Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bratapfelkuchen or how to expand your waistline really quicky!

It all started when my lovely friends gave me a couple of bags of beautiful Spartan apples freshly picked from the trees in their garden. I could have been really good, of course, and just worked my way through them over the next few weeks, but some were a bit bruised and slightly imperfect and wouldn't have kept long. Well, that was my excuse anyway!
Once I had the excuse I had to think of ways to use them and had a bright idea to find a recipe for Bratapfelkuchen or baked apple cake that I had eaten in Germany many times and loved.
I found several recipes but they all called for an ingredient that I was pretty sure I couldn't get hold of in the UK, something called 'vanilla pudding' which, I believe, resembles a firm custard. So, I decided to experiment. I'm happy to report that the experiment was very successful, so here is the recipe.


200g plain flour, sieved
1/2 tsp baking powder
75g caster sugar
1 pinch of salt
100g butter, softened


6 medium apples, peeled and cored
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tbs of custard powder
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
100 g sugar
600ml single cream
200ml milk
50g flaked almonds

26cm springform tin


Mix up the pastry ingredients and knead it until smooth. Form into a ball, cover in cling film and chill for 30 minutes. Line the base of the springform tin with baking paper. Roll out the pastry and lower it into the tin, lining the base and sides to at least a height of 2.5cm. The pastry may well fall apart (mine did!) but just press it into shape and it'll be fine! Prick the base with a fork. Cover the pastry with greaseproof or baking paper and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 10-15 minutes or until it's slightly golden around the edges. Set it aside to cool.

Meanwhile, put the peeled and cored apples into a bowl of water with the juice of a lemon added to it. Whisk the custard powder, sugar and 200ml cream together until smooth. Add the vanilla essence. Put the rest of the cream and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Take it off the heat and whisk the custard mix into the cream and milk. Return the pan to the heat and whisk continuously as the mixture comes to a boil. Cook until the custard thickens well. Dry the apples and arrange them on the pastry. Pour the custard over the apples and making sure you fill the holes where the cores were. Bake in the oven at 180C for about 45 minutes. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and return to the oven for at about another 15 minutes or so until the custard is set.

Allow to cool completely. Sprinkle with icing sugar before serving. Some recipes recommend that you leave the cake for 24 hours before eating, if you can keep your hands off it!

A common variation is to fill the apples with rum soaked raisins before pouring the custard over.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Dear readers

I have been neglecting this blog of late and not just of late! I believe my last post was last September. But, oh, what a busy and exciting time I've had since then. The reason for my extended silence here is that I have been writing, not a blog, but children's books. The first, The Rise of Agnil, was published in late December and the second book in the series, Agnil and the Wizard's Orb will be published very soon. So excuse my silence, dear readers, and head over to where I post far more frequently on the subject of my books. I will return here from time to time, with my usual ramblings about food and such.

You want a link to my book? I hear you say, well here it is:

The Rise of Agnil cover

Monday, September 16, 2013

Sloe, sloe, quick, quick, sloe

Making pacharán

A few years ago my cousin's husband introduced me to some of his home-made pacharán and ever since then, whenever we've been eating out in Spain, I will usually have a little glass of pacharán on ice - for medicinal purposes, you understand!

Pacharán is a speciality of the Basque region, but is available all over Spain. It's a drink made from aniseed alcohol flavoured mostly with sloes and I've yet to meet anyone, apart from non-drinkers, who doesn't like it.

On our return from a short stay in Spain this past summer, I decided to have a go at making it myself at home. My first hurdle was finding the sloes. I've never picked sloes before and had only a vague idea what they looked like. They are, of course, the fruit of the blackthorn, or prunus spinosa, and resemble a small blue/black plum.

I read somewhere that they shouldn't be picked before the first frost but, as I didn't want to leave it to chance, I decided to give the sloes a "false frost" by putting them in the freezer for a day or two.

Ready for their "false frost"

 I only had a 70cl bottle of aniseed, so decided to add about 180g of sloes. Other flavourings are a small handful of dark roasted coffee beans, a piece of cinnamon stick and about just over half of a vanilla pod. In one recipe I saw, instead of vanilla, a few chamomile flowers were added.

All the ingredients

Put all the ingredients into a wide-necked bottle or jar, close the lid securely and shake.

Shaken not stirred

And now comes the slow, slow (or should that be sloe, sloe!) wait for three months until it is ready to filter through muslin and drink. By my reckoning, it should be ready in time for Christmas!

Update 15.12.13

This evening I finally bottled and tasted the two batches I made; one flavoured with the vanilla pod and the other with a few camomile flowers. I'm pleased to say, it has passed the taste test :-)

Thursday, August 29, 2013


As I'm in Germany at the moment, I thought I'd post a recipe for a speciality of Alsace, which is not a million miles away from here. Alsace has a history of belonging both to France and Germany at various times. Since WW2, it has been a region of France.

In France Flammkuchen is called Tarte Flambée and is a bit like a thin crispy pizza but made without yeast. I started making it myself when I realised just how quick and easy it was.


200 g plain flour
2 tablespoons oil (ordinary vegetable or sunflower oil will be fine - olive oil is considered to not be authentic)
125 ml water
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon butter (or butter and oil mixed)
200 g creme fraiche (I've used slightly less and it was enough)
200 g onions, sliced
100 g bacon, pancetta or similar, cut into thin strips
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to the highest temperature possible.

Thoroughly mix flour, oil, water and salt to make a dough which should be soft and stretchy but not sticky. Roll it out as thinly as possible (We're talking very thin here!) Lift the rolled out dough onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.

Optional: Melt the butter (or a mix of oil and butter) in a pan, add onions and sweat for just a couple of minutes. Add bacon, stir and heat through. If you slice everything thinly, you don't have to sautée it before putting it onto the base.

Spread creme fraiche on top of the dough (but not right to the edge), then spread onions and bacon over the top. Season with salt and pepper.

Put in a hot oven and bake for about 10-15 minutes. Once the edges look browned and crispy, it's done.

With salad, will feed two very hungry people or 3-4 with smaller appetites

You could also experiment with other toppings to make a vegetarian version, for example, olives and tomatoes or strips of red pepper.

A sweet version can be made by topping the creme fraiche with a thinly sliced eating apple (I used a Braeburn) and sugar flavoured with cinnamon.

Recipe sourced from and slightly adapted

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


Many years ago I attempted to make a challah and it didn't turn out particularly well. Not being very good at coping with failure, I put further attempts to the bottom of my "to do" list. 

This year, however, as I explained in my previous post, I've rediscovered my love of baking bread so decided to have another go. Finding the right recipe to try proved difficult. There are many variations on the Internet so the first thing I had to do was narrow the field. The biggest stumbling block was the fact that many of the recipes were American and I had to rule these out straight away as they use cup measures.  At home I have a cup measure that I recently bought to cope with this, but here in Germany I haven't, so I continued my hunt for one in metric measures.  Luckily I came across a site that does the conversion of the recipe for you -

Once I'd found the recipe, the adaptation began. I had instant yeast instead of the active yeast called for, so did things in a different order. I used almost cold rather than warm water, added slightly more honey (the jar was almost empty so it seemed silly to leave it!) and most radically of all, I barely kneaded it. Having seen the technique used by Dan Lepard, I decided to risk using it on this dough. I figured that as I'd used more yeast because it was a rich dough, that it might just cope with this technique. Too late, just now, I have found a Dan Lepard version of the recipe which just means I will have to try this version too :-)

Anyway, back to my experiment. I left it to prove and crossed my fingers!

It rose beautifully in the kitchen at room temperature.

There are many ways that challah can be shaped but I decided to go for the standard three-strand plait. I left it to rise again, painted on an egg and honey wash, dropped some poppy seeds on it and flung it into the oven for 35 minutes or so.
I must say, it tastes pretty good. Not at all like shop-bought but that's really not the point!


Thursday, August 15, 2013

The death of bread. Long live Real Bread!

I'm becoming a bread snob.

Over the years in the UK, I've seen a deterioration in the quality of bread. It started with the increasing popularity of sliced white mush and even when it became sliced wholemeal, the texture hardly changed. Local bakers started to reduce the variety of breads they produced and seemed to want to mimic what could be bought in a supermarket. This has eventually killed off the real local bakers in the area where I live. So-called 'artisan' breads of different shapes and colours are available to add some variety in supermarkets, including breads flavoured with olives or cheese but even they hardly seem to vary in texture.

I spend a lot of time in a small town in the south west of Germany and within a radius of about 75 metres there are at least four bakers. A lot of people will tell you that the range of bread in Germany is phenomenal and to a certain extent this is true. Walk into any of these bakers and you will be greeted by an astounding display of breads made with different flours, some darker, some lighter, some round, some square, but they are not all that they appear to be.

Until a few years ago, the baker next door to where I am right now used to make all his own bread. He used to produce the best Brezel (not to be confused with pretzel) in town; slim and crispy in the right way in the right place, plump and salty where it mattered. Above all they were freshly baked in the early hours of every morning. You could go there at seven in the morning and buy Brezels, piled in wicker baskets, still fragrant and warm from the oven. The bread was good too. But now we can't buy good hand-made Brezels and bread with a decent texture and flavour here anymore.

hand-made Brezel
A hand-made Brezel (with butter). Note the thinness of the crossover strands as they touch the outer circle. Machine-made ones are much more even and thicker.
In recent years the bread started to change. We noticed deliveries of bread mixes, like those you can buy to make different breads for your breadmaker, rather than deliveries of flour. The bread still looked the same but the texture and flavour changed. It's the same at all the other bakers. Either the bread is delivered from a central factory baker or part-bakes are delivered which are then finished off on the premises.

I recently found a web site about the Real Bread Campaign which will help you find sources of real bread where you live in the UK. In my area there are none. I would have to travel a good 12 miles to buy decent bread. I've decided to make my own instead.

Many years ago I always baked my own bread. Even with a dough hook on my Kenwood mixer, it was laborious and time-consuming. I didn't always get the results I hoped for. However, earlier this year I rediscovered the magic of bread making. I found a way of making bread that requires no kneading and because it's left to rise for a long period of time (15-20 hours), requires little yeast and develops a wonderful flavour. The method is described with videos and recipes on the Breadtopia site  Alternatively, when I'm in more of a hurry, I've found Dan Lepard's method very simple and successful, but it produces a loaf with a very different texture and flavour to the no-knead. This video makes a good starting point for understanding Dan's method. Ignore the fact that he talks about sourdough bread at the beginning. The recipe does not produce a sourdough.
Home-made bread
My home-baked bread

Saturday, September 03, 2011

One of the best!

From time to time we all receive those scam spam emails where someone pleads with us to help them to solve their rather large money problems. Rarely however, are the scam emails as topical as this one. Somebody was really quick off the mark to produce this:

Peace be onto you and your family,

I am Mrs. Safia Gadhafi the wife of Muammar Gadhafi of Libya. I am presently in Algeria with my daughter Aisha and my sons.

I am sure you knows all about my family presently, I am contacting you for urgent help to secure in the name of investment in your country my family fund which NATO, UN and the Libyan transitional council have not seen. The amount involve is $80M.

Note; we are not interested on what you are going to do with this money or profit you will make from this fund rather my interest is to have the money back on demand.

If you are interested in assisting us, Your full assistance is highly needed in all participation.

Note also that your percentage for this help could be discuss.

Please forward the following information to this email address. 
(address removed!)

Full name:



Copy of ID: 

Finally don’t forget that it is a top secret therefore only email correspondence for security reasons.

Thanks for your support in advance

Mrs. Safia Gedhafi"
My reply to this cry for help?
Dear "Safia",
The next time you try to scam someone, you might like to at least check that you spell your own name consistently.