Saturday, 28 February 2009


If you like baking then at some point you are bound to find yourself volunteering.

Charity cake sales roll around and I find myself balancing cupcakes and loaf cakes on the bus trying my hardest to avoid icing sticking to the tin.

Birthdays come and the night before I find myself elbow deep in flour.

Working in Edinburgh there were five of us who could be relied on to produce cakes for any occasion, and sometimes (often) for no occasion at all. Sometimes the sheer quantity of birthday cake tipped into ridiculous but we ate it and we enjoyed it. Of course we did. Four out of five did the Moonwalk in 2007 and raised money by baking cakes to sell every other week. Banana bread, lamingtons, sponge with whipped cream and fresh passionfruit, brownies, cookies. Everyone was a little bit sad when the Moonwalk was over and the excessive baking stopped.

Then last March I moved to London and to my new job and someone's birthday rolled around and out came the boxes from M&S. Apparently I no longer worked with bakers so if I wanted cake to be homemade (which I did and do) then I would have to provide it.

So on Thursday evening I broke out the chocolate to make the quadruple chocolate loaf cake from Feast.

In a last minute fit of laziness I abandoned the syrup (even though I know it is delicious), it was pretty crumbly without and I think it's probably better to include it. It was good, although, to be honest, being the lone baker can be an embarrassing experience. I can only take so many people saying 'wow, Gemma, did you make this?' before the part of my character that hates anyone examining anything I do too carefully starts saying that maybe M&S cake isn't so bad after all. Maybe after a few more birthdays they will get used to it.

Thursday, 19 February 2009


It was always going to take a lot to top snow day.

That sounded like the start to an amazing post didn't it?

Now I'm supposed to tell you how I have been searching for the recipe to end all recipes for the last two weeks, how I have not left the kitchen except to shop for exclusive ingredients with which to wow you.

But I'm not going to.

The snow was just too good. Nothing has beaten it yet, I don't think anything will until the first day of Spring.

Valentines Day was nice. The brunch at Albion was delicious (even if I suspect that the queues will only get worse). But it was no snow day.

The two big bowls of pho last weekend were yummy and left us sated with fragrant cleansing broth. But it was no snow day.

The packed lunch project has been going well with an average of two lunches a week coming from home (this is a big improvement on the previous average of zero) but not even the joy of enough roast beetroot and butternut squash mixed with feta and chickpeas to last not just me, but me and Chris, not just one, but two whole lunches was enough to outshine the snow day.

So with no more snow days on the horizon and too long to wait for a holiday and Spring still feeling almost unbearably far away the only thing I have to report is that I have signed up for the Edinburgh moonwalk. I did it two years ago and at around 21 miles I was asking myself why, why, why couldn't I just hand them the money and be done with it, why did I put myself through this, why were there people saying (cheerfully) 'only five miles to go' (every time they said it I wanted to throttle those otherwise lovely volunteers in their bright yellow tops). But true despair only really kicked in when I thought, for one irrationally joyous moment, that we were almost finished until realising that there were still 1.2 miles to go. I could have cried. So why, why, why, why, why? Sadism perhaps? Or maybe some sick twisted part of me actually enjoyed the torture, the lack of sleep? Maybe...

I'm trying to raise at least £500 which will go to breast cancer charities and, as I am doing this all alone, your pennies will really help me to stay motivated (I hope). If you want to see how I'm progressing just check out my justgiving page.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009


I had planned to write about a few different things by now.

I had planned to tell you about walking to Fortnum and Mason to drink a cappucino complete with miniature ice-cream cone...

and about the pistachio ice-cream that not only tasted delicious but matched the tables in the 1950's style ice-cream parlour perfectly.

I was going to show you the Chinese New Year lanterns in Chinatown.

And I meant to let you know that on Sunday the sun came out just long enough for a trip on the London Eye...

and later, when we were well and truly chilled to the bone, we sat in Pain Quotidien sipping from huge bowls of thick hot chocolate and eating bread and jam.

I had planned to tell you how we bought baklava from one of our local supermarkets and about the way they dripped honey and tasted of orange blossom.

I had planned to tell you all of this but then it snowed.

I woke up on Monday to a thick blanket of snow and no buses on the streets of London. Happily I am reliant on buses so had no choice but to take a snow day. We stayed inside and watched the weather and travel updates. We walked to the park and threw snowballs, we looked at deer with snow on their antlers and a snowman complete with moustache, and when the snow started to fall again we headed home.

It felt like a holiday, it felt like everyone had been given the freedom to play for a day. I think we need a snow day every year if this is what it does to people.

When we got home we ate scrambled eggs with chorizo and bacon and drank tea and I decided it was a muffin day. To be more precise I decided it was a maple syrup muffin day...

Maple syrup muffins
Makes 12
From 'Muffins fast and fantastic, 2nd edition' by Susan Reimer

1 large egg
240 ml (8 fl oz) milk
90 ml (3 fl oz) maple syrup
60g (2 oz) rolled oats
85g (3 oz) butter, soft
85g (3 oz) caster sugar
225g (8 oz) plain flour
3 teaspoons (15 ml) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
60g (2 oz) chopped pecans or walnuts

1 rounded tablespoon soft butter
60g (2 oz) icing sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) maple syrup (plus 1/2 teaspoon milk if needed)

Prepare the muffin tins and preheat oven to 190-200˚C (375-400˚F). In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg with a fork. Add the milk, maple syrup and rolled oats. Set aside to soak while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. In a large bowl, blend together the soft butter and sugar with a spoon. Sift together (or stir well with a fork) the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the butter mixture and cut in with a pastry blender (or rub lightly with fingers) until it resembles fine crumbs. Pour all of wet mixture into dry. Stir just until combined, adding nuts during the final strokes. Do not over-stir. Spoon into the tins. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the tops are lightly browned and feel quite firm. Stir the glaze ingredients together until smoth. Spread on hot muffin tops immediately after baking.