Fame, fortune and muffcakes


When I was in high school, my parents wanted me to be a doctor. Other kids I knew wanted to be lawyers, physiotherapists and journalists.  I wanted to be either a film director or an advertising copywriter.

So clearly, three law degrees was the obvious next step for me :)

OK, so it’s a long and angsty story with which I won’t bore you but it came down to the fact that when you come from a family where nearly everybody (two parents and two half-sisters) goes into the medical field in some form (radiologist, radiographer x 2, and nurse), the pressure is ON.  I already knew (and my maths and science grades confirmed) that the sciences would not be the place for me and hinted at advertising school, but The Parents absolutely insisted that I study towards one of the traditional professions (law, medicine accountancy – you get the picture!).

I looked reluctantly at the commerce degree curricula and found one that contained marketing management (yaaaay – advertising!) and accountancy (which kept the Parentals happy).  But the clincher was that, out of eight different 1st year curricula, this was the one that only had ONE 8 a.m. lecture per week.  Oh yes, and there were a few law subjects included too.

On such frivolous decisions rests our fate.

Anyhoo.  The universe has a funny sense of symmetry, and late last year I was aproached by an advertising agency to submit a recipe in one of a number of categories for a new outdoor media campaign.  I submitted a muffin recipe and thought no more about it… until they responded and said that my muffin recipe was to be The One.  It seemed I was going to get my turn in the advertising industry after all, albeit in a different way to what I’d dreamed of.

It was a steep learning curve in the strange dance that makes up an advertising campaign.  I submitted my cranberry, orange and pecan muffins.  The agency liked it and sent it to the client.  The client said they were gorgeous, but did I have muffins with fewer things in them?  So I sent a simple sugar & cinnamon muffin recipe.  Better… but they still did not like the “cracked on top” look of muffins – did I have a cupcake recipe instead?  I sent my dark chocolate cupcake recipe.  The client liked the smooth tops but hmmm… dark brown food?  Did I have a PALER cupcake recipe?  Umm, not to hand.  So it was off to the kitchen to do a little recipe development, and thus my white chocolate and raspberry cupcakes were born.  And thank goodness, the client was equally happy with them. Hurrah!

The date was set for the photo shoot in a studio in Shoreditch and the lovely Emma from the agency asked whether I would be able to attend the shoot.  Luckily, I was still on a four-day working week, so I agreed but I could not for the life of me think what I was needed for.  They had already told me that there would be a home economist on site so surely she was far more qualified than me to bake the cupcakes? Still, it would be interesting, and so I found myself in a lovely airy studio in Shoreditch one day last October.

Lurpak StudioPanorama

The first thing that struck me was OMG, look at how many people it takes to take one pretty picture:  agency people, client people, freelance people – and my fellow food-blogger Helen, who was there to have her chicken pot pie photographed.  The second thing that struck me is the amount of hanging about that has to be done.  Everyone’s role is so specific that while one part of the process is happening, many of the other people are hanging about, checking e-mail or just shooting the breeze.  And the third thing was a tremendous feeling of relief when I saw the extensive kit set up for the shots:  I suddenly felt a lot better about my own food photos, given my near-total lack of equipment!

Lurpak PhotoChoice

Lurpak Team

Lurpak cameras

Lurpak camera2

Once Helen’s chicken pie had been made and comprehensively photographed, it was my turn.  I’d had a chat to the team and found out that they needed the cupcakes to be different heights, so I chatted to the charming home economist to decide how best to achieve this.  At this stage I still thought that my main role was to talk the home economist through the cupcakes – and talking is definitley something I can do!

Lurpak JeanneTalking

After a lot of debate about the colour of the muffin tins we were using and whether or not to use paper muffin cups, we finally had a clear idea of where we were heading and the home economist turned to me and said “off you go”.  Umm… you mean, like, bake the cupcakes?  Well, yes.  With all these people watching, and that bloke with the camera positively stalking me??  Well… yes.  Okeydokey.  I’ve baked these a few times, I can do this.  Even while I’m on Cupcake Cam.

Lurpak JeanneMixing2

Lurpak JeanneMixing CloseUp2


Lurpak JeanneMixing CloseUp3


Oh yes, I baked.  I calculated that I baked close on 80 cupcakes that afternoon, single-handedly!  The difficulty came from the fact that we needed to have a tin full of cupcakes of different heights.  Some batches we tried doubling up on the baking powder, which gave a very odd surface texture and shape.  Other batches we tried over-filling the cups, but that just made the cupcakes spill over the cups and lose their shape. We took one overfilled batch out of the oven early to stop them rising any more – and the promptly collapsed.  Live and learn!  It’s hard to create uneven cupcakes when you have spent a lifetime trying to get them to rise evenly.  In the end, the solution was to bake a batch where the cups were filled to capacity, then another batch where the cups were underfilled, and then mix the batches up.

What I am very pleased to report is that, despite what you may have heard about food in advertisements being inedible, blowtorched and coated with glycerine to make it photogenic, every one of the cupcakes that I baked was edible – and was enthusiastically eaten by the assembled hordes!  It took a good 4 hours but in the end the perfect shot was achieved.  It was a fascinating peek into the advertising world and I really enjoyed meeting everyone who was at the studio – charming and professional one and all.

So, I hear you ask, what’s with the muffcakes?  Well, remember the start of the post where I explained how we arrived at this particular recipe to bake on the day?  It seems that the recipe that will be put out to accompany the pics at the start of the campaign is still the cinnamon sugar muffins that I originally submitted.  So you will have a picture of cupcakes, but the recipe for muffins – and when I saw my friend Mowie‘s hilarious post this week about muffcakes, I knew that this was the perfect name for these :)

So what happens now?  As I said, it’s an outdoor media campaign, so my muffcakes are going to be on billboards!  As big as a bus! And it won’t be nearly as pervy as these last two sentences would lead you to believe! The campaign goes live on 1 February and on that date I will post the artwork as well as info on where you can see my famous muffcakes.

As for the product that my muffcakes will be promoting – have you guessed what it is yet?  If not, you’ll just have to come back here on 1 February to find out…

Lurpak JeanneCupcakes


All photographs in this post except the first one are the property of and used with the kind permission of the lovely folk at Wieden + Kennedy – with thanks in particular to Emma and James who were a pleasure to work with.

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  1. says

    That looks like a lot of fun. My brother is in advertising, so I’ve been to a few shoots, but wow, that was a lot of people you had. Puts blogging into a whole different light when you realize we’re doing EVERYTHING ourselves!

  2. rajani@eatwritethink says

    I completely agree with you on the heavy photographic equipment used for food photography I already feel a lot better thinking how little baggage my food blog come with :) enjoyed this post!

  3. says

    That was hillarious. I have this visual of 80 muffins arguing with one another about who’s taller and who’s shorter. Sigh…does this now mean you’ll be wearing dark glasses and riding in a limo?

  4. says

    Oh Jeanne I am so proud! What an experience, what fun!! You have to tell me all about it. I’d love to be a part of such a team and spend four hours baking cupcakes lol! Love it and can hardly wait to see the results. Good on you! Hugs!

  5. says

    Advertising seems like a crazy world – spending hours perfecting your cupcakes for the shot and then putting them out with the muffin recipe!
    I once thought of food photography but I know I would never have had the patience for all that, so it’s a good thing I ended up writing about food instead. I used to get frustrated enough when assisting a shoe photographer in London, with all the subtle, minute adjustments to lighting and shoe position, let alone all the time spent baking things in food photography to the clients’ exact requirements… but it must have been fun to be doing it for just a day!

  6. says

    Muffcakes! You have finally solved the problem of what to name the things I bake. The thing is, is it family-friendly? Can I tell my children they are eating muffcakes? “Grandma, do you want one of Mummy’s muffcakes?” I dunno if that would work.
    Meanwhile, how naughty of you not to tell us what your muffcakes are advertising! I can’t wait till 1 Feb.

  7. Ash says

    Wow! So proud of you for your cakes. Laughing about the name ‘muffcakes’ though! There is a word that is DEFINITELY going to be used in our house later, and it won’t have a PG rating either!
    On a different note – I made malva pudding night before last and M had never had it before. Now he’s keen to visit SA asap! I might expose him to a tipsy tart just to settle the deal.

  8. says

    Jeanne, thanks for your your hillarious take on photographing a single, albeit famous, muffin. It was good fun reading it.
    And then of course the much-to-do, bit of baking a simple little muffin, and getting one that is the right colour, shape, height, texture… and getting it perfect… very funny!
    I also liked the observation early in your post on how trivial decisions can impact our lives immensely, like choosing subjects based on the need to have an occasional sleep in, can have such a massive impact on a career path! I love the way you comment on lifes trials and tribulations and how you blend it in with food and cooking….

  9. says

    Jeanne- my heroine this week. I think of you….and cat blogs (I know I’ve said it before)…and I just laugh…with pure joy, from the belly up! Congratulations, I’ll be back before and on Feb 1! LOL

  10. TS of eatingclubvancouver says

    And yeah, 4 hours for a shot, eh? Plus a whole team of professionals. I guess that makes me feel better about my bad photos. =)

  11. says

    Congratulations! How exciting and it looks like it was tons of fun albeit a bit stressing. ( I woulda totally freaked out with all those camera equipments in my face)
    Job well done and can’t wait to see the billboard- Beth screams: “I know who took that picture! I know her!”

  12. says

    Hey Jeanne, a bizarre day wasn’t it?! Can you tell me how you accessed those photos please? I couldn’t work it out at all when they sent me the link and I want to post about it. Cheers!

  13. says

    Oh this is so exciting for you. Great pix and lovely description of your day. Can’t believe so many people are involved in a shoot: couldn’t they just have given you the money and asked you to take the picture? Looking forward to see finished campaign (and of course that drink on my stoep in March). J-A.x