Chestnut Sponge Cake

While browsing the shelves of a large health-food store in the city recently, I came across some chestnut flour by chance, and decided to try it out.

It smells slightly nutty and sweet, which reminded me of something I read in this BBC Food article about why we bake:

“In times of difficulty or distress, targeting our sense of smell is the quickest way to alter our emotional state.”

I agree with that wholeheartedly, don’t you?

With a hint of lemon and tonka beans, this cake has such a delicate flavour. Moist and aromatic – this is one of the tastiest cakes I have ever made! The recipe is a mix of ideas from the internet and a basic swiss roll mixture. I made mini cakes first, and served them with whipped cream. The batter would also be perfect for a swiss roll, or even muffins. Here’s the simple round cake, plain and delectable.

Chestnut Sponge Cake

  • 1 cup (120g) sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup (200g) thick yoghurt or sour cream
  • zest of 1 organic lemon
  • A few shavings of tonka bean (optional)
  • 1 cup (125g) chestnut flour
  • 1 1/2 tsps baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • a little icing sugar for decoration

Grease  and flour a 26cm (10 inch) cake tin and preheat the oven to 180°C.

Separate the eggs, and whisk the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Stir in the yoghurt/sour cream, lemon zest and tonka bean shavings. Then sift in the flour, salt and baking powder, and fold in carefully with a large metal spoon. Wash whisk blades and whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they form stiff peaks. Fold into the batter very gently. Pour into cake tin and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Remove from tin and leave to cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with a little icing sugar when completely cool.


Beat the Gloom!

Fog, low cloud and grey skies

I’ve had enough!

November is being true to its reputation for the third week in a row: dull, dark, dismal, drizzly and damp. Sunday actually brought an hour or two of hazy sunsine, and then it clouded over again!

I have thus resorted to my summer photos once more, in order to brighten up the day.

Let the sun shine!







Sweet Dreams of Summer!

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Tuesdays at Two (27th November)

Another week of fog and grey skies… snow is forecast for the end of the week, which would be lovely for the first weekend of Christmas markets, but let’s just wait and see!

This week’s photo looks exactly the same as last week’s!

The View Club:

Celi, from The Kitchen’s Garden

Claire, from Promenades Plantings

Marie, from My Little Corner of Rhode Island

Linda, from Life on a Colorado Farm

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

I am always pleased to find a new way to serve up brussels sprouts in disguise

Personally, I will eat them plain, on their own! (I love plain veg!) But in our house they go down better with garlic oil and a sprinkling of parmesan, or in this case with cream and cheese… Well, almost anything tastes good if you add some cream and cheese to it!

A rich side dish for Christmas? Sunday dinner?

Brussels Sprouts Gratin

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Boil/steam your brussels until just tender. (I add a bay leaf or two to the water, which stops the smell of brussels permeating the whole house! It works for cauliflower, cabbage etc too.) Drain, and place in an ovenproof dish. Pour just enough cream over the sprouts to half cover them. (I used about half a pound of sprouts and 1/2 cup of cream) Mix 75g (1 cup) grated parmesan cheese and 25g (1/3 cup) fresh wholemeal breadcrumbs, and a little black pepper. Sprinkle this on top. Bake for 30 minutes.

A bit naughty, but very nice!

How do you serve up Brussels Sprouts?

Book Review: The Library Book

The Library Book

by Ann Cleeves, Seth Godin, Susan Hill and Tom Holland

In the light of government cutbacks in the UK hitting public libraries across the nation, this collection of “short stories” is primarily a fund-raising project for The Reading Agency, a charity that promotes reading, especially among the young.

The stories are mostly recounts of the influence libraries had on these authors’ lives. They are all well-known writers and entertainers who have contributed, such as Stephen Fry, Julian Barnes, Alan Bennett, and Zadie Smith. And they are all united in their support of British libraries.

I must admit I was slightly disappointed that, although most of the writers are able to speak for their younger selves, they have not succeeded in explaining why libraries are so important TODAY. Only few touch on the social side of libraries, and the necessity of well-trained librarians to help us access all the knowledge there is, either in book form or on the internet.

Having said that, this book is a nice read. It’s cosy, very English and reminds me of my childhood experiences of libraries. The chapters are short, so the book can be dipped into at leisure. (Ideal for a Kindle to put in your handbag/pocket). It made me smile and even laugh at times; Stephen Fry is so clever with words, and Lucy Mangan’s rules for her own library are charming! One of my favourite chapters was a short story by Kate Mosse, where a scary mystery is solved! And another was Susan Hills’s story which included her encounter with E.M. Forster in the  London Library when he dropped a volume of Elizabethan poetry on her foot – a historic moment she will never forget!

One of my own earliest libraray memories:

I can see myself now, waiting at the roadside for the door of the mobile library van to hiss open like magic. I literally have to climb the HUGE steps into the back of the big brown vehicle. My satchel slung over my shoulder clunks against the door on the way up. It’s mostly adults at our stop, so I am left to my own devices… no instructions where to find anything, but although there is not a great deal of choice for a reader of my age,  I still enjoy the rare experience of carrying home one or two books that I have chosen myself. They will be read several times over before they have to be returned…

What are your thoughts on or memories of libraries?

Hazelnut Shortbread

For all my American friends: Happy Thanksgiving!

The squirrels have devoured every single hazelnut in our garden again, but I don’t really mind. I like to see their acrobatics in the bushes and trees, although this year they have been rather sneaky and I’ve hardly seen them!

When I saw a squirrel cookie cutter recently, I knew it would be perfect for this hazelnut shortbread.

This shortbread has that wonderful crisp buttery flavour with an added extra – hazelnutty nuttiness! I also love the slight salty note in shortbread, and this recipe  has that too. In fact I would give it 10 out of 10 for flavour, crunch and appearance, and the consistency was also ideal for rolling out. Just for fun I stuck a few of them together with Nutella – yummy!

Hazelnut Shortbread

For about 60 cookies, you will need:

  • 300g (10.5 oz) salted butter
  • 200g (7 oz) granulated sugar
  • 400g (3 1/4 cups) plain flour
  • 40g (1/2 cup) ground hazelnuts
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Nutella for filling (optional)

Beat butter and sugar together until soft and creamy. Sift in the flour, salt, cocoa powder and nuts. I used a large wooden spoon to blend these in, and then my (cold!) hands to bring it together into a ball. Trying not to handle it too much, wrap it in clingfilm and chill it for at least 45 minutes… the longer the better.

Remove from the fridge and divide; put half back in the fridge. Now roll out your dough on a well-floured surface to about 1/2 cm thickness and cut out shapes with a cookie cutter. Lay on greaseproof paper on a tray that will fit in your fridge – you need to keep these cold till baking. Repeat with the second half of the dough (or freeze it for a rainy day, which is what I did!) and then chill these too, for at least 15 minutes.

Now you can preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F. Bake the shortbread for 10-15 minutes – watch them the last few minutes as they brown very quickly – you want them to be “golden” brown! Place on a cooling rack. Once cool you can make sandwich cookies by spreading a little Nutella on half of them and placing another cookie on top. Nutella goes well with the hazelnut flavour of the shortbread, and I like them both with and without.

These are going on my Christmas Cookie list – using a festive cookie cutter of course!


Link for conversion tables:

Tuesdays at Two (20th November)

Tuesdays at Two

Poor light and low cloud today. Typical November weather!

The View Club so far:

Celi, from The Kitchen’s Garden

Claire, from Promenades Plantings

Marie, from My Little Corner of Rhode Island

Linda, from Life on a Colorado Farm

If you want to join in, please do. There are no rules! You can post daily, weekly, or just when you get a chance. Pick a view and show us how it changes through the seasons! 😀