cocktails · food · recipes · Seasonal

How To Make Damson Gin – Foraging Recipe

It’s autumn here in the UK, and that means it’s the perfect time for foraging the hedgerows for lovely berries and fruit. Last year I shared my recipe for delicious hawthorn gin – but at the same time, I also actually made a batch of damson gin. And I’ve never shared the recipe! So it’s time to right that wrong – just in time for this year’s foraging season – and I present: how to make damson gin…

How To Make Damson Gin Recipe

Foraging for damsons and sloes (and bullace, oh my!)

I’ve called this recipe “damson gin”, but it serves just as well for sloe gin as well. It can be tricky to tell damsons and sloes apart from one another – not least because they can actually cross-breed, so the fruit you pick might actually be a slamson (or a doe!). Or… just to add to the confusion, it might even be a bullace, which is another type of wild plum, commonly found in the UK, that’s somewhere in-between a sloe and a damson – and is also apparently known as a ‘wintercrack plum’ – a name so good that it rather begs the question of why anyone ever calls it a bullace in the first place…

Anyway, if you’re foraging for wild plums to make gin out of, it can be tricky to tell these three fruits apart – the best resource I’ve found to help is this video which shows the fruits and plants in question. Foraging purists might be angry with me though, when I say that it really doesn’t matter which one you end up picking, or whether you call your end product damson gin, sloe gin or bullace gin! The main difference will be the amount of sugar you use, because sloes are quite sour whereas damsons are quite sweet, and bullaces are somewhere in between. Just add sugar to taste and you’ll be fine.

I’m actually pretty sure that the fruit I used when I made this recipe last year were bullaces, although at the time I mis-indentified them as damsons. I’m still calling it damson gin though, because no-one’s ever heard of a bullace and guests just give you funny looks if you offer them a glass of bullace gin…

What is damson gin?

Damson gin (or sloe gin, or bullace gin…) is really a liqueur, which is made by adding wild plums and sugar to a high-strength alcohol base and allowing it to macerate over time. You can easily make it at home with shop-bought booze, as it doesn’t require distillation. If you actually used the damson fruit itself to ferment and distill into an alcoholic spirit, you would have slivovitz, a popular drink in Central and Eastern Europe, and one which could also be referred to as damson gin or damson brandy!

Despite the name, damson gin isn’t necessarily made by adding fruit and sugar to gin. Lots of people prefer using vodka as the base for this liqueur, because vodka is basically unflavoured gin (or to look at it another way… gin is flavoured vodka!). So by using vodka, you’re starting with a neutral alcohol base that isn’t going to mess with the flavour you get out of your damsons or other fruit. If desired, you can also add juniper berries to your vodka base during the maceration process – as juniper berries are traditionally the botanical flavour which makes gin, gin!

Ingredients for damson gin

To make your damson gin, you will need the following basic ingredients:

  • Damsons (or sloes or bullaces… or other plum type fruit of your choice!)
  • Sugar (roughly half the weight of sugar as you have of fruit – but you can make it more or less sugary depending on your preference. The higher the sugar content, the more syrupy and liqueur-esque your finished gin will be – a lot of recipes suggest you should use the same weight of sugar as of fruit, which I find way too sweet! Remember, you can always add more sugar at a later date if needed…).
  • Cheap supermarket vodka (or gin)
  • Patience (it’s an easy recipe… but not a quick one!)

You can add other flavours such as juniper berries, or create an autumnal spice flavour with the addition of things like cinammon and other winter spices. Some recipes also use honey in place of some of the sugar, for a more rounded flavour. The bottom line is: feel free to experiment!

The recipe

1. First, wash your damsons/sloes/bullaces and remove any leaves/twigs/small unexpected insects etc. You have two choices at this stage: EITHER you stab your fruit all over with a pin to break the skin, OR you freeze the fruit at least overnight, which has the same effect.

2. Next, pop your fruit in a sterilised jar or bottle, sprinkling your sugar between layers of fruit. Finally, top up with your alcohol of choice.

3. And…. Now we wait. Leave the fruit in the alcohol for at least one month or up to three months. Give the bottle a little shake every day, and ideally store it away from direct sunlight. You should see your gin or vodka changing colour to a gorgeous red hue.

4. When you’re ready, strain the fruit out of the gin. A lot of recipes suggest straining through a muslin cloth placed over a colander, but if you want a really beautifully clear damson gin, I recommend straining through a coffee filter paper instead. At this point you can also do a little taste test and see if you’re happy with the sweet/sour balance of your gin – if not, then add more sugar before returning your gin to a freshly sterilised bottle or jar.

5. You’ll want to keep the gin for at least another couple of months before drinking, and then – voila… Your damson gin is ready to serve. See below for some tips on how to drink damson gin, including ideas for damson gin cocktails!

What else can I do with leftover fruit?

If your foraging leaves you with more damsons (or sloes, or bullace!) than you can use in gin-making, there are lots of other lovely recipes you can try with wild plums. The fruit will keep in the freezer, if you don’t have time to cook and make gin all at once! Damson jam is always a popular recipe, and you can of course make sloe jam and bullace jam as well. But if you fancy something a little more adventurous, why not try this recipe for bullace cheese (not an actual cheese – a set jelly like quince jelly or membrillo, for eating with cheese and crackers) or this one for bullace and pear chutney?

More About Damson Gin

How to drink damson gin

Now you’ve made your damson gin, how should you serve it? Well, there are plenty of options. You can drink your damson plum gin neat, as a liqueur (although I recommend serving it in small glasses!). If you’re looking for something a bit more festive, you can add tonic water for a luxurious damson gin and tonic, or add it to champagne or prosecco to create a damson gin fizz – a bit like a kir royale, with the damsons adding a lovely jammy flavour. I’ve even seen this drink called a damson gin royale (with added edible gold sparkles if you really want to go overboard!).

If you’re into your cocktails, there are plenty of damson gin cocktail recipes out there. I like this recipe for a ‘Damson in Distress‘ cocktail (let’s be honest – it’s a great name!) – 50ml damson gin, 15ml amaretto, 10ml lemon juice, and a slice of lemon to garnish. This damson and vanilla fizz cocktail also sounds amazing, albeit a little more complicated to make, and this damson and cranberry collins sounds perfect for Christmas.

But guess what? Damson gin isn’t even just for drinking… check out this recipe by Nigel Slater for duck breasts with damson gin, which is actually making my mouth water as I write this!

Where can I buy damson gin?

Maybe it’s too much effort to make your own damson gin – or maybe you made a batch and then smashed through it more quickly than you were expecting! Either way, you’ll be glad to know that there are plenty of places to buy damson gin ready-made. English Heritage even sell an own-brand damson gin, as do the Oxton Liqueur Company (who also sell a sloe gin, in case you want to properly compare the two flavours) – and, for completeness, Pinkster’s Hedgepig gin brand sell a bullace and quince gin, with 50p from every sale going to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. So you really can buy all three kinds of gin, and test which is your favourite.

damson gin cocktail – damson jam – damson gin to buy – damson gin liqueur – sloe gin fizz (history) – sloe gin and tonic – damson plum gin –

food · recipes · Seasonal

How To Make Elderberry Cordial – Foraging Recipe

Last year, while I was on maternity leave, I really enjoyed going foraging in the late summer and autumn, and making some fun new recipes. I thought I should share this recipe for elderberry cordial, which I made around this time last year, and which proved a real hit in our household over the winter! It’s just the right time of year to start foraging for lovely ripe elderberries in the UK, and with this super-easy recipe, you can turn them into a delicious elderberry cordial which is a perfect soothing winter drink for colds and flu season.

How To Make Elderberry Cordial – Recipe

First, catch your elderberries

Elderberries are freaking everywhere at this time of year! You may even discover that they grow in your own garden. Wherever you live in the UK, you’re likely to have an elder tree not far away, and each tree is usually laden with loads of lovely black berries in season. Check out this great guide on foraging for elderberries, which will help you identify the berries if you’re not confident you can correctly identify them. Then go out and pick your berries!

I pick elderberries by the bunch, and then use a fork to push the berries off the stems and into a bowl. You only want the ripe berries – the black ones. Alternatively, you can freeze the berries, which makes them easier to remove. It’s important to get rid of all the big stems because they are poisonous. Then, rinse the berries in water.

Get your ingredients together

You’ll need the following ingredients and kitchen tools to make your elderberry cordial!

  • 500g elderberries
  • 500ml water
  • 350g sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • Cinammon stick

And on the kitchen equipment front…

  • Saucepan
  • Spoon
  • Muslin cloth
  • Colander
  • Jug or large bowl
  • Bottle for storage (sterilised)

Get cooking

1. In a saucepan, add your elderberries, water, cinnamon stick and the rind of the lemon (save the juice for later!). Simmer over a low heat for half an hour.

2. Now comes the fun part! Line the colander with the muslin cloth, and place it over your jug or bowl. Pour the contents of the saucepan into the muslin – carefully because the juice will stain (and it’s hot). Squash down the berries with a spoon to get as much juice as possible out of them.

3. You’re not finished yet with your muslin! Roll the top of the muslin together (see picture, below) and continue squeezing to wring every last drop of juice out of your elderberries.

Make sure you don’t do this until the berries are cool enough to touch, and you may want to wear gloves because it does get messy!

4. Pour the strained elderberry juice back into the saucepan and add the sugar and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

5. Heat over a low heat, stirring regularly, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture has thickened slightly. As a rough guide, it should be thick enough to briefly coat the back of a metal spoon. At this point you can also check the flavour (carefully – it’s hot!) and add more sugar if you want.

6. Pour your cordial into a sterilised bottle (here’s a quick guide to sterilising bottles) and seal. Let it cool, then store in the fridge.

How to serve elderberry cordial

You can serve elderberry cordial in so many different ways! The basic recipe is to serve it diluted in water, about one part cordial to six parts water. I recommend making a hot elderberry cordial for colds, sore throats, and whatever else ails you!

If you feel like getting a bit more fancy, you can make elderberry fizz cocktails by adding the cordial to prosecco or champagne. Or you could spice up a gin and tonic with a dash of elderberry.

Elderberry Cordial Facts

What does elderberry cordial taste like?

Okay, if you’ve never tasted it before, then to be honest it’s hard to know whether it’s worth bothering making it at all! I have loved having this in the fridge over the winter, I think it’s delicious and definitely worth the effort. First things first, though: elderberry cordial tastes nothing like elderflower cordial. They’re completely different flavours.

I would say elderberry cordial tastes like a slightly more herbal/medicinal Ribena. If you’ve never had Ribena? Then I don’t know how to describe it. But it’s really warming and lovely on a sore throat, or if you have a head cold.

Is elderberry cordial good for you?

Is elderberry cordial good for you? Well, it’s a traditional remedy for colds and coughs. Elderberries are high in vitamin C and antioxidants – you can even buy elderberry supplements that promise to boost your immune system.

But is there any actual evidence that elderberry cordial is good for colds and flu? Well, a few small-scale studies have shown that people taking elderberry products experienced a reduction in cold and flu symptoms compared to placebo. But they’re only small studies and the effects of elderberry have not been tested against pharmaceuticals. So it’s probably best to just enjoy the yummy soothing nature of a glass of hot elderberry cordial when you have a cold or flu, but don’t assume it’s an actual treatment.

Can you buy elderberry cordial?

The lazy option is clearly to buy elderberry cordial – but unlike elderflower cordial, which is popular and widely available, elderberry cordial is a bit trickier to get hold of. There are products available, often labelled as elderberry syrup or elderberry liquid. But the ones I’ve found are super expensive! We’re talking £9.99 for 100ml. Considering you can make four times that at home for the price of half a bag of sugar, it did seem a little pricey.

Other foraging recipes

If you’ve enjoyed this foraging recipe, or you’re looking for something a little more boozy, why not check out my recipe for hawthorn berry gin?

baking · food · gluten free · recipes

Gluten Free Cinnamon Fruit Loaf Recipe

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been slightly obsessed with Warburton’s cinnamon fruit loaf. It’s a great breakfast treat when toasted up and dripping with hot melted butter. I’ve even introduced Little Man to it, and he loves it! But the trouble is, my lovely husband is gluten-intolerant, so he can’t enjoy it with us. So I set off to create my own recipe for a delicious gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf…

gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf recipe perfect for your morning toast

Gluten-free Cinnamon Fruit Loaf Recipe

Ingredients For Your Gluten Free Cinnamon Fruit Loaf:

You’ll want to gather the following ingredients for this yummy fruit loaf recipe:

  • 50g sultanas
  • 50g mixed peel
  • 300g gluten free plain flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 7g instant yeast
  • 50g sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 egg
  • 75g warm (not hot) milk
  • 25g melted butter

You’ll also need a 2lb loaf tin, mixing bowls, and a tea towel or piece of fabric. Plus, you’ll need somewhere warm and out of the way where you can leave the dough to prove.

gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf recipe the sickly mama blog

Cinnamon Fruit Loaf: The Recipe

1. Start by adding the gluten-free flour, xanthan gum, yeast, sugar, cinnamon, ginger and mixed spice into a mixing bowl.

2. Start mixing in the egg, followed by the warm milk and butter. If you’re not using salted butter, add a pinch of salt at this stage. I recommend mixing it all together using a balloon whisk if you have one.

3. Once it’s smooth and combined, add in the mixed peel and sultanas (or other dried fruit of your choice!). For best results, you can pre-soak the dried fruit in about 50ml orange juice (or water with a tablespoon of sugar added) for about half an hour, but it’s not crucial. Then knead the fruit into the dough with your hands.

4. At this point I usually turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two. But as we’re not working with gluten, and so there are no gluten strands to form through kneading, it’s not really a crucial step!

5. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave somewhere warmish to prove, until it’s doubled in size. If it’s cold, I like to put it in the microwave next to a mug of hot water, to create a nice warm proving environment. This should normally take about an hour, but if it’s cold it will take longer. In the meantime, grease your baking tin.

6. Turn the dough back out onto a floured surface and knead briefly, then form into the shape of your baking tin. Place the dough into the tin and cover it, and leave it to prove in the same place as before, for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C (gas mark 4).

7. It’s time to bake! Pop your cinnamon fruit loaf into the oven for 20 minutes. Once it’s done, leave the bread to cool in the tin, and then simply tip it out! It’s delicious sliced and lightly toasted, with lashings of butter. Om nom nom.

Tips and tricks for the perfect loaf:

As it’s a gluten-free fruit bread, you will probably find that your gluten free cinnamon fruit loaf doesn’t brown up as much in the oven as you might expect, if you have experience of baking with regular flour. Don’t leave the loaf in longer to get it to brown up more, as this can result in a really dry and crumbly loaf! Instead, if you value a nice golden brown bread crust, I recommend brushing the top of the dough with whisked egg before you put it in the oven.

More recipes for gluten-free treats!

If you’ve enjoyed this recipe and you’re on the hunt for more gluten-free treats, why not try my gluten-free pumpkin muffins recipe, or my absolute favourite cookie recipe – gluten free oatmeal raisin cookies!

baking · food · gluten free · recipes

Gluten-Free Portuguese Custard Tarts (Pasteis De Nata) Recipe

A few years ago, my husband and I went on holiday to Lisbon in Portugal, and we fell in love with pasteis de nata, the amazing Portuguese custard tarts. Made with a buttery puff pastry and Portuguese custard, they are just delicious. When we got back home, we even found a bakery in our home town that specialised in making pasteis de nata – and we were so happy to be able to continue enjoying them.

But when my husband was diagnosed with gluten intolerance, they just became yet another yummy treat that he couldn’t have. Until now! Using shop-bought gluten free puff pastry, I have succeeded in making gluten-free pasteis de nata that are delicious and taste really authentic. Read on to find out how!

gluten free portuguese custard tarts pasteis de nata recipe the sickly mama

Gluten-free Portuguese Custard Tarts Recipe

Ingredients for gluten-free Portuguese custard tarts:

To make these Portuguese custard tarts, you will need:

  • 1 packet pre-made gluten free puff pastry (you could use shortcrust, but puff pastry is more authentic)
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 80ml water
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  • Lemon rind (a few pieces is fine, you don’t need the whole lemon!)
  • 2 egg yolks and one whole egg
  • 25g cornflour
  • 150ml milk
portuguese custard tarts with strawberries and tea the sickly mama blog

How to make your gluten-free pasteis de nata:

1. First prep that pastry! Unroll your puff pastry to remove the baking paper from the roll. Then re-roll it so you end up with a sausage of pastry (yep! I know it seems counter-intuitive, but this is most similar to how real pasteis de nata are made in Portugal). Cut the sausage into sections about 1cm – 1.5cm thick. You should end up with about 12 of these.

2. For each of the pastry pieces, turn them sideways, and place them between two pieces of baking paper. Then roll them out with a rolling pin until you end up with thin discs of pastry about the size of your cupcake tray holes. Pop them into the cupcake tray.

3. Pre-heat the oven to 220 degrees C.

4. Next, make your custard! Proper Portuguese custard is made with a sugar syrup infused with cinammon and lemon rind. To do this, heat the water, sugar, lemon rind and cinnamon stick in a pan. You want to dissolve the sugar into the water and get the mixture hot, but not boiling.

5. Meanwhile, whisk the cornflour into the eggs. Heat the milk until it is warm but not boiling, and slowly pour over the egg and flour mixture, whisking as you go. Add the vanilla essence.

6. Remove the cinnamon stick and lemon rind from your sugar syrup (carefully!). Pour the sugar syrup slowly over your eggs, milk and flour mixture, whisking constantly to form a runny custard.

6. Pour the custard into your pastry cases until they’re about three quarters full (see picture below).

gluten free portuguese custard tarts ready for baking pasteis de nata belem the sickly mama blog

7. Bake in the pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes, until golden on top.

8. Cool on a wire cooling rack. While the tarts are cooling, you can optionally sprinkle them with a mix of sugar and ground cinnamon, to really bring out the flavour. And voila! Your tarts are ready.

fresh from the oven portuguese custard tarts pasteis de nata belem the sickly mama blog cooling rack

Tips and tricks for your gluten free pasteis de nata:

The instructions at step 2 might sound like a peculiar way to treat puff pastry! But they’re actually a reasonably close approximation of the way that pastel de nata pastry cases are made in Portugal. So don’t worry that your pastry will be ruined!

These gluten-free Portuguese custard tarts are definitely best on the day they’re made. They’ll keep overnight in the fridge, but much longer and you risk the pastry becoming very sad and soggy, which no one wants. In my household though, they rarely last that long!

More gluten-free recipes…

Looking for more recipes for tasty gluten-free treats? Why not check out our recipes page, or try baking these delicious gluten free pumpkin muffins?

gluten free portuguese custard tarts with strawberries pasteis de nata belem the sickly mama blog tea
baking · food · gluten free · recipes

Gluten Free Raspberry and Coconut Granola Slices Recipe

Today I thought I’d share this fab recipe for delicious gluten-free raspberry and coconut granola slices! It’s super easy, cheap, and also has the benefit of being put-downable… If you have to stop in the middle of making it, you can just leave it half-done and pick it back up later, and the outcome will still be good. This is especially important when baking with a baby around (as I’ve discovered!).

It’s also a great way to use up any raspberries that are a bit past their best!

Gluten-free Raspberry & Coconut Granola Bars

Ingredients Needed

You will need the following ingredients:

  • 100g oats
  • 100g golden caster sugar
  • 125g gluten free plain flour
  • 75g butter
  • 30g dessicated coconut
  • 1 tsp cinammon
  • 1/4 tsp xantham gum (optional)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Raspberry jam (about a quarter of a jar, or c. 6 tbsps)
  • Fresh raspberries (optional)

Key Information About This Recipe

This recipe should make you 12 – 16 granola slices (depending on how large you cut them!) so it’s perfect for entertaining or re-stocking the pantry.

Your raspberry and coconut slices will last about four to five days, if you keep them in an airtight tin (and if you can stop yourself from eating them all before then!).

This is a gluten free recipe, but if you don’t mind eating gluten, you can substitute normal plain flour for the gluten-free flour, and leave out the xantham gum.

How To Bake Your Gluten Free Raspberry and Coconut Granola Slices

1. Start by lining a 20cm X 20cm baking tray with baking paper and greasing the sides. Pre-heat the oven to 170 C.

2. Put all the ingredients except the jam and raspberries into a bowl. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients (didn’t I say it was easy?). You should be left with a mixture similar to crumble topping.

3. Press 2/3rds of the mixture into the base of the tin. You want it reasonably compacted, otherwise your bars will just fall apart! Spread the jam over the top of the mixture and optionally dot your fresh raspberries over the top.

4. Finally, sprinkle the remaining crumble mixture over the top, pop in the oven, and bake for 30 mins.

5. Let the mix cool in the tin, and serve! It really is that easy.

baking · food · gluten free · recipes

Gluten-Free, Low FODMAP Peanut Butter Choc Chip Cookies Recipe

I wanted to share this recipe for gluten-free, low FODMAP peanut butter chocolate chip cookies with you. We’ve known about my husband’s gluten intolerance for a number of years, so I’m well versed in creating gluten free recipes. But in the autumn he also went onto the low-FODMAP diet, to try to help us work out what other food intolerances he has. So I’ve also had the fun of trying out low FODMAP baking for the first time. I think these peanut butter choc chip cookies are a great treat even if you don’t have any dietary requirements! Plus they’re really easy to make.

This recipe will make around 9 – 14 gluten-free low FODMAP peanut butter choc chip cookies. It takes about fifteen minutes to prepare and another 12 minutes to bake. You can also freeze these cookies and reheat them later (10 minutes in an oven preheated to 160 degrees C).

Gluten-Free Low FODMAP Peanut Butter Choc Chip Cookies

The ingredients:

You will need the following ingredients for your gluten free low FODMAP peanut butter chocolate chip cookies:

  • 225g salted butter
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 2 egg yolks (or one egg – but two yolks gives a more chewy, cookie-ish consistency)
  • 2tbsp peanut butter
  • 250g gluten free self-raising flour (or add 3tsp baking powder to plain flour)
  • 1tsp xanthan gum
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 50g gluten free oats
  • 100g dark chocolate drops or chopped dark chocolate

Gluten-free Peanut Choc Chip Cookies: The Recipe:

1. First, mix together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Then mix in the egg, a little at a time.

2. Sieve in the flour and xanthan gum, add the peanut butter, oats and vanilla extract and mix well.

3. Lastly, add your chocolate chips and mix until well combined into a thick dough… See the picture of the cookie dough below.

4. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.

5. Next, roll the cookie dough into balls, a little smaller than golf ball size. Put the balls onto a baking sheet, well spaced apart.

6. Bake your cookies for around 12 minutes, until they are slightly brown at the edges. They will look a bit undercooked in the middle – that’s okay.

7. Cool the cookies on the tray for 2 – 3 minutes, then transfer onto a cooling rack.

Tips and Tricks for your Gluten-free Peanut Butter Choc Chip Cookies:

The aim is to make peanut butter chocolate chip cookies with a slightly soft, chewy centre. This is harder to achieve with a gluten free recipe! The use of egg yolks, oats, peanut butter and xanthan gum should help to give more of a chewy texture, but the most important thing is not to leave them in the oven too long – if you do, they’ll still be delicious, but they’ll have more of a crunchy biscuit texture.

Another thing that helps with the chewy texture is putting the cookie dough onto the baking sheet in balls rather than dough that’s already rolled flat – so make sure you don’t skip that step!

To keep things low- FODMAP, make sure you use dark chocolate chips. Also ensure that your peanut butter doesn’t contain high-FODMAP ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup.

More yummy gluten-free recipes…

If you’re in the market for delicious gluten free treats, why not check out my recipe for gluten-free chocolate cappuccino brownies, or this one for yummy gluten-free pumpkin muffins?

baking · food · health · mental health

Baking For Mental Health

You may have heard of art therapy – but have you ever heard of culinary art therapy (or CAT)? Increasingly there’s a move to recognise that cooking and baking can be good for our wellbeing – and there is actual scientific evidence that baking is good for mental health. As you probably know if you read this blog regularly, I’m a big fan of baking (especially gluten-free baking!), so I wanted to explore this further in a blog post looking at why baking is good for our mental health, and sharing some top tips to help you get started with baking therapy…

Baking for Mental Health

Why is baking good for your mental health?

Firstly, let’s look at some of the reasons why baking is good for mental health…

Shifting your focus

Baking requires focus and concentration. You need to find the right ingredients, weigh them out, and run through the process of turning them into delicious baked goods. Baking is also often quite a physical process – activities such as kneading bread, or mixing together ingredients, get our bodies involved as well as our minds. It’s a great distraction that forces your mind away from focusing in on sources of stress and anxiety. It also gives you a sense of control and purpose, paying attention to the present and what’s going on around you. As such, it works as a form of mindfulness, which is a great way to manage anxiety and stress.

Taking Time For Yourself

Baking takes time – whether it’s fifteen minutes to whip up a quick batch of cookie dough, or four hours on a celebration cake. That’s time that you’re carving out of your day for yourself. Taking time for ourselves is an act of self-care that’s really important for wellbeing.

Get Creative

Baking is a form of creative self-expression. As such, it’s a way to release stress and an outlet for emotion. Baking can help us to express our feelings, and getting creative is a recognised way to manage mental wellbeing. Repetitive creative motions – like baking, knitting, or even DIY – actually help your brain release dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ chemical.

Engage your Senses

Baking engages all the senses – sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. Engaging those senses is pleasant and uplifting, and can also reawaken fond old memories and associations – such as baking as a child. And of course, we all enjoy biting into a lovely slice of cake at the end of the baking process (and maybe licking the spoon beforehand as well!).

Share the Love

One of the aspects of baking that can be so satisfying is the opportunity to share what you make with other people, friends and family. Making other people happy is itself tremendously rewarding – and who doesn’t feel happy when they’re presented with a slice of homemade cake, or a cookie? Gift-giving is an important part of human cultures across the globe, and interestingly studies have shown that it is actually often the person giving the gift – rather than the one receiving it – who reaps the greatest psychological benefit from gifting. It helps us to feel valuable and experience a positive self-concept, increasing self-esteem – so it’s not surprising that sharing our bakes is good for our mental health.

Baking for Mental Health: How To

So, you’re convinced about the benefits of baking for mental health. You’ve decided to give baking therapy a go, and you want to get on with it. But how do you actually make it work? Here are some key pointers to get you started.

Low Pressure Baking

Baking is not going to help reduce stress and anxiety if it becomes a high-pressure situation. For instance – baking a birthday cake, or agreeing to create dessert for a large dinner party, or host afternoon tea, places a lot of pressure on yourself. That creates more stress and anxiety. Instead, keep your baking low pressure by baking for yourself, in situations where it doesn’t really matter if the outcome is wonderful or if you burn the brownies.

Keep It Simple

Linked to the above, following incredibly long and complicated recipes is only going to work as good therapy if you’re already a very advanced baker. Try to start with simple recipes, and learn new techniques one at a time rather than trying to take them on all in one go. When I’m feeling in need of a bit of baking therapy, I generally try to go for straightforward recipes that yield yummy, satisfying results, like these gluten-free oatmeal raisin cookies, these mochaccino brownies, or this delicious rocky road recipe. Let’s be honest – if baking therapy is a thing, then chocolate therapy is most definitely real as well.

Maintain A Sense Of Humour

Bakes go wrong. This can be really frustrating. The other day, I was planning on making raspberry macarons at home. I’ve made macarons a bunch of times, but this time it went horribly wrong (I still don’t really know why!) and I had to throw out the entire batch and start again. And, if I’m honest, it put me in a godawful mood. All the fun went out of it – especially when the subsequent batch I made were still not really up to scratch, even though they tasted pretty good. It was the ultimate baking therapy failure: I ended up in a worse mood than I started in.

What did I do wrong? Not maintaining a sense of humour! Bakes go wrong. It shouldn’t be a big deal. Try not to let it stress you out, and try not to go into each bake with super-high expectations. Take a picture of the horrible mess you’ve created, text a friend or post on social media, and have a good laugh at yourself. You’ll live to bake again another day, and if you find yourself getting stressed out by your bake rather than enjoying it – just stop!

Bake Vicariously

Okay, so baking may be great for your mental health – but let’s be honest, it’s not always practical to crack out the mixing bowl. Whether you don’t have the energy, the time, or simply the drive to actually get baking, there is a Next Best Thing. You can bake vicariously with the aid of The Great British Bake Off (known in the US for some reason as The Great British Baking Show).

Don’t get me wrong, other baking shows are available. But I haven’t found any that have the charm of Bake Off. There’s something very lovely about the camaraderie of the show, and it’s a great form of escapism that will get you weirdly involved in the process of creating types of cake that you’ve never even heard of.

Baking Therapy: Your Experiences

Are you a keen baker? Have you found baking to be a great form of expression and therapy? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

baking · food · gluten free · recipes

Gluten-free Sugar Glazed Jam Tarts Recipe

These bite-size gluten free jam tarts are great for a picnic, and the sugar glaze helps to keep them light and sweet with the salty puff pastry and tangy jam! It is such an easy recipe to bake with little kids, who will love cutting the pastry and spooning out the jam (fair warning, you will have jam everywhere). Little Man is still a bit small to get very involved in baking, but he enjoyed watching me drizzle the sugar glaze and sticking his hands into a lemon tart… Oops.

Plus, it’s so nice if you have a gluten free family member who doesn’t usually get to enjoy pastry treats! There’s virtually no washing up, and it only requires four ingredients. So let’s get going!

Gluten-free Sugar-glazed Jam Tarts Recipe

Ingredients for your gluten free jam tarts:

Genuinely you only need four ingredients:

  • Gluten-free puff pastry (available in most supermarkets these days – I use Jus-Roll gluten free pastry which you can find everywhere!)
  • Jam or lemon curd (or both!)
  • Icing sugar
  • Water
gluten free sugar glazed jam tarts lemon curd sickly mama blog

How to make your tarts:

1. Use a biscuit cutter to cut circles out of the pastry and put them into the cake spots in a cupcake tin. This creates a nice shape for your tarts. Using a fork, prick holes in the base of each one – this will stop it puffing in the middle and spilling jam everywhere!

2. Put a small teaspoon of jam or lemon curd in the middle of each tart. Don’t get too generous, as the filling will bubble up when baking!

3. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 200 degrees C, for 12 – 15 minutes (until the pastry is nice and golden).

4. Carefully remove your tarts from the tin and place on a cooling rack. Mix two tablespoons of icing sugar with two teaspoons of water to form a runny white glaze, and drizzle it over the tarts once they’re cool.

5. Try not to let your baby son stick his mucky hands all over them…

baby grabbing gluten free sugar glazed jam tarts sickly mama blog
baking · celebrations · food · gluten free · Just for fun · recipes · Seasonal

Ridiculously Delicious Pancake Day Inspiration and Ideas

So the 16th February is, of course, Pancake Day. And let’s face it, what with lockdown and coronavirus, we’ve not got much to look forward to this year. Which means (in my mind) that Pancake Day should now be treated as a major holiday and celebrated as such. To that end, I’m bringing together some of my personal favourite recipes and ideas for incredible pancakes – including sweet and savory recipes, gluten free pancakes, and some slightly outlandish ideas as well… By the time I’m finished, I might just have to turn it into Pancake Week!

Pancake Day Inspiration and Ideas

Big Fat Pancakes

Ah, big fat pancakes. You know the ones. The kind of fluffy pancakes you find stacked up like the Empire State Building and smothered in syrup, on a plate that’s much too small, in a cheap American diner…. Om nom nom. Here’s a recipe for big fat pancakes from BBC Good Food – the normal flour can be directly substituted for gluten-free flour. And see below for ideas on how to make them a bit more exciting…

Savoury Pancakes

These kind of American pancakes really work well with additions to the batter. If you’re a fan of the Hawaiian pizza, I highly recommend scattering shredded ham and small pieces of pineapple into the pan along with the wet batter. They will cook into the pancake and, served with a little melted cheese on top, create a delicious (if slightly unorthodox) Hawaiian pancake treat! Unless you are my husband, in which case you will think it is the pancake of the devil. Fair enough.

If you are of my husband’s mindset, with regards to the combination of ham, pineapple and cheese, then there are of course big fat savoury pancake alternatives. Another great choice is to keep the shredded ham in the batter (but drop the pineapple!… not into the batter…) and then top your pancakes with smoked cheese and chives.

Sweet Pancakes

The obvious choice is, of course, to drop blueberries in your pancake batter and serve with syrup or, if you’re feeling especially extravagant, blueberry yoghurt and maple syrup. I think pretty much any fruit + yoghurt combination works – I’m not the biggest ever fan of blueberries but I love these pancakes with raspberries and yoghurt (in fact you can see that exact combo in one of the pictures on this page!). Ice cream is a more than acceptable yoghurt substitute if you don’t care about pretending that your breakfast is remotely healthy.

Another amazing big fat pancake is a cinammon swirl pancake. These are perfect breakfast pancakes! Basically it’s a normal American pancake but with an addition of sweet cinammon butter, swirled into the batter. I make them at home on a semi-regular basis and they are super delicious, but fair warning: I have never managed to get them looking particularly attractive (hence the absence of photos). To this day, I have no idea how the folks over at BBC Good Food managed to get theirs looking so perfect. But who cares? They don’t last long enough to photograph anyway.

I also weirdly love the combo of banana, bacon and maple syrup for the ultimate sweet and savoury twist.

Skinny Flat Pancakes

Let’s be clear. By ‘skinny’ pancakes, I mean pancakes that are physically slender, not ones that are in any way healthy to eat. That is not in the spirit of Pancake Day. The best thing about skinny flat pancakes, a.k.a. classic French crepes (basic recipe here, straight swap the flour for gluten free flour if needed), is that you can eat a lot more of them before you’re full! As we all know, on Pancake Day one should maximise the quantity, as well as the quality, of pancakes consumed…

Savoury Crepes

Crepes work super well with savoury flavours. My favourite is to spread the crepe with cream cheese, sprinkle with cracked black pepper, smoked salmon, a squeeze of lemon and a generous scattering of chopped chives. It’s sort of like a smoked salmon blini, but much much bigger!

Sweet Crepes

Having started with a savoury crepe (or two, or three) obviously you need to move on to dessert. When I was a kid, my mum always served up crepes spread with strawberry jam, and/or a sprinkle of lemon juice and sugar. Sometimes the classics are the best!

But these days I often dish up a range of sweet fillings, so people can pick and choose their favourites and maybe have a few different combinations. Strawberries and banana are the perfect versatile fruits to have available to fill your crepes, along with Nutella (other chocolate spreads are available…) or caramel sauce.

Fun and Fruity Pancakes

Speaking of fruit, my husband was the one to first introduce me to banana pancakes. Before he came along, I thought ‘banana pancakes’ were the same as ‘banana and pancakes’ – I clearly didn’t pay enough attention to Jack Johnson in my youth. Boy, was I missing out! Proper banana pancakes are now a staple in our house, and Little Man loves them too.

Making banana pancakes can be as simple as two ingredients – banana and egg – making them naturally gluten free, although I prefer recipes that include baking powder for a little extra lightness. My go-to recipe is here, but I usually add a tablespoon of gluten-free flour – because I find the addition of flour makes the pancakes much easier to flip! Banana-only pancakes can be very runny, and you end up with rather unattractive melty blobs (although to be fair, they are absolutely delicious melty blobs). I recommend serving them hot from the pan with either maple syrup or golden syrup – both are delicious.

I’ve heard a rumour that you can make other types of fruit pancake, but honestly why would you bother?

Boozy Pancakes

The classic boozy pancake is, naturally, the Crepe Suzette. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a delicious recipe, but also requires a certain amount of confidence and fancy chef-y skills like making caramel and then setting it on fire. The BBC conveniently have an easy version recipe which they call Cointreau Pancakes (other orange-flavoured liqueurs are available).

I have been religiously Googling alternative alcoholic pancake recipes for Pancake Day 2021 inspiration, because as we all know, lockdowns are vastly improved by the addition of booze. The ones that have caught my eye the most are these caramelised banana and rum pancakes (drool!), these Bailey’s red velvet pancakes with whipped cream (I love the idea of red velvet pancakes!), these pina colada pancakes (my favourite cocktail) and these strawberry lime margarita pancakes which just sound straight-up amazing. Will I get the chance to try all these recipes before Pancake Day? Clearly, no – so if you try one, let me know what you think in the comments!

More Pancake Day Inspiration

Do you have any 2021 Pancake Day inspiration of your own? Let me know your favourite recipes in the comments! Or check out my other recipes and gluten-free baking ideas here.

baking · food · gluten free · low FODMAP · recipes

Gluten Free Low FODMAP Pineapple Raspberry Crumble Recipe

I love a yummy crumble when the weather is cold. But this autumn, my husband started on the low FODMAP diet to try to work out if he has any food intolerances other than gluten intolerance, which we know about. And on the low FODMAP diet, you’re not allowed to eat apple. So what the hell do you put in a delicious winter crumble? Well… Why not turn it into a summery sunshine crumble instead, with this delicious recipe for gluten-free, low FODMAP pineapple raspberry crumble!

gluten free low fodmap pineapple raspberry crumble recipe the sickly mama blog

Gluten Free Low FODMAP Pineapple Raspberry Crumble Recipe

The ingredients…

To make your gluten free, low FODMAP pineapple raspberry crumble, you’ll need the following ingredients. This is a store cupboard crumble recipe, so it’s made with ingredients you can keep in the cupboard or freezer – but you can of course use fresh fruit if you’re feeling fancy!

For the filling:

  • 1 tin pineapple rings
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen raspberries
  • 50g caster sugar
  • (1 tbsp spiced rum – this is optional as rum is high FODMAP due to the sugar content! However you may choose to risk it for a biscuit, as a single tablespoon of rum spread over 6 – 8 portions of crumble is a very small amount per serving)

For the crumble topping:

  • 250g Gluten free plain flour
  • 150g Butter
  • 125g Sugar (golden caster is perfect)
  • 50g Oats
  • 50g Dessicated coconut
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Pineapple Raspberry Crumble: The Method

1. First, make the crumble topping. Put the butter, sugar, and flour into a bowl and rub the ingredients together with your fingertips until you have a mixture that resembles breadcrumbs. Sir the oats, cinnamon and desiccated coconut through the mixture.

2. Drain the pineapple rings, putting the juice from the tin into a saucepan. Chop the pineapple rings into bite-sized pieces, and line the bottom of a 15cm x 30cm casserole dish with the chunks.

pineapple and raspberries in a casserole dish

3. Stud the casserole dish with frozen raspberries (no need to defrost) – see picture above. Put the leftover raspberries into the saucepan with the pineapple juice.

4. Add the sugar to the saucepan and stir over a gentle heat. For an extra bit of flavour, add the spiced rum at this point. Bring to a simmer and keep stirring over a low heat until it reaches the consistency of double cream.

5. Pour the cooked-down raspberry pineapple mix over the fruit in the bottom of your casserole dish. Don’t worry, you’re not expecting it to cover the bottom of the dish – the fruit will release more liquid when you bake it.

cooking down raspberries to make a syrup

6. When you’re ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees C.

7. Cover the fruit with crumble topping, and bake for around 40 minutes or until the crumble is nicely browned. Serve immediately.

Tips and Tricks for your Pineapple Raspberry Crumble

If you fancy a more grown-up sort of pineapple and raspberry crumble, you can of course increase the rum content! Or, if you do need your crumble to be low FODMAP, you can add spiced yodka instead – vodka is low FODMAP (unlike rum, sadly) so you can have as much as you like! Here’s a recipe to make your own spiced vodka at home.

If you need to be strictly low FODMAP, be careful what you serve your crumble with, as both custard and ice cream are sadly high FODMAP. You can get lactose free custard – we’ve tried some oat custard, which was pretty tasty – or lactose free ice cream.

gluten free low FODMAP pineapple raspberry crumble recipe

More gluten free recipes…

Looking for more tasty gluten free recipes? Why not try these gluten free chocolate cappuccino brownies?