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Nancy B’s Guide to the Perfect… Dessert

Chic cheesecakes, patisserie-style finishes, no-fuss gelatine… Step up your desserts with Nancy B’s top tips for show-stopping ‘sweets’.

There are great British puddings, which bring to mind winter warmers with lashings of custard, and then there are desserts – colourful, beautiful and delicious. Here are my five top tips for making your dessert stand out… for all the right reasons.

Technique: Big chill

It’s always useful to plan ahead when baking or cooking for friends and family. A chilled dessert is perfect as it can be made two days before required and a final decoration added at the last minute. I always take mine out of the fridge about an hour before eating. By serving cold rather than chilled the flavours are not inhibited and the taste is improved.

Ingredient: Leaf gelatine

From a rum baba to a sherry trifle, a strawberry pavlova to a lemon posset – the variety of desserts out there is fabulous. A favourite for me is no-bake cheesecake, and a necessary ingredient in my recipe is gelatine. I prefer leaf gelatine, which has to be soaked in cold water for 10 minutes before you dissolve it in warm liquid. A handy rule of thumb – especially if you want to make your own jelly with juices at home – is that each leaf will set 100ml of liquid.

Common problems: Dead set

Some people, I know, worry about working with gelatine. I’ve heard those cries of “It hasn’t set!” or “There are strings/lumps in it”. But if you do it right, you shouldn’t have any problems. Firstly, when adding your soaked gelatine leaves to warm liquid do not allow it to boil – otherwise your gelatine will be spoilt and will not set. Yet if your mixture is not warm enough, your gelatine won’t fully dissolve. I usually put the gelatine in a pan with a little water over a very gentle heat until it turns to liquid; then I know I won’t have dispersal problems. Similarly, don’t be tempted to speed up the setting process by popping your dessert in the freezer. Freezing will destroy your gelatine and it will not set.

Style: Cherry on top

Desserts can look ‘top-end’ and stylish with just a little thought about decoration and presentation. Colour is important too and bright fresh fruits, an apricot glaze (which is simply apricot jam with a little water added) or a simple drizzle of melted chocolate can make an eye-catching difference.

New twist on a retro classic: Jelly glaze

A simple cheesecake can be brought bang up to date by adding a patisserie-style shiny glaze. This is so easy to do – and is sure to impress your friends. A chilled and set lemon cheesecake can be glazed by pouring over half a pint of lemon jelly. Make your jelly as per the packet instructions, allow it to cool down to room temperature in a Pyrex jug, then pour over your cheesecake and pop it in the fridge for two hours to set.

@nancybbakes won Great British Bake Off 2014. Since then she’s travelled from Cornwall to The Shetland Isles, baking and entertaining fans.

Learn more about her food and her travels on her blog.