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Julie Philpot

Small sponge

Victoria sponge, that takes me back to going round to my nan’s house and having tea and cake.  I think it is one of the first things I attempted to make by myself and there were times when I ended up with a flat pancake rather than a sponge, but with practice I had success.  My sponges were ok – but I didn’t want ok I wanted them to be better.

Having tried so many recipes over the years, one day by some fluke I added crème fraîche to my sponge mix as I had run out of milk. Voila! The moistest, fluffiest sponge ever.

The basic method is the same, so cream together equal measures of a good quality margarine (which I find gives a lighter sponge than butter) and caster sugar, making sure that you whisk thoroughly until the mixture is pale and creamy.

Add the eggs one at a time (one egg per 50g of sugar) and whisk after each egg is added.  Add the flour to the bowl and gently fold it in. Once nearly folded in, add one dessertspoon of crème fraîche per egg and fold in until all the flour and crème fraîche is incorporated.

Bake the sponge at 180ºC / Gas 4 for around 17 minutes for cupcakes and about 20 to 25 for a full sponge.

Here is my recipe for cupcake buns – makes 12.

150g good quality margarine
150g caster sugar
3 eggs
150g self-raising flour
3 desserts spoons of crème fraîche

Give this a try at home and let me know the results.

One last tip – if you are freezing the cakes then put them in the freezer when slightly warm and they will be lovely and moist when defrosted ready for topping.

October 1, 2017 0 comment
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How to make gluten free pastry

With so many people these days having gluten intolerance and coeliac disease, finding ways of making food to accommodate their dietary needs has become essential.

I make my own gluten-free pastry and have, over time, developed a foolproof recipe which seems to work and is more manageable than others I have tried in the past. Usually, gluten-free pastry is much more difficult to work with as it has a habit of cracking and falling apart. It is tricky to roll out and sticks if you are not careful about keeping the work surface well floured. I switched to using margarine instead of butter which has helped to overcome some of the difficulties.

My daughter is gluten intolerant so this is why I started to experiment more to be able to give her the food she would otherwise not be able to have. Cheese straws are an example of something she said she missed. Using this pastry, I was able to incorporate the cheese in my usual way. The result is not identical, but she confirms it is a good substitute.

She, like many people who have this intolerance, has struggled through finger buffets and other catering events to find anything she can eat because lots of things are pastry based. When I am catering for buffets and afternoon teas my experience with these recipes has (so far) been universally positive.

Gluten intolerant people so often find their needs are not catered for that having a decent alternative on offer is such a rarity that on its own this can be a big win.

But with this recipe you can go further than simply providing an alternative – you can give them an experience that is the full equivalent.

Try this out with your gluten-free friends, and let me know how you get on!


My recipe for gluten-free pastry


  • 225 g gluten-free plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum
  • Pinch of salt
  • 100 g margarine
  • 1 free range egg


  1. Sift the flour, and add the xanthan gum and salt.
  2. Rub the margarine into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the egg and enough cold water to bind the dough together. The pastry does need to be wetter than normal pastry. You will find that it has a tendency to stick, so you will need to use lots of flour when rolling out.
  3. Refrigerate for at least half an hour before using as you would your normal pastry. It will freeze well, and should stay good for up to three months.
August 19, 2017 0 comment
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Making samosas

Kids are surrounded by fast food, and even the most diligent parents can struggle to get them interested in eating and enjoying good food.

Something I have always thought about is this – can you teach children to have a love of food and to inspire them to cook whatever their experience has been to date? With so many cookery shows on TV now it does seem that children want to learn to cook.

This isn’t just a theoretical question. For the past two years I have been asked to go to a local school and, in their activity week, teach a group of 12 -13 year olds to cook Indian food.

And it was just last week therefore that I needed to grapple with the question again and do my best to bring cooking to life for an energetic and, possibly sceptical, young audience!

When I got there, I found that the class was a mixed group – two lads and twelve girls. There were certainly some that were keen and excited, but others were noticeably lacking in confidence and suffering from nerves.

The class at work

The dishes we were cooking were vegetable samosas, lamb keema and aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes).

I explained that the recipes they would be using were taught to me by an Indian family from the Punjab and that they wouldn’t find these exact same recipes in any cook book. That helped make the session seem more exciting – the thought that they might be learning something others didn’t know. And none of them had cooked Indian food before.

But that alone doesn’t solve the nerves.

The challenge was probably most obvious when it came to the area of getting the youngsters to taste their food as they worked. There were several who were unwilling to do this at all. When I asked them why, they said that they didn’t think they would like it!

It’s hard to have fun and be creative if you have that mindset from the beginning. My own experience with my three children at least gave me some insight into this. I always tried to get them to taste as I cooked. Sometimes I’d be asked whether or not they would like it. All they got from me was the challenge to ‘try it and see’.

But they at least were a lot easier to raise than one of their school friends, who would only eat Ready Brek. And by that, I mean Ready Brek for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That would have driven me to distraction!

But there are limits to what you can do with a group like this in one day. If you get too focused on that sort of detail, then it stops being fun – and the key to success is getting a session where they feel treated like adults, and where the process of cooking is inherently a pleasurable thing rather than a chore.

That said, I did get through to some of them by letting them know that, whereas I’d tasted their food and told them when they needed more seasoning for the earliest dishes, for the last dish of the day they would need to do this for themselves – since I wouldn’t be there when they did it at home! There were certainly a couple of the kids for whom the lightbulb went on when they tasted the difference between under-seasoned and properly-seasoned food.

We started the morning with a demonstration on how to make the filling for the samosas and how to chop the vegetables and ‘cook out’ each ingredient to ensure layers of flavour.

With that dish simmering away, there was no time to rest. We had to get on with preparing onions, garlic, chilli and ginger for the next dish which was lamb keema. Since they had started to get the hang of what we were doing, it was time to up the pace. Rather than me doing a demonstration and then them following suit, now they had to cook along with me from the start. That helped to give them a sense of responsibility for keeping pace, and probably helped avoid the attention wandering as well!

After they’d been propelled through the task at hand to the lunch break, they could relax for a while. But once they came back, the biggest challenge was still waiting for them. A challenge that plenty of adults have struggled with. In my own early days, it was something I had problems with myself.

Namely making the samosa pastry and assembling the finished samosas.

I did a demonstration first and we used a mixture of egg yolk, cornflour and water to make a paste to seal the samosas. This was a tip I’d learned in sealing spring rolls in Thailand – an approach that would help stop the parcels from bursting open during the frying process.

Assembling a samosa

As none of them had done this before we did get some funny shaped samosas all different sizes. Of course, they weren’t allowed to actually do the deep frying themselves – for obvious reasons. But their creations had to stand up to the cooking that we subjected them to.

Out of the 14 children, the number that were actually successful in creating at least one samosa that was a complete success was …

14. That’s got to count as a result. All the samosas tasted good, even if the look of some of them was a little unconventional. And nothing encourages enthusiasm quite like success.

14 happy children all keen to make the dishes again for their parents during the summer break. They all got to take home the food and the recipe sheets too.

There are limits to what you can do it one day. But I think we made real progress. Teaching them was exhausting but a joy to see them getting pleasure from preparing food from scratch. Hopefully, it will become a habit that follows them into adult life, and never again will any of them feel the need to avoid tasting something because “I might not like it”.

July 23, 2017 0 comment
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My earliest food memory is probably standing on a chair, rolling out pastry with my nan. Creating good food from scratch was always at the heart of my family, and it was sessions like those (even if, in retrospect my nan did all the work while I “helped”) that gave me my passion for food and cooking.

In turn, I have always encouraged my children to cook from an early age. Even if it doesn’t become a passion for them, it remains one of the most useful life skills.

That’s all very well when they’re at home. Of course, once they leave to go off to university, there are so many reasons why they might fall into bad habits.

When two of my children went off to university I made sure they had some cheap, nourishing and simple dishes they could make and also keep within the constraints of their budget.

I was surprised just how many of their peers seemed unable to do this. They had never learned at a younger age, and believed that cooking was complicated, that home cooked food would take a long time and be more expensive.

But there are really good reasons why good nutrition really matters to the education and development of young people. A 2011 study showed that improvements in the food and drinks consumed by sixth graders in a US school had a real positive impact on their academic progress.

So to address this need I decided to introduce ‘Off to Uni’ cookery classes.

The aim was to make food fun and relatively quick to prepare, and to give the budding students a number of recipes that they had mastered that would be practical, nutritious and delicious.

In other words, to get them cooking food fast instead of eating fast food.

It seems to be a successful formula. Having run over a dozen of these classes, I’ve had happy customers (both the students-to-be and their savvy parents who often were the ones to enrol them).

Do the habits stick? I hope that most find they have picked up a lifelong habit.

I did get some direct feedback from the brother of one former student who followed in his sibling’s footsteps a couple of years later.

According to him, his brother was not only using his skills to feed himself, but also his culinary prowess had won him attention from members of the opposite sex. That’s an angle I hadn’t even thought about when promoting the courses!

So if you’re in the position of waving a tearful goodbye to your young adults heading bravely into a new world of academic excellence and you would like to give them the gift of a new habit that will be valuable to them for the rest of their lives (and may just improve their dating life as well!), this may be something you’d like to consider.

Contact me for details of courses.

Alternatively, below is a recipe that I’ve found to be useful for students. Let me know how you get on with it.

Sweet potato and lentil soup

Course Soup
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 1
Author Julie Philpot


  • 25 g red lentils
  • half onion small
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • 100 g sweet potato cubed
  • 100 g floury potatoes cubed
  • half pint vegetable stock

Curry paste

  • 0.25 teaspoon turmeric
  • 0.25 teaspoon coriander
  • 0.25 teaspoon cumin
  • 0.5 teaspoon garlic paste
  • 0.5 teaspoon ginger paste
  • 0.25 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • 1 teaspoon rapeseed oil


  1. Mix all the curry paste ingredients together into a paste.

  2. Cook lentils in boiling water for 15 minutes. Chop onion and cook in a little oil for few minutes until softened and beginning to brown.

  3. Add chopped garlic, curry paste and cubed potatoes, cook for 5 minutes. Drain lentils and add to potato mix along with stock. Cook for 15 mins until potatoes are soft. Blend until smooth. Season to taste.

May 2, 2017 0 comment
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