Sometimes I fancy a piece of cake. I’d prefer to make it myself but sometimes I have neither the time nor the inclination and as I have probably to eat all of it, especially if it’s a fruit cake, it’s not good for my health – everything in moderation my grandmother taught me.

Today was such a day: my wife is preparing for an interview so my share of the domestic necessities – cooking etc – has risen temporarily from the norm of around 50% to 100%, and I have a few short deadlines to meet with writing for my employer (forthcoming newsletter, complete content for a new website, several brochures/leaflets and a T-shirt slogan for a soon to be upon us event). So, nipping to the nearby village shop – which happens to be a ‘co-op’ – I bought myself a small slab of walnut cake.

Label proudly announcing 'New Recipe'; red for warning?

Label proudly announcing ‘New Recipe’; red for warning?


The charming small town of Kempen is about 15km north of the town of Viersen in Germany, where my grandchildren live, between Dusseldorf and the Dutch border. One of its delights is the Ring cafe.

The only problem with the place is the difficulty of making a choice from the multitude of delicious tarts and tortes. On my recent weekend trip to Germany, for my grandchildren’s birthdays, I chose gooseberry and meringue tart – delicious. They have great coffee and a wide choice of teas too, but this time I chose a refreshing glass of Sekt.

Gooseberry and meringue tart with a glass of Sekt

"I'll have that one"

“I’ll have that one”

Being a girl, I chose the pink one

Being a girl, I chose the pink one

The charming little town of Kempen - a model of it that is, to be found in the town centre

The charming little town of Kempen – a model of it that is, to be found in the town centre


A few days ago, when summarising my promised major ‘grump’, I half promised something about a chocolate cake and onion soup from one of my favourite food blogs. I’ve made the cake; so far I have only bought the onions. My excuse is the ‘snap’ of cold weather – it’s stew and dumplings time, yippee, but more of that later, below.

Some time ago I gave the recipe for what has been my favourite chocolate cake, called Reine de Saba, but this one from My French Heaven promised to be equally delicious and a bit simpler to make.

Stephane's own picture of his cake, a 'grab' from his blog 'My French Heaven'

Stephane’s own picture of his cake, a ‘grab’ from his blog ‘My French Heaven’

I didn’t get it quite right, mainly because Stephane the author said bake it in a “pie pan” and not knowing quite what that meant I used the only square cake tin I have (about 20.5cm square) and it clearly wasn’t big enough, so the cake came out much deeper than in the picture. This meant it didn’t bake in the 20-25 mins suggested and it could probably have benefited from a rather lower oven temperature, which would have given the centre time to cook before the outside overcooked (The Reine de Saba is deliberately left with the centre undercooked).

All the same, even my attempt is a delicious cake (my wife, my partner chocoholic, agrees) and I’ll get it right next time. Stephane suggests you eat it with ice-cream, but this cake merits a superb ice-cream and that, as far as I’m concerned, means home made. No time for that so with a cup of (Yorkshire) tea as I write this I’m eating it alone; as a ‘pudding’ this evening it’ll be with double cream.

I have to admit, when I first thought about writing about this cake I fantasized about winning Stephane’s prize for the blogger bringing most people to his blog – a few days in his “B&B”, which I’m certain really is a French Heaven. But seeing all those foodie bloggers with hundreds, even thousands, of followers I knew that really was just a fantasy.

However, if you don’t know it already, do go to his blog for a real Frenchman (who writes real English!) writing about real French food, with some great photography too (so it was a debate whether to follow him from this blog or from my ‘photography’ blog).

Now to stew and dumplings and another of my favourite food blogs. I was really surprised to find that the author of ‘homemadewithmess‘, writing about stew and dumplings, said she had never made dumplings and didn’t have any suet in the cupboard.

Beef stew and dumplings, my answer to Thursday's frosty weather

Beef stew and dumplings, my answer to Thursday’s frosty weather

If you’re thinking that mixing something as British as stew and dumplings with a French cake is odd, think again. In the UK, if we think suet, we think Atora. This was developed by a Frenchman in Manchester in 1893. It is said that he developed it having seen his wife struggling to cut up blocks of suet; I know the feeling – there was no Atora in Romania when I was there so, to introduce Romanians to the light, fluffy balls which we know as ‘dumplings’, I too struggled to grate lumps of suet from the market.

I’m not going to give a recipe for stew – just brown the meat, add onion, carrot, parsnip, swede, pearl barley and lentils by the handful, cover with stock and cook till the meat is 20 minutes from done before adding the dumplings (in fact, in this one I chucked half a bottle of the beer I was drinking at the time, but it could have been red wine if that’s what I had in my hand – not drinking while cooking is a sin). The basic dumpling recipe is still on the Atora packet – I generally add some sage, fresh-ground black pepper and a handful of rolled oats. This week we had it with steamed Savoy cabbage and the wonderful ‘Anya’ potatoes which I’ve only ever found in Sainsbury’s.

This meal is one of the abiding memories from my childhood. Struggling up the long hill from primary school, perhaps up to my shoulders in snow, opening the door of the one up, one down back-to-back cottage in which we lived, to smell and see a large enamel bowl in the hearth of the cast-iron range, full of stew with big, puffy floating dumplings.

The stew might have been beef or lamb, but most often rabbit as then it was the cheapest. My mother, a war widow with three young boys to feed, often did not know where the next meal was coming from, but it was always there.

Much as I would like it, I cannot make the lamb stew described by homemadewithmess as my wife will not eat lamb, but beef stew with dumplings is one of her favourite meals since I introduced her to it. Romanians, in fact east Europeans in general, do have dumplings but they are a much heavier concoction of semolina and egg – in Romania they’re known as galuste (the ‘u’ and the ‘s’ are other Romanian letters so it’s pronounced gu-loosh-tay).

For what promises to be a heavenly French onion soup, watch this space.

I’ve left the haiku for today and diverted into a limerick.

And an enticing recipe for some soft-centre ‘cookies’ has led me to put up the recipe for my favourite cake – a cake with a soft centre.

Yet again it was bloggers doing ‘likes’ on my post which took me to their blogs

In the first I found a ‘limerick challenge’. Madeleine gives a first line and the challenge is to complete the limerick. In the second a cook who likes to make a mess.

Struggling with my first attempt at a short story the limerick came pretty easily:

Rueful limerick:

A fellow was starting to rue
Re-doing his story anew
The words wouldn’t come
He was almost struck dumb
And he knew that a few wouldn’t do.

My favourite cake:

Reine de Saba (this is a chocolate and almond cake, thanks to Mastering the art of French cooking, the book from which I Iearned to cook).

8inch cake tin, 1.1/2in deep. Butter and flour the tin.

Melt 4oz good plain chocolate with 2tbl rum or coffee (I go for half and half) over very hot water.

Cream 1/4lb of castor sugar with 1/4lb of softened butter, until they are a pale yellow, fluffy mixture.

Beat in three egg yolks until well blended.

Beat the three egg whites with a pinch of salt until there are soft peaks. Sprinkle on 1 tbl castor sugar and beat until there are stiff peaks (a copper bowl makes this much easier).

Blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture using a ‘rubber’ spatula, then stir in 2oz of pulverized almonds (pulverize the almonds at top speed in a liquidiser for about 30 secs) and ¼ tsp almond extract.

Sift 2oz of fine cake flour.

Fold in a quarter of the egg whites.

When partially blended sift on a quarter of the cake flour and continue folding, then another ¼ of the egg whites. Fold in egg whites and flour alternately until all is used.

Turn the mixture into the cake tin, pushing the mixture up to the rim (so there’s a dip in the centre).

Bake in the oven at 350degF for about 25 mins. The cake is done when 2.1/2in to 3in around the rim are set so that a needle comes out clean but the centre moves slightly when the tin is shaken and the needle comes out of the centre oily.

Allow the cake to cool for 10 mins, run a knife around the edge of the tin and reverse the tin onto a rack. Allow to cool for an hour or two.

I like it just like this, but you can cover it with chocolate butter icing and make a design on the icing with almonds.

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