Monday 20 May 2024

Spring into action and bake!

Orange Polenta Cake

There’s something about May which makes me want to bake – maybe it’s because the Bank Holidays are occasions for friends and families to get together - often in rainy weather as the early May Day one just gone - so baking a pudding or cake seems the natural thing to do? But did you know that the month of May is brimming with a flotilla of food related days such as ‘Eat what you want day’ on 11 May, whether you stick to healthy eating or not, as well as Europe Day on 9 May and European Neighbours’ Day on 27 May which are good reasons to indulge in such delights as Pastéis de nata, Madeleines or a slice of Gateau Basque.

What’s all this about World Baking Day …?

But wait … I’ve discovered that there’s a World Baking Day to add to these foodie days in May, which is celebrated on the third Sunday in May. 

 I’m going to try something I've never done before and bake a Polenta Cake. Valerie, a friend of mine is having her Diamond Wedding celebrations later in the year and she asked me to bake a cake for the occasion.  But since my friend is gluten intolerant, she has asked me to bake a Polenta Cake, which is a first for me. I want to try it out a few times to make sure it will going to be near perfect for their family event.

Orange Polenta Cake

What you need

140g ground almonds

100g polenta

1 tsp baking powder

4 eggs (separated)

170ml rapeseed oil

170g golden caster sugar

Grated zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon

For the syrup

150ml orange juice

55g caster sugar

How to bake

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C Fan) and grease a cake tin (20 cm x 8 cm). Mix together the ground almonds, polenta and baking powder. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg yolks, oil, 150g of the golden caster sugar and the grated zests of the orange and lemon. Fold in the dry ingredients gently. In another bowl, whisk the egg white and remaining golden caster sugar until there are stiff peaks. Then add this to the cake mixture in batches. Try not to stir too much so you keep the air in the mixture. Pour it all into the cake tin and bake in the oven for around 30-35 minutes until the cake is firm or a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin and make the syrup.

Add the orange juice and caster sugar to a small saucepan and stir to dissolve the sugar over a low heat. Bring to the boil for 1 minute or so. Leave to cool for 10-15 minutes.

Pierce the cake all over with a skewer and then drizzle the syrup over the cake. Leave to cool for another 10 minutes or so before turning the cake out of the tin and allow to cool.

Valerie says she often used to make a decoration of mascarpone, icing sugar and whipped cream to spread on the top but she says that sifted icing sugar on the top is sufficient to make this cake a stunning centrepiece for any occasion. The choice is yours!

I was very pleased with this first attempt which had the thumbs up all round. Why not check out your local market to buy your ingredients. It’s Love Your Local Market week from 17 May to 1 June which is about encouraging everyone to support their local market and community. Whatever you bake and whoever you bake for, enjoy World Baking Day and spring into action – it’s going to be an annual event on my calendar! 

Saturday 16 March 2024

Happiness is …. a piece of cake


Every year the International Day of Happiness is held on 20 March It’s a global event organised by the United Nations. The theme this year is ‘Happier together’ and in these difficult times, we are reminded that being happy is a human right. This year’s theme is very much about the connection we have with others and how we should focus on what we can offer to bring happiness. These could be acts of service, volunteer work or just simply a kind gesture.

Although this day is a more recent tradition – it began in 2013 – food has long had a close association to happiness. Every time, I’ve baked a cake for a talk or a family event, I’ve been rewarded with many smiles and cheery words of thanks. So here are some of my favourite ones :

The first talk about my Grandma's life and her homemade delights was for Grandma’s old friends at Furlong Road Methodist Church, Bolton on Dearne. They remembered her sumptuous cakes such as Marmalade Spice Cake and Apple pies – so the pressure was on to bake the tastiest treats!  

I’ve been delighted to do many talks about the History of Afternoon Tea    to support fundraising for numerous charities. These are usually linked to a fabulous afternoon tea with 3 tier cake stands groaning with wonderful delicacies.

I’ve judged competitions including at a Waterstones book shop where I was signing Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking books. The staff were battling for the crown of Baking King/Queen.  The Butterfly Buns won by a short head from the Orange Cake  but the Shortbreads and Gingerbread  were very close behind.

Baking a cake for my team at the London Olympics 2012 was a great privilege. I'll be hoping to do a cake for the Paris Olympics too!

 I remember another group who came to hear about Grandma and her baking. They loved the Lemon and ginger loaf  – not a crumb left! And baking fan, Barrie sent me a recipe for Yorkshire Brack from his Bero Book which became a popular choice.

I was very privileged to be invited to the first Library Cookery Book Club in the country at Wakefield Library. The group had been studying Grandma’s story and were delighted to sample Grandma’s baking on the day. The Museum Service also brought along cookery utensils similar to the ones which Grandma would have used in service.

I’ve often gone back to do other talks at many of the places on other heritage baking topics and it never ceases to amaze me how talking about ‘cake’ brings people together. So, check out Grandma Abson’s and other    recipes I’ve collected over the years and bake a cake for the International Day of Happiness. It’s a piece of cake….!

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Going cheesy with Rhubarb and Ginger cheesecake


Rhubarb and Ginger Cheesecake

I always love the time in February when the young pink forced Rhubarb from the Rhubarb Triangle comes on the scene. The city of Wakefield in the north of England turns pink with the Rhubarb Festival for a weekend at the end of February. It’s one of the most important food and drink festivals in the national calendar.

We all love cheesecake so here’s a recipe for Rhubarb and Ginger Cheesecake which I was given at one of the talks I did in the Wakefield area. It’s just perfect for this time of year with an added hint of ginger to warm us up!

For the base
70g melted butter
170g ginger biscuits (crushed)
1 tbsp caster sugar

For the Rhubarb
300g rhubarb, trimmed and cu50g demerara sugar
Zest and juice of ½ orange

For the filling
200g mascarpone or cream cheese
1 balls of stem ginger (finely chopped)
Finely grated zest of 1/2 orange
300ml double cream

Lightly grease a 20cm springform cake tin. Line the base with baking paper.

To make the base, crush the biscuits until fine. You can do this in a food processor.  Add the melted butter and mix. Pour into the tin and press firmly onto the base until it is an even layer. Chill while you prepare the Rhubarb and the filling.

Heat the oven to Mark 3, 160C (140C fan). Wash and cut the pieces and sprinkle demerara sugar, orange zest and orange juice over them.

Then cook them in the oven for about 15 minutes until tender. This way the Rhubarb retains its maximum flavour. Drain off any excess juices and allow to cool.

Beat the mascarpone until smooth. Add the chopped ginger and orange zest. Slowly whisk in the cream until the mixture has just thickened. Add the Rhubarb (keeping back 3-5 pieces of Rhubarb for decorations. Spoon the mixture into the biscuit-lined tin and spread into an even layer. Chill for 4-5 hours or overnight, until firm. Carefully release the springform tin and transfer the cheesecake to a serving dish or plate. Arrange the rhubarb pieces on the top to decorate.


And if you want to try more Rhubarb recipes, here are more from Grandma Abson’s collection :

Rhubarb Betty

Rhubarb Crumble

French Rhubarb Flan

Rhubarb Tart/Rhubarb Lattice Tart

Rhubarb Tutti-frutti Crumble

Thursday 18 January 2024

Going on a Railway Pudding journey

From Woodhead to Doncaster

In June 2023, I finally launched a book of my late father's railway photos, entitled 'From Woodhead to Doncaster. A pictorial Railway Journey’ by Fred Abson. The photos and detailed text comprised signal boxes, bridges, crossings and junctions, signal box diagrams along the Woodhead route and the MS&W Railway between 1979 and 1982 as well as photos of Deltics at Doncaster Plant works in the early 1980s.

Growing up on a railway station left me with many memories and a lifelong passion for the railways so compiling the ‘book with the amazing help and support of friends and former colleagues of my father was a real labour of love. This impressive collection of photographs, which my father left, is testament not only to his eye for detail but also to his lifelong passion for railways. I made a splendid cake for the launch in Barnsley to celebrate this pictorial railway journey.

Grandma Abson had a part to play in my railway upbringing story. Her father and husband had both been railway workers, so it’s not surprising that I found a Railway Pudding recipe amongst her collection.

I’m not sure of the origins of this pudding but I have found references to this in various places such as .  Several versions between 1867 and 1902 are highlighted and described as a recipe ‘based around a plain, sweet, raised batter, boiled or baked and spread (or filled) with a conserve’.

A further reference comes in The Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden  - a project between 2011 and 2013 which explored the potential for using community-based heritage projects to look at more sustainable ways of life.  It includes a collection of recipes some of which come from  The Liverpool School of Cookery Recipe Book (1911). This book was described as being “most valuable to young housekeepers, containing recipes most needed under all conditions and circumstances of everyday life”. Grandma’s recipe resembles this one quite closely.

Railway Pudding

1 cupful plain flour

2 tsps baking powder

1 small cupful sugar

2 eggs beaten

¾ cupful milk

Raspberry Jam

Mix the flour, baking powder and sugar together. Beat the eggs with the milk. Mix all well together. Put in a greased Yorkshire Pudding tin and bake in a quick oven for 20 minutes. (375F, Mark 5, 190C). When it’s done, spread the jam over it and roll it up like a Swiss Roll. Serve with custard, cream or milk. It is nice eaten hot or cold.

Meryl’s tips : I used approx. 4oz(110g) for a cup equivalent, 3oz (75g) for a small cup and 120 ml for a ¾ cup equivalent. I used a Swiss roll type tin – large and oblong. 

I found another version of Railway Pudding with cooking apples instead of jam which would make a good alternative. Enjoy going on a Railway journey with this pudding!

Monday 18 December 2023

Grandma Abson’s Christmas traditions


It’s over 10 years since I launched Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking. I set up the Grandma Abson blog, where I still post, on Christmas Day 2010 with a short post entitled  Christmas Baking like Grandma used to do. I wrote about memories of my Grandma’s home-made mince pies and Christmas Cake and it was the start of sharing many more posts and recipes. Built on the legacy of my Grandma's time as a cook-housekeeper with the Hick family in Edwardian times in Oakleigh, Wath on Dearne, my aim was to share Grandma’s baking. Especially watching Grandma cook at Christmas, I recalled precious memories of traditional Christmas bakes.

Grandma’s  Christmas Cake was special. She never made just one – there were a dozen or so cakes for family and friends. This recipe is one I’ve baked for many years now – there’s never a piece left by 1 January. And of course, she made her own Almond Paste .


The Station House where we lived was always full on Christmas Eve with the arrival of her sisters, Emma and Alice by train in time for Christmas Day. They would be greeted with Mince Pies, which she would have made during the morning with homemade Mincemeat. 

The Plum (Christmas) Pudding would have been made several weeks before and was always served with Rum Sauce.

 I made some amazing discoveries amongst Grandma Abson’s traditional recipes which. One of them was a special  Boxing Day Cake  Boxing Day which has dates, honey and a hint of almond. I’ve never been able to find out where Grandma got this recipe from, but I’ve made Boxing Day Cake many times since for family and friends and for talks about heritage baking.

Grandma would often made chutneys and biscuits as Christmas homemade baking gifts including Cranberry & Apple Chutney 

 Shortbread biscuits and lots more besides. 

You can read more about Grandma Abson’s life, her passion for baking and lots more of her Christmas recipes HERE and head over to Instagram @grandmaabson to see me baking with my grandchildren.     

Whatever you’re baking this Christmas, I wish you every good wish for a wonderful festive time and happy and blissful baking!

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Custard tart or Pastel de nata?


I have always been a great fan of Custard tarts. It was the wobbly custard filling with the topping of grated nutmeg which captivated me. From being a child, they were my absolute favourite pastry. Well, apart from Eccles cakes, but we’ll leave them for another day.

A first taste of a Pastel de nata

But when I went to Porto a few years ago and tasted a singularly beguiling Pastel de nata, my youthful adoration of Custard tarts was quickly replaced by this amazing creation. I was bewitched. Was it the light flakiness of the pastry and creamy custard filling with a light hint of cinnamon instead of the shortcrust pastry and the nutmeg topped skin on the egg filling of the custard tart which stole my heart. From day one, I was smitten.

Pastéis de nata everywhere

Nowadays, we find them everywhere in supermarkets, cafes and cake shops but somehow, they are not quite the same as those ones I tasted in Porto. One of my friends dared me to make Pastéis de nata when she tried some from a famous supermarket and deemed them to be quite disappointing (and expensive). So, always open to a challenge, I set about finding a recipe.

Being creative

I ducked out of making special pastry and took the advice of several (Portuguese) cooks who advocated using ready rolled puff pastry. Most recipes made huge quantities of pasteles, so wanting to limit the number I would bake to 10-12, I set about reading lots of different recipes to come up with a recipe of my own. The result of my endeavours was quite stunning for a first attempt. This is my creative version.  

What you need

1 sheet ready rolled puff pastry

Butter to grease the tin

225g caster sugar

125ml water

2 cinnamon sticks

zest of 1 lemon

250ml milk

2 tbsps plain flour

2 egg yolks and 1 whole egg


You also need a bun/muffin tin, a round biscuit cutter (large enough to fill the mould), 2 small pans, a bowl or basin.

How to bake

·        Grease the moulds of the bun tin with a small amount of butter.

·        Unroll the pastry sheet and cut out 10-12 shapes with the biscuit cutter.

·        Place the shapes in the bun tin and press down into the moulds. Chill the tin for 30 minutes.

·        Heat the caster sugar, water, cinnamon stick and zest of half of the lemon in a small pan until it boils, then turn off.

·        Put 150 ml of the milk in another pan with the remaining lemon zest lemon and cinnamon stick in a pa. Simmer for 5 minutes, then turn off. Add the butter and leave to melt.

·        Put the remaining 100ml of the milk in a bowl or basin and add the flour gradually. Then add this flour mixture to the milk in the pan and heat gently. Remove the cinnamon stick. Stir until it begins to thicken. Remove the cinnamon stick. Turn off the heat and stir in the syrup mixture, keeping 1 tablespoon back to decorate the tarts when cooked. Pass the mixture through a sieve if there are any lumps and then leave to cool completely in the fridge.

·        Heat the oven to 220C.

·        Remove the mixture from the fridge and mix in the egg yolks and the whole egg.

·        Remove the tin with the pastry moulds from the fridge and fill each mould with the egg custard mixture to just below the brim of the mould.

·        Bake for up to 10-15 minutes until the top starts to blister on top.

·        Remove the pastéis from the tin and place on a cooling rack. Lightly drip the remaining syrup mixture across each pastel.

·        Leave to cool (If you can resist them!)  

At the end of the day, whilst I was content with my own version of pastéis de nata, there is nothing like the real thing so I’m contemplating my next visit to Portugal to head back to those Pastelarias. In the meantime, I won’t forsake my custard tarts - they were my first love after all.