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It has been a busy few days in the garden. The mixture of sun and rain has brought the grass on and the seedlings are maturing; flowers are starting to bloom and the apple trees blossom has sprinkled the orchard with confetti. Not only have the lawns required mowing, but the hedging needed a hair cut; planting containers needed a good clear out and the seedlings needed larger vessels.

A few weeks ago, and in readiness for the summer time garden, we sowed the seeds of sweetpeas, marigolds, pansies, and a few more that I must remind myself of what they are called; I am not a natural gardener and have only recently begun the long journey in finding my green fingers. But, I am proud to announce that the hydrangea cuttings, that I nurtured from last year, are almost ready for finding their new home amongst the elders.

And with it all starting to look so lovely and the sun shining I could not resist taking a few pictures from our garden and sharing them with you.

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The garden is lit up by the vibrant colour of a young hydrangea.  It is incredible to think that this was just a tiny sprig stolen from one of the giants last year. It is now time to find it a more permanent home, along with the other six!

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The white and yellow daisy-like flowers and bright purple plumes are flora that just keep emerging year after year in our planting containers. They were showing off all their finery in the spring sun.

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Gunnera is a spectacular herbaceous plant that loves a damp location and we managed to find two soggy spots in the garden for our plants to thrive. They were small plants when they were bought for a very special birthday, for a very special person, just two years ago, and they have established themselves very well. We now have great aspirations for them becoming monster attractions in our garden. The brazen shock of red flowers, as seen above, compete for attention against the layers of sculptural green leaves. And, when the sun shines bright, the leaves become almost transparent creating a maze of intricate pattern, as seen below.

Without my knowledge at the time, a cheeky fly just sneaked into the shot.

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Diane x



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I believe them to be the gooiest, moreish, most decadent brownies ever, that are equally as delicious warm or cold and dressed with whatever accessory you like!

Chocolate brownies originated in the late nineteenth century and that of American invention. They join the list of other great delights, such as maple syrup pancakes, cookies, doughnuts, pumpkin pie and bagels, to have crossed the Atlantic and into our hearts, as well as the waistline. Where ever you go, a café, a restaurant, a hotel, a baker’s, a friend’s house or popping round to the family, brownies are frequently on the menu and frequently chosen from the list. They are a mix between a cake and a cookie and can be more like one or the other depending on the recipe you use. Sometimes they are rich and truffle-like, sometimes warm and squidgy as a dessert and sometimes dressed up more like a soft cookie and great to enjoy with a good cup of tea or coffee. Brownies can be a simple, plain chocolate indulgent or crunchy with added nuts, sweet when packed with fruit, chewy with marshmallows and a chocolate dream when laden with chocolate chips.

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My recipe happened by accident when I did not have all the usual ingredients for my old brownie recipe, but I still had a daughter with her friends wanting to enjoy a summer’s evening by the river indulging themselves in chocolate heaven. The store cupboard was duly raided and armed with what I could find my new and better brownie recipe evolved. Sometimes the best things in life happen by accident and this one certainly did. So, I will not keep you waiting any longer and here follows what I believe to be the best ever chocolate brownies. You will need:

  • a greased and lined 17x27cm (7x11inches) rectangular baking tin, the baking paper should extend the rim by 2cm
  • 75g (3oz) dark chocolate with at least 70% chocolate solids
  • 150g (5oz) butter
  • 3 large eggs
  •  250g (8oz) golden caster sugar
  • 100g (4oz) soft brown sugar
  • 75g (3oz) plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven) mark 4.

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First you need to break the chocolate into small pieces and chop the butter into small chunks and place all into a heat proof glass bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Do not let the bowl touch the water or allow the water to boil as the chocolate will burn and become bitter and grainy.

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Whilst the chocolate and butter are gently melting put all the other ingredients, that is the sugar, eggs, flour and baking powder, into a large mixing bowl and whisk with an electric mixer until thoroughly blended and a smooth batter has formed. You can do this by hand with the usual creaming method of firstly whisking the sugar and eggs together with a wooden spoon until creamy and then folding in the dry ingredients to make a soft batter.

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By this time the butter and chocolate should have melted. Stir these together to make a smooth chocolate sauce. Pour this into the batter.

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Stir thoroughly until a smooth chocolate batter is formed and the marble effect disappears. At this point if you wish you could add a handful of toasted chopped nuts, cherries, cranberries, crystallised orange peel, chocolate chips, desiccated coconut or marshmallows. A little more about this at the end of the recipe.

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Pour the chocolate batter into your pre-prepared lined baking tin and put it into the middle of the oven for 30-40minutes. This will vary slightly depending on how squidgy or cakey you prefer your brownies. After 30minutes remove from the oven and the brownie should resist slightly when the surface is pushed with your finger. You can also use the skewer test which after being inserted should not be coated in soft batter. The mixture will have risen during the baking, but will sink soon after removing from the oven; this is as it should be.

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Leave in the tin to cool. When cooled remove from the tin by grabbing the paper from each side and pulling up. Place onto a clean surface and cut to the desired size and shape, that being either into squares, rectangles or triangles. Do not worry too much about the presentation though as they will not last long enough for anyone to notice! This recipe should make approximately 24 portions. All that is left, is to eat!

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I like my brownies slightly warm with pouring cream, ice cream, clotted cream or whipped cream flavoured with Baileys Irish Cream or Amaretto. If the cake has cooled just pop it into the microwave for about 20 seconds to loosen the consistency, turning from cake to pudding. Brownies are equally as delightful cold with afternoon tea, elevenses break, in the lunch box or a sneaky anytime snack. My eldest daughter even likes hers with warm custard, when they morph into a rich chocolate pudding. They are a delicious accompaniment to fruit especially with kirsch soaked fresh cherries and a dollop of luxury vanilla ice cream. The possibilities are endless and as I write I keep thinking of different ways that the simple brownie could be served.

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You will find that one tray bake will not be enough and I often double up the quantities and make two trays; one plain and the other with the addition of: toasted nuts (chopped and toasted in the oven at 180°C for 5-8mins), dried cranberries or glace cherries, fresh cherries or raspberries soaked in a little liqueur of your choice to flavour; or to delight the kids, a few chocolate chips or marshmallows, the latter making for an even chewier and gooier treat. You can add as much or as little extras as you like, but usually I find a handful adequate. I had a coconut brownie once; it was delightful, but I have yet to try this in my recipe, maybe soon I will be sharing this one with you. But for now I will grab a cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy my mornings bake!

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I hope that you enjoy your most indulgent chocolate brownie ever, as much as I do!

Diane X


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I have not yet come across anyone who does not like this cake, quite a statement but it is true.It is a bake that can be presented for many occasions; an afternoon treat for when the kids come home from school, a birthday surprise for someone special, a great dessert with a dollop of cream for a wonderful dinner party finale, or out in the garden for summer tea with a scoop or two of ice cream. The longer it is baked the more cakey it becomes; accordingly the less it is baked the more torte like it becomes and will subsequently create a well in which the cream can puddle. And what is the trick that makes it so moreish? The boiling of the orange.

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To make this scrumptious cake you will need:

  • a greased and lined 20cm (8in.) cake tin, preferably loose bottomed or springform
  • 1 large orange
  • 3 large eggs
  • 225g (8oz) golden caster sugar
  • 120g (4oz) ground almonds
  • 150g (5oz) self raising flour
  • 1/2 level tsp baking powder
  • 100g (3.5oz) milk chocolate (dark if you prefer a richer flavour)
  • 50g (2oz) flaked almonds

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven) mark 4.

Put the whole orange, that is right, every bit of the orange goes into a saucepan and is covered with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for at least one hour. It should be very soft when a knife is inserted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. When cooled cut in half and remove any pips and place all, peel, pith and flesh of the orange into a blender or food processor and whiz to make a smooth puree.

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Now, or you could do this whilst the orange is cooling, place the eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk together until thick and creamy, about 5 minutes with an electric mixer. Next fold in the almonds, flour and baking powder, followed by the orange puree. Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for approximately 40 minutes. The cake should  be springy to the touch and a skewer, when inserted, should come out clean. Leave in slightly longer for the bake to be more like a cake. In this instance it will have visibly risen more and be firmer to the touch and the skewer will come out dry.

Leave the cake in the tin to cool. Whilst the cake cools break the chocolate into a small heatproof bowl and place it over a pan of gently simmering water until the chocolate has melted. Spread the flaked almonds on a baking tray and pop under a grill until lightly golden, or darker if you prefer a more toasty flavour.

Once the cake has cooled remove carefully from the tin and place onto a serving plate, drizzle over the cake to make your desired pattern and scatter the flaked almonds over to set into the chocolate as it hardens.

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You can either serve this immediately, in which case the chocolate will be softer and more like a sauce, in fact you could serve it with a chocolate sauce rather than coat the cake with chocolate and then scatter the almonds over the top and serve with ice cream, or allow the chocolate to set for eating later, unless the temptation is too great and it is devoured in the meantime!

But, if you do need to keep it, it keeps very well in a cake tin for up to a week. It can be kept in the fridge for longer and freezes very well, just remember to thaw it thoroughly before consuming.

Easily serves 10.

cakes 010All you have to do now is find a knife, a cake fork or spoon and add whatever you like: clotted cream, whipped cream, pouring cream, a Cointreau or Amaretto flavoured cream, crème fraiche, Greek yoghurt, vanilla or chocolate ice cream or even custard

Tuck in! x