Butterfly muffins at Tebay Services (Junction 38 – M6)

So check out this little baby I found at Westmorland Ltd’s Tebay Services (the truckstop, J38, not the motorway services) yesterday! A perfect butterfly muffin. It even looks like a butterfly. What a sweetie!

Fairy's muff

Today is a day to remind you of the existence of a company which is still very close to my heart, despite the sometimes rocky relationship I have had with it (say no more).

If you’re looking for decent food on the motorway – and when I say decent, I mean looking super-duper-delici-oso, with one or two healthy options, so that you know you’re probably not going to have a heart attack and a pile up in the next 20 miles – then Westmorland Ltd, known to the world as the famous Tebay Services, is the place for you.

It serves up homemade food, both prepackaged and available in their cafes, for all weary travellers who come a-knockin’. Well, as long as they have nice, healthy wallets (it is the motorway, for heaven’s sake, what more do you expect?)

Even if your wallet is looking a bit green, there are loyalty schemes such as the Truck Driver’s Club, and even those dinky little cards as per Caffe Nero, where you get a stamp every time you buy a coffee, or a meal. Buy so many, get the last one free. Comes in handy if you visit often enough (I do).

One of the important differences this company makes to the world is to serve as a lesson that just because something is homemade and in-house-packaged, it doesn’t have to look rubbish! Sainsbury’s, please learn this lesson!

Using beautiful designs, mainly by the fabulous Caryn Gough, and generally nice packaging which looks environmentally-friendly, they persuade you to pay your money and walk away with something which looks like a product that someone cared about.

The point is, if a company makes an effort with their products; actually sets out to design them nicely; produces sweet and colourful labels; uses packaging which holds the product, shows it off, and doesn’t collapse in your hands … well, all that leads to a better customer experience, doesn’t it?

I’m not suggesting Westmorland get it right all the time – they have fumbled a few things here and there – but everyone’s entitled to make mistakes, just as long as they don’t keep repeating them.

They’re moving on to the M5, at Gloucester Services so the poor ol’ South can taste some local foodwares with lovely design. Good luck to them, and let’s hope that getting bigger doesn’t spoil their product ethics.

Murdock’s Mocha Cake

Even without a particularly sweet tooth, sometimes you can just feel like a cake, can’t you? I love coffee flavoured sweets and cakes, but I know it’s not for everyone, (and there are people I am compelled to share cake with) so I made a coffee cake (with ground almonds), with chocolate butter icing, swizzled with runny chocolate icing and scattered liberally with toasted pumpkin seeds.

As I was making it, the mixture split at the egg stage, and the curdling remained even after I added flour, so I wasn’t expecting great things. It was a nice surprise when it came out perfectly cooked and moist.

Set oven at 180 deg C (possibly 350 deg F, dunno). Weigh three or four eggs -as close to 200g as you can get. This means removing them from their shells and weighing their liquidities.

Match their weight in butter and sugar – cream these together; mix in the eggs one at a time (don’t dump them in all together and then over mix them, trying to get the lumps out!); and finally sift in the same weight of self raising flour.

I replaced about half the flour with ground almonds and added some baking powder through sheer paranoia of it not rising, (I hate the taste of baking powder but my love for almonds overpowers that).

Coffee and nuts go together so well. Not to mention chocolate and coffee, and chocolate and nuts. I know that anyway, but Nikki Segnit of The Flavour Thesaurus says so too, so it must be true. So go on, throw about 5 teaspoons of espresso powder/granules into a small cup, mix with warm water until dissolved and add to the cake mixture.

Stick it in the oven in a tin as greased and lined as you care to do. If you do both, the paper peels away more easily. Or, put another way: if you don’t grease it, the paper takes a few chunks of cake with it. Ask me how I know.

Cake pops out of the oven 35-45 mins later; mine was a bit wobbly on top, but surprisingly it didn’t sink, and when I stuck a knife in it (I’ve lost my cake skewer), it said it was done.

The chocolate butter icing is 4oz unsalted butter, soft, and 8oz icing (confectioner’s) sugar, creamed together (stick blender time!) with 4 very heaped teaspoons of cocoa powder. It isn’t shiny like the photo seems to show.

Spread it roughly on the top – be generous, go right over the edges.

Make some ordinary runny chocolate icing – so much cocoa, so much icing sugar, and enough water to make it run. The runnier, the better. Drizzle that across the top of the butter icing in lines or swirls or whatever.

I toasted a handful of pumpkin seeds on 180 deg C for about 10 mins. I thought it would have looked nicest if I could gold leaf some of the seeds, but who does that? I was after a nutty flavour to top it with, but nuts are expensive (and have you seen the price of pine nuts?!) so toasting the seeds and sprinkling them on the top (along the sticky brown icing lines) was a smart budgetary thing to do – a cheaper alternative – and gave a strong flavour to break through all that cloying icing.

The result was a rich but not over sweet cake (made with soft brown sugar, by the way), topped by an icing so rich it’s a megalomaniac, and little green nuts.

I give you … Murdock’s Mocha Cake.

If I could change anything, I would put more cocoa in the butter icing.

Murdock's Mocha Cake

*I’ve noticed my recent cakes look a bit puddingy in the photos, but honestly, they’re not, and I would admit it if they were. This one was moist, but the texture was perfectly cakey.


Carrot Cake Take 2 or Eat It and Weep

Happily, the price of creating edible failures in the kitchen is having to make them again. After all, there’s no way to tell what lessons have been learned without repeating the exercise. I knew when I finished my novel, that even if it wasn’t picked up by a publisher, I would still have to write another, to prove what I had learned.

Bearing in mind the vast quantity of walnuts I ate during the failed experiment, I had to give it a few days before restarting the investigation.

I knew this particular recipe would work, since it is based on the one used by the famous author, Jane Isaac in place of Christmas cake (buy her book, An Unfamiliar Murder, here). She has clearly been through many recipes over the years, in an attempt to find the best ever rendition of her favourite cake, and has taken a combination of Delia’s cake (thank you, Delia) and someone else’s topping. And, quite frankly, if it’s good enough for the elegant Ms Isaac, then it’s damn fine for me!

Except that I can’t use a recipe without altering things. I expect it’s a pathological symptom of some personality malfunction. Dysfunction. Whatever.

Here goes:

The Bastard Child of Jane Isaac’s Carrot Cake.

The number of eggs that gets you as close as possible to 200g eggs (without shells).

The same amount of sugar  (my eggs came to 221g so that’s how much sugar I put in). I used two thirds molasses, one third white. Is supposed to be soft brown.

120ml melted butter (should be sunflower oil).

Whisk the above till you have a smooth batter.

Sift in 175g white self raising flour (should’ve been wholemeal), and make the 221g up with bran. Didn’t have wholemeal.

Also add 3 rounded tsps mixed spice at this juncture.

You’re supposed to add 3tsp bicarb too, but I don’t like the taste, and with the balance of eggs to dry ingredients, it ought to rise anyway.

Fold in and beat like … Like … Well just beat it really hard, you need lots of air in there.

Add in 200g grated carrot, 75g sultanas soaked for so long in brandy, a tablespoon of marmalade and 100g chopped walnuts (should be 175g sultanas, some orange zest and no nuts).

And again, beat like you know what.

Pour into two lined, greased tins and bake for 35-40 mins on a mere 170deg C.

Make a syrup (Jane recommends using juice from half an orange, a tblsp lemon juice and 40g dark brown sugar) out of a scant tablespoon of marmalade, some extra sugar and some water.

When the cakes come out of the oven, stab some holes in ’em and scopp the syrup over.


Take one tub of philly, sift about 4 tablespoons of icing sugar in there and about a teaspoon of marmalade. Whip up about 4 tbsp double cream, and fold that in.

Some for the middle, some for the top, not too much (it’s really sweet) and you’ve got a perfect gorgeous example of what carrot cake should be. Not too sweet, not dry, lovely and moist and moreish.

Now feast your eyes:

Carrot Cake









And the lessons learned regarding the other carrot cake? We … ell … okay, I would guess that flour was the main issue. But that was hardly my fault! Ha. No lessons learned here today!

Soul Formula

Victoria Sponge formula is a recipe for life, living, and soul, never mind cake. Think: 4-4-4-2 or 6-6-6-3 or 8-8-8-4.  Think: Everything in Moderation. A balance of everything catalysed by a small amount of potent extra to create a concoction of dreamy delight.

In the case of Victoria sponge which is arguably the easiest cake formula to remember, the 4s are butter, sugar (creamed together), and flour. The 2 is eggs. The eggs bind the mulch together and cause the chemical process (with a little help from heat) to fulfill itself.

It’s simple: if you mix these quantities in the given order, using the given methods (creaming, beating and folding), and then add heat (at 180 deg C), you WILL get cake.

How light it is, how buoyant and delectable is down to practise and error.

To complete the analogy: take equal quantities of love and good times (cream together). Beat in a half quantity of ambition or desire and fold into the mix a measure of hard work (equal to love or good times).

Too laboured? The recipe isn’t.

Peach Cake
4oz caster sugar
4oz butter
Cream the above together until pale and fluffy.
Beat in 2 eggs one at a time, so that the mixture is smooth, not curdled (although it doesn’t really matter if it is).
Sieve 4oz self-raising flour into the mix and fold in with a metal spoon, turning it over and over until the powder is incorporated. DO NOT BEAT. Resist the urge. You want air, not biscuit.

Add a couple of heaped tsps mixed spice and a handful of sultanas.

Pour into a lined single cake tin about 8-10″ in diameter.
Stone two peaches/nectarines, slice into eighths and arrange artistically around the top. Put a few dabs of butter on the top (not much).

Bake in the middle of a preheated oven at 180 deg C.

To be eaten with lightly whipped chantilly cream (because this is my favourite, but I’m sure plain yoghurt, single cream or nothing at all would be adequate).