The Snowman and The Snowdog music

snowman and snowdogA quick non-cooking item of news for you all.

If you wondered who wrote the music score for tonight’s The Snowman and The Snowdog animation then I can tell you is was British composer Ilan Eshkeri and the singer/songwriter Andy Burrows. You can find out more about their collaboration right here at

We watched the animation as a family and we all enjoyed it but there’s a part of me that wishes that they hadn’t made a ‘sequel’. My wife suggested that the music sounded a similar to Cold Play. How about you?

Merry Christmas!

An easy-to-bake birthday cake

I’m no master baker and I certainly wouldn’t be selected to appear in the Great British Bake Off …but I can bake a birthday cake and you can too!

I baked a cake earlier this week for a family birthday and in order to share the process with you, I took some photos along the way. I’ve used a take on the simple all-in-one sponge recipe that Delia Smith devised – you can see that recipe right here. I covered my cake in rolled fondant icing but you can simply dust with icing sugar to make things super-easy.

Apron on, cup of tea made, hands-washed? Let’s bake…

Step One

Two things you need to check before you get started. Firstly, make sure you’ve got all the ingredients, at least for the sponge. For the butter cream, jam and icing you can go out and buy those later but you do need your sponge ingredients. Let the eggs and butter stand at room temperature for a 30mins or so as they’ll be easier to mix then. Secondly, make sure that you’ll be around when the cake needs to come out of the oven (it bakes for about 30mins).

Step Two

Pre-heat your oven. You want your oven to be at the right temperature (170c) when the sponge goes in, so before you get started whack your oven on. I stuck mine on at 200c and I remembered to turn it down to 170c once it had reached temperature.

Step Three

cake tins linedLine your cake tins firstly with a light coating of butter, followed by grease-proof paper (also greased with butter). Cut two circles of grease-proof paper to cover the bases of your 7inch tins …mine went up over the sides as I used a three-egg mixture and I didn’t want it to spill over the side.

Get some butter on a folded sheet of kitchen roll and rub it over the grease-proof.

Do this and your sponges will  come out of the tin easily when baked.

Step Four

cooking margarineGet out and weigh out your ingredients for the sponge mixture.

If you weigh out the non-sticky stuff first and leave the butter/cooking margarine until last it’s easier to pour the flour and sugar into your large mixing bowl. If you want to avoid washing your scales, put the butter onto a sheet of kitchen roll.

Make sure that you’re scales are set to zero before you start weighing things out. I know from experience that if you don’t do this you’ll end up using the wrong amounts of ingredients and you resultant cake will not taste nice!

Use a sieve when you pour the self-raising flour and baking powder into the mixing bowl to sift and make it nice and airy.

Step Five

cake mixingSo you’ve got the eggs, flour, baking powder, butter and sugar in your mixing bowl. Now use you electric hand mixer and thoroughly mix.

You know when it’s ready when using a wooden spoon, get some mixture and bang your spoon on the side of the bowl …if it falls off easily then it’s ready. If it’s too thick add a teaspoon splash of tap water and mix in.

Lick the spoon if you fancy, but remember it’s not cooked yet so if you’re not keen on raw egg then maybe not.

Step Six

cake mix in tinPour the cake mixture into your two cake tins.

Use your wooden spoon or a spatula and share out the mixture.

It’s not an exact science, just go on what looks like half each and level it out.

Don’t waste your mixture, scrape out your mixing bowl with the spoon or spatula.

Spread the mixture evenly in each cake tin, trying not to get it all over the grease-proof if you’ve got it like I have (pictured).

Step Seven

cakes in ovenPlonk them in the oven on the middle shelf. Make sure your oven is at 170c and make a note of the time the cake tins went in. They’ll bake for about 30mins. Don’t keep opening the oven door until you think they’re ready.

When they look ready (they’ll be a light golden colour) to make sure you can stick a cocktail stick in the sponge and if it comes out clean then they’re done.

Step Eight

peel grease-proofTake your tins out of the oven (using a tea towel or oven gloves) and leave them for just 30 seconds. You’re now ready to carefully take the sponges out of the tins.

Have your cooling rack ready.

You might need to run a spatula around the edges of the sponges to loosen them a bit. Because my grease-proof went up the sides I didn’t need to do that.  Put the sponges upside down on the cooling rack and they should pretty easily come out of the cake tins. Carefully and slowly pull the grease-proof off. I managed to break a little bit of sponge off the edge of one of mine …taste test opportunity! Now let them cool while you do the washing up.

Step Nine

buttercreamYou’ll want some jam for the middle. I chose strawberry but use what you fancy …raspberry or apricot maybe. You’ll also need to make some butter cream too. How much buttercream is your call really. I didn’t want too much in the middle but I needed some to spread over my cake to stick the icing to (see step eleven below). Use about 4 or 5oz of butter and about 8 or 10oz of icing sugar and mix with a fork or a spoon, fork’s probably better even though I used a spoon. Use room temperature butter and sift your icing sugar (or just forget to do that like I did).

Start by mixing in half the icing sugar. When that’s mixed add the rest. Add a tiny dash of milk if it’s too thick – you want it nice and smooth. Have a taste and add more icing sugar if you want to.

Step Ten

spreading buttercreamDSC03080Spread a layer of jam on the inside of one of the two sponges using a knife or a spatula. Spread your buttercream on the other sponge and simply plonk one sponge on top of the other.

You’ll have something that pretty much looks like a cake !

In fact you’ve just made a Victoria Sandwich cake …how ace is that 🙂




Step Eleven

buttercream cakeNow you can ice your cake. You can simply dust it with icing sugar by putting some icing sugar in a sieve and gently tap the sieve over the cake …you don’t need much at all. However, you might want to go the extra mile and use some fondant icing.

To make the icing stick to the sponge either spread some apricot jam or buttercream over the sponge. I made extra buttercream and simply spread a thin layer of it over my cake.


Step Twelve

fondant icingClean and dry your work surface and dust with a little icing sugar (not flour!). Get your fondant icing and knead it to loosen it up – it works better if it’s at room temperature. Dust your rolling pin and roll out a big enough circle of icing to cover the top and side of your cake. When rolled, carefully lift it and place it centrally on top of your cake. Do your best to smooth it gently around your cake and just cut off excess icing with a knife. Some of my edging wasn’t great but I simply hid that with some ribbon pinned to the cake.

Add a cake topper such as Happy Birthday, stand back and say “I made that!”.


Step Thirteen

buttercream cakeGive your cake lovingly to the person intended. When complimented just say “oh, it was nothing, it didn’t really take me that long actually”.

Big slice.


Recipe for all-in-one sponge cake

Recipe for all-in-one sponge cake

Author: Delia Smith
  • 4 oz self-raising flour
  • 4 oz margarine or butter (at room temp)
  • 4 oz caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • To make bigger sponges multiply quantities by 1.5
  1. Pre-heat oven to 170c
  2. Grease, line and then grease two 7 inch sponge tins
  3. Sift flour and baking powder into large mixing bowl
  4. Add remaining ingredients
  5. Mix thoroughly
  6. Share mixture between two tins
  7. Bake for about 30mins
  8. Leave for just 30seconds, then remove from tins
  9. Carefully peel off greaseproof
  10. Allow to fully cool
  11. Add filling
  12. See Delia Smith for more info.


Is your toilet seat cleaner than your chopping board?

chopping boardAsk anyone if they’d consider chopping food on a toilet seat and they’re bound to say no. They’ll most likely say that’s unhygienic and that they would obviously prepare food on a chopping board. But they could well be wrong!

In a recent study of how bacteria spreads within the environment, scientists discovered that toilet seats are one of the cleanest things you’ll encounter in your day-to-day life. Dr Chuck Gerba, professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona comments: “It’s one of the cleanest things you’ll run across in terms of micro-organisms. It’s our gold standard – there are not many things cleaner than a toilet seat when it comes to germs.”

It transpires that one of the dirtiest households items is the chopping board; usually there are about 200 times more faecal bacteria on the average cutting board than on a toilet seat, the scientists claim. Dish clothes and sponges are even worse, with about 10 million bacteria per square inch on a sponge, and a million on a dishcloth. Professor of virology John Oxford at the University of London and chair of the Hygiene Council concurs: “always the dirtiest thing by far is the kitchen sponge”.

Other everyday items that are well known for harbouring germs include:

  • kitchen fridge
  • bathroom seals
  • kitchen towels
  • telephones
  • shopping trolleys
  • bags for life

Apparently there can be more faecal material in a bag for life than in a pair of underpants …yuk!

And although the winter vomitting bug appears to back with vigour again this year, most of us seem to fend off all these hidden bacteria that are alive and well in products we use every day. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take care when preparing ingredients for your dinner tonight. Always make sure that you wash your hands after handling raw meat, fish and poultry. You should watch how you use your chopping boards – ideally use separate boards for veg, meat etc and ensure that you clean them thoroughly after use. Wash non-wooden chopping boards in your dishwasher where possible and use hot, soapy water for wooden boards, rinse and allow to dry naturally.

If you’ve read this and are now thinking that you’ve had the same board for too long then take a look at our range of quality chopping boards in our store now.