Published in SoCal Life Magazine Nov/Dec 2017 edition. Click here to read on Cloud-Up or read text-only version below.
Irish Chef Gemma Stafford: A Bold, No-Ballyhoo Baker with Help for the Timid Cook.
by Jenni Keast
The great thing about donuts is that they’re, well … donuts. Everybody loves them. While most of us grab our “choker holes” from the corner donut shop, a few brave souls try and make them from scratch. Big mistake. After ten long, complicated steps, several pieces of tricky kitchen equipment and a few hot oil burns, even the most stalwart baker would be wondering what possessed them to attempt such a herculean feat.
Enter Gemma Stafford, Irish-born baker and inventor of the “mugnut”—a make-it-in-a-minute microwave jelly donut … in a mug. This Santa Monica-based food aficionado is out to change the world of baking one easy recipe at a time—and not just donut making. Gemma’s culinary repertoire includes all kinds of tantalizing baked goods, such as a three-layer s’more cake, cinnamon rolls, three-ingredient peanut butter cookies, lemon meringue cake and—according to Gemma’s Bigger Bolder Baking website—the “best-ever chocolate fudge frosting.” And that’s just the beginning. As Gemma puts it, “I strive to boldly bake outside of the boxed cake.”
For boxed cake manufacturers, those are fighting Irish words—capable of provoking “cake rage.” Don’t laugh—cake rage is a “real” disorder, though it has nothing to do with Pillsbury or Betty Crocker getting in a huff over a little competition. Rather, Urban Dictionary defines “cake rage” as “a deep-seated anger and dissatisfaction with life, brought on by a lack of cake.”
Even knowing there’s such a condition makes Gemma’s self-declared mission almost heroic. It also provides yet another reason why home-baking these days needs to be simple, stress-free and fast—without sacrificing freshness or taste. In other words, “out-of-the-box” delicious.
Gemma’s Bigger Bolder Baking approach seems to be fulfilling that mission nicely. To date, her YouTube channel has almost 1.4 million subscribers. Not bad for an Irish lass from a small town in Ireland, where half of the population were her siblings. According to Gemma, it was there in that centuries-old village that her love of baking—as well as cooking—was incubated. “My ‘mam’ (mom) was a great cook,” says Gemma. “We were a large Irish family of seven and she made everything from scratch every single day. And she did this with such ease that cooking was never a big deal.”
“No big deal” cooking … sounds dreamy. But as Gemma so skillfully demonstrates, making quick, delicious desserts—and even dishes like fettuccine alfredo, crazy dough focaccia and mug pizza (a huge fan favorite)—doesn’t have to be an elusive dream; it can be an easy, everyday reality.
That’s because Gemma learned from the best—not just from her “mam,” but also from Irish cooking legend Darina Allen at the world-renowned Balleymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland. As a child, Gemma would watch cooking shows on TV—no doubt longing for the day when she too would wow the world with her own culinary feats.
Not to be overlooked is the other group of Bigger Bolder Baking fans: canines. Gone are the days of hard, tasteless, store-bought dog biscuits. Now you can toss the box, look deep into your dog’s hungry eyes and boldly declare, “Let him eat cake!” Okay, so maybe not cake exactly. But Gemma’s frozen peanut butter and banana doggie treats are the next best thing … vying only with her bone-shaped chicken and raspberry goodies (cats like them too) as a four-footed-fan favorite.
Not convinced? Let Gemma’s dog, Waffles, do the persuading. (An LA rescue dog never had it so good.) Gemma’s popular YouTube video of her adorable Wheaten Terrier mix lapping up the ingredients before Gemma can even finish mixing them is a hilarious, must-see viewing experience.
While baking is her business, Gemma turns to cooking when she needs a break. That’s right. You just can’t keep her out of the kitchen. After whipping up winsome treats for Waffles or “easy bake” cakes for her humanoid audience, Gemma cooks ethnic gems like from-scratch Indian food (including her own spices and curries), naan bread and homemade pizzas.
To those who don’t bake, are too timid to bake or feel their attempts thus far have been half-baked, Gemma has some encouraging words: “I’ve been using these recipes for years, so I know that they work. If there are any tricky instructions in the recipe, I will focus my energy on that and make sure that no one is going to slip up. During my cooking career, I’ve done things right and I’ve done things wrong. So when it comes to the recipes I put out there, well, for lack of a better word, they’re pretty much foolproof.”
Foolproof baking. Now those are words any aspiring baker would want to hear.
To watch Gemma Stafford bake up a storm, check out her Bigger Bolder Baking website and YouTube channel. https://www.biggerbolderbaking.com/