Autumn Cakes & Bakes

Spiced Autumn Sponge

Our glimpse of an Indian summer was brief and it’s now the dark nights and bare trees leading into Winter. I love winter food, rich stews and warming soups. Heavy red wines and a shot of brandy in your hot chocolate after a chilly dog walk. The one thing that I will miss though is Summer baking, the abundance of British berries made for quick, light and easy sweet treats; scones with strawberry jam, humongous meringues stuffed with raspberries and cream. Lots and lots of cream. The one I’ll miss most is the Victoria sponge. The perfect cake for me as it’s so quick and has just 4 main ingredients all of which I have in the larder anyway. But rather than say goodbye to Victoria until next year I wondered about giving her a Winter makeover? Adding a little spice and swapping the sunny flavors of strawberry or raspberry for something a bit richer. So here’s a twist on that Summer classic, spiced autumn Victoria sponge..


Grease and line 2 loose bottom cake tins 7/8″ Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4 180 degrees

Weigh 4 eggs then measure out an equal amount of self raising flour, golden caster sugar & butter

Cream together the softened butter & sugar until light – at least 5 minutes

Keep the mixer running adding 1 egg at a time along with a teaspoon of flour

Add the remaining flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp cinnamon & a splash of milk. Fold to bring together.

Add half of the mixture to each tin & pop into the oven for 20/25 mins turning the tins after 15mins to stop the edges catching.

Once cooked leave to cool for 5 minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack. It’s at this point I have to leave the house and come back after an hour, other wise I’ll try to build the cake with the sponges still warm and end up with a reservoir of cream where the cake should be.

The use an autumn fruit jam to spread on 1 side of both sponges. I like to use Hawkshead Relish Company’s Bramley and Bramble. A layer of whipped cream and then stack the 2 sponges together. Dust with icing sugar, decorate with blackberries. Serve with a mug of hot chocolate safe in the knowledge that you can hide the calories under cashmere until next Summer.



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Mucky Books

Every recipe book has one, a page that’s so regularly used it’s where the book naturally opens. As you try and open it the pages start to tear, glued together by a mixture of sugar & butter. Writing barely legible in parts hidden where a resting coffee cup has left its mark. It’s the recipe that never fails, the one you turn to when time is short or the cupboards are bare.  Here’s mine, a carrot cake from Bill Grainger’s book “Bill’s Basics,” that I’ve meddled with. While Bill sifts & orders the ingredients I find just chucking everything in a bowl and giving it a cursory mix works just as well.

Pre-heat oven to gas mark 3/170*C

Grease and base line a 23cm spring form cake tin.

Whisk 3 eggs with 250g of soft brown sugar.

Add 200g plain flour, 200g grated carrot, 3tsp baking powder, 1 tsp cinnamon, 100g sultanas, 100g pecans, zest of 1 orange, 250ml sunflower oil, 1 small well drained can of chopped pineapple (buy the supermarket basics tin, tiny reject pieces are perfect!)

Stir well to combine and pour into the greased tin. Bake for 1 – 1 15mins, leave to cool in the tin before topping.

For the topping melt 50g butter and mix with 200g cream cheese, 200g icing sugar, 1 tsp vanilla essence.

As it contains fruit and vegetables this cake is almost good for you, meaning you can cut a large wedge  guilt free. In the unlikely event that it survives an afternoon it keeps brilliantly because of the moist pineapple.

So what’s your favorite mucky book……?




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6 of the Best Boutique B&BS

Another Top 6 slot for The Ashton in The Sunday Times Travel, it was from October last year, which reminds me just how slack my blogging has been recently!



No draughts, no soggy toast:these homely hideaways rival the swankiest hotels for style & service, and says Helen Fry, trump them nicely on price.

For vintage charms: The Ashton, Lancaster.

If a trip to the city of Lancaster isn’t yet on your to-do-list, it’s time for a rethink. No, honest. For such a compact place it’s got plenty to see. What’s more it’s perfectly positioned for trips to Morecambe Bay, the Lake District and the (underrated) blustery beauty of the Trough of Bowland – all fells and peaty moorland. Lancaster has yet another string to its bow – one of the best B&Bs in the country.

The Ashton’s owner, James Gray, is a former television set decorator, and his considerable creative talents have worked (seemingly) efortless contemporary magic on this Victorian villa on the edge of town. In 5 bedrooms, set over 2 floors, expect the unexpected: silky Egyptian cotton, five-star comfy mattresses and sleek wetrooms with underfloor heating.

Downstairs (you will notice on arrival, over tea or a glass of something chilled,) framed vintage-magazine covers brighten smokey grey walls, tweed and velvet cohabit with chandeliers, while mood-enhancing music soothes road-weary nerves. And just in case you thought you had to trudge out for food, here you can scoff breakfast, dinner (3 courses or a deli board) and elevenses – homemade cakes beneath glass domes on the sideboard.

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Alex Polizzi’s Top 6 Value for Money UK Beds

Absolutely floored & delighted to be picked by Alex Polizzi as one of her top 6 in March’s Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Even more delighted by what she had to say about us…

“The most stylish B&B in the country is The Ashton in Lancaster. No disrespect to the town, but it’s not something you’d expect to find there. It’s owner, James, has done an excellent job on the decor, with chic muted tones and roll top baths – it’s like a 5 star hotel. It’s a real gem and best of all, James is welcoming and genuine – something you don’t always get from B&B owners. It’s also a great place to base yourself if you’re looking to venture out into the countryside.”

For those who don’t know – how could you not know !?! Alex is hotel aristocracy, she presents The Hotel Inspector on Channel 5 and still finds time to run her own hotel, The Tresanton in Devon. Her cleavage is equally celebrated & even has its own Facebook group….

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101 Uses for a Black Banana

Banana & Pecan Loaf

Banana & Pecan Loaf

Every morning I lay out the sideboard for breakfast, carefully assembling a still life of fresh fruit anchored by a bunch of bananas. Then every morning, once everyone has had their breakfast feast, I carry the bananas into the kitchen. All still bunched together, intact, exactly as they started the day. Once back in the kitchen they will sit in a bowl, slowly progressing through the colour chart to black. In the afternoon I will drive to the supermarket to buy slightly green bananas for the next day. The banana routine has happened everyday since we opened, despite the fact that no one has ever eaten a banana at breakfast.

I’d love to break the cycle, to not have to look at a bowl of slowly aging bananas all day. But I can’t, it’s all part of our 5 star grading. Not the official Quality in Tourism grading, this award comes from a much tougher inspector, my Mum. To be 5 star there must be the provision of a banana (fairtrade) to be sliced over yoghurt (greek or of similar creaminess) and topped with granola (home-made, obviously!)

So in order to keep my family 5 star gold award  I keep buying fairtrade bananas and have a stack of recipes that call for as many overripe bananas as possible. Here’s one of the best, enjoy smeared with butter & a cafetiere of strong coffee for a perfect afternoon treat.

Banana & Pecan Loaf

75g softened butter

110g golden caster sugar

125g plain flour

100g wholemeal self raising flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

4 ripe bananas, mashed

50g pecans snapped in half

Heat oven to gas mark 4, 180 degrees

Grease & line a 450g loaf tin

Cream together butter and sugar until pale, add eggs & vanilla extract, use 1tsp flour with each egg to stop the mixture curdling

Sift in flours, baking powder, & fold in mashed banana. Stir through nuts.

Spoon into lined tin & bake for 40-50mins


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Alex Polizzi’s Little Black Book

You may remember my New Years phone call from Channel 5’s ‘The Hotel Inspector’ saying that she would like to come and visit…Well, 6 months later, Alex Polizzi’s ‘Little Black Book of Hotels’ has hit the shelves and guess who’s first on the list!

Alex takes the hassle out of hotel selection, revealing her pick of the very best places to stay in Great Britain. And you can rest assured that all of the outstanding destinations featured—one for every weekend of the year– live up to the inspector’s impeccable standards.

Here’s a taster of what she had to say about us….
“You could be forgiven for thinking that the glory days of Morecambe, its spectacular bay, arcades and Winter Garden, once host to the West End’s finest shows, were long past. The completed restoration of the famous Art Deco Midland Hotel, however, with sculptures designed by Eric Gill, has encouraged high hopes that it may provide a springboard for the area’s resurgence. In much the same way nearby Lancaster – once a thriving Georgian port at the centre of trade with the West Indies – seems on the up and up.Although its trading days are long past, the town now has a champion in the form of James Gray, the native-born but recently returned proprietor of The Ashton – a square, handsome house with regular windows, built in 1834 with stone from the local quarry, now Williamson Park. James opened it only 18 months ago, having spent five months transforming the five rooms.On approach, you drive into a gravel courtyard where chickens and ducks wander, apparently untroubled by any predator. A knock at the slate-grey door and you are into the hall. On your left is the sitting room, with its ivory pillar candles clustered, burning, in the grate. The bookshelf and table are stocked with what seems to be every interior design book ever published. The walls and ceiling are painted in “invisible green” – a dark and sexy colour that sets off the room’s mirrors, flowers and candles.The dining room on your right, painted in the same colour, has a huge, marble-topped wooden sideboard displaying homemade cakes under sparkling glass domes. The lighting is flattering, and the general effect is stage-set perfect, yet homely.”

We have one copy of this fantastic book to give away, to enter simply send your name and email address to ‘’ along with your answer to the following question to be added to our customer database.

Q– How many hotels are featured in the book?

Winner to be announced next week!

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