Jaynehowarth’s Weblog

Journalist and writer

Posts Tagged ‘cake

Cake made with 100 per cent love

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Every year (twice a year), it is the same thing: I have a compulsion to make my children’s birthday cakes.

For me, it is a gift to my children that cannot be measured. It says, “I know I’m often busy, but I love you very much – and I baked a cake to prove it”.

This – as a statement in itself – is pathetic and I know it. (I do do other things to prove my love to my children, like talking to them, hugging them, kissing them and generally looking after them to the best of my ability).

Actually,  it’s probably more to do with compensating for the fact that I am often busy and cannot collect them from school or, on occasion, go to the school assemblies/special productions or workshops.

But it is important to me, and hopefully my children, that this small gesture is carried out each year. My guess is that they don’t care where their cake comes from, so long as there is one, but I love discussing the theme of it and having a go at decorating it.

I’ve done a handbag, Ariel, chocolate explosion, football pitch – or scoured the internet for a topper that they wanted.

It usually ends up costing two or three times the amount of a shop-bought cake. But I don’t mind. I hate the taste of the ready-made supermarket cakes. They are too sweet and I don’t like the jam and buttercream in them.

This year, the (shop-bought – I’m not totally mad) fondant was a disaster: too soft and it wouldn’t mould at all. In a panic, I dashed to the cakemaking supply shop and was told in supercilious tones that I needed gum tragapanth. The assistant might as well have rolled her eyes in disgust when I explained I had no idea what she as talking about.

Anyway, this magic powder, once kneaded into the sticky fondant, transforms it into something mouldable and easy to work with. And, reader, I am delighted to tell you that it worked a dream.

It put me 24 hours behind schedule because you have to allow the time for the alchemy to work. The jewellery box cake had all the hallmarks of a homemade confection: it was slightly wobbly; the fondant cracked on the sides and I rolled it out in such a way that it didn’t quite fit in parts. My cutting skills also leave a lot to be desired.

But it was made with 100 per cent love for my not-so-little girl – and she loved it.


Written by CommonPeople

April 25, 2010 at 6:11 am

Does your child’s lunch pack a nutritional punch?

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There was quite a bit of hoo-ha this week about the state of children’s packed lunches.

Apparently, just one per cent of those surveyed were considered to be “healthy”.

About one-quarter of the 1,300 lunches taken to school by eight and nine-year-olds examined by researchers at the University of Leeds contained sweets, savoury snacks and sugary drinks.

These food items were banned by the government in 2006 when it introduced new rules on prepared meals for local authority schools in England.

Healthy school lunches caused much hand-wringing. Chips and turkey twizzlers might have gone, but the sticky problem of the packed lunch remains.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=packed+lunch&iid=3600249″ src=”3/2/f/5/Packed_Lunch_f8eb.jpg?adImageId=8992534&imageId=3600249″ width=”234″ height=”183″ /]

The study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, found that:

  • Few contained all the nutrients needed to consider it a balanced meal (starch, vegetables, protein, dairy and fruit);
  • Few had foods containing vitamin A, zinc, folate, iron;
  • Many contained sugary drinks and sweets;
  • Many lunches were low in fibre;
  • Many had high salt.

What should happen to the “persistent offenders” who repeatedly foist packets of crisps, cartons of squash and sweets on their offspring?

Should schools intervene? Would headteachers be accused of imposing some kind of nanny state?

It is a thorny subject – and very difficult to get right. Many schools have signed up to the Healthy Schools campaign, so anything that compromises it should be tackled. Head on.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=sandwiches&iid=6037602″ src=”c/7/d/6/KIDSLUNCH_bc1b.JPG?adImageId=8992608&imageId=6037602″ width=”234″ height=”239″ /]Parents, however, don’t like to be dictated to. Especially those who don’t care what food they provide for their families.

Schools have a duty of care, but many headteachers are nervous of telling parents off about the content of their darlings’ Spongebob and Barbie boxes. Offering advice on where to find help on healthy packed lunches is all very well, but what do you say to the parents who believe a strawberry lollypop comprises one of your five-a-day?

At some schools I have visited, lunchtime supervisors do keep a close eye on the packed lunches that are brought in.

If they spot a child whose meal consists of a bit of processed slimy ham and crackers, a packet of sweets and a pack of crisps, they report to the headteacher. If it is a regular occurrence, he/she is likely to write to the parents about the inadequacy of its contents.

Is that a good thing to do? I’d love to know what you think.

The problem is that those who do try to offer a balanced lunch are also being labelled as bad for including the odd nutritionally-dubious snack.

A 25g bag of salt and vinegar crisps contains 131 calories (74.7 from fat) and 8g of fat. There is a whopping 200mg of sodium (salt), carbs account for 12.5g and protein 1.6g.

(source: http://fatsecret.com/calories-nutrition/walkers/salt-and-vinegar-crisps)

By comparison, a 102g serving of roast potatoes, made according to the recipe provided by the Schools Food Trust, contains 132 calories and has 7.1g fat. Carbs come in at 16.2g and sodium 7mg. There is 1.7g of protein.

(source: http://www.schoolfoodtrust.org.uk/UploadDocs/Contents/Documents/george_dixon_primary_example_compliant_menu.pdf)

Is sodium is the issue here because calorie/fat/carbs-wise, there isn’t that much in it?

Before I’m accused of cherry picking my potato recipe, I will say that the Schools Food Trust’s nutritional standards include other starch-based foods that have lower fat/calories etc – including the dreaded potato waffle that I have bemoaned the return of in Walsall.

[picapp align=”right” wrap=”true” link=”term=sandwiches&iid=1276263″ src=”f/a/9/6/Parents_Call_For_d97b.jpg?adImageId=8992944&imageId=1276263″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /]

I can’t honestly see a problem with including a cake or treat (not a packet of sweets or a bar of chocolate) if the rest of the meal is balanced.

My children often find a chocolate biscuit, a slice of cake (homemade or shop bought) or half a bag of crisps in their lunch. But they have fruit and/or vegetables, sometimes a yoghurt, as well as sandwiches. If they leave the fruit, they don’t get a treat the next day and get double fruit. This is also flawed: I’m using fruit as a punishment, aren’t I?

If schools are cooking delicious-sounding puddings such as flapjacks (which has sugar and golden syrup) and chocolate cracknell – made with cocoa, golden syrup and sugar – then I refuse to be the villain of the piece.

But, then, I’m not the one being targeted here. Am I? I might be surprised …

Photographs from PicApp

Written by CommonPeople

January 14, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Nigel Slater’s chocolate beetroot cake (yum)

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I must admit I didn’t have much hope about this cake. I imagined that it would be vile. But I should know better:  I have never followed a Nigel Slater recipe and have anything but a fantastic end result.

(Must admit, though, I didn’t cook this cake. My husband did!)

Serves 8


250g beetroot

200g fine dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)

4tbsps hot espresso

200g butter

135g plain flour

1 heaped tsp baking powder

3 tbsps good quality cocoa powder

5 eggs

190g caster sugar


Lightly butter a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Line the base with baking parchment.

Pre heat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4

Cook the beetroot, whole and unpeeled, in boiled unsalted water (30-40mins). Drain, let them cool.

Once cool, peel them (under running water), slice off the stem and root. Puree roughly.

Separate the bar of chocolate into small cubes and place them into a small glass bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and allow chocolate to melt. Do not let the simmering water touch the bowl; do not stir the chocolate.

When the chocolate is almost melted, pour in the espresso and stir once.

Cut the butter into very small pieces and add to the melted chocolate. Dip the butter down under the surface of the chocolate with a spoon and leave to soften.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa.

Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a large mixing bowl.

Stir the yolks together.

Working quickly, remove the bowl of chocolate from the heat and stir until the butter has melted into the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes and stir in the egg yolks. **Do this quickly, mixing firmly and evenly so the eggs blend intothe mixture. Fold in the beetroot.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold in the sugar. Carefully fold the beaten egg whites and sugar into the chocolate mixture. Using a large metal spoon, fold in a figure of eight. Then fold in the flour and cocoa.

Transfer quickly into the prepared cake tin. Immediately turn the oven down to 160C/Gas mark 3. Bake for 40 minutes.

(The rim of the cake will feel spongy, but the middle but will wobble a little).

Leave to cool (it will sink a little in the middle). Loosen it around the edges with a palette knife after 30 minutes. Do not remove the cake until completely cold.

Serve with creme fraiche and poppy seeds.

Taken from Nigel Slater Tender. Fourth Estate. £30.



Written by CommonPeople

November 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Best banana cake EVER

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Best Banana Cake EVER


3 ripe bananas (about 400g)

150g softened butter

80g sultanas (optional)

300g plain flour

2tsp  baking powder

½tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 eggs, lightly beaten

80ml sunflower oil


Preheat oven to 180C (350F, gas mark 4).

Butter a 900g loaf tin.

Peel and mash the bananas.

Mix butter and sugar together until fluffy, then stir in the bananas and sultanas.

Sift the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and add it to the banana mix, along with the beaten eggs, beating well as you go along.

Add the oil and mix well.

Pour into loaf tin and cook for 45 minutes (mine sometimes takes up to one hour).

Recipe: Cooking For Kids (The Guardian)

Written by CommonPeople

October 6, 2009 at 6:47 am

Posted in cake

Tagged with , , ,

How sweet it is …

with 2 comments

Sometimes the simplest ideas are the sweetest.

I tweet a lot, as the poor 790 or so poor souls who follow me know.

As a freelance writer, Twitter helps me feel as if I am part of a large, open-plan office with a myriad trades and professions, all working harmoniously (and sometimes, not so harmoniously).

Remote workers are only too aware that home-working can feel isolating – and it’s always your turn to get the coffee.

But online sites such as Twitter have helped to break the monotony of a long day in front of the home computer. It is possible to have 140 character conversations, have a laugh, answer questions and read interesting snippets.

It has also given birth to some marvellous “eureka!” moments – the Twitpanto last Christmas engendered a feeling of camaraderie, while Twitter Titters, a book of comic writing, raised money for Comic Relief.

But it has been a few Twit chats over the past few weeks that have resulted in a rather sweet idea.

It turns out many of us a rather partial to a bit of cake. It doesn’t matter if it is apple, toffee or banana (although chocolate does seem to be a favourite), we love to talk about it.

So much so, that a throwaway comment of “we should have Twit reviews of cake shops and cafes” has led to a new blogsite – a 140 character comment about tea and cakes.

Set up by @mmmmmmcake, I think this is the kind of simple idea that will take off. It is something that people enjoy, because it is fun, it is slightly distracting from the mundane goings-on at work and it is cake.

It is hard to explain to non-Twitter users what tweeting is all about: some look blankly as you make valiant efforts to describe the goings-on; others are keen to try.

A year ago today, I thought I’d give it a try. It took a few weeks, months even, to begin to understand what it was all about.

So, you know what that means, don’t you? It’s a birthday. And what do birthdays mean? Cake. Once I find some, you might find a review.

In the meantime, have a look at the cake blogs at http://bit.ly/Cwk2Z

Written by CommonPeople

September 26, 2009 at 1:24 pm

Posted in cake, Jayne's posts, News/opinion

Tagged with , ,

thank heavens for little boys

with 2 comments

I’ve just noticed something very interesting about the differences between girls and boys.

 My daughter (9) and her friend wanted to tidy the kitchen – so I let them (of course!). They were hard at work for over half an hour, cleaning surfaces, putting things away neatly in the right places, washing up a few bits and pieces and generally made the place look nice.

 They asked for a slice of cake as a reward for their hard work. Naturally, that was fine.

My son (7) and his friend were not to be outdone. Could they tidy the lounge, they asked. Well, I’d be a fool to say no.

 Within five minutes, it was done. That is not necessarily a comment on the original state of my lounge. I was asked to go in and inspect: yes, indeed it was tidy. Cushions plumped on the sofa, remote controls by the TV and assorted newspapers nowhere to be seen.

 The obligatory praise was offered and the reward was half an hour on the Wii.

 It was only when I returned five minutes later that I realised the truth: all the bits and pieces that needed to be tidied away neatly in the lounge had been shoved behind a chair in the corner, away from prying eyes.

 Ah! Boys! They learn young….

Written by CommonPeople

October 28, 2008 at 3:38 pm