Conquering hollandaise


I can’t express adequately how much I love hollandaise. Often when I go for brunch I tell myself I can’t possible have Eggs Benedict again, then find myself picking it – how is one meant to resist?! Sometimes pancakes win, and that’s okay, but there’s something so divine about the combo of poached eggs and hollandaise. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures.

However, until last weekend I had only ever had hollandaise when out or out of a jar (yes, I know – but the Maille stuff is pretty bloody good!). Buoyed by having made a successful first attempt at madeleines the night before I got to work. And I’m not going to lie, I was surprised by how well it came together.

I used the recipe on BBC Good Food website and halved the quantities, still plenty for two! Word of warning; if you’re sensitive to salty food (like I am) you may want to use unsalted butter or a butter you know not to be overly salted, then season yourself. Mine was delicious but I prefer it to be tangier. Live and learn.

I’ll definitely be making it again, just with my trusty Yeo Valley butter instead. Yum.

Finished iced and decorated chocolate lips cake

Luscious lips chocolate cake

Finished iced and decorated chocolate lips cake

Yes those are glittery lips!

If you hadn’t guessed by now, I love baking. I’m also somewhat of a chocolate fiend, so when looking for last minute birthday cake inspiration for one of my loveliest and closest friend’s birthdays, I turned to John Whaite’s beautiful book (again!).

John Whaite cook book chocolate cassis cake

The recipe and inspiration!

To make the cake taste extra special I used some Willie’s Cacao Rio Grande dark chocolate drops (for the 85g melted chocolate) and Divine cocoa powder.

chocolate lips cake ingredients

I’m a big fan of muscovado sugar in chocolate cakes as I think it gives it a nice fudgey note. I wasn’t sure about using butter, oil and eggs all together, but it definitely made for a really light sponge, with a nice crumbly texture.

chocolate lips cake mix stages

Cake mix stages – bottom left shows digital scales in action, one of my favourite Christmas gifts you can set it to zero in between each ingredient so you don’t have to use lots of bowls, jugs etc.

I didn’t have any blackcurrants lurking in the freezer, so I swapped these for raspberries. I cooked the raspberries in the amount of cassis John recommends stirring through the cream – or mascarpone in my case. Sweetened slightly with a few tablespoons of icing sugar, the cooled raspberry and cassis mixture was stirred in to create an utterly delicious and pretty pink filling.

Chocolate lips cake construction stages

1. Putting cassis syrup on the sponge 2. Raspberry and cassis mascarpone cream going in the middle 3. Second syrup soaked sponge on top, covered in dark chocolate buttercream and 4. Top of finished cake, covered in edible glitter.

The original recipe called for nothing more than the syrup on top, but I decided it needed glitter. And lips (we got her a Lulu Guiness purse – her work famously features lips!). This looks really pretty, but edible glitter is amazing at making something so simple look complex. All you need to do is dust your buttercream or frosting in the colour of your choosing, cut out a stencil and sprinkle the other glitter over this. Et voila! You have yourself one luscious lips cake.

This is easily one of my favourite cakes I’ve ever made. It’s simple to prepare and tastes absolutely amazing. I’ll definitely be making it again.

Chai infused fudge

Chai fudge…might be one of the best things I've ever made 🎉

A post shared by Sian Julian (@sianjulian) on

I do love fudge. Sweet, creamy, totally indulgent…what’s not to love. I really can’t believe it’s taken me till now, my 26th year, to attempt to make it! Especially as it’s relatively easy as sweet treats go.

I could’ve stuck with the purity of Nigella’s Vanilla Fudge recipe, which is the basis for this, but I wanted something more festive. Whenever I have a cup of chai it always reminds me of Christmas-time, no matter what time of year it is.

So, I thought ‘I wonder if chai fudge would work?’ I can assure you it does. I didn’t really know how to go about doing it so pretty much went on instinct, brewing the tea bags in milk and adding that to the mix…it worked out really well.

I kept some for myself, but the rest was distributed to other family members and friends who were very happy about the matter!

PS – this recipe is not just for Christmas, it would make a lovely birthday present or treat for when you fancy something sweet.

Recipe and method: Nigella’s Vanilla Fudge

For the chai flavouring

1) Measure out your milk (it doesn’t specify, but I used organic whole milk as semi or skimmed probably doesn’t have enough fat)

2) Pour into a heavy bottomed saucepan and gently heat until steaming hot, but don’t boil

3) Remove from the heat and pop in two chai tea bags; leave to brew for at least five minutes. You want it to release as much flavour as possible.

4) Leave to cool and use in the recipe as normal.

Top tips

Use a sugar thermometer if possible – I did use the ice bowl method too, but at least with a sugar thermometer you know it’s been cooked to the right temperature.

You could swap the milk for cream, and infuse that instead.

If you don’t have an electric hand whisk, I would suggest having someone on hand to help you beat…I did it for about 8 minutes with the electric whisk!

If chai isn’t your thing, then what about another tea? Earl Grey or redbush might be nice too.

Spiced choc cupcake

A spiced chocolate cupcake experiment

Spiced choc cupcake

I had an intense craving for dessert the other night, but nothing to hand. So I decided to raid the store cupboard (note – more like very messy baking cupboard) and see what I could come up with.

I had a pot of Green and Black’s cocoa powder, and as it’s the festive season I thought why not make a quick all-in-one spiced chocolate cake mix? So I did. And it was good. Although, I think it would benefit from some orange zest and milk chocolate chips (I didn’t have any!) next time. The addition of some melted dark Green and Black’s on the top was a very welcome bitter note, though perhaps too bitter for some!

I didn’t actually write the recipe down, but the method is simple…4-4-2-4. If in doubt, stick to this old classic ratio of ingredients 4 ounces each of butter, sugar and flour, plus two eggs. It works every time.

In this case 3oz flour plus 1oz cocoa – though you could do less or more, depending on your palate. Add spices to taste – I used 1tsp cinnamon, a squirt of nutmeg syrup, 1tsp vanilla essence and 1/2 tsp mixed spice.

I used the Mary Berry classic all-in-one method i.e. chuck it all in a bowl and beat with an electric whisk until smooth. I baked them for 12 minutes at 180.

Serve warm, straight out the oven with some extra melted chocolate and cream if you like.

Here’s a handy link to Nigella’s website for anyone looking for metric / cups equivalents

Upside down apple cake

Upside down apple cake

If you hadn’t guessed by now, I’m quite a fan of cakes and baking. One of my favourite writers is John Whaite, winner of the third Great British Bake Off. I loved his creations during the show and knew I’d want his book John Whaite Bakes as soon as it came out. It doesn’t disappoint – every recipe is beautiful and personal. You feel like John is talking to you over a cuppa, which is somewhat of a rarity.

Upside down apple cake

I’m clearly incapable of taking non-wonky pictures…

I’ve had my eye on this recipe – which has the lovely name ‘Golden heart cake’ – for a while now, but simply hadn’t got round to making it. Standardly, I started without checking I had everything required and took my typical approach of modifying the recipe to suit what I did have (I left out the cranberries)!

I also didn’t attempt to make the caramel lattice to go on the top; I’m not a huge fan of that kind of caramel, and after bodging the first lot which goes in the bottom of the baking tin, I frankly ran of patience. Butterscotch / caramel sauce is definitely more my domain – and I think next time I make this cake, I’ll make a separate sauce to pour on.

apple cake from above

you can see the caramel disaster as not all the apples are coated – still tasted divine though!

The essential things you need for this cake are: a heart-shaped baking tin and patience when making the caramel sauce. Otherwise, it’s a pretty foolproof recipe with delicious results. If you’re a fan of apple cake, then I highly recommend this.


For the fruit and caramel
200g caster sugar plus 2 tbsp water for the caramel
3 apples, peeled – slice two and dice one
Zest of 1 orange – 1/3 (the rest goes in the sponge mix)

For the sponge mixture
170g salted butter, softened
170g golden caster sugar
170g self raising flour3 eggs – important that your eggs are at room temperature
50ml milk
1tsp good quality vanilla extract
1tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp mixed spice
Zest of 1 orange – 2/3 (see above!)
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp lemon juice

upside down apple cake close up


1) Pre-heat your oven to 180 (mines a powerful fan oven so you may need to adjust accordingly!). Slice 2/3 of your apples and dice the rest to stir through your batter.

2) Make the caramel – a sugar thermometor might help you avoid a disaster! I think next time, I will stick to my normal tactic of scattering demerara sugar over the base of buttered tin before adding the slice fruit.

3) You could follow the recipe itself, or you could employ Mary Berry’s all-in-one approach which is what I did because I was in a rush. To do this, put all the ingredients bar the diced apple in a big mixing bowl and beat till combined using an electric hand mixer.

4) Pour the caramel into the buttered cake tin. Place the sliced apples on top, ensuring you cover the whole area (as you can see, I’m not the neatest at this!). Pour the batter over the top and pop in the oven.

5) Bake for 25-30 mins, check and cover if necessary with a piece of foil. Continue baking until a skewer or cake tester comes out clean. Leave to call in the tine for a few minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. Serve yourself a piece at once, if you like (I did, it’s delicious warm!) – it would be lovely with cream, ice cream etc. too.

Ginger Mincemeat in jars

Christmas baking: ginger mincemeat

I’ve been a bit slack lately with blogging, life has simply got in the way. Rather than beat myself up about it, I decided its okay to take a rest sometimes – especially as my wrists have been hurting a lot lately. Anyway, I’m not one to moan so enough about that.

ginger mincemeat ingredients

All the things you need – I tried to get organic dried fruits where poss, but it’s not essential!

The festive period is a time of year I always look forward to. Seeing friends and family you haven’t seen in a while – and those you have. Making and sharing delicious food; going out for meals; drinking festive drinks (did someone say mulled wine?!); and of course, the main event itself. I love everything about it, from the smell of the Christmas tree to the delicious dinner, crackers and giving gifts. I can’t wait till I have my own house so I can start my own traditions too (FYI – this will involve a LOT of mulled drinks, pastry goods and ridiculous decorations).

Anyway, on to the point in hand. Last year, I wrote about my ‘marvellous mincemeat’ as I like to call it – it’s an adaptation of a Mary Berry recipe, so you simply can’t go wrong.

Ginger Mincemeat in jars

Note – you don’t need to buy/use fancy jars, keep old jam and chutney ones. Just clean and sterilise before you use them!

I’ve been at it again this year. Only this time, I put it into smaller jars with the intention of sharing the love; one jar has gone to my boyfriend’s lovely mum, who has as sweeter tooth as I do, and another will go to one of my best friends who also appreciates the deliciousness of ginger.

The recipe and method hasn’t changed at all, except I doubled the amount of stem ginger simply because I love it, and in my opinion it can take it. if you don’t like ginger, just leave it out and replace with another dried fruit e.g. cranberries, or some chopped nuts (I imagine almonds would work well).

Preparation of mincemeat

I’m making a fair few other edible gifts and bits of bobs for the festive period this year, so I’ll post up the rest of my endeavours in due course. Expect to see chutney, fudge, truffles and biscuits. If anyone has any tips or tricks, or favourite festive recipes I’d love to hear them! And if you make my mincemeat, I hope you enjoy it.

Butternut risotto above view

Roasted butternut squash risotto

Butternut risotto above view

This is my Grandma’s dish – a ‘pie plate’, but I also like using it for dinner sometimes.

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: risotto is a treat to cook.

It couldn’t be easier to make and requires minimal ingredients. I’m lucky enough to have some amazing rice – a variety called baldo, straight from the growing region. My step-dad went on a business trip and the people he met out there gave him loads as a gift. Whether you can get or find baldo or not (I’m sure in delis and some supermarkets they’ll have it), the way you cook the rice is important. My top tips are use lots of butter / oil, stir often (but not constantly) and hot stock – I keep my stock hot in a separate pan on the hob. I find you end up with a creamier risotto, yet the individual grains remain more intact.

This one, with sweet roasted cubes of butternut squash, meaty mushrooms and creamy dolcelatte, is an absolute delight. It’s perfect for a ‘Meat-free Monday’ or any day you fancy something a bit lighter – I personally don’t subscribe to one day of the week, sometimes I’ll have multiple veggie meals a week, sometimes not. Anyway, that aside, I absolutely love this risotto – perfect flavour and textural combo.

I purposefully made extra as it tastes even better the next day – great for a filling, warming packed lunch!

Butternut risotto side view


300g risotto rice
1 x stock cube (I use Kallo organic) dissolved in 500ml boiling water
1 x medium white onion, diced
1 x garlic clove
Fresh or dried thyme
Salt and pepper
Butter and oil for cooking the onions and rice

1 x box of chestnut mushrooms (about 250-300g), sliced
1 tsp dried herbs
1 x garlic clove

1 x medium butternut squash, cubed
1 tsp dried thyme
1tsp dried oregano
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper
Sunflower / vegetable oil for roasting

Dolcelatte, cubed for serving
Parmesan, grated for serving
Fresh herbs – optional, for serving


Butternut risotto cooking stages

1) Preheat the oven to 180. While it’s heating, prepare your squash. I peel it first, cut the top and bottom off – slice the top section, then cut the rounder bottom bit in half. Scoop out the seeds (reserve for roasting, if you like), then diced up into 2-3cm cubes.
2) Put the cubed squash onto a roasting tray with about 1-2tbsp oil, plus all the herbs and spices listed underneath it. Mix up with your hands. Then put in the oven to roast. They should take about 40 minutes.
3) Dice your onion, sauté it in a heavy bottomed pan with butter, olive oil, seasoning and thyme, for about 8-10 minutes until they’re softened but not browned. Meanwhile prepare your stock and put it in a separate pan on a low heat. Once the onions are done, add your rice. Stir until coated in butter/oil, and cook for about two minutes until translucent.
4) Begin adding your stock gradually, ladel by ladel – stir intermittently and don’t add the next ladel until the previous is fully absorbed. You should see the starch start to release straight away.
5) Slice your mushrooms, cook in a large frying pan (with the ingredients listed underneath it) over a medium-high heat until nicely browned. Set aside.
6) After about 20 minutes, check your rice. If it is still too crunchy, continue with the process of adding more stock and stirring. Once you’re happy with the rice, stir in your mushrooms and cubes of butternut. Taste and check the season, adjust as necessary.
7) Serve in bowls with dolcelatte, parmesan and fresh herbs, if you like – rocket would also be nice too. Enjoy!