Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Brownies with cheeky beetroot

brownies with hidden beetroot copy 2

I’m still on a mission to use up copious amounts of home grown beetroot.

I have a fridge shelf dedicated to jars of pickled beetroot and a whole freezer full. I was running out of ideas and then I did what I always do when I’ve run out of ideas – I stick vegetables into cake.

I have experimented with  lots of vegetable cakes in the past – carrot cake (dull), courgette cake (not bad), even a parsnip cake (a bit wacky and actually not very nice). And the first time I made a chocolate beetroot cake was the day before I gave birth to my daughter. My mind was clearly on other things because I forgot the sugar.

I did attempt the beetroot/chocolate combination again with these brownies (writing in the margins, in giant letters, ‘DON’T FORGET THE SUGAR’). They are very nice and the beetroot can hardly be detected – it just adds a moist earthy sweetness. Although my daughter (who has astute taste buds) declared them ‘delicious’ and then asked what the “little bits that tasted of soil” were.

These are good brownies to make for friends with nut allergies, or for small children (like my son) who don’t like nuts or, for that matter, beetroot. He ate them perfectly happily until my tell-tale daughter revealed the cheeky ingredient.

Chocolate and beetroot brownies

(Based on the recipe in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Everyday)

Makes 16-20

  • 250g butter roughly cut into small cubes
  • 250g of good quality dark chocolate broken into small pieces
  • 250g of caster sugar
  • 250g of cooked beetroot, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 150g of self-raising wholemeal flour (or plain wholemeal flour with 1 teaspoon of baking powder)
  • A pinch of salt

To cook the beetroot, first cut off the leaves and trim the root, then scrub to remove as much dirt as possible. Place in a baking tin, cover tightly with foil, and bake in an oven heated to 160oC for 1 1/2 to 2 hours (this is the time for medium sized beetroot). The beetroot is cooked when a skewer goes all the way through without resistance. Leave to cool and then slip the beetroots out of their skins and grate. You can also boil the beetroot until tender (about 20-30 minutes) if you prefer.

Preheat your oven to 180oC. Line and grease a 23 x 33 cm baking tin with baking parchment so that it goes all the way up the sides.

Put the butter and chocolate into a heat proof bowl and melt in short 10 second bursts in the microwave, stirring after each until smooth. Or you can do this in the more traditional way over a pan of simmering water.

Whisk the eggs with the caster sugar and then add the melted chocolate and butter. Mix well and then lightly fold in the flour and salt with a metal spoon. Finally add the beetroot and stir to incorporate but don’t over mix.

Pour the mixture into the baking tray and spread evenly.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is set but the middle still has a very slight wobble.

Leave to cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

For me these are best served warm and it is fine to reheat them in the microwave for a few seconds.

They are great served with ice cream or mascarpone.


Elderflower pana cotta with gooseberry sauce


Our gooseberry bushes at the allotment have done really well this year so I earmarked this recipe to try and use them up and asked my daughter Elizabeth (aged 5) to pick the fruit.

I have vivid memories of being sent into my granny’s garden at a similar age to pick gooseberries. Now, if you have ever picked them yourself you will know that they are very thorny. It’s a painful pursuit but as a child I didn’t wear gloves and despite getting prickled and scratched I don’t remember making a fuss. Perhaps it was the thought of the gooseberry fool that we would make afterwards by mixing the stewed fruit with Bird’s instant custard that kept me going.

Now Elizabeth is pretty tough but she managed to pick just five gooseberries before moaning and giving up. I let her off and picked the rest myself (albeit with gloves) wondering whether I should be a tougher parent.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog you will have noticed that I’m a fan of stodgy puddings but in warm weather it’s nice to have something lighter and more summery. This Hugh  Fearnley-Whittingstall dish from his ‘River Cottage everday’ book is just the ticket and it’s the best panna cotta recipe I have tried. I often find panna cotta too creamy but in Hugh’s version he adds yoghurt which gives a nice tang.

Elderflower panna cotta with gooseberry sauce

For the elderflower panna cotta

  • 100ml whole milk
  • 250ml double cream
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of elderflower cordial (homemade or shop bought)
  • 2 gelatine leaves
  • 150ml plain yoghurt

For the gooseberry sauce

  • 500g gooseberries
  • 75g caster sugar

First make the gooseberry sauce. Wash and top and tail the gooseberries, then put them in a saucepan with the sugar. Cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes until they are soft. Hugh keeps his sauce lumpy which you can do if you like but I personally don’t like the texture of the pips so I whizz the mixture in a food processor then pass through a sieve so that you have a nice smooth sauce. Set aside.

For the panna cotta, first soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5-10 minutes until floppy.

While the leaves are soaking, in a saucepan combine the milk, cream, sugar and elderflower cordial and bring the liquid just to the boil (Hugh calls this scalding).

Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves, then add to the hot creamy mixture and stir until they have dissolved.

Leave the mixture to cool at room temperature, stirring from time to time.

Once cool add the yoghurt and stir until well combined.

Pour the mixture into ramekins or small jelly moulds and chill in the fridge until set (about 4 hours).

When you are ready to serve, dip each mould in warm water for a couple of seconds and then turn out onto a serving plate (as you can see from the photograph above mine were left in the water just a little too long which is why some of the outer mixture has melted into the gooseberry sauce).

Serve with a spoonful of gooseberry sauce and if you want to be poncy (like me) some wild strawberries.


If you don’t like gooseberries then you can serve these panna cotta with any fruit sauce. Strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, plum all work brilliantly. You can also leave out the elderflower and add a few drops of real vanilla essence instead (you will need to add an additional 10g of sugar to the milk at the start though).

I made elderflower cordial for the first time this year because it’s really expensive to buy in the shops and we have an elder tree overhanging our allotment. It was super easy and here’s how I did it. Measure out 900g of caster sugar in a bowl and pour over 1.7 litres of boiling water. Stir to dissolve the sugar and leave to cool. Add about 30 elderflower heads and 50g of citric acid (which I bought in my local chemist for 99p). Leave in a cool place for 24 hours, stirring from time to time. Strain through some muslin and transfer to sterilised bottles. Keep in the fridge until ready to use. You can dilute it with tap water, sparkling water or champagne!

Marble muffins

marbled muffins 2

When my daughter Elizabeth first started pre-school I agreed to bake something for the summer fayre cake sale. Eager to impress I turned up with a giant chocolate cake from Nigella’s ‘Feast’ cookbook smugly confident that it would sell well and make a marvellous contribution to the fundraising effort. I had visions of it being cut up into slices each selling for at least 50p thus making a reasonable amount for the school…and was there also some sort of golden badge involved for my efforts and envious glances from other parents!!!

Instead though, I just had to watch aghast as they slapped on a £2 price tag FOR THE WHOLE DAMN CAKE…I couldn’t believe my eyes. Stupidly I had also presented it on a pretty wooden chopping board which got sold with the cake and was never returned.

The ingredients had cost me at least £5 so in the end the only winners were Tesco and whoever it was that bought the cake for a ridiculously low price and stole my lovely chopping board. I left wishing I’d just given the school a fiver and saved the effort.

With my fingers burned I now stick to these rules when it comes to baking for school.

  1. Forget about showing off – you won’t win any brownie points and your smugness will just annoy the other parents anyway
  2. Make sure your ingredients don’t cost too much. Forget the finest dark chocolate money can buy and don’t bother with fancy icing or sprinkles. If there are economy versions of ingredients use those
  3. Keep a supply of ice cream, Celebrations and Roses tubs in your cupboard to put your cakes in – that way it’s not an issue if you don’t get them back

With these rules in mind, I offer you this recipe for marble muffins. They have reignited my benevolent nature and I no longer leave bake sales feeling bitter and twisted. They are really quick and easy to make, only a little light stirring is involved so you don’t have to get the electric mixer out, the ingredients are cheap (if you use ‘value’ lemon curd), and they don’t need any icing or decoration.

They also taste yummy so I cook these for our own consumption too (albeit with decent quality lemon curd).

PS. On a completely different note, I have to tell you about this blog It’s really funny in a comedy-tragedy sort of way. I’ve definitely had evenings when I really can’t be bothered and my dismal efforts wouldn’t look out of place here.

Hugh FW’s lemon curd marble muffins (from River Cottage ‘everyday’)

Makes 12

Dry ingredients

  • 225g plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100g caster sugar

Wet ingredients

  • 1 egg
  • 125g plain yoghurt
  • 125ml milk
  • 75g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 150g lemon curd

Preheat your oven to 170oC fan.

Put a dozen paper cases into a muffin tray.

Measure the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, salt and sugar) into a large bowl and whisk to combine and add some air.

Measure the wet ingredients (egg, yoghurt, milk and butter) into a jug and stir with a fork to combine.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and stir briefly and lightly with a large metal spoon until just about combined. If you over-mix at this stage then your muffins will be tough. You just want to stir enough so that there are no large lumps of flour.

Now add the lemon curd in about 6 dollops and give the mix another couple of stirs to distribute through the batter. Again, don’t over-mix otherwise you will just end up with lemon flavoured stodgy lumps.

Spoon the mixture into the muffin cases. I find that an ice cream scoop works well here, with one scoop being enough for each case.

Bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

These are best served warm or on the day you bake them. However, if they don’t all get eaten (rare in our house) then you can refresh by heating each one in the microwave for about 10 seconds.

A chocolate version

For a chocolate version replace the lemon curd with 150g of Nutella, slightly warmed so it’s easier to spread through the mix. I’m not a great fan of this version but my children love them.

Ode to the digestive – part 5, and finally…

Digestives main 1

To finish my 5 days of digestive recipes here’s a recipe to make your own. These are the real deal and seriously delicious. They have similarities to factory made ones but can’t really be compared – I wouldn’t dream of putting a melted marshmallow on top of one of these.

I’m thinking of making these wholesome treats to give to trick or treaters on Halloween. Is that cruel?

Home made digestives
(adapted from a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his ‘River Cottage everyday’ cookbook)

NOTE: Whilst delicious, in my experience these digestives don’t keep awfully well. They are best eaten on the day of baking but after a day in the tin they start to go soft. For this reason I halve or even quarter the recipe below.

Makes 35-40 (to make this amount you will need two square baking trays and you will need to cook them in two batches, unless you have two ovens).

  • 250g wholemeal flour
  • 250g butter (a whole standard pat) cut into small cubes and softened
  • 250g medium oatmeal
  • 125g soft brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of fine sea salt if you are using unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon if using salted butter
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • About 1 tablespoon of milk

Measure the butter, flour, oatmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Mix the ingredients together with the tips of your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Now add a little milk, a few drops at a time (you may not need to whole amount) until everything comes together into a slightly sticky dough.

Dust with flour and press into a disc about 25 cm in diameter. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up a bit.

If you are making the dough in advance then you will need to take it out of the fridge for about an hour before you need to roll out as the dough will become very hard. The dough will keep for up to a couple of days in the fridge.

When you are ready to cook preheat the oven to 170oC fan.

Dust the dough, your work surface and rolling pin liberally with flour and roll out carefully dusting with more flour to stop the dough sticking until it is about 3-4 mm thick.

Cut out the biscuits with a 6-7 cm cutter and use a spatula or palette knife to transfer them to baking sheets (either non-stick or lined with greaseproof paper).

Place in the oven and bake for up to 10 minutes checking regularly that they are not browning too much around the edges. You want an even light brown colour on the top and a slightly darker brown around the edges.

Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheets to firm up before transferring (using a palette knife of spatula) to wire racks to cool completely.

Eat with a nice cup of tea. I challenge you to only eat one, they are very moreish.

Ready to roll out.

Ready to roll out.

Cutting out.

Cutting out.

On the tray ready for the oven.

On the tray ready for the oven.

Tasty stack.

A tasty stack.

Curry flavoured pies – so wrong they’re right

curried fish pie

I have to admit to having a very guilty food pleasure. At some point in the football season, usually when there’s a lunchtime kick off at the City Ground, I like to indulge in a Chicken Balti Pukka-Pie. It just sounds wrong doesn’t it – a cross cultural food mix that surely shouldn’t work? The strange thing is that it does, they are really, really tasty, even if penetrating the stiff, rather anaemic pastry balanced on your knee with a plastic fork is a bit of a challenge.

So it was with this in mind that we first tried Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Curried fish pie’ from his ‘River Cottage everyday’ cookbook. Again, it sounds wrong but with the knowledge that curry and pastry really can work we gave it a go and I would urge you to too.

We had some people over one Saturday and cooked a selection of pies. There were the usual suspects (beef and ale, chicken and mushroom) and we included this to liven things up a bit. At first everyone was dubious, ‘fish…curry…pastry…really!!!’ However, once we persuaded a few doubters to give it a try and word got around that it was nicer than it sounded it ended up being the most popular. Several people asked me for the recipe – so here it is (albeit about a year later).

Hugh FW’s curried fish pie

Meant to serve 4-6 but we seem to polish off most of it between the two of us with a tiny bit of filling left over for the children

  • 2 fillets (600g) of firm white fish. Sustainable fish advocate Hugh suggests pollack or coley but I’m afraid I find this hard to get in our local fishmongers so I tend to use (although I do hate to say it) cod
  • 200g smoked pollack or kippers. I use smoked haddock (I’m sure this is wrong too)
  • 750ml whole milk
  • 1 onion, 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • A few pepper corns
  • 75g butter
  • 75g plain flour
  • 1 tablespoon of oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of curry powder, or curry paste
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped coriander
  • Salt and pepper
  • 250g of ready-made puff pastry
  • A little beaten egg or milk for glazing

First cook the fish. Put the fillets in a pan and add the milk, onion, carrot, celery, peppercorns and bay leaf. Place over a low heat and as soon as the milk comes to a simmer remove from the heat and cover the pan with a lid.

The fish will continue to cook in the milk and should be ready after 5 minutes. After this time drain the fish with a sieve placed over a bowl as you need to reserve the milk to make the sauce. Lift out the fish and put to one side but discard the vegetables, peppercorns and bay leaf.

Now you need to make a white (béchamel) sauce with the flavoured milk. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir well. Cook gentle for a couple of minutes to cook out the flour then gradually add the milk stirring continuously until you have a smooth and creamy sauce. You probably won’t need the whole amount of milk, you’re looking for a consistency like that of thick double cream. For the pie in the picture 650ml was used and it was still a little on the sloppy side. Season well with salt and pepper and then cook on a low heat for another couple of minutes.

Remove the skin and bones from the fish and break it up into large chunks.

Now for the curry flavour. Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook gently for 5 minutes until soft. Sir in the curry powder and cook for another few minutes. Add this curry mixture to the white sauce and then stir in the flaked fish and coriander (being careful not to break it up too much). Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if you think it needs it. Put the filling into a pie dish.

Preheat the oven to 200oC fan.

Roll out the pastry with a rolling pin using a little flour to stop it sticking. Then cut it to fit your dish. Dampen the rim of the dish with a little milk and lay the pastry over the top pressing down at the edges to seal. You can decorate the top if you like with fish cut outs or a criss cross pattern. Brush lightly with beaten egg or milk and place in the oven for about 30 minutes until the pasty is golden and puffed up.

Serve with some sort of green vegetable.

Note: You can also add cooked prawns to the mix just before adding to the pie dish. I also think chopped boiled egg would be good.