Home Page – My Ongoing Baking Journey

Jan 2023

Looking across the Derwent valley from my study window

Compared with my pre-Christmas baking blitz, January was only a moderate baking month. Also, I was taking it easy, recovering from my hernia operation. I’ll spare you the gruesome details, but I have made a very good recovery. The first few days were difficult (by “difficult” I mean B*%$£y painful) But within a few days I was walking then exercising most mornings and within a few weeks running again, albeit slowly.

Red Deer on Big Moor, Derbyshire

As usual bread was an important part of the month . I made some Spelt and Poppy Seed Soda Bread for a friend.  Spelt flour has very little gluten, can be hard to work and may give very little rise. But, in a soda bread, which rises chemically due to the combination of the alkali and acidic elements, spelt works quite well.

I also used an even more unusual flour in my Khorasan and Tomato Loaf. This was a yeasted bread. It was OK, but I need to work on the recipe a bit more. I’ve used Einkorn flour and Khorasan flour previously and neither really wow me. Maybe I’m a bit of a flour Luddite.

Probably the best of my bready bakes in January were my Spiced Fruit and Nut Teacakes. Not only did they have good taste and texture, but they were BIG too.

As you know I’m a confirmed sconoholic, a Northerner and an ex-English teacher, so, here’s a quick English lesson:

Scone rhymes with gone, shone, Don, Ron and John

It does NOT rhyme with own, tone, bone, moan or groan.

Anyway, I made Ginger and Cream Scones for our neighbours. We have excellent neighbours. (Hopefully they think the same of us.) I also made Orange and Marzipan Scones for home use and for another friend. I’ve been using marzipan a lot recently because I still had four packs after Christmas. I bought extra then someone gave me a couple. It’s lovely stuff and very adaptable. I have made my own a couple of times, especially when I’ve wanted to use other nuts. Pistachio marzipan is very tasty.

Cakes didn’t feature massively in January, but I did create a Date and Walnut Challenge Cake. I set myself the challenge of making a tasty cake with only a limited range of ingredients. This was the result. Follow the link to learn about the challenge and the rules and have a go yourself. The only other cake was a Choc Chip Cake for Sunday after church.

January was something of a tray bake month. First was a batch of Cherry and Orange Brownies that I took into our church building one Tuesday for the “totzone” mums who bring their under fives in for the morning. They were lovely (I mean the brownies, not the mums, though I’m sure the mums are very nice too. I think I’m digging a hole here, I’d better stop) But the brownies weren’t as popular as I’d expected. I think, being soon after the annual “Christmas overeat”, all of the mums were on a diet.

Later in the month I was asked to bake ninety tray bakes. (No, not ninety actual tray bakes, just ninety pieces. Phew!) It was for a lovely couple and the bakes were for the husband’s retirement party. It was a good challenge, as much about timing and stamina in the kitchen as actual baking. I gave them some options and here’s what we came up with:

Fudgy Date Brownies, Bakewell Flapjacks , Coconut Almond & Plum Tray Bake, Coffee & Walnut Blondies and Malted Millionaire’s slices.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief overview at the start of another new year. It’s probably a bit late to wish everyone a Happy New Year, nevertheless I do hope and pray that 2023 will be a good year for all of us despite everything that seems to be going on. Let’s put aside all the negativity that it’s so easy to “buy into”. I know that God is good and he cares for his creation. May he bless you in the days ahead.

A short review of December

Snowy hillside above Cromford

As December draws to a close I thought I’d put out a short baking résumé of the month. It will be short because I’ve not baked anywhere near as much as in other Decembers. A couple of weeks before Christmas I went into hospital for a long-awaited (nearly two years, in fact) hernia operation.

It’s not exactly a massive operation, but the recovery phase is certainly more painful and lengthy than I anticipated.  I’m still not allowed to drive, lift heavy items or do anything strenuous, but have been walking, baking and exercising gently.

OK that’s enough medical stuff, now to the baking. In some ways I made life a bit easier for myself by just updating quite a few tried and tested recipes. For example, I made my Blueberry and Orange Flapjack  for a group of DofE (Duke of Edinburgh’s Award) students from my old school when I took them out for a navigation walk. (Before my op of course.)

Another “classic” is my Christmas Cake Tray-bake, which I wasn’t going to bake this year but my wife persuaded me. Even so I wanted to vary the appearance and went for a gold version this year. Then, of course, it was the Christmas Cake itself: a bit smaller this year and with a simpler but very effective decoration.  Here’s the original recipe link: Cherry & Almond Christmas Cake.

As you probably know I love bread: baking it, eating it, toasting it, making sandwiches with it. Here are three loaves from December. There are lots more in my bread section.

Gluten free breads tend to be rather cake-like, but my gluten free Soda bread with Cheese & Onion was as lovely as any “normal” soda bread.  

Another thing you may already know is that I love Italy, especially the food, so it’s no surprise that I enjoy a good focaccia like this Focaccia with Mozzarella Tomatoes & Garlic. Most years I also make one or more panettones, but this year was a little different. I belong to a lovely local group of Italian speakers who meet once a week to natter “in italiano”, so I made a dozen mini-panettones. I actually used a recipe from the BBC food site, but here’s the link to my large version: Panettone. Divide the mixture between 12 tall cupcake holders and bake for about 20 – 25 minutes. As you’ll see, they tend to darken very quickly. I only just caught these in time.

I’ll show you a cake I baked for my ex-colleagues at school then a few non-baked goodies that certainly made life easier in the kitchen this year. My Spiced Fruit and Oat Cake went down well. It used oats, soaked overnight in milk (or maybe I used up some left-over cream?) so it had a lovely firm, dense texture. Definitely not a “light-as-air” type of cake.

Non baked goodies also made life a bit easier. They included a Chocolate & Ginger Truffle Torte, which I developed from the earlier raspberry version and a Christmassy Gingery no-bake Cheesecake, that I made  for our church elderly group (No, I’m not part of the group, in case you were wondering!).

Unsurprisingly chocolate will have the last word. I made a traybake version of my Triple Chocolate and Biscuit Fridge Cake that’s so easy and so tasty it’s ridiculous.  Likewise, my Christmas Chocolate Bark – something else that I wasn’t going to make this year, but when a friend turned up with her nine year old son we made it together.

It’s nearly 2023, so I’ll soon be posting my reflections of 2022 – maybe my favourite bakes of the year. In the meantime I hope you’ve had a lovely Christmas and may….

… God bless you in the year ahead.

October & November Remembered

Overlooking Cromford from The High Peak Trail

It’s about time I got caught up “blogwise”. One reason for being so tardy – as usual – is that we were on holiday in Italy, but that was quite a while ago. This time we were in the north around Lago d’Iseo, the smallest of the lakes. (I love Italy: the scenery, the food, the people, the architecture. All are fantastic.) I’ve also been a bit ill; nothing serious, just enough to grab it as a viable excuse for not keeping up to date. In fact I’ve done less baking than normal since my last blog ages ago.

I’m very aware of the increased energy prices, so that’s actually stopped me baking so much. Now, I try to organise two or three bakes on the same day and work out a schedule that’s as “energy efficient” as possible. I’ve also made several none baked cakes, but more on that in the next paragraph.

Cromford Moor Woods

I’ll start with the Chocolate Truffle Torte with Raspberries, which required no baking. Having said that, I’ve decided that when I make it again – which will be soon, as it was so popular – I’ll incorporate a cheesecake type biscuit base. Even that could be non-baked, couldn’t it? But I do tend to pop these in the oven for just 10 – 15 minutes as I think it makes them firmer.

Anyway, back to the plot. The torte mentioned above was basically double cream and chocolate (can’t be bad.) It was very rich, very unctuous and very yummy. The raspberries gave it a little sharpness, which worked perfectly.

Another cake that I made especially for after our Sunday meeting at Church was my Banana and Coconut Cake with Mascarpone & White Chocolate Filling. (As titles go, that’s quite a mouthful, but so was the cake – in a good way of course.)

I also made a Chocolate Cake for a friend’s father’s funeral, a Pecan and Ginger Cake for our church elderly group and a Strawberry & Mascarpone Swiss Roll to take into school for my ex-colleagues. I love Mascarpone. It has a super soft creamy texture, and tastes great too.  And it’s so versatile. Mainly I use it in sweet things, but it can be savoury as well.

There were two tray bakes that I’d like to tell you about. Early in October I felt quite experimental so I created Maple, Bacon & Pecan Millionaire’s Shortbread. And, yes, it worked really well. So much so, that I’ll be making it again, probably with even more bacon in the mix. There’s brave, then braver, then reckless. I’m aiming to be in the “braver” category. We’ll see.

The second tray bake was more recent in late November, so unsurprisingly a little more “festive.” In fact my Spiced Whisky and Orange Blondies  are delightfully festive. The combination of warming Christmassy spices (you know: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and all that good stuff) with the whisky plus tangy orange was super. They were a sort of “herald of Christmas”.

Talking of Christmas, I’ll add a link later to take you to a collection of twelve of my super Christmas bakes, including a wonderful Christmas cake.

In the mean time, now that I’ve opened up the festive theme I’ll tell you about my Cranberry, Orange & Walnut Scones. As you probably know I’m something of a sconoholic. I’d like to think of myself as a scone connoisseur, but modesty prevails and also gives me further reason to keep practising. Anyway, these are pretty good scones. Cranberry and Orange go so well together and the walnuts add a super crunch.  

OK as promised here’s the link to

Ian’s Christmas Collection.

Chilly morning in Derbyshire

I doubt if I’ll be able to update again until after Christmas, so let me take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas. I will be posting a few more Christmas bakes on Facebook so keep looking. I hope you have a wonderful time at Christmas and may God bless you in the year ahead.

Looking back on September

Late again, sorry; it’s partly because we’ve been on holiday in Italy, one of my favourite destinations. (Yes, the food was good and yes, we ate too much.) Anyway, September was still a busy month for baking and I’ve got some lovely bakes to tell you about. Let’s start with a “Sachertorte Story“. (Actually, they were very adapted Sachertortes.)

Months ago I promised two friends that I’d make their wedding cake. They were thinking of a very quiet, low key wedding, maybe as part of our Sunday service at the church we all belong to – Church in the Peak, Matlock.   I had free range to make whatever I wanted, but the bride did mention how much she liked chocolate, so I thought just a single 23cm chocolate sponge cake would do the job.  

Then the wedding became a bigger event with the whole church, both families and lots of friends all invited. My wife took charge of the catering (she’s brilliant at that) and I concentrated on the cake – which was now to be three tiers.   We had lots of volunteers from our church family for food and for serving.  

Prior to the wedding I’d practised the torte that I’d decided to make, but for this one I made an interesting marshmallow topping. I took it to church one Sunday morning and it proved popular so I set about planning a larger one. (By the way, I ought to tell you that I’d never made a wedding cake before – no pressure!)

I decided on 25cm, 20cm and 15cm for the three cakes. That way there would be an equal flat section on the lower tiers and the whole thing would be symmetrical (I hoped). Baking the cakes wasn’t too difficult, except for the timings. I baked the 20cm & the 15cm at the same time, but because I’d made the 15cm cake deeper it actually took longer to bake than the 20cm, which I should have realised.

Assembling them was a little more problematic, but I was really pleased at how easy to use and effective plastic drinking straws were to stack the layers. I used an enriched butter cream to cover the cakes. I dribbled coloured white chocolate over the edges, which was very effective I think. A few chocolate gold balls and other decorations finished it off nicely. The recipe for this cake and the two other versions are all together on this link: Chocolate Orange Torte.

The third version was made a week later to share with my Italian language group, who have always shown a great interest in my baking. For them I made a 20cm version. The main difference for this one was that rather than using a double layer of baking parchment inside the tin, I used a bain marie. It was actually much better this way.

It wasn’t all chocolate in September; regular readers won’t be surprised to hear that bread featured several times. Apart from my usual lovely white sourdoughs I made a Cheese and Chive Plaited Loaf for an elderly lady from church and several gluten free loaves for other friends. I had one myself and was really pleased that it was virtually as good as “normal” bread – possibly just a little bit “cakey” as GF bread tends to be, but still very nice.

I also adapted my Cherry, Apricot & Flaked Almond Loaf recipe to make a batch of tasty rolls. (Here’s a quick tip: If you make bread, especially rolls, but only eat a little each day, put them in your freezer and just take one out the night before you need it. For a loaf, slice it and separate the slices with baking parchment before freezing.)

Next, I must mention the Garden Produce and Baking Show that I entered in September. It was in Wirksworth, a nearby small town. I heard about the show just two days before it took place so only had time to enter two bakes. My Basic no-knead Sourdough took first place in the speciality bread section and my Bakewell Bara Brith was first in the dried fruit cake section. I was also awarded a cup, but even today I’ve no idea what it was for. The hall was so noisy and the announcer so quiet that I couldn’t hear. And I had to hand back the cup straight away. (It may have been a special award for being the scruffiest unshaven baker with no apparent teeth.)  

Of course, I made a few non-chocolate cakes during September. Several of them were for the Ukrainian coffee mornings that we hosted in our church building. We have a lot of Ukrainian refugees in our area and, as a church, we wanted to offer them an opportunity to be together and be made welcome.

Here are some of the cakes that I made for them: A Blue & Yellow Checkered Sponge Cake (based on my Chocolate and Orange Checkerboard Sponge Cake), an Apple and Nut Streusel Cake, a Citrus Plum Cake and a Coffee and Walnut Cake.

Well, once again it looks like a good month. Soon be time far the October “issue”, but so far I’ve not done much baking – too busy travelling, eating, walking and trying to learn Italian.I’ll leave you with a nice Derbyshire sunrise.

August Retrospective

A view from the High Peak Trail down onto Cromford and Willersley Castle
(the home Arkwright had built, but never lived in.)

I’ll begin my August retrospective (I love that word, it’s so mellifluous.) Where was I? Waffling, of course, sorry. Anyway, I’ll begin with the Cromford Garden Produce and Baking Show.

Cromford  is in the Derbyshire Dales, on the edge of the Peak District and it’s the village where I live with my family. It’s actually a famous place and even a Unesco World Heritage site. It’s where Sir Richard Arkwright created the industrial system.

The Cromford Show is a small local event, held annually. This year they had just seven baking categories and I entered four.  I had a pretty good day. My Artisan Sourdough took first prize in the Bread category, my Double Cheese and Chives scones won the Savoury Scone category and my Raspberry Brownies took first place in the Traybake category and were also awarded “Best Bake in the Show”. (But, I’m still wondering why my Cherry, Walnut and White Chocolate Scones didn’t even get a place in the Sweet Scone category. They were lovely.) For my prizewinning brownie recipe go to: Berry Brownies.

Now I’ve mentioned those scones I’d better tell the story behind them. I love scones and tend to rate cafes on the quality of their scones. My current favourite cafe is only a couple of miles from my home. It’s the Blue Lagoon cafe at the National Stone Centre. They only make three types of scone: Cheese, Dried Fruit and – best of all – Cherry & Walnut. For weeks I tried to persuade the cook to let me have the recipe, all to no avail. So, after a few trials I managed to create a very similar, equally lovely version – my Cherry and Walnut Rustic Scones. For the Cromford Show I made some with the addition of white chocolate chunks, which I think was great, but clearly the judges thought otherwise. OK, I’ll stop moaning and let that one go now.

Chocolate cakes have featured massively in recent months, but in August I only baked a few. First was my Sticky Orange Chocolate Cake, made for a food bank client. Here’s how it came about:

I also made a larger version:

Each Friday morning our church hosts a coffee morning for the Ukrainian families that we have in our area, many of whom are food bank clients. I’ve baked two or three things for them each week. I even found a couple of Ukrainian recipes, but they didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped. We get the full range of ages meeting with us each week and I’ve had nice conversations – albeit very “stilted” due to the language differences. One middle aged lady was a caterer before she left. She admires my cakes and has also baked a “Napoleon” for me. When she told me, I thought I was mis-hearing or she had got it wrong, but not so: a “Napoleon” is a lovely layered cake. Here are some of the things I’ve baked for these mornings:

Some time ago I made a batch of Rum Babas, which were delicious. I wanted something similar but with a different flavour. Brandy came to mind (as it often does) and so did whisky, but then I thought, Limoncello. And what a good choice it was too. Have a look…better still find the recipe and try my Limoncello Babas.

I’ll round off this month with a few bakes that didn’t quite fit into any of the above categories or paragraphs. First will be my Cherry & Pecan Flapjacks. I used one of my good basic mixes, but the two additions worked really well together: cherries for moistness, pecans for texture, both for taste. Another successful combination was in the Pear and Marzipan Cake that I baked for one of our church visits to a local care home.

Finally, you might be wondering why this month’s review only has a few pictures of bread, but other than the usual excellent rustic sourdoughs the only “different” bread I baked was a Pane Toscana (Tuscany bread). Actually, it was rather disappointing. In Tuscany they prefer their bread to be neutral in flavour (AKA plain) to allow all the other flavours in the meal stand out. Hence, the recipe did not include salt. Not to my taste; if I bother making it again I’ll definitely add salt.

Sorry, didn’t mean to end by moaning. Let’s finish with a couple of nice “Derbyshire in August” pictures.

Happy Baking everyone

I wish you well

and hope you come back next month

(or before)

Looking back at July

Early Morning in Derbyshire, looking down on Cromford from the High Peak Trail

July was a month jam packed with birthday cakes. Actually, I didn’t use much jam; a more accurate expression would be “chocolate packed”. Considering we had the hottest UK day on record it may not have been the wisest of choices, but birthdays and chocolate seem to be synonymous. I think I made about ten or twelve altogether, but I’ll not post them all here, just a selection. Early in the month I made an orange filled chocolate cake, but as I used the recipe so many times with variations I ended up calling it my Adaptable Chocolate Cake.

A friend’s son had his tenth birthday in July and I’ve often wanted to make one of those cakes with sweets hidden inside, which – hopefully – pour out when the cake is cut. And, sure enough, my Chocolate Fudge Cake with Secret Smarties did just that.

Then – a bit like Picasso having a pink period (or was it blue?) – I had a fizzy cola period and made a whole host of fizzy cola cakes – still chocolate ones of course. First was my Cherry Cola Chocolate Cake for school colleagues. Then we had a baptism at church followed by a shared meal and it was also the birthday of the friend being baptised. This definitely called for a bigger cake, hence my Four Layer Chocolate Cola Cake.

And – believe it or not three more birthdays happened, so I tweeked the recipe and varied the toppings.

As you can see, I’m still not great at piping. For the third cake above I piped onto chocolate buttons. A bit of a cheat maybe, but it worked.

Before I move on, I must tell you about a failure too. (I have quite a few). Having made lots of lovely dark chocolate cakes using cola, I wanted to make an orange flavoured white chocolate cake using fizzy orange. The dark cakes used cocoa powder for flavour and for colour, but despite copious searches I couldn’t find any white cocoa powder. Instead I used white drinking chocolate, but the cake turned out really heavy, dense and stodgy. (Maybe I should have called it a pudding.) My theory is that the white chocolate added far too much fat to the mixture. I’ll try again, maybe reducing the butter next time to compensate.

OK, that’s surely enough chocolate. How about some bread talk? I made quite a few as usual, mainly sourdough. Most of these can be accessed via my Bread section.

I did actually baked one or two other items that weren’t bread or chocolate cakes – but not many. My Economy Fruit and Nut Loaf Cake proved very popular, as did the Crumbly Oat Squares with Chocolate Chips, which just shows there’s no escape from chocolate.

I hope this has been reasonably interesting (despite it being very chocolate and bread orientated) and that you give some of these recipes a try. I’d love to hear your views if you do. Many thanks for reading so far. I’ll leave you with one final Derbyshire picture.

The same Derbyshire early morning – I had a good run that morning

Looking back at June

June was a fairly quiet baking month for me, partly because I was in Italy having a wonderful holiday in Tuscany. I was on a language course, but we shared a villa with a cookery course led by a terrific chef. The food and wine were excellent and plentiful, but I was less than impressed with the very plain bread that seems to be the norm in that region.  My wife and I have booked a holiday in the Lake Iseo area of Lombardy for later this year, so I can check out the food there, especially the bread.

Talking of bread – which I often do, I’m afraid – here’s what I’ve baked in June. First was a Wholemeal loaf with pumpkin seeds, followed by a Basic White sourdough and later a Garlic & Oregano sourdough. And to show that I occasionally use yeast from a packet, I made a batch of Lemon, Honey and Poppy seed rolls for a church shared lunch.

Tray bakes are ever popular with friends and family – also with me too, because they’re quick, easy and (hopefully) delicious. One example is my Double Berry Tray Bake. It’s so simple it’s virtually impossible to go wrong with it. (Mmm, I might regret saying that.)

Flapjacks are especially quick and easy. I love playing around with flavour combinations, so I made a batch of Cherry & Apricot flapjacks for after church and some Ginger ones for the owner of the car wash round the corner. He only charges me half price for a full “inside & outside wash and clean”, so a dozen flapjacks saves me at least £10 a time for my Land Rover – bargain. On a slightly different note, not all flapjacks have to be sweet. My Savoury flapjack Squares are spicy as well as being savoury.

When you want “savoury, quick and easy” it’s hard to beat muffins. In no time at all a couple of weeks ago I made a big mix and added Cheddar & Onion to one half and Stilton & Walnuts to the other. For a shared lunch again, so they didn’t last long.

I know I’m banging on about quick and easy. You might be thinking, ah yes but sometimes it’s good to get in the kitchen and take your time to do something more elaborate and time-consuming. I quite agree, but it didn’t really happen in June. Next month it might.

If you ever find anything quicker, easier and tastier than my Extra Easy Oat bran Loaf Cake, please let me know. For this one you don’t even do any proper weighing, just grab a mug from the cupboard. And sticking with the simple theme, how about a luscious, rich chocolate offering that doesn’t even need to be baked? I recently made a tray bake version of my Triple Chocolate Fridge Cake. Whether it’s a cake or tray bake it tastes great.

The mention of chocolate and cake in the same sentence brings me to my final three June bakes: a White Chocolate & Orange Cake, a Cherry Chocolate Cake, based on my Adaptable Chocolate Cake recipe and a Citrus Cake made for the our church “Limelight” (i.e. even older than me) group.

I’m looking forward to posting next month’s bakes especially as I have a few occasions coming up and have been asked to bake some special cakes. Bye for now, but I’ll leave you with another Peak District panorama.

Curbar Edge, Peak District

Bakes in May – a few reflections

Yet again, it’s been ages since I updated my home page. What I think I’ll do is revue my baking each month and try to be a bit more regular.  Most months are busy baking months – I like it that way – but May seems to have been especially busy, so I’ll be selective.

Loaf cakes featured quite high on the agenda. Early in the month I made two marbled loaf cakes. First was my Raspberry & White Chocolate Marbled version closely followed by a Raspberry & Pistachio version.

A couple of weeks later I experimented with my popular Gluten free Bara Brith recipe and created Bakewell Bara Brith – a great combination of Welsh and Derbyshire traditions.