Gluten Free Gingerbread Cake

This is an adaptation of a recipe from King Arthur Flour which I can’t buy in Quebec but have substituted Angélique gluten free flour which is the best I have found. All gluten free flours are far from equal: some ingredients are more expensive than others so are less used in the cheaper flours and also the cheaper ones tend to be less finely milled so they behave differently.


  • 3 oz crystallized ginger pieces, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup hot water
  • 11 oz Angélique gluten free flour
  • ¼ tsp guar gum powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp ginger powder
  • 1½ tsp mixed spice
  • 4 oz butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 9oz molasses or 7oz molasses + 2oz corn syrup
  • 1 cup buttermilk (substitute yogurt and skimmed milk)
  • 1 large egg
  • A few pecan or walnut halves if liked, to decorate top of cake.

9 inch square tin lined with parchment paper


Set oven at 350F (Bake).

Leave ginger pieces to soak in hot water. Warm butter, molasses, corn syrup and sugar together until sugar melts. Sift dry ingredients together. Whisk egg into milk and add to butter/ molasses mixture. Carefully stir liquid into dry ingredients so no lumps of dry flour remain. Add ginger pieces in their liquid. Stir until well mixed and then pour into lined tin. If liked, place some pecan or walnut halves on top before placing in preheated oven.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes. Very successful.

Sticky toffee apple pudding


  • 175g dates chopped
  • 175ml hot water
  • 60g softened butter
  • 60g light muscovado sugar
  • 90g butter, softened
  • 150g light muscovado sugar
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 175g good quality, finely milled gluten free flour (Angélique in Quebec, King Arthur in USA)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • 2 medium apples, sharpish eating apples


Stone and chop dates. Pour over hot water and leave to soak for a couple of hours.

Set oven at 350F or 325F if fan assisted. (Tru conv. 325)

Butter the base of a round 8” springform non stick baking tin. 

Cream 60g quantities of butter and sugar and spread over base of tin.

Peel, core and slice the apples, arranging the slices over the butter and sugar in the base of the tin.

Whisk baking powder into flour.

Put butter, eggs, flour and baking powder into large bowl and mix until well blended.

Reheat date and water mixture and pour into the flour mixture, stirring to blend. 

Pour into tin over apple mixture and bake for about 45 minutes until well risen, browned on top and springy to the touch. Juices may bubble up the edges a bit. Probably worth checking the centre of the sponge with a thin skewer or cocktail stick as the first time I made this (in a 7” square tin) the centre was not quite cooked. 

While cake is baking, make butterscotch sauce using following recipe.

Allow  baked cake to stand for a few minutes then invert on a suitable plate, releasing spring ring and base. Pour over some butterscotch sauce, reserving the rest for serving. Vanilla ice cream is also good with it.

Butterscotch Sauce:

Adapted from Michael Smith’s recipe, stated to be foolproof

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4oz unsalted butter cut into pieces
  • 1 cup 35% cream (heavy cream in USA)
  • splash vanilla essence

Pour water into high sided saucepan. Gently sprinkle in sugar, taking care to avoid the edges of the pan. Begin heating over high heat but DO NOT stir. Allow sugar to dissolve to form simple syrup. As the heat increases the water will gradually evaporate and leave behind a pure melted sugar syrup which boils at a rolling boil. Once syrup starts to turn pale gold, gently swirl the pan to keep the colour even. 

When it has reached a deep golden brown (watch CAREFULLY as becomes bitter very quickly) add butter pieces and whisk until sauce is smooth. Add cream and vanilla, whisking again until smooth. Cool somewhat before pouring into a jar. Will keep in fridge up to a month.

I think it would be possible to start with a smaller volume of water

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Mary Berry’s sticky toffee pudding
Serves eight


  • 90g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
  • 150g light muscovado sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tbsp coffee extract (I used coffee liqueur)
  • 175g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 175g (6oz) stoned dates, roughly chopped
  • 90g (3oz) walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 175ml (6fl oz) hot water

Toffee Sauce

  • 125g butter
  • 175g light muscovado sugar
  • 6 tbsp double cream
  • 60g walnuts, roughly chopped


1. To make the pudding: butter a deep 18cm (7in) square cake tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.

2. Put the butter, sugar, eggs, coffee extract, flour, and baking powder into a large bowl. Beat well until smooth and thoroughly blended.

3. Stir in the dates and walnuts and then the measured hot water. Pour the mixture into the cake tin.

4. Bake in a preheated oven at 180°C (160°C fan, Gas 4) for 45–50 minutes until the pudding is well risen, browned on top, and springy to the touch.

5.About ten minutes before the pudding is ready, start preparing the toffee sauce.

6. To make the toffee sauce: put the butter and sugar into a small saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved. Stir in the cream and walnuts and heat gently to warm through.

7. Cut the pudding into eight even-sized squares and transfer to serving plates. Spoon over the toffee sauce and serve at once.


180C is equivalent to 350F. I use a fan setting at 325F.

I’m not sure about the chopped walnuts in the toffee sauce, I think it would be fine without them or instead use my Butterscotch sauce.

I found that Angélique gluten free flour substituted for same quantity SR flour works well, with the addition of an extra teaspoon of baking powder.

My preferred method with the dates is to chop them finely some time before preparing the rest, soaking them in the boiling water for a couple of hours. Reheat in the microwave before adding to the mixture as above.

** See also my recipe for Sticky apple butterscotch pudding.

Home made lactose free yogurt

We have plain yogurt with breakfast every day and both prefer a fairly thick style. I read that making yogurt at home is quite easy and own a KitchenAid heated bowl suitable for its incubation. One of the main reasons for attempting to make it is to reduce the number of plastic pots: two 650g pots per week seems like a lot of plastic which we might be able to avoid.


2 litres 3.25% Lactose free milk

½ cup Olympic Organic Balkan-style 3.5% MF plain yogurt (or Astro lactose free Balkan style)

This yields about two 650g pots. I read that converting milk to yogurt separates most of the lactose into the whey which can be mostly strained out so ordinary milk would probably be OK if the whey is discarded but I use some of it for baking and stir some back in if the yogurt is very thick.


Saucepan to scald milk, cooking thermometer accurate around 100C (200F) with probe which can be used to stir liquid, heated bowl


Heat milk in pan to 85C to 90C (185F), stirring while heating to prevent it burning. Leave at around that temperature for several minutes; this alters the protein structure so the yogurt will set. Cool milk to around 45C and set heated bowl to 110F. Pour most of the milk into the heated bowl. Stir the remainder of the milk with the half cup of yogurt and add to milk in the heated bowl, stirring gently to distribute it through the liquid. Leave to incubate for around 8 hours at 110F. The longer it incubates the thicker and more acidic it becomes.

After incubation it is set and could be used after chilling but we prefer it strained. I use an old worn, and therefore thin, linen teatowel but two thicknesses of cheesecloth is also recommended. I line a steel colander with the teatowel and place it over a large bowl before transferring the set yogurt to the lined colander. I leave it to strain for at least an hour before transferring the yogurt to storage pots in the fridge. I retain 2 cups of the whey (the yellowish liquid left in the bowl after straining) to use for baking muffins. It can be used in place of milk in baking recipes as it contains protein.

Whichford pots

For a birthday more years ago than I care to remember, but in England so more than 21, we had an outing to Whichford Pottery to look for a suitable present for me and the garden. We came home with three very attractive terra cotta pots which had been made by hand there. The largest was a “second” because it is slightly asymmetrical. Having attempted to master pottery on a wheel subsequently I can’t imagine making something this size.

They survived the journey across the Atlantic and are a welcome feature in our garden each summer; we store them carefully each winter because, although they may well be frost resistant in English winters, they are unlikely to survive the freeze/thaw of our Montreal climate.

I enjoy seeing them in a group; when the deck was larger (before the sunroom was built) I used to have the largest in the corner with the two smaller ones near it. For several years we kept a lovely standard hibiscus with apricot coloured flowers in the largest pot for the summer, moving  the plant indoors for the winter. It eventually became too big to manage and was gratefully accepted by a friend who had a large conservatory/sunroom. The smaller ones I planted with toning shades of Million Bells type petunias.

Since the deck was reduced in size we’ve placed the pots in front of some tall grasses to one side of the grassy area where they form an attractive feature. The biggest pot calls for something tall and structural so for the past few years I’ve planted it with Canna lilies which have orange and red flowers with nasturtiums in the smaller pots beside it. When I was growing and overwintering dahlias I put some dwarf ones in the smaller pots but decided dahlias were too much work a few years ago.

Last year we had another cool spring and the nasturtiums did not germinate well. I had to buy some more seed and have a second attempt so this year (2019) I am experimenting with a different approach: bought pansies in the small pots early in planting season with a packet of nasturtium seed to bring on indoors, for planting out later in the summer when the pansies are over. Mid to late summer it should be a reasonable temperature indoors for the nasturtiums to germinate but hot enough outdoors for them to grow fast. We shall see!

Victoria Day


“Victoria Day is a Canadian statutory holiday celebrated on the Monday preceding May 25 in every province and territory. It honours Queen Victoria’s birthday. In Quebec this holiday is called “Journée nationale des patriotes.”

The weekend when it falls is generally called The Long Weekend despite the fact that most statutory holidays are Mondays. Most importantly in Quebec it is when most people start their “gardening” for the summer, ie buy and plant “flats” (polystyrene rectangular boxes) of annual bedding plants such as petunias, impatiens, geraniums, marigolds and pansies. It is the busiest weekend of the year in garden centres and by the time everyone is back at work front gardens are transformed with colour. And apart from mowing the grass and a bit of weeding that seems to constitute gardening for many Montrealers.

The date around mid May means most chance of overnight frost has past and usually the weather has warmed sufficiently for comfortable working outdoors. Our first experience of this weekend transformation took us by surprise: we had noticed ready planted hanging baskets and tubs appearing outside supermarkets along with their outdoor tents for shelves of bedding plants but did not expect everyone to do their planting on the one weekend so Tuesday driving to work gave us a pleasant surprise of instant colour.

That year we had determined that gardening was something we’d done in England and we intended to spend the summer weekends exploring our new territory. Also our container of furniture and possessions was delayed until well into June (that’s another story) so we had no gardening equipment, but we gradually succumbed: a few geraniums when our nice big terracotta pots arrived and then a few more plants until we were digging a new pond the following summer.

After a few years we learned to shop for our annuals before the rush of The Long Weekend and started planting in early May, occasionally having to protect against a late frost but in 2019 everything was delayed. We had returned from a visit to England a few days before Victoria Day but the weather was cool and wet with daffodils and hyacinths in flower and tulips only in bud. Deciduous trees were only starting to unfurl their leaves and the magnolias were still in bud. A week after Victoria Day found trees almost fully in leaf, magnolia blossoms nearly finished, although they had been spectacular, and tulips blooming alongside the later narcissus.

In 2019 we went to buy our annuals after Victoria Day when it appeared that much of the usual rush had taken place as some of the shelves were quite depleted. However I found enough of my “usuals” and have spent the past few days planting up window boxes and other containers.  Cascade petunias in the window boxes as usual but a couple of experiments elsewhere: pansies in the small Wichford pots while it is cooler, to be replaced by nasturtiums later in the season, and some different shade tolerant flowers in the pots on the front steps: dark-leafed ipomea, mauve alyssum, purple-flowered lamium and a couple of dark pink violas. Since the magnolia grew so large and shades the front steps it has become more of a challenge deciding what will do well in these pots.

Now nearer the end of May we have restained the deck while it is still cooler and are enjoying the blossom on the sour cherry tree, not that we expect to eat any more fruit than usual. The Viburnam carlesii again has lovely pale pink, clove-scented flowers. It must be four years since the digger backed into it, damaging the base of the trunk but it has survived, propped on a rock, each year producing lovely blooms, more than before its accident.

Post Abbey career

For International Women’s Day 2019 The Abbey School, Reading, where I was educated from age 11 is adding details of alumnae’s careers to its website. This is their call for information:

“We would love to hear from our alumnae about your illustrious lives and careers to inspire the next generation of girls as they begin on this journey themselves.”

And this is my response:

I am sure you will hear from many women whose exciting and successful careers were launched from an Abbey education but wondered if you would also like to hear from a fairly average student whose career could not be described as illustrious but was nevertheless enjoyable.

I left The Abbey in 1967 with A-levels in Chemistry and Zoology which enabled me to follow a full-time HND (degree equivalent) in Applied Biology. For several years I worked as a research technician in Pharmacology and Zoology departments with Wellcome Research and Birkbeck College, London. I found the work interesting although I realised I did not have the brain to pursue a career in academic research. I even worked for a couple of years proofreading scientific reports.

At Birkbeck I had found myself involved in quite a lot of administrative work for our unit, liaising with the Bursar about our grant funding. I discovered a liking for financial administration and ended up training as an accountant with a small town practice. Not one of the Big Three but three offices and about ten partners. I specialised in personal taxation and trusts. This may sound like something of a career leap but in fact both lines of work require the compilation and evaluation of data.

The backgrounds in Biology and Finance also informed many of my outside interests in ecology, botany, habitat conservation and amateur drama. When people discover you are an accountant they ask you if you would “take on the books” for a variety of organisations. I have helped with administration of drama clubs, a dance team, Women’s Institutes, Church groups, charities and birding clubs.

In 1998 my husband’s work brought us to Montreal, Canada. My Abbey education once again stood me in good stead as my memory of French irregular verbs proved quite accurate despite giving up the subject after O-level. I was able to achieve a certificate of competence in French for the workplace which pleased me so many years later.

Apart from work, my Abbey education reinforced my life-long love of reading literature, especially Jane Austen. In Canada, our love of the natural world has been allowed full rein exploring our home province of Quebec as well as further afield, always based on my knowledge of Zoology which was started at The Abbey. My work in Canada used my accountancy skills in the financial administration of a bird conservation charity and helping to manage a shop catering to wildlife enthusiasts.

My advice to current Abbey students who are considering their future careers is to stay flexible; some of you will have clear career paths but for others it may appear confusing. I studied subjects I enjoyed and found interesting which enabled me to work in a variety of fields and change to different lines of work as circumstances changed. My choices at school were important but not irrevocable. I hope yours bring you as much enjoyment as mine have.

Summer 2015

By mid-July the construction work was just about finished and new turf laid so we appreciated the regular rainfall which followed more than we might have done other years. About 50 dahlia plants went into half of Richard’s veggie plot, sacrificed to my plants. The apricot-flowered bronze leaf ones (City of Ankmaar) mostly went into the bed we made last year in front of Tony’s wall, with maybe six plants in Wichford pots. I managed to squeeze some plants in odd places around the garden and about eight in the site where we had previously grown dahlias, in front of the deck, once the turf job was finished. Woody pieces of tuber and ones which had not produced shoots ended up on the old open compost heap in the shaded area behind the new extension, where they grew and – despite the lack of sunshine – produced 4 or 5 flowers.compost dahlia flwr

Eventually I got tired of picking dahlias from the veggie plot for display indoors and decided to drastically cut back on the number to overwinter. We’ll keep the apricot ones, some Caribbean Fantasy (white, yellow and dark pink) and any remaining Balthazar, but abandon Who Dun It and the pink dwarf ones.

We were able to buy some cheap junipers and other perennials for the new beds beside the front culvert, added some bits of Vinca and watered assiduously because the soil is not very deep. We gradually repaired the edges of beds where clay and sand got dumped and by the end of August it was looking like a garden again. Richard created a nice work area for me on the garage side of the house where I kept my pots of lilies after they had flowered. We bought new benches for the paved patio area outside the back door when we discovered it was such a pleasant shaded area while the deck was in full sun. It turned out to be a favourite spot for afternoon tea.


early June 2015

As the building work is using the site of my dahlia bed I have to decide where they will be grown this summer. R has kindly sacrificed one of the raised beds intended for veggies, but the dwarf (border) ones and short bronze leafed ones need homes….I am also suffering from an embarrassment of riches.

The lupin which hangs on but not really thrived is growing up through a volunteer Rosa rubrifolia which seems to work quite well: the colours set each off and the rose holds up the rather leggy and droopy lupin.

lupin & rose2

early March 2015

Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) 2014 bulb bloomed magnificently, with two stems, the first carrying four large flowers and the second eight nearly as large. The 2013 bulb is still sulking but the 2012 bulb produced three huge flowers on a very short stem, this being its third time of flowering.