All products on this page have been selected by the editorial team, however Stylist may make commission on some products purchased through affiliate links in this article
If you’re one of her 1.8 million fans, you’ll know that Poppy O’Toole is something of a kitchen doula. Now, she’s sharing her viral tutorials in a new cookbook…
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you combined snappy TikTok recipe tutorials with a bone-fide expert chef, Poppy O’Toole is your answer. She was cooking at Michelin starred restaurant Purnell’s in Birmingham until the pandemic hit last March but, when the hospitality industry was ordered to shut its doors, she was made redundant. Then, she turned to TikTok.
Sharing educational yet surprisingly entertaining recipes, she quickly amassed a loyal following that now stands at more than 1.8 million users. From unexpected hacks for making crispy roasties (O’Toole has crowned herself the internet’s potato queen), to professional chopping techniques, your culinary know-how will blossom with each video absorb.
Now, O’Toole has translated her approachable expertise into a new recipe book, Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need. Starting with the basics, she’ll take you through 12 core skills – including how to make a pasta sauce and roast a chicken – before building on these simple recipes to make standout dishes. Not forgetting dessert, O’Toole is a firm believer that custard-making is one of the first skills you should master. Ready to make a start? Below, you’ll find three moreish dishes using custard that are ideal for everyone with a sweet tooth…
Get started by making O’Toole’s take on luxurious homemade custard. Then, if you’re a fan of classic puddings, you’ll want to serve it alongside O’Toole’s butterscotch apple crumble, which sees tart cooking apples mixed with caramel, then sprinkled with a buttery topping.
Brunch is an undeniable weekend highlight – and O’Toole’s French toast will make yours infinitely more delicious. She uses her perfect custard in lieu of eggs for soaking, then tops the lot with caramelised bananas, salted peanuts, berries and a drizzle of cold custard.
Finally, it would be remiss not to throw a classic crème brûlée into the mix. O’Toole’s version is luxuriously creamy, rather than jelly-like, and topped with a golden caramel layer than will shatter when tapped with the back of your spoon. If custard and its offshoots aren’t currently on your regular rota of desserts, they soon will be.
Poppy says: “I’m going out on a limb here, but… there’s nothing that can beat homemade custard. Forget the powder. Fresh, homemade custard is rich, delicious and, well, homely. It’s everything you want to cover all over your dessert. And I mean ALL over. None of this ‘there’s-not-enough’ situation. Make it fresh. And make lots of it. No complaints.”
Makes 1½ jam jars
Storage: fridge 3 days
- 300ml/1¼ cups double cream
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 tbsp caster sugar
Set yourself set up. If you are not using the custard immediately, then you will need something big enough for the custard to be strained into. If you are using the custard straight away, place a sieve over a jug, or whatever it is you’re serving it in.
Pour the double cream into a small saucepan and add the vanilla. Place the pan over a medium heat and slowly bring it up to the simmer – just so that bubbles are forming around the edges of the cream. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
In a bowl, beat together the egg yolks and sugar, until the colour has turned pale.
Stirring the whole time, little by little, pour about half the cream from the pan into the sweetened yolks – this will gently bring the yolks up to temperature so that they don’t scramble when they go into the rest of the hot cream.
Then, pour the yolk mixture in the bowl into the pan with the remaining cream and return to a low–medium heat, stirring continuously for about 7–10 minutes, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. *Tip!
Strain the thickened custard through the sieve into your chosen receptacle. If you’re keeping it until later, cover the surface of the custard with cling film (make sure it’s actually touching the surface), which will stop a skin forming on top.
To check your eggs are cooked in a custard or a curd, dip in a spoon. When the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, run your finger across it. If you get a clean line with no dribbling, the eggs are done!
Butterscotch apple crumble
Poppy says: “Apple crumble is the staple of British desserts. It’s good just as it comes, but I think I’ve unlocked the next level in the game of crumbles – with the butterscotch, which cuts through the tartness. Get me a spoon.”
For the core
- 1 recipe quantity of Perfect Custard
For the topping
- 150g plain flour
- 90g dark brown soft sugar
- a pinch of salt
- 100g butter, cubed and chilled
For the filling
- 50g butter
- 150g dark brown soft sugar
- 100ml double cream
- ¼ tsp vanilla extract
- 2 large cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
- a large pinch of flaky salt
Preheat the oven to 190°C/170°C fan/Gas 5.
Make the topping. Mix the flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Then, a few cubes at a time, add the butter, using your thumbs and fingertips to rub it in until it looks like lovely, chunky breadcrumbs (you don’t want it too fine – some lumps are good for extra crunch once it’s cooked). Set aside.
Make the filling. Place the butter in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. Leave to melt, then add the sugar and stir. Leave to dissolve, stirring every so often, just so that the caramel doesn’t burn. Meanwhile, pour the cream into a jug and stir in the vanilla.
After about 3–5 minutes, reduce the heat under the pan to low and, using a whisk, carefully pour in the vanilla cream, whisking as you go.
Add the apples and flaky salt, and gently stir them through so that the apple slices are completely coated in the thick butterscotch. Transfer this mixture into a medium oven dish.
Scatter the crumble evenly over the top. Bake for 30–40 minutes, or until the crumble is golden and the filling is bubbling.
While the crumble is in the oven, warm up your custard: place it in a saucepan over a low heat, stirring continuously, for about 5 minutes, until it’s warm and silky. Be patient – don’t rush it, as we don’t want it to split.
Serve the hot crumble in bowls smothered in lashings of custard – and vanilla ice cream, because I love it with that, too. So, yes, both.
Bananas and custard French toast
Poppy says: “First, an apology to my friend Martha. We’ve been best friends since we were three, but there’s always been a third wheel in the relationship… Martha’s fear of bananas. I’d like to think that this brunch might turn her around, but it probably won’t. So, sorry Martha, it’s incredible and I couldn’t leave it out.”
For the core
- 1 recipe quantity of Perfect Custard
For the French toast
- 100ml whole milk
- 4 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 bananas, peeled, and sliced lengthways in half
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 4 x 2.5cm-thick slices of brioche loaf
- 4 tbsp crunchy peanut butter
- a knob of butter
- 2 tbsp chopped salted peanuts
- a spoonful of mixed berries (optional), to serve
Pour the custard into a bowl or oven dish that’s large enough to dip in your brioche slices. Mix the milk into your custard just to loosen it slightly.
Tip the sugar on to a plate and roll the banana halves through so that it sticks on both sides.
Heat the vegetable oil in a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the bananas and fry for about 4–5 minutes each side, until golden and caramelised all over. Remove from the pan and set aside for later. Keep the pan to hand.
On one edge of each slice of brioche, using a paring (small chopping) knife, slice through the thickness to make a pocket inside. Use a teaspoon to fill the pockets with equal amounts of delicious peanut butter.
Dip the filled slices into your custard, carefully turning each slice to coat it on both sides.
Add the knob of butter to the frying pan and place it over a low–medium heat. When the butter starts melting, place your soggy, filled brioche slices into the pan (do this in batches, if necessary).
Fry for about 2 minutes on each side, just so that the bread is golden and toasted to the point of getting a little crisp around the edges. Remove from the pan and transfer to a serving plate.
Top with the caramelised bananas, chopped peanuts, berries (if using) and a good dollop of leftover (controversial) cold custard. Offt! Yes, please!
Poppy says: “I’m often asked if there’s anything I don’t enjoy eating. Confession: I hate jelly. The texture, nah. I’m out. Goodbye. Sometimes crème brûlées can have that kinda texture and I’m not a fan. This one, however, does not. Make your custard fresh for this recipe, because at the point you think you’re done, you’ll need to go a bit further. Get your ramekins ready before you start.”
For the core
- 1 recipe quantity of Perfect Custard, but only up to Step 5
For the topping
- 100g granulated sugar
So, you’re making your custard and you’ve got to Step 5 where you’re cooking for 7–10 minutes, until the custard coats the back of a spoon. Now, what we’re going to do is risky, but it pays off: keep cooking for an extra 4 minutes (11–14 minutes in total), to get a super-thick, almost-set custard.
Pour this through a sieve directly into your two ramekins. Then, cover the surface of each portion with cling film (make sure it’s actually touching the surface), which will stop a skin forming. Move the ramekins to the fridge and leave the custards for 2 hours, until set. (Actually, 6 hours or overnight setting is better – if you have/can wait that long.)
Meanwhile, make the caramel for the top. (Using caramel instead of sugar is a trick I learned at work. It’s quicker to melt and less likely to burn.) Tip the sugar into a small, heavy-based saucepan and add enough water to just cover. Place the pan over a medium–high heat and leave it. Don’t stir it, don’t move it, just let it do its thing for 5–6 minutes, until it is light brown.
For something to do in the meantime, place a large sheet of baking paper on your work surface – it needs to be big enough to cope with your caramel without it running off the edges (put it inside a large baking tray, if you like).
Remove the light brown caramel from the heat and very carefully pour it on to the baking paper. Leave it to cool and set for about 10 minutes. Do not touch it. It’s hot!
Once the caramel is completely cool, remove it from the baking paper, break it up and put it into your food processor. Blitz it to a powder.
Once the custards are set, get them out of the fridge and sprinkle a tablespoon of the powdered caramel on top of each. Then, if you have a kitchen blow torch, fire that up; if not, preheat the grill to medium and heat away for 2–3 minutes, until the tops are melted and golden. Leave for a minute to harden until crackable, then serve.
Poppy Cooks: The Food You Need by Poppy O’Toole (£16.99, Bloomsbury) is out now
Photography: Louise Hagger