John Hanna & Country Fair

John Hanna Country fair Jenny Duff

I promised you a few posts on my favourite kitchenalia and homeware pieces: well, here is the first instalment, detailing an illustrator very close to my heart: John Hanna. No, not the actor, John Hannah, or indeed one of my other favourite illustrators Jonny Hannah: this is one John Hanna, who lived and worked in London in the 1950s before returning home to his native Australia.

Many of you will be very familiar with the work of John Hanna- but, upon seeing some the images, you may have trouble placing just where you first saw the illustrations. His illustrations will be evocative, and you may not know why. They will seem like a lot of work you’ve seen recently, and you may be surprised to in fact learn they are over 60 years old. John Hanna was an Australian artist who worked in London in the 1950s, and who is known primarily for his work on Country Fair Magazine. Ring any bells? It may do: I have a few copies of Country Fair rescued from the tip and auction, and have always adored the images: and, a chance meeting with a designer a few years ago at a fair made me research Hanna a little more.
Jenny Duff Mats John Hanna

I was immediately drawn to Hanna’s work: being a fan of woodcuts anyway, and Ravilious, and of course adoring the use of line and flat colour in design, his work had a gentle dream like quality for me, and I loved the illustrations instantly. However, Country Fair magazines aren’t that easy to come by- unless of course you do an Ebay trawl, which somehow feels like cheating a little. I was also quite surprised at how undiscovered Hanna remained, and, I think, remains: not many people are familiar with his work, yet they have that immediate connection to it. Perhaps it is because of our recent obsession with midcentury design. Upon seeing some of Hanna’s work for the first time, you may in fact think they are imitations, or 21st century designs reproduced in the 1950s style: they now have a certain immediacy about them. Of course, they’re simply excellent examples of such a style- and, I feel, hugely underrated. Even by writing this post, I almost feel like I am letting others into a secret- a copy of Country Fair can be purchased on Ebay for as little as £4.50 (I have added a few to my Christmas list) and I know they will simply hold their value if one were to purchase them. Of course, as an animal lover, and obviously growing up on a farm, I find his depictions of British creatures spot-on: and his animals reflect human emotions in the most precise way: the little-boy mischief & excitement of a retrieving gun-dog, the irritation of an extremely grumpy sitting hen, the energetic persistence of a blue tit, and one of my favourites, his quizzical tilted-head terrier.

I suppose there is the added affinity with Hanna’s work in that, as an Australian living in England, his take on these everyday British creatures was new: something I can relate to, growing up in South Africa, where my South African childhood tales and books were populated by crocodiles, snakes, lions and giraffes. I of course also read English books: my bedroom library contained both English and South African illustrated books, and I was particularly fond of my little Beatrix Potter collection: the animals seemed so sweet, so harmless, so gentle and neat and tidy compared to our ferocious looking African beasts. And so it still is for me: I enjoy the warmth of Hanna’s work, it doesn’t alarm me, and it feels very comfortable. Of course, having also had Springer Spaniels and now an Irish Terrier, I have a new found appreciation for Hanna’s exacting depictions of these beautiful creatures.

I am the proud owner of John Hanna coasters and table mats, made by the designer Jenny Duff. I met Jenny at a fair we were both attending years ago, and I immediately loved her work. All of Jenny’s coasters and mats are made in Britain, unlike a lot of other reproduced homeware items, and I have a thing for melamine and cork anyway. Jenny was offered the illustrations by the family of journalist and publisher Macdonald Hastings, who had discovered an archive of Country Fair magazines in their attic. I have 6 mats and coasters, and I of course am hoping, in years to come, to collect more. Whenever we have friends over, Barnaby loves choosing who will have which mat and coaster- and I love knowing that this little ritual, with these perfect images, will be part of his childhood memory library.

Jenny Duff Mats John hanna

When researching Hanna, I found very little. I of course had Jenny’s information to draw on, but, thank God, I also read the blogs of Nick Asbury. The links to Nick’s work are here if you fancy a read: In Search of Hanna  and Nick and Sue’s site, Asbury and Asbury,  (where, I am warning you, you will spend a great amount of time reading lots of other interesting things). I love how Nick’s perception of Hanna’s work echoes my sentiments too. Perhaps we should all begin a Hanna Fan Club of sorts: I would wear the pin badge and jumper ANYDAY.

Of course, to buy Jenny’s beautiful mats and coasters, made right in sunny Margate, go here: Jenny Duff.

Original Milk Tart

Milk tart the plain kitchen

I know I posted a Gluten Free one a while back: but this is for all you lucky wheat consuming folk out there!

I could eat Milk Tart every day- I really could. The tart is a favourite bake of South African Kitchens: very much like a Victoria Sandwich would be the go-to cake of choice in British kitchens, South Africans all have their own Milk Tart recipe. I adapted this from my mother’s vague recipe found in her sticky-backed recipe book- she wasn’t one for detail or precision, but this one of mine is a precise and detailed version. Because the egg whites are whipped and then folded into the custard, and then the custard is baked again, there is a wonderful, mallow lightness to the tart- it wibbles and wobbles in the most comforting of fashions. Of course, it is important that the crust has the whole egg in it: it provides a slightly more cake-like texture to the pastry, typical of most Milk Tarts.

Please ensure you use a 24cm tart tin: I use the ones with the fluted sides, and of course one with a removable base, as I find it easier to remove the tart from one of these.

Serves 8-10

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius


For the pastry base:

60g salted butter

70g caster sugar

20g icing sugar

190g plain flour

30g cornflour

1 tsp vanilla extract or paste

1 egg

For the filling:

500ml full cream milk

80g butter

4 eggs, separated

35g plain flour

15g cornflour

70g caster sugar

1 tsp almond essence

For the topping:

A mix of cinnamon and caster sugar


To make the base, rub the butter into the flours, sugar and vanilla, just as you would do for scones. Rub until you have a fine mix, and no lumps of butter remain. Then add the egg, and mix with a fork until you have a dough- you may need a little splash of water at this stage to help it come together. Roll the dough out onto a floured surface, and then lift into your tart tin. Gently ease the dough into the tin, and press down evenly so that you have every inch of the tart tin evenly covered- neaten the fluted edges up. Line the bottom with a round of baking parchment, pour in baking beads, and bake blind for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, and remove the beads and the parchment. Bake again for a further 10 minutes, and then remove and allow to rest while you get on with the filling.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks have formed, and set these aside.

Mix the flours and caster sugar in a bowl or jug. Heat the milk and butter in a saucepan until gently boiling, whisking the mixture continuously. It must be very hot, a gentle boil is what you are after, but not a hard boil. Pour the hot mixture into the flour and sugar, whisking vigorously all the while. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan, pop back on a medium heat, add the egg yolks, and keep whisking on a medium heat for a minute or so. Add the almond essence, whisk briefly again, and take off the heat.

Now, very carefully, but with a firm hand, fold the egg whites into the milk mixture, until it is well combined- it will take a while, and please persist with this. Once all is well combined, pour into the tart shell and bake in the oven for another 15 minutes. Remove, and allow to cool and set properly before sprinkling with the cinnamon sugar. Serve simply on its own- Milk Tart is generally eaten at room temperature.


Chocolate Hazelnut Roulade with Caramel Ginger Cream

Chocolate Roulade The Plain Kitchen

This is quite possibly one of the most sublime little things I have ever made: it sounds preposterously rich, yet one can quite happily enjoy a slice or two without feeling overly indulgent: I think it is the mallow-lightness of the roulade which makes it so.

Remember that gentle folding in of the dry ingredients to the meringue mixture is necessary, as is the short baking time- and of course, the damp teatowel method on top of the parchment when it comes out of the oven. The whole flipping over thing sounds like a palaver, but it really isn’t- gentle swiftness, and a watch on clumsiness is required. It is a little showstopper of a dish, and it really doesn’t take long to put together either. I use one of those ingenious disposable icing bags for the chocolate decoration: of course, if you do not have one of these, simply grate the chocolate over the roulade

Serves 6-8

Line a 30cm swiss roll tin with baking parchment- ensure the parchment comes right over the tin, to enable easy lifting after baking

Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius


For the roulade:

5 egg whites

240g caster sugar

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tbsp vanilla paste

70g hazelnuts, toasted and finely chopped or bashed in a sandwich bag

25g cocoa

30g self raising flour

10g cornflour

30g ground almonds

For the Caramel Ginger Cream

300ml double cream

150ml Dulce de leche or other caramel spread

2 knobs of stem ginger in syrup, finely chopped

1 tsp of stem ginger syrup

To decorate:

70g chocolate, melted


Sift the flours, almonds and cocoa and set aside. Whisk the egg whites in a Kitchenaid or similar appliance, until they just begin to become pale and bubbly, and then, carefully and slowly, add the caster sugar in a steady stream to the egg whites while the whisk is still going at full speed. Continue for about 2-3 minutes, until the egg whites are stiff and glossy, and then add the vinegar and vanilla paste, and give one last quick whisk. The meringue mixture must be glossy and stiff- check with the “tipping over” of the bowl trick- it of course should remain inert and shiny in the bowl.

Fold in the sifted dry ingredients, and the toasted bashed nuts to the meringue mixture. Spread this mixture into the lined swiss roll tin, and even out the surface with a spatula.

Bake in a preheated oven at 170 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Check half way through, as the ratio of nuts and sugar here is high and it may catch.

Once baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool for 2 minutes. Then place another sheet of baking parchment over the surface of the baked roulade, and place a damp teatowel over the parchment. Allow to rest and cool for a further 15 minutes.

While the roulade is cooling, beat the double cream until soft peaks form, and carefully fold in the dulce de leche and ginger pieces and syrup. I do this rather roughly, as I like the caramel swirls to remain visible through the cream.

Warm the chocolate in the microwave until melted, and set aside.

After the 15 minutes cooling time is up, remove the damp teatowel, and very carefully flip the roulade over onto a clean dry countertop, so that the top of the roulade is now facing downwards onto the counter, and you have the bottom of the roulade facing upwards. Have the roulade “portrait” style, not “landscape” as when you roll it up, you will start from the narrower end. Very, very carefully peel the top piece of parchment away from the surface. Spread the ginger caramel cream all over the roulade, and, starting from the narrower end, begin to roll up, allowing the parchment under the roulade to help you as you go.

Fill your piping bag with the melted chocolate, and, in a diagonal fashion, drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of the roulade. Using a lifter or large spatula, lift the roulade from the counter onto a platter. The roulade can be served immediately, or kept at room temperature for serving a little later.


Whole Chocolate Orange Cake

chocolate orange cake gluten free the plain kitchen

Writing The Plain Kitchen’s recipes for 365 days meant that I ignored my lovely little library of cookbooks; I did this purposely of course, as I wanted the developments and the ideas I came up with to be pretty much mine. Of course, most things are derivative, and will always have an influence from somewhere: my liberal use of a wide variety of spices is most definitely a massive nod to Otttolenghi, my paring of chutneys and sambals with curries is evidence of my Indian and Cape Malay influenced childhood in South Africa, and the cakes and batches of biscuits that continually emerged from my kitchen throughout the year of the blog were of course hugely similar to my mother’s creations. We are a sum of our parts, and when it comes to culinary output, we are most certainly a sum of the books we have read. I often look at something I’ve made, and I try to think of the first time I ever made something similar- was it a beloved Elizabeth David recipe, or one of Nigel’s, circa 2001? Was it A River Café one (Blue, Book, always always the Blue Book)? Was it an early Diana Henry, or perhaps a Hopkinson? I think we can all say this of our kitchens and what we produce: our influences are so many, and so it is with today’s wonderful Autumnal number.

My Whole Chocolate Orange Cake has its roots in a Nigella favourite (I know there are many versions of this idea, and it is an age old concept- but I think her wonderful creation was the first I experimented with, yonks ago). It’s one of those cakes where you boil up an orange (in Nigella’s, it was a few clementines) and then whizz the whole fruit up to add to the cake mixture. The result, of course, is a cake that keeps for absolute ages, and retains, I hate to say it, a very moist structure (moist simply being a word I abhor, but it is simply the only appropriate word I can think of now- I apologise). I fancied a cake with a simple chocolate glaze, and the deepest of warm orange flavours- and I wanted to use nothing else but cocoa in the mix. It had to be simple, and not that rich either, as I imagined my final result teaming beautifully with double cream or ice cream. This cake is large in diameter, but not deep. It bakes fairly quickly, and of course keeps beautifully. We have ours for elevenses, and have had it, as planned, with some double cream for pud. I topped my cake with little slivers of candied orange peel, pinched from a Kilner jar of orange sticky goodness that my wonderful friend Alison, who is an exceptional cook, made me months ago.

Chocolate orange cake the plain kitchen

This also seems apt for these Autumnal weeks and the changing of clocks. We may wake a little earlier or later than expected, and nothing beats the discombobulation one is liable to face than a large slice of this perfect cake-breakfast, elevenses, pudding- it will balance the world again, I assure you.

I have to admit to being utterly thrilled with this recipe. I do hope you are as pleased with your results as I was with mine!

Serves 8-10

Butter a 25cm diameter springform tin, and line the bottom with a round of baking parchment

Preheat oven to 180 degrees


For the cake:

1 large orange (about 240g in weight)

2 eggs

225g salted butter, softened

225g caster sugar

125g self raising gluten free flour (use SR wheat flour if you are a wheat consuming person)

100g ground almonds

35g cocoa

For the icing:

100g icing sugar, sifted

2 tsp arrowroot

25g cocoa

Juice of ½ an orange

Candied peel or similar to decorate


Pop the orange in a medium sized saucepan, cover with boiling water and keep on a low boil for 1 ½ hours. Remove from the water after this time, and allow to cool.

Beat the butter and sugar for about 4 minutes in a Kitchenaid or similar appliance. Add the rest of the ingredients, and give a good mix for a minute or so. Once the orange has cooled enough for you to safely handle it, gently split it open and remove and discard the seeds. Using a hand held/stick blender, whizz the entire orange up until you have a warm and fragrant pulp. Add this pulp to the cake mix, and give it one last mix for a few seconds in the mixer. Pour the mixture into the buttered and lined tin.

Bake at 180 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Do check with a skewer to ensure it is done. Allow to cool in the tin for 20 minutes. Then, remove from the tin, peeling the parchment off very carefully, and allowing to cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the icing, simply mix the ingredients together. Add the orange juice slowly, though: depending on the size of the orange you are using, you may need the juice of half of it, or perhaps just under half the orange- you want an icing that is just runny, not too watery, as it will slip off the sides of the cake otherwise. Use a small spatula to spread the icing carefully over the cooled cake, and decorate with the candied peel. Serve immediately, or, of course, a few days later.

Kitchenalia and Ephemera


Of course, cooking, and being in the kitchen is not just about ingredients, or food, or the way you cook: it’s about what surrounds a cook. We are all fascinated by the minutia of people’s lives, their implements, their aprons, the way someone may hold a spatula: it seems to be endlessly fascinating for us all. And I get it. I do understand that fascination. And these days, more than ever, we are able to really see what goes on in the lives of those we follow on social media. We are able to see their bed linen (mostly Ikea white & blue stripe, it has to be said), we are able to see where they have coffee, eat lunch, and where they take their children to play. We are able to see the special jug on the shelf, the weird framed picture on the wall, and the mismatched cutlery which seems so important.


I have decided to write a few little posts on some of my favourite items in my home; things I collect, junk shop finds I want to share with you- books, ceramics, paper, furniture- you name it, there are a lot of funny old pieces in my house that so many people have asked about. So, the next few blog posts will deal with these lovely items. Perhaps they will interest you, perhaps one or two will take your fancy, perhaps I may alert you to an auction worth visiting: I hope the musings will make you smile.

The first few items I shall be writing about are right here. Peruse if you fancy it; and I shall be telling you all about them very soon indeed.