Top Hat Cake

The most enduring memory of the annual Sunday School picnic of my childhood revolves, unsurprisingly, around the food. I couldn’t tell you precisely what my mother used to bake but someone, possibly my great aunt, used to make what we called ‘Top Hats’. The level of culinary skill involved wasn’t – well, there wasn’t any skill, to be honest.

Top Hats consisted of cooking chocolate, melted and poured into bun cakes to a depth of about half a centimtre, with a Princess marshmallow plonked in the middle. Perhaps they weren’t top hats but toadstools. They were the sort of thing that children lusted after and made a beeline for. You’d manage one no problem and then generally find your teeth started to melt halfway through the second one. The cooking chocolate had that fatty fudgyness, without much flavour. It coated your tongue and cemented the marshmallow sweetness right on your tastebuds.

But I love marshmallows (and as soon I get a stand mixer – and, um, a new kitchen to fit it in, I’ll be making them at home) and they also make me think of the Devil’s Food Cake recipe in the 70s Hamlyn cook book I grew up with. I love cheesecake, or the base at least. This is what I came up with…

I used a springform tin – then also used paper liner just to be on the safe side.  A non-stick pan is essential for the marshmallow melting – don’t say I didn’t warn you. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 5/375.


  • 250g digestive biscuits
  • 60g butter
  • 170g marshmallows
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 100g dried sour cherries or sour berries
  • 3 tbsp Morgan’s Spiced Rum
  • 100g Dark 70% chocolate
  • 2 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
  • 100g unsalted butter


  1. Soak the fruits in the rum.
  2. Crush the biscuits in a plastic bag. Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the biscuit crumbs, mix well. Pour the mix into the lined tin. Turn the plastic bag inside out, use it to cover your hand and press the mixture down very firmly. Pop in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
  3. Melt the marshmallows in the milk, stirring well til it all melts and set aside for at least ten minutes.
  4. Pour the marshmallow sauce over the completely cooled biscuit base. Drain the fruits and dot them all over.
  5. Melt the chocolate, peanut butter and butter together. Once it’s cooled sufficiently,  pour onto the marshmallow layer and swirl together a little. Refrigerate.

The sweet from the chocolate and marshmallow is cut by the booze and sour fruits, as well as the saltiness from the peanut butter.

I’ve upped the fruit quantities in the recipe compared to the first time I made it, hence the scarcity in the photos.  Use milk chocolate, or omit the fruits, at your peril. Or have the original Top Hat experience all over again.

Apple Pear and Rose Cake

I’ve never made an apple cake before but it’s autumnlike and blustery and it seemed like a good time. I threw pears into the shopping basket too and when at home, wondered if they wouldn’t work well together, with the right augmentation.

According to Niki Segnit, author of the Flavour Thesaurus, apple can contain surprising elements such as nutmeg and anise, as well as nutty notes near the core which can be reminiscent of almond. She flags apple and pear as a very well established pairing, and quince is another pome fruit. That she credits with apple, pear, rose and honey tastes. Hence the roundabout inspiration for this cake.  It’s an adaptation of a recipe by Allegra McEvedy which was in the Guardian, which I went for mainly because of the quick prep and cooking time.  It turned out to almost more like a clafoutis than a cake but I thought calling it that would just confuse matters. Not that I encourage this sort of thing, but I imagine it would work well with a dollop of cream and a grating of nutmeg. Or some thin, rich, eggy homemade custard.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4, 175C.  I used a 25cm square tin, and spray oil to grease it.


  • 3 eggs, preferably organic
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 250g flour
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 150g butter
  • 240ml water
  • 1 large Bramley apple, chopped
  • 2 large Conference pears, chopped
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp Rose Essence
  • Light brown sugar to garnish


  1. Beat the eggs and sugar together until thick
  2. Sift in the flour and baking powder, using a whisk to mix gently until incorporated
  3. Melt the butter and honey in the water and add in the mixture
  4. Drop the fruit into the batter
  5. Shake sugar over the top
  6. Bake for 40-50 mins until a cake tester comes out clean, and leave to cool in the tin for 10 mins
  7. Slice around the edges to free the cake, then upside it onto a plate and flip again so the apples are on top

You may want to tone down the rose but it seemed to go down well with the Baked Goods  Tester Panel so I’ve left the quantities as I made it.

Chocolate Banana Pantry Cake

I have a problem with bananas. The problem is that I buy them, forget about them and then I’m compelled to bake with them. Yeah, I know, the epitome of firstworldproblems.

This started off as a banana loaf cake idea and then the Green & Black’s cocoa fell out of the cupboard (I really should tidy up more) and it seemed worth trying.  Then it turned into pantry cake when I started pulling more things out of the press, including cherries and walnuts. The cherries melt a little like dates and led to the tasters asking if there was booze in there. Not this time….

Makes a 1lb loaf. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4, 180c.


  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 35g of slightly salted, very soft butter
  • 50g demerera sugar
  • 50g soft brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 50g walnuts, chopped
  • 50g cherries, chopped (the natural ones)
  • 50g chopped dark 70% chocolate
  • ½ tsp good vanilla extract
  • 75g wholemeal flour
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ¼ tsp salt


  1. Mash the bananas and butter together
  2. Add in the egg, vanilla, sugar, cherries, chopped chocolate and walnuts and mix together
  3. Sift the flour, cocoa, bicarb and salt together and add into wet ingredients
  4. Cook in a lined loaf tin for about 45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean

Improves over a day or two too.

Fernandez and Leluu + Unearthed = Action Against Hunger

Imagine being a small or artisan food producer – possibly a family firm, making a product you believe in, to what’s probably a tried and tested recipe. Something you’re passionate about and believe in, and want to be able to focus on perfecting.

Or a committed foodie, a consummate party-thrower, someone for whom “fun” is inviting thirty strangers over to your house three times a week and producing dish after dish of marvellous morsels to an unknown audience.

Simon Day created Unearthed Foods as a way to not only showcase but to distribute fantastic regional continental foods in the UK. With links into major retailers, they can get great exposure for smaller brands and allow the manufacturers to concentrate on production. Importantly, they also operate a robust supply chain so that the logistics make sense and they can import goods from a number of different locations in Europe efficiently. That makes more goods affordable for the consumer here too, and helps support the company’s aim of introducing regional specialties to this market. I guess that, technically, coordinated shipping reduces the carbon footprint too?

Fernandez and Leluu are long-time favourites of mine and they were a great pairing with Unearthed.  Simon  Fcame up with some fantastic combinations, using Unearthed products along with original dishes – sweetcorn soup with chorizo oil drizzle above. The first course included unctuous rillettes from Le Mans, not unlike the ones I had when I spent time in that city as a teenager. Nothing you could have told me as a seventeen year old would have convinced me that a couple of decades later I’d be wolfing them down, I loathed them then. But paired with oyster mushrooms cooked in wine and butter, and they were unbelievably moreish.  This was probably my favourite course of the evening – or was it the pears poached in champagne and vanilla? The broken rice was damn good too. As were the flamenquines.  We were also treated to Campo Viejo wines and both the Rioja and the cava went down really well.

There was such a buzzy crowd, the chatter was so loud we were on the verge of yodelling at each other, while cooing over each successive course as it appeared before us. Conversation and consumption aside, there was actually a more important reason for us all to be gathered together.

Action Against Hunger.  They’ve moved on from their ‘Fight Hunger Eat Out‘ campaign in September and October to focus on ‘Fight Hunger Eat In’. You see where they’re going with this.  I’ve had many fabulous meals in supperclubs for a donation of about £35. That’s roughly the amount of money that’s required to treat a child for malnutrition which is pretty sobering. Providing tools for a family costs around £20 (and if you donate online and are a UK taxpayer, boost your donation with Gift Aid).  Unearthed will donate 1p from all sales, and they’re aiming to support a project in Zambia for grandparent-headed families, where parents have died (mainly due to AIDS) and the children are now the responsibility of elderly relatives who may be unable to work or support them.

Check out Fernandez and Leluu’s great tips on entertaining, stock up on Unearthed tapas if you don’t want to cook and get some friends around.  Cook for them and ask them to make a donation to the charity as ‘payment’.  If you’re allergic to kitchens perhaps consider buying the charity lunch – donating the same amount as your next restaurant meal. It really is all in a good cause.

Thanks to Fernandez and Leluu, Unearthed, and Wildcard.

Win Tickets to MasterChef live!

MasterChef Live 12-14 November

After enjoying some of their finest vintages last week at Fernandez and Leluu (post coming up), I’m very pleased to say that Campo Viejo, the UK’s number one Rioja, got in touch to tell me about what they’ll be doing at the MasterChef Live event at London’s Olympia next week – and you can win a pair of tickets to go along and see for yourself!

At MasterChef Live, Campo Viejo will introduce you to quick and easy tapas solutions courtesy of the amazing Jose Pizarro. He will be creating delicious tapas dishes and talking about matching them with Campo Viejo wines.  It’s all about simple yet delicious food. Come and see, and of course, taste!

For the chance to win a pair of tickets simply answer this question:

In what year did was Campo Viejo first produced?
·         1949
·         1959
·         1969

Please make sure you leave an email address when you comment so you can be contacted if you are the winner.

Terms and Conditions

  • The tickets can only be used on Sunday 14th November. The prize cannot be exchanged for a cash alternative and all elements of the prize are subject to availability.
  • The competition will close on Wednesday 10th November at 8pm.
  • I will select the winner at random from the entries and notify the winner by email.