Lemon Syrup Cake and Apple Ginger Gems

CAPTIVATING SMELLS: This Lemon syrup cake is simply delicious.
CAPTIVATING SMELLS: This Lemon syrup cake is simply delicious.

Cake recipes have been written and handed on for as long as women and men have put pen to paper or chisel to stone.

The concept of a cake as a gift is as old as time, as is the offer to "bake you something" when there is someone who is celebrating a milestone or needs cheering up. I

t is surprising how long the memory of both the kindness and the taste of the cake remains.

As Pat Churchill sees it, her mother's ginger gems - cakes in mini form - are part of her family's history.

The memory of long ago baking mornings is recalled each time she bakes these old favourites - mini cakes if you like, whether she uses the original gem irons or the newer patty tins.

Baking is on the rise. Making cakes, biscuits, slices and/or breads is good for the heart and the head.

It suits those who need to know what's in their food and those who like a little creativity in their kitchen tasks. Finding the right recipe to suit the skills available is the first step.


The fragrance of this cake is unbelievable. It is a combination of the orange and lemon juices and the drop of orange flower water. It is summer on a plate, the perfect antidote to a chilly southern day. Even better, when it is made with gluten-free cake crumbs, baking powder and icing sugar, it will delight anyone with a gluten intolerance.

25g slightly stale GF cake crumbs (or any cake crumbs if not intended as GF cake)

200g caster sugar

75g freshly ground almonds

1 tsp baking powder

200ml light vegetable oil (sunflower or grapeseed oil)

4 large eggs

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

For the syrup:

Juice of 1 orange

Juice of 1 lemon

90g sugar

1 cinnamon stick, halved

1/4 - 1/2 Tbsp orange-flower water

Mix the crumbs, sugar, almonds and baking powder. Beat in the oil, eggs and both zests. Pour into a greased 21cm cake tin (spring- form is best) and put in a cold oven. Turn it on at 190C and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin for five minutes then turn out on to a plate.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Put all the ingredients except the flower water into a pan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Simmer for five minutes. Remove the cinnamon and add the orange flower water.

While the cake is still warm, pierce it all over and pour on half the syrup.

As it cools, spoon on the rest. This is lovely with glazed citrus fruit.


The other day I came across my mother's gem irons. They are called "irons" because the trays of little loaf shapes were moulded from cast iron. They were the precursor of today's muffin trays in that the baker could make a batch at a time, rather than singletons. The heavy iron material held its heat, which was a boon in the days of erratic ovens. Why they were known as gems is a mystery, but one school of thought has it that the curved bar shape is similar to a cut used in bar brooches in Edwardian days. In these days of madeleines and macaroons, humble gems seem to have faded quietly into the distance, which is a pity.

Saturday mornings were when the irons in our house would come out and Mum would whip up a batch of gems while Dad toiled in his vegetable garden. There's nothing quite like gems warm from the oven slathered with some real butter.

I searched out my mother's recipe, played with it a little, added some apple, and used my food processor to do some of the donkey work and I soon had a plate full of the golden lovelies to try.

Mum's original gem irons were indeed made from cast iron but somewhere along the way she must have replaced them with heavy aluminium ones, which produced smaller gems than I remember. After making two dozen, I still had some batter left, so I used the remainder in small round-bottomed patty tins and that worked, too. You can sometimes pick up the original gem irons at places selling secondhand kitchenware. They are worth looking out for.


100g butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

2 eggs

200ml milk

1 small tart apple, grated

2 Tbsp golden syrup

1 Tbsp ground ginger

1 tsp mixed spice

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking soda

Extra butter

Pre-heat the oven to 230C and put the gem irons in to heat. Place the butter and sugar in a food processor and blend for about 30 seconds, then add the eggs and beat again. Add the milk, apple and golden syrup and pulse to combine.

Sift the flour, spices and soda into a bowl, make a well in the centre and pour in the liquid ingredients, stirring to combine.

Take the hot gem irons from the oven and drop about 1/4 teaspoon of butter into each one - it will sizzle. Spoon in the batter and bake for 12 minutes. Turn out the gems when cooked and reheat the irons and repeat. Halve and serve warm with butter. PAT CHURCHILL

The Press