Category Archives: Sweet

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice

6 inches.

6 inches of snow in Blightly.

Families are stranded, it is minus 13 in Notting Hill, and if you live anywhere else you are probably snowed in and wondering how on earth you are going to get the Christmas shopping done…in 6 inches of snow! I am so jealous I don’t know what to do with myself.  The magic of freshly fallen snow in London is a rare and beautiful treat.  Everything goes quiet.  People talk to each other from across the street, and no one goes to work or school.  We take to the streets with tea trays and bobble hats and whinge about the fact that it hasn’t actually snowed on Christmas Day… and probably now won’t. 

Here, in Singapore, I am hot.  And not in a good way.  In a slightly desperate effort to fill my home with at least the tastes and scents of Christmas; I have resorted to making gingerbread by the batch load.  I adore gingerbread… in all its’ forms.  The glittering cookies that adorn the tree but are far too tough to eat; the old fashioned little men with their currant eyes and buttons cheerfully awaiting decapitation; the snap of delicate thin biscuits that adorn coffee cups and the comforting, fat, soft variety laden with icing that no child can resist.

Gingerbread Houses are the ultimate homage to this humble biscuit; and in our house, regardless of the fact that humidity and ‘E’ numbers mean that it is destined to collapse within hours, we have made one anyway.  It is beautiful.  Its’ fragility makes it all the more endearing, and we are still arguing over whether Mother or Son wins the ‘best house competition’! 

The truth is that my son’s house wins hands down.  It is laden with every kind of candy he could lay his hands on.  Red and green painted canes are lined up like little soldiers; the roof is a veritable smorgasbord of multi-coloured tooth-rotting rock tiles; a sugar Father Christmas is groaning under the weight of  a net bag of melting chocolate coins (it is 32C in our living room); and the garden path is bedecked with hundreds and thousands, multi-coloured sprinkles and dinosaur eggs… oh… and of course there is a pile of strawberry laces and Bassett’s Licorice Allsorts (smuggled through customs by a very good friend) for good English measure. 

As I said; his wins hands down.  Mine is of course an anally retentively be-sparkled  rendition, with what an interior designer might refer to as a ‘nod to Scandinavia’.  The restrained red and white icing that adorns the 17 windows is delicate and charming, the front door has a diminutive snowman for a knocker and the house…nay Schloss… is two storey to boot.

But Hansel, Gretel and I all agree – If lost in a snowstorm in a deep, dark forest; it is my four year olds’ cheerful little collapsing cottage that we would run to – the candy alone would keep us going ’til next year, and besides… we probably couldn’t afford the heating at the Schloss.

Gingerbread Biscuits 

Originally from Cooks Illustrated ( a wonderful mine of information) I have tweaked and bastardised this recipe to my own tastes.  It is my version of proper old fashioned style gingerbread, the like of which I imagine Hansel and Gretel digging into on a frosty night.  The batch will make 30 small thin cookies or about 15 large fat, soft cookies.  The dough (if rolled thin and baked until  hard) is good for using as decorations or if rolled fat and cooked for a shorter time (removed from oven whilst still soft) produces lovely chewy biscuits; great for immediate eating, or they will last pretty well for a few days  in an airtight box.  


160g of salted butter – cold and hard and cut into small cubes 

160 packed dark brown soft sugar

1 ½ TBSPs powdered cinnamon

1 TBSP dried powdered ground ginger

400g plain flour

½ tsp table/running salt

¾ tsp baking soda

3/4 cup liquid unsulphured molasses

2 TBSPs water (not always necessary)


Mix all the dry ingredients together in a food processor or stand mixer. If you don’t have one of these you can stir it all together in a big bowl, making sure it is mixed well. Then scatter the pieces of butter over the top of the dry ingredients and either tickle them together or process in a machine until the mixture becomes sandy, slightly damp sand.  If using a kitchenaid; do this using the whisk attachment, then swap to ‘K’ whip for next part. 

Slowly add the molasses to the dry mixture to make a dough, stirring all the time (or with the machine slowly running). Stop adding the molasses when the dough is evenly moistened and thoroughly comes together to form a soft ball; you may not need all of the liquid (especially if making in a hot, humid climate).  However, if you need more liquid simply add a TBSP at a time of extra water until the dough comes together and before it becomes a paste that sticks to the side. 

Roll the dough out to the desired thickness between two sheets of greaseproof paper (no need to use any flour).  Then, refrigerate for a few hours until really firm.  Peel away the top layer of paper and cookie cutter out desired shapes, lay on a parchment paper lined oven tray and refrigerate again until the oven is ready.  You can bring the dough together and roll out as many times as you need to, between the two sheets of greasproof paper, to keep cutting out cookies.  The dough doesn’t toughen because you are not adding any more flour each time you roll it out.  Once you have cut out your shapes they can even be kept in the freezer for a few weeks before baking, as long as they are stored with greaseproof/parchment paper between each one and in a sealed box.

Bake at 170C on parchment lined flat trays straight from the fridge in order to keep their shape and stop them from spreading.  If making thin crisp ones they may only take about 8 minutes to bake hard (remove before the edges start to burn), however if making soft fat ones, they may take a little longer and you will want to remove them when set and slightly risen, but still soft to the touch in the middle.

If making traditional men you will want to press in soaked currants for eyes and buttons before baking, or wait until cool to decorate with cut out fondant icing, royal icing and sprinkles.

Happy Christmas All!

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Chapped Lips and Chestnuts

My lack of extended family (and imminent burgeoning immediate family) have triggered feelings of nostalgia and homesickness that are, at least to my personal recollection, unsurpassed.

 I have entered a state of nesting that every little red breasted Christmas robin would be proud of.  Actually, if truth be told, even they might be a little embarrassed by lengths I find myself going to in order to achieve a sense of inner calm and outer festive comfort to compensate for the utter lack of true Christmas spirit that I am feeling.

It is 35 degrees in my kitchen and, I believe, polite society would readily comment on my healthy ‘glow’.  Glowing doesn’t come close.  Rudolf’s nose glows.  I am melting.   I dream of a scene akin to that of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman…surely somewhere there is a chest freezer that I could climb into?  If only just for a moment to feel really, really cold. Though of course I would refuse to get out.  From there I could drink real cocoa laced with cinnamon and chilli.  Perhaps a shot or two of Stone’s Original Green Ginger Wine or even good old Scandinavian style Glogg, or maybe my father’s homemade hot spiced cider. 

Someone stop me. 

I am going to go into a steep decline as I call to mind wet dogs and roaring fires, windswept trudging through Somerset puddles, Aga toasted backsides and crumpets dripping with honey and salty butter, chapped lips and burnt fingers wrestling with charred roasted chestnuts on Oxford Street. Where, oh where, is dusk at four o’clock? Where is the biting cold and driving rain that confirms that a humble cup of tea could indeed cure anything?  Where are the ruddy cheeks, runny noses and teary eyes?

In Singapore, I feel as though I am faking Christmas. 

But I will not be beaten.  If we are to have a fake Christmas, it will be the best damn fake Christmas in town.  I will make it snow, ever so slightly on my little blog.  I will somehow conjure some Christmas spirit and seasonal cheer In the only way I know how.  I will bake.  I will ice a traditional cake that will no doubt also be sweating on the kitchen table within a week.  I will make gingerbread houses with my son and his friends that will surely collapse in the humidity and sheer weight of sugar and ‘E’ numbers.  I will deck out our fake tree (oh the pain of it) in rotting clove studded oranges, stale cookies and wilting candy canes. 

And it will be beautiful.  It just will.

Cranberry Sauce

500g fresh cranberries (frozen are fine if you can’t lay your hands on nice fresh ones)

4 bay leaves

2 whole star anis, or four cloves

2 sticks of cinnamon

½ cup golden (or unbleached sugar)

Zest and juice of two oranges (should come to just over half a cup of juice)


Sterilise a glass jar or two.  Remove any rubber seal and lid and submerse in boiling water, then place immaculately clean and dry jars in an oven for ten minutes at 180C.

Place all the ingredients in a heavy bottomed pan.  Cook slowly, over a medium to low heat, stirring all the time to make sure it doesn’t catch.  After about ten minutes, the sugar should be melted and the cranberries should all have burst.  There will still be a little liquid in the bottom of the pan and the mixture should be loose; it will thicken up quite a bit as it cools.

Pour the mixture into glass jars while the mixture and jar is piping hot, and seal tightly.  This can be a little fiddly if dealing with Kilner style jars and rubber seals as you don’t want to touch the jar or seal too much rendering it unsterilized; but do it with immaculately clean hands and bite your lip as you singe your fingers!  Seal whilst hot, and leave the mixture in the jars to cool fully before placing in the fridge.  It should last at least two weeks if left unopened, and a week once the first spoonful has been devoured.  Particularly good with stilton, most other hard, strong cheeses, and, obviously…Turkey.


Brandy Butter

Basically what you are trying to achieve is a butter that is seriously boozy – so boozy that it is almost about to split.  It won’t though – the icing sugar is the glue.  I like the texture and colour of a bit of grainy soft brown sugar though, and the added warmth and depth of the brown sugar flavour helps to give it a more homemade, comforting feel.  I have been known to eat this straight out of the fridge with a spoon (not of the tea variety).  Serve with ubiquitous mincepies, and of course with Christmas pud.  A particular favourite in our house is frying up slices of pudding on boxing day in a non-stick pan with a good cold, hard, dollop of brandy butter.  A lovely leftover, the joy of which can be savoured long after the glitter of Christmas has faded.


250g good quality salted butter

1 ½ cups icing sugar

1/3 cup light soft brown sugar

1/3 cup brandy


Bring butter to room temp.  Place in stand mixer and beat with icing sugar to a fluffy light creamy texture (but not until it resembles frosting).  Slowly add the brandy until incorporated, then tip in the light brown sugar and mix until just combined.  If you overbeat it will lose it’s lovely grainy texture.

Put it in a jar or covered bowl in the fridge and eat within about three weeks (or the ‘best before date’ on the butter).


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Filed under Everything!, Recipes, Sweet, Winter