RECIPES: swimming pool birthday cake

dsc_0005.jpg For Daniel’s 6th birthday we decided to move the party elsewhere. He was as keen as a bee to have it at home – the nostalgia of old-fashioned birthday parties of previous years? – but boys in particular, need activities. Especially in winter …

dsc_0037.jpg Plan A
We decided to host a swimming pool party at our local CT indoor public pool, Long Street Baths.
I swim and Daniel takes lessons there regularly, so we know the venue and its lovely staff. A friend with three kids had plenty of pool party gear to lend us. I’d called around and none of the private swim schools could compete in terms of the pool’s generous size.

dsc_0050.jpg Considering a plan B?
The RSVPs were in, and I’d negotiated a flat rate with the manager to allow all our older kids, parents and even a few younger siblings in. Then five days before the party, a major problem: our Long Street pool was broken and drained of water. No swimming!

Plan B Taryn’s Swimming Academy
What a marvelous find this was. Although further out of town for most kids and parents, with an indoor heated 12.5m pool, boy was it a great venue! They offer private swimming parties, and charged a reasonable fee for a set number of older kids and a few might/might-not-swim siblings. They threw in a lifesaver and we were still able to have our coach Allen running the pool activities. Older kids, siblings and even a few game dads and a grandpa wallowed in the water. We added to the fun with a few blow-up dolphins, colourful beach balls and prizes. Bring on the Olympics swimming heats – we finished on a high with the shower cap race, for enthusiastic girls and boys!

dsc_0033.jpg On to the eating
So much for the nourishing ‘healthier’ cheese on grated wholewheat sandwiches and popcorn – when they broke for refreshments and got out of the pool, it was the Flings, my butter-icing cupcakes and granny’s painstakingly decorated biscuits that were gobbled up first.

For the swimming pool cake I went back to the beer box recipe from previous parties, baked as a rectangular vanilla cake. It was iced with white butter icing (well, cream, thanks to the butter’s natural colour). Swimming pool tiles and three swimming starting blocks were created from vanilla wafer biscuits iced in brick-like fashion.

dsc_0067.jpg The swimming pool ‘water’
I mixed a homemade icing gel recipe I found on the internet, made of lemon juice, caster sugar, cornflour, water and blue food colouring. But after a few attempts at boiling it/adding extra cornflour, I gave up on the pool gloop. The lemon juice had turned it a murky green-blue and it wobbled but never really set. I had visions of gloop sliding all over the cake on the drive to the swimming pool venue, so when Daniel declared its tart flavour yucky once too many times, it was binned.

Instead, butter icing (I think slightly curdled) with a dash of imported blue gel colouring created a weird frosted effect. Perfect for smearing over the set white icing. Voila, swimming pool ripples. Tasty and pleasing to the eye.

dsc_0093.jpg Decoration
The pool swimming lane floats went on the cake at the venue. Surprisingly hard to find at supermarkets and cake suppliers, I eventually bought these inexpensive sweetie necklaces at King Cake. A few jelly ring ‘inflation devices’, and a scattering of jelly beans around the pool cake within reach of little foraging fingers.

Find the original beer box recipe at Daniel’s 2nd birthday red bus cake

Also see Daniel’s 5th birthday Superman cake and his other party cakes.

RECIPE: Superman birthday cake

dsc_0036.jpg Daniel’s 5th birthday party fell on a public holiday again. Five seems to be an age where kids love to show off their strength, lightning speed and superhuman powers. So naturally we had a superhero and pajama party (a few adults dressed up too, but swapped the spiderman mini-juices for wine).

We usually get a bit carried away and invite too many people, but it was a little more hectic than normal this year. I’m working fulltime as an acting magazine editor for six weeks, so it meant I only had weekends to run around and source cake decorations and ingredients. Then Craig’s flight was delayed for hours the day before while the house/cake/cupcakes/garden were meant to happen. No pressure. It’s why I wore a Wonder Woman T-shirt on the day and felt the part.

dsc_0004.jpg I deviated from the usual beer box cake recipe because I was given a new Kitchen Aid cake tin with smaller dimensions (23 x 33 x 5cm) and wanted to put it to the test. It made just the right size of cake to accommodate Clark Kent’s buffer alter ego. My cake rose too much in the centre, but I just piped butter icing in the cracks and kept spreading. Fortunately Superman needed a puffy chest.

The party was a blast, with granny baking cheesecake and gingerbreadmen, Hannah beautifully icing the cupcakes, and I sorted out the cake decoration late at night. In attendance: four spidermen, a superman-batman, dinosaur and a maiden or two. A few days later when I asked Daniel if he’d expected a superman cake (it’s a surprise until we bring it out), he said sort of, but he was hoping he’d have a cake with Superman’s kryptonite. Right …

Versatile and flop-proof, butter cake is the foundation for many recipes. The cake batter is easily modified to include other ingredients and flavours.

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Baking time: 25 minutes
Skill level: easy
Makes: 1 two-layer cake

Ingredients: Double the recipe for the large tray bake variation below
125 g butter, softened
250 ml (1 cup) sugar
3 extra-large eggs
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla essence
560 ml (2¼ cups) cake flour
12 ml (2¼ tsp) baking powder
1 ml (pinch) salt
150 ml milk

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease 2 round 20 cm cake pans. Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, until light and creamy. Add essence.
  2. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add dry ingredients, alternately with milk, to egg mixture.
  3. Spoon mixture into the prepared pans and bake for about 25 minutes. Leave in pans for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

-Oil cake: Substitute butter with cooking oil.
-Large tray bake cake: Double the recipe. Bake mixture in an oven pan of about 24 x 34 cm for 35 – 40 minutes.
-Chocolate cake: Mix 60 ml (¼ cup) cocoa powder with 60 ml (¼ cup) warm water and add to the cake batter.

dsc_0048.jpg BUTTER ICING
(Multiply the recipe according to the quantity required)
100g soft butter, cubed
300g sieved icing sugar
2.5 Tablespoons milk
lemon juice to taste

  1. Beat together butter and icing sugar until soft.
  2. Beat in the milk and lemon juice. Add colouring.
    Tip: buy cake decorations and ingredients, including bottled red, yellow and blue gel food colouring, Spiderman cupcake icing faces, and catering packs of smarties (sort them into red, yellow and blue colours) at CAB Foods.

dsc_0063.jpg Superman S design
I photocopied the S emblem from a T-shirt, enlarged it to size, and cut out inside the letters to create an icing template. I was surprised I managed to pipe in the yellow and red design using a fine icing nozzle. The blue surrounding icing was easily spread with a knife. Extra smarties stuck on the board with piped white icing blobs. We don’t do plastic icing, so it’s never on the cake itself. But Superman needs a red cape …

Also see Daniel’s 4th birthday Peter Pan cake

Find the original beer box recipe here at Daniel’s 2nd birthday red bus cake

RECIPE: Peter Pan’s pirate birthday cake

dsc_0067.jpg Daniel’s 4th birthday party cake theme was decided when I started chatting to Amy-Lee from Puppet World about puppet show options.

If you have a house full of energetic, sugar-filled kids in winter, it’s pretty important to find something to keep their attention. The puppet show was fantastic, with adults and little people entertained and involved for a good 45 minutes with songs, snapping crocodiles, mermaids, and red Indians in feathers. The dad’s seemed to enjoy it too, mind you.

dsc_0082.jpg The party was a great excuse to buy the book about Peter Pan and the children who went to Neverland for adventures… So the dress-up theme also became Peter Pan and pirates. That made the cake easier.

I figured that if had a treasure chest made with chocolate logs walls, holding colourful jelly beans and edible gold balls, I’d surely have satisfied kids who would have something to pick off the cake once the candles were blown out. I was right.

dsc_0013.jpg Captain Hook came from a toyshop, but otherwise the beer box cake and its decorations were edible. Chocolate butter icing, chocolate logs, chocolate balls and assorted sweets. Wafer biscuits, sprinkles for decoration, and liquorice as a gangplank.

The only exceptions that we didn’t care to eat, were the icing anchor, fish and rolled out turquoise plastic icing ‘waves’ I found at Cab Foods. Black sipping straws and fabric were made into pirate ship sails.

dsc_0009.jpg We also had gingerbreadmen, popcorn, and cupcakes iced simply with a paste of icing sugar and water, topped with smarties.

Also see Daniel’s 3rd birthday helicopter cake

Find the original beer box recipe here at Daniel’s 2nd birthday red bus cake

WINE: A mushroom bonanza with soccer-inspired wines

dsc_005.jpg A surprise delivery of these assorted Nouvelle mushrooms arrived late on a Friday, accompanied by a Creation Pinot Noir wine. Both grown and created in the lovely Hemel en Aarde Valley near Hermanus, fungus and grape are equally associated primarily with earthiness, softly decomposing vegetation, and single-minded clarity in terms of flavours.

My selection included fat shitake with its thick brown cap, and more delicately flavoured white and brown shimeji, sold as a mass attached by their narrow stems. What to cook alongside these delicious fungi? Plans were shuffled and wine-and-mushroom-loving friends hastily assembled for Sunday lunch.

The main ingredient for the menu was obvious, and with a FIFA World Cup final planned that evening it meant only one thing: a Germany versus Argentina theme for the additional wine and food elements. This was quality stuff; a tablecloth was in order.

I settled on:

Cut 1 roll of butter puff pastry into rectangles, scoring a smaller rectangle near the edges to prevent the middle puffing up. On a baking sheet, bake at 200 degrees C for 15 to 20 minutes until golden.
Sauté 2 small, finely chopped onions in olive oil.
Add a sprinkling of brown sugar to caramelise the onions slightly.
Gently sauté about 500g of thickly sliced shitake mushrooms in enough salted butter to coat, plus chopped garlic, until golden and tender (I fancied the bigger, fatter mushrooms varieties for the tarts).
With the mushrooms removed and the pan juices remaining, add about 100ml cream, salt and black pepper, and a sprig of lemon thyme. Gently reduce that for about 8 minutes to thicken, then cool in the pan.
Assemble the mushroom tarts when everybody is ready to eat. Spread cooled chopped onion over the cooked pastry, then top with slices of buttery mushrooms.
Spoon over cooled, reduced cream, then pop into a hot oven for about three minutes at 220 degrees C.

To drink? The wine of the day. Buttery pastry and rich cream sent me towards a wooded white, but woodsy mushrooms tend towards leaner Pinot Grigio or unwooded Chardonnay. So I thought I’d give a German Riesling a go. I had one stuck away just waiting for the perfect day … What joy that it lived up to the occasion. Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Kabinett 1999 from a tiny Kaseler Nies’Chen vineyard in the Mosel Saar Ruwer region, was off-dry but luscious, lemony and light in that ethereal way only German Riesling gets right. Only 8.5% alcohol. We all lapped it up. Perfectly pitched with the tart.


Cooking for Sunday lunch is chaotic in our house, thanks to a young son who easily gets into mischief and a husband whose job demands desk hours every Sunday morning. It’s also not smart timekeeping to start assembling a mushroom risotto only when a friend arrives with his homemade chicken stock, and simultaneously get the Weber coals just right for searing aged olive-oil-basted sirloin to medium-rare perfection. With a few sips of wine and some patience we managed.

Gently sauté 2 tubs of Shimeji mushrooms (1 white and 1 brown), ends of stems removed, in about 20g of salted butter for a few minutes until tender. Remove the mushrooms.
Melt about 80g of salted butter, covering the base of the pot.
Add 2 cups of arborio rice, stirring to coat them in butter with a wooden spoon for a few minutes, at low heat.
Return the shimeji mushrooms to the pot for a few minutes, and as soon as they’re warm, start ladling in about 6 cups of homemade chicken stock, letting each ladle be absorbed before adding more liquid. It takes about 40 minutes, and the rice will soften near the end of the cooking time.
Season with salt and black pepper.
Just before serving, add 1 cup of grated Parmesan.

dsc_0018.jpg To drink? Weingut Friedrich Becker Blauer Spätburgunder Tafelwein 1997 from Germany’s Rhein is Pinot Noir to you and me. Unfortunately I can’t find my notes about why I selected this wine on a trip years back exploring German Pinot potential. I found a reference online to a fantastic 2007 vintage of the same wine, so perhaps mine was a wetter vintage. With 13.5% alcohol and a dark colour, I found dusty wet tea leaf flavours and couldn’t appreciate much beyond a green character.

Creation Pinot Noir 2013 from the Upper Hemel en Aarde showed riper raspberry and cranberry fruit and delicate tannins, as you’d expect for a younger vintage. Pleasant enough at 14%, but missing a little complexity in the mid-palate.

Last up, 2001 vintage of Finca La Celia Reserva Cabernet Franc from Mendoza. Argentineans love their beef and specialise in powerful Malbecs. They actually makes decent Bordeaux blends too, so I was tempted to see how Cab Franc fared as a single variety with steak. Not too well it appears, or perhaps this wine just didn’t have the legs to age so long. We all thought we tasted too much oak sweetness and found the wine lacking a geographical stamp of identity. Pity.

The outcome? At lunch the mushrooms reigned, as did the German Riesling. Argentina didn’t really feature in terms of wine. That wasn’t quite the case in the football game hours later where the teams were fairly evenly matched, but it ended similarly with Germany’s triumph over Argentina.

NOUVELLE EXOTIC MUSHROOMS are available from Woolworths, Spar and Fruit & Veg City outlets. Or see buying Nouvelle mushrooms

RECIPE: Rustic spiced-tomato lamb shanks


Serves 6

250ml red wine
2 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 star anise
2 long cinnamon sticks
2 to 4 whole red chillis (remove before serving)
ground black pepper
100ml olive oil

6 lamb shanks
2 tins of brown lentils
2 tins of cocktail tomatoes including the juice (regular tinned tomatoes also work) OR use the equivalent amount in fresh cocktail or Roma tomatoes
fresh thyme sprigs

1. Mix all the marinade ingredients. Place the lamb shanks in a large round casserole dish. Pour over the shanks and refrigerate overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celcius.
3. Slow-roast the shanks for four hours, turning occasionally so the marinade covers more meat.
4. Remove the chilli and add the lentils, thyme sprigs and tinned tomatoes. The photo here shows what the dish should look like after four hours. Taste the sauce, add salt and more black pepper.
5. Cook for another 45 to 60 minutes, remove the lid to reduce if the sauce requires thickening. Serve with couscous or mashed potato.

For creative suggestions about a suitable wine to partner this dish, read my post about the Culinaria wine range designed for specific foods here

RECIPE: Have you ever made a helicopter cake?

dsc_0005.jpg Once a year I take on unnecessary stress, indulge in a perfect parent complex and host a children’s birthday party. Onlookers are surprised that catering can be stressful when the average children’s party offers a few bowls of shop-bought sweet and savoury treats along the lines of Iced Zoo biscuits, marshmallows and Flings.

In our house it’s an annual opportunity to catch up with adult friends (yes, the majority have kids) so I enlist grannies and friends to make sure that the edible adult-orientated nibbles are homemade and plentiful, and extend the budget to cover a few bottles of bubbly. It means that people enjoy themselves and most stick around.

By far the biggest time-swallower is baking, icing and decorating (my favourite part) the birthday cake. It would be easier to order one, and take far less time to roll out fondant icing to cover crumbs and cake sections, but I hate the plastic taste. My cakes are iced with butter cream, smoothed over with hot water and a wide knife. For Daniel’s third birthday, a helicopter cake landed on the table. He loves airport trips to watch planes take off, and has a toy helicopter with lights that flash and blades that whirl.


Helicopter cakes viewed from the top often look a bit dumpy, so a side view made more visual sense. I used the same rectangular beer box cake recipe see Daniel’s beer box bus cake, drew a paper stencil off a photo print-out of a favourite toy rescue helicopter, and cut the design off the cooled cake.

I learnt some lessons:

  1. When the unreliable old oven you inherited with the house dies a week before the party and the labour and spares don’t justify the repairs, you borrow from the mortgage and negotiate a deal on a new electric oven with gas hob. Defy was an easy choice because it’s a brand I’ve used previously, and offers value for money and reliability. I can also position the cake tin directly on the black metal tray and use the thermofan setting at 10 degrees lower for the same baking time, saving energy.

  2. After numerous shopping trips for cake decorations, at least two helicopter cake essentials will be unavailable at every local baking outlet you try. After trying four baking outlets, how fantastic to discover a new Cape Town CBD branch of The Baking Tin called Sprinkles. Sprinkles was the only Cape Town store to sell an edible icing face for a pilot/train driver/bus driver (gap in the market here?). And yippee, they stocked the flat liquorice strips necessary for helicopter blades. (To make blades I sellotaped two black straws together, inserted skewer sticks inside to angle into the cake, and cemented a liquorice strip on top of each straw with three small blobs of icing. Square liquorice allsorts were cemented to form pillar supports under the blades.)

3. Piped icing and gel colours will only get you so far. The key to a good children’s cake is lots of coloured balls and good sweet decorations. They’re the bits that are picked off as soon as the candles are blown out. I enjoy the challenge of sourcing the right visual shape for say, the jelly hook on a liquorice wheel ‘cable’, or the round liquorice allsorts ‘wheel’. Informed afterwards that the headlight or wheels or pink doorway didn’t pass muster, I realised it was the flavour of certain sweets that weren’t to my little person’s taste. Okay then.

The look of surprise and glib happiness – You did this all for me? – on a three-year-old face always makes the hours spent so worthwhile.

RECIPE: Birthday beer box bus cake

dsc_0002.jpg The rules of entertaining suggest that when you’re welcoming the chaos of small children and adults thirsty for bubbly (ample quantities necessary for preserving sanity) recipes should be tried out in advance. I’m generally a slightly anxious baker because the measurements and methods have to be so precise. Yet for my son’s second birthday party I ignored the rules twice, using other peoples’ recommended recipes for both a cake and cupcakes. Luckily they both turned out alright.

Daniel, turning two, was so delighted with both the cupcakes and his red bus cake that I decided to post the cake recipe here. He is obsessed with buses and regularly points out Cape Town’s red Hop On red bus. And riding the MyCiti bus around the CBD is always a hit. For the bus cake, I bought a large cake tin (future birthdays?) because I enjoy the creative process of decorating. Baking in a cardboard beer box is a clever, inexpensive alternative.
dsc_0043.jpg The chocolate birthday cake recipe was passed on by Tammy in Durban. I adapted the recipe to make a vanilla cake by substituting extra flour for the cocoa, and adding a dash of almond essence. It tasted delicious. I decorated it with sweets and butter icing coloured with red powder from a specialist cake shop. I’m renaming it red gunpowder as it creates havoc, spreading red colour on kitchen utensils, floors, under shoes and - when eaten - all over fingers and children’s faces… dsc_0020.jpg


500ml (2 cups) hot water
150ml vegetable oil
90ml (6 Tbsp) cocoa OR 90ml EXTRA cake flour for a plain cake
10ml vanilla essence
dash of almond essence (for a plain cake)
8 Extra large eggs
750ml (3 cups) castor sugar
875ml (3 ½ cups) cake flour
30ml (6 tsp) baking powder

1 x box for 2 dozen beers, lined with foil, shiny side out
OR an aluminium baking tin 24 x 36 x 7cm tin, lined with kitchen paper on the base and greased on the sides

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius and line the baking tin.
  2. Boil or microwave the water, oil, cocoa (or flour) and vanilla essence. Cool for about 20 minutes. If using cocoa, strain the mixture. If making a vanilla cake with 6 Tbsp extra flour, don’t strain but add a dash of almond essence.
  3. Beat eggs and castor sugar well until thick and creamy.
  4. Add sifted flour and baking powder, folding in gently.
  5. Carefully add the chocolate (or vanilla) mixture and fold in with a metal spoon. Be careful not to overmix.
  6. Pour into the lined tray. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Using the 24 x 36cm tin I had to bake the cake another 10 to 15 minutes longer, checking it at 5min intervals.

dsc_0024.jpg Talented food stylist Sam Linsell provided the recipe for my delicious red velvet cupcakes. It was my first attempt and I’m pleased they produced fairly droolworthy results. Sam even dropped off her last bottles of Moir’s crimson red food colouring when I cried for help after two branches of Pick n Pay were inexplicably out of stock.

Find Sam’s Red Velvet Cupcake recipe at Drizzle and Dip

RECIPES: Fabio’s blackberry crostata

dsc_003.jpg My friend Fabio of Roma is visiting and made us his crostata the other night – that’s a jam tart to you and me. It was so delicious we persuaded him to make another one a few days later. It’s the ideal light dessert after lunch, and even works with an espresso for breakfast the next day (if you have any left over!)

The recipe is a little short on details because Fabio makes it from memory - he doesn’t bother with sifting flour or combining ingredients in a specific order - and the baking time is by feel and the look of the pastry in the oven. But it’s simple, not overly sweet and quick to make. The only fiddly bit is getting the pastry to crisscross neatly.


400g cake flour
250g chilled butter, out of fridge for 10 min
250g sugar
2 eggs
Most of 1 jar of quality blackberry jam (we used Hillcrest)

1. Mix the butter and sugar in a food processor or cake mixer. Add the eggs mixed with a fork. Then gradually add sifted flour, to make a soft dough.
2. Line a 25-cm to 27cm-diameter tart tin with kitchen paper, or use a silicone tart base.
3. Use about two-thirds of the dough and press gently on to the base of the tart with your fingers so that it’s flat. It should be about 1cm thick. Reserve the rest for the dough strips on top.
4. Spoon the jam over evenly, leaving about 1.5cm from the edges free of jam, as you would if spreading tomato sauce on a pizza. Fabio: “It’s a personal thing, but I spread enough jam over until I just can’t see the dough underneath.”
5. Take the remaining dough, roll worsies ie lattice strips (Fabio’s South African slang is pretty good) with your fingers. Lay them over the jam filling, flattening them slightly as you lay them and press on to the tart edges (that way the strips won’t stick if they come into contact with the jam). Crisscross with strips running the other way to produce a lattice effect.
6. Bake at 180 degrees celcius for about 45 minutes (up to 60 minutes) or until golden with crisped edges. The time depends on the size of the tin. Serve at room temperature. Blackcurrant or any darker fruit jam works best.

RECIPE: ripe summer tomato salad

Tomatoes are fantastic at this time of year. I bought a large bag for only R5 at the side of the road in Lansdowne. It provided instant inspiration for some delicious summer eating. It’s dead easy but the secret is really ripe tomatoes and quality table olive oil. I used olive oil from Southern Right.


6 ripe large round, Roma or vine-ripened tomatoes
ground black pepper
½ red onion, finely diced
handful of basil leaves
about 150g feta broken into chunks (or to taste)
extra virgin olive oil

  1. Cut tomatoes into about 8 neat segments, as if segmenting an orange into wedges.
  2. Grind black pepper over. If using feta, avoid adding extra salt as it will be salty enough.
  3. Tear pieces of basil, add the fine onion and pour over quality olive oil. Mix through gently with fingers to spread the oil and tomato juices around.
  4. Serve with crusty bread and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

RECIPE: cupcakes and a new kitchen helper

dsc_0011.jpg Baking takes on new meaning when you have a young baby, and friends are arriving within a few hours for Sunday tea and cupcakes. Little guys want attention and cuddles so they generally cry and moan loudly when they are tired/hungry. This makes simple tasks such as baking quite a challenge. Solution: lie them back in a baby chair to observe the kitchen action and wonder about all the creative stuff.

If the crying starts again (quite likely) place in a baby carrier on your chest. Your little guy will fall asleep in a cosy position, while you’re able to continue the flour sifting and beating. Cake mixers produce surprisingly soothing lullabies. There are drawbacks however: quick work is required, and you’ll be stuck on your feet carrying a fair weight for the next couple of hours. But the rewards are sweet.


Makes 12 to 14 of each of the cupcakes dsc_0006.jpg

125g butter at room temperature
150g castor sugar
200g cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon salt

1 x 100g slab dark chocolate, broken into rough pieces

60g grated carrot
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

125g butter at room temperature
1 cup icing sugar
¼cup Nomu cocoa powder dsc_0010.jpg

400g icing sugar, sifted
125g butter at room temperature
200 - 250g fat-free or low-fat smooth cottage cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C and place 12 to 14 cupcake paper cups in a muffin pan.
  2. Beat the butter and castor sugar. Add the remaining ingredients, alternating the flour with the egg and milk. Beat for a few minutes until it produces a smooth batter.
  3. Divide the batter into two bowls. Add chocolate pieces to one half. Stir in ginger, carrot and cinnamon to the remaining batter.
  4. Spoon into cupcake cups (don’t heap batter as cupcakes will overflow during baking).
  5. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool.
  6. For the chocolate cupcakes, combine the butter, icing sugar and cocoa in a cake mixer to create a stiff mixture. Spread over chocolate chip cupcakes.
  7. For the carrot and ginger cupcakes, combine the butter and icing sugar together in a cake mixer. Add the smooth cottage cheese to create a runny consistency. Dollop over cupcakes. Sprinkle with pan-toasted almond flakes.

RECIPE: Yummy apple Tarte Tatin

Don’t you love being in South Africa now? dsc_0014.jpg Living within a long-range kick of Green Point stadium has massive advantages when you’re attending a live game. But visiting overseas friends and locally-based family think so too, which means I’ve been making a lot of warm soup and quick meals to feed the departing hordes. In between there is the serious business of watching games on TV, and occasionally remembering to do some paying work…

But I have to pass on a delicious recipe before the apple season finishes. You might want to give it a bash - the wetter Cape weather and sport-based gatherings mean more home entertaining. This recipe is my version cobbled from the recipe for one large tart in Rick Stein’s French Odyssey, and Pete Goffe-Wood’s individual tatins in his Kitchen Cowboys cookbook.

A lovely collective gift from long-time friends was the inspiration: my Le Creuset cast iron 30cm skillet pan goes from the stovetop into the oven. Stein says you can use a tarte tatin dish but I’m not convinced you’ll get the same results.
dsc_0001.jpg Anyway it’s delicious and oozily gooey - so worth the effort to make!

serves 8 or 10

400 - 500g puff pastry (Woolworths makes an extra-butter version)
250g softened butter, diced
750ml (3 cups) castor sugar
9 firm apples (I used Cripps Pink because it has good acidity)
lemon zest for serving
vanilla ice cream for serving

  1. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface without handling it much. Cut a rough circle a little larger than your skillet pan and transfer the pastry carefully to a large baking sheet. Chill for minimum 20 minutes.
  2. Make the apple filling by peeling, coring and halving each apple. Sprinkle the diced butter evenly over the skillet surface. Pour the castor sugar over and then pack the apples tightly on top, rounded side down.
  3. Heat the skillet to medium (use a wide, even flame if using gas) and cook the apple and sugar mixture for 20 – 25 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally until the sugar and butter mix with the juices to produce a thickish, toffee-toned sauce. The apples should be tender but not falling apart. Don’t allow the butter and sugar to burn in the process.
  4. In an oven preheated to 200 degrees C, lift the pastry carefully over the cooked apples. Tuck the edges inside the pan. Prick a few times with a sharp knife.
  5. Bake for 5 minutes then reduce the heat to 190 degrees C for 15 – 20 minutes until the pastry is puffed, crisp and golden. Use a baking tray on a lower shelf to catch any sugar spillage.
  6. Remove the skillet from the oven and rest for 5 minutes. Grab a strong man and ask him to invert the pastry into a large round serving bowl. dsc_0006.jpg Garnish with lemon zest and serve slices with vanilla ice cream.

TIP: I’ve previously used Granny Smith apples for tartness, but remembered pastry chef Vanessa Quellac telling me that pink apples tend to make firmer baking partners so I gave them a whirl. Very happy with the pink results.

RECIPE Ramsay the Beagle braaied peppered fillet

Some of you may be on the mailing list of the Main Ingredient newsletter from John and Lynne Ford’s gourmet-goodies-one-stop-shop in Sea Point. I loved hearing about their kitten Hamish the Greedy Guts Gourmet, who had allegedly “sampled (and, mostly, enjoyed) mange tout, wasabi, sushi ginger, broccoli, pork crackling, Laksa coconut soup, a corner of the Cape Times, smoked salmon trimmings, roast potato and some tomato”. They reported that he wasn’t - yet - keen on wasabi.

Recently pet-sitting two Terriers (one tall, one short) and a somewhat grumpy cat, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of the neighbour’s puppies. A Weimaraner called Chilli, and my favourite – a Beagle called Ramsay! I never asked what inspired the latter puppy’s name, but its owner lived in London so I’m assuming that a certain foul-mouthed Michelin-starred chef had something to do with it.

Ramsay is at that wonderful puppy stage of all paws. I noted on her frequent inquisitive visits into the kitchen that like some chefs I know, there is always tummy space for a little something extra. Chefs I know don’t have ears that drape into the food bowl though…

Our impromptu pet-sitting braai recipe for peppered fillet has been dedicated to the ever-expectant appetite of Ramsay the Beagle.


serves 5 or 6

1.2kg beef fillet, trimmed
olive oil
black peppercorns, coarsely crushed in a pestle and mortar
freshly ground salt
7 fresh rosemary sprigs

1.Rub the fillet with olive oil on all sides. Sprinkle with crushed peppercorns and salt. Using toothpicks, fasten rosemary sprigs into any folds, securing them in place with toothpicks.
2.Cook the fillet on a braai grid over hot coals (wood and charcoal mixed) for 20 minutes. Cover with foil in a warm place off direct heat while the meat rests. Serve slices of rare meat.

½ packet of 20g dried chanterelle mushrooms
Approximately 250ml boiling water
? cup butter for frying
1 pack portabellini mushrooms, sliced
a splash of white wine
250ml cream

1.Hydrate the dried mushrooms in a cup of boiling water. Strain and reserve the water.
2.In a saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the sliced fresh mushrooms for about 10 minutes. Add the drained mushrooms and strained water. Cook at high heat to reduce the liquid. Add a splash of wine while doing so.
3.Add the cream and keep reducing the liquid while stirring. The sauce should thicken slightly after about five minutes.
4.Serve warm with the peppered fillet.

RECIPE Have another piece of chocolate cake

I have that old Crowded House song in my head. “Can I have another piece of chocolate cake?” The rest of the lyrics deal with buying cheap Picasso fakes and Andy Warhol laughing in his grave. No idea what it’s really about but I’m happy because my weekend chocolate cake attempt was fantastic!

Let’s say I’m a fairly decent cook. I throw savoury things together hurriedly and the flavours work; when I set my mind and time to recipes they mostly perform on cue. I’ve never been great at pastry but I used to be pretty good at baking when growing up. British cooking wiz Delia Smith says baking is the one area where you have to stick to precise measurements and she’s right.

So I’ve found it incredibly annoying that after spending years in Asia where stirfry-orientated stovetops are standard in rented kitchens but ovens are not, I was finally armed with baking tools again. A reliable Defy oven, and a coveted Kitchen Aid artisanal mixer, the latter a collective wedding gift from generous family. Yet I still had baking flops.

Was it the recipe, the oven or me? The lightbulb moment was when somebody told me conventional fan-assisted ovens should be reduced by 10 degrees, the baking time shortened by five minutes or so.


I’ve edited enough chefs’ recipes and found crucial steps omitted to not even attempt some of them. I was in search of a rich and gooey chocolate cake recipe, ditching plainer versions from the very user-friendly cookbooks of Ainsley Harriott, Tessa Kiros, Rick Stein, Pete Goffe-Wood and Lannice Snyman in my collection. Then in a worn copy of Donna Hay’s Flavours I found an entire chapter devoted to chocolate recipes. A layered chocolate fudge cake sounded perfect, the synergy with Donna’s cookbook name only sinking in later.

The result? Reducing the oven temperature and baking time meant the recipe worked like a dream. Quality Nomu cocoa powder for the sponge, double layers halved and filled with chocolate cream.

A word of caution. This was no budget or diet-friendly version; three packs of melted Lindt 70% chocolate later, blended with butter and cream… But it was delicious and the sugar-free fudge frosting kept it bittersweet and not overly rich. A splash of Frangelico liqueur even kept it decent on day three. Three rugby-watching boys on Saturday afternoon were extremely happy to supplement their beer and biltong with a coffee and chocolate break. And most importantly, it seems I’m finally getting my baking groove back!

Contact me via email if you want to try Donna Hay’s delicious recipe, with my modifications. I’m reducing the fudge quantities as there was a heap left over.