Gingerbread thoughts


75g butter

3.5 tablespoons golden syrup

60g light soft brown sugar

225g plain flour

0.25 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger


1. Melt butter, golden syrup and sugar in a saucepan until sugar has dissolved.

A German teenager, Udo, came to stay with us as part of an exchange program when I was a child. At breakfast, Udo asked for honey and was given the nearest thing we had, golden syrup. Even at nine years old I could recognise a cultural faux-pas. I longed to be ‘continental’ and came home after a school trip to Paris the following year demanding that I would henceforth be drinking my Nescafé from a cornflake bowl.

2. Stir flour, bicarb and ginger together in a bowl before making a central well and pouring in cooled syrup.

Just like cement-mixing. In the sixties, everyone made concrete at the weekends to bury their lawns. My father interred our garden to make a parking bay even though we had a garage, replacing the grass and roses with seamed grey squares. A few years later when the council removed every tree and bush in front of the house to widen the road, I couldn't understand why he was livid.

3. Bring together into a ball, then chill in the fridge for 30 mins. Gradually roll out the dough to the thickness of a pound coin and then cut out biscuits with a Xmas tree-shaped cutter.

I was always impressed by my mother’s pastry skills. She could spin an uncooked pie in one hand while trimming the edge with a knife in the other. It was done in seconds, perfect every time. Sometimes she batch-baked several small pies with different fillings for freezing. This led to an unforgettable dinner at which she mistakenly served us apple pie with gravy and veg. One of the only meals with my family during which I can remember us laughing.

5. Bake on a greased tray (with space to spread) for 10-12min at 170°C fan, until lightly golden brown.

One summer I went to stay with friends in an orange grove in southern Spain. I made a chocolate cake as my guest contribution to a meal, cooked in a frying pan on an open fire because there was no cake tin or oven. Even after a couple of hours the centre was still raw so I served it with cream and pretended that its molten middle was intended. Decades later, I see that my mishap now has a name - 'Melting Fondant Pudding’ - and can be found in all the best recipe books. Sell it well and people will eat anything.