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.

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!