I never did much baking when I was younger. I definitely remember licking the cake mix bowl as a kid, but food tech GCSE was definitely one of the most traumatising experiences of my life!! I’d never really made a cake until second year of Uni, a birthday cake for my cake-loving new boyfriend… It was chocolate and covered in royal icing and chocolate buttons to make it look like a football. It may have taught me (the hard way) not to open the oven door when your cake’s baking… But I can safely say Rob loved attempt number two.
Anyway, since then, my cakes have got better, slowly but surely, and greatly helped by the two incredible girls I lived with last year! Both incredibly creative and very knowledgeable, natural bakers. Penny had an inbuilt cake sensor; even with our rubbish oven she just knew when it was ready. She’s like the Spiderman of the cake world. And EPS once made a full-on Disney princess-style castle cake, using ice cream cones covered in pink icing for the towers. Unbelievable. And I began to gradually pick up some of their skill (and a lot of their leftover icing).
You may have seen a few of my tentative baking adventures pop up on here over the past few months… and if you follow me on Twitter you’ll see I love The Great British Bake Off. A lot. Maybe too much!! SO – you will imagine how excited this very very amateur baker was to hear that one of our clients was hosting an event… and that they were only booking an actual GBBO star baker to come along!!
That star baker was the lovely Brendan Lynch, who was runner up in the last series. After a week of emailing him back and forth (and a couple of ridiculously exciting phone conversations – I got real butterflies!!) I now know everything about him, from the name of his dog (Monty) to what first got him into baking (working through Raymond Blanc’s book) to his favourite bakes (French, Italian, Sicilian and German pastries. Fact.). And – I got to meet the man himself yesterday afternoon :-).
I was umm-ing and ahh-ing all week about whether to go – it’s an hour’s drive away, I didn’t want to intrude on a client thing… But he did seem genuine in his encouragements to me to come along, even promising to save me a loaf of bread if I couldn’t make it!
The event was so much fun. It was like a private baking lesson! Brendan is just the most lovely guy – charming, warm, eloquent and knowledgeable. And very sweetly funny, too – I think he took a bit of a shine to Rob, being the only guy there! As we came in he had just started to mix up a soda bread, which he talked us through in great detail, then popped in the oven. It was just so exciting to be there and watch him! He had some great little tips. He brushed natural yoghurt over the soda bread before baking it, and sprinkled over barley flakes – tiny things that really aren’t hard, but make the final thing just that much better. Soon we could smell it baking and…. yummmm. We were all drooling while he started on recipe number 2.
This was a cinnamon and orange Kringle bread – it’s Scandanavian. I know! One of his missions is to bake breads from all around the world. He’s currently working his way through the Baltics (#topfanfact). And of my goodness, it was amazing. Two words for you: cinnamon. Sugar. Spread all over the dough (on top of a layer of melted butter, because cinnamon equals “instant death” for yeast). Then rolled, sliced (sans chopping board, on the beautiful marble show home kitchen work top… !), simply twisted and shaped into a ring. The finished thing looked so impressive, but it was so easy to do! If I’d just seen the recipe in a cookbook I’d have automatically written it off as too hard, but having seen it done I’d genuinely give it a go now. It’s not as hard as it looks, this baking stuff!
And then, of course, we had a good old chat about Bake Off. And a few behind the scenes secrets were revealed!! Firstly, he is not a fan of those fancy slidey-door ovens – which I always thought looked pretty fab. Secondly, did you know the contestants only got £150 towards ingredients? And that’s for the whole 10 weeks – including all the practicing they do at home. It was just so interesting to hear what it’s actually like to go through the experience – and I think Brendan’s maturity and self-assuredness going into it obviously helped him deal with the more “commercial” side of being on a TV programme.
You can tell what a talented and knowledgeable baker he is, and how much love he has for doing it – but he said himself that he wasn’t what the production company necessarily wanted out of a “winner”. Shows like that need a bit of a poster boy – but then, he’s absolutely got what he wanted out of the experience. He truly took it for what it is (unlike another contestant on the series, who was apparently “blacklisted” after a tell-all blog post she wrote found its way into the press – oh dear) and is riding the wave, but on his own terms. He’s doing demonstrations all over the country, going into schools and judging competitions, and teaching baking 2 days a week (note to self: must look into this!). He’s working on a soon-to-be-submitted book proposal, and he’s working with a number of charities on a project he’s truly passionate about – taking baking into care homes. Not just to just give elderly residents something to do – he was very respectful of the homes themselves, but it’s a matter of keeping occupied and keeping happy. Baking can help people, and he is particularly passionate about how baking can help people with dementia. Smells and tastes are incredibly evocative, and baking can help bring those memories back to life.
I honestly could have stayed all afternoon! I made sure I got a picture, before we left, of course…
And just as we were leaving, he wrapped this still-warm apple, raisin and caraway seed soda bread in baking paper and placed it in my hands. As good as his word! And I can confirm, it’s absolutely bloody amazing. Have been slicing bits off all evening yesterday, and all day today. We had to stop specially to buy posh jam to go with 🙂
Oh! And alongside answering all our baking qs – particularly how to avoid soggy bottoms, of course (proper patisserie shops paint a thin layer of melted chocolate on top to “seal” the pastry before the cream and fruit goes on top – err, yum!) – he gave me some great tips for baking scones. Sift the flour, sugar and salt a mighty 5 times, be very gentle when you cut them out (resist the urge to wiggle the cutter), and soak sultanas in water (or booze!) before adding them to get them to plump up a bit. So I had to have a go this morning didn’t I?
The verdict? Deeee-licious 🙂