turns out.

I would definitely say that this is a cake to try.  If you do not want to make such a large cake, then halve the recipe and bake the cake in a 10″ tin and you will have a lovely cake for either afternoon tea or a summer pudding that your guests will love.

photo 1Lemon cake with mascarpone icing, lemon curd and summer berries


For the cake:

8 eggs
400g soft margarine
350g caster sugar
400g self raising flour
zest of 2 lemons
1tsp baking powder
1-2 tbsp milk

For the mascarpone icing:

250g mascarpone
150g- 200g icing sugar
zest of a lemon

For the filling and toppings:

1-2 heaped tbsp lemon curd (per layer of sponge)
1 punnet strawberries
1 punnet blueberries
1 punnet blackberries
1 punnet raspberries


1. Preheat oven to 170C and line a 10″, 8″ and 6″ round cake tin with baking paper.

2. Beat together in a bowl the soft margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs, flour, zest, baking powder and milk, then beat together using an electric whisk for 1-2 minutes.

4. Divide the cake batter up between the 3 tins and bake for around 15-20 minutes for the 6” and 8” tins and 35-45 minutes for the 10” tin or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre of the cake.

5. Leave to cool completely before cutting each of the cakes in half.

6. Make the mascarpone icing by beating the mascarpone in a bowl until soft, add the lemon zest and a little of the icing sugar at a time until you get a consistency of a smooth butter cream.

7. Place one half of the 10” sponge onto a plate then smooth over a little of the mascarpone icing, add 1-2tbsp of lemon curd on top and smooth over with a palette knife. Repeat the process until all of the sponges are stacked on top of each other. (Make sure you don’t use all of the mascarpone icing as you will need some left over to act as the glue to stick the fruit on the cake.)

8. Once the cake is stacked up, then spread the remainder of the mascarpone icing all over the cake before decorating with the berries.

Tip:  If you want to make the cake more special decorate with roses and sprigs of mint interspersed between the berries!


Chocolate celebration cake


My middle brother, Alex, is getting married in August to his lovely fiancée, Jayne, and I cannot wait!  Over recent months there has been much talk of dresses, flowers and of course cakes…  Jayne and Alex have decided to hold a “bake off” at their wedding and have sent the following message out to their guests:

 Wedding Bake Off

We like cake. 

We really like cake, a lot. 

In fact we like cake so much, one wedding cake just won’t be enough… We’re dreaming of a whole table of different wedding cakes, with afternoon tea to follow the ceremony.

We know we have a lot of friends and family members who are amazingly talented bakers.  Can you help us to make our cake dreams come true?

Join our great wedding bake off, and battle it out to be crowned the best wedding cake baker! 

There will be a very democratic judging process on the day…and the favourite wedding cake will be the one that we save and cut in the traditional wedding way.  There are no rules for what to bake or how it is presented, the more creative the better! 

 Not being the type of person to shy away from a challenge I have donned my apron and started testing out a couple of ideas I have had for a  wedding cake to see if: (a) it tastes good; and (b) looks presentable.

At the moment I am in two minds about the flavour.  Our family loves a good chocolate cake and the one that I am going to share with you today certainly ticks that box.  However, as the wedding is in August and will hopefully be on a beautifully hot and sunny day, I am of the view that a lovely light lemon cake would go down much better.  The other option is of course to do multiple cakes… but this might be a step to far as I suspect in the days building up to the wedding things are likely to get a little bit busy.

So, about this cake, as I mentioned it is a chocolate cake.  I suppose you are wondering why I think it is worthy for a wedding cake?  Well… it is not just a chocolate cake, it is three layered super light chocolate cake, filled with a rich chocolate mousse and covered in a white chocolate and sour cream icing, decorated with raspberries…

If you like chocolate, I would recommend trying this cake as it is rather decadent!

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Banana and chocolate loaf


I am not a huge fan of very ripe bananas so when I found myself with several fairly black looking bananas I had to think of something to do with them.  Fortunately one of my colleagues happened to mention fairly recently that their favourite cake is banana loaf so my decision was easy.

First up I should say that banana and chocolate loaf is definitely a cake and not a bread – it is a fairly dense cake and goes extremely well with a cup of tea.  This is the type of cake that doesn’t like to be rushed in the oven, don’t be over anxious and open the door regularly as you will cause the cake to sink and it won’t change the cooking time.  So my advice is be patient, put your feet up read a book and wait for your cake to be ready!

Banana and chocolate loaf

Ingredients :

  • 6oz bananas (peeled and mashed)
  • 4oz soft margarine
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • 8oz plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1tbsp rum
  • 1 heaped tbsp crème fraiche
  • 4oz plain chocolate (broken into small pieces)


  1.  Preheat oven to 150C (fan).  Grease and line a loaf tin.
  2. Cream the soft margarine and sugar together in a bowl using an electric whisk.
  3. Slowly beat in the eggs (add a little flour if the mixture looks as if it might curdle).
  4. Whisk in the flour, salt and baking powder.
  5. Then add the mashed banana, crème fraiche, chocolate and rum and mix well.
  6. Pour the cake batter into the loaf tin.  Place in the oven and cook for 50-60 minutes or until a skewer comes out of the cake clean.
  7. Leave the cake to cool before serving.

Drop scones

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We grew up in an old farmhouse called Bluegates that was notorious for its draughts, and on the whole being freezing.  Friends used to come to our house armed with the clothes that they were allowed to get dirty in.  However, if they did not have sufficient layers to stay warm they were directed to the ‘jumper cupboard’ and often returned looking like the Michelin man. 

I have many fond memories of Bluegates but, I think one of my favourite memories was when my parents decided to get their first AGA.  Learning to cook on an AGA was a skill in itself, particularly if it is coal-fired and there was no way of governing the temperature.  Many cakes often came out slightly crispy and black around the edges.  However, there was one thing that I think we all quickly mastered – drop scones, cooked on a hob that has been lightly oiled.

Sadly, where I am staying in London there isn’t an AGA but, what it does have is a heavy bottomed non-stick frying pan that is perfect for cooking this tea time treat.  They are so quick and easy to make that you can have them on the table within a matter of minutes.  They are an ideal snack on a cold, slightly overcast day – definitely worth a go!

Drop Scones (makes 9)

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  • 1 egg
  • 3 heaped tbsp plain flour (roughly 100g)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 50-75ml milk


1.  Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

2.  Whisk in the egg, then slowly beat in the milk until you have a consistency of thick pouring cream.

3.  Heat a little oil in a frying pan, then spoon in a little of the batter at a time, cook on each side for 30 seconds to a minute or until they are golden brown.

4.  Serve whilst they are hot with a little butter, jam and/or honey.

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Today is a sad day as I am leaving France and heading back to the UK to seek gainful employment once again.  I have had a cracking 15 months or so and here are a few of the things I have learnt along the way…

How to…

1.  … put turkeys to bed – swear at them profusely whilst waving your arms frantically.

2.  … catch a bee swarm – apply the following expression ‘if at first you don’t succeed try, try, again’.

3.  … birth a goat – keep calm and be prepared to get messy.

4.  … cover yourself in paint – paint the ceiling with a roller.

5.  … hang a picture– choose a picture that is big enough to hide all the errors behind particularly on plasterboard.

6.  … pronounce the final ‘t’ in chiot when asking how the puppy is – don’t (as I have learnt the somewhat embarrassing way it is silent).

7.  … construct and de-construct multiple items from Ikea – build the item instinctively and find you have bits left over when you’ve finished, then read the instruction booklet and then repeat the process correctly.

8.  … cut your finger – look away when you are peeling a quince.

9.  … make a chocolate cake that even the dog rejects – try a new recipe without flour and add several courgettes.

10.  … say ‘goodbye’ to a puppy – with difficulty.

As a way of saying thank you to a few people that I have met whilst I have been here I made some macaroons as a little ‘cadeau’.  As I have learnt over the last couple of months macaroons are not something that should be made if you are in a rush – if you don’t whisk the egg whites enough and mix rather than fold the almonds and sugar in, you run the risk of a runny mixture that does not work.

However, done right, macaroons are a real delight, they should have a crisp shell with a gooey middle.  The recipe below is just for plain macaroons, you can fill them as you wish with ganache or butter cream and jam to make them individual.


Macaroons (makes 50-60)


  • 3 egg whites
  • 4oz ground almonds
  • 6oz icing sugar
  • 2½oz caster sugar
  • a few drops of food colouring (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 160C fan.
  2. Whisk the egg whites to the ‘soft peak stage’.
  3. Continue to whisk the egg whites adding the caster sugar slowly (if you going to use food colouring add it at this point).  Continue whisking until you have a smooth ‘glossy’ mixture.
  4. Place the almonds and icing sugar into a food processor and blitz until you have a finer crumb.
  5. Sieve the almond and sugar mixture into the whisked egg whites (don’t worry if some of the almonds don’t pass through the sieve, put it in a small bowl to be used in a crumble, cake etc.).
  6. Gently fold the almonds into the egg whites.
  7. Once the mixture is fully incorporated, put it in a piping bag with a large circular nozzle.
  8. Pipe the mixture in 1” circles onto baking sheets that have been lined with baking paper.
  9. Once all of the mixture has been used, tap the trays firmly once to release any air bubbles then leave to form a skin for 20-30 minutes.
  10. Bake for 12-14 minutes, then remove and allow to cool completely on wire racks. 

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Savoury chelsea buns


Yesterday, Mumsy returned from buying the bread looking very pleased with herself.  She explained that she had been chatting to various people whilst waiting for the bread to come out of the oven and had arranged for us to go around a local ‘Fromagerie’ (Cheesemaker ) that evening at 6pm.  Two thoughts immediately crossed my mind; (1) that Mumsy had arranged something at [heaven forbid] ‘Apéro time’; and (2) why did she think I wanted a tour of a fromagerie/dairy farm?

In fairness to Mumsy, earlier in the week I had asked if we could pop up to the local Fromagerie (about 5km away) to buy some cheese.  I was interested in ‘Le Quercy Blanc’ (as the Fromagerie is known locally) because I had tried several of their cheeses at various fêtes during the summer and thought they would work well in a couple of recipes…  Also, I fully endorse supporting local producers – not only does it keep them in business but, more often than not, their produce is infinitely better than the equivalent that can be found in the local supermarket.

Anyhow, yesterday evening Mumsy and I donned our coats and boots and set off in the pouring rain.  The first thing to say is actually I was pleasantly surprised at how interesting it was.  Having grown up living in farmhouse that was attached to a Diary Farm I knew about the milking processes, but I have not seen cheese production on a small scale.  The farm is run by 3 families and between them they have roughly 200 milking cows, (the vast majority of which are Holsteins).  For their cheese production, they syphon off a very small quantity of the milk the output of roughly 4 cows (between 100-125litres a day).

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 The proprietors explained the cheese making process which to all intents and purposes was very straightforward.  The ‘raw’ (i.e unpasteurised) milk is placed in a large vat, ‘la présure’ (rennet) is added, how much that is used depends on the type of cheese being made (e.g. a Tome requires a higher concentration to produce its texture and form).  The milk is then left to do its work over a period of 24hrs, whereupon the curds are separated from the whey.  From there it is either potted up and labelled as ‘Fromage Blanc’ or salt is added to the curds which are then shaped in moulds before they are left to mature in a ‘warm’ refrigerator (around 14C)  from anywhere between a week (for the soft centred cheese) to 2+ months for the Tome.  After that time the cheese, brushed down in the case of the Tome, is then placed in a ‘cool’ refrigerator where it is stored until it is sold.      


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I have to say I am really pleased that I visited the Fromagerie as it allowed me to create these Savoury Chelsea buns for lunch.  The cheeses complimented the sweet flavour of the dough and the combination of the lardons, cheese and red onion and port marmalade worked better that I could have hoped.  Whilst I appreciate unless you go to an extraordinary effort to travel to this part of the world you will be unable to use the same cheeses that I have, do not worry just use the cheeses that you have available that are similar and most importantly that you like! Enjoy!


Savoury Chelsea Buns (makes 12)


For the dough:

  • 250g plain flour
  • 150g wholemeal flour (Type 80)
  • 40g sugar
  • 1tsp salt
  • 25g fresh yeast
  • 50g butter (melted)
  • 200ml milk (warmed slightly)
  • 2 eggs

For the filling:

  • 25g butter (melted)
  • 3 heaped tsp red onion and port marmalade (see recipe)
  • 2 soft centred cheese, roughly 100g (I used a local cheese, but Rocamdour, Cabecou or even a Brie would do)
  • 50-75g Tome, grated (alternatively use medium Cheddar or Gruyere)
  • 50-75g lardons or bacon bits
  • ½tsp thyme
  • 1 egg beaten (for glazing)


1.  Place the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl and mix together.

2.  Place the yeast in a bowl, add the milk, butter and eggs and mix together well.

3.  Add the wet mix into the dry mix and combine using your fingers.  The dough will be fairly wet.

4.  Place the dough on a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes.

5.  Place the dough into a bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for about 2 – 3 hours (until it has doubled in size).

6.  Knock the air out of the dough, place on a floured surface and flatten into a rectangular shape.

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 7.  Brush the dough with the melted butter, spoon over the red onion and port marmalade, scatter over the cheese, lardons and thyme.

8.  Roll the dough up into a long cylinder shape then, cut into 12 equal-sized pieces.

9.  Place the pieces in a greased and floured tin, brush with the egg wash and leave to rise until they have doubled in size.

10.  Once they have risen, bake in an oven at 180C fan for 18-20 minutes.

11.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.







Making biscuits


Sometimes you can’t beat a good biscuit, particularly a biscuit that can withstand being ‘dunked’ in a cup of tea.  I don’t often make biscuits, however this week I have made two batches.  Firstly a slightly more ‘grown up’ biscuit involving ground almonds that are great if you are having a coffee morning.  The second batch was my take on a childhood favourite, the bourbon.

Both of the biscuits are very straightforward to make.   It is a bit faster and less messy if you can use a food processor to mix the ingredients due to the golden syrup in the recipes.  However, if you are prepared to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in then it is just as easy to make the biscuits by hand.  For me the test of a good biscuit is if it stays crunchy on the second day, this largely depends on how long you leave them cooking in the oven.  This can be a little tricky as the golden syrup means that the biscuits can catch and burn quite easily due to the high sugar content.  My advice to prevent this is – watch your biscuits like a hawk whilst they are in the oven and turn the oven down if you think they are cooking too quickly.  When the biscuits come out of the oven they will feel a little soft, but they should harden up nicely if they are left to cool completely on a cooling rack before eating.

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Almond Biscuits


  • 6oz plain flour
  • 4oz butter
  • 1oz sugar
  • 1oz golden syrup (roughly 2 heaped tsp)
  • 1oz ground almonds
  • a pinch of salt


1.  Preheat oven to 190C fan.

2.  Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and crumb together using your fingers, after a few minutes the ingredients should come together.  Alternatively, place the ingredients in a food processor and blitz for a minute, tip crumbs onto the surface and shape into a ball.

3.  Dust a piece of baking paper with sugar and roll out the dough till it is about 2-3mm thick.  Then cut out the biscuits using a cutter or a glass.

4. Continue to roll out scraps of dough until you have used it all.

5.  Place the biscuits on baking trays that have been lined with baking paper.

6.  Bake for 7-10 minutes, make you keep an eye on them as they can burn easily if necessary turn your oven down slightly.

9.  Once cooked, remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely.  Serve with a cup of tea/coffee.


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My Chocolate Bourbons


For the biscuits:

  • 6oz plain flour
  • 4oz butter
  • 1oz sugar
  • 1oz golden syrup (roughly 2 heaped tsp)
  • 1oz cocoa powder

For the buttercream:

  • 2oz butter (at room temperature)
  • 1oz cocoa powder
  • 4-6oz icing sugar
  • 1tbsp milk


1.  Preheat oven to 190C fan.

2.  Place all of the ingredients in a bowl and crumb together using your fingers, after a few minutes the ingredients should come together.  Alternatively, place the ingredients in a food processor and blitz for a minute, tip crumbs onto the surface and shape into a ball.

3.  Dust a piece of baking paper with cocoa powder and roll out the dough till it is about 2-3mm thick.  Then cut out the biscuits using a cutter or a glass.

4. Continue to roll out scraps of dough until you have used it all.

5.  Place the biscuits on baking trays that have been lined with baking paper.

6.  Bake for 7-10 minutes, make you keep an eye on them as they can burn easily if necessary turn your oven down slightly.

9.  Once cooked, remove from oven and place on a cooling rack, whilst you prepare the buttercream.

10.  To make the buttercream, beat the butter until soft, then gradually add the cocoa powder and icing sugar until you have a smooth consistency adding the milk if needed to loosen the mix slightly.

11.  Spoon a little of the buttercream onto half of the biscuits and then sandwich them together by placing a biscuit on top of each of them.  Enjoy!

A lemon syrup pudding in 10 mins…

I don’t tend to cook with a microwave that often other than to melt butter and de-thaw bread.  That being said, there is one pudding that I will happily cook in the microwave time and time again – a lemon syrup pudding.  This is because it takes less than ten minutes to make and it comes out beautifully light with a texture that is not dissimilar to a steamed pudding.

Over the last couple of weeks this pudding has whipped up several times as it is very comforting on these cold winter evenings and takes no thought to prepare.  If the old man had his way it would be served with custard every time, but for Mumsy and I it is crème fraiche all the way.

If you are looking for a dead easy pudding this weekend, then this pud is a no brainer!

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Lemon Syrup Pudding


  • 2 eggs
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 4oz soft margarine
  • 4oz plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2tbsp milk
  • zest 1 lemon
  • 2 heaped tsp golden syrup


1.  Spoon the golden syrup into the bottom of a 1 litre microwaveable bowl (I use an old plastic ex- Christmas pudding bowl), then grease the sides with a little soft margarine.

2.  Place all the other ingredients together in another bowl and then beat together well using an electric whisk.

3.   Spoon the mixture on top of the golden syrup and then gently level it out.

4.  Place the pudding in the microwave and cook on a medium setting for 4 minutes.  Allow it to rest for 30 seconds and then cook for a further 4 minutes.

5.  Check that your pudding is completely cooked by seeing if a skewer comes out clean after being inserted into the middle.

6.  Tip the pudding out onto a plate (make sure it has a slight lip so that you do not lose any of the golden syrup) and serve!

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