Life, Lately – A Catch-Up

It has been a terribly long time since I last logged into this site. In fact, it’s over a year since I last posted on here, which is not ideal for a professional writer.

While I love writing, and I have had my own website of some kind or other for well over ten years now, I must admit I’ve been so consumed with paid work that writing for/about myself has felt like a luxury I can’t afford. Add to that a busy home life, it’s been something I’ve wanted to find time for, but has always slipped down my list of priorities.

As I look down the barrel of a significant life event, I feel like writing more frequently about my home life is a worthwhile endeavour, for my own sanity and posterity, even if nobody ever reads a word of it. I figure as good a place to start as any is a round-up of what’s happened over the last year or so.

Moving house

In May 2022 my partner and I bought our first home as a couple. We’d been living in my little maisonette for a few years, but with two kids between us and both of us working from home, it was getting a touch cramped. It felt very strange saying goodbye to my first home, which I’d bought in 2017 and had been the first place I’d ever lived totally alone. It was a dinky little place, on top of an Indian restaurant, and was our son’s first-ever home, where so many of his first experiences happened. It was bittersweet, but the new house has been a vast improvement. Not only do the kids have their own rooms, we have a lovely little garden and everyone has a little more breathing space.

Injuries, injuries and more injuries

About two weeks before we were due to move, Alex took his eldest kid (V) to an indoor skate park so they could both practice skateboarding. They’d been gone for a few hours when I got a call to say Alex was “quite badly” hurt and that I should get there ASAP. To cut a long story short, Alex had lost his balance, fallen hard onto the ramp, and broken right through his femur, at the hip joint. We got him to hospital (with a great deal of screaming and swearing) and the next day he had his broken hip surgically repaired. He was incredibly brave considering how much pain he was in, and the gruelling recovery. He still has a bit of a limp some days, and a cracking scar. It also meant he wasn’t particularly mobile on the moving day, which would have been fine if it hadn’t been for what happened next.

Following Alex’s injury, two days before moving day I slipped and fell while holding our toddler, Niko. Trying to avoid hurting my son, I landed quite awkwardly with out combined weight onto my left elbow. Not only did I manage to dislocate my shoulder, but it turned out I’d also broken three bones in the process. Getting the extent of the damage correctly diagnosed took several months, and it’s been decided that it will need surgical correction. The main problem is that I’ve knocked a chunk of cartilage off my shoulder blade, where ligaments in the shoulder joint are supposed to be attached. It’s left the shoulder quite unstable and weak, and will ultimately require a fairly intense surgery with a lengthy rehab process. I might do another post with more detail about my rubbish joints but, for now, this surgery is on the back burner.


Apparently, we decided our lives weren’t quite busy enough, so in the summer we brought Solo home. She’s a Labrador x German Shepherd and she has been a huge part of making our house feel like a home. She is a bit bonkers, impossibly huge, and the best company while I’m working from home. She’s now nine months old and absolutely massive, and the kids adore her as much as Alex and I do. The cats tolerate her.

Quitting my job

In 2019 I landed something of a dream job, as a content manager for a boutique publisher. I really enjoyed my job, and had some fantastic experiences. However, covid came along and I was furloughed in March 2020 (which just so happened to coincide with me falling pregnant with Niko) and the company made some fairly radical internal changes. When I returned from furlough/maternity leave, it just wasn’t a great fit anymore, for me or for them, and in July 2022 I finally decided it was time to start freelancing.

It’s something I’d been thinking about for years, but I had always been anxious about the financial instability of freelancing as opposed to a salaried role. It was a bit of a scary leap to take, especially as we had just moved into our new house, but ultimately it has been the best thing for my mental health, work/life balance, and personal fulfillment. I have ended up with some slightly unusual working patterns which have made a social life slightly tricky to orchestrate at times, but my family and friends have got used to me having my laptop in tow. Plus, my work is flexible enough to allow me to work around my toddler, which has been a real godsend. I’ve been lucky enough to work on some really cool projects and find some really lovely clients. While I’d never say never, I can’t imagine going back to a 9-5 office job again any time soon. I have some really exciting ideas for developing my work to include some more creative projects alongside the more analytical/marketing-oriented stuff, but that might have to go on hold in the short term because of a more time-sensitive incoming life change…

A new baby

“Oh my god, not another one?!”

In September, Alex and I decided to start trying for our second, and last, baby. We’d had significant trouble conceiving the first time, and assumed this time would be equally difficult. Not only that, but we had a miscarriage in September 2021 (and I’d had three miscarriages before having Niko), so we thought that it would be a while before we’d actually see two pink lines on a pregnancy test. Little did we know that when we agreed to start trying we were already pregnant.

The pregnancy hasn’t been 100% straightforward. Early on I had some bleeding, and we had multiple very early scans to ascertain whether the baby was viable. Initially, they couldn’t find anything in my womb but could find a large cyst on one ovary. Then they could find a sac in my womb but no sign of life. Finally, at the third scan, we could see evidence of a developing embryo. It was a rough ride, but as of yesterday we are officially 30 weeks pregnant with a healthy baby girl!

I’m really excited to see my son become a big brother, and to meet this tiny little girl who has been making me throw up since October. She’s due in late May, and I’m planning to post a bit about my birth experience with her. It’s been a bit all over the place so far, as initially there were some concerns that my placenta wasn’t working and that the baby was worryingly small, but she’s now measuring perfectly normally and it looks like my dream of a water birth might be back on the cards. I’m trying not to set my heart on any particular birth experience, just in case some other complication pops up and changes our possible options, but we’ll see.

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

One of the more off-the-wall entries in my 2022 event schedule was my appearance on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire! Contractually there are limits to what I can say about it, but it was a really cool experience and I walked away with a prize of £32,000. It was a completely bananas stroke of luck, and has been colossally helpful in helping us get our ducks in a row for this new baby. In fact, as there is no maternity pay for the self-employed, my maternity leave is essentially being sponsored by ITV.

I would whole-heartedly recommend going on a quiz show if you have even the slightest confidence in your general knowledge skills (and the emotional fortitude to deal with a bit of Twitter trolling… people are mean) and I’m so grateful for the opportunity.

So… what’s next?

The next ten weeks or so are going to be all about getting the family, and the house, ready for this baby to arrive. We’ve got a few practical considerations to account for, like bulk cooking to fill the freezer with snacks and microwaveable meals for the early days of new-babyhood. Plus there are still some bits of furniture to rearrange. Niko does seem to have a base-level understanding of the fact that there is a baby in my belly, but if I’m being brutally honest I don’t think he really understands that an actual baby will be coming to live with us sometime in the next two and a half months. I’m sure he’ll take to big-brothering like a champ, but it’s going to be an adjustment for all of us.

I’m planning to take three months of maternity leave and work with Baby Girl at home while I get back into the swing of things. I’ve got some ideas for managing my workload with a baby at home, as well as trying to make time for some baby classes and personal projects. I know some of it might be wishful thinking, and if Niko as a newborn was anything to go by maybe I should just plan to survive and leave it at that.

Anyway, those were the main headlines for the past year. Writing it all down has made me wonder how we got through it all in one piece, but this year is only going to get busier! There’s a lot to plan for, but a lot to look forward to. I can’t wait.

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How I’m Planning to Make an Extra £30k this Year

I’ve never been particularly financially motivated. I have always been ambitious, but as long as I could pay my bills I have usually chosen jobs that I thought would be a better fit, rather than the ones offering more money. I’ve run small businesses but I’ve always been more focused on recouping costs and making my products affordable rather than maximising profits. It’s not a great business strategy, but it has historically made me relatively happy.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a rough couple of years, financially speaking. I’m not alone in that. Between furlough, maternity pay and the cost of nursery fees my bank account has taken a bit of a hammering since the start of the pandemic. On top of that, I am a mother now, so my money isn’t just for me anymore, I need to be able to take care of my son. I couldn’t get life insurance because of my chronic illnesses, so while I have accidental death cover I can’t leave an awful lot for my son if I die of an illness.

Morbid, I know, but it needs to be talked about.

This year is a big year for me financially. We want to move into a larger house, I have an international wedding to go to and I am turning 30 this month and would like to be able to realise some of my bucket list projects. Plus, after a cancer scare last year, I feel really insecure about my health and want to make sure I have some savings put aside for my family in case I croak.

So, what am I going to do about it? This year, I have set a goal to make £30,000 of additional income.

How am I going to make extra money? Good question!


I have always been crafty and creative, and this year I’m going to be making various things and selling them in my Etsy shop. I have come to accept that I am not a one-trick pony, I am a chaos horse, and there is no point trying to squash myself into a single product niche. I am going to make what feels right and what I enjoy making and sell them as best I can.


I have professional skills and years of experience in digital marketing. I have picked up some regular freelancing hours and I’m looking to take on more work ad hoc, like blogger services, social media management and content writing.

Other services

I am a cat-sitter and have a couple of previous clients with travel plans this year. I’ll be promoting this service more, and I’m considering taking on some dog walking clients as well.

handmade art piece by elena bjorn


I have never been comfortable putting my art out there because I’m a perfectionist, but one woman’s anxiety-riddled splotchings are another person’s wall art. To that end, I’m going to start sharing my art more and offering it for sale.

Passive(ish) income

I have a few ideas for this, all of which involve a bit of set-up, so I’ll keep you informed if and when it pays off (pun intended).

This website

Ok, ok, I know this site is a little bit quiet at the moment, I do. But I’m going to fix that this year. Not only am I going to write more content, but I’m also going to work on monetising this site in a meaningful way.

You might also be wondering, why £30,000? The main reason is that I’m turning 30 this year, so it seemed like a good number to aim for. Plus, that is roughly the amount of income that I lost while I was on furlough and on maternity leave over the last two years. It seemed like an auspicious number, plus it’s quite a big goal without being completely unreasonable, so hopefully it’s enough to keep me motivated without becoming demoralised.

I’ll post monthly updates here to keep you all up to date with my progress, but I post daily updates on my TikTok (@elenamakesithappen), so follow me there if you want to know more!

Wish me luck, it’s going to be a big old year.

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Secret Squirrel Brownie Recipe

Look, I know what it’s like when you go on a recipe website these days; you just want a recipe for brownies and you’re faced with a bunch of waffle first. I understand, it’s annoying. But 1) the search engines make us do it and 2) I devised this recipe for a reason, and I think it’s quite interesting! But, if you’re already thinking, “shut up, Elena, and give me that brownie recipe you promised, immediately!” there is a handy “jump to recipe” button above this paragraph.

If you’re even vaguely curious as to why I invented a brownie recipe, please do read on!

Recently I’ve been on a bit of a rollercoaster with my health. Long story short, my thyroid is borked. Never one to sit on my butt and just wait for things to happen on their own, I’ve been doing a bit of reading about how to boost thyroid health with nutrition. Unfortunately for me, a lot of my favourite foods are off the menu (broccoli! Potatoes! Brussels sprouts!) and a lot of things I’m not that fond of could do me a power of good. Namely, nuts and seeds.

I may be a fully-grown, taxpaying, child-rearing human being but when it comes to eating food I dislike I am basically a dog: I need to hide it in other food. When I was having fertility treatment I had to be quite careful what I ate (the drugs I was on can induce IBS-like symptoms if you’re not careful) so I was really specific about eating small, regular meals through the day and making sure the nutrition was well-balanced. I have PCOS and that can come with insulin-resistance, and balancing my blood sugar was, apparently, key to conceiving and sustaining a pregnancy. So, I started making overnight oats with added buckwheat, for fibre and quinoa, for protein. As an added protein, fibre, vitamin and mineral boost I also added a mix of milled nuts and seeds. For me, as a nut-and-seed hater, the flavour was barely perceptible and it meant I had a nutritionally-balanced breakfast to start the day with.

As the mum to a now eight-month-old baby, I am always on the lookout for snacks that I actually want to eat, are portable, room-temperature stable, batch-cooked and easy to eat with one hand. For a while 50% of my diet was lactation cookies, but now I wanted to come up with a thyroid-boosting snack that I could have when I was flagging and which might give my poor tired metabolism a little bit of help. Enter, the Secret Squirrel Brownie.

Now, I think it’s important to make a distinction here. While I am trying to take care of my physical health with food, I think it’s only fair that I mention I also have a history of eating disorders. I know how dangerous and unhelpful it is to brand foods and “good” or “clean” or in any way try to assign moral value to food. So, let me be clear. These brownies taste great. I have made them to encourage myself to eat ingredients which could be beneficial my own physical health, but they are also good for the soul. I not a nutritionist or dietician, I’m not even a chef. I’m just trying to make nice food and share it with people on the internet. At the risk of stating the obvious, a brownie is not going to heal your body, and this recipe is no substitute for the advice of an actual doctor. I have no proof that these do anything at all for your physical health, but I can vouch for their tastiness. I’m here to bake, not to sell snake oil.

Oh, and in case there is any doubt, these are not suitable for nut allergy sufferers. (Unless you swap the peanut butter for normal butter and swap out the ground nuts and seeds for 55g plain flour, in which case fill your boots!)

Elena’s Secret Squirrel Brownies

Elena Bjørn
If you're looking for a brownie that's higher-than-usual in protein, lower-in-than-usual in fat and has loads of omegas, B vitamins and fibre then this is the recipe for you. That said, if you're just looking for a really tasty brownie this will still absolutely do the trick.
Prep Time 30 minutes
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine American
Servings 36 brownies
Calories 141 kcal


  • 24cm square baking tin
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Electric mixer
  • Mixing bowls
  • Moulinette or blender


  • 60 g peanut butter I used smooth, you can use whatever you like. Almond butter would also work.
  • 50 g unsalted butter You could use coconut oil if preferred.
  • 245 g dark chocolate Around 70% cocoa is great, much higher will result in dry, bitter brownies.
  • 65 g white chocolate
  • 65 g milk chocolate
  • 60 g plain flour To make these gluten-free you can swap this for 55g more ground almonds.
  • 50 g finely-ground nuts and seeds I used a mix of linseed, flaxseed, pumpkin seed, sunflower seed, hemp seed, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, cashews and Brazil nuts, milled in a moulinette until relatively fine. Good old shop-bought ground almonds would be perfectly fine, though!
  • 65 g cocoa powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 360 g golden caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste Extract would be fine.
  • 2 tbsp brewer's yeast (debittered) This can be omitted without affecting the recipe at all.


  • Preheat your oven to 180°c/160°c fan and line your baking tin with greaseproof paper.
  • Measure out your peanut butter, unsalted butter and dark chocolate into a bowl and melt gently in a bain marie. Alternatively, you can melt it carefully using the microwave on low power in 40 second increments until the chocolate is melted. Mix until uniform in colour and texture, and put aside to cool slightly.
  • Mix your eggs and sugar with your hand mixer, or use a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, on high. You want the mixture to roughly double in volume and be very pale and fluffy. This could take 3-8 minutes depending on your mixer's speed.
  • Once the egg and sugar mix is voluminous enough, gently fold in the chocolate/butter/peanut butter, plus your vanilla paste or extract. Use figure-of-eight motions, taking care not to knock out too much air, until fairly well combined. Don't worry about making it completely uniform for now.
  • Whisk your ground nuts and seeds, flour (if using), brewer's yeast and cocoa powder together in a bowl briskly until all lumps are gone and the ingredients are evenly dispersed. Add in your white and milk chocolate, chopped into chunks (I like a variety of sizes, just for texture.) Fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture gently until no dry streaks remain.
  • Pour your brownie batter into the lined baking tin, spreading evenly if necessary.
  • Bake for 25-35 minutes, depending on how you like your brownies. Slightly longer will yield a more fudgy/chewy brownie, while less cooking time will give you more of a dessert-style gooey brownie. To check that your brownies are cooked, give your pan a little shake. If any of the batter is still wobbly it needs a little longer.
  • As difficult as it may be, leave your brownies to cool completely before slicing. This will give you much tidier pieces. Make 6 slices in each direction to yield 36 squares. This is the serving size I'd technically recommend in one go but let your heart guide you. I'd be lying if I said I only ever had one at a time.
  • Serve with tea or coffee, or with a scoop of ice cream if you're feeling decadent (as you should!)


You could make this recipe egg-free by substituting the eggs with 1tbsp milled flax seeds hydrated in 3tbsps of warm water and one very ripe medium-sized banana thoroughly mashed, plus a tsp baking powder to compensate for the loss of volume from the eggs.
You could also try swapping the butter for dairy-free spread and the chocolate for vegan chocolate to make it dairy-free (and combine it with the above swaps to make these brownies vegan) but as I haven’t tried this myself I can’t say how well this would work. If you do try it, I’d love to hear from you! I wouldn’t recommend using all peanut-butter, as the batter is already fairly thick and I think this would likely make it far too stodgy, if you could even mix it at all.
You could also experiment with different nut butters, ground nuts and add-ins. I know my mum would like to to throw in some whole pecans, but for me this recipe is about hiding the nuts and seeds in plain sight. 
I am certainly not trying to pretend these brownies are a “health food”. I am not remotely qualified to do so, and I also don’t want to participate in the perpetuation of diet culture. They just happen to be delicious brownies that cunningly disguise some ingredients that are beneficial to most people’s nutrition without being particularly perceptible to the palate. 
Keyword baking, beginner, brownie, cake, chocolate, health benefits, thyroid
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Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Lactation Cookies

a lactation cookie held in the air in front of a rustic brick wall

Yeah, you heard me right. Lactation cookies.

If you’re looking for a super tasty, chewy, oaty chocolate chip cookie then you can scroll by and ignore the whole lactation thing. You can even leave out the brewer’s yeast and flax seeds if you don’t fancy tracking them down, though they do have other alleged health benefits, which I’ll expand on a little below, and don’t affect the taste. Don’t worry, you won’t find boob milk on the list of ingredients.

What are lactation cookies?

Put simply, they are cookies with ingredients to boost breastmilk supply.

I stumbled across the idea after my mum hounded me to drink Guinness to help get my boobs working a bit better after my son was born. Given my poor tolerance for alcohol and my even poorer tolerance for beery, stouty beverages I really wasn’t keen, but I was getting a bit desperate. I took to Google to try and find an alternative and the concept of “lactation cookies” came to my attention.

I read a lot of these recipes and, I’ll be honest, quite a few of them were a bit too health-foody for my liking. I want my cookies to taste like cookies, not hamster bedding. If I’m going to be reaching for a snack with a baby on my boob at 4am, it had better be worth the risk of getting crumbs on his head. So, I did my research into the ingredients to make sure I was including the key components, and endeavoured to create a lactation cookie anyone would enjoy, even if they aren’t sleep-deprived and slightly haggard.

a sheet of freshly-baked lactation cookies

What is in lactation cookies?

I did a fair bit of research on the topic and the common “active” ingredients were oats, flaxseed and brewer’s yeast. Each of these ingredients have (supposedly) beneficial properties, whether or not you’re lactating.

Brewer’s yeast has iron, potassium, selenium, zinc, protein, magnesium and B vitamins, as well as probiotics. I bought mine from Holland and Barrett in debittered powdered form, which worked really well. From what I’ve read online, it can be a bit unpleasant otherwise. I really couldn’t detect the flavour in the finished cookies.

Flax seeds are an ancient crop with a whole host of health benefits, including fibre, omega-3s and lignans, along with plenty of other vitamins and other nutrients. Most importantly, in this scenario, they contain phytoestrogens, which supposedly help breastmilk supply. I recommend using ground flax seeds wherever possible, as the husks on whole flax seeds make the interior kernel harder to digest. Plus, if you want to make this recipe vegan, you can use the flax seed to make an egg replacer to bind the cookie. More on that later…

Oats are another great iron source, which is why they appear in most recipes I’ve found for lactation cookies. They may also help to lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar.

There are other things you can throw in there, like chia seeds, and I sometimes do, but these three ingredients are the Big Daddies.

Do lactation cookies work?

I can only speak for myself, but for me the answer is a resounding “YES!”

I was adamant that I wanted to exclusively breastfeed, and I did my best. But, after a whole night of feeding with a still-hungry baby screaming at me and both boobs running dry, I accepted that I needed to add formula into the equation, pun half-intended. After that point I was increasingly desperate to find ways to get my supply up to meet my son’s requirements, and these haver certainly made a difference. Plus, breastfeeding is surprisingly hungry work, and having a semi-healthy snack to hand is essential.

Will lactation cookies make me produce breastmilk if I haven’t had a baby?

No, eating lactation cookies won’t make anyone’s breasts spontaneously productive, so there’s no need to worry about sharing these with your friends, family or co-workers and giving them leaky nips.

Can I make vegan lactation cookies?

This recipe is vegetarian, but with a couple of simple swaps it could be made vegan.

To replace the egg, simply add 7 tablespoons of tepid water to your flax seeds and leave for around 5 minutes to make an egg replacer. As a substitute for the butter, simply exchange with the margarine/vegan spread of your choice. Additionally, you’ll want to double-check your chocolate chips are dairy-free.

The only difference in the method is that you will need to use a non-stick cooking surface as it they will want to stick to the tray. A silicone baking sheet works a treat. My first attempt at veganising these resulted in cookies with “added fibre” in the form of greaseproof paper stuck to their bottoms…

Without further chit-chat, here is my recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip lactation cookies!

a lactation cookie held in the air in front of a rustic brick wall

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Lactation Cookies

Chewy, oaty, chocolatey cookies with bonus ingredients to promote breastmilk production.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Course Dessert, Snack
Cuisine American
Servings 20 cookies
Calories 176 kcal


  • Baking sheet
  • Oven
  • Mixing bowls
  • Kitchen scales


Dry Ingredients

  • 240 g rolled oats
  • 210 g plain flour (use gluten-free if required)
  • 5 tbsp debittered, powdered brewer's yeast (can be omitted for regular cookies)
  • 3 tbsp ground flax seed
  • 350 g sugar (I use a blend of 100g demerara, 100g coconut sugar, 100g caster sugar and 50g dark brown sugar)
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (also known as baking soda)
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 250 g chocolate chips (I like to use half milk chocolate and half dark)
  • 1 pinch salt

Wet Ingredients

  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 250 g unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract


  • Preheat your oven to 170°C/350°F.
  • Measure out your dry ingredients (except the sugar) and add to a mixing bowl. Lightly whisk together until evenly dispersed.
  • Melt the butter in the microwave. Add the sugar and mix vigorously until the mixture is reasonably smooth. Add in the vanilla extract and stir through. Leave to cool slightly.
  • Lightly beat your egg and extra yolk before adding to the sugar and butter mixture.
  • Pour your wet mixture into the dry, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine. When the dough becomes too stiff to stir, work it with your hands. It should be a nice, pliable texture and not too sticky.
  • Take meatball-sized chunks of dough and roll in your hands, before flattening into cookie shapes. this mixture doesn't spread, so if you leave it in a ball it will make something more akin to chocolate chip rock cakes. You should get around 20 decent-sized cookies.
  • Bake in the oven for around 20 minutes, until the very edges are crisp. They will seem too soft, but will firm up considerably as they cool. Don't overbake or they will become hard and biscuity as opposed to chewy.
  • Leave to cool on the baking sheet until cool enough to touch, then transfer to a wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days, or freeze.


You can use more or less any sugar, but my combination works best for me. Using all demerara will give you slightly crunchier cookies, all light brown sugar will be slightly softer, all caster sugar will have less dimension of flavour. I wouldn’t recommend using all dark brown sugar, or they will be quite treacly.
The dough can be frozen after stage 6 for ready-to-bake cookies, just give them an extra minute or two in the oven.
You can swap out the chocolate chips for other mix-ins, like nuts or dried fruit.
Keyword baking, beginner, chocolate, cookie, oatmeal, quick and easy
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Black Pepper and White Chocolate Madeleines

Working on a French food website is a bit hazardous, especially when it comes to the baked goods. It seems inevitable that I sometimes end up dribbling into my keyboard, imagining the treats I could whip up when I got home.

When I set about developing this recipe I must confess I struggled; how can you improve on the traditional flavours like vanilla, lemon and almond? The answer is not to dramatically alter, but to enhance. Thus, the black pepper madeleine was born.

The addition of black pepper to a sweet, delicate cake may seem like sacrilege, but a couple of twists of freshy-ground peppercorns elevates the airy sponge with an ever-so-slightly spicy je ne sais quoi and stops the vanilla from being humdrum. The white chocolate dip balances the kick and looks rather pretty.

Of course, you could always switch out the pepper for lemon zest and have a perfectly lovely, traditional madeleine, but I heartily recommend this little experiment. I promise it is less bonkers than it sounds.

Please note that dusty, grey, pre-ground pepper will not work here. Not only is the flavour too dull, it will tint your cakes an unappealing grey rather than a rich, sunny yellow.

This recipe is great for adventurous beginners, with minimal special equipment required. You can buy madeleine tins fairly inexpensively online. You can find silicone ones but, personally, I find that the good old-fashioned non-stick metal kind heat up more evenly and give a much nicer colour and texture.

Black Pepper and White Chocolate Madeleines

Elena Bjørn
The classic scallop-shaped, buttery French cakes with a modern twist of black pepper.
Prep Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 12 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine French
Servings 18 madeleines
Calories 138 kcal


  • Madeleine tray
  • Oven
  • Hand mixer


  • 2 medium eggs (as fresh as you can manage)
  • 110 g unsalted butter
  • 95 g caster sugar
  • 110 g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2-3 grinds freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste (or a few drops of extract)
  • 150 g white chocolate
  • 1 pinch salt


  • Grease your madeleine tray with a scant amount of unsalted butter. Too much will result in crusty cakes. Place the tray in the fridge while you prepare your batter.
  • Melt your butter in the microwave, or on the hob using a double-boiler, and set aside to cool slightly while you measure your other ingredients.
  • If your eggs are not room-temperature, submerge them briefly in slightly warm water. If your eggs are too chilly they will not achieve the volume required. Using a stand mixer, hand mixer or even a whisk if you’re brave, beat the eggs and sugar together until they are very pale and have reached the “ribbon stage”. This will take around five minutes with an electric mixer. At the very end, add in the vanilla and pepper.
  • Sift together your flour, baking powder and salt, before folding gently into the egg mixture. Use a metal spoon or rubber spatula, knocking as little air as possible out of the eggs. Stir until the flour is just incorporated.
  • Add a couple of spoonfuls of the egg, sugar and flour mixture into your cooled, but still melted, butter, and stir until mostly-combined. This will make it easier to add the butter to the rest of your mixture and fold until the batter is smooth and silky.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour, up to overnight. This chilling time is crucial for developing a light, fluffy sponge, preventing crusting and growing a sizeable “hump” on the underside of your madeleines.
  • Once the batter is thoroughly chilled pre-heat your oven to 175C (170C fan). Retrieve your batter and the tin from the fridge and portion out your cakes. You should have enough batter for 18 standard-sized madeleines or 12 extremely generous ones. The batter will be very stiff, but do not be tempted to smush it about in the tin; it will self-level in the oven and spill neatly into the characteristic ridges.
  • Bake for 9-12 minutes, depending on your oven. I am guilty of sitting on the oven floor and babysitting my madeleines as they cook, biting my nails as I wait for the batter to bulge into the all-important hump, or belly, which means the batch has succeeded. As soon as the cakes are golden and springy to the touch they are ready to pull out of the oven.
  • Allow your cakes to cool in the tin for a short while before moving them to a cooling rack, scalloped-side down. While they finish cooling you can melt your white chocolate (if nothing else, to prevent you from snaffling any of the still-warm madeleines. They will smell delicious, and you will want to eat at least four before you’ve finished them off.) You can use a double-boiler on the hob or the microwave on low-power.
  • Once your chocolate is melted you can choose to drizzle your madeleines for a fun, informal look, but I like to dip mine, like langues des chats. For this, you’ll find a narrow container will give you straighter lines and a deeper well of chocolate to dip into. A pyrex measuring jug is ideal.
  • Set your chocolate-dipped madeleines hump-side-down on the cooling rack while the chocolate hardens. Once set, eat right away. Freshly-baked madeleines do not keep well, especially if they are on the smaller side. If you really must keep them overnight, store them in an airtight container in the fridge and allow them to come back to room temperature before eating.


The addition of baking powder is considered slightly controversial by purists and can be omitted if you’re aiming to make a strictly traditional madeleine. However, if you’re not confident about the airiness of your eggs or the gentleness of your folding technique, the baking powder will yield a more reliable result.
Keyword baking, beginner, cake, french, madeleines, patisserie
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I got knocked up… what’s next?

decorative photo of elena and alex's ultrasound scan of niko

If you follow me on socials you may have spotted that I made a very small announcement a few weeks ago: Alex and I are expecting a baby in December!

We’re really excited to bring our tiny human out into the world, especially as getting pregnant was less than straightforward. I was diagnosed with severe PCOS, and had to take a medication called metformin to get my ovaries to work. Metformin is primarily a diabetes medication used to stabilise your blood sugar, but one of its unofficial uses is for encouraging ovulation in people with PCOS. It has some pretty significant side effects, mostly by giving you IBS-like symptoms, but in our case it was worth it, because it actually worked.

That positive test was life-changing, and we were so excited. For about a week I was a bundle of energy, chirping about all the thoughts in my head, making appointments with midwives and really struggling to keep our tiny secret under my hat. But after that first blissful week came the sickness. Jesus christ, the sickness.

My mum had hyperemesis gravidarum with me, so I knew that extreme pregnancy sickness was a possibility. From six weeks pregnant I was an exhausted puke fountain, living in fear of overwhelming smells or driving around roundabouts. 90% of food was suddenly off-limits, and the only things I could consistently keep down were ice pops and Powerade. This culminated in an admission to hospital for two bags of IV fluids and several hours of monitoring because I’d started vomiting blood and couldn’t even keep water down.

The sickness has been pretty grim, and has actually made furlough a blessing in disguise. I got furloughed back in March and haven’t worked since and, while it has been driving me slowly mad and a paycut is never a welcome change, it has meant that I can nap and marathon Treehouse of Horror episodes fairly guilt-free. If I feel like I haven’t done much in the past three months it’s because, honestly, I haven’t. Growing a human has been my sole covid-19 lockdown achievement. I couldn’t even do the paint-by-numbers I ordered before one of my cats threw up on it.

Speaking of covid-19, it has made the whole pregnancy experience quite odd. I was referred to my local Early Pregnancy Unit a few days after my positive test because I’d been bleeding and having stabbing pains, and I had to get a pelvic exam from an out-of-hours doctor in full PPE, which was rather like being fingerbanged by a welder. Then I went for a transvaginal scan, again from a team with masks and visors on. I still haven’t met my actual assigned midwife, or had an opportunity to tour my birthing unit. When I was admitted to hospital this weekend I didn’t see a full human face for nearly 6 hours. While I absolutely appreciate the need for PPE it is odd putting yourself in the hands of people whose faces you can’t see.

Alex has been my absolute hero through all of this. Despite the fact that he’s still working (and bloody hard, far longer than his contracted hours) he has looked after me, the cats and the house while I’ve been a floppy mess. He’s held my hair back, fetched puke buckets and bought me nice bread. He hasn’t been allowed to come to my NHS scans with me to see the baby, which has been really tough on him, so for an early Father’s Day gift I booked a private scan in Bristol, where we both got to see baby’s heartbeat for the first time. It was worth every penny for him to get the chance to see our child kicking their froggy little legs, live on screen.

As of today I am 15 weeks and one day pregnant, with the baby due on December 14th. I have a little over five months left of this pregnancy, and I’m slowly starting to get some energy back. I have so much I need to do with the house to get ready, and thanks to furlough I have a teeny tiny budget within which to achieve all of it. It’s really strange to think that I might only be back at work for a month and a half before I go off on maternity leave – it’ll be the least I’ve worked in a year in my whole adult life.

I don’t intend to suddenly become a mummy blogger (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but let’s be honest, I’m hardly a regular poster) but as and when I feel like I have something to say that won’t fit in a Tweet I might find myself here, typing away. For now, I’m going to go and research hypnobirthing courses and book a timeslot at my local dump. Gosh, pregnancy is exciting.

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Changing My Mind About Motherhood

Throughout my teens and early 20s I was fairly adamant that I didn’t want to bear children. I thought that, maybe, I might adopt one day if I really wanted to start a family but otherwise I had no intention of inviting a child into my life on any kind of permanent basis. As far as I was concerned, I had more important and interesting things to do than childrearing.

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly maternal individual. I have two younger brothers and nearly a dozen younger cousins and, while they’re brilliant humans and I love spending time with them now we are all adults, there were times throughout my childhood where I, precocious and difficult as I was, found being surrounded by young’uns a bit of a chore. This is a failure in myself and not in them, but maybe that accounted on some level to my apathy. When my youngest brother was born I used to spend a lot of time singing to him in his little bedroom, but I was sent to boarding school when I was 8 and he was 3, and missed seeing him growing up. At boarding school I was bullied pretty badly and, aside from a couple of sweet and wonderful friends, it was a rocky decade. To put it simply, I didn’t even like children when I was one.

During my awkward young adult phase at University I was still broadly disinterested in having a kid, and paranoid about pregnancy, especially after having a miscarriage when I was 18, losing an embryo I didn’t even know I’d been carrying. This experience only made me more averse to the idea of ever getting pregnant on purpose. Anyone I dated from 2008 until now will tell you that I am prone to panic, buying pregnancy tests in bulk and squinting at them for the merest hint of a suggestion that my eggs have defied all the odds (and all the contraception), found a stray sperm somewhere and got fertilised without permission. Stupid eggs. Why can’t you just stay in my ovaries until you’re called upon?

Maybe it doesn’t help that, as the eldest in my generation of my extended family, I didn’t know many people around my age with babies. Broadly speaking, that’s still the case. Without spending any real time with small children I had built up an aversion based on my perception of strangers’ babies and toddlers in public places; screaming, mucky, sticky, inconvenient and wearisome. I wouldn’t say I actively disliked children but I sure as hell didn’t want one.

Whichever way I pictured my life, there were no children in the frame. I didn’t quite have a handle on how my career or home life were going to develop but I planned to be too spontaneous, too busy, too chaotically creative and itchy-footed to procreate.

What I did want, and have always wanted, is a life filled with animals. Lucky for me that’s exactly what I’ve had. There were always dogs in my family, but for the last 5 years I’ve had pets of my own, from a small fish bowl (which was fairly quickly upgraded to a tropical tank), to “just one” rabbit (which ended up being 13 adult rescue bunnies and two accidental litters over 4 years), an ill-fated dog adoption, three fostered semi-feral tabby kittens and, finally, two weird, wonderful, stroppy adult cats who have claimed my home for themselves and are kind enough to let me lodge there as their live-in butler.

I don’t know how, with all this in mind, I found myself staring at a negative pregnancy test two weeks ago, filled with unexpected disappointment. I’d taken one because my ever-unreliable period was even later than usual and I was due for a brain scan, which I wouldn’t be allowed to have if I was pregnant. I needed the test to be negative. My partner and I are not trying for a baby, nor are we ready for one. So why on earth was I upset by the result I expected?

As it turns out there are a few possible culprits for my unprecedented broodiness which, looking back, has been making its presence felt more and more over the last year or so. While I don’t think I’m especially affected by the number of acquaintances in my social media feeds who are expecting, or have recently had babies, I do hold my friend Jess partially responsible. Last summer she had her first baby, an amazing tiny person, and spending time with them both has got my uterus glowing. Jess is so capable and so engaged as a mum, and I swear she has magic powers (including a song about corn which stops baby tantrums in their tracks like a mute button). Even her birth story, which is more of a cautionary tale than anything else, didn’t silence the voice in the back of my head saying “You want one of these mini people.”

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To a certain extent I think my colleagues have had an impact too. I’ve never worked with so many parents before, certainly not young, creative, ambitious ones. Seeing them juggle parenthood with a hectic and demanding career, in a company that respects their home life, has opened my eyes to a modern parenthood that I saw as an ideal rather than an achievable possibility.

I definitely blame my wonderful partner, Alex, who is already a parent. We were friends for years before we became a couple, and the photos and stories of him with his daughter (who was 4 when Alex and I first met and is 8 now) always made me melt a little. The way he talks about the number one girl in his life means I’ve never struggled with the fact that I am, at best, number two. I have yet to meet her, but I know enough about her to write a compact encyclopaedia. I don’t think anyone has a longing to be a step-parent, but I can’t wait to take a more active role as “daddy’s girlfriend”.

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Don’t get me wrong, I (and we) are categorically not ready for a baby. We don’t live together, and my house is still not finished. Technically, though separated, Alex is still married, and although we’ve been friends for nearly 4 years we’ve been a couple for less than 6 months. I’ve only just made it through the probation period of a new job and have barely done any of the things most people want to cover off before introducing the encumbrance of an infant. But, all that aside, I think it’s safe to admit that I’ve changed my mind on motherhood. It might not ever happen, and if it does it shan’t be soon, but one day I would like to have a baby. Maybe. Just the one. Or maybe two. And a dog.

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