January is full of detox and diets, but a little of what you fancy does you good in the depths of winter. In fact, until the calendar changed in 1752, New Year was on March 25, a far better time to be starting afresh than when the dark days demand comfort and solace.

To me, there’s nothing more cheering than a good, homemade pudding or cake on a chilly winter’s day.

Sweet treats such as fruitcake and gingerbread are very easy to make, and have the added bonus of keeping well, so there’s no need to wolf them down before they lose their sparkle. In fact, some recipes even improve after a few days.

If you have the time and the inclination, of course, your cakes can be incredibly fancy, and there’s no shortage of inspiration thanks to the TV inspired baking revival.

One of my favourite puddings is crème brûlée. It always tastes so rich and luxurious, yet it’s surprisingly easy to make. Apart from caramelising the sugar just before you serve, it can be made in advance – in fact, it needs to be chilled before you serve it.

RECIPE: Slow Cooked Lamb Shank

I like to eat it with shortbread – the combination of a creamy pudding with meltingly soft shortbread is a complete winner. If you like, make double the quantity of shortbread and have some left over for a snack with a mug of tea or coffee during the week.

Crème brûlée with home-made shortbread

Serves 6


500ml/18fl oz double cream

1 vanilla pod

100g/4oz caster sugar (plus extra for the topping)

6 free-range egg yolks


Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2

Pour the cream into a saucepan. Split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the seeds into the cream.

Bring the cream to boiling point, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for five minutes. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl beat the sugar and egg yolks together in a large heatproof bowl until pale and fluffy.

Bring the cream back to boiling point, pour it over the egg mixture, whisking continuously until thickened (which is when the eggs begin to cook a little but long before they scramble).

Strain the mixture through a fine sieve to remove the vanilla seeds into a jug, then use this to pour the mixture equally between six ramekins.

Place the ramekins in a large roasting tin and pour in enough hot water to come halfway up the dishes.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the mixture is set, but not hard.

Once cooked, place the ramekins on the work surface to cool, then chill until needed.

Just before serving, sprinkle with caster sugar, and caramelise this under a hot grill.


250g unsalted butter

125g icing sugar

25g cornflour

350g plain flour

Pinch salt


Cream the butter and sugar together, until light and fluffy. Add the cornflour, plain flour and salt, knead together until the mixture becomes smooth.

Place a sheet of grease proof paper onto the work surface, empty the mixture into the middle and place a second sheet of greaseproof paper on top, roll to your desired thickness, 3 to 4 millimetres for thin crisp shortbreads, or 8 to 10 millimetres for thicker and softer shortbread fingers.

Place the shortbread fingers onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper, and bake in a pre heated oven 180C, or gas mark 4 for approximately 15-20 minutes depending upon the thickness of your shortbread. They should be golden brown when cooked – so check that they are not overdoing as ovens vary. Remove from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack.