Cakes, Christmas

My Nan bakes her fruit cake in a shoebox


My Nan has mentioned that she sometimes bakes her Christmas cake in a shoe box. I’ve never seen this infamous ‘shoe box cake tin’ but, as luck would have it, when I visited yesterday, she was busy wrapping her Christmas cake. I walked into the kitchen to make tea and low and behold, there was a shoe box sitting on her stove! I looked inside to find no shoes — only cake crumbs.

Just goes to show that there’s no excuse for not baking if you don’t have a tin. On that note, my Nan often bakes in a biscuit tin. She uses about seven layers of greaseproof paper, cut to fit and sometimes adds a couple of layers of tin foil (see photo below). She secures the paper to the box with clothes pegs before pouring the batter into the box. Once the batter has settled, she removes the pegs and bakes her cake.


You can find her marvelous traditional Christmas cake recipe here, together with photos of the process.

Click here for my Snowman Christmas cake — where I take my Nan’s cake and decorate it step-by-step with ‘plastic icing’ snowmen.


If you’re keen to give small personal Christmas cakes as gifts, click here for an idea. This post tells you how to lay the marzipan and shows how to create someone’s name with royal icing.

Have fun!

Cakes, General how to's & recipes

A recipe to get you through a black-banana day!

My boyfriend ran a marathon recently with his old buddy Francois, so two days before the race, I filled the fruit bowl with all the fruit that a runner could possibly wish for: bananas, bananas and bananas.

I don’t know what I was thinking but obviously no human being can eat that many bananas in just a couple of days.  I’m not sure I know how anybody can run 42 km either but that’s another matter!  What to do with what’s left of those bananas became the pertinent question.  Those left over bananas were sure bothering me.  As was the thought of those little fruit flies that threatened to appear one imminent black-banana’d day.

‘If you could choose between banana pancakes, a banana split or banana bread, what would you choose?’ I asked my boyfriend.

‘Banana bread,’ he said, ‘if there’s enough butter.’

There wasn’t enough butter so I added some olive oil to the concoction.  I should have said mixture there but then I think I’m developing a thing about over-ripe bananas, especially squashing them into a perfectly happy sweet-smelling banana-less batter! 

But now the deed is done and the timer has rung…

Here’s a simple banana bread recipe adapted from Eric Lanlard’s recipe from Home Bake (that includes 75 g walnuts in the batter mixed in at the end and 50 g banana chips to decorate the top before baking):

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C, butter a loaf tin and then gather 125 grams of butter (soft – I used 90 grams of butter and made up the difference with olive oil), 170 grams sugar, 2 eggs (at room temperature), 300 grams sifted flour (plain), 1 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (sifted), 150 ml milk, 5 ml vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon poppy seeds, 3 extremely ripe bananas (mashed) and a dash of cinnamon to taste.

Then whisk the butter and sugar together until they’re creamed and smooth.  Add an egg and beat, add the other egg and then beat again.  Stir in 1/3 of the flour with the bicarb, some milk and repeat until the flour and milk are well mixed in. 

Lastly, stir in the bananas, vanilla extract, poppy seeds and cinnamon.  Pour the batter into your greased tin and bake for an hour to an hour and ten minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Eat your warm banana bread as a midnight snack or toast a slice in the morning, spread it with butter and serve with sliced normal banana.

I’ll be serving mine with tea.

PS. You can see more of Eric’s wonderful recipes here.

Cakes, General how to's & recipes, Journal

Tinks’ eggless chocolate cake


This is one of my favourite photos of my sisters and I, taken on our old farm in Magaliesburg with our family friends, Bonny, Celeste and Vaughan.  Our fathers grew up together and our mothers were destined to become firm friends too as Yoskie and Dawn lived on the top farm, just above ours.   Dawn was a very important person in our lives: she made vetkoeks.  But that’s a story for later.

For now, I want to share a recipe that takes me right back to this photograph.  It was here, besides the old barn on the middle farm, that we would meet Chris and Tinks, both paleontologists, on the occasional weekend.  Chris had a greying beard and knew a lot about books and bees.  Tinks wore patterned shirts and an eccentric hairdo and always arrived with a very unusual tasting chocolate cake.

It’s not that I disliked Tinks’ chocolate cake.  It was more a case of it looked strange and tasted strange and felt strange.  I’d eat it slowly, wondering at its very peculiar flavour.  I often thought about it over the years but could never figure it out… until my sister recently announced that she no longer eats eggs and I had to bake her a birthday cake.

I went through my Mom’s old recipes and discovered Tinks’ chocolate cake recipe amongst them.  Wallah, no eggs!  I got straight to work, mixed up the ingredients and dipped my finger in the thick brown batter to taste.  Oh yes, that taste from all those years ago came whooshing back.  I looked through the ingredients again.  It had to be the cinnamon, mystery solved!

Or so I thought…

When it was ready, I took a teeny bite… it didn’t exactly taste of cinnamon… perhaps it was the combination of ingredients?  I found myself eating it slowly, as I did when I was a child and still found myself wondering.  My almost vegan sister (the baby in the photo above) enjoyed it and my Mom sure did too.  I’m leaving it at that… the thing I’m wondering about now is this: whatever happened to Chris and Tinks?

Here is Tinks’ recipe, re-written by my Mom with her own notes:

CHOCOLATE CAKE – QUICK – TINKS’ check below for my recipe

For the Cake

  • 6 oz (185g) plain flour (1 ½ cups) – I used self raising flour and no baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 3 level tablespoons cocoa powder (heaped)
  • 1 level teaspoon bicarb of soda
  • 1 level teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 6 oz light soft brown sugar (12 tablespoons) – I used brown treacle sugar
  • 6 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • ¼ pt (150 ml) plus 4 tablespoons cold water (230 ml in total)

For Topping

  • 1 oz butter (30g)
  • 6 level tablespoons light soft brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 ½ oz chopped walnuts (45g)

Tin size 9”x 11” (roasting tin)


Sieve the flour, cocoa, bicarb, salt, cinnamon and sugar into roasting tin

Add the oil, vinegar, vanilla essence and cold water

Mix all ingredients with a fork – I used an electric beater but not for long

Bake the cake on the shelf above the centre of a moderate oven, gas 4 or 350 (180 degrees) for 30 minutes or until a warm skewer inserted comes out clean

While cake is baking make topping

Beat butter until soft

Mix in sugar, milk and chopped walnuts

Immediately the cake is cooked spread the topping over the cake and put under a pre-heated grill lightly brown – NB be very careful – topping burns in seconds – don’t put too close to the grill

Leave cake to cool before cutting into 12 pieces – delicious with whipped cream

I hope to post Dawn’s vetkoek recipe soon.


Cakes, General how to's & recipes, Journal, Patisserie / Pastry, Photo Series

Jean’s Apple Tart Cake


3 Tablespoons butter

3 Eggs

¼ Teaspoon salt

¼ Cup milk

1 Cup flour

1 Teaspoon baking powder

1 Cup sugar

1 Tin pie apples

1 Small tin of condensed milk (can add ½ cup of milk)


Beat butter and sugar well

Add eggs and beat well

Add milk and dry ingredients alternately

Pour half of the dough into a buttered baking dish and pack the apples in layers

Pour the other half of the dough over the apple pieces

Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes or until ready (test with skewer)

Heat the condensed milk with half a cup of milk and pour over the tart while it is hot (alternatively, use condensed milk only)


If you’d like to bake a simple cake, double the recipe and allow approximately 1 hr and 10 minutes of baking time.  Pour the condensed milk syrup over the top and then lightly whip Nestle dessert cream and pour it over the topping once it has set.

And if you’re up to it… let the kids decorate it (as Oliva did below – J is for Jean, her much-loved grandmother)

Cakes, General how to's & recipes, Recipe Books, Vegan Baking

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes (using Babycakes’ ‘Red Velvet’ recipe)

Vegan baking is all new to me.  I’ve tried one experimental piece so far and made a remarkable discovery: how to make edible Frisbees.  The recipe I used for my next attempt was from the stunning Babycakes book by Erin McKenna (founder of the hot and happening Babycakes in New York).  Take a peek inside the book at  (you’ll also find some excellent answers to frequently asked questions about vegan baking).

I used the red velvet cupcakes recipe but left out the red food colouring, allowing for ‘vegan chocolate cupcakes’.  Here is my adapted version, ingredients are highlighted in bold (I often re-write recipes so that it’s easier to measure up as I go along):


  • Pour ½ cup rice milk and 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar into a bowl and allow to rest without stirring, thus allowing it to change into ‘buttermilk’
  • Whisk 3 ¼ cups spelt flour, 1/3 cup cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda and 2 teaspoons of salt in a bowl
  • Add 2/3 cup coconut oil (melt it before you measure), 1 ¼ cup agave nectar and 2 tablespoons vanilla extract and mix into a thick batter
  • Cut in the ‘buttermilk’ gently, stir until just combined
  • Slowly add 5 tablespoons red food colouring until colour is correct (don’t use more than 6 tablespoons)


  • Pour 1/3 cup batter into each, almost filling each of 24 paper liners placed in 2 x 12 cup muffin tins
  • Bake at 180 degrees Celsius on the centre rack for 24 minutes
  • Rotate the tins 180 degrees after 14 minutes
  • Test for readiness – the cupcake should bounce back when gently touched or a tester should come out clean
  • Allow the cupcakes to cool for 20 minutes (leave them in the tins)
  • Place them on a wire rack until completely cool


  • For the icing:
    • Blend 1 ½ cups soy milk, ¾ cup dry soy milk powder, 1 tablespoon coconut flour, ¼ cup agave nectar, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract for TWO MINUTES
    • Trickle in 1 ½ cups coconut oil and 2 tablespoons lemon juice (alternate)
    • Pour the icing into an airtight container (will keep for a month)
    • Spread one tablespoon of vanilla icing over each cupcake
    • Store in an airtight container (will be good in the fridge for 3 days)

I used rice milk and rice powder instead of soy for the frosting.  I also experimented with Baobab fruit powder instead of using coconut flour (couldn’t find any!). 

The final touch was to sprinkle dried coconut shavings onto the iced cupcakes (pictured bottom left in the photo below) for my writers’ group meeting in Betty’s Bay.

For the record, I mistook the coconut oil for a glass of water and forgot to put it into the batter.  Learning: oil-full cupcakes  have a lot going for them!

Cakes, General how to's & recipes, Journal

3 yoghurt chocolate cakes in 1 week… what’s got into my sister?!

My sister Nina baked her first cake ever a week ago.  She gave it away as a birthday cake (to her man so she got to eat some too).  It tasted so good and was so easy that she baked it again the day after.  She gave it away as a birthday cake to her neighbour up the road (hmmm, wonder if she had a slice there too?!).  This morning she jumped on her bicycle and cycled a distance I would never dream of.   Apparently she’s baking the same cake again today!  That’s three cakes in one week. 

For those of you who lack confidence in the baking department, why not give this cake a bash?  Nina’s no fuss approach had me flabbergasted.  She didn’t clean her tin before baking ( she said she doesn’t mind the smell of the sides of the tin burning), didn’t even out the top (she said she likes how full of character her cake tops are), didn’t wait for the cake to cool down before icing it (or before eating it for that matter), didn’t ice the middle but simply finished the top (she said it saves a whole lot of time and she manages to make two cakes out of one tin of caramel and 8 squares of Lindt chocolate)… and amazingly enough,  it turned out to be a beaut!

Here’s the recipe and my sister is pictured at work below…

Very impressive, Ms Fabulous Baker Girl!

Cakes, General how to's & recipes

Chocolate Cake (made with Bulgarian yoghurt)

I found ‘Achmat’s Chocolate Cake’ on the last page of an old recipe book that my friend discovered when he moved into his new place.  The book, called The Cape Cookbook, was compiled by Myrna Robins, a food writer for a well known Cape Town newspaper at the time.  It’s a collection of heritage recipes.  I thought I’d try out the yoghurt chocolate cake for my sister’s birthday. 

I mixed all the ingredients BY HAND.  Yes, it was a labour of love but my friend didn’t have a mixing machine!  I had all the time in the world to ponder what life was like in a kitchen a few hundred years ago as I squelched the butter and sugar (and just about everything) through my fingers on a cold Winter’s day.  I decided I was glad I wasn’t born a few hundred years ago.   

‘This is not going to rise, no way!’ I said to my friend.  ‘Ha, ha, well, we’ll just have to settle for chocolate brownies in that case.’   But amazingly enough, it did rise.  I finished the cake with caramelised condensed milk (in the centre and on top) and then grated a slab of Lindt’s Pear Chocolate over the top for a simple finish.

The texture and taste were a hit – the cake has a moist (but not overly moist) texture and an ever so slight sour undertone (from the yoghurt).


  • Measure out your ingredients
  • Gather two bowls/mixing equipment/wire rack etc
  • Grease two cake tins (2 cm x 20cm diameter – I used one large cake tin and later cut it through the middle)
  • Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees celsius


  • For the cake batter: 3 eggs/500 ml Bulgarian yoghurt/250 g butter/500 ml sugar/250 ml cocoa powder/10 ml bicarbonate of soda/500 ml cake flour
  • For the centre: caramalised condensed milk
  • Icing: 100 g soft butter/500 g icing sugar/180 ml cocoa/filter coffee or espresso OR grated chocolate


Mix the following ingredients in a bowl (Bowl One):

  • Beat 250 g butter until it is soft
  • Gradually beat in 500 ml (2 cups) of sugar into your butter
  • Stir in 250 ml (1 cup) of cocoa powder – mix well

 In a separate bowl (Bowl Two):

  • Whisk 3 eggs until light
  • Stir in 500 ml (2 cups) of Bulgarian yoghurt

Add the egg/yoghurt mix in Bowl Two to Bowl One

  • Stir in 10 ml (2 level teaspoons) of bicarbonate of soda
  • Gradually add 500 ml (2 cups) of cake flour – fold in well after each addition

Spoon the mixture into your greased cake tins

  • Bake for 45 – 55 minutes (use a tester to check readiness – it should come out clean)
  • Allow the tins to cool before removing the cakes
  • Allow to cool completely on a wire rack


  • Prepare your icing by beating 100 g soft butter until it is light and fluffy.  Mix in 500 g icing sugar and 180 ml (3/4 cup) cocoa.  Add enough liquid filter coffee/espresso to make a spreading consistency 
  • Spread the caramel onto one of the cakes and sandwich it with the other
  • Ice the top and sides of the cake with your icing
  • OR skip the icing and finish with grated chocolate on top (in which case you could spread caramel on top of the cake as a base for the chocolate)

Cakes, Desserts, General how to's & recipes, Patisserie / Pastry, Popular Posts

Excellent baked cheesecake recipe

I have used this baked cheesecake recipe for several functions, including my own birthday party.

It ALWAYS goes down well with everybody!  You can use your imagination for the toppings – I love using whole fresh strawberries on top (dusted with icing sugar).  You could also serve it plain, why not?!



  • Mix the cream cheese, condensed milk & cream together (until smooth)
  • Mix in all the other ingredients
  • Grease a tart tin and then line it with your sweet pastry
  • Pour the mix into the pastry tin
  • Bake at 110 degrees celsius until the pastry is golden brown and the cheesecake has set (test for readiness by prodding gently with your finger  – it should have a firm consistency)
  • Apologies but I don’t have a baking time for you – we were not taught to work with TIMES.  Chef Tim taught us to be in touch with what we were baking – the golden rule was this: ‘It’s ready when it’s ready!’  It was frustrating for us patisserie-chefs-in-training in the beginning but it has proved to be a wonderful way of working.

Allow your cheesecake to cool before serving.

Cakes, Chocolate, General how to's & recipes, Patisserie / Pastry, Popular Posts

How to make chocolate porcupine quills – as demonstrated by Tim Woodford

Melt your milk chocolate and pour it onto a cool flat surface

Begin the process of tempering your chocolate...

Note that this same process will apply to your 'white' chocolate ...

Tim Woodford in action...

Secure four rows of masking tape onto your surface, allowing for same-sized gaps between the rows

Pour white chocolate onto your surface and...

Spread your chocolate across the surface with a palette knife

Remove the masking tape...

Pour out your milk chocolate

Roll out your milk chocolate

Use a sharp knife to cut along the edge of the chocolate and the porcupine quill will reveal itself!

Chef Tim is an expert at this!

Chef Tim's Porcupine Quill Cake