Scarily Good Ghostie Meringue Cupcakes


Today was the first bake sale of the school year.  Being a new reception(that’s kindergarten if you live in America) parent, I took the opportunity to show off a little.  I asked my daughter what kind of cake she’d like me to make and she said CUPCAKES!  At first I thought, ugh too twee but the more I thought about it, the more I realised Claire Ptak’s sweet wine cake would probably not be appreciated by the kinder set as much as I love it.

So with Halloween around the corner, I decided to make chocolate buttermilk cupcakes with chocolate buttercream, Oreo cookie crumbs, and Swiss meringue ghosties.  Everyone loved them.  Except for Helena.  I am ashamed to say she bought a pink sparkly fairy cake that came in a plastic wrapper instead.



Ingredients for the cakes:

2 ½ cups flour

2 cups sugar

5 heaping tbsp cocoa

¼ t. salt

2 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk

2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 cup strong hot coffee


Method: Mix ingredients together except for the baking soda and hot coffee.  Dissolve soda in hot coffee then add to batter and gently stir to mix.  Don’t be alarmed by how liquidy the mixture is.  This is why the cakes are so moist.  Fill cupcake holders ¾ full. Bake at 350F/180C/Gas 4 for 18-20 minutes.


Ingredients for the chocolate buttercream frosting:

250 grams (about 2 sticks if you’re in America) unsalted butter, softened

4 cups powdered/icing sugar

1/4 cup cocoa powder

75 grams melted dark chocolate

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp salt


Method: First, put the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a small simmering saucepan of water.  Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water.  When the chocolate has melted, set it aside and allow it cool to room temperature.  Then combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Use a hand mixer or standing mixer to beat the frosting until fluffy.  If you think it’s too thick, mix in some milk a tablespoon at a time until you get the consistency you desire.  Be careful though, thicker is better for this frosting.


Ingredients for chocolate cookie crumbs:

1 sleeve of Oreo cookies

Method: Simply put the Oreos in a food processor to blitz.  When they are all crumb, put them in a shallow dish.


Ingredients for Swiss meringue:

6 egg whites

220 grams of caster sugar

1 tsp cream of tartar



Method: Whisk the ingredients in a large heatproof bowl.  Once combined, place the bowl over a small saucepan of simmering water and continue whisking.  Place the thermometer in the mixture.  When it reaches 160°F/71°C, remove it from the heat.  Using an electric mixer, start beating the mixture on a medium speed.  Increase the speed after a few minutes high and keep beating until shiny stiff peaks form.

*Heating the meringue to 160°F/71°C will pasteurize it, just in case you’re worried about eating raw egg white.


Other items you will need:

black food coloring on a plate

a birthday candle with a plastic holder attached and/or a matchstick

a pastry bag with a wide nozzle


How to assemble the cakes:

  1. Once the cupcakes have cooled, frost them with the chocolate buttercream.
  2. Gently dip the frosted sides of the cupcakes into the Oreo crumbs.
  3. Spoon the meringue into the pastry bag.
  4. Pipe ghosts on top of the Oreo cookie covered frosting.
  5. Dip the pointy end of a birthday candle holder or a matchstick into the black food coloring. Carefully dot it on the meringue ghostie to make eyes.
  6. Using the bottom of a birthday candle, dot on a mouth doing the same.

For transport, I used a Freddie’s Flowers box!  It was perfect.  Who knew?





Though I am not actually Jewish, I am very Jew-ish.  Probably one of the most Jew-ish goys you’ll meet.  I can’t help it.  I grew up in Hollywood.  My step-father is a Jewish screenwriter.  His parents are from New York and all the old family photos look like stills from Once Upon a Time in America.  Nana from Flatbush.  Jack from the Lower East Side.  When Jack was growing up, his father was in the clink for racketeering.  So who’d stop by to check in on him?  Meyer Lansky, also known as The Mob’s Accountant.  At least that’s the story I heard.

Growing up, most of my friends were Jewish.  They still are.  By the time I was 13, I had attended so many bar and bat mitzvahs that even I knew the haftarah.  The first time I saw an uncircumcised penis I was baffled by it.  For years, I wore a star of David around my neck and every Yom Kippur I like the way my heart feels after I atone.  When I was cast to play Fran Drescher’s daughter on a sitcom, I put a mezuzah on the post outside my dressing room door.  Ditto my first apartment.  My first kiss was with a Jewish boy and my husband, well, to quote my Nana the first time she saw a picture of him, “His name is Jeffreys but why do I get the feeling he’s a member of the tribe?”  Because he is and the name is actually Jaffe; the family changed it in 1927.

Things I don’t do: sweat, feel proud, get choked up, feel flustered.

Things I do do: schvitz, kvell, get verklempt and fershimmeled.

I also make a mean challah.  Below is the recipe.  Though I love to eat it straight out of the oven, it’s also great to make pain perdu with a day later.


Living with Fran "Who's The Parent" (Episode #101) Image #LWF101-0451 Pictured (l-r): Fran Drescher as Fran Reeves, Misti Traya as Allison Reeves Credit: © The WB/Scott Humbert



3/4 c + 2 tbsp milk

1/4 c + 1 tsp sugar

3 tbsp runny or slightly melted honey

2 large eggs + 2 yolks

4 cups all purpose flour

4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

2 tsp dried active yeast

1 1/4 tsp salt



For the egg wash: 1 egg + 1 tbsp water + 1/2 tsp salt



Warm the milk to 115F.  Transfer it to a large bowl and add the yeast plus the 1 tsp of sugar.  Allow to rest for 10 minutes.

In another bowl, combine the 2 large eggs plus the 2 yolks and the melted butter.  Pour this into the yeast mixture and stir together.

Add the flour, remaining 1/4 c of sugar, honey, and salt.  Use a wooden spoon to combine it all.

On a lightly floured counter top, knead the dough until smooth and supple, roughly 10 minutes.

Place the dough in a large lightly buttered bowl.  Cover it with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise.  It should double in size in about an hour.


After this time, uncover the dough and punch it down.  Then cover it again with the plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 30 more minutes.

Uncover the dough and divide it into 4 even pieces.  Roll them into ropes that are approximately 16″ long.


Pinch the tops of the 4 ropes together to form an end of the loaf.  Now braid the strands as illustrated in the video below.

OR, you can take your 4 ropes and braid them into a round as illustrated in this video:

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C/Gas4.

Line a tray with baking paper.  Place the braided loaf on the paper.  Cover it back up with plastic wrap.  Allow the challah to rise for another hour.



Press a finger into the dough.  If the indent stays, it is ready to bake.

Paint the challah with a thin layer of egg wash.

Bake for 20 minutes then remove the loaf from the oven.  Paint another thin layer of egg wash, but only over the center of the braid.

Return the tray to the oven and continue baking for another 20 minutes.  Be sure to watch the color of your loaf.  When it’s the shade of brown you desire, remove the loaf, tent it with foil, then return it to the oven to finish baking.  Remove the foil for the last few minutes of baking.




sliced-1 toast


I have had the immense pleasure of staying at a friend’s villa in Spain this week. The weather has been beautiful, the peaches ripe, and the cerveza blissfully ice cold.

Though dinner has been delicious every night we’ve been here, tonight was something else. Below is my recipe for spicy clams with sherry and chorizo. I hope you like it.



1 kg small clams

1/2 c chorizo, chopped

Olive oil

1 tomato, seeded and diced

1/4 c finely chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small dried red chili, chopped

1/4 c dry white wine

1/4 c Tio Pepe sherry

Chopped parsley

Method: Wash your clams and set them aside. In a large pot, cook the chorizo. When it is done, remove it with a slotted spoon and set it aside. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the chorizo dripping then sauté the onion, garlic, chili, and tomato in it. When the onions are transluscent, gently add the clams. Stir to mix. Add the sherry and white wine then cover the pot with a lid. Cook on medium heat until the clams open. Throw away any that don’t. Stir in the chorizo and top with parsley. Be sure to serve this with your favorite bread to mop up the broth.






Orange Almond Rhubarb Crumble Cake

My in-laws live in a country suburb in John Betjeman’s bucolic Metroland. It is a place where “knickers” with an exclamation mark constitutes a swear and on summer weekends village cricket reigns supreme.  The local church is more than 1,000 years old and the local watering holes have appeared in Richard Curtis films.  Spotting the forked tails of red kites flying high is a common occurrence as are bake sales, car boot sales, charity fun runs, bonfire nights, Scottish Association sponsored dance nights, and dogs in the pub.  It’s wonderful and on the weekends there is no other place I’d rather be.

This past Saturday, we didn’t stay the night though we did stay for elevenses and lunch.  Helena chased around Charlie cat while Henry read the papers and my mother-in-law tended to her garden.  It really is the most magnificent garden I’ve ever seen.  The flowers are abundant as are the fruits and vegetables.  For lunch, we had salad and cherries.  Afterwards, I made a floral arrangement for the house.

When it was time to leave, I took a bunch a rhubarb with me.  Which brings us to today.  I have just made the most delicious cake with said rhubarb and below is the recipe.  Because it is not that sweet it’s perfect for tea, morning or afternoon.

bucks bouquet

My floral arrangment

Gifts from the Garden of Eatin'

Gifts from the Garden of Eatin’



125 grams room temperature butter, unsalted

3/4 c caster sugar

3 eggs

1 1/2 c flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp orange zest

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 c ground almonds

3/4 c milk

Enough chopped rhubarb to cover the top of the cake, for me this was 5 ribs

Crumble topping of your choice. I had leftover crumble in my freezer from Claire Ptak’s raspberry muffin recipe so I used that. Should you not have any on hand, crumble the following with your fingers until it resembles coarse meal: 1/4 c butter, 1/4 c sugar (I like to mix light brown, Demerara, and caster), 1 heaping tbsp flour, 1/3 c ground and flaked almonds.  Feel free to add some oats or desiccated coconut as well.


Preheat the oven to gas 4/180°C/350°F.

Prepare a 10″ cake tin by buttering it and lining it with paper.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale in color and fluffy.

Mix in the eggs one at a time.

Fold in the flour, baking powder, and almonds.

Incorporate the milk, vanilla, and zest.

Pour the batter into the cake tin.

Scatter the rhubarb pieces on top of the batter then sprinkle as much crumble as you like over that.

Bake for about an hour or until a skewer emerges clean when plunged into the cake and pulled out again.

Cool and serve.  Add Greek yoghurt or cream if you like.



Dill Pickles

Dill pickles are my favourite.  Of all the flavours I miss from the States, they’re at the top of my list.  The first time I tried a dill pickle in the U.K. I was surprised by how sweet it was.  I’ve tried many others since, but none live up to the crunchy, garlicky, vingeary goodness of my youth.

For a while when I was a kid, I went through a phase of only eating matzo ball soup or reuben sandwiches. Luckily for me, my parents had a house account at Greenblatt’s Deli.  I ordered food from there all the time.  I ordered it so much that when went I went to college my dad called them to place a delivery one day and when the driver arrived at the house he was surprised to find someone other than me at the door.  “Where’s the little girl?” Yves wanted to know.  Each time I’d come home for the holidays, I would go to Greenblatt’s to get my fill of pastrami and pickles.

Here is my refrigerator pickle recipe.  I’m too greedy and impatient to let anything ferment properly.  I simply cannot wait that long.  Like the dill pickles I love , these have a sharpness that are sure to “make your toikey poikey” as the Vlasic pelican would say.

p.s. I have Russian friends who swear drinking pickle juice is the best hangover cure.



1 pint jar with a lid, washed and sterilized

3-4 Persian or Kirby cucumbers

2 smashed garlic cloves

1 tsp mustard yellow seeds

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp dill seeds

a few stems of fresh dill (these aren’t necessary as the dill flavour comes from the seeds, but I like the way the fresh dill looks–like seaweed swaying in a briny current)

1/2 c cider vinegar (for a bit of sweetness)

1/2 c white wine vinegar (for sharpness)

1 cup water

1 1/2 tbsp salt

optional: 1 tsp of sugar if you really want


Place the garlic, mustard seeds, dill seeds, and dill weed in the bottom of your jar.

Next, wash and dry the cucumbers then cut off their blossom ends.  If you don’t,  your pickles might go soggy.  Quarter the cucumbers and put them in the jar, packing them as tight as you can.  If you have to trim them so their tops don’t stick out, do so.

In a small saucepan, bring the water, vinegars, salt, and sugar if you’re using it, to a boil.  Once a rolling boil has been reached, take the brine off the heat.  Pour it over the cucumbers leaving a 1/2″ of head room.  Seal the jar and let it come to room temperature then place it in the refrigerator.  Try to wait at least 2 days before cracking it open.  I never can, but the flavour does intensify the longer you can leave it on a refrigerator shelf.

Small side note:  I usually can’t fit 4 cucumbers in a jar, but I always need more than 3.  What I like to do is top up my cucumber spears each time I take one out.



Strawberry Shortbread Sundaes


I love ice cream.  I love it so much that when I was child, I used to celebrate my birthdays with sundaes instead of cake.  Now that I’m an adult I celebrate with both.  Frankly, because I can.

For me, no sundae spells summer quite like strawberry.  Which is why I am going to share my strawberry shortbread sundae recipe with you.  The inspiration for it comes from one of my favorite milkshakes in Los Angeles–the strawberry shortcake from MILK on Beverly Boulevard.  It’s creamy and crunchy and bursting with strawberry sweetness.  Think of it as the summer solstice in a bowl.

Ingredients for the strawberry sauce:

400 g strawberries, halved

1/2 cup apple juice

the juice of half a lemon

caster sugar, anywhere from 2 tbsp to 1/4 cup depending on how sweet you like it


Method:  Place all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over a low flame.  Stir until all the sugar has dissolved then turn up the heat and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat.  Purée with a hand blender.  Pour into a small pitcher and allow to cool.  Once room temperature, chill the sauce in the refrigerator.



Ingredients for the shortbread:

2 oz caster sugar + a little extra for dusting

4 oz room temperature butter

6 oz plain flour

1/4 tsp vanilla extract


Method:  Preheat the oven to gas 5/190C/375F.   In a large bowl, mix the butter, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.  Beat in the flour a bit at a time until incorporated.  The mixture will be extremely crumbly.  Use your hand to push the dough together in the bowl.  Shape it into a disk.  Cover it with plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator for half an hour.  After this time, remove it and roll it out on a lightly floured surface.  I actually prefer rolling mine out on wax paper.  Roll it so it’s about 1/2″ thick.  Cut out shapes with cookie cutters.  Place them on a baking tray.  Sprinkle them with a bit of sugar and bake for about 15 minutes.  Do not let the cookies brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.


To assemble the sundaes: Crumble part of a shortbread biscuit in a bowl.  Add your ice cream.  I like a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of strawberry, sometimes a bit of strawberry sorbet.  Top with strawberry sauce and the rest of the shortbread crumbles.  Put on the Beatles and enjoy.





Spicy Pickled Radishes

I don’t care much for radishes unless they’re pickled, but recently my daughter begged me to buy her a bunch.  We were at the farmer’s market when she spotted them.  I don’t know if it was the color or the shape or the fact that Peter Rabbit eats them, but she insisted that we had to have them.  Once home, I let her try them.  She hated them.


Me with a bunch of unwanted radishes.  That’s when I decided to turn them into a quick refrigerator pickle.  Luckily, they were delicious.  Particularly so with egg salad sandwiches and crispy pan fried salmon.  For as spicy as they are they are surprisingly palate cleansing, a bit like pickled ginger I suppose.  Below is the recipe.  I hope you enjoy them.


1 bunch of radishes

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds

1/4 tsp black mustard seeds

1/4 tsp coriander seeds

a pinch of fennel seeds

1 small smashed garlic clove

3/4 c cider or white wine vinegar

3/4 c water

2 tbsp honey

1 tbsp salt

1 pint sized jar with a lid



Slice the radishes into 1/4″ rounds.  Pack them in the jar.

Put the seeds, flakes, and garlic clove on top of the radishes.

In a small pot, bring the vinegar, water, salt, and honey to a boil.  Once the mixture starts to bubble, turn down the heat.  Simmer the brine for a few minutes and stir it to make sure everything has dissolved.  Remove it from the heat.

Pour the brine over the radishes and seal the jar.


Let the jar cool to room temperature before placing it in the refrigerator.  The radishes will be ready to eat immediately.  I like to eat them after they’ve chilled for at least 24 hours. They will keep for a couple weeks in the fridge, but they will be at their crispest in the first few days.

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