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Sometimes you come across a beautiful ingredient and it’s a pleasure to just spend some time thinking about how best to use it.

I found these figs in Beshoffs* in Howth on Saturday, along with the jaw-dropping array of fish and shellfish that the shop is better known for. (Living a few miles inland, I just don’t get to see that kind of fishy feast very often and it was tempting to go a bit bananas in there.)

After a knock-out lunch at Ivan’s next door and a post-prandial stroll along the pier to shake off some of the food-induced snooziness, we returned home – Mr B with a big parcel of fish, me clutching my paper bag of dusky-purple fruit, dreaming of all the possibilites…

Fig, mozzarella and prosciutto salad… that would be nice. Or maybe I would roast them and then drizzle honey over the lot, accompanied by a dollop of something sharp. What about making a jam or compote? Although did I really have enough for that…


Yes. Definitely cake. (Although, let’s face facts, it’s always cake with me.)

So I spent Sunday puttering around the kitchen, the comforting hum of the oven in the background, roasting hazlenuts, before skinning and pulverizing them for this cake.

Normally, that would seem like too much effort to me but it was more relaxing than anything else, in the way these sorts of activities can be when you don’t have any plans for the day and time magically expands to fit your needs. Now, if only I could apply that trick to my working day as well (answers on a postcard or blog comment please).  

Hazlenut and fig cake from Holiday by Bill Granger

(Serves 6-8)

You’ll need:

125g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
75g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 eggs, lightly beaten
100g ground hazlenuts
50g hazlenuts, chopped into small pieces
8 fresh figs (not too ripe), halved
2 tablespoons honey

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gask mark 4. Cream the butter and the sugar in a large mixing bowl until pale and fluffy.

2. Sift together the flour and baing powder. Use a large metal spoon to fold the flour and eggs alternately into the creamed mizture. Fold in the ground hazlenuts and then the chopped ones.

3. Grease a 20cm/8-inch cake tin and line with baking paper,  leaving the paper hanging over the sides to help you lift out the cake. Spoon the mixture into the tin. Arrange the figs, cut side up, in a neat layer on top of the cake. Bake for 55 mins to 1 hour, or until a skewer poked in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

4. Leave to rest in the tin for 10 minutes before turning out. Drizzle honey over the top of the cake just before serving.

(Bill notes that this is lovely both as a cake and as a dessert with lightly whipped cream.

*Beshoffs doesn’t appear to have a website – how can that be? However, the also-excellent Wrights do…


Our good friend S. will be staying here for about five months, travelling up to Dublin for work and it seems un-hostlike to make her sleep on top of all our hoarded crap in the spare room. Crap, I might add, that has been languishing in cardboard boxes since we moved over last year.

Mr B and I, we’re both hoarders by nature, which made the task of deciding what we could possibly do without a bit painful. (‘But I need EVERYTHING! ALL THE TIME! Well, ok, maybe not EVERYTHING… but most of it! Including the stuff in your hands that you’re about to chuck out!’)

So, while I was rummaging through all those cardboard boxes, I stumbled across a copy of Gourmet magazine from April 2007, with the page folded back to this recipe. It looked like I was going to make it just before the big move but then got distracted by things like tying up council tax and utilities, finishing up at my last job and working out which cookbooks I couldn’t bear to part with for the duration of said move

High time then, to remedy the matter.

Fresh pineapple upsidedown cake from Gourmet magazine, April 2007

Serves 8 to 10 people, apparently.

1 2/3 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarb of soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 fresh pineapple, halved lengthwise, peeled and cored
1 1/2 sticks (165g) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2/3 cup well-shaken buttermilk

1. Position a rack in the centre of the oven, along with a baking tray*, and preheat to 180C/350F.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt into a bowl. Cut the pineapple crosswise into 1/4 inch thick wedges.

3. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan (2-inches deep) lightly on the side and generously on the bottom of the pan using 1/2 stick/55g butter. Sprinkle all of the brown sugar evenly over the bottom of the pan and arrange the pineapple over it, starting in the centre and overlapping slices slightly.

4. Beat together the remaining stick of butter (110g), granulated sugar and vanilla with an electric mixer at medium speed until light and fluffy, about two minutes, then add the eggs – one at a time – beating well after each addition.

5. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mix alternately with the buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with the flour and mixing until the batter is just smooth.

6. Spread the batter evenly over the pineapple and bake until a wooden pick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean – about 40 to 45 mins. Cool for 15 mins in the pan on a rack, then invert the cake onto a plate and remove the pan. Cool to room temperature and then serve. 

*You’ll need the baking tray to catch any buttery-sugary drips from the side of the tin.

All I can say is go make these NOW!

Blueberry bars brought to you by Deb of Smitten Kitchen.

chocolate birthday cake with smarties and sprinkles

Oooh – would you look at that. This site is one year old.

In blogging years (which are a bit like dog years, I think) that’s practically ancient.

Wow – well, let’s check the stats (the not-so-secret dirty pleasure of every blogger) and see what’s been happening around Bird Towers over the past 12 months:

Number of posts thus far:

114 – including this one.

The posts you liked best:

A little bit of what you fancy (banana bread)
Things that make you go mmmmmmm (gingerbread)
Daring Bakers Challenge for January – lemon meringue pie (I’ve been a bit remiss with my challenges lately but I’m back on the case with the next one, I promise!)

Interesting searches that got you here:

– What eats a bird
– A bird which eats stones in 5 minutes
– Fruit hurts my teeth
– Like tea birds sexy sites
– Recipes to blow up birds

I hope you all found what you were looking for. Except that last one. I mean, really? Seriously?

On another note, I’d just like to say thank you to everyone who has dropped by for a gander or said hello in the comments. It’s been a pleasure to meet you all. Long may the happy cooking and blogging continue 🙂

Right, on to the important stuff – cake. Let’s face it, a first birthday deserves a kids’ cake if we’re going to celebrate the whole thing properly.

This recipe comes from the aptly-named Gorgeous Cakes by Annie Bell. There are so many fabulous-looking confections in this book, my ‘to make asap’ list has grown several pages longer – banoffee cupcakes, red velvet bonfire cake, raspberry-mascarpone layer cake, chocolate prune cake, pistachio choc-chip meringues, fig streusel… then there’s all the cheesecakes… And Caroline made a mouth-watering lemon traybake from this book the other week, so that’s another one tagged to try.

But for my first bloggie birthday, I’m going to have to plump for the kiddies’ dream traybake. It’s got what every small (or grown-up) child would want to honour this kind of occasion: chocolate sponge, chocolate icing, and a liberal application of Smarties and sprinkles. Bring on the sugar rush…

Plus there’s a fun ‘magic/science’ bit when you add the bicarb of soda to the cocoa mix and it expands rapidly. It’s entertaining and edible. How many cakes manage that?

Kiddies’ dream traybake from Gorgeous Cakes by Annie Bell

Makes approx 20 squares (Hmmmmm – not in this house. We like big wodges of cake, so it makes about 12 slices.)

You’ll need:

For the cake:

75g cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
4 medium eggs
370g light muscovado sugar
180ml vegetable oil
200g self-raising flour, sifted

For the icing:

150g dark chocolate (about 50% cocoa solids)
3 tablespoons milk
Smarties (2 tubes) and sprinkles to decorate

1. Whisk the cocoa with 200ml of boiling water. Whisk in the bicarbonate of soda and leave to cool for about 20 minutes. (If you do this in a pint-sized measuring jug, the liquid will expand up to about the pint level.)

2. Preheat the oven to 160C (fan)/180C/gas mark 4 and grease a 23 x 30 x 4cm traybake tin. (There’s no need to line it unless you’re planning on turning the cake out whole.)

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and oil. Then stir in the flour, then the cocoa solution. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 30-40 mins or until risen and firm, and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and leave to cool.

4. To make the icing, gently melt the chocolate with the milk in a bowl set over a pan with a little simmering water in it, stirring until smooth. Using the back of a spoon or a palette knife, coat the surface of the cake. Scatter over some Smarties and sprinkles, and leave for a couple of hours to set. Cut into squares to serve.

Cook’s notes

If you think the big kids at work will like this, just leave it in the tray – makes it a lot easier to transport.

You could play around with this recipe a bit and add orange peel or maybe some peppermint essence for variety.

Conference pears

My ever-loving husband brought back some pears from the shop the other day and the first thing that popped into my head wasn’t, ‘Awwwwwww! He cares deeply about my well-being and remembered my recent comment about wanting to get more fresh fruit/veg into my day because, no matter how hard I wish, chocolate isn’t a nutritional equivalent and the crap-filled snack machine at work is not my friend (pause to draw breath…) – it’s the little things like this that make me love him more…’

Oh no.

It was more along the lines of, ‘Fan-bloody-tastic! My boy’s a mindreader! Now I can make that cinnamon pear cake with vanilla fudge sauce that I’ve had filed away since the dawn of time and was wistfully dreaming about the other day. Hurray!’

Then I had to go back to the shops and get the rest of the ingredients but, hey, it was the spur I needed to try out this recipe.

cinnamon-pear cake - closeup

And oooooooh – it’s a keeper! I think I’m going to start up a Hall of Fame for Outstanding Cakes and make Nigel Slater the first inductee/honorary president for life. What more could you want than a softly-crumbed, almost pudding-like cake, stuffed with cinnmon-infused pears and, the killer move, a sexy vanilla fudge sauce to top the lot off?  Oh. My. Word. This cake is the business and then some. Time for another slice, methinks… 

Cinnamon-cooked pears

Cinnamon pear cake with vanilla fudge sauce by Nigel Slater, from Sainsbury’s Magazine.

Serves 8

You’ll need:

For the pear mixture:
740g ripe pears (I used Conference pears)
1/2 lemon
40g butter
3 tablespoons unrefined light muscovado sugar
1/2 heaped teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the cake:
200g unrefined golden caster sugar
200g unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs, lightly beaten

For the vanilla fudge sauce:
95g unrefined light muscovado sugar
95g golden syrup
50g butter
142 ml double cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

And… 24cm/9½-inch loose-bottomed (springform) cake tin, lightly buttered and lined with greaseproof paper.

1. Peel the pears and core them. Cut them into chunks and drop them into a bowl of cold water, acidulated with a few good squeezes of the lemon, which will stop them going brown.

2. Melt the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a shallow pan over a moderate heat, stirring occasionally. Drain the pears and add them to the pan, taking care that they don’t spit at you. Let the pears cook until they are tender and the sauce is thick and coats the pears. Stop before the sugar turns dark and bitter. Set aside to cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/gas mark 3. To make the cake, put the sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until light and creamy. Sift the flour and baking powder together. Add the eggs and a little of the flour alternately, so that the mixture doesn’t curdle. Fold in the remaining flour and then the cooked pears with their syrup.

4. Scoop the mixture into the tin and smooth lightly. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until risen and golden, then check with a metal skewer (it should come out clean).

5. Remove the cale from the oven and leave to cook before lifting out of the cake tin.

6. To make the sauce, put the sugar, syrup and butter in a small, heavy-based pan and bring to the boil, stirring only enough to stop it sticking. Stir in the cream and the vanilla extract and cream (watch out, the mixture can foam a bit at this point), and leave to cool. The sauce will thicken.

7. Sprinkle some extra muscovado over the cake and serve with icecream and fudge sauce.

Cook’s notes

All that fruit can make things a bit soggy – I found it took an extra 20 minutes in my oven to make sure this was cooked in the centre.

cinnamon-pear cake


Up for a little lazy weekend baking?  

How does a stickily gorgeous double-ginger cake sound?   

This is the perfect recipe to make on a rainy Sunday afternoon, puttering around in the kitchen. There’s not much to it: a smidgen of melting, a teeny-tiny touch of chopping and then a little bit of mixing to finish off – that’s as strenuous as it gets, which suits me just fine on a day off. 

Plus it tastes great – spiked with stem ginger as well as the more usual ground stuff, it’s a plain cake with a slightly luxurious feel to it. I like to nibble away at a slice while slurping a strong cuppa and getting stuck into a good book (cake helps me concentrate) but it would also work beautifully while still warm with a scoop or two of your favourite icecream. Mmmmmmmmm….

And, if you have tremendous willpower, you can wrap the cake up in tin foil and leave it to grow even more wonderfully sticky over a couple of days. But if you have that kind of towering inner strength then you’re a better person than me! 

Have a lovely weekend everyone 🙂   


Double Ginger Cake from The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

You’ll need:

250g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
200g golden syrup
2 tablespoons syrup from the stem ginger jar
125g unsalted butter
3 lumps stem ginger
2 heaped tablespoons sultanas
125g dark muscovado sugar
2 large eggs
240ml milk

an 8-inch square tin, lined with parchment/greaseproof paper

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

2. Sift the flour with the ginger, cinnamon, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

3. Put the golden and ginger syrups and the butter into a small saucepan and warm over a low heat. Dice the ginger finely, then add it to the pan, along with the sultanas and sugar. Let the mixture bubble gently for a minute, giving it the occasional stir to stop the fruit sticking to the bottom.

4. Break the eggs into a bowl, pour in the milk and beat gently to break up the egg and mix into the milk.

5. Remove the butter and sugar mixture from the heat and pour into the flour, stirring smoothly and firmly with a large metal spoon. Mix in the milk and eggs. The mixture should be sloppy, with no trace of flour.

6. Scoop the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

7. Leave in the tin to cool and then tip it out on to a sheet of greaseproof paper. Wrap it up in foil and, if you can, leave it to mature for a day or two before eating.

Cook’s notes

It took about 10 minutes longer to cook in my oven, which I still haven’t got the full measure of after eight months of using the tricksy thing.

Don’t worry about the stem ginger and sultanas sinking to the bottom of the mix – it’s a very runny batter, so that’s just going to happen. Happily, this makes for a extra sticky, super ginger layer at the bottom of the cake, which is extremely tasty, so you can lie sweetly and claim it’s meant to be like that.

banana bread with chocolate chips

Some extremely evil, over-ripe bananas had to be used up, pronto (victims of the January health kick), so I went back to my list of blogger recipes for inspiration. I’ve tagged about a dozen banana bread variations over the last year* but this one from the kitchen goddess that is Molly at Orangette caught my eye. Which, in turn, she’s adapted from the equally fab Kickpleat of Everybody Loves Sandwiches. Small world, eh?

I’ve tweaked it ever so slightly by reducing the cinnamon a little bit** but otherwise left it the same. It’s more dense than other banana breads I’ve tried and I mean that in a good way. There’s no butter in it, which is – I think – what leads to a springier texture that’s strangely satisfying and moreish. As you can see from the picture above, we’ve been nibbling away at it quite happily 🙂 

Because it’s quite robust, I’m thinking this would be good to take along on a picnic/walking trip whenever we’re finally lucky enough to enjoy a sustained burst of sunshine. (When? When? WHEN?) Seeing as that could be a while yet, this cake is going to be my 11 o’clock slice of naughtiness in the midst of all the healthy eating 😉 

Banana bread with chocolate and cinnamon sugar adapted from Orangette and Everybody Loves Sandwiches

You’ll need:

3 large ripe bananas 
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup dark chocolate chips

For the topping:

2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5. Grease and line an 8-inch square baking tin.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the topping ingredients and then set aside for the time being.  

3. In a medium mixing bowl, mash the bananas well with a fork or potato masher. Add the eggs and stir well to combine. Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and vanilla extract, and stir to mix. Add 3/4 cup of chocolate chips and stir briefly.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and then evenly sprinkle on the topping mixture. Then sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top.

5. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 15 minutes before removing and scoffing the lot.

*You can never have too many banana bread recipes 😉  

**I know, it sounds so unlike me – must be having an off day…

If anyone’s dropping by to see my results for the latest Daring Bakers challenge (hi!), please, please, please come back tomorrow for the finished item 🙂

The yule log has just gone into the fridge to firm up (only a bit of cracking at each end, phew!) and I’m now off to whip up some meringue mushrooms.

But here are the results so far…

The genoise sponge topped off with some berry jam and chocolate buttercream:

The finished roll, ready to go into the fridge for the night:

Update: I’ve just realised what time it is and the mushrooms are going to take about an hour and a half to make. Think I might tackle them in the morning with a fresh brain!

…raspberry jam ripple cake.

Yeeeeeeees. So… I’m not proud about this but the thing is… the jam I bought in Ennis the other day for the in-laws… Not quite all of it is going to make it back to them. Not in the jar anyway. They’re more than welcome to have some of this gorgeous cake though. I think they’ll understand.*

It’s a very simple, lazy day kind of cake to create. The sort of thing you make with your mum when you’re too small to see over the top of the kitchen counter and you clamber onto a chair to take part in the incredibly serious business of swirling in the jam. (Of course, the jam goes everywhere but into the cake but that’s not the point.)

Homely, uncomplicated and the perfect accompaniment for a strong brew.

Raspberry jam ripple cake from the Donna Hay magazine, issue 2 (autumn)

You’ll need:

125g unsalted butter at room temperature
¾ cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1½ cups self-raising flour, sifted
½ cup ground almonds
½ cup milk
½ cup raspberry jam
1 tablespoon boiling water

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5 and line a 20cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper.
2. Place the butter, sugar and vanilla together in a bowl and beat until light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs and beat in well. Stir through the flour, almonds and milk.

4. Spoon half of the cake mixture into the tin. Mix the jam and boiling water in a small bowl until smooth. Spoon half of the jam over the cake mix in the tin, top with the remaining batter, then spoon the remaining jam over the cake. Swirl the jam through the cake using a palette knife or a butter knife.

5. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until the cake is cooked when tested with a skewer.

Cook’s notes

Oops. I forgot to mix the jam with the boiling water, which I presume makes it easier to spread. Oh well, it still worked out ok.

This cake took about 65 minutes to cook in my oven, rather than the 50 or so specified.

Other good flavours that might work: blueberry, gooseberry, plum, maybe lemon curd… Just about anything!

*Besides, there’s still a lovely jar of pink grapefruit marmalade for them, so I don’t feel too bad.

Look at what Dad brought back from Bettys Tearooms.

How cute are they? The mice are little sponge cakes covered with marzipan and the lion-bears are butter biscuits with a jam filling (which makes them posh jammy dogers).

But it’s very difficult to eat anything that looks up at you so appeallingly. So Mr. B sensibly picked the eyes off his lion-bear first.

Right, I’m off to enjoy the rest of my holiday. so there probably won’t be any posts until the end of August but I promise to take lots of pics for a round-up post. Enjoy the sunshine if there is any (fingers crossed).


I'm short of stature (a family trait) but big of appetite (also a family trait). If you're reading this then you're probably big of appetite too. Or a member of my family (hello Mum).
July 2018
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