Sponge Cake Mistakes

I watch far too many food TV shows and I read loads of books. And there is a recurring theme about remaining calm when you make a mistake. It’s an incredibly important thing to remember when you are cooking. I set up to make a different type of sponge cake last night, incredibly light and fluffy. So I baked it and to be honest it wasn’t spectacular. The top dropped and when I removed it from the tin it certainly was light, but the dip in the top was painful.

So I had already made the strawberry sauce, with balsamic and lemoncello and I had also made the lemoncello buttercream icing. What to do. Then I had a crazy idea. I quickly whipped up a mix of cream, sugar and mascarpone cheese then I took the caved sponge and halved it normally, but I used the dipped top as the base, spread some of the cream mix on it leaving the dip in the centre, used more cream mix to seal the base of the other half and then filled the dip with the strawberry sauce, put the other half on top. The result was a sealed cake with a surprise  in the centre. I then iced it as planned. And I had some cream and strawberry mix left, a quick swirl, bake two victoria sponges and I had a second cake.

So it was not lost, in fact the final outcome was arguably better than the original plan. When something goes wrong don’t be too fast to bin it. Sit back and think about your options. You never know you could end up with something special. I did.

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Chunky Steak and Guinness Pie

This pie is a pub staple and a massive favourite. I want to say at the outset that the base of this recipe is from Gordon Ramsay however I have modified it a fair bit to suit our taste. To be honest I reckon that its a really good thing to take recipes and play with them to make them suit yourself. But this one is a winter warmer and even though it requires a few hours of slow cooking boy does it reward. I love food with big chunks in it, done well with each ingredient holding its own in the final dish.

So to begin with let me give you a few tips. First I buy cheap skirt steak, in tact, not the meat that is already chopped up. I do this so that I can cut fairly consistently sized pieces and they can be fairly decent sizes. A word of warning her though because the size of the pieces will vary the cooking time, bigger equals more time. The second tip is to keep it simple. Along with the steak choose one single second ingredient, carrot, mushrooms, I love shallots, the real ones the small French shallots.


  • 750g skirt steak. Trim off the fatty bits you just want the meat in this one. Cut them into even sized pieces, I like to make them fairly chunky about 3cm by 3cm.
  • 4 tbsp plain flour in a bowl seasoned well with salt and fresh pepper
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste, better quality in this dish preferably
  • One 440ml can of Guinness
  • 100ml of decent beef stock
  • 350g shallots, peeled but kept whole. By the way be prepared to enter the seventh circle of hell peeling these things. Put the fan on to blow the onion fumes away from you.
  • Four or five sprigs of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves. Tear the leaves just a little to increase the cooking surface.
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled but again left whole.
  • Pastry for the lid. shortcrust or puff, your choice.


  • Into a small prep bowl put the shallots, thyme, bay leaf and garlic.
  • In a second large bowl put the seasoned flower and toss the beef pieces to coat them well.
  • In a heavy based pot like a Le Chasseur of Benzer heat the olive oil and fry the meat pieces in batches browning them well. If you don’t have one of these pots buy one your life will never be the same again.
  • Put all the beef back into the pot and mix in the tomato paste. Stir it well and cook it out for a minute or two.
  • Toss in the bowl of other ingredients ie the shallots etc, and then add the Guinness and stock and gently stir to combine.
  • Cover the pot and simmer for around 90 minutes. You will need yo check the meat at this time if it inst simply falling apart then continue the simmer. The other piece of kit you should own is a simmer mat. Its a small metal plate that softens the heat.
  • Transfer all of the meat and sauce into a pie dish. I use a fantastic not stick one.
  • Heat the oven to 200 degrees C while you deal with the pastry lid.
  • I like to cut a lid that is about 3cm more than the top of the pie dish. Then I lay it on top and fold the excess in on top and make a sort of little rolled lip, it looks great when it cooks. Note that you dont need to seal it, the lid simply sits on top.
  • Bake it for 15 to 20 minutes until the top is golden.

Plating Up

Cut through the pastry lid and serve a scoops of the filling with a piece of the pastry sitting on top on a warm plate. I also like to serve it with mash potato or better still greens like beans, peas or broccoli. You can also use the same filling to make individual pie servings in ramekins or similar.

Moody Recipe Search

For about two years or so a lot of people working in digital media have been banging on about the ‘semantic web’ and how that this evolution in the connection of information on the internet will change how we use the web. But it really has only been in the last six months or so that I have started to notice a lot of new web sites appearing using semantic tools.

First of all lets look at the definition of the semantic web. Here is a basic definition from wikipedia. Semantic Web is a term coined by World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) director Sir Tim Berners-Lee. It describes methods and technologies to allow machines to understand the meaning – or “semantics” – of information on the World Wide Web. So what does that mean in real terms?

Lets take a look at the new recipe search site Yummly. There are two angles to explore. The first is the search box which delivers context or meaning in the question. Instead of searching for “Thai Curry Chicken” and getting loads of results you can now ask a more specific question. How about “Thai curry chicken that is not spicy” the semantic engine can determine the differences in the data. Of course the data needs to be there in the first place which brings me to the other half of the site. After you log in you set up all of your preferences, the difference here is the types of preferences you set, everything from the traditional favourites to how and where you prefer to shop. Then when you construct recipes you start to define them on a scale accross key areas like salty, spicy etc. All of this additional data helps to make the search work.

I am sure this is just the beginning of this type of technology. Give it a go, ask it a more specific question and see what it comes back with.