Friday, 23 September 2022

Best of British is … Apple Pie

 Best of British is … Apple Pie 

Autumn beckons with cooler and darker evenings but alongside glorious harvests of fruits and vegetables to store for future use in the even darker depths of the winter.  

What’s so special about Apple Pie?

If I had to pick one quintessentially British food, it would have to be Apple Pie. It’s one of the best and most popular winter desserts and a reminder of the comfort and warmth of Grandma’s kitchen range. Its origins are thought to come from England in the 14th century with influences from Europe, in particular the Netherlands, with its fabulous Dutch Apple Pie.


Grandma Abson’s Apple Pie

Carl Sagan, the famous American astronomer is alleged to have said "If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." Fortunately, Grandma Abson left us a simpler version.Bottom of Form She regularly baked fruit pies, cakes and biscuits in her own village community, where people would bring along something to share for an event such as a harvest supper. They cooked baked potatoes with homemade meat pies followed by blackberry and apple pies. Everyone wanted a slice of Grandma’s Apple Pie, so they could taste her melt in the mouth pastry.  She always said you needed cool hands to make pastry but you can use a food mixer. Sometimes she varied her recipe by using half quantities of plain and self-raising flour to achieve a softer texture.  When you put a lid of pastry on your pie, her final tip is to brush it with milk and sprinkle with sugar before putting in the oven. This will give a crisp golden topping.

Shortcrust pastry

4 oz(110g) butter

8 oz (225g) plain flour

1 egg

A little water (or a little milk and water)

Rub the butter into the flour. When the mixture is like breadcrumbs, make a well and add the egg. Add the water to make a dough. Let it stand for ½ hour in a cool place before rolling out. 


1 lb (500g) apples (peeled, cored and sliced)

Lemon juice

Line a pie dish or plate with pastry. Stew the apples in a pan with a little lemon juice (to stop them going brown). When the apples have fallen and cooled a little, spread them over the pastry in the pie dish. 

Roll out the pastry for the lid to cover the apples. Make a pattern round the edge of the dish with end of spoon. Brush the top of the pastry with a little milk and sprinkle sugar on top. Bake in a fairly hot oven for 25 minutes. 400F, Mark 6, 200C (Fan 180C) Serve with custard or cream, crème fraiche or ice cream.

I’m keeping up Grandma’s tradition of mouth-watering apple pies. A few years ago, with much trepidation, I entered the annual competition in the fruit pie category for our local Gardeners' Association. I baked an Apple Pie, from Grandma’s tried and trusted recipe. I was over the moon to win gold first prize and collect my winning certificate - not quite #GBBO but I hope Grandma would have been proud of me!

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake hits the top notes

Rhubarb and Ginger Cake

Just occasionally, someone will give me a jar of something to try and I cast around to create something. This is exactly what happened when Mary gave me a pot of Rhubarb and Ginger Jam. Her neighbour had gluts of Rhubarb and had given her several jars she had made. Many cakes and desserts are made with jam. Just think of Bakewell Tart and the wonderful Gateau Basque. I had Grandma’s recipe for Plum and Ginger Cake  and Lemon and Ginger Loaf so it was easy to use them as a basis for a new recipe.

What you need

175g (6oz) golden caster sugar

175g (6oz) butter (softened)

3 eggs (beaten)

1 tsp vanilla extract

200g (7oz) self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 ½ tsps ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsps milk

6 tbsps Rhubarb and Ginger Jam*

75g crystallised ginger (chopped)

How to Bake

Preheat the oven to 190 (170 fan). Grease and line a 20 cms square cake tin (or you can use a 1kg/approx. 2lb loaf tin). Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs gradually, together with the vanilla extract. Sift the flour and spices and add to the mixture with enough milk to make a dropping consistency. Pour the mixture into the tin. Then swirl 5 tbsps of the Rhubarb and Ginger Jam into the mixture. Bake for about 40 minutes or until an inserted cake stewer comes out clean. Leave to cool for 10 minutes then remove the cake from the tin. When cool, spread more jam on the top. Score the top into squares and decorate with a small piece of chopped crystallised ginger.    

*To make Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

1 kg rhubarb (trimmed and washed)

1 kg preserving (jam) sugar

1 lemon, zest and juice

50g crystallised ginger (chopped)

5cm fresh ginger (peeled and grated)

Mix the chopped rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice in a large bowl with the crystallised and fresh ginger and cover with a cloth or cling film. Leave for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Place the mixture in a large pan on a medium heat and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook for about 15 minutes, until the rhubarb is tender and the jam reaches setting point. To test this, drop a tspful of jam onto a cold saucer and drag along the saucer. If the jam wrinkles, the setting point has been reached. If not, continue to cook for a couple of minutes more and test again. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes before pouring into sterilised jars. 

Meryl says : Rhubarb and Ginger Cake is a fabulously moist and spicy cake. It hit the top notes at the Choral Society tea break rehearsals. 

Thursday, 14 July 2022

The Cabinet of all Puddings

Will it be forever etched in your brain ‘Where was I when Boris Johnson made his resignation speech’? If truth be known, I was sharing a sandwich outdoors with my friend Pam, when she propped her phoned up on the table to hear his message. ‘What could I possibly bake to celebrate this long-awaited event?’ I mused.  In an instant, she replied ‘Cabinet pudding!’.

So here I am researching all my old cook books for this long-forgotten dessert and its origins. Also known as ‘Chancellor’s Pudding’, Cabinet Pudding appears to have originated in the early part of the 19th century. The recipes vary but they are generally made from a combination of sponge fingers or cake, soaked in custard, often with Ratafia or Amaretti biscuits, cooked in a buttered basin with a combination of dried fruit such as raisins, cherries and apricots and served with a sweet sauce or custard. They range between a rich tipsy version with fruit soaked in rum or brandy and plainer varieties with less fruit and bread (even stale bread is considered), making it a close relative of Bread and Butter Pudding.

A quick check of Mrs Beeton’s ‘Everyday Cookery’ from the Victorian era shows her preference for candied peel, currants and sultanas alongside sponge cake, whilst ‘Meyer’s Practical Dictionary of Cookery’, published in 1898, gives two options, a plain version and a richer one with raisins, sultanas, glace apricots, angelica and brandy.

Grandma Abson’s copy of ‘The Best Way’ 1907, boasting 850 Practical and tried recipes and household hints, was most likely her ‘go to’ manual when she was ‘in service’. It favours a plainer version with ‘a quarter pound of bread crusts’ and relies on ‘twelve drops of vanilla essence’ to add flavour. This version is baked in a ‘slow oven for one and half-hours’ unlike others which are steamed.

I decide to try out Cabinet Pudding from the Woman’s Own ‘Complete Cookery Book’ compiled in the 1930s, since the ‘straightforward and easy to follow’ recipe seems to be a good option for someone who has never made this before. 

Cabinet Pudding

5oz (150g) sponge fingers or cakes

3oz (75g) sugar

4 oz (110g) sultanas

2oz (50g) glace cherries

(I also added 2oz (50g) dried apricots)

1 pint (575 ml) milk

Rum or Maderia (I used brandy)

3 eggs

Put the sultanas and cherries (and apricots) in a bowl with a little rum or madeira (or brandy) and let them soak stirring them well with a fork. Butter a pudding basin and sugar it. Then line the bowl with sponge fingers cut up in pieces; arrange the remainder in alternate layers with the cherries and sultanas and sugar. Make a custard with the milk and eggs and pour in slowly, so that the fingers are well soaked. Steam for 30 minutes and serve with custard or any sweet sauce.

My neighbour, Iona happens to pop round between calls just as I was turning it. She does the honours with a taste testing session with her elevenses. Verdict ‘It’s a little bit bread and butter pudding with the custard and fruit and super boozy!’ 

Meryl says :  

Puddings like this are completely out of fashion these days but even if you don’t fancy it steaming hot, we found out later that it is tempting when cold and served with ice cream. If you’re going to be ‘ambushed by a cake’, make sure it’s this one. It’s also a perfect way to recycle any booze left over in a suitcase or the new fridge!

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Queen Cakes fit for a Queen

Platinum Jubilee Queen Cakes 

 ‘What are you baking for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee?’ Maybe the  Platinum Jubilee Pudding if you fancy a trifle? Queen Victoria obviously loved the Victoria Sandwich and in 1953 Coronation Chicken was created to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It hardly seems 2 minutes since we were ringing out the bells for the  Queen's Diamond Jubilee in 2012!

I’ve always been intrigued by Queen Cakes which are small fairly dense small cakes or buns (as we call them in Yorkshire), which have currants and a citrus flavour. They are said to originate from the time of the Stuarts, Queen Mary (1689 to 1694) or Queen Anne (1702-1714) and could be considered the forerunner of the ubiquitous cupcakes we enjoy today.

Early versions of Queen Cakes

The earliest known recipe is said to feature in ‘Court Cookery’ by Robert Smith, published in 1725. This recipe isn’t too dissimilar to Yorkshire cook, Elizabeth Moxon’s Portugal Cakes with butter, sugar, flour, sugar, eggs and currants as common ingredients. For her ‘Queen Cakes’ recipe, she suggests in English Housewifry (1764) that “…you may ice them if you please, but do not let the iceing be thicker than you may lie on with a little brush.” 


Over the centuries other creative cooks added other flavours to these little cakes with rose water, mace, orange water and nutmeg being popular additions. Early Queen Cakes were probably made in small tin or stoneware patty pans like those we use for mince pies, but by the mid-18th century, specific Queen Cake pans were available in a variety of shapes such as hearts or diamonds.


Eliza Acton in her book ‘Modern Cookery for private families (1845) suggests making a mixture as for a pound cake then putting it into small well buttered tins and baking in a brisk oven. Mrs Beeton in her widely reproduced ‘Book of Household Management’ (1861) gives a recipe for 2 or 3 dozen cakes with the addition of cream and essence of almonds or lemon to give us a richer version.


Here's my Grandma’s recipe which she made from time to time as a weekend treat. Her preference was for a lemon flavour.


Grandma Abson’s recipe for Queen Cakes

4 oz (110g) butter

4 oz (110g) sugar

2 eggs

6 oz (175g) self-raising flour

Pinch of salt

4 oz (110g) currants

a few drops of lemon extract

2 tbsps milk

Arrange 16-20 baking cases on a baking tray. Beat the butter until soft. Add the sugar and cream together until the mixture is pale and fluffy. Add the eggs (well beaten) gradually. Fold in the flour and salt. Then, stir in the fruit and lemon extract. Add the milk. Put the mixture into the baking cases and half fill them. Bake for 15-20 minutes in a fairly hot oven. (375F, Mark 5, 190C) You can brush over the top with egg and place a small piece of lump sugar over each one.

After 70 years of her historic reign, Queen Elizabeth II is the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. Enjoy the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend from 2 to 5 June. I’ll be baking a batch of Queen Cakes for our Jubilee Street Party and following Elizabeth Moxon’s suggestion for icing so I can top them with a rice paper Jubilee Crown – a 21th century version. 

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Take a break and go Dutch


Dutch Almond Biscuits 

Looking for an interesting little biscuit for that mid-morning coffee break? Well, look no further as these Dutch Almond Biscuits are the perfect answer. My Dutch friend Cobi gave me the recipe and I couldn’t wait to try them out. It’s an easy and quick recipe and they were gone in an instant!

What you need …

110g/4 oz butter

50g/2 oz sugar

¼ tsp almond extract

1 egg (separated)

175g/6oz plain flour

Blanched almonds

How to bake …

Preheat the oven to 180C, Mark 4, 350F. Mix the butter, sugar and almond extract until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and stir in the flour. Work the mixture to a dough. Roll into small balls and place on a baking sheet. Top each one with a blanched almond and lightly brush over the biscuits with white of egg.  Bake for around 20 minutes until lightly browned. 

Meryl says : I even made them for a 1920s party and they were a perfect complement to a glass of fizz!

Saturday, 2 April 2022

North or South, ‘mini’ is good for Easter


There’s something about doing a ‘mini’ version of a cake which is fun, especially when baking with children. There’s more scope for them to get mixing and creative decorating. Whether you call them 'buns' or 'small cakes', these mini versions of Easter cakes call for attention. This is Grandma Abson’s foolproof recipe for ‘buns’ which are always a winner.

 What you need

110g butter

110g sugar

2 eggs

2 tsps vanilla extract

175g self raising flour

2 tsps baking powder

A little milk

For Chocolate cakes: 1 tbsp cocoa powder

How to bake 

Cream the butter and sugar and add the vanilla extract and beaten egg. Sift the flour and baking powder and add to the creamed mixture using a little milk if necessary. For half of mixture add cocoa powder to make chocolate buns. Half fill bun cases and bake in a moderate oven for 15 minutes. (350 F, Mark 4, 180 C). Allow to cool.

Scoop out the top of each bun and fill the hole with butter cream or decorate with glace icing. Add mini eggs to decorate.

Have a very Happy Easter and check out more of Grandma Abson’s Easter recipes.

Easter Biscuits

Easter Chocolate Orange Biscuits

Cobi’s Easter Stick

Hot Cross Buns

Simnel Cake for Easter

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

Laskiaispulla bring Finnish fun at Shrovetide


Shrovetide is a wonderful time to visit Finland, when you can delight in scrumptious cream sleigh buns called Laskiaispulla. Laskiainen is the season associated with Shrove Tuesday which heralds the beginning of Lent. In Finland it’s often described as a ‘sledging or sliding’ festival when families enjoy the snow and sun after a hard winter. After spending time sledging outside, it’s customary to serve pea soup with ham and cheese with sleigh buns or pancakes to follow as a dessert.

What are Laskiaispulla?

These mouth-watering soft cinnamon buns have a sweet filling of whipped cream with strawberry or raspberry jam or almond paste. They became popular from the 19th century onwards.

What you need
For the dough:
250ml milk

1 sachet/10g yeast

(or 25g fresh yeast)

100g granulated white sugar

(infused with vanilla extract)

½ tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cardamom

420g plain flour
100g butter

For the topping

1 egg

Flaked almonds (optional)
Granulated sugar (or pearl sugar if available)

For the filling
500ml double or whipping cream
150g icing sugar
Jam (Strawberry or Raspberry)

or Almond Paste

(Makes about 20 buns)


How to bake

Warm the milk to 37C. Place in a large bowl and mix well.  Whisk in the vanilla sugar, salt, and cardamom. Stir in the flour gradually to make a dough and knead it until it becomes elastic. Add the butter and continue to knead for about five minutes. When the dough has formed a smooth ball, place it in another greased/oiled bowl, cover with a towel and leave in a warm place to rise for about 30 minutes. The dough should double in size. Put the dough onto a well-floured surface. Cut pieces of the dough and shape into round balls. Place them onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover the buns with a towel and let them rise again for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Whisk the egg and brush it on the tops of the buns. Sprinkle granulated (or pearl) sugar or chopped almond on top if desired. Then bake the buns for 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool.

To decorate

Whip the cream with the icing sugar (reserving a little to sprinkle on the buns later). Slice the buns and fill with cream and strawberry or raspberry jam or almond paste. Sprinkle icing sugar on top if desired.

And if you enjoyed these, here's another Finnish recipe for Runeberg Cakes which are a favourite of ours.  

Sunday, 6 February 2022

Runeberg cakes - a Finnish birthday party treat!


Towards the end of January, small cakes appear in shops and cafes across Finland.  Runeberg cakes (Runebergin Tortu in Finnish) are baked to celebrate the birthday of Finland’s national Poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877) on the 5th February. Every year around the date of his birthday, these exquisite little cakes are sold all over Finland and are hugely popular. Runeberg actually wrote his poetry in Swedish, as this was said to be the language of educated people in 19th century Finland. The well-loved poet spent most of his life in Porvoo, which is situated about 50 kilometres to the east of Helinski. It’s one of the six medieval cities in Finland and a beautiful place to visit.


Who created the recipe?

In Porvoo, a local pastry baker named Lars Astenious is reputed to have developed the recipe for Runeberg cakes in the 1840s. There is another story that the cakes were created by the poet's wife Fredrika, as the recipe was written out in her cook book from the 1850s. She made the cakes from flour, breadcrumbs, biscuit crumbs and almonds, decorated with jam and icing but it was most likely she adapted her recipe from the one by the Porvoo baker. Runeberg is said to have eaten the cakes for breakfast with a glass of punch.

What are Runeberg cakes?

Runeberg cakes are small and cylindrical shaped, with a moist, almond flavoured sponge, topped with a circle of white icing with raspberry jam. The topping gives them their distinctive look.

 How to bake

There are numerous versions of the recipe for Runeberg's cakes but this one comes from Finnish friends. You will need a small cake or muffin tin (approximately 5cms diameter for each individual mould).

 125g butter

85g caster sugar

1 egg (beaten)

110g (plain) flour

1 tsp baking powder

50g ground almonds

50g breadcrumbs

1 tsp cardamom (husks removed and ground)

Pinch of salt

100ml double or whipping cream

50 ml water, lemon or orange juice

Amaretto (optional) 

 Preheat the oven to 180C. Cream the butter and sugar and add the egg gradually. Mix the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, ground almonds, breadcrumbs, cardamon and salt) and add these to the creamed mixture.  Pour in the cream and the water or juice to make a thick batter. Grease the individual moulds and pour the batter into each one until they are about half filled. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or so until done. Remove and brush the top of the cakes with Amaretto (if used). Allow to cool.

 To decorate

Icing sugar


Raspberry jam 

 Cut a hole in the top of the cakes and insert a teaspoonful of raspberry jam into each hole. Make a thick paste from the water and icing sugar. Roll out the paste and cut strips for the top of the cakes or pipe the paste around the top with a piping bag.

 Fly the flag with our Finnish friends and try out these lovely little cakes. They certainly brighten up a dull February day. Happy birthday to Johan Ludvig Runeberg!