Monday, 29 July 2013

Q&A with John Whaite

I was lucky enough to meet the lovely John Whaite, winner of last year's Great British Bake Off the at one of his baking classes the other week. Since it was a special class for bloggers we also had the chance to interview him. John is one of my baking heroes, it was a real challenge to limit my questions to just ten but here they are.

When did you first start baking and why?

When I was a little boy. It was something mum and I used to do to spend our time together, and since then it has been an inherently comforting process.

What did you learn from working with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry on the Great British Bake Off?

Not to take things too seriously, and to develop a recipe well – don’t just write a recipe without trying it.

I absolutely loved the week where everyone made gingerbread structures and thought your gingerbread colosseum was great. What was your favourite bake during the show?

I loved baking the doughnuts, as I had never made them before. So I would love to make them again.

Was there anything on the bake off made by one of the other contestants that you wished you’d made?

No. Brendan’s bakes were nice but old fashioned; James’ were experimental but a little too risky for me. I made a few errors I would have liked to avoid, but apart from that I was happy.

In the last 12 months you’ve won the bake off, attended Le Cordon Bleu and written your first book. It’s safe to say you’ve had an amazing year, if you had to sum it up in three words, what would they be?

Fast, stressful, incredible.

In the last year my baking obsession has really taken over and I am baking more than ever before. Do you have any tips for feeding a passion for baking without piling on the pounds?

You have to have fun and indulge, but not every day of the week. And if you pig out and eat a load of cake for lunch, don’t eat anything else that day.

What are your 3 top baking tips?

a.    Prepare the ingredients – weigh them out
b.   Read through the recipe thoroughly
c.    Use a good set of electronic scales, capable of weighing a single gram

Where do you get inspiration from?

I like to eat out a lot and that certainly brings inspiration. But I also like to just throw whatever I’ve got in my cupboard into a recipe, and hope that works.

Some people don’t like certain baking trends such as cupcakes, cake pops, cronuts etc, are there any trends you don’t like?

Cakepops. I just don’t get them – you take a beautifully light cake, mush it up with some claggy buttercream, and stick it onto a stick. Disgusting.

Is there anything which you think deserves its own trend / should have a revival?

Eclairs and choux pastry. The amount of things you can fill them with is great, and they are really easy to make! 

What a lovely guy!

You can read my review of John's baking class here.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Chocolate chip and cherry scones

Recently I've been trying to do the impossible, I've been trying to cut down on my calorie intake. Anyone who knows me, knows that I have a really sweet tooth. Scones are popular with my friend who is diabetic because they don't have much sugar in them, obviously that does depend on what you put in them. I've used glacé cherries and chocolate but you could use almost anything or leave them plain.


225g (8oz) self-raising flour  
1 tsp baking powder  
25g caster sugar  
55g butter or margarine (I use Stork) 
6 tablespoons milk (and some for brushing)
100g dark chocolate finely chopped
100g glace cherries chopped

Preheat the oven to 220°C / gas mark 7.
Add all of the ingredients into a bowl and mux into a dough.
Knead the dough gently on a lightly floured surface and roll it out to around ¾ inch thick.
Cut into 2½ inch circles, space them out onto a greased baking sheet, brush with milk and pop them into the oven for 12 – 15 minutes.

When they’re browned and risen take them out of the oven and put them on a wire rack to cool.

Serve with clotted cream, or if like me you're trying to be good a low fat spread will have to do (but trust me these scones are tasty enough as they are).

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Baking class with John Whaite

I love a baking class, not only do you get to learn something but you get to make a mess in someone else’s kitchen, without the bother of cleaning up after.

I’ve been to a few different baking classes in the last few years; it’s where I learnt the different techniques for piping icing, working with fondant and the best way to separate eggs. A good baking class can really build your confidence and inspire you to push yourself futher.

For a while now I’ve been looking for a new baking class, something a bit different from the classic cupcake class. There seem to be two types of classes, classes for having fun and classes for serious learning. But what about people like me who want to learn and have fun?

This is where John Whaite and his baking classes come in. I went to John's Multi Bake Day a couple of weeks ago - a hands on lesson in macarons, madeleines and rough puff pastry palmiers - three things I have never made before.

As I’m sure you know, John was the winner of the Great British Bake Off 2012. He’s since gone on to study at Le Cordon Bleu so he’s definitely earned his baking stripes.

The class was set up specially for food bloggers and we started with introductions, I got to meet a great bunch - Laure (Les recettes de Lorette), Alex (The Broke Boy), Bea (BizziBeaBakes), Emily (My Gingerbread Journey) and Joanne (Bakes Cooks & Eats).

John's a great teacher, he put everyone at ease straight away. He's very down to earth and broke everything down into simple steps. He was really happy to answer all of the questions that we threw at him. I wasn't sure before I got there how involved in the classes John would be, was he just the face of the class or had he put it all together. Well not only had John organised everything but he'd roped in his partner Paul to be his assistant for the day.

It was a busy day of baking with a tight agenda pulled together by John but he kept energy levels up by fueling us with Prosecco and sweets.

John shared all of the recipes with us at the end of the class and I am going to blog about my progress separately over the next few weeks as I attempt them all on my own at home. I've already been out and bought myself a new madeleine pan in preparation.

It was a privilege to be a student at John's very first baking class and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys baking and wants to learn something new (and have some fun doing it).

You can find information on all of the upcoming classes here on John's official website, I've got my eye on the Christmas Gingerbread House Class later in the year.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

A trip to the beach and a summer themed bake.

How glorious has the weather been this weekend?

I made the most of the summer (we can't guarantee how long it will last) and took a day trip to Hayling Island today.

I've resolved to move there one day and buy one of these cute beach houses.

This glorious weather reminds me of a recent bake which was for June's Clandestine Cake Club. The theme was Summer Feeling.

For me, Summer and food is all about picnics and eating al fresco. The ideal picnic for me would be similar to afternoon tea - sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and then cake of course.

I wanted to create a bake which incorporated all three. So I made a Victoria Sandwich with lashings of jam and cream in the shape of a sandwich. I used this silicon pan from Lakeland.

I used a classic Victoria Sponge recipe taken from here.


Friday, 12 July 2013

Pecan Pie Day

Did you know that 12th July is National Pecan Pie Day in the states? No, neither did I but when I heard I couldn’t resist making one.  Pecans aren’t cheap so you want to make sure you get it right and this simple recipe is a safe bet.

For the pastry
200g plain flour
50g caster sugar
1/8 tsp salt
115g margarine
4 tablespoons double cream (leftover cream can be whipped up and served with the finished pie)

For the filling
400g pecans
3 eggs
200g soft light brown sugar
150ml golden syrup
50g margarine or butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp plain flour

To make the pastry
  1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Cut the margarine into squares and add to the dry ingredients and mix well. If you don’t have a food processor you could use an electric whisk.
  2. The mixture should now resemble breadcrumbs. Add the cream and mix until the dough comes together and can be formed into a ball. If the dough is too dry you can add an extra tablespoon of cream.
  3. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes (no longer, or it will become too firm).
  4. Lightly flour your work surface and your rolling pin and roll out a circle. My tart tin is 9 inches so I roll out the pastry to approx 11 inches.
  5. Press the pastry gently across the side of the tin and trim any excess, leaving approx ½ inch spare around the edges to account for shrinkage.
  6. Lightly prick the bottom and sides with a fork, put back in the fridge for another 30 minutes.
  7. While waiting for the pastry you can either put your feet up and have a cup of tea or start making the filling following the instructions below.
  8. The next step is to blind bake the pastry. Preheat the oven to 220°C and leave a baking sheet in the oven to heat up. We will put the pie tin on the hot baking sheet and this will help the pastry to cook evenly and stop the pie from getting a dreaded soggy bottom.
  9. Line the tart pastry with baking paper or foil. Fill the pastry with baking beans to keep the pastry from puffing up and shrinking.
  10. Put the pie in the oven, after 15 minutes remove from the oven and carefully remove the pie weights and foil. Put it back in the oven and back the pastry case for a further 5 minutes or until light golden brown.
  11. Reduce oven temperature to 170 °C.

To make the filling

  1. Put approx. 150g of the pecans to one side, you will need these for decoration so pick out the nicest looking, whole pecans. If you have any broken ones they can go in the filling.
  2. Melt the margarine and leave to one side. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs. Then add the sugar, vanilla, flour, syrup and melted margarine and whisk again. Finally stir in 250g pecans.
  3. Pour the mix into the pastry case and then decorate with the remaining pecans on the top. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, if the pie starts to look a bit brown you can cover with tin foil to avoid burning.
  4. When ready, remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Best served warm with whipped cream; you should hopefully have some cream leftover since we didn’t use that much in the pastry.


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The most amazing birthday cake and meeting Jo Wheatley

It was my birthday just over a week ago and the thing I was probably most looking forward to was my birthday cake. Weeks and weeks ago my best friend Francesca said she wanted to make me a cake and she certainly didn't disappoint.

Apparently she started with the idea to make a sheep cake pop and the farm scene cake developed from there.

The cake was made up of sheep, pig and chicken cake pops. The pigs and sheep were living in a chocolate fudge cake pen with curlywurlys for the fence. The chicken coop was made of biscuits with mini fudge chunks for chicken feed. Oh...and if you're wondering the grass was buttercream with a special Wilton nozzle. Everything was edible.

On my birthday weekend a group of us went to Wisley Gardens for their annual Garden Party. The weather was beautiful and we enjoyed a picnic on the lawn. Jo Wheatley, winner of 2011's Great British Bake Off was there to do a Q&A and book signing. My friend Becca who works at Wisley bought me the book as a birthday gift and had it signed too.

The Q&A was really interesting, Jo talked about her experience on the Great British Bake Off including her nerves on the first day when she saw how good all the other contestants were. She was asked what her favourite cake is and she answered the classic Victoria Sponge as you can adapt it in so many different ways with different fillings.

It was really nice to hear that Jo has maintained a good friendship with Mary Berry since the show. She seemed absolutely lovely and I can't wait to start baking from her new Home Baking book, available exclusively at Sainsburys.