Bake your own retro sweets with these nostalgic DIY recipes

Posted by
Stylist Team
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

We're kids of the 80s. We remember well the sensation of racing to the ice-cream van come lunch to buy 10 Wham bars, sherbet dips and other sickly creations that triggered instant parental disapproval and that stuck stubbornly to the back of our teeth for hours after consuming them.

As consummate food-lovers, the sweets of our childhood occupy a special place in our collective consciousness. So we're more than a little thrilled to hear about a new book that tells us how to create our own versions of nostalgic treats such as seaside rock, gobstoppers and pear drops.

In her new tome Great British Sweets: And How To Make Them at Home, author Adele Nozedar explores the history and evolution of the sweets we grew up with. Examining the British love affair with old-fashioned confectionery, she conjures up a lost epoch of endless summers, bikes, grazed knees and sticky first kisses - not to mention the joy of spending our first pocket money.

Best of all, Adele provides 50 easy recipes covering all manner of old favourites, from pulled toffee to humbugs, coconut ice and sugar mice. It's everything we need for what could possibly be the best throwback baking session ever.

We've chosen our three best recipes from the book, along with a bite-sized history for each sweet. Enjoy and happy cooking!

Great British Sweets: And How To Make Them at Home by Adele Nozedar, is published by Square Peg and is out now for £12.99.

Make your own humbugs

As well as the more common humbug – the stripy lump of solid sugar with a mint flavour – I also discovered a humbug indigenous to Taunton, which startles the happy sucker when he or she reaches the centre of the sweet. The middle isn’t sugar at all, but an almond. Perhaps this is the true ‘humbug’, a trick played on the customer? Whatever the case, we do know that mint oils and extracts, as well as those of clove and wintergreen, were used as cold cures in the dark days before cane sugar landed on our shores. The addition of sugar was a very welcome way of making almost any medicine palatable. Humbugs are an absolute joy to make and a good way to practise your sugar-pulling and twisting techniques.


  • 450g demerara sugar
  • 150ml water
  • 50g butter
  • a pinch of cream of tartar
  • flavouring (mint is traditional)
  • black food colouring (powdered)
  • icing sugar, for dusting your hands
  • two 38 x 30cm shallow baking trays, oiled scissors (the blades dipped in oil)


1. Place all the ingredients, except for the flavouring and colour, in a heavy-bottomed pan and attach your sugar thermometer. Put the pan over a low heat until the sugar has all dissolved. Bring slowly to the boil and boil steadily to 143° (soft crack stage) then remove from the heat immediately. Leave to cool for a few minutes, then pour half the mixture on to one of the tins and add the colouring and flavouring to the remaining mixture in the pan. Stir well and pour into the second tray.

2. When the mixture can be handled comfortably, find a friend to help you. Both of you should dust your hands with icing sugar before you each start to manipulate a tray of toffee, folding and pulling it into long strips approximately 3cm thick. This should take no more than 10 minutes. If you don’t have a friend, leave one tray in a warm oven until you’re ready to give it the same treatment. Twist the two different-coloured strips together; they will stick to one another. Then pull the entire strip of toffee until it’s about 2cm wide, and snip into bite-sized lengths with the oiled scissors. Roll in icing sugar. (The humbugs. Not you.)

Make your own Curly Wurly

The best way to eat a Curly Wurly, I think, is to pop it in the freezer for a couple of hours. Then, leaving the wrapper intact, rap it sharply against the edge of the kitchen table. On unwrapping the treasure you should find that a pile of chocolate shrapnel has fallen away from what is now a lattice of nude toffee, legs all crossed to preserve modesty. Naughty!

The beauty of the method I have devised here is that you can make your own version of a Curly Wurly as big as you like! It is based on a simple pulled-toffee technique. The only tricky bit, if your predilection is for a REALLY HUGE Curly Wurly, is how to coat it in the chocolate. You will need to find a tray that is as close as possible in size to your completed toffee. The quantities given here will make two Curly Wurlies of approximately 30 x 8cm, or a single whopper of 50 x 15cm, depending on how finely you pull the toffee.


  • 225g demerara sugar
  • 175g golden syrup
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp warm water
  • 2 tsp liquid glucose
  • vanilla flavouring (optional)
  • 400g chocolate (plain, milk or white)
  • baking tray large enough to accommodate your chosen size of Curly Wurly, buttered scraping tool


1. Put all the ingredients for the toffee, apart from the flavouring, into a heavy-bottomed pan, attaching your sugar thermometer to the inside. Over a low heat, stir the contents until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, without stirring and heat to 130°C (hard ball stage). Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Pour the toffee carefully into the tray and leave to cool for a few moments.

2. When the toffee has started to set at the edges of the tray, take your scraping tool and scoop the edges of the toffee into the centre. Repeat until cool enough to handle, then begin to pull and twist the ball of toffee into a long rope of about 5mm thick. As you do so, it will become paler in colour and creamy in texture. With practice, making ropes of regular thickness will become easier.

3. Divide the toffee into three roughly equal strands. (If you have a manufactured Curly Wurly to hand, copy it). Use one strand to form a rectangular ‘frame’, sticking it together in one corner. Then, starting in the top left-hand corner, zigzag the second strand down and across the frame all along its length, finishing in the bottom right-hand corner. Repeat the design the other way up with the third strand of toffee, starting from the top right-hand corner. Where the toffee overlaps, press it down to seal it. If, during the construction process, the toffee has started to set and the pieces refuse to glue together, heat the tip of a knife in hot water and use it to soften the junctions; they will stick down nicely. Set aside in a cool place for 15 minutes or so, until the toffee is completely firm.

4. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie and then, depending on the size of your toffee lattice(s), either dip it in the chocolate, brush it on, or coat it on with a spoon. Leave the chocolate coating to set before you turn the Curly Wurly over to coat the underside.

Make your own liquorice

Liquorice comes from a plant that has a real spell-check befuddler of a name; Glycyrrhiza glabra. The first part of this name originates in a Greek word meaning ‘sweet root’ and the second part, ‘glabra’, means ‘hairless’ or ‘smooth’. The plant itself is a small, scruffy and undignified-looking. It is not indigenous to the British Isles; rather it grows in the wild in the Middle East and Asia, and has been used – and is still used – as a medicine long before it became a sweet confection.

Today, liquorice comes in myriad shapes and styles, colours and flavours. Bootlaces, pipes, sticks, hollow tubes full of kali (like sherbert, except with a larger grain), liquorice allsorts (see below) … What’s your favourite? This recipe will give you the scope to make lots of different shapes.


  • 200g molasses
  • 1 tsp ground liquorice root
  • 1 tsp ground star anise
  • 150g plain flour
  • 2 drops black food colouring
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Icing sugar, for dusting


1. Place the molasses in a pan over a low heat, then add the ground liquorice and star anise.

2. Sift the flour and add it to the molasses a little at a time until you have a soft bust workable dough. You might need a little more or a little less flour. Leave the ‘dough’ in a cool place for 30 minutes to set.

3. You can then make any shapes you like. Roll into tubes, or if you cut into rounds about 2.5cm in diameter, you have your own Pontefract cakes which you can then personalised with your own ‘seal’. Dust your shapes with icing sugar to finish.

4. The liquorice will harden in time even when stored wrapped in grease-proof paper in an airtight container. If this happens, warm in a low oven for a couple of minutes.

Recipes extracted from Great British Sweets: And How To Make Them at Home by Adele Nozedar, published by Square Peg (£12.99)

Share this article


Stylist Team