Maxine bakes around the world

Maxine Owen was the runner-up in our Jubilee cake competition and makes deliciously inventive baking creations. Join her as she explores different traditions around the world.


Well what could be more traditional than an English Victoria sponge? I know we are now well into the festive season, but I have included these mini versions for a light and refreshing alternative to all the other rich foods on offer. You could of course add a Christmassy touch by using a seasonal festive filling, but our family enjoy these at tea time over the holidays, when mince pies are less of a novelty!

My first cookery lesson at school was not very inspiring – it was how to make a cup of tea! Followed by slicing bread and toasting it, then chocolate Rice Krispies cakes. Then we were given a list of ingredients to bring in the following week so we could make a classic Victoria sandwich, our very first proper bake. I was sooooooo excited and could not wait for the next class to come round.

So after lots of mixing, pouring in to 2 greased and lined tins, they were ready to bake. They were placed on a baking rack to cool, perfectly risen, warm and the delicious smell was so tempting. After mid break time we all returned to the classroom whipped up our cream, then spread it onto one sponge, and on the other we spread strawberry jam. Sandwiched them together and dusted the top with icing sugar. Carefully putting into my tin I walked proudly home, looking forward to showing Mum my creation. In my haste to open the tin to show her, my grip on the sides was lost and I dropped the lot on the stone floor. I stood alongside the sorry mess crying while the dog could not believe her luck and tucked into the cake devouring every last crumb.

Mum came to the rescue though, she gathered up all the ingredients we needed to make another. A lovely bonding time with Mum and Daughter mixing and baking together, and we created the best cake ever.

So tea time was on again. My tears were forgotten as we tucked into the lovely light sponge and delicious filling. So I decided to make mini cakes as a tribute to my mum for making my tears turn to smiles.

These mini versions turned out really well and were a hit with my taste testers. Oh and thanks Mum for rescuing me that day!

Hope you enjoy making these as much as I did….


6oz each of castor sugar, soft butter, sieved flour with 1 tsp baking powder and 3 eggs. A few drops of vanilla extract (optional) Milk. Whipped cream and jam for filling


  1. Grease a 12 portion deep Muffin tin. Set oven to 200C conventional oven or 180C fan assisted.
  2. Put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and using the all in one method, beat until the mixture is thick and creamy, adding milk if needed. Spoon into into each muffin cup, place in oven and bake for 15-20 mins until golden and risen. remove and leave to cool on a backing rack.
  3. When cold cut each one in half and fill with jam and whipped cream. Dust with icing sugar and enjoy with a cuppa!


Sri Lanka

This fabulous country is one place I will never forget, and freshly picked mangos and lychees once tasted are never forgotten, the fruits you buy here lack the beautiful sweet sun kissed taste. But as I doubt if I will get that experience for a while, well the supermarket will have to do. Still as delicious never the less.

I brought a box of very mangos from the market a few weeks ago and after eating a couple I used the rest to make chutney and of course some cakes. Combining the flesh of mango with coconut made a very moist and fresh tasting sponge. Topped with buttercream, toasted coconut strips, a dried mango slice and a chocolate stick they looked typically tropical and tasted wonderful ….wow was I taken back in time, siting under the shade of palm trees sipping wonderful cocktails made with fresh fruit and enjoying the ambience – enjoy!

Get the recipe: Mango and coconut cupcakes

Facts about mangos:

  • Mangos are one of the most popular fruit in the World
  • Mangos were first grown in India over 5,000 years ago
  • The paisley pattern, developed in India, is based on the shape of a mango
  • A basket of mangos is considered a gesture of friendship in India
  • Mangos are related to cashews and pistachios



Over the years my hair has been a rainbow of colours, but my favourite is bright red which I currently have. Red is a colour that I like though rarely wear as it brings back some memories of my teenage years.

I was around 14 and had a Saturday job in the local market in Watford. I did not like it very much as the hours were long and it was poorly paid, also the stall holders were quite rough and intimidating. They sold fashion jewellery and there were always plenty of customers, mainly young girls spending a little of their hard earned cash to liven up an outfit that they would be wearing that Saturday evening.

Clothes were not mass produced and cheap back in the 70s as they are now. I had to save up my hard earned money for a few weeks before I had enough to buy a fashionable outfit. Every Saturday, I would spend my lunch break looking round a few of the trendy boutiques, imagining myself in some of the clothes.I was so looking forward to having enough money saved to buy something new.

 Get the recipe: Red cherry and raspberry velvet cupcakes

Finally the day came when I had enough saved to buy a skirt. I had my heart set on a fashionable midi length one in red! I teamed it up with a red short sleeved ribbed sweater, the latest style of tights – thick lacey white ones and a pretty red scarf. Sounds hideous now but that’s fashion for you.

I took the bus home that night and felt so excited about going out to the youth club disco that evening, wearing my new ‘fashionable’ gear. Perhaps this would be the night that a lad I had my eye on might notice me and ask me to dance?

Two of my friends came round and we spent ages getting ourselves ready, typical teenagers, giggling about boys, experimenting with makeup and sharing secrets. Oh the joy of having something new to wear, I cannot explain how I felt when I put those new clothes on, I felt grown up and proud that I had brought them myself. We all stood in front of the mirror and smiled at our reflections.So looking forward to the night ahead. At the moment in time I felt wonderful, that feeling was to be very short lived.

We all came downstairs ready for the off, called out cheerio to my parents. My Dad called me in to lounge and said ‘Are you going out looking like that?’I responded ‘yes’ and he was quick to reply ‘Well don’t stand still at the end of a road, and don’t open your mouth, as you may be mistaken for a post box.’ Then he turned away to carry on watching football on TV. No longer did I feel ‘Wonderful’, I wished I had made a different choice of outfit.

I ran after my friends and told them I would not be going with them, I cannot remember the excuse I made, I went home and had an early night. The clothes were never worn again.

I rarely wear just red now but having red hair is probably an act of defiance, and after 40 years no one as of yet has posted a letter in my mouth.

So these little American cupcakes match my hair and had to be included in my blog. Enjoy!

A few facts about red velvet cakes:

  • Red velvet layered cake is popular in the USA. This cake is a chocolate flavoured sponge that is coloured red with food colouring then layered up using cream or frosting.
  • When artificial colouring was in short supply I believe beetroot was used in the recipe.
  • Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York put this much sought-after taste treat on its menu. Legend has it, the cake actually originated in the hotel’s kitchen.
  • There are now a wide assortment of red velvet flavoured desserts, including muffins, cupcakes, cookies, ice cream and even Red Velvet M&Ms.



I stumbled upon this recipe a while ago and promised myself when I had a day for me I would make it. This cake is a German speciality that has spread to many of its neighbouring countries. There are many versions as to how the cake got it’s name. According to Wikipedia: “the cake may have earned its name from its honey topping: according to one legend, a bee was attracted to it, and the baker who invented the cake was stung. Another source cites a legend of German bakers from the 15th century who lobbed beehives at raiders from another village, successfully repelling them, and celebrated later by baking a version of this cake named after their efforts.”

Anyway, although this cake takes some time to make the results are well worth it, especially the honey and almond topping, which I could have eaten by the spoonful. A word of warning, please don’t sample the topping straight from the oven as I did, the hot honey mixture burnt my tongue. Maybe that’s how it got its name as my mouth did ‘sting’ for a while.

Get the recipe: Bienenstich ‘bee sting’ cake

This cake brought back a long forgotten memory. Around the age of 13 I took my younger brother out to buy a birthday present for our Mum. We discovered a local junk shop and enjoyed looking around, it was stuffed full of interesting nick-nacks. We both brought a pressie for Mum. I found a pretty silk scarf, my brother spent his money on a chipped, lidless, china honeypot.

He came home and wrapped it up and set it aside until her birthday. The day arrived and on opening and taking out this cracked pot she smiled and said it was the best present she ever been given. Indeed it was to change my mum into an avid collector of honeypots and anything bee related!

Everywhere we visited we would, as a family all go on the search for a different pot – a family obsessed by these jars, but her favourite was always the cracket lidless ones. When she died I inherited the collection for a while – an obsession indeed, as there were over 250 of them, each one a different design. You know even now when I see a honeypot I smile and remember her and her delight when she opened her pressie.

So now you know why I chose to make a bee sting cake. Funny thing is, none of us even liked honey!

A few facts about honey:

  • Honey bees have five eyes
  • Bees have been producing honey for at least 150 million years
  • It is the only insect that produces food eaten by man.
  • “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live?”~ Albert Einstein
  • Eating honey can help you get smarter! It is the only food to contain ‘pinocembrin’ that is an antioxidant that improves brain function




It’s been a bit warmer today and things are starting to grow quite quickly in the garden. We have already had lots of rhubarb, which I have used in sweet and savoury dishes. The last of the swede have been lifted, strawberry plants are in flower and the herbs are springing back to life. Best of all the raspberry canes are starting to come into leaf. This sparked a memory, once again of my Nan.

Like most Nans years ago they had some odd ways of doing things. So many people I speak to that grew up when I did remember tea time, with their Nan holding bread against her body, supported under her left arm. She would then cut slices of warm bread at the table for us. As far as I am aware no Nan had an accident cutting bread this way. We would then spread it with thick butter and jam – my favourite flavour being raspberry.

Although my Nan made lots of jam and chutney, using produce from the garden, we rarely had raspberry jam. When I got older I discovered why…

Get the recipe: Raspberry cupcakes

Most women in the 50’s and 60’s wore an apron every day for household tasks to keep their clothes clean when cooking and doing messy household chores. Aprons always come with pockets and I am sure many odd things were stored in them, but I bet none were used to keep pieces of cheese in.

Nan would potter about her daily tasks, stopping here and there to pop a piece of cheese in her mouth when the fancy took her. I am afraid I take after her for loving cheese, but I don’t store it in my apron! Her other love was raspberries, and when they were in season she would harvest them to serve with fresh cream that evening but rarely was there enough to make jam. I discovered why one day as I helped her around the house. When she thought I was not looking she produced a fruit from the stash she had in her pocket and ate it followed quite quickly by another and another – so Nan wherever you are, I hope the raspberries are plentiful.

Facts about raspberries:

  • Scotland is famous for its raspberry growing and in the late 50’s raspberries were taken from Scotland to Covent Garden on a steam train known as the Raspberry Special.
  • Traditional folklore recommends the use of raspberry leaf tea for pregnant women, it as it is suggested it may shorten the second stage of labour. Most sources agree that it should be avoided in early pregnancy.
  • A myth, which originates from Germany, says that to tame a bewitched horse, you should tie a raspberry twig around the horse’s body.
  • Unlike many other fruits, unripe raspberries do not ripen after they are picked




Brack cake is one of those comfort cakes for me, especially during the winter months. A mug of tea and a slice of cake on a dull day lifts my spirit, the thing is one slice is never enough.

The smell of freshly baked brack cake always takes me back to revisit my childhood. Growing up when money was tight so many mums made this as it was cheap and easy to make. My mum always had this in the larder, along with rock cakes and fruit buns. She was a bit of a lazy baker and when she had a baking day she made these bakes as they had a longer shelf life.

Baking was an everyday occurrence in most households, shop bought treats were too expensive for many families. I can remember looking in the bakers window as a child so wanting to try the mouth-watering delights on offer, and was always ever hopeful when my mum came out of the shop that she might of brought some for teatime, but no, our treats were always doughnuts.

Get the recipe: Irish Barmbrack cake

Communities were much stronger when I was growing up, and us kids would spend time playing at each other’s houses. Everyone’s ‘mum’ was known as Aunty and they would look out for us. Mid-morning and afternoon whoevers house we were at ‘aunty’ would call us in and give us glasses of orange squash and a slice of cake. Mums would drop by to have a natter with another mum, and before long a pot of tea was made and cakes would be carefully taken out of their storage tins, and placed on plates covered with paper doilies.

Mum had a friend who she visited once a week for a cuppa and a chit chat. She always took me with her and I was expected to play nicely with Aunty Doreen’s son. When you are only six and a half, boys are alien beings and I hated having this forced playtime, especially as the only toys he ever seemed to have was his train set – boring! He would spend time provoking me until I cried, usually by pulling the ribbons out of my hair or calling me names. I would run to my mum who would always say ‘don’t be silly darling; you are old enough to stick up for yourself’. An afternoon there was horrible apart from one saving grace, Club biscuits and lemonade. Those biscuits were delicious, covered with the thickest chocolate. I am sure that the covering now is so much thinner, or is that an exaggerated childhood memory? I thought this family must have been very rich as they could afford these treats.

To think I thought this family were posh with their shop bought chocolate biscuits, and wished our family could afford them but now I think home baked treats made with love have more pleasant memories and definitely tasted better.

Facts about Irish Brack:

  • This cake is a traditional Halloween cake in Ireland.
  • Each member of the family has a slice. Baked within the cake is a piece of rag, a coin and a ring. If you get the rag then your financial future is doubtful. If you get the coin then you can look forward to a prosperous year.
  • Getting the ring is a sure sign of impending romance or continued happiness.
    There is some discrepancy over the origin of the name “barmbrack.” Some say it comes from barm, meaning “yeast,” and brack, meaning “bread.” Others claim the words mean “little speckled cake.”




I believe the Provence Region of France is the area most of us think about when we smell lavender, but the English lavender is the most sought after for medicinal purposes as it has a high oil content. Here at home we have a lovely lavender border, which this year with the warm summer has attracted so many bees and butterflies. Likewise my mum and my gran both had this lovely perfumed herb in their gardens. Both of them would gather up the flowers to dry, then make scented sachets to hang in their wardrobes to deter moths and to keep their clothes smelling fresh.

One of my aunts who was not renowned for her baking decided to make a cake using lavender. She had seen the recipe in a woman’s magazine and thought it would be a very trendy offering for tea time. This is back in the mid 60’s, when many new foods and recipes were becoming available for people to try. Holidays abroad were the choice of many and they wanted to prepare food that they had tried on holiday to impress their family and friends.

Now my aunt had only dreamed of places far away, and had a desire to visit France. She tried so hard to act and dress ‘Classy, like the French Ladies’. So fashionable patterns and fabric would be brought and up to date clothes were made. A bit of red lipstick and her hair swept up into a chignon bun would complete her makeover to resemble her idea of a typical fashionable French lady.

Get the recipe: Maxine’s lavender and lemon cake

So when she saw this recipe she decided this would be the best cake for a special tea and would reflect her idea of tea time in Provence. We all sat round her table where she had set the places with her best china. A pot of tea was brought in followed by the largest cake I had ever seen. A little burnt around the edges, but then that was Aunt’s trademark on all of her bakes. She was so proud of her trendy, exotic cake, and cut a generous slice for each person at the table. My Granddad remarked ‘Looks like dead fly cake’ as he eyed his piece up. My Nan replied ‘It’s lavender flowers my dear, very French’. His eyes went heavenward, ‘You won’t get me eating that foreign muck’ as he reached across and took a piece of swiss roll from the other side of the table!

He was the lucky one at tea time that day, as we all bit into that cake, us children immediately spat it out, and the adults politely munched and swallowed. My Aunt had not realised that she only had to use the little flowers and needed to discard the stalks. Not wanting to throw anything away she had chopped them up and mixed them into her cake mixture along with all the other ingredients.
So here is my version of lavender cake, inspired by a very unusual teatime at my Aunt’s!

Facts about lavender:

  • The Egyptians used the lavender herb in the process of mummification and perfuming.
  • Lavender was used widely for its medicinal purposes during World War I to bathe the wounds of soldiers with lavender washes.
  • Nowadays, lavender is grown in many parts of the world for commercial use and the Provence region of France is widely renowned as a world leader in growing and producing Lavender.
  • The asp that killed Cleopatra was said to have been found under a lavender bush.



Bananas are one of the main everyday staples in our house, but I can remember my mum telling us that during the war they were a rarity, and when her and her sister were given one each they were not sure what to do with them and tried to eat them whole. She also said when they were shown how to peel them they made them last all day by just nibbling them, goodness know what the fruit looked like by the end of the day, a blackened mess I expect.

Fast forward to mad diet ideas – the 60’s gave us the start of many quick fix diets and the choice of my mother and her many friends, the banana diet. Mum just lived on them and not much else, she did lose weight, but like many of these diets when returning back to a regular diet she put the weight back on!

Get the recipe: Maxine’s banana and Maltesers muffins

Due to the way Maltesers were advertised around the same period with the slogan ‘the chocolates with the less fattening centres’, Mum assumed she could eat as many of these chocolates as she liked, then wondered why she gained inches!

The first time I saw bananas growing for real was in the early 80’s in the Gambia. Eating them when they were freshly picked was an experience I still remember. The locals rarely had the pleasure of chocolate and when we produced some bags of Maltesers to share with children in a little village we were visiting they were overjoyed, and like my mother with her first taste of bananas they tried to make them last as long as possible. So I have brought these 2 ingredients together as a reminder of a lovely holiday and my wonderful Mum. I am not so sure though that these cakes are low in calories or will be an aid for slimming though!

Facts about bananas:

  • More songs have been written about bananas than about any other fruit.
  • More than 100 billion bananas are eaten every year in the world, making them the fourth most popular agricultural product.
  • Bananas first appeared in written history in the 6th century B.C.
  • Banana peels are actually edible if cooked.
  • Banana plants are the largest plants on earth without a woody stem. They are actually giant herbs of the same family as lilies, orchids and palms.



I am writing this in my little workshop on a rainy summer afternoon. Memories of holidays in faraway places spring into my mind along with flavours of local foods. Lime and coconut is used so much in Caribbean cooking and were the main inspiration for these little cupcakes.

Do you remember Snowballs? They were the confectionary kind – soft marshmallow, covered in chocolate and desiccated coconut. I know you can still buy them now, but they don’t taste at all as I remember them when I was small.

I was about 9 years old and my aunt had paid a visit one afternoon, on leaving she gave me some pocket money, a rather generous amount, a whole half a crown, which was two and a half shillings in old money, but I think is now equivalent to just over 12pence in today’s money!

I was supposed to add this gift to my money box, but I took it to school with me and my best friend and I decided to visit the sweet shop on the way home and spend it. Oh you could get so many penny sweets for this amount of money, we chose all our favourites including some of the yummy snowballs. We kept our stash in our school satchels until we were in the safety of my bedroom. We then hid all our goodies in my dolls pram, smiling in the knowledge of a shared secret, we went off to play. It was a delicious thought knowing we could go back to my room and have a sweet feast later.

Returning to my room after tea we came across a pot of bubbles and took it in turns to blow them while the other danced around clapping hands to burst them. We soon got fed up with this game and turned our attention to my little side lamp that sat on the bedside cabinet and alongside the dolls pram. The lamp was switched on and in the delight of seeing the beautiful colours of the bubbles when we blew them across the light bulb made for smiles until BANG! The bulb exploded. My mother came rushing in and was very cross, as children we did not see the dangers of this game it was only the rainbow of colours we were interested in.

Glass was spread over the little cabinet, bed, carpet and pram. Our stash of sweets was discovered as she removed the covers from my pram. My mother did not have to say a thing, one look from her could kill an elephant, I was in trouble. My friend was sent home and I was sent to bed.

Mum put all my sweets in a tin and put them high up on top of the kitchen units. My punishment? Well every evening when I got home from school I sat down with my glass of squash, she had her usual cuppa and each evening she ate one of my sweets out of the tin. I learned my lesson and was always careful to put any money given to me straight into my money box.

I did smile one evening though as she tucked into one of my delicious snowballs, she ended up with some of the marshmallow on her nose, not realising it was there she carried on with the evening chores, and even opened the door to a neighbour with the sticky blob still intact – revenge indeed!

Get Maxine’s coconut and lime cupcakes recipe here

Facts about Snowballs

  • The snowballs I loved as a child are made by Tunnock’s and were invented in 1952, you can still buy them today.
  • The company was founded in 1890 and is run by Boyd Tunnock, 80, the founder’s grandson
  • In 2009, Scottish author Craig McGill wrote a poem dedicated to Tunnock’s Snowballs:

Fair fa’ coconut sprinkled face, Great chieftain o the teacake-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place, mallow, choc, or cream:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace As lang’s my arm.



Tea at my Gran’s was always a feast, ‘Sunday high tea’ as she called it, included toasted buttered crumpets in the winter and sandwiches, usually egg and cress, in the summer. This would be followed by jelly and ice cream or a homemade trifle. More tea would be made and poured from a huge teapot, and cake stands would appear, full of cakes that she would of baked the day before. For some reason known only to herself, she considered it was not a proper feast without a shop bought Swiss roll.

I was not keen on it and rarely ate any, we all used to tease her about the predictability of the Swiss roll, but the cakes she baked would vary from week to week. One of her regular sayings was ‘always keep lots of standbys in the larder, just in case’. As a child I always wondered about this just in case… just in case of what? But now I completely understand, if she was unwell and could not bake, the Swiss roll would be in larder so we could have cake with our cuppa!

As I grew up she became more and more sophisticated and adventurous with her baking and I seem to have inherited the ‘baking’ gene from her. I remember carefully laying the table with one of her embroidered tablecloths, then all the goodies would come out, all on flowery plates with paper doilies on!

One particular Sunday, when I was 15, she left a space right in the middle, went back to the kitchen and came back with the most delicious looking cake, and was greeted with oohs and ahhhs from from all of us. She proudly placed it in the saved space, and announced ‘there, Gran’s chocolate roulade’ with which my Grandfather replied swiftly back ‘looks like a bloody Swiss roll to me’. Her face fell and although we all thoroughly enjoyed the cake she never baked another roulade ever again!

So in memory of Granny Dora Jane I have created my own version of a roulade/Swiss roll.

Get Maxine’s strawberry roulade recipe here

A few facts about strawberries:

  • Strawberries are a member of the rose family.
  • Folk lore states that if you split a double strawberry in half and share it with the opposite sex, you’ll soon fall in love
  • In France, Strawberries were thought to be an aphrodisiac. A soup made of strawberries, thinned sour cream, borage and powdered sugar was served to newlyweds.
  • If you’re watching your waistline, why not sprinkle a little black pepper over your strawberries instead of the usual calorific cream? It doesn’t sound that appetising, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised.



I grew up in the 70s during so many social changes; one was our attitude to the food we ate. Travel had come to the masses and after sampling and enjoying foreign dishes on holiday, we wanted to recreate the same meals at home to impress guests, at the new fashionable dinner parties. More supermarkets had sprung up stocking the ingredients we needed so we could cook these exotic meals and cookery programs were changing how we ate and prepared food. I remember my Gran enjoying the likes of The Galloping Gourmet, Fanny Craddock and Ken Hom, and a young Delia – the top TV celebrity chefs of the 70s.

My Mum’s version of spaghetti Bolognaise had an unusual twist …..she boiled up beef mince, tinned tomatoes, mixed herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper for the sauce, then served it over a bed of mashed potatoes. My Father refused to eat pasta ‘That foreign muck,’ he called it. My brother and I would sit and eat at the table believing we were eating something from abroad, when in actual fact it was nothing more than a different presentation of my Mum’s cottage pie!

My Mother did not like cooking and when I got home from school she would be standing at the sink peeling potatoes. I would ask her what was for dinner that evening, and her reply would always be the same, ‘I am having a think while I prepare the spuds’. Meals generally consisted of meat, vegetables and a serving of potatoes. Although a reluctant cook, she did make fantastic gravy to pour over the dry meat, burnt sausages, and overcooked soggy veg! She could also rustle up a superb apple sponge and custard for dessert on a Sunday.

In the 70s people did not eat out as often as we do now, so it was an occasion to dress up and enjoy a meal. My mum always looked forward to going to a restaurant, a break from cooking, and loved to wear her finery and be spoilt. She would make a big thing of studying the menu while sipping her G&T, but we all knew she would always have the same choices….the 3 very fashionable dishes of the day….prawn cocktail, steak Diane and black forest gateau. Us kids would suppress giggles when she ordered her dessert as she would ask the waiter for…’A nice slice of Black Forest Gatox with cream please”… the waiters were always polite and never picked her up on her mispronunciation of gateau. My parents would always order a bottle of the then popular Blue Nun wine to wash the whole meal down….so 70s!

So in memory of my mum I have created these mini Black Forest gateau cakes – a modern spin on a classic German bake.

Get Maxine’s mini Black Forest gateau cakes recipe

A few facts about The Black Forest 

  • The Black Forest in Germany is known for its cuckoo clocks and for Black Forest gateau. 
  • The forests in “Hansel and Gretel”, “Snow White”, and “Rapunzel” are based on the Black Forest. They are all German fairy tales.



I have recently returned home from a trip to Rome, enjoying all the sights, the shopping and, of course, the wonderful food and wine! I now need to get back on that promised diet as a step on the scales tells me I have overeaten. Well, who can resist a hot bowl of pasta, with a huge dollop of ragu sauce, followed by a calorie-laden dessert (chocolate seeming to be the most popular), all washed down with a delicious wine!

This city evoked a few memories…my 3 children having to learn Latin at school, bored and fed up with it they often recited the following lines. ‘Latin is boring, as boring as can be. It killed off all the Romans and now is killing me’! I hasten to add they all gave it up as soon as they could.

I think most of us would think of marble when it comes to Italy. The word marble is from the Greek word Maromos, which means shining, sparkling stone. My Nan had a love of marble, having lots of statuettes, bathroom and kitchen accessories and several large marble ashtrays dotted around her flat. Of course her treasures were made of fake material but she treated them as if they were the most precious items in the whole world, and cleaned them just like everything else, to within an inch of their life! She was very house proud and it got her into trouble on more than one occasion. Apparently my Grandfather got so tired of her constant cleaning and polishing, he went out for a while, returning with a very large sack of chicken feed and scattered it around the entire house, grumbling: ‘There you go woman, now you’ve got something to clean’ and no doubt she had a few happy hours clearing that mess up!

Wandering round the Coliseum I could feel the atmosphere of times gone by. The Romans enjoyed their days there, being entertained, by gladiatorial contests and public spectacles, including re-enactments of famous battles, animal hunts, executions, and dramas based on classical mythology. This arena could accommodate over 50,000 people, that’s over two and a half times more than the O2 Arena….wow.

You have to shut your eyes and imagine how the ancient people would have seen this wonderful building, before the fall of the Empire. Mosaics, bright marble walls, gold decoration statues, paintings, flower and fauna made this arena a feast for the eyes. Like many of the ruins all the riches were taken and used elsewhere, for new buildings, churches and of course The Vatican City.

A lovely short break which we thoroughly enjoyed….oh and we happened to be in the city when the new Pope was announced, so a special trip indeed….

So to celebrate our visit I have created these little cakes, bringing the Romans love of marble and chocolate together. Not a crumb was left behind after my testers had tried them. Enjoy x

Get Maxine’s chocolate marble cake recipe

A few facts about Rome

  • Ground marble is used in products such as paper, paints and in toothpaste
  • Rome has a museum that is entirely dedicated to pasta.
  • Romans used cobwebs to stop bleeding from fractured skulls and shaving cuts.
  • They believed kissing a she-mule on the nostrils cured hiccups and sneezing.



I have an infinity with the moon as I was born on the 3rd 3rd at 3am under the silvery light of the full moon! And no I do not go hairy and howl under it, well not that I have noticed….lol My mum was superstitious about so many things, she always said it was unlucky to look at the moon through glass, and would always get cross if she saw us doing so. If I did catch a glimpse of it through my bedroom window I believed monsters would come and get me, or something bad was going to happen. As I got older I realised it was a silly superstition, today I can now stand and look through the glass and admire its beauty without fear. I haven’t as yet met a monster lurking in my house!

Other old wives tales she frequently quoted ‘Eat all the crusts of your bread, it will make your hair go curly’. Well I ate them, and yes I do have curly hair!!! She also nagged on about watching TV ‘You are sitting too close to the television, it will make your eyes go square’. Oh, and ‘Don’t pull a face like that, if the wind changes direction you will stay like it’. Is this why I look like I do????’ I am sure we all have our own little superstitions….mine is touching wood for good luck, and saying ‘Morning Mr Magpie’ while saluting him!

I was lucky to travel to China a while back, and was there during the autumn moon festival. It’s a week-long public holiday, an occasion for family and friends to get together to celebrate and rejoice in all things moon, especially mooncakes. These are traditional cakes, a crust on the outside then filled with lotus seed paste and a cooked salted duck egg. The egg is placed in the centre and represents the full moon. They are quite labour intensive and nowadays most people buy them rather than make them. Today all sorts of ingredients are used for the filling, fruits, nuts, and vegetable pastes, sponge cake, yoghurt, jelly and ice cream. There are also low-fat versions for the health conscious.

Get Maxine’s moon cake recipe

During our travels, we stumbled upon a newly-opened supermarket, not part of the tour, but nevertheless as memorable as all the regular tourist attractions. It was busier than Tesco’s on Christmas Eve and much more entertaining! One section was devoted to tanks of live creatures….turtles, toads, crabs and a huge variety of fish. I stood in amazement watching people catch their own fish, using either the conventional way with a net, or just putting their hands in the water, pulling them out and slinging them in their trolley! One very tiny Chinese lady wrestled with a very large fish, but it made a bid for freedom and slid along the floor, closely followed by the lady and a few others who had decided that this catch was theirs. Eventually this tiny lady won and the fish was unceremoniously dumped in the trolley with all her other shopping. No laws on cross contamination here – imagine a giant fish flapping away on top of the rest of your weekly groceries. How the cashiers dealt with this chaos I have no idea!

The bakery department also proved to be a source of hilarity. Although not so funny for the people who wanted these yummy moon cakes for their feast. There was a big crowd pushing and shoving, no polite English queues here. One couple got into a fight, while another couple discovered an alternative means of bagging these treats. The wife sat on her husband’s shoulders, which gave her a longer reach….stretching over the crowd of heads she snatched a box of freshly baked cakes, crushing some of the contents. She seemed unfazed they were damaged, but smiled and cheered as she slipped off her husband’s shoulders and wandered off clutching the precious cakes!
I have paid for entertainment that was nowhere near as funny as the hour or so we spent in that supermarket!

A few superstitions and myths about the moon

  • Never sleep exposed to the rays of the Moon because lunacy will follow.
  • If you blow nine times over a wart when it is full moon, the wart will disappear like magic.
  • A wish made while looking at new moon will come true within a year.



Memories of America came flooding back today as I was munching on some delicious M&Ms. I had given myself a severe talking to and made a promise to only eat a small handful of the sugar-coated chocolates, but before I knew it I had eaten the whole packet!

When I was around 8 years old we had a young American couple, Holly and Jim, as neighbours and I adored them. I loved listening to their accent, although I did find some of the words they used a bit baffling… jam/jelly autumn/fall, rubbish/garbage, sweets/candy and biscuit/cookie.

I was introduced not only to a new way of speaking, but many American treats, including M&Ms, which I enjoyed, but English Smarties for me were the clear winners. Choosing the red one I would lick the outside of the sugary coating to moisten it, then spread it over my lips… ‘smartie lipstick’. I thought I looked so cool! My Mum thought otherwise and would scrub away the sticky mess, all the while telling me that I should not play with my food!

One of the games I played with Smarties was ‘Tinker Tailor’. Placing all the sweets in a circle, I would chant tinker tailor, solider, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, touching each sweet in turn, always eating the last one out then carrying on the ritual until there until only one was left – that would be the occupation that your future husband would have!!! This game made the sweets last longer, but I always cheated so I would end up with a rich man!

I spent quite a lot of time next door with Holly, in her delightful warm kitchen helping her bake, my favourite treat was biscuits… sorry, cookies! So I decided, in memory of wonderful days spent with my American friends, to combine cookies with M&Ms. I know this is not a new idea but nevertheless I was probably one of the only English children in the 1960s to help bake and savour M&M cookies in the comfort of Holly’s kitchen…..

Get Maxine’s giant M&M cookies recipe

Facts about M&Ms 

  • M&Ms originated in the United States in 1941 and are now sold in as many as 100 countries. 
  • In 1998, M&Ms were styled as ‘The Official Candy of the New Millennium’. MM is the Roman numeral for 2000. 



Today’s bake is a traditional treat from Australia – Lamingtons are little sponge cakes coated in chocolate and coconut. I discovered the cakes on a trip to Australia a few years ago when I sat in a little café and the waitress suggested I tried them. Nibbling on this delicious cake and sipping hot tea, I was reminded of some long-forgotten childhood memories…..

Get Maxine’s Lamington cakes recipe

Do you remember having snowballs as a child? Wonderfully gooey mallow coated in chocolate and coconut. They always tasted delicious when I was little and I remember my mother having to clean my face up afterwards, quite briskly with a clean handkerchief that she would have moistened with her tongue… why did mums always do that?

Pavlovas are also a traditional Australian treat and they really remind me of Sunday tea at my Nan’s house. She was a great cook and the table was always heaving with so many tempting goodies. She would always produce a batch of meringues and give me the job to whip the cream and sandwich them together as she got the tea. It always made me terribly feel important and grown up, but in hindsight I expect it was actually a ploy to keep me out of the way! I used an old-fashioned metal whip, the cream took ages to thicken and my arms ached, but the smile my nan gave me when the task was complete made it all worthwhile.

So with the combination of 2 recipes and some memories I decided to pay a tribute to my mum, nan and of course all Australians, by combining the Lamington cake with a mini deconstructed pavlova. I hope you enjoy them as much as my taste testers did!

Facts about Lamingtons and Pavlovas

  • The Lamington is named after 2nd Baron Lamington, who served as Governor of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. According to legend, Lamingtons were first served when Lord Lamington took his entourage to Harlaxton House to escape the steamy heat of Brisbane.
  • The pavlova is a mixture of egg whites and sugar, topped with cream and fresh fruit, named in honour of the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have invented it.

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