Having invited some friends to Sunday brunch, I wasn’t quite sure what to make. Combining two meals into one raises the stakes somewhat and a rubbery fried egg and some cold toast wouldn’t cut it. So I googled brunch ideas and the clear winner was this Bill Granger recipe for ricotta pancakes with honeycomb butter. Soft fluffy pancakes with sweet crunchy butter sounded just the ticket and offered the perfect opportunity to educate my English and American guests about proper yellowman instead of this honeycomb malarkey…
Yellowman is the Irish name for this aerated sugar creation you probably know as the middle of a Crunchie bar or possibly as cinder toffee. It is famed throughout Ireland and particularly associated in the North with the famous Auld Lammas Fair in Ballycastle around the end of August. Paper cones or pokes of yellowman were served at the fair, traditionally accompanied with the famous dulse or dried seaweed. Perhaps an Irish precursor of the salted caramel trend we all know and love now, I found this combo utterly revolting as a child. Dulse had the texture of shoe leather dipped in salt and I could never understand why people brought it back from Ballycastle for us. I already hadn’t been on holiday, why punish me further? I might feel differently these days though.
I loved yellow man though with its sticky rough crunchy feel and glorious sunny colour reminiscent of late summer sunshine and long weekends before school started again. Skipping the side dish of dulse and adding it into butter sounded like improving on something already pretty perfect. Filled with the warm glow of childhood memory and refined sugar, I decided I would live dangerously and make my own yellowman for this recipe as I remember people making it when I was a child and saying how easy it was.
Seeking Irish expertise, (and soundtracking the event with the tones of Jamaica’s finest and appropriately named reggae artist Yellowman) I decided to follow Niamh’s recipe at Eat Like a Girl especially as she omits the butter some recipes use. I’m nervous enough round molten sugar without potentially burning butter to boot. Warned to use a deep pan, I got the Le Cresuet out and started melting. Unfortunately because I am incapable of reading recipes correctly at the moment, I used 200 ml of golden syrup instead of 200g so may have had too much in the mixture, which is why when my trusty thermometer said the mixture had reached the magic 150°C or hard crack stage, the whole thing had gone from an alluring golden amber to burnt umber. I bunged the bicarb in anyway and was unprepared for how much it foamed up. Unsure whether I was meant to stir (ie: put my hand near boiling sugar that is exploding) my hesitation meant there was yellowman mix all over the cooker and even belated stirring didn’t help that much. I poured the remaining mix into a lined tray and set about scraping the sugar off the cooker. I certainly know why the Scots call it puff candy…
Sampling a bit left on the pan, I established that the sugar had gone from sickly sweet to acidic and overcooked. I decided to start again, using the correct amount of golden syrup this time. Thinking this is where I’d gone wrong, I followed the recipe exactly otherwise, again going for the hard crack stage and ending up again with darker looking sugar than I’d have liked. I added the bicarb, stirring like a dervish and although it puffed up like a more alluring indoor firework, the yellowman still didn’t look sunshine yellow. In fact eagle eyed readers will have noted that it is in fact that the kind of burnished hue usually only seen on a contestant on Snog Marry Avoid. It also had the same acrid tang of burned sugar as the previous batch.
Having run out of refined sugar products to ruin and acutely aware I was spending my Saturday night in a fog of sticky smelling smoke, I gave up at this point and turned my attention to washing up both sugar caked pots I’d used, realising I should have taken the mix of the heat before it got to the hard crack stage and see if that helped. I also discovered when ruining another recipe later in the week, that I am reading the thermometer wrong! So please don’t be scared to try this recipe unless like me you paid no attention in science class and can’t read a thermometer.*
I then went out the next morning and bought a four pack of Crunchies, denuding them of chocolate with a sharp knife and then mashing them into some softened (and thinking back to the dulse, salted) butter before shaping into a roll and chilling for a couple of hours in the fridge.
Once the guests arrived, I turned my attention to the pancakes. Despite the seemingly complicated two step batter, these are incredibly easy to make and quicker than a regular batter as they don’t need to sit. Spoonfuls of the thick yet light batter went into a hot pan and puffed up beautifully as they turned golden brown. Served up alongside some crisp streaky bacon, these little pancakes were pretty perfect as they were. But adding in the butter took them to a whole new level.
Flecked with shimmering jewels of honeycomb, the butter added a soft yet crunchy, sweet yet not sickly layer of deliciousness to the pancakes. Combining the best of the world of the whipped style butter and syrup the Americans serve with pancakes, you no longer have to choose between the two toppings, but enhance them by creating the best butter in the world. The crunch worked perfectly with the soft pancakes and the sweetness took the bacon up a notch too. There were no pancakes left and only a scraping of the butter once we’d all finished, even though we also had light crumbly corn muffins and a slightly spiced berry compote on our plates too.
Once my guests had left, I finished off the butter on the leftover muffins and reminded myself that it was so good, it had been worth all the fluffy faffing with sugar and syrup the night before. I will be trying making yellowman again instead of trimming a million Crunchie bars, so that I can make an entire block of the butter and then eat it with a spoon. Or make the best toast in the world. Don’t make the pancakes without it. It’s so worth the extra effort!
*I’d also like to thank Niamh who took time out to see if she could help me sort my problem with the yellowman despite me slightly slandering her poor recipe’s good name. I feel very reassured now.