In Season: March (and Easter!)

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t my parents’, we have an annual Easter egg hunt, despite the fact that we are all at least 12 years too old for such antics. The point of the hunt isn’t really finding the chocolate and gorging until we have to allocate one person to roll the rest of us into the dining room for lunch. The real point is finding the most difficult places for the eggs for my oldest brother, so we can sit back and snigger as he wanders about looking for them.

Until this year. This year, with one heart attack behind us and a wedding in the near future, we’re foregoing the chocolate. Instead, I’ll have to live vicariously through you lot and Instagram. This month’s round-up slightly reflects this.

Last thing before we hop off to the good stuff…don’t forget that you can get £10 off at Bloom & Wild (in time for Mothers Day) here! This isn’t even a paid-for endorsement, they’re just…really good. Continue reading

Lemon, lime, and gin loaf

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-l-l. Lemon and lime loaf would have been a much more pleasing name for this easy-peasy cake, but we can’t miss out the gin drizzle. Really, even lemon, lime, and gin loaf isn’t its proper name – since I dreamt it up on a rogue afternoon off work, what I’ve called it in my head is Victorian malady cake, with scurvy and mother’s ruin in mind. And it’ll certainly have you saying, “Please, I want some more.”

maladyIt’s possible I’ve binge-watched too much Dickensian.

In a distinctly non-austerity move, this cake calls for real butter. Almost a whole block of it! I was pro-margarine before, mostly due to its significantly lower price, but you really can’t beat butter* for the flavour it gives, not to mention that oh-so-tempting yellow colour.

The gin, meanwhile, isn’t a boff-you-in-the-face taste, but more of a back-of-the-mouth hint. Just enough to subtly evoke summer days. If you want the gin flavour to feature more? Increase it in the drizzle by a tablespoon or two.

This cake is an easy flash-forward to sunny afternoons, a creation you can whip up without any real elbow grease at all. A beat, a mix, a fold, and a drizzle, and you’re done.

Let’s go. Continue reading

The Marvellous Night Circus cake

circus-detail“You like baking, right? Do you accept cake commissions? She said you’re really good at cookery.”

Flattery may get you everywhere, but it doesn’t make receiving a message like that from your friend’s dad any easier.

“Chocolate. Would you like a challenge?”

Eek. Only a little hesitance. “What are your ideas?”

“Popping candy and jelly pieces. Is that possible?”

“Like the Marvellous Creations?”

“Exactly right.”

Obviously I had to say yes, despite the unshakable feeling that it would all go horribly wrong, based on past experience. Not because I can’t bake, but because I only ever seem to fluff it when it’s important.

But, challenge accepted. Continue reading

Honey-roasted peach and cinnamon muffins

Sometimes, the things you love most are the things you fear. I adore enormous bookstores but sometimes when I walk into them my heart beats faster, because Oh, excellent, there are so many books! but also Oh no. There are so many books and there’s no way I’ll ever be able to read even a small percentage of them all, why isn’t there more time in the day? 

PeachportI love holding my niece, who is six months old and squishy, with big blue eyes and very little hair, and she is wriggly and I. Must. Not. Drop. The. Squirmy. Baby. I stand her on my lap, one tiny, ticklish foot on each thigh, and I do not know what to say to her. Small talk is hard enough with a fully-grown human.

I will always want crispy bacon on my burgers, but if I grill it, I will watch it, cross-legged and unblinking on the floor like I’m on the Bake Off, just in case the fat catches and bursts into flames like it did that one time when I was a kid.

There’s a big place in my heart for huge, fluffy muffins – the properly craggy-topped ones, not supermarket double chocolates, all sticky on top and dry at the bottom – and I am convinced that I can’t make them. Continue reading

Lime & coconut yoghurt cake

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his cake was borne of a feeling that told me, Yes, okay, it’s time to bake now, stop claiming lack of inspiration and just look around you. Eggs that supposedly went out of date days ago (still fine!), tubs of yoghurt, and a couple of limes. I desperately wanted to be back on the baking wagon right away; to be able to say, Whisk, whisk, fold, oven, done – victory! But my first attempt at this cake was honestly poor.

Lime & coconut yoghurt cake // The Dinner BellMy ever-so-polite colleagues ate it even though the glaze was too thin and soaked through to make the cake the texture of gummy bears, so moist that it sat heavy in your stomach. But I knew it needed a lot more work – I knew I’d made mistakes, and I almost decided not to admit that on the internet.

Growing up alongside the invasion of social media makes it amazingly easy to have a skewed view of everyone else’s lives. It brings you to just a few clicks away from being fully mired in grass-is-greener delusions and gives you the tools to compare yourself to every single friend or stranger that pops up your feeds, while you sit there thinking, Oh my god, I know at least three people with book deals and I couldn’t even find a matching pair of socks this morning. (True story. I only have socks in three colours and I still struggle.)

Buuuuut of course that’s ridiculous. We all have different paths, and this small segment of mine means I can tell you guys what changes absolutely should not be made to this recipe (see notes!). It took a couple of tweaks – and a couple of batches of cake forced upon those colleagues – but it’s finally just right. Continue reading

Chocolate orange swirl loaf

Chocolate orange swirl cake // The Dinner Bell

Back home, in that small village with the fields of crops I’m incredibly allergic to, most of my neighbours have known me since birth. They’ve watched as learned to walk, ride a bike, and eventually as my brothers and I left home.

My favourite neighbour is an 80-year-old man called Bill. Sometimes when I’m back for a weekend, I’ll nip over one evening, and we’ll end up drinking wine and chatting for hours in his front room, while my parents sit at home and wonder what on earth we could be discussing. Often, when he leans back in his chair, he’ll lace his fingers together and rest them on his tummy while he talks, his Scottish accent still very much there despite his decades in England. He’s not an ordinary old man – he’s fiercely independent and physically active – and we have the same conversations you would with anyone half his age or younger. Continue reading