Sunday, 26 August 2012

I meet the King&Queen of baking at Bolton Food&Drink Festival

He calls her ‘Bezza’ and she teases him about watching his weight – the relationship between Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood is special, and I got to witness it firsthand when I met them on Saturday. 

I was visiting the Bolton Food and Drink Festival and was lucky enough to be allocated an interview slot with the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) judges.

As a huge baking fan, I was already quite informed about the pair’s history – their books and recipes, family life and successful baking careers – but there was still a raft of questions I had in mind. 

Unfortunately I didn’t get the time to ask them everything I wanted but I teamed up with Dolly Bakes and A Little Bit Of Heaven On A Plate to do the interview and I think between us we got our answers. 

During our chat, Paul said one of the best desserts he’s ever had was a passion fruit roulade with mango ice cream at Ston Easton in Somerset where bake-off was filmed. Mary joked that he had it every night, and each time she pinched a little bit – she couldn’t have too much because she didn’t want to get fat!

Both said they never know who’s going to win GBBO at the beginning of the show. They said they judge each programme as it happens and rarely look back on their decisions so the contestants have to prove themselves. 

Now you probably expect me to say this, but they seem like two lovely people. Their banter is natural, funny and endearing and they were happy to spend their lunchtime speaking to queuing bloggers and journalists and signing books for fans. 

After the interview, an eager audience piled in to the AGA Rangemaster marquee in Victoria Square for a live demo from Mary and Paul, in which Mary made a Frasier (strawberry) cake and Paul showed us how to prepare a two-strand plaited loaf.

I was pleased that Mary’s cake looked quite easy and once I’m back from my holiday I will certainly be giving it a go. It’s made up of a Genoese sponge sandwich, filled with strawberries and a creamy lemon filling, and topped with a marzipan disc and melted chocolate for decoration.  
Their banter continued throughout the demo as they cracked little jokes, usually at each other’s expense. Paul joked that Mary’s AGA was bigger than his first house and he laughed when the electric whisk was accidentally switched on at the wrong time, covering her in cake filling!

Paul also had a couple of cheeky digs at Mary’s age, telling the audience her fist book was published in 1853 and joking she was 105 when she said life was too short to clarify butter! 

We also got a lovely insight into their home lives. Mary loves baking with her grandchildren at home while Paul’s ten-year-old son Josh (whose godfather, incidentally, is James Martin) has an exceptional palette and often runs rings around him in the kitchen.

The pair had tons of useful tips for baking such as dropping the cake mixture into the tin at close range, lining your tin with butter and then a disc of greaseproof, and my favourite from Mary – always use full fat ingredients and “just have a smaller slice”. I couldn’t agree more!

Paul admitted that he often uses other bakers’ ideas for inspiration but that he’d personally had more inspiration from junior bake-off than the main show – I must admit, what those kids can do is awesome.

Sadly, both denied rumours of any appearance on Strictly Come Dancing this year, but Paul seemed open to taking part next year.

Snippets from the interview

Who inspired you both?
Mary: First of all it was my cookery teacher, Miss Date. She was lovely, a little round dumpling and she was very kind to me
Paul: It was my dad and my mum. I grew up in a house full of bakers so mum was making pies, apple pies and my dad was making all the bread and scones.

Last year the Guardian said you were the best reality TV judging duo ever – how do you feel about that?
Paul: Haha, bang on! I mean, what can you say?
Mary: I liked it because they said we were better than Simon Cowell.
Paul: I met Simon recently actually and he said 'you're me aren't you?' I said, ‘apparently yeah’. I mean you take it with a pinch of salt. I mean, we just judge from our hearts, we're honest. It's all about integrity and if it comes across well then it comes across. We're just honest to ourselves that’s all.

There are so many baking gadgets out there these days – what's your must have item?
Mary: I think don't have too many gadgets. You need a sharp knife, you need the basic tins – I don't use an awful lot of gadgets or a lot of tins because most people haven't got the room to store them. If I can get away with using a traditional tin or traditional item, I use it. I don't go in for all the 'a thing to hang bananas on' or all the little intricate things, I can manage without. 
Paul: There's only one thing I would say and that's digital scales and they will help, everything else you don’t really need.
Mary: It's very important to weigh accurately. If you want to be a good baker, you need good ingredients, and use the right sized tin and then digital scales.

I believe you have a KitchenAid Mary, what do you think of them?
Mary: They are both good but also you don't need one. If you're not doing an awful lot of baking you can buy for about £15 a hand beater - that's what we're going to use today - you don't need (unless you are going to do an awful lot) you don't need too much specialist equipment.
Paul: KitchenAids are good and so are Kenwood. They are both very good. It depends what you want, they both do the same job. I've test driven the two of them recently and they're both good.

After the demo I wandered around the fabulous market, sampling Harvey Nichols’ French onion soup, as recommended by Mary, and later indulging on chocolate mocha and cookies and cream fudge.

There’s still one day left of the Bolton Food and Drink Festival – see here for details. And if you’ve not been yet, I’d strongly recommend a visit! 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Taste buds tickling for Bolton Food & Drink Festival

ONLY a few days remain until the Bolton Food and Drink Festival 2012!!! 

I can't stress enough how fantastic this four-day culinary extravaganza is – whether you're a passionate cook or a complete novice, if you like eating and drinking (and who doesn't?!) then it's definitely worth a visit.

The seventh annual event – set to big the biggest and best yet – will see more than 80 traders occupy stalls in Victoria Square, Oxford Street and Deansgate between Friday, August 24 and Monday, August 27.

If you haven’t been before, don’t miss out on the chance to peruse the stalls and experience new tastes and flavours, or visit one of the many restaurants putting on special deals as part in the festivities. 

Events and demonstrations being held across the town are bound to get visitors salivating and no doubt inspired to cook more and try new things.

For the first time, the festival will include a designated al fresco dining area, called Gourmet Kitchen, featuring a variety of traders selling high-end international street food such as Harvey Nichols’ Gastronomique van selling French cuisine; Ginger’s Comfort Emporium selling unique flavoured ice-cream (including olive oil!) and The Hungry Gecko – Asian street food by Masterchef 2011 finalist Jackie Kearney.

The main events will take place in the Rangemaster Cookery Theatre, featuring two star Michelin chef Michael Caines; Queen of cakes Mary Berry and artisan baker Paul Hollywood; French chef Jean-Christophe Novelli and proud Yorkshire-man and Saturday Kitchen presenter James Martin.

I’m like a child waiting for Christmas knowing that I'm going to see the lovely Mary Berry on Saturday – so be sure to read a blog about that next week!

If you just fancy a wander around the speciality market, other tasty treats include cupcakes; speciality bread; homemade jams; handmade chocolates; rustic pies and traditional fudge.

Special events at venues and restaurants throughout Bolton include a Best of Lancashire dinner at JJ’s Restaurant in Egerton; a special festival menu at Nick's at Chequerbent; Afternoon Tea at the Holiday Inn, Bolton town centre; Greek Meze and live music at Sokrates Greek Taverna in Horwich; and a family fun day at Pizza Express in Bolton.

For more information on the events, visit

Read my interview with chef Michael Caines at last year's festival here

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Bake off is back!!

I'm thrilled that The Great British Bake Off has returned to our TV screens – just in time to fill that gaping hole left by the BBC’s superb coverage of the Olympics.

It’s early stages, but who is your favourite competitor so far? I know who my least favourite is – I'm sorry but tomatoes shouldn’t go on top of a cake. Fact.

Due to an unexpected excitement towards the Olympics, I haven’t blogged since June. I've just been too distracted and watching all those athletes with their incredibly toned bodies made me think about cutting down on my cake.

I say think about, I didn’t actually do it   and now that Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the King and Queen of baking, have returned, I will be back in the baking bubble in no time.

If you haven’t seen this show, you must. It got the entire country going baking mad last year with shops seeing huge sales increases in baking products.

The fantastic thing about it is that we get to know the bakers' personalities – they're just ordinary people who bake for fun in their own homes.

It becomes an obsession and last year I found myself thinking about what cakes I would make if I were on the show all the time – I dare you not to want to get straight in the kitchen when it finishes.

If you do, try these easy cake recipes to get you going. The star cakes were done recently for a wedding – they are lemon sponge and the recipe is here  just add the juice of one lemon to the sponge mixture and the juice of half a lemon to the buttercream.  

The banana and walnut muffins are really easy and make great breakfast snacks.

The Great British Bake Off is on Tuesdays, 8pm, BBC2.

Banana and walnut muffins

175g/6oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
175g/6oz sugar (half light muscovado, half golden caster)
75g/2½oz chopped walnuts
2 medium-sized eggs
175g/6oz self-raising flour
3 medium-sized over ripe bananas, or 2 large
A drop of vanilla extract
Some demerara sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3 and weigh out your ingredients. Then put muffin cases in a 12-hole muffin baking tin.
Beat the butter and sugars together in a large mixing bowl using a hand mixer or a wooden spoon until light and coffee-coloured.
Slowly add the eggs to the butter and sugar mixture, then mix in the walnuts and self-raising flour.
Peel the bananas and mash them with a fork. Gently fold the vanilla extract and the bananas into the cake mixture using a spatula or metal spoon, turning gently and taking care not to over-mix.
Scoop the cake batter into the prepared cases leaving a little bit of room at the top for the cake to rise slightly.
Dust with a little demerara sugar then put into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes.
Leave the muffins to cool for about ten minutes then take out of the tray and cool completely.