B.R.S.M. All this happened, more or less.


Happy Birthday… To Me!

This is an actual cake that my girlfriend made me. I'd share it with you if I could!

Well, I didn't think that this day would come, but I have now been blogging for exactly one year! One rainy weekend last June, I sat down and wrote my first three posts, all on recent total syntheses. At the time, Totally Synthetic had been dormant for several months, and I planned to fill the void left by its absence. I only had about ten months funding left for my PhD, and I didn't know if I'd stay in chemistry after I finished, so I was entirely uncertain about where this site was going. In retrospect, it was probably a pretty stupid thing to start when I was supposed to be working my hardest in the lab to finish up.

Although I was pretty nervous at first, it turned out that very few people actually read my early posts, and I discovered that it's really hard to promote your own blog if you wish to remain anonymous. However, thanks to some advice offered in a comment by Freda I created a Twitter account, and after a few links and retweets by Nature Chemistry and New Reactions, I finally got some readers! Fast forward to the present and, as of this morning, this site has got been viewed almost 104000 times, which is a response I could never have imagined when I started. In my third post, See Arr Oh (in his homeless, pre-Just Like Cooking days) left me some very encouraging advice in a comment:

People are always looking (although they may not seem like it) for erudite but approachable discussions of the literature. Many just don’t have the time or access to look themselves, so they’re happy to have you guide them through it.

The niche takes a while (says the guy who doesn’t manage his own blog!). Just keep writing about good, current stuff, and people will find you.

How right he was! As I started to experiment with different types of posts, I was surprised to see that many people were more interested in shorter, more varied posts than the long, detailed total synthesis-based posts I'd planned to write. In fact, I'm not even sure how to describe this site to people any more - with posts from explosives to etymology, from chemical history and biographies through to the latest stuff you'll never try from slightly disreputable journals, I think I've shed my label of a poor man's Tot. Syn.!

Right, I'm not got to ramble on any longer, as people come here to read chemistry and I try to keep the personal stuff to a minimum. Many thanks to you all for reading, commenting and getting the word out! A special thank you to Dr Freddy from Synthetic Remarks, who offered me space on his webserver after my hosting became too unreliable, set me up with my own domain, and continues to host this site. I don't know what I'm doing next, but hopefully I'll be writing another post like this one next June!




P.s. More science soon! If anyone has any good tips for things worth writing about, or is interested in guest blogging here, please get in touch or leave a comment!

P.p.s. Should you wish to celebrate this auspicious day, but find yourself sadly incapable of making a cake, then here's the recipe that was used for the one above. It's just a regular Madeira cake that's been dressed up a bit, but was quite tasty. Although I love to cook, I don't make many cakes, so this recipe is courtesy of my better half. Enjoy!

For the cake:

375 g soft unsalted butter

375 g caster sugar

625 g self-raising flour

6 medium eggs

5 tbs milk


For the filling and icing:

Raspberry jam (deseeded, or whatever you have lying around)

50 g soft unsalted butter

150 g icing sugar

Ready to roll icing (or make your own!) (Optional)

Black food colouring paste (Optional)

A blue number one candle (Optional)



  1. Preheat the oven to 160 °C and grease or line an 8 in/20 cm square cake tin.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, whisk the eggs and beat into the butter and sugar. Next, add the flour and fold into the mixture with the milk.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the baking tin, making a slight depression in the centre of the mixture (as the centre tends to rise more than the rest). Bake for 1.5 to 2 hours until golden. You can test whether it is cooked or not using a skewer or small knife. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.
  4. When cold, cream the butter and icing sugar together to make butter icing and cut the cake in half. Cover one half with jam, the other half with the butter icing, and stick the cake back together. Note how much easier this is than baking two halves separately.
  5. (Optional) Take the ‘ready to roll’ icing and, reserving a small amount for the letters, roll it out to to a big enough size to cover the cake with. Melt 50 g jam in a microwave or over a pan of hot water and leave to cool, then spread thinly over the cake to help the icing stick. Cover the cake with the icing, trim off the excess, and smooth the edges with a blunt knife.
  6. (Optional) Take the reserved icing and knead in a small amount of black colouring, until the icing is black all the way through. Roll out into a rectangle and cut out the letters B, R, S and M carefully, using a sharp knife. Stick these onto the cake using a small amount of jam on the back of each letter. Finally, place the blue candle on the cake and light!


Comments (9) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Happy Blogday !

    I have discovered this blog only very recently and it is in my RSS feed since then.

    I always wanted to write my own, but never could put myself into it, especially when I try to figure out what I am going to talk about day after day, not mentioning the difficulties to get some readership.

    That said, I am considering writing a guest post if you like.

    Keep up the good work !

    • Thanks! A few people have said similar things, although I find at the moment that I have a long list of things that I want to write about, and very little time to actually do it. I’m happy to accept guest posts on pretty much any topic (you’ve probably noticed that the scope of this blog is quite wide!)… more updates has to better for everyone, no?

  2. Congrats!!! You have certainly been one of my favorite new blogs because of your unique posts. Plus you were the first blog I guest posted on! I hope you continue to own chemistry blogging for many years to come 🙂

    PS: If you ever want to guest post on my blog just let me know!!! And again, congrats!!!

    • Thanks! I’d happily write something for your blog, but I’m not sure what yet! Let me get my PhD viva out of the way first, then we’ll talk!

  3. Congrats! Been enjoying this blog since its inception, and it’s great that you’ve kept up the quality posts throughout your last year of your PhD. I’m in the same situation and I have no idea how you do it. Anyway, good luck with the thesis writing!

  4. thank you for your offer to share the cake (but not your girlfriend – she must be very nice, for making the cake) and the recipe. Many more years to you!

  5. Congrats! A great achievement in a short time! Good luck in the following years 🙂

  6. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

  7. Your girlfriend is awesome 🙂 Looks like you had a good birthday.

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