Category Archives: Snacks

Brain Cakes

Remember the time I made cakes that looked like brains?


The unavoidable answer to that question is ‘no, what are you talking about?’ because I never did write a blog post about them. Until now!

I only have phone photos – and low lighting phone photos at that – but you’ll be able to get the idea. These were a Hallowe’en project. The G man and I dressed up as Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry.


Zombie Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, of course. Paul Zombiewood and Mary Deady, to give them the names the G man dreamed (or nightmared) up.

A plate of brain cakes seemed like the kind of thing Mary Berry would do if she was a zombie, so I put some together to serve as a prop, in case the floral jacket wasn’t clue enough to our Hallowe’en identities.


The cupcake on the bottom is your basic vanilla sponge. I also made cake pops with the same batter – half as many cake pops as cupcakes. Then, when everything was baked and cooled, I sliced the cake pops in half, so I had half-spheres to perch on top of the cakes. These were the base for my brains. I liked this much better than having a solid lump of icing on top of every one – combined with the cake and jam, it would have been seriously, teeth-grindingly sweet. There is only so far I’m willing to sacrifice taste for style, you know.

I made a vanilla buttercream, which I dyed a lilac-grey colour, then added a touch of red dye until the icing was a slighly mottled pink-grey – like raw meat. Appetising, no? I mixed it up too far, actually,  so the end result was more pink than anything else. I suppose that did make them look a bit healthier, and your discerning zombie would eat nothing but the healthiest brains available, preferably free-range and organic ones.


I filled each cake with strawberry jam, leaving a big splodge on top of the cake to stick my half-cake pops to. Once they were all on, it was time to decorate – if I’d made the brains first, then tried to stick them on, I’d definitely have flattened and smudged the icing. The brain detail was piped on top with a fine nozzle. It was painstaking work, it must be said. I applied a straight line right across the middle, then used a back and forth looping motion to fill in each half, with any gaps being filled by extra little lines and loops.

They came out suitably gory, just right for a Hallowe’en party. For a last-minute idea (hence the lack of photos), they ended up being pretty great. This year I’ll be more prepared.

Unless Paul Zombiewood resurfaces and eats my actual brains.

Mother’s Day High Tea 2015 (and Deviled Tea Eggs)

Time for the annual Mother’s  Day round up! As you might know, every year Miss J and I put on afternoon tea for our mum, with a selection of little baked treats and (usually) fizzy wine. This year was no different, and without further ado I present to you our table:




There are some items that come back year after year, and some new ones that pop up as we see fit. It’s nice to have a mix, and it’s fair to say we always eat well. Let’s take a closer look.


One of the stalwarts of the Mother’s Day spread is the deviled egg. I still resent spelling ‘devilled’ with one l. It bothers me every time. This year I made Chinese tea eggs, and filled them with an Asian-inspired mix with hints of ginger and sesame oil, as well as mayonnaise and wholegrain mustard. They were finished with a haphazard sprinkling of black sesame seeds.




As well as being a feature of Mother’s Day, deviled eggs are one of the recurring recipes that show up here on Rock Salt. I’ll give links to previous years at the end of the post, but you can also check out my Maille Mustard Deviled Eggs and my Truffled Eggs post (that one’s from way back in 2011! Eek!).


Tea eggs are a beautiful way to make hard boiled eggs even more appetising – once the eggs are boiled, you crackle the shells by rolling them around on a cutting board, then soak them in a solution of strong tea plus your favoured spices for a day or two. I also add a dash of soy and a dash of sesame oil, for good measure. Or, you can always speed things up by boiling them in the spice mix for 40 minutes or so, and peeling and eating them on the day. The texture will change as you soak the eggs, but they taste just as good.




Note: one thing I did wrong with these was to work hard to separate the membrane round the egg and the shell when I was peeling them. Sure, it gives you a sharper pattern on the eggs, but the texture? Well, it leaves something to be desired.


Another common feature of our tea table is the mini bagel, although this year a combination of over-eager kneading and under-eager hole shaping left us with mini-rolls instead. We served them toasted, with cream cheese, cucumber and smoked salmon.





Another familiar item was the ham and cheese gougeres, adapted from the Prosciutto and Parmesan Puffs recipe on Leite’s Culinaria. I swapped the Prosciutto for diced smoked bacon, and the Parmesan for Pecorino. It’s the fresh herbs and black pepper that really take this one off the chain, though.




The last repeat offender (or unoffender, really, since we love them) was a plate of scones. This time, Wensleydale and blueberry scones, made to the Stilton and cranberry scones recipe I shared just after Christmas. I had intended to make the same ones again, but when I saw this more unusual cheese next to the Stilton, I couldn’t resist. These scones sit right on the border between sweet and savoury, and go well with too much butter.




We had two new entries for 2015. One was the beautiful butterfly cakes that Miss J whipped up in no time flat – I had suggested them because they reminded me of my mum baking when I was little. We gussied them up with vanilla buttercream and some pretty pink glitter. Don’t they look ready to daintily fly away? No? Well, no, alright, that would be terrifying and make us suspect that someone had drugged the cocktails.





Finally, I made a batch of mini doughnuts, following (and occasionally veering off from) Joy the Baker’s recipe for Baked Brown Butter and Pistachio Doughuts. I skipped the pistachios in the batter (I only had enough in the cupboard for decoration), and replaced the milk in the glaze with buttermilk. The glaze is absolutely heavenly, let me tell you.




These doughnuts also account for my most-ever ‘liked’ picture on Instagram. It’s been a thrill, seeing the love pour in for them!


We also created this rather beautiful cocktail, after a little trial and error in trying to get the layering right. It’s called the Red Meg, in honour of my mum, who has bolshie tendencies (don’t tell the Thought Police). It’s made by pouring a light sparkling wine into the bottom half of the flute, filling to the three-quarter mark with fresh orange juice, then pouring cranberry juice across the back of a spoon, and down the side of the glass, to give it the pretty colour variation from top to bottom.




Thus concludes our feast from 2015! If you’d like to see what we served up in previous years (and marvel at how my photo editing skills have improved), you can take a look at the last three years here:


Mother’s Day 2012 (with Deviled Eggs)

Mother’s Day 2013 (with Deviled Quail’s Eggs)

Mother’s Day 2014 (With Beet Pickled Deviled Eggs)


I almost forgot – we got mum a wee present, too. I’m sure it’s not being abused, and my dad is finding it as hilarious as we did…





Hummus for Goths (or, Black Garlic Hummus)


This post was made possible by Sainsbury’s, who sent me some black garlic to try. The opinions in the post are, as ever, mine, and the review is honest.

I heard about black garlic a couple of years ago, and went as far as to see where I could buy it, and then… stopped. I kind of forgot about it. It was there in the back of my mind, but I never took the extra step of actually getting some until Sainsbury’s asked if I wanted to try it. So really, it’s worked out for the best.


Black Garlic Hummus 008


I think the first thing to note, as was very much noted on Facebook when I posted this picture there, is that ‘jelly-like’ is not the best way to describe any food that isn’t jelly. Even then… there’s something offputting about it.



Looks innocent enough…


Depending who you ask, black garlic is preserved, fermented or plain old caramelised. Fermented is the most on-trend word to use right now, but sadly it’s also the least accurate. In fact, it’s completely inaccurate, there’s no fermentation whatsoever going on. It’s heated and heated and heated, but not fermented.


Black Garlic Hummus 020

Wait, what?


This is what lurks inside that papery husk. Cool, isn’t it? Think of it as super-duper roasted garlic – it’s sweet, and mild, with (as the packaging promises) balsamic and treacle notes. And it’s black as the depths of the ocean, if not blacker.


Black Garlic Hummus 024


You can use it in any recipe that calls for garlic, and even some that traditionally don’t, since the garlic flavour is so much more subtle than its white counterpart. Which is really counter-intuitive, because just look at it. It looks like death metal garlic. It looks like it’s going to taste really strong, and maybe of liquorice. It’s a little sticky, too, so if you’re chopping it up, a swipe of oil along the blade of the knife might not be a bad idea.



I can confirm that I’ve never had jelly of this consistency.


The first thing I wanted to try was hummus – it’s delightfully easy to make, so I wouldn’t have to wait long to taste test it. But, of course, I wasn’t going to make a plain old ordinary hummus. No, no. It was hummus for goths I was planning. Goths need snacks, too, you know. I assembled a trifecta of pitch-black ingredients: black garlic, black sesame seeds, and black salt.




The black salt – which you can see featured in my banner photo above – is flakes of sea salt mixed with carbon, for the distinctive colour and a hint of scorchy bitterness in the flavour. The black sesame seeds are more commonly found round the outside of sushi. In fact, when I was buying them, the woman on the checkout asked me if that’s what I was making. I hesitated for a moment before saying no, I was actually making a black garlic and sesame hummus. She was briefly fazed, before saying ‘sounds perfectly normal to me.’ Good job, checkout woman.


I made this hummus in the food processor, though it can also be done by hand, either with a fork or with a knife and patience. This was how I did it:

  • 400g tin chickpeas in brine – drained, but with 1 – 2 tsp brine reserved
  • 2 cloves black garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 – 2 tsp black sesame seeds, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp black (or plain) sea salt
  • a squeeze of lemon juice, to taste

Everything except the brine from the chickpeas and the lemon juice goes into the bowl of the food processor. Whizz it all up until the black garlic is evenly dispersed, and then add enough of the brine so that the hummus is smooth – I used about a teaspoon. Have a taste, and add lemon juice until it’s the way you like it. A couple of small squeezes were enough for my liking. You could also add black pepper (goth pepper), if you fancy it.




Sprinkle with more sesame seeds – the tiny crunch you get from them is great – and serve.

I’ve looked up some more ways to use black garlic, and I do believe there’s a risotto on the cards, but for a quick way to get trying, this hummus is the way to go. It’s not what you might call a traditional recipe, but that’s never stopped me before.

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