Thoughts on being a (greedy) mum – month 3

Ioan, my little cherub, is not the sleepiest little fella during the day, which means this isn’t a common occurrence.

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When it does happen, I normally take the chance to do the washing, clean, or cook and eat. That doesn’t leave much time for blogging but here I am, trying my best to update you all on month three of motherhood (just as Ioan turns four months old!).

Well, it’s pretty amazing still, but also A LOT of work. When you have a non-napper like Ioan, you are on call pretty much 24/7, because they don’t want to entertain themselves. I might be able to get away with 10 minutes on the baby gym or 20 minutes in the bouncing chair, but then Ioan decides all he wants to see is mummy or daddy’s face, and you’re back desperately trying to engage with your bundle of joy before the tears start (his, not mine).

Luckily, I have met a great bunch of other mums who are making maternity leave pretty damn amazing. Lots of coffees, lunches and playdates mean we have the chance to whinge about our babies and realise that we’re all going through the same thing and life is really actually rather good.

Anyway, that lasted long …

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Uh oh …

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Weeks 45 to 48 – bringing up baby

Where oh where does the time go? It’s like Ioan eats it with the same enthusiasm with which he eats his fingers (teething, wow, that’s not exactly a bundle of fun is it?!). Anyway, I have been planning my menus, but each time Sunday pops around I realise I don’t have time to write up my blog post because *someone* is expecting a bath / feed / cuddle (and that’s not even Andrew).

Today, I am trying to make a real effort to blog. Over the past weeks I have managed a few moments of deliciousness, including lamb stew served with cheesy pearl barley (as seen on Jamie Oliver’s Superfood programme):

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French onion soup with cheese toasties:

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Homemade pasta and meatballs:

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Pumpkin soup:

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Fish curry:

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Hot smoked salmon kedgeree:

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Minced beef  and stilton ‘wellington’:

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Vietnamese style caramelised pork:

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This week the freezer clear out starts in earnest, so the plan is as follows:

  • Tonight – vegetarian lasagne for meat free Monday
  • Tuesday – lamb stew from the freezer
  • Wednesday – salmon curry
  • Thursday – M&S chicken in breadcrumbs
  • Friday – takeaway!
  • Saturday – sausages and jacket potatoes
  • Sunday – corned beef pie from the freezer

And onto some photos of the boy himself, in recent weeks Ioan has been … an Irish leprechaun:

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Kermit the frog:

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A Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle:

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The stay puft marshmallow man (from Ghostbusters):

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GBBO week 10 – a picnic fit for a Queen

img_9533Okay, so I didn’t really  make a picnic for the Queen this week to meet the GBBO brief for the final week (sob – the final!) … but I had a bunch of even more discerning guests: my NCT mummy pals and their gorgeous babies. Ioan’s little buddies would need to be impressed.

But whilst my friends would need a good feed, Ioan would also need mothering: catering and a three month old baby are not necessarily compatible, especially when the baby is overtired after several hours of making Christmas presents with mummy.

So I took a few shortcuts with the quantities as 12 individual anything was not going to happen. I did make 12 sausage rolls (using chicken sausages thanks to Heck, as one of my guests doesn’t eat pork), but just made one large savoury tart – a red onion and goats cheese tart tatin.

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I made 12 (or maybe 10!) cheese scones with pumpkin seeds (scraped out from the pumpkin I carved for Halloween).

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I baked a chocolate Guinness cake (courtesy of Nigella), which looks impressive but is so simple to make, and one large raspberry tart with a digestive biscuit and biscoff base, marscarpone ‘custard’ filling, topped with fresh raspberries.

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We mums had the chance to relax with a glass of prosecco (or two) while our little bundles of joy played with their toys (well, until they all started kicking off and demanding our attention!).

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Thanks to Jo, Jo-Ann, Natasha and Helen for helping me eat this Bake Off feast.

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Ioan has been relaxing after a lovely afternoon with his mates:

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See what my fellow bloggers came up with over with Jenny at Mummy Mishaps, and thanks so much to Jenny for organising the Great Bloggers Bake Off once again.
Mummy Mishaps

GBBO week 9 – lemon fondant fancies

img_9195Okay I know I have only just posted my tudor pie (chicken and leek with hot water crust – delicious), but I am catching up before the GBBO ends tomorrow (sob, end of an era as who knows how it will be reincarnated on Channel 4?).

For patisserie week there were the options of savoury palmiers, a savarin cake, or fondant fancies to choose from. Fondant fancies actually appeared as a challenge on the Bake Off a couple of years ago, and I’d been tempted to make them then, but decided they looked like too much hassle. However, I wasn’t keen on the idea of a savarin, nor making my own puff pastry (which I have done before, not entirely successfully), so thought I should bite the fondant fancy bullet.

I have very fond memories of the Mr Kipling variety of fondant fancies which we used to have as a treat when young, although took a pack of them to Paris once for my French colleagues, and they could not hide their disgust at the synthetic buttercream, artificial colouring and tasteless sponge (in their view). Poor Mr Kipling!

I found this recipe for fondant fancies, so slightly adapted it to suit my taste – this is what I did, making nine large cakes – each one makes a pretty, and substantial, dinner party pudding.

img_9194Lemon fondant fancies – makes 9 large fondant fancies

  • For the sponge – 225g self raising flour, 225g softened butter, 225g caster sugar, 4 medium eggs, zest of 1 lemon
  • For the buttercream – 275g softened butter, 200g icing sugar, juice of two lemons
  • For the fondant icing – 500g fondant icing, 75ml lemon juice (I used the juice of 3 lemons), edible silver dust

Pre-heat your oven to 160 degrees. Prepare a 20cm square tin by greasing and lining, although I recommend using a silicon dish like I did to avoid sticking.

Mix all of the sponge ingredients in your freestanding mixer or foodmixer until smooth and combined, then spoon into the tin and bake for 40 minutes. Allow to cool then trim off the edges and cut the sponge into nine equal portions.

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Whisk the buttercream ingredients together until combined, then assemble the cake by splitting each piece of cake in half to be sandwiched with some buttercream. Then spread each side and top of the cake with more buttercream, as smoothly as possible to create a flat crumb coating for the fondant icing (as you will see, I was spectacularly unsuccessful in creating a smooth base!).

Recreate the Mr Kipling look  by adding a mound of buttercream to the top of the cake.

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Once all the cakes have been buttercreamed, put them in the fridge to set while you make the fondant.

Don’t be put off by making fondant icing as it’s surprisingly easy as long as you have a freestanding mixer. You just need to chop up the fondant into small pieces and then start to mix with the mixer paddle and slowly add liquid until you have a spoonable consistency for the icing. Rather than using water as my liquid, I used lemon juice, but you could use whichever flavouring takes your fancy. Unfortunately I didn’t have any food colouring for the icing so went with plain white and then sprinkled the finished cake with edible silver dust.

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I won’t lie, icing the fondant fancies is a total pain in the arse so be prepared to make a mess. I tried dunking and pouring the icing onto the cake, and ended up doing a combination of both. There’s no hiding the fact that the cakes look a bit of a state, but they did taste very nice.

Would I make fondant fancies again? Absolutely not! See what my fellow bloggers came up with over with Jenny at Mummy Mishaps.
Mummy Mishaps

GBBO week 8 – chicken and leek pie with hot water crust

img_9122I can’t say that Tudor week on the Bake Off was one of my favourites – I cannot stand marzipan so didn’t fancy much that the GBBO crew made for week 8, so my only option really was a pie. That’s not a bad option, to be fair, and to meet the Tudor theme I made a pastry made with a hot water crust.

Hot water crust pastry is probably one of the easiest to make, and never seems as bad for me as a traditional shortcrust as the ratio of fat to flour is much smaller. To make my pie, I used this recipe for the crust, doubling the quantities so that I could make two pies and stock up my freezer.

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Chicken and leek pie – makes one large and one small pie

  • For the pastry – 450g plain flour, 110g lard, 1tsp salt, 300ml water, plus 1 egg for glazing
  • For the filling – 6 boneless and skinless chicken thighs, 3 leeks, 1 onion, 2 chicken oxo cubes, salt and pepper

Make the pastry by heating the water in a pan with the lard until the fat has melted, then stir in the flour and salt until combined into a soft dough. Allow to rest and cool for at least one hour.

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The chicken and leek filling was simple to make: 6 boneless and skinless chicken thighs cut into chunks, with 3 thinly sliced leeks and a sliced onion mixed together with 2 chicken oxo cubes and covered in water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes, then whack the heat up under the mixture for 5 minutes to allow the liquid to reduce. Allow to cool.

When you are ready to assemble the pie, preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Use 2/3 of the total pastry for the large 20cm loose bottomed tin: roll out the pastry, saving a third of that portion of pastry for the lid.  The rest of the pastry can be used for the smaller pie (I used a small enamel tin for my small pie). Lightly oil the base of each pie dish first to stop the pastry from sticking, then fill with the cooled pie filling, top with the pastry lid and glaze with beaten egg.

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Bake both pies for 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

Serve with vegetables, or delicious cold the next day in a packed lunch! The pie also freezes very well if double wrapped in clingfilm when completely cool – just defrost thoroughly before reheating.

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Thoughts on being a (greedy) mum – month 2

img_8890Wow, how time flies. Ioan is already twelve weeks old – nearly three months old! – and my last blog post on the subject of motherhood feels like years ago. Ioan seems to have grown so much, even though to others he still looks like a newborn.

My favourite thing about this stage of Ioan’s development is that he loves to smile, and seeing him look at me and beam absolutely melts my heart (even when he does it at 3am, although I do try and ignore it then – after a little stroke of his cheek – in the hope that he will return to sleep).

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He also still enjoys a good exercise of his lungs, with the odd scream thrown in to give me a proper fright. Evenings still tend to be when he’s at his most grizzly, but now it’s more likely to be due to overtiredness rather than wind.

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I know it shouldn’t be, but one of my favourite faces he pulls is this pout. It’s so expressive, and can signal the start of a meltdown (which is why it shouldn’t be my favourite) but if caught in time we can jolly him back out of it, and have him smiling again.

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Ioan also likes ‘talking’ to us now, and gurgles his way through the day (and sometimes night) with his own brand of conversation. The first time I tried to repeat the noises back to him I felt like an idiot, but now I think nothing of chatting back to him in public. Presumably anyone with kids will understand what I am up to, but some of those without children might wonder what kind of nutcase I am.

We are getting out and about a lot more now, and have a varied schedule of activities, including Sing & Sign, where Ioan learns songs along with basic sign language. He’s not expected to actually sign himself for several months (if ever) and spends most of his time gazing adoringly at one of my friends rather than me, but it gets us out of the house.

We have also started baby massage, which Ioan has viewed with mixed emotions so far. We started with smiles:

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And ended with tears:

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He was a bit more tranquil by week 2 though:

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Andrew has been entertaining Ioan in his own unique way, with lullabies courtesy of Metallica and Guns & Roses. Ioan’s not completely convinced yet …

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And what about me? Well, I have given up on my notions of only grabbing healthy snacks when I am rushing to deal with him and have no time to eat during the day. Crisps, sandwiches and chocolate have become my friends, but I am hoping that now he’s starting to settle into a very rough routine (napping every couple of hours), I might be able to plan my day’s diet a bit better, as I am certainly not dropping any weight.

Breastfeeding, which was so challenging for the first few weeks, has suddenly become easy. It’s great not to have to worry about bottles and formula each time we go out, and feeding Ioan is a lovely way to bond with him, except when he gets distracted and turns his head too quickly. Ouch.

Medically I think I am finally pretty much back to normal too. The biggest shock for me was how long it took me to recover from the birth: I assumed that I would bounce back after a couple of weeks, but that was most definitely not the case. A forceps delivery, significant blood loss and the emotional rollercoaster of baby blues is finally moving to memory, but I completely under-estimated the trauma of birth, and I would encourage anyone in the same situation as me, or due to have a baby, to read about ‘the fourth trimester’.

Parenthood has been an amazing journey for Andrew and me so far, and we’re loving being a little family together. I am really looking forward to seeing what the next month holds for us …

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Week 44 – Chicken curry and chips, from the Chinese, in Wales

img_9052Yes, you read that correctly: chicken curry (what you might expect to be Indian in origin), served with chips (British?), but from a Chinese takeaway, in Wales. This is the food Andrew craves, and what he was delighted to eat during our recent trip to Wales.

This is not the kind of curry you would expect to find in an Indian restaurant, but very specific to Chinese takeaways in Wales, and apparently also a familiar dish in Scotland. Having tried it this weekend, I’d describe the curry as a mildly spiced, thick gravy.

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All of the Chinese takeaways serve Andrew’s favourite dish (for him, always with chips, although you can order ‘half and half’ which is half chips, half rice, if you are feeling especially exotic), but Noble City in Treorchy is his particular favourite. Here it is in all its glory. If anyone knows a recipe for this particular type of curry, please send me the details and you will make Andrew a very happy boy.

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Andrew’s mum Linda also made sure Andrew had his favourite pudding of homemade trifle, but Ioan wasn’t so keen (disclaimer: I didn’t really try to feed my 12 week old baby a trifle).

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Now we’re back home and feeling podgy (it is still okay to be wearing maternity jeans isn’t it?), I think soups and stews are in order. My plan for the week is to eat porridge for breakfast on those occasions where I can manage time for breakfast, soup for lunch (bulk cooked at the start of the week … I am thinking vegetable and pearl barley is in order for this week), and the following for dinner:

  • Monday – pasta with tomato and basil sauce
  • Tuesday – chicken and leek pie, using hot water crust for my GBBO challenge
  • Wednesday – salmon steaks with veg
  • Thursday – lamb shank stew, using salt marsh lamb I bought from Wales
  • Friday – scampi
  • Saturday – chicken Kiev, jacket potato, mushy peas
  • Sunday – roast chicken

Don’t forget to send me a recipe for chicken curry if you know how to create the Welsh version!

By the way, how cute is my baby?!

GBBO week 7 – vanilla and speculoos roulade with strawberries and cream

img_8886It’s already week 7 of the Great British Bake Off, and the latest challenges were based around desserts. Options were a signature roulade, a technical marjolaine, or a showstopping range of petite mousse desserts. Once again I had to cater to Andrew’s fussiness so couldn’t make a marjolaine which is meringue, nor mousse – Andrew is not a fan of either. The marjolaine did look fantastic though so I’d love to give it a try sometime.

Recently I made this recipe from Gino D’Acampo, and I thought the delicious mascarpone cream would work very well as a filling for a roulade, so decided to give it a go. Tesco, who are supporting the Great Bloggers Bake Off, kindly sent me a voucher so that I could buy the ingredients from one of their stores, so I popped along to buy mascarpone, vanilla extract, eggs, strawberries, and Biscoff speculoos biscuits (which are delicious!).

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I always have the other ingredients in the house (flour and caster sugar) and happened to have some double cream left over from a recent recipe so finished that up on the roulade as well.

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The roulade sponge is inspired by this recipe from Rachel Allen, and the marscapone cream is inspired by Gino’s recipe.

img_8776Vanilla and speculoos roulade with strawberries and cream – serves 8

  • For the sponge – 4 eggs, 125g caster sugar, 2tbsp warm water, 1tsp vanilla extract, 125g plain flour
  • For the filling – 250g tub mascarpone cheese, 2tbsp caster sugar, 2 egg yolks, 1tsp vanilla extract, 6 lotus biscuits
  • For the topping – 100ml double cream, 1tbsp icing sugar, 1tsp vanilla extract, strawberries

First make the sponge. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees, and line a 25x38cm swiss roll tin with non stick baking parchment.

Whisk together the eggs, sugar, water and vanilla until light and fluffy (this took a good five minutes in my KitchenAid freestanding mixer, so definitely get the electrics out). Then sieve the flour into the mixture and gently fold it in (the aim is to keep as much air in the mixture as possible – I never normally bother with sieving but in this instance I though it was good to stick to the rules).

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 15 minutes.

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My swiss roll took 15 minutes on the dot and was springy to the touch when ready – you might just want to peep into the oven at 12 minutes to see how it’s getting on, as I would imagine that an over baked swiss roll sponge is a dry swiss roll sponge (no fat in the mixture, you see).

Lay out more baking parchment on your worktop and sprinkle with caster sugar. When you take your sponge out of the oven, turn it out onto the sugared parchment and remove the paper the sponge was baked in. Then roll the hot sponge into the familiar roulade shape and allow to cool (I rolled the short end, and yes, mine did crack).

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Make your roulade filling by mixing together all of the ingredients except the biscuits. Crumble the biscuits into the mixture. Spread the cheese mixture onto the cooled sponge.

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Re-roll it.

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Top with the chantilly cream (whisk together double cream, icing sugar and vanilla), and strawberries.

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Eat and enjoy! And then check out some of the recipes by my fellow bloggers.

As usual I am joining in with Jenny’s challenge over at Mummy Mishaps. Check out all of the recipes in the link up here.

Mummy Mishaps

Week 43 – amazing roast beef and Laguiole carving set

img_3129Many years ago, Andrew went out shopping to buy me a birthday present in his lunch break, and when he returned to the office his colleagues were eager to know what he had bought me. It was a frying pan. They were horrified, but Andrew explained I would be delighted with it, as it would fit in the oven and I would therefore be able to make apple tart tatin. They didn’t believe him, but he was correct, and it’s still a frying pan I regularly use.

Birthday and Christmas presents from him are usually kitchen-related, and I do also get the occasional surprise gift. Last week, he surprised me with a John Lewis bag to open, and inside were two Laguiole boxes. The first contained a pair of salad servers, the second a carving knife and fork.

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Others may prefer chocolates or flowers, or if you are Andrew a Metallica t-shirt or Playstation game, but for me this is an ideal gift (although don’t get me wrong, chocolates would go down a treat too). We already own Laguiole knives, forks and spoons, teaspoons and cheese knives, but I had been hankering after the carving set for some time.

For those of you not familiar with Laguiole, the cutlery is famed for its distinctive bee symbol, and is named for the region from which it originated. The cutlery is beautiful and puts our daily-use Ikea stuff to shame.

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But of course I now needed the opportunity to use my Laguiole beauties, so had to pop to the wonderful Morley Butchers in Crouch End to buy a lovely joint of beef to cook.

As you can see, we had a delicious roast beef dinner on Sunday.

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And the meat was carved beautifully.

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Look at that lovely knife.

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For the rest of the week, I was most definitely a ‘lady what lunches’, and had the following delicious dishes. Pizza from Bar Remo in Oxford Circus:

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Gammon and eggs at home:

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Bubble benedict from Monkey Nuts in Crouch End (WTF with the maple syrup on this dish though – that was  a bit yucky):

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This cookie skillet with salted caramel ice cream made up for it:

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Oh wow – some of the best steak and chips I have had in a while from The Queens in Crouch End:

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A fry up at home:

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A cheeky lemon cake at Baskervilles tea shop in Palmers Green:

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And another look at that yummy roast dinner:

No menu plan for this week! No wonder I am not losing the baby weight …

GBBO week 6 – coconut and raspberry cake

img_8635Botanicals … when I think of botanicals I think of gin … I do have a rather one-track mind where my favourite tipple is concerned though. Mmmmm, gin. But for the Great British Bake Off botanicals week I was a bit stumped, as I have already made a G&T cake.

Inspired by my weekly visits to a local cafe for coffee and cake to fuel my walk around the local park with Ioan, I decided to make coconut and raspberry cake as my Great Bloggers Bake Off challenge. Each week I have eaten their delicious coconut and raspberry cake, which reminded me of the school dinner version which used to be served warm with custard, and I really fancied replicating it (perhaps eating it with custard too!).

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I toyed with the idea of substituting butter for coconut oil to add to the flavour of the cake, but I was worried it might affect the moistness of the cake, and I didn’t fancy wasting the ingredients for a costly mistake (coconut oil is pricey), so I stuck to my tried and tested all in one cake recipe. Equal quantities of butter, sugar and flour plus eggs and desiccated coconut (I do love that stuff, even though I know many people are not fans!), mixed together and baked make a lovely madeira-style cake, which I then topped with raspberry jam and more coconut. Heaven on a plate!

Coconut and raspberry cake – makes one loaf

175g self raising flour, 175g soft butter, 175g caster sugar, 3 large eggs, 50g desiccated coconut, plus extra to sprinkle on top, 1/3 jar of raspberry jam

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees and grease and line a loaf tin.

Combine the flour, butter, sugar, eggs and coconut until completely mixed (I do this in my KitchenAid freestanding mixer) and then scoop into your prepared tin (it makes quite a thick, spoonable batter). Bake in the oven for around 55-70 minutes – mine was ready at just over an hour in a fan assisted oven but it will depend on your oven as to exactly how long it takes. The cake is fully cooked when you stick a knife into the centre of the cake and it comes out clean.

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Allow the cake to cool and then spread the top with raspberry jam (I used the seedless variety as I hate getting pips stuck in my teeth), and sprinkle with more coconut.

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Serve on its own, or with a generous pouring of custard.

As usual I am joining in with Jenny’s challenge over at Mummy Mishaps. Check out all of the recipes in the link up here.

Mummy Mishaps