Bake-Off ! – Bara Brith and Welsh Whisky

I participated in a baking contest took place in Tokyo earlier this month. This is one of the reasons I had been a bit away from here. I don‚Äôt remember how many loaves I baked, and I have totally no idea how much flours, dried fruits etc. were consumed for this ūüėÄ

At first, I was just trying to bake Bara Brith, a Welsh fruit loaf made with tea and Welsh version of Irish Barm Brack, according to a recipe postcard from a Postcrossing friend in Wales. Then the announcement of the contest followed: ‘Irish & British Bake-off! looking for contestants’. This was organized by an English woman who runs a bakery and baking classes in Tokyo, and had nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off ūüėÄ

To be honest, it was really struggling to make a NICE Bara Brith since no butter (or no oil) is used for the cake. It didn’t work out the way as I wanted at all, so I adopted a Boiled Fruitcake recipe and mixed up the methods, which turned out to be pretty well.

Unfortunately, the cake couldn‚Äôt beat others. For me, however, the result was rather good ‚Äď I had assumed the physical appearance wouldn‚Äôt attract the judges and the cake would taste too heavy for Japanese. Surprisingly,¬†I got 6 votes! and¬†received some nice comments. Among others, ‘the cake was rich in depth and complexity and I loved it!’ satisfied me a lot.¬†I didn‚Äôt reveal the ingredients, but some noticed the ‘complexity’.

My cake – Entry No. 4

The ingredient that gave the cake complex richness is Penderyn, Welsh single malt whisky, and I selected dried fruits and preserves which go perfectly well with the whisky.

Penderyn Madeira

I guess most of you haven’t heard of Welsh whisky unlike Scottish and Irish counterparts. Actually, the whisky production once died out in the late 19th century, but some entrepreneurs endevoured to revive distillation in the 1990s and in 2000, the Welsh Whisky Company was founded, which is now known as Penderyn Distillery.  As of 2016, Wales has two whisky distilleries in operation. (Wikipedia)

Penderyn whisky is completely different from Scotch ‚Äď I have a kind of impression that Penderyn is feminine or womanly: smooth, fresh, sweet, elegant, flowery yet deep while Scotch is manliest: strong, powerful, earthy…. I tried some Scotch for the cake, but none of them created the ‘complexity’.

What makes Penderyn whisky unique is their still:

‘Our whisky still is a single copper-pot which produces a flavourful spirit of extraordinary strength and purity and was designed by Dr David Faraday, descendent of the ground-breaking Victorian scientist, Michael Faraday. As of 2013 we have a pair of these stills.

Whilst most Scottish and Irish distilleries use a conventional two or three-pot still system, the technology developed at Penderyn allows an extremely clean ‚Äėflavourful‚Äô spirit to be produced from a single still.’

I used Penderyn Madeira for the cake:

TASTING NOTES – Nose: A classic freshness with aromas of cream toffee, rich fruit and raisins. Palate: Crisp and finely rounded, with the sweetness to balance an appetising dryness. Finish: Notes of tropical fruit, raisins and vanilla persist. 2014 San Francisco World Spirits Competition ‚Äď Silver¬†(from Penderyn website)

Other than the whisky, my Bara Brith requires specific ingredients and products. I’m not sure if substitutes work or not, so I haven’t posted the recipe here. Please let me know if you would like to try to bake my Bara Brith. Anyway, I am going to develop this recipe and will post it later this year, hopefully before Christmas!

Next time in London, I’ll sign up for¬†the Great British Baking Workshop¬†(ex Celtic Baking Workshop) at¬†Bread Ahead Bakery & School.


Bolo Rei – King’s Cake and Lisbon

Bolo Rei, or King’s Cake, is a traditional Portuguese cake usually eaten around Christmas, from 25th of December until Epiphany, 6th of January (This reminded me of my Kutia, Ukrainian Christmas Eve Pudding.)

Bolo Rei is a sweet rich fruit bread Рrather than a cake Рbaked with raisins, various nuts and crystallised fruits. Also included is a dried fava bean, and the tradition dictates that whoever finds the fava has to pay for the cake next year. (Wikipedia)

As you can easily imagine from the name of and fève in Galette des Rois for Epiphany, Bolo Rei is originally from France although it looks like Frankfurter Kranz. (Click here to learn more about Boro Rei from a video.)

I didn’t know anything about Bolo Rei, but¬†a Postcrosser in Lisbon gave me a¬†recipe¬†on the web, and it has stood by to be¬†posted here since last August!!

My Bolo Rei with postcards from Postcrossers in Lisbon and my Portugal postcard collection.

The¬†first try didn’t work out that much¬†– the dough turned out to be hard rock buns ūüėÄ so I changed plain to strong flour. Also altered some ingredients, quantities and process but I basically followed the recipe.


For the dough
85 g assorted crystallised fruits, to chop if necessary
35 g raisin
2 tbsp port wine
1 tbsp rum

35 ml lukewarm water
1 tsp caster sugar
¬Ĺ tbsp¬†dried yeast
50 g strong white flour

50 g butter, room temperature
50 g caster sugar
1 egg and 1 egg yolk, whisked

100 g strong white flour
100 g plain wholemeal flour
25 ml lukewarm milk
¬Ĺ tsp lemon zest
¬Ĺ tsp orange¬†zest
20 g sliced almond
20 g walnut, chopped
10 g pine nuts
(optional: a dried broad/fava bean)

For the topping
1 egg white
crystallised fruits of your choice

For the glaze
50 g icing sugar
25 g honey (I used orange blossom honey)
2 tbsp water


  1. Soak the crystallised fruits and raisins in the port wine and rum for 1-2 hours. Drain well and set aside.
  2. Dissolve the sugar and yeast in the lukewarm water, and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Tip the 50 g strong flour into a bowl, and pour in the yeasty water to mix. Knead by hand for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Pour in some more water a little at a time if required. Shape the dough into a ball, place in a bowl, and cover with a damp tea towel or clingfilm. Allow to rise in a warm place for 60 minutes or until it has doubled in size. Remove the dough from the bowl, and punch down gently to degas. Shape into a ball, place back in the bowl and cover again and sit for 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg a quarter at a time, beating well after each addition. Fold in the flours until just combined and stir in the milk to mix well. Then add the yeast mixture to the dough making sure it is evenly blended together, using your hand and create a sticky dough. Put in the zests, nuts and soaked fruits (and a fava bean). Lightly mix until all the fruits and nuts are evenly covered by the dough. Cover with a damp tea towel or clingfilm and leave to rise in a warm place for about one hour or until it has doubled in size.
  4. Preheat oven to 190 C.
  5.  Knead the dough for about one minute. Scrape the dough on to a greased baking tray, shape into a round loaf (about 20 cm in diameter) , and make a hole in the centre. Brush it all with the egg white. Bake for 20 Р30 minutes. Cover with aluminium foil if the surface becomes too brown. Remove from the oven, brush the top surface again with the egg white and decorate with cristallised fruits. Put back into the oven, and bake for a few minutes (Do not burn the fruits!). Carefully lift out and place on a wire rack.
  6. To make the glaze, put the icing sugar, honey and water in a small pan over low heat. Stir until completely melted and slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and spoon over the cake.
So far I have received two postcards from Lisbon, which are my faves.

Thank you so¬†much for the wonderful recipe, dear Postcrossing friend in¬†Lisbon. I’m sure to make this again whether it’s Christmas/Epiphany or not!

I have been wishing to revisit Lisbon…. Night Train to Lisbon, both the novel and the film, added fuel to the wish.¬†Once I planned train journeys from Nice to Lisbon via¬†San Sebastian but it hasn’t come off yet.

What I enjoyed most in Lisbon are:

city views from above



and steep slopes of narrow streets and alleys. Above all, the slopes up to the B&B I stayed at. Whichever the labyrinthine alleys I took, I could go back to the place, which was really fun!


Casa Costa do Castelo¬†is located at the foot of Castelo de¬†S√£o Jorge, or Saint George’s¬†Castle, which¬†offers gorgeous views by¬†day and night.

A Room with a view


I happened to find Fonte das Sete Bicas when exploring Alfama. It is a small family run restaurant  like a trattoria, and many locals were in for lunch. You can enjoy dishes at reasonable price РI paid 8 Р9 euros for one course with bread and salad, a glass of wine, dessert and coffee (as of 2009)!

Cozido à Portuguesa, Portuguese stew with several kinds of meats and vegetables.
pudim flan

According to Tripadvisor reviews, their fish dishes look also nice.

At another restaurant, Sardinhas Assadas,¬†Vinho Verde¬†and Vinho do Porto satisfied me a lot…. Must go back to Lisboa!!

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

As I wrote the other day, I received a birthday postcard from one of my Postcrossing friends in Germany. The curried butternut squash soup I am posting here is based on her recipe she had shared with me earlier. (In return for the recipe, sent her a tourist postcard while in Scotland, and then the birthday card reached.)

Oh, what a timing! Just received another mail from her – with a cutting of newspaper article on a German pumpkin festival on the very day of Halloween!! Danke!!

Have to study German really hard, don’t I??

I followed her recipe with some simple alterations: used butternut, shallot, coconut sugar and vegetable bouillon instead of pumpkin, onion, white sugar and chicken bouillon, added ginger and coriander, and also sauté process. Quantities of the ingredients were not specified, so I prepared them according to my taste.


3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp ginger root, freshly grated
50 g French shallot (eschallot), finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh coriander/cilantro stalk, finely chopped
1 ¬Ĺ tsp¬†curry powder
1 kg butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cubed
150 g potato, peeled and cubed
800 ml water
2 tbsp no sodium vegetable bouillon
1 ¬Ĺ tsp fine sea salt (adjust according to the bouillon package instructions)
¬ĺ¬†tsp ground cumin
¬Ĺ tbsp coconut sugar
a smidgen Рa pinch of cayenne pepper, to adjust
ground black pepper, to taste
fresh coriander/cilantro, coarsely chopped (optional)
cr√®me fra√ģche
fresh coriander/cilantro leaves, to garnish


 ( For 3 -4 servings)

  1. In a large saucepan, put in 2 tbsp olive oil and the ginger and fry over low heat stirring consistently until fragrant. Add the shallot and coriander stalk, and sauté for a few minutes but not brown. Spoon in the curry powder, then carry on until fragrant. Add the rest (1 tbsp) of the olive oil and increase the heat to medium. Add the squash and potato, and cook stirring constantly until it starts to soften but not brown.
  2. Pour the water into the pan, stir in the bouillon, salt, cumin, sugar, cayenne and black pepper, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cover to simmer for about 20 minutes or so until the vegetables have softened.
  3. Purée the soup in a food processor or a blender until completely smooth. Return to the pan and reheat over low heat. Pour in some water if the soup is too thick. Taste and add more seasoning if needed. (optional: Stir in the chopped coriander and ) remove from the heat.
  4. Serve the soup in bowls with swirls of cr√®me fra√ģche and coriander leaves.

Mmmmm so tasty! I like the soup so much that I can eat this enough for two, or even three! ūüėÄ ¬†Thank you, my dear Postcrossing friend ¬†in Germany. I will write you back later on. ūüôā

with my Rhine postcard collection

Ukrainian Borsch

Still playing with beetroot at weekend ūüėÄ

beetroot flipped (sig)

The Ukrainian school girl,¬†who sent¬†me¬†a birthday card last October, kindly gave me¬†a Borsch recipe with¬†a ‘Ukraine National Dish’ postcard. Her¬†recipe doesn’t have¬†ingredient quantities, so I tried as follows:



[soup stock]
1 liter water
200 g beef
200 g pork

1 large or 2 small beetroot, shredded (stems and leaves, chopped)
1 large carrot, shredded
1 medium onion, sliced
vegetable oil (to fry)
1/2 tbsp tomato paste

600 cc water
salt & pepper (to taste)
1 large potato, diced
4 cabbage leaves, thinly chopped (make double if no beetroot stems and leaves available)
200 g cooked or 1 tinned haricot beans, drained
1 clove garlic
1 bay leaf

fresh parsley (to sprinkle)
sour cream (optional)

Ukraine Borsch


  1. For stock, wash the meat in cold water and place in a large soup pot with 1 litre water. Then bring to the boil and simmer on low heat for one hour and a half skimming off the scum when it appears.
  2. Meanwhile, fry the carrot and onion until the onion becomes translucent. Set aside.
  3. Fry the beetroot for a few minutes. Spoon in the tomato paste, mix well and fry for another 8 mins.
  4. Remove the meat from the stock. Put in the potato with 600 cc water and bring to the boil again.
  5. Add the cabbage with some salt, then cook for 5 mins over low heat. Stir in the beetroot and simmer for further 10  mins. Add the carrot, onion and beans, and cook for a few mins.
  6. Put in the raw garlic and bay leaf. Taste, and season with salt and pepper. Cover and turn off the heat and let stand for a while.
  7. Ladle into serving bowls, and serve with a dollop of sour cream and the parsley.
  8. Enjoy the result!


borsch postcard


I followed¬†her recipe with some simple alterations. It doesn’t¬†specify ‘what’ beans, so I chose haricot –¬†red kidney beans¬†might be better because of its colour. The¬†Borsch¬†is deeper in colour than the soup I usually make – more reddish and beautiful! Maybe¬†because I add some lemon juice or vinegar, and don’t fry¬†tomato paste but just¬†put into broth. It doesn’t have meat itself but satisfying enough – with¬†lots of vegetables and beans. I like this so much that I will follow this recipe from¬†this time forward.

Thank you again, my dear postcrossing friend ¬†in Ukraine. I will send you something later on ūüôā


borsch postcard stamps


Ukrainian Borsch image


Kutia – Ukrainian Christmas Eve Pudding

In early December, I received an ideal postcard for this time of year from a Postcrosser in Ukraine Рa recipe card of Kutia or Kutya, a traditional Ukrainian Christmas Eve dish. I picked this out for the fifth try (as for the 4th, pls read Grechka Soup), and have saved it until today.

kutia postcard

As usual, browsed the unfamiliar dish on the internet and learnt that:

Kutia is a sweet grain pudding, traditionally served in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and some parts of Poland. Sochivo, a dish similar to kutia, is very popular in Russia. Kutia is often the first dish in the traditional twelve-dish Christmas Eve supper (also known as Svyatah Vecherya). It is rarely served at other times of the year.

Kutia was also part of a common Eastern Orthodox tradition in the Russian Empire…. ¬†(from Wikipedia)

The Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on 7th of January, so Kutia is supposed to be¬†eaten¬†on 6th January. The sweet dish seems like dessert, but served first out of the twelve! Kutia is very auspicious because¬†the ingredients¬†such as wheat berries, poppy seeds and dried fruits symbolise abundance, fertility and prosperity. ¬†(This is like we eat Kazunoko, or¬†herring roe for New Year’s.) Someone mentions on the web that the dish¬†is traditionally eaten with a wooden spoon, but not clear¬†if it’s a special one for Kutia….

It sounds like ‘porridge’ rather than ‘pudding’…. I’m¬†fond of¬†porridge and eat it for breakfast whenever in Scotland, so I happily gave it a try.



( For 2-3 servings)

125 g pearl barley, well rinsed and soaked in water overnight
400 cc water (plus 100 cc to adjust)
a pinch of salt
25 g raisins
30 g poppy seeds
50 g honey
50 g walnuts, roughly chopped
25 g dried apricots, chopped



  1. Preheat oven to 150 C.
  2. Drain and put the barley in a pan with salt and 400 cc water, then bring to the boil over low heat.
  3. Place the barley into an uncovered baking dish with the boiled water, and cook in the oven for 60 mins or until the barley becomes tender. Stir occasionally and add 100 cc water little by little as required to prevent sticking and drying out.
  4. Meanwhile,  place the poppy seeds in a pan with adequate water and bring to the boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 mins.  Drain through fine sieve, then grind the seeds with a food/coffee grinder (or something). Set aside.
  5. Rinse the raisins and soak in boiled water for 10 minutes, then drain and dry.
  6. Combine everything and mix well.




I basically followed the recipe, but altered a bit: reduced quantities of the ingredients, and added some procedures and ingredients. Pearl barley was used instead of wheat berries, which I couldn’t find anywhere, and a baking dish as a substitute for a cray pot.

I should have ground the seeds more finely! They are so¬†tiny that¬†my Suribachi, a Japanese mortar and pestle¬†for¬†sesame seeds, didn’t work well ūüė¶ Anyway, it doesn’t matter as it tasted good. Not sweeter than imagined – omitted sugar from the recipe! – and¬†the sourness of the apricot gives it a good kick. I like the crispy and chewy texture and nutty flavour of the walnuts in the slightly sticky and soft ingredients.

Kutia is one of the twelve-dish¬†supper, which represents the 12 apostles, containing no meat or dairy….¬†Well, it’s not 6th¬†or¬†7th January yet, so¬†I unhesitantly poured some heavy cream¬†over the pudding! ūüôā

Thank you so much for the wonderful recipe, dear Postcrossing friend in Ukraine! I’m wishing you blessings and joy this Christmas, and hope your dream comes true.

And also thanks a million to another friend in Ukraine for the information and advice. I’m looking forward to your¬†letter!


Ukrainian stamp


kutia on table

Vinegret Revisited (+ Borsch)


I’m really into beetroot these days….




I’ve been making Borsch every single weekend for the last one month since I obtained fresh¬†beetroot for the first time in my life¬† ūüėÄ

Here in this country, the vegetable is not that common and not easily¬†available, but I luckily found it IS¬†available during the winter from¬†a farmers market near my workplace, which¬†opens every Friday! That’s why I’m cooking the soup¬†at weekends.


Ukrainian Borscht w/ Russian Black Bread
Ukrainian Borsch w/ Russian Black Bread (Borodinsky?)


The other day, while I had been addicted to the dish, I received an exactly the same postcard from another Postcrosser in Russia: the Vinegret recipe postcard.


two vinegret postcards


Hmmmm… seems as if it had been sent on purpose to¬†remind me to make Vinegret again, not¬†with¬†tinned one but with fresh beetroot!! Yes, I wrote¬†“I‚Äôll definitely make this again, and it‚Äôs a must if I could run into¬†fresh beetroot” on my 10th of September post! (As for the card and cooking, please read¬†Vinegret.) Well, I was too obsessed with Borsch, and it had slipped out of mind….


vinegret russian salad
My first Vinegret in September 2015


So I was urged to make¬†the Russian salad again. Not reluctantly, of course!! ūüėÄ


My second Vinegret in December 2015




How¬†beautiful…. I like the magenta colour, which is more vivid than of tinned beetroot salad. This¬†tastes more fresh and tasty, and its¬†earthy flavour is¬†less intense. I wish it were obtainable in summer as well!

Thank you so much for the reminder, dear Postcrosser in Russia!


vinegret stamps


Grechka Soup – Russian Buckwheat Soup (and a bit about Japanese Soba)

The fourth try (as for 3rd, pls. see Apple Pandowdy), the recipe of which from St Petersburg, is a Russian dish again. The simple but nutritious buckwheat soup is ideal for winter, so I gave it a try on a chilly, rainy Sunday in late autumn.

buckwheat grains
buckwheat groats

I had learnt from PetersFoodAdventures that buckwheat is a common crop in Eastern Europe, and Russia is one of the largest producer and consumer.¬†Buckwheat is consumed a lot¬†in Japan as well;¬†however,¬†I don’t think I myself have¬†eaten¬†the grains¬†–¬†actually, it‚Äôs not a grain but a fruit seed though – or groats themselves (of course cooked ones!) except a tiny amount¬†in buckwheat tea. I might have had some cooked with rice…. Hmmm… I can’t remember. ¬†I like¬†Gallete, a crepe from Brittany, but that is made from the flour.

In Japan, the large amount of buckwheat production/import volume is¬†consumed¬†as Soba.¬†Soba¬†is the Japanese name for¬†buckwheat crops, and also refers buckwheat flour noodles, one of the most popular noodle dishes in Japan. For me, to be honest,¬†Udon,¬†thick white wheat flour noodle, is more familiar. There exist many food cultures in Japan, but basically it can be divided roughly into two groups based on regions: Eastern or Western Japan – you can find the most obvious differences in soy sauce or¬†Dashi, soy sauce based broth. I’m not from Soba¬†culture or Soba growing regions in the East, so this might be¬†the reason I hadn’t had the grains themselves??? ūüėÄ Well, it’s just because ground buckwheat products are much more¬†commonly used for¬†dishes¬†in Japan.¬†Actually, the grains¬†cannot always be purchased¬†from any shops, and¬†it was a bit difficult for me to obtain them.

There are many varieties of Soba dishes, and the below in the photos are two of them:

Zaru Soba - chilled buckwheat noodles
Zaru Soba: chilled buckwheat noodles with soya based dipping sauce (above right: Tempura Maitake Mashrooms)


Soba - buckwheat noodle soup
Tempura Wakame Soba: buckwheat noodle soup topped with Kakiage (mixed vegetable tempura) and Wakame seaweed

There is another way to enjoy Soba. I mean it’s not the noodles but the hot water in which Soba has been boiled, which is¬†called Sobayu (‘yu‘ means ‘hot water’).¬†Sobayu is sometimes served when you order Zaru Soba (see the¬†photo above)¬†which comes with dipping sauce. After you finish the noodles, you can add some Sobayu to the remaining sauce, and drink it. It is not only tasty but also good for your¬†health.

Buckwheat is rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber etc. and very nutritious. Its beneficial effects are to lower blood pressure, control blood sugar levels, and increase liver function.  Lots of the nutrients are dissolved in Sobayu, so you cannot waste the liquid!!

Soba Cha - buckwheat tea
Soba Cha: roasted buckwheat tea – caffeine free –¬†is also good for your health. You would love the toasty flavour!

Oops, sorry for the long introduction. Grechka soup in which the super grains are cooked must be as much nutritious and beneficial as Sobayu.  Here is the recipe:


(for 3-4 servings)

1,250 cc water
250 g chicken breast
1 bay leaf
1 large potato, diced
1/2 carrot, diced
1/2 onion, diced
50 g buckwheat groats
salt and pepper (to taste)
dill, parsely or chervil

Grechka Soup w/ postcards from St Petersburg


  1. Put the chicken breast in a pan with the water and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 mins.
  2. Take the chicken out of the pan. Cut the meat into small cubes and set aside.
  3. Add the vegetables and the buckwheat groats into the chicken stock and cook over low heat for 20 mins.
  4. Return the cubed meat to the broth and season salt and pepper.
  5. Ladle into deep bowls and scatter with dill, parsley or chervil.
  6. Bon appetite!

stamps from St Petersburg

I followed the recipe (almost), but¬†halved the quantity of the ingredients¬†as none of my pans are big enough for 2.5 liters water ūüė¶ ¬† and¬†added onion, bay leaf and fresh herb.

Thank you so much for the winter recipe, dear Postcrossing friend in Russia! I like the grains very much, so will put in¬†some more next time I cook it. Maybe double? ūüėÄ ¬† I will also try Kasha, buckwheat porridge, and Kasha Varnishkes, kasha with farfalle bow-tie pasta¬†I came across while I was browsing the soup on the web.

Grechka Soup w/ bread

Vintage Stamps 2

‘The unexpected is fun to get.’

Before my postcard¬†was delivered, unexpected one reached me from the recipient of my card. Hmmmmm the recipient was supposed to unexpectedly receive mine first…. ¬†Coincidentally and unintentionally, we exchanged¬†unexpected postcards¬†and airmail stamps ūüôā
vintage stamps 2