Tale of a pastry cutter

Next to me, on my desk, is a dark, metal pastry cutter shaped like a heart. An inch and a half by two inches of shaped tin. Possibly Victorian.

This is the tale of how finding a pastry cutter strengthened my determination to turn a neglected kitchen into a living kitchen.

On a wet afternoon dirty and exhausted from working on plastering the kitchen ceiling, I decided I need a break.

Kitchen dresser in use

What’s in the wine cellar now?

Down the corridor from the kitchen is the Town House’s old wine cellar. It’s not storing wine now it’s a historic archive. Row upon row, shelf upon shelf of cardboard boxes line the walls. Each box marked with a letter of the alphabet.

There’s no index.

My curiosity takes over. I start opening up the boxes one by one, trying to work out what the letters mean.

I is for Ironwork, M is for Manuscripts. In the boxes marked  ‘J’, nestled in tissue paper, I discover old kitchen implements: wooden spoons, rolling pins and pastry cutters. One is shaped like a heart.

An old cook from Tunbridge Wells

She’d used them most of her long working life. Pastry had been made, cakes had been mixed, and biscuits cut out.

How did these kitchen utensils get here? How long had they been here for? In the weeks that follow. I learn that they were donated by a cook from Tunbridge Wells.

She’d used them most of her long working life. Pastry had been made, cakes had been mixed, and biscuits cut out. When she’d had to retire from her cookery career she’d donated the well used tools of her craft.

They were archived and stored 12 years before. I doubt she’d intended her working tools to be stored away in boxes. Perhaps, secretly, she wanted them to to have a life after her?

Heart-shaped cutter is saved

The heart shaped cutter? It has a home in the restored kitchen’s dresser. It’s no longer hidden away in a box but it’s where everyone can see it.

And it gets used again. Just last week I used it to make Valentine’s cakes for a romantic poetry reading.

Romantic heart-shaped cakes

Chocolate covered heart shaped cakes


  • 225 grams plain flour
  • 1½ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons instant coffee powder
  • 75 grams cocoa powder
  • 300 grams dark brown sugar
  • 375 millilitres hot water from a recently boiled kettle
  • 75 grams coconut oil (90ml)
  • 1½ teaspoons white wine vinegar/cider vinegar
  • Edible rose petals and pistachio nuts to decorate

For the icing

  • 60 millilitres cold water
  • 75 grams coconut butter or any solid block vegetable fat
  • 50 grams dark brown sugar
  • 1½ teaspoons instant coffee powder
  • 1½ tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 150 grams dark chocolate (min. 70% cocoa solids)


Preheat your oven to 180°C/160°C Fan/350°F/gas mark 4 and place a baking sheet to warm through.

Line the bottom of a rectangular baking tin with baking paper.

Put the flour, bicarb, salt, instant coffee powder and cocoa in a bowl. Blend with a fork.

Mix the sugar, hot water, coconut oil and vinegar together in a jug until the coconut oil has melted. 

Pour into the dry ingredients, mix, then pour the whole mixture into the prepared tin. Put the baking tin into the oven, on top of the baking sheet already there, and bake for 35 minutes. 

Check after 30 minutes to see if it is already done.

When it’s ready, the cake will come away from the edge of the tin and a cocktail stick or skewer will come out clean, apart from a few crumbs. 

This is a sticky cake. Don’t be tempted to overbake it.

Once the cake is cooked, remove from the oven and place the tin onto a wire cooling rack and let the cake cool in its tin.

Now take the heart shaped metal cutter in your hand. Cut out heart shaped mini-cakes. I managed 8 but this really does depend on the size of your cutter. I like to keep the leftover cake pieces and stash them in the freezer to use in emergency trifles. 

Place all of the icing ingredients, except the chocolate, into a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil, making sure everything is dissolved.

Then turn off the heat – leaving the pan on the hob – and add the chocolate, swirling the pan so that the chocolate drowns in the hot liquid and starts to melt. 

Leave until melted, this won’t take long, and then whisk until the icing is dark and glossy. Leave to cool slightly. 

I like to pour the icing over the cakes while the icing is still liquid, it’s much easier on small cakes. Wait too long and the icing turns to the consistency of chocolate butter, much harder to decorate with and it loses its black sheen.

Now, with abandon, festoon the cakes with rose petals and chopped pistachios.

Leave to stand for 30 minutes for the icing to set before serving the cakes.

Marvel at your beautiful heart shaped cakes. Take a bite and think of an old kitchen in Hove, a wine cellar and a cook from Tunbridge Wells.

I’ve adapted this recipe from a Nigella Lawson recipe which is INCREDIBLY popular in the Town House’s pop up Regency tea room.