Big on small surprises

Old-fashioned fare: Instead of the usual ginger gems you can experiment with flavours such as chocolate and raspberry
Old-fashioned fare: Instead of the usual ginger gems you can experiment with flavours such as chocolate and raspberry

Each week I plan to go on a diet because when I pull on my jeans, I realise that my "muffin top" is expanding.

It is the result, naturally, of testing recipes and enjoying the results.

This week's "diet" is little bakes so there is absolutely no way I'm going to lose weight, unless I attend the gym five times a week instead of twice.

I'm usually at my desk by 7.30am planning my day. So after an early breakfast I can't resist a little "something" with my mid-morning coffee and this is why I've chosen to make little bakes – little nibbles that can be stored in the freezer for my snacking enjoyment.

Another reason for choosing little bakes was the discovery of a new but old-fashioned style gem iron in a kitchenware shop.

I always regretted throwing away my mother's well-seasoned iron. So it was with great anticipation I purchased the cast-iron tray, washed it well, brushed it with melted butter and set it to season in a low-temperature oven. I repeated this twice. Cast iron has a tendency to rust so it's best to rub the iron with butter or oil before storing in a plastic bag. After several bakings, no further seasoning is usually necessary. If it does rust, rub it with steel wool or salt.

Before making gems, the iron requires heating in the oven for at least 15 minutes. This was a great help in the days when oven temperatures could be unreliable. The preheating gives you plenty of time to whip up the batter. Ginger gems were the traditional favourites but you can experiment with flavours such as chocolate and raspberry or add a grated apple or pear to the mixture.

Gems were the precursor to the muffin and if you can't find a gem iron, then a muffin pan or small loaf pans will suffice. However, they do not need preheating.


150g butter

1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 Tbsp golden syrup

1 egg, lightly beaten

2 cups standard flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Place the gem iron in to heat.

Cream 100g of the butter together with the sugar, ginger and cinnamon. Beat in the golden syrup and egg, adding a tablespoon or two of flour to prevent curdling.

Sift the flour and baking powder. Dissolve the baking soda in the milk. Mix the flour into the butter mixture alternately with the milk.

Remove the gem iron from the oven and place on a wooden board. Add a 1/2 tsp of the remaining butter to each mould. It will sizzle. Fill the moulds with the batter.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool slightly then remove the gems to cool on a wire rack.

Excellent served warm split and filled with butter or table spread. Makes 12.


Walnut meal is available from most delis and some supermarkets. The texture of the finely ground walnuts is similar to that of ground almonds.

175g butter

1/2 cup icing sugar, sifted

1/2 tsp vanilla essence or vanilla paste

3/4 cup each: standard flour, walnut meal

Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line an oven tray with baking paper.

Cream the butter, icing sugar and vanilla until creamy. Sift in the flour. Add the walnut meal. Mix well.

Take teaspoons of the dough and roll into balls. Place on the prepared tray. Flatten gently with a small fork.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Cool on a wire rack.

When cool, dust with the icing sugar. Makes 40.


2 egg whites

2 cups ground almonds

1 cup caster sugar

Finely grated rind 1 orange

2 tsp honey, warmed

Icing sugar to coat

Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Beat the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Mix the ground almonds, caster sugar, orange rind and honey into the egg whites.

Dust a chopping board with icing sugar. Take tablespoons of the mixture and roll into balls. Roll in the extra icing sugar and place on the baking tray. Using the back of a teaspoon, press down lightly on the biscuits to make a hollow in the centre.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack. Makes about 24.


50g butter

1/4 cup each: finely diced onion, red pepper (capsicum), frozen corn (thawed), chopped coriander

1 tsp chilli paste

3/4 cup milk

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/4 cups self-raising flour

1/4 tsp each: baking soda, salt

1 Tbsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 200C. Lightly oil two 12-hole mini muffin pans.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and cook until soft.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the pepper, corn, coriander, chilli paste, milk and eggs. Whisk in the butter mixture.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, soda, salt and sugar. Stir well. Mix into the liquid mixture.

Using a dessertspoon, fill the muffin holes (about 20) with the batter. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until cooked. Makes about 20.

The Marlborough Express