Demerara sugar

Brandy snaps

brandy snaps 1

Brandy snaps were my mother-in-law’s absolute favourite. So eager to please (in the early stages of my relationship with Ben) I attempted to make her some as a birthday gift. After several angry hours in the kitchen and lots of wasted ingredients I ended up with THREE that were just about presentable.

I then swore that I would never, ever make them again. But that was 10 years ago now.

On another, but relevant note (bear with me here), I am having a year of rereading. This is a brilliant experience which I would definitely recommend. In many cases I am enjoying my favourite books even more the second time around. And as the books are a stable, unchanging thing, this is highlighting to me just how much I’ve changed. I am rereading the books through older, more experienced and perhaps wiser eyes.

My experience with trying to make brandy snaps again after 10 years is similar. The memory of failure has nagged at me for all these years but this time around they came out just fine with a minimum of stress and I wondered what an earth all the fuss had been about. The thing is, it’s not the recipe that’s changed – it’s me. I’m definitely now more patient (which probably goes hand in hand with being a mother). I also now except advice and don’t assume I know it all already.

Plus, the amazing teaching tool that is YouTube didn’t exist all those years ago (if my instructions below are in anyway unclear I recommend watching Mary Berry’s YouTube video).

Mary Berry’s brandy snaps

Makes 8-12

  • 50g of butter
  • 50g of demerara sugar
  • 50g of golden syrup
  • 50g of flour
  • ½ a teaspoon of lemon juice
  • ½ a teaspoon of powdered ginger

Put the butter, sugar and syrup into a small saucepan and heat very, very slowly, stirring regularly until all the ingredients are melted. Take your time here and make sure that all the sugar has dissolved and is not grainy. It will take around 10-15 minutes (put your patient head on). Leave to cool a little (for around 5 minutes).

Measure out the flour and ginger and sieve into the saucepan once the butter/sugar/syrup mix has cooled.

Give everything a good stir and add the lemon juice. The mixture should now be smooth and glossy.

Take a flat baking tray and line with some baking parchment. Dollop a teaspoon of the mix onto the baking tray. Leave plenty of space between each dollop as they will spread out massively. I recommend 4 to each sheet and doing them in batches.

Place in an oven preheated to 160oC fan to bake. They will take around 10 – 15 minutes but start watching after 8. They should spread out and turn lacy and a nice deep golden colour.

Take them out of the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes. You will not be able to shape them straight from the oven as they will still be too runny.

When just firm enough, use a palette knife to carefully lift each brandy snap off the baking sheet. Then curl around a well-greased wooden spoon to shape. You can also make baskets by placing them over the bottom of a glass.

Leave to cool completely and go rock hard and then keep in an air tight container.

I prefer them unfilled but you can fill them with whipped cream if you like (you will need a piping bag and nozzle for this). Or cheat and use squirty cream. But don’t fill them until you are ready to eat or they will go soft.


Rhubarb crumble

rhubarb crumble

I love this time of year when everything starts happening in the garden and down at the allotment. As well as all the weeds (and potatoes popping up everywhere other than where they should be) the rhubarb has gone bonkers.

This is brilliant news and with the first pickings there is always one dish I can’t wait to cook – and that’s a classic rhubarb crumble of course. I salivate at the thought of it because (and I know I probably say this every time I post a desert recipe) it’s one of my favourite ever puddings. Definitely in my top five and certainly my crumble of choice.

Whilst rhubarb is the best crumble in my opinion, you can use this crumble topping with any fruity bottom – apple, blackcurrant, blackberry, plums, gooseberries, peaches. It’s not bland and powdery like the crumble topping of school dinners, but instead crunchy and slightly chewy because of the demerara sugar and oats. Adding oats to the topping for more bite is something that my mother taught me.

Rhubarb crumble


  • 10 sticks of rhubarb (cheffy recipes often insist on young rhubarb which is redder and needs less sugar than the regular sort. I’m not so fussy; if your rhubarb is on the tart side then you just need to add a bit more sugar)
  • 100g caster sugar (or more if your rhubarb is greener and tarter)
  • (optional) 1 tablespoon of stem ginger in syrup or I use a good tablespoon of marrow and ginger jam (from Sarah Raven’s Garden Cookbook)

Topping – this can be used for any fruit crumble

  • 100g softened butter
  • 100g demerara sugar
  • 150g plain flour
  • 50g rolled oats

Preheat your oven to 180oC fan.

Wash and cut the rhubarb into 1 inch pieces and spread out on a large rectangular baking tin (with sides). Sprinkle on the sugar and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the rhubarb is soft enough for a fork to go through with little resistance.

If you want a ginger kick then spoon the stem ginger or marrow and ginger jam into the baking tin and give everything a gentle mix (you don’t want to break the rhubarb up too much if you can help it). It’s worth having a taste at this stage to check the sugar level – you may need to add a bit more if your rhubarb is on the tart side.

Spoon the rhubarb mixture into an over proof dish or dishes – I use three small oval Denby ovenproof dishes with 0.5 litre capacity. If your mix is very watery (this will depend on the water content in your rhubarb) then you don’t need to use all the syrupy liquid you just need enough to cover the rhubarb pieces (but don’t throw the rest away – it’s delicious over ice cream).

For the crumble topping measure all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and rub the ingredients together between your fingers until you get a mix that resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Sprinkle the topping over the rhubarb and bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown.

I like to serve with lots of single cream but you may prefer custard.

NOTE: You can prepare in advance and keep in the fridge before baking but I think it’s better to keep the fruit and the crumble topping separate until the last minute so that it doesn’t go too soggy in the middle.

Sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce and ice cream

sticky toffee pudding

I once walked along the line of Hadrian’s Wall from Newcastle (on the west coast) to Bowness-on-Solway (on the east coast) over a period of 8 days. Every evening we ate at the local pub and almost every evening I’d finish my meal off with a sticky toffee pudding. I just couldn’t get enough of it and it felt totally guilty free – surely I deserved it after all that walking! For years I only ever ate sticky toffee pudding as a special treat when eating out but then I came across this recipe, attempted to make it myself, and that was when I discovered the secret.

You see I know why sticky toffee pudding is nearly always on the dessert menu in pubs and restaurants. Firstly, it’s not particularly difficult to make, secondly, it keeps for up to a week in a tin, thirdly, it can be frozen, and fourthly, and most importantly, it tastes pretty much the same reheated in the microwave as it does fresh from the oven. Don’t be put off by the fact that there are two separate elements (sponge and sauce) and some whizzing of dates in a food processor – it’s really not that complicated (although there is a little more washing up than an all in one sponge cake).

This recipe is adapted from the one in James Martin’s book ‘Desserts’ – nauseatingly subtitled ‘a fabulous collection of recipes from Sweet Baby James’ (seriously, who came up with that TV series title?). He in turn attributes the recipe to the owners of the Sharrow Bay Hotel on the banks of Lake Ullswater in the Lake District who he believes invented the dish. Apparently there is some dispute over this, but regardless of who thought it up, in my view it’s one of the best puddings there is.

I’ve also included a recipe for classic vanilla ice cream which makes a perfect accompaniment. It also tastes wonderful with just the toffee sauce if you have no room left for stodge and the end of a meal.

Sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce

Serves at least 9 cut into squares but I would recommend slicing into 18 small rectangles as it is really rich (especially with toffee sauce and ice cream)

For the sticky toffee pudding

  • 55g soft butter, plus 15g for greasing
  • 175g demerara sugar
  • 200g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 ½ tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 ½ tablespoons black treacle
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 200g pitted dates
  • 1 tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda

For the toffee sauce

  • 100g demerara sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 200ml double cream

Preheat the oven to 190oC fan.

Grease a 20cm squared tin (or one with the same area) with 15g of butter, then dust the inside of the tin with flour.

Mix the sugar and butter together with an electric hand whisk or by hand with a wooden spoon. Then add the golden syrup, black treacle, eggs and vanilla extract and mix again for a minute or so until well combined. Add the flour and fold into the mixture carefully with a metal spoon.

Put the dates in a saucepan with 300ml of cold water and bring to the boil. Transfer to a blender and whizz up for a minute until smooth. Add the tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda and whizz again for a second. The mixture will foam up quite excitingly.

While it is still hot tip the date mix into the other ingredients and fold with the metal spoon until well combined.

Transfer to your prepared tin and bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer poked into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the tin and allow to cool on a wire rack, before cutting into portion sized squares or rectangles. I like to trim the edges if I’m trying to be fancy but these are perfectly good to eat as leftovers. If you are making this pudding in advance then wrap in foil when it is completely cool and store in a cake tin or Tupperware.

For the toffee sauce put the sugar and butter into a saucepan over a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cream and bring to boiling point. Stir continuously for about 5 minutes until the sauce has turned golden and has started to thicken.

When you are ready to serve you just need to reheat the sauce in the pan on the hob or in a jug in the microwave for a minute or two. The sponge can be reheated as a whole in the oven covered with foil for about 5 minutes at 180oC fan or in individual portions in the microwave for about 30 seconds.

You can also freeze individual portions of toffee and sauce.

The prepared tin.

The prepared tin.

Little Mix.

Little Mix.

The frothy date mixture.

The frothy date mixture.

When the toffee sauce has turned this colour remove it from the heat.

When the toffee sauce has turned this colour remove it from the heat.

Vanilla Ice Cream

Makes 1 1/2 pints

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 300ml milk
  • 300ml double cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar together.

Heat the milk in a saucepan slowly until it is almost boiling and then stir this into the egg and sugar mixture.

Tip the whole lot back into the pan and place on a medium heat stirring continuously with a whisk until the mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Whatever you do don’t let it boil or it will curdle and ruin.

Cover the mixture and leave it to cool first to room temperature and then in the fridge. Stir in the cream and the vanilla extract and churn in an ice cream maker until thick. Place in a plastic container and transfer to the freezer to finish hardening.

NOTE: I have a Magimix Le Glacier ice cream maker – the cheaper sort where you have to freeze the bowl overnight before using. If you don’t have an ice cream maker then you can still follow this recipe but you will need to whip the double cream first before adding it to the milk/egg/sugar mixture. Fold the cream into the custard and then freeze, beating every couple of hours with a fork or in a food processor until it is firm enough to scoop (usually about 6 hours).