Raspberry and white chocolate bakewell cake

An imagination is a blessing and a curse. I picture the witches and good fairies hovering around Bert’s cradle, circling, deep in thought, until they suddenly, simultaneously, all whipped the same spell at his little, shell-pink cheeks.

He can paint a watercolour dragonfly that looks alive, full of dragonfly-ish flitting plans and day dreams. He can come up with a thought so sweetly romantic it stops me in my tracks (I know I’m going to marry Libby because when I see her face I feel happy). Together we write story books based on brilliant titles he’s come up with – Banana Moon, about a wolf cub who’s missing his mother and, as yet unwritten, Once Upon a Mushroom.

He just called me into his room because he’d had a nightmare – there’s a lot of those at the moment. ‘You don’t seem very upset for someone who’s had a nightmare,’ I said as he scrambled around his top bunk looking for soft toys to bring into my bed with him. ‘It was more sad than scary,’ he explained as he grabbed Foxy, Orangutan and Jags. ‘Someone put their finger on a brick and someone else smashed another brick on top till the brick turned from grey to faded red, and I saw a close up.’

So I sat with him, in my bed, for a bit. After a few minutes he reached over and gently touched first Foxy, then Orangutan then Jags on the head, then pulled Jags to him. ‘I’m ready for you to go,’ he said to me. ‘I’ve forgotten my dream now.’

I’m not making him much food of interest that’s not sweet comfort food at the moment, but maybe that’s okay.

Makes a 20cm cake

140g ground almonds

140g soft butter

140g golden caster sugar

140g self-raising flour

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 punnet raspberries

100g white chocolate

Pre heat the oven to 180 (160 fan) and cream the sugar and butter, then fold in the eggs, ground almonds, flour and vanilla extract. Line a 20cm cake tin and spread half the batter over the bottom. Tip the raspberries over that, followed by hunks of the white chocolate. Spread over the remaining batter and bake for about 45-50 minutes. Serve warm with cream or cold in slices.

Blueberry, apple and ginger crumble tart

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Today’s my birthday. I was woken up at seven a.m. by a five-year-old carrying a homemade card (a family of badgers, how well he knows me) and whisper-singing Happy Birthday. He helped me open cards and some presents (a bag with a picture of an arctic fox on from him, how well he knows me), gave me some ‘save-for-later’ kisses and cuddles and went to school.

I picked him up from school and we lit candles on a cake I’d bought (he was a little concerned that I shouldn’t buy my own birthday cake and that he should have helped his dad make one – how little he knows him) and he sang Happy Birthday to me again. I can’t reveal what I wished for when I cut the cake of course, but seven, eight and possibly even nine years ago I wished for him.

Yesterday we ate nearly all of this tart between the three of us.

Makes one tart

1 pack of ready-rolled shortcrust pastry

1 small pack blueberries

3 teaspoons diced stem ginger in syrup

1-2 cooking apples, peeled, cored, chunked and cooked gently in a saucepan with 2-3 tablespoons of golden caster sugar till soft but still in recognisable chunks

175g plain flour

100g cubed butter

50g rolled oats

100g soft brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

Heat the oven to 180. Line a pie dish with the pastry, leaving some overhanging the edges. Put on a baking tray, cover with baking parchment (the one from the packet of pre-rolled pastry will do) and weigh down with something like baking beans (I use pebbles). Bake for 10 minutes, remove paper and baking beans, turn the oven down to 160 and bake for another 8 minutes, till golden.

Take it out of the oven and turn the oven back up to 180. Meanwhile put the butter and flour in a food processor till breadcrumbed, then stir through the sugar, oats and ginger.

When the pastry has cooled a bit, snap off any overhanging edges, but not too neatly, tip in the blueberries and dot with the ginger and some of its syrup. On top of that, the apples. Then the crumble. Bake for 25-30 minutes and serve with double cream.

Hedgerow fool

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Bert’s been at school for two full days and he’s run through the full gamut of emotions. From a summer-long excitement, to hysteria the day before term began, jangling nerves on the morning itself, through to jubilance at the end of the first day. (‘It was brilliant. I don’t know why I nervous.’)

He then moved, after a total of 12 hours in school, onto a nonchalant confidence. When I picked him up today, I asked him what he’d been doing and he said, ‘I spent a lot of time working in the office, organising things’. Surely they hadn’t moved him into a paid administrative role already? Turned out he was demonstrating his ability to sort colours into the right piles and numbers into the correct order. ‘I got them all right,’ he claimed, and nodded at me that the road was safe to cross.

But by 4.30, the cheery confidence had shifted into a melancholic nostalgia for the old days. ‘We don’t laugh at the same things anymore, Mum,’ he said wistfully in the car on the way to the supermarket to buy the makings of home-made fruit lollies. ‘We used to.’ ‘What do you mean? I just laughed at about a hundred of your jokes.’ ‘Not the last one, in the car.’ He stared out of the window, mouth set in a straight line, remembering the good times, now irrevokably passed, before we drifted apart.

The day before term started, before it all went wrong, we picked blackberries and made a blackberry fool.

Serves 4

400g blackberries

100ml elderflower cordial

2 tablespoons golden caster sugar

150ml thick Greek yoghurt

150ml cold custard

Put the washed blackberries in a pan with the cordial and sugar. Heat till bubbling then simmer merrily for about 10 minutes, crushing the berries against the side of the pan to make a very rough, chunky sauce. Cool.

Fold the cooled fruit, yoghurt and custard together briefly till combined but still rippled. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving, more time if you have it.

Cherry and almond loaf cake

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I drove Bert and Ray to the park after lunch, parked, after some difficulty finding a space, and opened the back car door. Ray sprinted, panting, to the park entrance nearest the children’s playground and Bert dillied and dallied, climbing into the driving seat and steering aggressively.

‘Quick!’ I said, ‘Ray’s already run in. There are children in there! He might scare them.’

(Ray always comes off in my blog as a disturbing, sweaty uncle but is in fact our dog, who has the spirit of a disturbing, sweaty uncle.)

‘You parked badly,’ he explained, ‘so I had to do it for you.’ He threw a patronising, toothy smile over his shoulder and screeched to an imaginary halt.

We had friends over this morning. The adults ate this and the children used icing as glue to stick sugar eyes, sugar carrots, hundred and thousands and mini marshmallows to biscuits – seven small children got through 15 biscuits, 12 sugar carrots and 53 sugar eyes and probably all did a little swivel-eyed backseat driving this afternoon.

Any cake serves as many as want it

125g soft butter

175g golden caster sugar

3 medium eggs

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon almond essence

125g plain flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

45g ground almonds

125ml plain yoghurt

125g halved and stoned cherries tossed in 1/2 tablespoon of flour – supposedly stops the fruit sinking, but didn’t in this case. Call it a fruit layer cake and don’t apologise.

Preheat the oven to 180 and line a 2lb loaf tin, or a smaller loaf tin if you want deeper slices.

Cream the butter and sugar together well – till pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating the mixture well each time. Add the almond essence with the last egg. Fold in, carefully, the flour, baking powder, almonds and yoghurt, then gently stir through the cherries.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, till golden, springy to the touch and coming away from the sides.

It would be nice drizzled with glacé icing, but we had it plain.

Raspberry and yoghurt muffins

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Some cakes shouldn’t pretend to be useful. This isn’t one of them. Bert pressed two to his face and digested them like a fly, innocent to the fact they contain spelt flour, yoghurt, almonds and not a huge amount of sugar.

Makes 6 muffins

90g plain flour

30g spelt (or plain brown) flour

70g sunflower oil

1 egg

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

80g golden caster sugar

100g frozen or fresh raspberries

2 tablespoons plain yoghurt

Flaked almonds to scatter on top

Pre hear the oven to 190/ 180 fan.

Beat all the ingredients except the raspberries and almonds together. Fold through the raspberries then spoon the mixture into a case-lined muffin tin. Scatter each muffin with almonds then bake for 20-25 minutes, till firm to the touch.

The oil gives them a more delicate crumb than butter, and they’re not too sweet. I think frozen raspberries are less prone to sinking, but both work.

Strawberry shortcake pudding


When you fancy strawberry shortcake but can’t be arsed to make it. This has the same soft, vanilla crumb and berry sweetness but takes 10 minutes to prepare and 10 seconds to finish off out of the oven.

Bert declared this ‘not a birthday cake: a normal cake’.

It’s my birthday tomorrow. On his way out this afternoon Bert’s dad asked me if we needed any food. 

Me: you might need chocolate? Self-raising flour? Candles?

Him: blank face

Leftover normal cake it is then.

Serves 4-6 (ahem. Ok. Three)

6 tablespoons soft butter

1 measuring cup caster sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1.5 measuring cups plain flour

1/2 measuring cup milk 

1 punnet strawberries

1 tablespoon icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180.

Beat the sugar and butter together till fluffy then add the egg and vanilla and beat again. Mix through the flour, baking powder and milk till you have a smooth, thick batter then tip into a deep, buttered pie dish and smooth out the top. Top with the hulled and halved strawberries and bake for about an hour (check after 50 minutes – it’s ready when it’s deep golden brown and coming away from the sides). 

Dust with sieved icing sugar and serve warm with thick cream.

Apple and blackberry toffee crumble 


Last time Bert cooked I had high hopes that he’d eat every mouthful. I helped him grate the courgette into the pea and bacon risotto chortling to myself about the thought of him eating it greedily. He took a single mouthful and flatly pronounced it ‘gusting’.

This went a bit better. 

Enough for 6 (I was cooking for two)

2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and thickly sliced

1 tablespoons dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon butter

As many blackberries as you can pick – we had about four big handfuls

1 tablespoon golden caster sugar

230g plain flour

115g butter, cold and in small pieces

50g golden caster sugar

40g brown sugar

Level teaspoon ground ginger

40g jumbo oats

Melt the first lot of butter and brown sugar, drop the apples in the pan, toss in the toffee sauce and cook gently on the hob for 5-10 minutes, till the apples are starting to soften. Add the blackberries and first lot of caster sugar. 

Preheat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180.

Put the flour and remaining butter into the bowl of a food processor and pulse till crumbed (or rub between fingers and thumbs to crumb by hand). Stir through the remaining sugars, ginger and oats. 

Pour the fruit into an ovenproof dish, top with crumble and cook for about half an hour, till golden. Serve drowned in cream

Instant banana icecream

 
Bert has recently decided he doesn’t like Ray. His reason? ‘He makes me sick.’ Poor old Ray.

Last week we were snuggled up reading a bedtime story and turned around to see Ray gathering a blanket into a frenzied ball between his legs and making violent love to it. There was a short pause then Bert asked, ‘what’s Ray doing?’ I weakly described it as a special cuddle but am now terrified that nursery will complain about Bert’s new ‘special cuddles’.

I love Ray but sometimes he makes me sick too.

(I should perhaps clarify that Ray’s the dog not a particularly disturbing member of the family.)

Serves 1

1 banana

Slice any spare, nearly too-ripe bananas into discs and freeze (in a single layer – if they stick together when they freeze it doesn’t work so well).

Decant frozen banana to a blender and blend. At first it looks kind of grainy then it becomes the texture of soft ice cream. Scrape out and serve. An easy, on demand ice cream and your child avoids bring presented with yet another banana loaf. (Though I do love banana loaf.)

This is from the brilliant National Trust Family Cookbook – I’ve made three things from it so far and they were all keepers.


Banana and chocolate button loaf


Do I really need another recipe for a banana loaf? Yes, I do.

Bert’s been saving reward stickers for a month now and today was the day we went shopping for his chosen toy (‘Zuma, Skye, Rocky [all Paw Patrol dog characters that drive a vehicle], a dinosaur, a Gruffalo, another Gruffalo’ he said, ambitiously.) He got the Gruffalo and the Gruffalo’s child and we walked back to the car, Bert in full Gruffalo outfit, holding a Gruffalo in each hand and explaining to me he’s going to live in the ‘deep, dark woods’ with the Gruffalos plus the real Gruffalo, cuddling and kissing them and telling stories. Bliss indeed. (Yes, he’s sleeping in the Gruffalo body.)

He tells me Gruffalos don’t eat cake so I’ll have this one to myself.

Makes a 2lb loaf 

125g butter

150g golden caster sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 egg

60ml whole milk 

190g self-raising flour

100g chocolate buttons

Pre heat the oven to gas mark 3/ 170 degreee. Line a 2lb loaf tin (I partly make so many loaves because I have a pack of the ready made paper liners.)

Melt the butter, sugar and vanilla together then mix into the bananas and egg. Add the milk then stir through the flour and then the chocolate buttons. Tip into the tin and bake for about 45-50 minutes. 

If Bert finds six empty packets of chocolate buttons in the bin tomorrow I’ll be mince meat.

Blueberry and lemon loaf (or 12 muffins)


Me and Bert took my mum out for dinner for Mother’s Day, to a perfectly family-friendly restaurant (in fact, the waitress was either Bert’s soul mate or a highly-skilled professional charmer, and exchanged dinosaur facts with him for hours, seeming genuinely disappointed to serve other tables). But yet again we were given the blandest of food options for Bert. Even though I had delicious sticky ribs, coleslaw and fries and my mum had an amazing fish pie, his options were the usual fish fingers, chicken nuggets, macaroni cheese and spag bol. No kids’ cutlery, so he had to struggle with even larger than usual adult ones (or a teaspoon). And I’d lugged a bag of stickers, books and playmobil people with me to try to stave off the moment where all the child-free adults in the room collectively put a court order on him to leave. (Despite this, the ten minutes before we left were taken up with trying to coax a three year old in full Gruffalo gear out from under the table.)

I thought, I should set up a Me and Bert cafe! Books and lego at every table, children’s plates and cutlery, a different, free, ‘try something new’ tiny-taster bowl with the kids’ meals each day, children’s loyalty cards and space for push chairs. Child-friendly food that’s tasty first, nutritious second and edible by actual adults. We’d clean up with the pre-school mums and dads and grandparents! We’d only need to open school hours…

Then I remembered that, as a work at home freelancer, my standard day encompasses putting dinner on, stroking the dog’s ears (not a euphamism) and making an impulsive cake for pudding. And I realised that the reality of running a cafe  would be a huge shock to my  system, one that would probably age me ten years in a week. Nevermind my less than perfect cooking days suddenly being extremely public.

But here’s a cake that would have been on the menu.

Makes a small loaf

150g soft butter

150g golden caster sugar

150g self-raising flour (hold a tablespoon back to toss the blueberries in)

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 tablespoon whole milk

3 eggs

Grated zest of one lemon

100g blueberries, tossed in a tablespoon of flour (supposed to help them not to sink) (update: but didn’t)

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/ 180 degrees and line a small loaf tin or 12 muffin holes.

Beat everything except the blueberries together for a good 5-10 minutes (about 4 minutes in a mixer), till it’s pale and fluffy. Gently fold through the blueberries and bake for about an hour (or 15-20 minutes for the muffins), till it’s golden and firm on top. Hide from your child’s father till dinner time. (The cake, that is – I’m not suggesting a game of hide and seek.) Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche or yoghurt.