If there’s one thing you should think about this week, it’s applying for the next series of Bake Off…
Applications are now open for Series 6 of The Great British Bake Off in 2015. It was during the Christmas holidays last year that I first thought seriously about applying. We’d really enjoyed watching the 2013 Bake Off and one of the series (I can’t remember which one) was being repeated on BBC2 during the day over the Christmas holidays. For quite a while people had been saying to me “you should go on Bake Off” but I didn’t really think much of it. In truth, I really didn’t think I was experienced enough – I had very limited experience in some areas, as my attempt at lemon tarts in this year’s final showed! But Sarah filled out the form for me and we put in lots of pictures of things I had made. I was also doing a lot of baking over Christmas – my Christmas Cake, a big Gingerbread House, etc. so it was on my mind. We sent off the application form on New Year’s Day and I got the first call for the first audition just a few days later on 6 January. It’s really taken over 2014 for me but I’m certainly not complaining!
My tips for your applications are to make sure you include lots of photos, be really honest about your baking experience, get your forms in sooner rather than later and try and think “what about me or my baking makes me a bit different?” For example, I’m not really the sort of person who makes lots of cupcakes or works with sugarcraft, but I really like making savoury bakes – bread, pizza, pies, etc. You have nothing at all to lose by applying and so much to gain. Purely through being on the show and the amount of practice I had to do, my baking repertoire is now so much bigger. But most importantly I made 11 great friends in the other bakers – really interesting, enthusiastic and committed people. I also made really good friends with the crew working on the show from Love Productions – they love their jobs and it’s wonderful working with them.
One of the people I had the pleasure of meeting during the Great British Bake Off was Tom Hovey, who draws all the pictures of the bakes for the show. Sarah bought me all 20 of the pictures of my bakes – my Signature and Showstopper bakes from all 10 episodes – which arrived this week. I’m going to frame them all and hang them in my kitchen so I’ll always have a reminder of the incredible experience I had this year. If you want any prints from this year’s series, get in touch with Tom.
I try and see my fellow bakers as often as possible. This week, Iain, his lovely girlfriend Catriona, Sarah and I went out in Dalston, East London, to a new restaurant called Pond. Before we had kids, Sarah and I used to eat out in London a lot, but since the little ones came along it’s just not something we get to do very often. Restaurant trends change so quickly in London that in just a few years we’re pretty out of where’s good to go but thankfully Iain and Cat decided where to meet up. Pond was ace, especially the cocktails – really interesting and imaginative flavours. I was a cocktail barman for a while in my early twenties and I often use the knowledge I gained doing that in my baking for flavour inspiration. Cocktails tend to blend two or three (sometimes more) sweet flavours together so when I was coming up with recipes for the show I ended up with quite a lot of alcohol-flavoured bakes, including using Fratello and Kahlua in my hazelnut mocha entremets, champagne jelly in my grapefruit entremets, DiSaronno in my tiramisu baked Alaska, cherry brandy in my chocolate cherry fondants and St-Germain for the glaze on my final windmill profiterole tower. As you don’t need very much to flavour bakes, I’ve now got a pretty well-stocked booze cabinet so looking forward to a cocktail-fuelled New Year’s Eve this year!
It was Halloween this week too, which is one of our favourite times of the year as a family (my two gorgeous little witches are in the picture above). I usually tend to do a lot of baking for Halloween and this year I was invited to a residential centre for young people suffering from eating disorders. Many of the young people at the centre had been big fans of the Bake Off. One of the nurses, Alex, got in touch to invite me along to do a few sessions decorating cakes for Halloween with some of the teenagers staying in the centre. As part of their treatment, they would eat the cakes we made together later that day. It was a really interesting experience – the work done by the medical professionals at the centre is incredible and all of the young people who came along to the session were lovely – it was so nice to meet them all and to see them being so brave at what must be a very challenging time in their lives. I was back in time to take my eldest daughter trick or treating on Friday evening so she wasn’t really in the mood to bake as between her and her little sister, they had a mammoth haul of sweets to work their way through instead!
Finally, we’ve had a lovely, sociable weekend catching up with friends, which I’ve not had much time to do this year. We had some people coming over this afternoon so I’m trying to build up a few recipes that don’t take long to do, as I had a lie-in this morning! Today I knocked up some scones and a lemon and poppy seed tray bake, which took about an hour and a half. My peanut butter cookies don’t take long either and I keep meaning to freeze some of the cookie dough but there’s never any left over! I do feel the days are gone when I can serve Mr Kipling’s to people who come round – expectations have definitely gone up! But for me, baking should be an easy, everyday activity and doesn’t have to be complicated. Some of the baked things I tend to make most often are really straightforward – this weekend we’ve had blueberry pancakes for Saturday brunch and chorizo toad-in-the-hole for dinner tonight, for example.
Anyway, I have been talking about it for a few weeks so I’d better go and actually get started on my Christmas cake. I need to soak the fruit in brandy overnight tonight and I’ll get it in the oven when I’m home from work tomorrow. See you next week – and don’t forget to fill in your Bake Off applications!