Luxury Bath Buns

Bath Buns


Here’s a variation of a recipe in MY BOOK  – brazen, shameless plug! – which I have adapted from one of my favourite vintage recipe books, snappily entitled “Morning and Hot-Plate Goods including Scones, Buns, Teabread, etc” by John Boyd.

It is a book for professional bakers, in that the recipes inside involve ingredients measured in pounds rather than ounces, but it is compact nevertheless, with a jaunty yellow cover and both line and photographic illustrations throughout. It is undated, but after a quick search of t’internet, the mid 1940s seems a good guesstimate of age.

The book claims that this is the original recipe of those NORTY buns in the 18th century that caused everyone ‘taking the waters’ in Bath to put on so much weight, allegedly forcing Dr Oliver to invent the altogether much less fun Bath Oliver biscuit for people to nibble on instead. The dough is a deep, golden colour from all the butter and eggs, and dotted with crunchy sugar and orange peel. Don’t be alarmed at the quantity of nutmeg, it looks a lot, but it’s not overpowering at all – skimp on it at your peril.

These buns are definitely an indulgence  –  a delicious, DELICIOUS indulgence, but the freezer is your friend and thus these treats can be spread over a few weeks, rather than having to consume them all in one sitting, however tempting that may be.

Since my book came out, I’ve picked up a couple of snippets of additional information about Bath Buns. Despite their rich ingredients, their appearance wasn’t supposed to be a smooth, spherical ball of dough, rather they were deliberately of a rough and craggy exterior, which, I must admit, is a great contrast to their soft, luxurious interiors. The iconic sugar nib topping remains.

Some recipes suggest using a pair of spoons to portion out the soft dough, but thanks to a quick flick through MANNA by Walter Banfield, I discovered an altogether easier method (see below).

The recipe calls for fresh yeast – my latest fad – but feel free to substitute rapid-rise yeast if preferred.

Luxury Bath Buns

Makes 16-ish

450g strong white flour
4 large eggs
225g unsalted butter
30g granulated sugar
30g fresh yeast
60ml milk
2 whole nutmegs – grated
225g sugar nibs
2oz candied orange peel – finely chopped
3 drops lemon essence (original) or the zest of a lemon (my suggestion)

1 large egg for glazing

  • Heat some water in a small pan.
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl and add the milk.
  • Whisk together, then put the bowl over the simmering water and whisk until the mixture is warmed, but no hotter than blood-temperature (dip a clean finger in to test).
  • Whisk in the yeast and 50g from the flour and set aside  to rise for 30 minutes.
  • While this is working, in another bowl, gently warm the butter over the simmering water until soft. Add the granulated sugar, nutmeg and lemon essence/zest and whisk to combine.
  • Combine the two mixtures after the yeast has been working for 30 minutes and stir into the remaining flour.
  • Knead well for 10 minutes. It is an extremely soft dough, but please resist the temptation to add any more flour as this would compromise the texture of the finished buns (I use a stand mixer & a dough hook).
  • Adding the nibs and peel: Here you have a choice. You can add in 150g of the nibs at the end of the kneading, then set it to rise, OR you can add in 150g of the sugar after the first rise. Adding the sugar straight after the kneading will mean it leeches moisture from the dough and starts to dissolve as the dough rises, leading to less of a crunch in the bite of the finished bun. Add 150g of sugar nibs after the first rise, and they are still relatively large and crunchy, even after baking. The rest of the nibs will be scattered over the top of the buns, so their crunchiness needs to be factored into your decision as well. The peel can be added at either time, but I generally add it after the kneading to allow its aroma to permeate the dough.
  • Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise for 1 hour.
  • Tip out the dough and pat down.
  • Add the sugar/peel if not already done so.
  • Portion the dough into pieces weighing 150g. Form these pieces into neat balls, then gradually stretch the ball of dough between your hands until it pulls in half – pretty much like those diagrams of cells dividing. Place the buns with the torn side upwards onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. In the recipe in my book, the buns were placed atop a sugar cube soaked in lemon juice. As the buns cooked, the sugar and lemon juice melted together to give a deliciously crunchy coating to the base of each bun. These buns are so rich from the butter and the sugar nibs, this isn’t necessary, however the parchment is a must to ensure they don’t stick.
  • Whisk the egg with a little water and glaze the buns, then allow to rise for 45 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan.
  • Glaze the buns again, then top with the remaining sugar nibs
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning the tins around after 10 minutes to ensure even browning.
  • Remove from the oven and leave on the tins. Cover the hot buns with clean tea towels to keep the crust soft as they cool.
  • Enjoy warm.

Elpida’s Moussaka


Elpida's Moussaka


And welcome to the new year!

I’m starting off with an un-seasonal dish and (probably) ruffling some feathers as I scold Rick Stein. Oh yes. I’m going there. Hashtag Food Rebel (note to self: check with the hip and groovy kids whether I’m doing that right).

I like the travelogue programs he makes and the recipes he sources, but I have to take issue with a recipe he found on his recent Venice to Istanbul journey.

He stopped off at the house of the late travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and chatted with his housekeeper Elpida Beloyannis. Seemingly, the great man had an aversion to moussaka and forbade Elpida from making it. Quite rightly, she ignored his proclamation and not only made it but served it to him as well. Sidebar: How much do we love the cut of Elpida’s jib!?

She only informed him of the deception after he had polished off the lot for lunch, to which he allegedly replied, “Moussaka? I HATE moussaka!”.

But he confessed he found it delicious and asked her to cook it again.

All of which makes for a great story, and Rick duly scribbled it all down, together the notes for the recipe as Elpida demonstrates in her kitchen.

His verdict: A rare and many splendoured thing. The best moussaka he has ever tasted.

Which is, I’m sure you’ll agree, quite the endorsement. In the program you can see and hear his admiration for Elpida’s recipe.

Which is why I was hugely disappointed to find the recipe published online entitled “Patrick Leigh Fermor’s Moussaka”.

It is many things – including, from the lips of Mr Stein himself, “light as a feather” and “a world-class dish”, statements with which, having made and eaten it myself, I whole-heartedly concur – but Patrick Leigh Fermor’s, it most definitely is not.

All he did was scoff it down then stagger off for a two-hour snooze. Recipes do not belong to the eaters, they belong to the creators.

And this is Elpida’s Moussaka.

Elpida Beloyannis. She deserves her name to be known.

Elpida’s Moussaka

For some reason the recipe that appeared online suggested beef mince, when the film very clearly shows Elpida using lamb.  I have therefore adapted the recipe to reflect this, as well as tweak the quantities of vegetables, based on what I observed on the film, rather than the recipe which appeared online. Yes, I know it’s not the season in the UK for either courgettes or aubergines *pulls scarf a little tighter and jams bobble hat on a little firmer* but nevertheless, they are ‘out there’  and available, and if ever there was a time to enjoy a warming dish that can transport you to a land of dazzling sun and azure Greek waters, it is now.

This makes a LOT of moussaka. The vegetables and potatoes turn it into a one-dish meal, and it is so light and flavourful, everyone will be coming back for more, so my recommendation is that you make one large dish to ensure there’s enough to go round. Afterwards, you can portion out the remainder and freeze for a speedy supper standby.

Now I don’t know what kind of baking dishes you have at home, but you need to choose something deep, to get all of the layers to fit without overflowing. Maybe even two dishes. When you slice your vegetables, lay them into the dish snugly, to make sure you have enough for the layer. Much easier than to find out you need a few more when you’re slicing than when you’re at the construction stage.

Edit: Forgot to say, I chose to skin the tomatoes before chopping, to make for a smoother sauce.

2 large aubergines, peeled and sliced length-ways in 1cm slices
4 large courgettes, sliced length-ways in 1cm slices
2tbs salt
2 large potatoes, sliced length-ways in 1cm slices
olive oil for frying

1kg minced lamb shoulder, or lamb mince
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
1kg flavourful tomatoes – plum or vine-ripened
2 cinnamon sticks
4 fresh bay leaves, or 2 dried
1 rounded tsp coarse ground black pepper
1 rounded tsp salt

150g unsalted butter
150g plain flour
1 litre full-fat milk
4 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
1 whole nutmeg
200g Graviera or Jarlsberg or Gruyère cheese

  • Sprinkle the salt over both sides of the courgette and aubergine slices and lay them in a colander to drain for 30 minutes.
  • Rinse the slices under running water and pat dry.
  • Heat some olive oil in a pan. Elpida deep fried the vegetables, but shallow frying also works, if slightly more time consuming.
  • Fry the sliced vegetables briefly in the hot oil, until starting to colour (3-4 minutes for the vegetables, 5-6 minutes for the potatoes). Allow the vegetables to drain in a sieve.
  • Put a large pan or casserole onto medium-high heat. When hot, add the meat and stir until browned and little steam rises from the pan. As the meat browns, the fat will be released from the meat. This will both lubricate the pan and provide the medium for cooking the garlic and onions, removing the need to add more oil to the dish.
  • When the meat is browned, add the finely chopped (via, for ease, mandolin or food processor ) onion and garlic. Stir in the lamb fat until softened. Add the chopped tomatoes, together with the cinnamon, bay leaves, pepper and salt.
  • Stir briskly for five minutes, then turn the heat down and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The salt will draw the moisture out of the tomatoes and the simmering will evaporate it, thereby concentrating the flavours in the sauce. Remove the cinnamon sticks and bay leaves once it has finished cooking.
  • While the meat is cooking, put the butter, flout and milk into a pan over medium heat and stir with a whisk until it boils. Turn the heat down and simmer for 5 minutes to ‘cook out’ the flour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes – if the sauce is too hot when you add the eggs, they will cook immediately and curdle the sauce. Stir in the cheese. Whisk the eggs together, then add to the sauce, whisking well (Elpida used an electronic whisk, which looked most effective if a little splashy). Grate in half the nutmeg and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • To assemble the dish:
    • In however many dishes you are using, lay the potatoes in the bottom. As the dish cooks, the juices will drip down onto them and make them beautifully soft and richly flavoured.
    • Cover with a thin layer of the meat sauce.
    • Add a layer of aubergine slices.
    • Cover with a thin layer of the meat sauce.
    • Add a layer of courgette slices.
    • Cover with a thin layer of the meat sauce.
    • Spread a generous layer of the enriched cheese sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and grated nutmeg.
  • You can cover the dish with cling film and keep in the fridge overnight to allow the flavours to mature, or you can cook immediately. Since everything is mostly cooked, the cooking time is surprisingly short for what looks like such a substantial dish. This moussaka is at its best served just warm, so factor in at least a 30-minute cool-down after it comes out of the oven to your serving time. Not only will the flavour be better but it will, to a certain extent have firmed up enough to be able to be served in slices that will hold their shape.
  • To cook the moussaka:
    • Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan.
    • Bake for 30 minutes until the sauce has risen and souffle’d and the cheese beginning to brown.
    • Test for done-ness by poking a skewer all the way through the dish to the potatoes. You should find no resistance. Upon removal, the whole of the skewer should be hot.
    • Set aside to cool for 30 minutes.
  • Enjoy with salad.


Sea Foam Fudge

Sea Foam


This is another fantastic textured fudge recipe, but in a whole different way to the Condensed Milk Fudge.

It is made with whisked egg-whites and a hot sugar syrup, beaten to grain the sugar. The result is a dazzlingly white, almost marshmallow appearance. The magic, however, happens when you take a bite. Just like it’s namesake, Sea Foam Fudge melts away like a whisper.

It is positively ethereal. Which is why it needs a jolly great handful of cranberries, apricots and a few chopped nuts for zing and colour and a bit of texture. Some Yuletide flotsam, to be carried into your mouth on a cushion of sea foam, if you will. Or not. I tend to get a bit carried away with my extended metaphors.


In the US I believe this is called Divinity and lacks the fruit,  but also veers dangerously (for my not-very-sweet-tooth) towards the soft and nougat-y.

As with meringues, this will absorb moisture if left uncovered, so pack into a ziplock bag for personal indulgence, or shiny, crackly cellophane if gifting as presents.

This comes from a delightful book in my collection – Sweet-Making For All by Helen Jerome, originally published in 1924. Just as with Ms Nell Heaton, I have great confidence in Ms Jerome’s recipes which are always clear and straightforward. If you come across any of their books, I can highly recommend them.

Sea Foam

450g white granulated sugar
60g golden syrup or glucose[1]
180ml water
2 large egg whites
50g chopped nuts – pistachios are colourful, almonds keep things pale
50g chopped dried apricots
50g chopped cranberries – dried or candied

1tsp vanilla extract or 1tbs rum

  • Line a 20cm square tin with baking parchment.
  • Put the sugar, syrup and water into a pan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Bring to a boil and continue to heat until the syrup reaches 130°C. Do not stir.
  • When the temperature of the syrup reaches 120°C, start whisking the egg-whites until stiff. The temperature of the sugar syrup will rise relatively quickly, so keep an eye on each. Or get a glamorous assistant to help.
  • Still whisking, pour the hot syrup slowly into the whisked egg-whites, as if making Italian meringue, and continue beating until the mixture begins to thicken and lose its gloss. Add the flavouring whilst whisking.
  • When the mixture has lost its high sheen and thickened slightly add the fruit and nuts and continue beating until the mixture has thickened further and becomes cloud-like. NB This might happen suddenly, so be prepared.
  • Smooth your Sea Foam into the tin. Alternatively, roll lightly into logs about 2cm in diameter Try not to squash out the air you’ve just whisked in as you do so. Wearing latex gloves or dusting your hands with cornflour, or both – will help.
  • Cover lightly and allow to cool completely. If you can enclose your tin in a large ziplock bag to protect from humidity, so much the better.
  • When cold, cut into squares and/or dip into tempered chocolate. Store in an airtight container.


[1] The glucose will keep the fudge dazzlingly white, the golden syrup will add a very pale golden hue.

Candied Cranberries

Candied Cranberries


Here’s a recipe you might want to try, now that fresh cranberries are back in the shops.

After discovering the joys of home-candied peel a few years ago, I have since tried my hand at several different fruits. With it being the season for mincemeat and fruit cake decorating, when I spotted some punnets of fresh cranberries on sale, I thought I’d givethem a try.

Hunting around on the internet, it seems many people’s idea of candied cranberries is to dip them in egg-white and roll them in caster sugar. Beautiful and festive and twinkly-frosty, but not really candied in the traditional sense.

I also found no recipes on the traditional method of candying for these particular berries, so I thought I’d make up my own.

My method is a combination of the old-fashioned method of making conserves with delicate fruit, and how to make sloe gin *hic!*

This recipe takes about a week, but your active involvement is little more than an hour. Over the week, the delicate berries will gradually exchange their juice for sugar, thereby making the cranberries becoming more robust the more sugar they absorb, and as a bonus you’ll get a beautifully coloured cranberry syrup.

For ease, select a pan you can get by without using for a week.

Candied Cranberries

1kg fresh cranberries
1kg caster sugar

  • Poke holes in each cranberry with a cocktail stick in order to let the juice out (and the sugar in). You don’t have to be too fastidious – I made about 5 or 6 holes around the middle.
  • Layer the cranberries and the caster sugar in a pan – a wide pan is better than tall saucepan, for ease of gently moving the berries around later.  Leave for 24 hours. The sugar will draw out some of the juice.
  • Next day, heat the pan very gently to melt the sugar. You’ll probably have to add a little water to get it started – about 1/2 a cup. Shake, don’t stir – or if you absolutely have to, stir very gently. Vigorous stirring and/or heating will cause the berries to burst. Some will burst anyway, but try and keep that at a minimum by being gentle.
  • Once the sugar is melted, turn off the heat, cover, and leave 24 hours. As the sugar is absorbed by the cranberries, they will gradually become more robust, but for the first day or two, you’ll need to be careful.
  • Repeat the heating gently for 5 minutes then leaving overnight for 5 days. Gradually the syrup will become redder and the cranberries more jewel-like.
  • After 5 days, warm the syrup (to make it easier to drain) and pour through a sieve to separate the cranberries from the syrup.
  • To finish, the cranberries need to dry a little, so line 2 large baking sheets with parchment and scatter the candied cranberries over. Try and get them separated, to facilitate drying, but there will be some squished ones you can’t do much about at this stage.
  • Last thing at night, put the trays in the oven and turn the heat to 170°C/150°C Fan for 5 minutes, then turn off and leave to dry overnight.
  • Repeat the drying next day – 170°C/150°C Fan for 5 minutes then turn off and leave to dry. If extremely sticky, they might need another overnight drying (I did Friday night/Saturday day/Saturday night).
  • Once only slightly tacky to the touch, they’re ready to use. I sorted mine into 3 groups: Perfect ones went back into the syrup (to keep moist) to use as decorations. I dipped a few of the not-so-perfect ones in dark chocolate, and rolled the rest in caster sugar and stored in a ziplock bag. The exploded ones I chopped and put in a jar for mincemeat.




Confession: This is not my recipe.

It is the original fudge recipe that used to be posted on the Carnation website and for some reason was taken down a few years ago.

Luckily for me – and you – I have it ingrained on my brain as it is the best, no-fail recipe I have ever used, and I am posting it here so I can be lazy and just point everyone who asks for the recipe here, instead of writing it out again and again.

It makes the kind of fudge that has texture: when cooled, it is hard to bite into – yet it melts in the mouth.Very similar to the confection known in Scotland as Tablet.

The secret is two-fold: boiling the mixture to the correct temperature, and beating it as it cools to ‘grain’ the sugar.

You CAN make this the Old Skool way, testing for the Firm Ball stage by doing the drop test in water, and by beating the cooling mixture hard with a wooden spoon. However, I’m all for using gadgets wherever possible, so a thermapen or similar thermometer and an electric whisk or stand mixer are my recommendations.

Each batch makes a 1.2kg slab large enough to last over the festive season. Alternatively, you can make a batch and divide it up into small batches in clear plastic bags and use it for presents, or make two batches of contrasting flavours and make it go even further.

You can use the basic recipe to make a number of equally delicious variations, and I’ve thrown in an extra one by Nell Heaton – a favourite author of mine from the 1940s/1950s, who deserves greater recognition for her delicious, trustworthy recipes – which is a real explosion of flavour when made with home-made candied peel, fruit and nuts.


1 x 397ml tin of sweetened, condensed milk
150ml milk
125g butter
450g Demerera sugar

  • Line a baking pan with parchment. The size of the pan doesn’t really matter, but I recommend a rectangular pan, for ease of cutting the fudge into cubes once cooled. The original recipe suggested a pan 18cm square, which will make for a small, very thick slab. Personally, I use a pan 30cm by 24cm
  • Put all of the ingredients into a pan and stir over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Bring to the boil and stir continuously until it registers between 116°C and 120°C on a thermometer dipped into the centre of the pan. Make sure the tip of the thermometer doesn’t touch the bottom of the pan, as this will be much hotter and the thermometer will thus give a false reading.
  • When your fudge reaches temperature, remove from the heat and allow the bubbles to settle. Pour into your stand mixer and use the beating paddle (not the whisk) to beat slowly until the mixture thickens. Alternatively, use your electric hand mixer directly into the pan, also whisking until the mixture has thickened.
  • When it is thick and still just pourable, tip it into your parchment-lined tin and smooth over.
  • Leave to cool completely.
  • When cold, cut into cubes with a sharp knife and store in an airtight box.


  • Rum and Raisin Fudge: Warm 115g raisins in 3-4tbs dark rum and leave to plump. Add just before beating.
  • Chocolate Fudge: Melt 170g dark, 60% chocolate and add just before beating.
  • Fruit and nut fudge: Stir in 85g mixed dried fruit and chopped nuts.
  • Nell Heaton’s Tutti Frutti Fudge (my favourite) Add 350g – yes, a whopping 12 ounces in old money – of mixed chopped nuts, dried fruit and candied peel sliced or diced small. I suggest about 90g candied peel, 130g flaked or slivered almonds and chopped walnuts, and 130g mixed raisins, sultanas, cranberries and chopped apricots.

Oxtail Marmalade

oxtail marmalade


Here’s a companion recipe to the Bacon Jam of a couple of weeks ago – perfect for a twin gift pack for your local friendly carnivore if you’re going for an Edible Gifts Christmas. I highly recommend it if you’re unsure – people don’t want stuff, they want delicious stuff to eat! It’s a thoughtful expression of affection because it involves that most precious commodity – your time – spent selecting and then making the recipes.

This time, the meat in question is oxtail and if you’ve for a slow cooker, then there’s going to be very little for you to do for most of this recipe. Price-wise, it’s not as budget friendly as the bacon, but it’s pretty close at (currently) around £6.00/kg. In addition to melt-in-the-mouth, tender meat, you get fantastic stock and flavourful fat (for use in pies and for adding flavour to casseroles), so all in all quite the bargain.

This marmalade is extremely dark and rich-tasting, but comes at the price of having to spend some time separating the cooked meat from the bones. This is a doddle once it has been slow-cooked overnight, albeit a rather sticky job. The meat is then simmered with a little of the cooking liquid and, as with the bacon jam, some additional flavourings to round out the taste.

Again, like with the bacon jam, I’ve spent considerable time consulting the other recipes ‘out there’ – and then opted to ignore a lot of what they profess and go my own way. The original recipe suggested adding alarming quantities of port, wine, butter, sugar, onions, carrots – and serving with roasted marrow bones. This is a much simpler version and has no truck with any non-meat distractions. Personally, I think it’s rich and complex enough.

This is not a speedy recipe, but it is easy and straightforward. You can spread the preparation out over several days if liked.

Keep in the fridge and warm though gently before enjoying on crisp wholemeal toast.

Oxtail Marmalade

To cook the oxtail

2kg oxtail – large joints if possible
2 litres beef stock
500ml red wine
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 onion – chopped
4 sticks celery – chopped
3 carrots – chopped
4 bay leaves
1tbs black peppercorns

  • Put everything in a slow cooker and cook overnight on Low for 8-10 hours. Alternatively, cook in a covered casserole (seal around the lid with foil to keep in the moisture) in the oven set to 120°C, 100°C Fan until the meat is tender and falling from the bones.
  • Lift the joints from the liquid and drain in a sieve.
  • Discard the vegetables and herbs.
  • Strain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve. If you’d like the stock really clear, strain again through damp muslin.
  • Put the stock to chill in the fridge. When cold, lift off any solidified fat. Your stock will be lovely and dark and clear, and will probably set like jelly.
  • When the meat is cool enough to handle, separate the meat from the bones, connective tissue and fat. If you want to keep the fat for making pastry set aside, otherwise discard all the non-meat debris.

To make the marmalade

You can use all the meat and all the stock if you like. These amounts are given more as a guide as to the ratio of additional flavourings.

750ml strained stock
750g cooked, lean oxtail

salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbs oyster sauce
1 tbs mushroom ketchup
1 tsp anchovy essence

gravy browning

  • Put the meat and stock into a non-stick frying pan and heat slowly.
  • Simmer the mixture until it begins to thicken and there’s more meat visible than liquid.
  • Taste a little of the meat and stock. The flavour will be different when warm.
  • Decide if you would like to add any of the flavourings listed. This will depend very much on your own personal taste and the oxtail you were able to buy. Sometimes its strongly flavoured, sometimes it needs a little help.
  • Add the flavourings, if liked, in the order given. Feel free to add any other flavourings you like. ALWAYS stir well in and taste before adding anything else.
  • When you’re happy with the flavour decide whether or not you’d like to add gravy browning. Personally, I love the dark brown glaze it gives the marmalade and think it perfectly suits the richness and depth of flavour of the oxtail, but go with your own inclination.
  • Spoon into hot, sterilised jars and seal.
  • Store in the fridge and warm gently before serving.

If you have any meat and stock left over, you can combined them and freeze for use later either as a ragu for pasta, or a hearty pie filling.

Cinder Toffee

A range of cinder toffees

Cinder Toffee made with, from L to R, Treacle, Malt Extract, Light Brown Sugar, Caster Sugar


Here’s another recipe that can, with an eye on the upcoming festive season, be part of a home-made Christmas, either for nibbling at home or prettily wrapped in cellophane as a gift.

It can also be customised in a number of ways, as I shall detail below, be it in the ingredients you choose or the finishing touches you employ.

Honeycomb recipe from a 17thC manuscript (MS1511) dated 1682 in the Wellcome Library

Honeycomb recipe from a 17thC manuscript (MS1511) dated 1682 in the Wellcome Library

Cinder toffee is a traditional UK sweetie recipe which has been around for centuries, and early recipes can be found in household manuscript books from the reign of Charles II. Recently, it has seen a return to popularity under the name Honeycomb Toffee. Whilst a more appetising name, perhaps, unless you actually make it with honey, it is, to my mind, a bit misleading, whereas you have only to glance at the Wikipedia page for cinder to see that the appropriateness is evident in both looks and definition.

The toffee is made by bringing a mixture of sugars to the Hard Crack stage and then quickly stirring in a small amount of bicarbonate of soda to produce effervescence. The mixture is then poured into a suitably prepared tin and as it cools, the air bubbles are trapped in the sugar, thus giving it its distinctive structure.

Having read numerous recipes online, it is fairly safe to say that the most popular combination of sugars is caster sugar and golden syrup. This gives a bright, golden toffee reminiscent of the insides of a modern Crunchie bar. Whilst delicious, the flavour is, however, very one-note, and extremely sweet, and I got to pondering how it might be improved.

I found a recipe in F.Marian McNeil’s The Scots Kitchen (1929) for Black Man, a version of cinder toffee made with treacle, and kin to the Yellow Man of Northern Ireland. Made solely with treacle and bicarbonate of soda, it would definitely have the dark, bubbled appearance of genuine cinders, however in experimentation, the treacle proved exceedingly bitter as well as being much too easy to burn.

I liked the idea of using more complex flavourings to make the toffee and so I have come up with a base recipe for cinder toffee, with suggestions of how to adjust it for variety and interest. By varying the sugars and syrups, the range of flavours can be quite extensive and with more time at my disposal, I believe similar subtleties could also be achieved using honey as the liquid sugar. Feel free to experiment yourself!

Base Recipe Components

Choose your main flavouring from either the solid sugars or the liquid sugars. For example, malt extract and caster sugar, Demerera sugar and golden syrup. Both together, e.g. treacle and dark muscovado, is too dark and will burn to bitterness.

  • Solid sugar: This can range from fine, white, caster sugar, granulated sugar, soft light brown, soft dark brown, Demerera, light muscovado, dark muscovado all the way through to molasses sugar. The varying degrees of colour have a bearing on the eventual flavour which becomes richer and more caramelised the darker you go.
  • Liquid sugar: Any sweet syrup liquid at room temperature can be used including golden syrup, molasses, maple syrup, treacle, agave nectar, malt extract, honey.
  • Butter – for richness
  • water – to help dissolve the sugar
  • cream of tartar/liquid glucose – to help prevent crystallisation
  • bicarbonate of soda – for the bubbles! This recipe only uses a teaspoon, which, if properly stirred through, is more than enough to produce sufficient bubbles. Using more will produce more vigorous frothing, however, it will also become more noticeable in the flavour of the toffee, as well as being trickier to stir through without clumping.
Cinder Toffee three ways

Cinder Toffee plain, dipped in chocolate, made into coal with black sugar

Presentation Suggestions

  • Plain: Cinder toffee is delicious in it’s basic state, but will absorb moisture from the air if left exposed. Once cooled, it should be stored in an airtight box or ziplock bag to keep from becoming sticky.
  • Dipped in chocolate: To keep the toffee crisp without the need for airtight storage, you can dip pieces in melted chocolate and set aside to cool. Although this will serve admirably, it will have a tendency to melt in the hand. The solution is to temper the chocolate, instructions for which abound on the internet. Whilst milk chocolate is the most popular pairing, you can experiment with a whole range of flavours from white through to the extremely dark. The sweetness of the cinder toffee made with caster sugar and golden syrup can be offset to a certain extent by dipping in dark (at least 60% cocoa) chocolate, not to mention the very pleasing contrast of the golden toffee against the dark chocolate. Similarly, the bitterness of treacle cinder toffee can be lightened by the use of white chocolate flavoured with lemon zest.
  • Made into cinder coal: This is the most fun. By tossing the chocolate-coated cinder toffee pieces into some black caster sugar, they immediately become, to all intents and purposes, little pieces of sweet coal, and thus the embodiment of their name.
cinder toffee coal

A mixture of cinder toffees made into coal

How to make black sugar

The intense colour provided by modern gel food colouring is ideal for creating vibrant coloured sugar. Although we’ll only be using black the principal is the same for making any shade of coloured sugar.

1tsp black food gel colouring
200g caster sugar.

  • Pour the sugar into a small zip-lock bag and add the food colouring gel.
  • Seal the bag and gently massage the sugar against the gel. It will gradually take on an intense colour whilst still remaining separate grains.
  • Continue massaging the sugar until it is evenly coloured throughout. If the shade is too light, add a little more gel and repeat the massaging motion.
  • The coloured sugar will keep in the ziplock bag for weeks.

Cinder Toffee

110g caster sugar
110g treacle
30g unsalted butter
2tbs cold water
1 pinch cream of tartar or 1/2tsp glucose
1tsp bicarbonate of soda

  • Line a roasting tin with parchment paper.
  • Put all of the ingredients except the bicarbonate of soda into a non-stick saucepan and warm gently until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Increase the heat until the sugars boil. Continue heating without stirring until the syrup registers 150°C on a thermometer.
  • Tip in the bicarbonate of soda and mix briskly for 5 seconds, ensuring the powder is well incorporated.
  • Pour the frothing mixture onto the baking parchment in the tin and leave to cool. You can speed this up (and thereby trap more bubbles in the toffee) by putting it into the freezer for 15 minutes.
  • When completely cold, tap gently to break into bite-sized pieces.

To cover with chocolate

  • Melt or temper 200g of your chocolate of choice.
  • Drop pieces of cinder toffee into the melted chocolate and use a fork to lift them out.
  • Tap the fork briskly on the side of the chocolate bowl in order to shake off excess chocolate.
  • Lay the coated pieces on parchment paper to set.
  • Store in an airtight container.

To make cinder toffee coal

  • Whilst still wet, drop the chocolate coated pieces into the black sugar and toss to coat.
  • Lift out the coated pieces and lay onto a wire rack until set.
  • When completely cold, toss the pieces of coal gently in a wire sieve to remove excess sugar.
  • Store in a ziplock bag or wrap in cellophane bags for presents.


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