Thursday, 21 September 2023

Where have all the bilberries gone?


It was on a summer holiday to Alsace this year, that I came across ‘Tarte aux Myrtilles’ featuring on menus and was tempted to try this most attractive of desserts. Well, why not? As well as growing in the Vosges mountains, bilberries are found in the Savoie region of the French Alps and other areas of France. My friends with relatives in Finland also tell me that bilberries are a popular dessert there too. Sweden also boasts the cultivation of bilberries. Although I remember picking bilberries as a child, sadly they seem quite difficult to find in the UK nowadays. Local knowledge of places to pick them is often kept secret to protect this highly prized fruit.

Bilberries are often confused with blueberries but the latter are a different plant genus altogether. Bilberries are quite small, a little tart in flavour and a much darker blue in colour. They can leave a trace of blue on your lips, so we often got found out if we’d eaten too many when picking them!

If you are fortunate enough to find any bilberries, here’s a Franch family recipe to make your mouth water (or turn blue!).

Tarte aux Myrtilles

What you need


200g flour (plain)

100g butter (cut into small pieces)

75g caster sugar

1-2 tbsps milk (or water)

Dried beans for the pastry


400g bilberries

50g granulated sugar

50g ground almonds

30g flour

50g caster sugar

2 eggs

2 tbsps crème fraiche

Icing sugar to decorate

How to bake

Sift the flour and sugar together in a bowl and add the butter. Mix until it all resembles breadcrumbs. Add the milk (or water) and mix into a dough. Wrap and place in a cool place (fridge) for an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the bilberries and granulated sugar in a pan on a medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Strain the bilberries and remove from the pan. Continue to cook the juice until it has thickened. Then place the bilberries back in the pan and allow the mixture to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Roll out the pastry and place in a 22 cm tarte tin or dish.  Place in the fridge for 20 minutes to chill. Bake blind for 15 minutes (i.e. prick the base, cover with greaseproof paper and dried beans). Remove the greaseproof paper and dried beans and allow to cool.

While the pastry is baking, mix together the ground almonds, flour and 25g of the caster sugar. Spread this over the base of the tarte and then add the bilberry mixture on top. Whisk the eggs, crème fraiche and remaining caster sugar and pour over the bilberry mixture. Place in the oven for 20 minutes until it is set or firm to the touch. Allow to cool and sprinkle a little icing sugar on top before serving.

Meryl says : If you can’t find any bilberries or don’t want to use blueberries as an alternative, then go blackberrying instead. Blackberries are in abundance in the hedgerows just now so there’s always Apple and Blackberry Pie to enjoy. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2023

Fond memories of Madeleines



Rather like Jaffa cakes, experts have long discussed whether madeleines are a cake or a biscuit. Their sponge texture is quite soft and light but slightly dense, hence the debate. Baked using basic ingredients : sugar, eggs, butter, flour with baking powder, they can be flavoured with vanilla extract or lemon zest. Ground almonds may be substituted for some of the flour but my friend, Odile, says this is ‘pas comme il faut’ so who am to question the French on this? The madeleine tin is an essential piece of equipment since the moulds are in the shape of shells. The moulds give the madeleines their special shape and pattern with lines visible on each madeleine when baked.

How do you bake them?

Madeleines are very easy to bake – in fact you can’t go wrong. There is a multitude of recipes but they have similar instructions. Most suggest using melted butter but others follow a sort of creaming method where you soften the butter and add the rest of the ingredients. Some recipes don’t use milk. I’ve used a French family recipe here. This recipe makes 24 approximately (2 tins), depending on the size of the tin.

What you need

100g butter melted

100g caster sugar

2 eggs (beaten)

50g milk

Vanilla extract or

Zest of 1 lemon

100g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder


How to bake

Preheat the oven to 220C (200C Fan) or Gas Make 7. Beat the eggs and add the sugar, vanilla extract (or lemon zest) and some of the milk. Beat with a (electric) whisk over a bain-marie (in a bowl over a pan of warm water). Remove from the heat and continue to whisk. Add the rest of the milk and then stir in the flour and baking powder. Brush the madeleine tin with oil or a small amount of melted butter.   Place spoonsful of the mixture into the moulds – just fill half each individual mould. Bake for 10-12 minutes until they are well risen and firm. Leave to cool for 5 minutes then remove from the tin with a palette knife and put on a cooling rack.

To decorate

Icing sugar


White or dark chocolate

Apricot jam

For an easy decoration, sieve icing sugar across the madeleines or dip them in melted chocolate like ‘churros’. For a more elaborate version, brush the madeleines with apricot jam, heated ion a pan with 1 tbsp hot water, then trickle melted chocolate over the madeleines and leave until set.

These little cakes, forever etched in my memory from studying Proust at university, have their place as the most beguiling of small cakes. I love baking these with my grandchildren for goûter, to keep my fond memories of ‘madeleines’ alive. 

Sunday, 30 July 2023

Bring me sunshine ….

Sunshine Cake

The summer holidays have begun and, of course, it’s raining so what’s the best thing to do with the grandchildren? Easy answer - we’ll bake a cake! This is our Sunshine Cake and it’s a joy to make with my favourite summer apricots as its key ingredient. For this recipe, you can use dried ones too.

What you need

200g/7oz apricots (chopped)

200g/7oz butter (softened)

200g/7oz light brown sugar

3 large free-range eggs

200g/7oz self-raising flour

(or 200g/7oz plain flour + 2 tsps baking powder)

2 tsps cinnamon powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

A little milk to mix

To decorate

100g/3½oz butter, softened

100g/3½oz cream cheese

1 tsp vanilla extract

225g/8oz icing sugar

A few sliced apricots

A few blueberries

How to bake

1.      Preheat the oven to 180C/160C Fan/Gas 4. Grease two loose-bottomed 20cm/8in sandwich cake tins and line the bases with baking/greaseproof paper.

2.     Chop the apricots into small pieces. If you use dried ones, soak them for an hour in hot water unless they are already soft.

3.     Place the butter and sugar in a bowl or food mixer and mix until creamed.

4.    Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then add gradually to the creamed mixture.

5.     Sieve the flour (and baking powder if using plain flour) with the cinnamon. Add this to the creamed mixture and combine well with the chopped apricots. Add the vanilla extract and a little milk to make a soft mixture.

6.    Divide the mixture between the two tins and bake for 25–30 minutes, or until well risen.

7.     Leave to cool in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. The cakes will shrink a little as they cool.

8.    Make the icing, place the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and half of the icing sugar and whisk again until combined. Add the remaining icing sugar and whisk until light and fluffy.

9.    Spread half of the icing over one cake. Sandwich the cakes together, then spread the remaining icing on the top tier. Arrange the apricot slices and blueberries on top of the cake in a sunshine face pattern.

Meryl says : use pineapple, orange or mango as an alternative if you prefer.

Apricots have an impressive list of health benefits – and if they bring some sunshine to our rainy days – all the better! Enjoy a slice!

Tuesday, 27 June 2023

A Railway Cake to celebrate a railway book


 On 9 June 2023 at the Digital Media Centre in Barnsley, I was proud to launch 'From Woodhead to Doncaster - A pictorial Railway Journey’ by Fred Abson. It’s a book of my late father's photos of the Woodhead route of the MS&W Railway. These photos comprise signal boxes, bridges, crossings and junctions, signal box diagrams and detailed text explaining the location of the photos. The photos also include photos of Deltics at Doncaster Plant works in the early 1980s.

My father, Fred Abson, had recognised the importance of documenting the changes in railway infrastructure along the route of the Manchester, Sheffield and Wath railway line and beyond at the end of a life long career in the railway industry. It is to his credit and foresight that he photographed anything he judged to be of importance to provide a comprehensive record of the area for future reference and for generations to come. Alan Whitehouse, former BBC Look North and Yorkshire Post transport correspondent talked about how the railways across the area provided many employment opportunities and knowledge and skills which are in danger of being lost.

The day was exactly 11 years since I launched Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking book, so there would be no doubt that I’d be making a cake to celebrate with family, friends and railway enthusiasts. I made a Victoria Sandwich cake as Grandma would have done for any special occasion and decorated it with a collar of railway lines and trains across the top. Not a slice left at the end!

Compiling the ‘From Woodhead to Doncaster’ book has been a real labour of love. Growing up with my sister on a railway station left me with many memories and a lifelong passion for the railways. This impressive collection of photographs, which my father left us, is testament not only to his eye for detail but also to his lifelong passion for railways. It was a truly splendid celebration of this pictorial railway journey!

From Woodhead to Doncaster – A Pictorial railway Journey

For more information about how to get a copy price £6.99 + postage, please email

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

A spoonful of Jam makes the perfect Raspberry Bun


It was just before Easter that I did a talk at Castleford Library. I was very privileged to be invited back to talk to the Friends of Castleford Library group. My talk was about Lenten and Easter baking and how different cultures celebrated this time with food. One of the great things about this group is their interest in all things baking. The topic of ground rice came up and where to buy it as they had experienced some difficulty sourcing it. I did a quick search of the usual places and did manage to buy a packet.  

So what is ground rice?

It’s a type of rice, either brown or white which has been milled and ground into a powder. It has a slightly coarser texture than rice flour but both are considered an excellent source of fibre, which can help with digestive health and reduce cholesterol levels

Raspberry Buns are my favourite

My favourite Ground Rice recipe from Grandma Abson’s collection is Raspberry Buns and since I bought my (large) packet of Ground Rice, we’ve made it quite a few times with my grandchildren. What they love best is to stick their thumbs in the centre of the dough to make a hole for the Raspberry Jam! Here’s Grandma Abson’s recipe :

Raspberry Buns


6oz/175g plain flour

4oz/110g butter or lard

6oz/175 ground rice

4oz/110g sugar

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs (leaving out 1 white)

Pinch of salt

Milk to mix

Raspberry jam

Rub the butter into the flour and then add the ground rice, sugar, baking powder, salt and eggs (well beaten) and milk. Mix to a stiff consistency. Form small buns from the dough and put these on well greased tins. Brush over with the white of egg. Put a little jam in the centre of each. Bake for 20 minutes in a fairly hot oven. (400F, Mark 6, 200C)

Ground Rice is guaranteed its place in traditional British baking with a whole series of dishes such as Ground Rice Pudding and features in recipes from Tudor times onwards. In more recent times, it was a popular choice for school dinners in the 1940s and 50s. Grandma Abson served Ground Rice Pudding regularly and as a special treat with a spoonful of homemade raspberry jam in the centre of your dish which you swirled round to make a pattern, using a spoon not your thumb this time!

Saturday, 15 April 2023

A different take on Scones

Rhubarb and ginger Scones

Scones fit the bill perfectly for a quick afternoon tea bake and can be made from store cupboard items. Grandma’s fruit scones always came out light and airy and won many plaudits but I like to try out different versions and chanced upon a recipe for Rhubarb Scones. It was from the Queen's Mill Castleford  cook book ‘Born and Bred’. I was privileged to visit the Mill several times to do talks and was delighted to hear they had recently received funding for renovation work.  I’ve tried out a couple of recipes from the book for Mint Pasties  and Bean, pea and bacon tart previously using the famous Queens Mill Stoneground wholemeal flour and they are brilliant.


I’ve slightly amended the original recipe from the book which was an amalgamation of several recipes collated by Yvette Cooper MP. I’ve also added ginger to the recipe for a distinct flavour.

Rhubarb and ginger Scones

8 oz/225g self-raising wholemeal flour

2oz/50g butter

3oz/75g soft brown sugar

2 stalks (forced) Yorkshire Rhubarb

1 tsp ground ginger

2 eggs

Milk to mix


Preheat the oven to 220C (Fan 200C). Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture ressembles breadcrumbs. Add the sugar. Chop the Rhubarb into small slices and add to the mixture together with the ginger. Beat the eggs and add enough milk to make a soft dough. Roll out and cut into sections with a cutter. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove from the oven when the scones are golden brown.

 Meryl’s tips : Serve with a generous portion of crème fraiche, cream or clotted cream for a winning afternoon tea.

Why not try out some home baking this week? Who can resist the joys of a plate of scones, warm, aromatic and straight out of the oven? And these Rhubarb and ginger scones making a talking point for sure!

Thursday, 23 March 2023

Wilkins Cake has its day


Today is the National Day of Reflection and I’ve been reflecting on when I first started to collate Grandma Abson’s recipes and put them in the book which inspire such interest for me in traditional baking.

 This was one of the first cakes I baked from her collection and everyone who tasted it was quite taken with its simplicity and ease to bake. It was one of the winners at Grandma’s book launch too. I love the idea of a cup of this and a cup of that which takes away the problem of metric translations. 

Wilkins Cake

3 oz (75g) butter

1 cup sugar

2 cups plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ginger

¼ grated nutmeg

1 cup raisins

1 cup water

 Melt butter in a pan. Boil the sugar in water for 3 minutes. When cold, add the flour and the baking powder. Add the spices, salt and raisins. Mix well. Bake for 1 - 1 ¼ hours in a warm oven.  (300F, Mark 3, 150 C)  

I never found out who Wilkins was – but Grandma’s husband was William Lionel so, if it was his nickname, maybe it was his favourite!


Monday, 27 February 2023

Bakewell Tart or Bakewell Pudding?


Bakewell Pudding

I often get mixed up between Bakewell Pudding and Bakewell Tart. The story goes that Bakewell Pudding had its origins in Bakewell in Derbyshire back in the 1800s. It was allegedly created following a mishap by the cook at a local inn, who misunderstood the recipe for a strawberry tart and ended up topping her creation, most likely made with puff pastry with a soft set almond custard. On the other hand, Bakewell Tart was developed a 100 years later  with a shortcrust pastry case, spread with strawberry jam and topped with an almond frangipane sponge, topped with white fondant icing and a glace cherry or almonds or lemon icing.

Grandma Abson’s recipe comes somewhere between the 2 versions and she uses either strawberry or raspberry jam.

Raspberry or Strawberry jam


1 cupful plain flour

1 dsp baking powder

½ cupful ground almonds

4 tbsps sugar

2 eggs (beaten)

A little butter (melted)

Flaked almonds

Line a tin with a layer of pastry. Spread with raspberry jam. Mix together the flour, baking powder, ground almonds, sugar and eggs. Melt the butter and add this to the mixture. Put on top of the jam and sprinkle flaked almonds on the top. Bake in a fairly hot oven for 20 minutes and reduce for a further 10 minutes.” (400F, Mark 6, 200C to 350F, Mark 4, 180C)

Pudding or Tart, we love them both and there’s always delight in the house when it’s ‘Bakewell ….’ in reply to ‘What’s for Pudding?’

Friday, 13 January 2023

Piimakakku – the friendly cake



I have never visited Finland but my friends in the north of England often visit the country as their grandchildren are growing up there. They tell me that Finnish people love to eat baked cakes and pastries, especially in winter with coffee or hot chocolate. Some of the most popular baked treats are Runeberg torte, Pulla, Rönttönen as well as fruit pies and cookies.

Pimakakku is one of their favourite cakes and they say that it appears on coffee tables at gatherings of family and friends year after year. Finnish people often say it is sometimes called ‘the friendly cake’ as it reminds them of their childhood and the friends of their youth.

This is a recipe from the children’s Finnish Grandma who is called Maarit. It’s quite easy to make and one of the essential ingredients is buttermilk.

What you need :

300g flour

150g sugar

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground cloves ( or ground mixed spice)

1 tsp ground ginger

75g melted butter

300 ml buttermilk

How to bake :

·        Mix all the dry ingredients

·        Add the melted butter to the dry ingredients

·        Add the buttermilk and stir well until smooth

·        Pour the mixture into a greased and floured tin (e.g. a bundt tin)

·        Bake in the oven for 1 hour (175C)

·        When slightly cooled invert the cake onto a wire rack.

Enjoy a taste of Finland to bring in the New Year. This is a fantastic cake to share with friends.