A reflective week this week. After a cracking Great British Bake Off final I’ve been looking back at some of my own highlights of the past year.
It’s a year since my first blog post. I remember the feelings of that week so clearly. The “what on earth do I do now?!” worries and struggling to think what might happen next. The media coverage is a bit overwhelming for Bake Off finalists.
During the week of the final, Bake Off makes every paper, I featured in newspaper cartoons, journalists doorstepped the local builders’ merchants, media experts did interviews predicting what I’d do next. By the time of the final I was lucky enough to have signed with an agent, Rosemary Scoular, which is a really strange thing to get your head around in itself. But the true craziness only lasts for about a week and then there’s an unknown future ahead where you have to balance your day job with the new opportunities that come your way.
Early on, my agent recommended I put a book proposal together. It was very hard to know where to start with this but I had a fairly clear vision for my book, and the title: B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself, helped to steer it. I wanted something that wouldn’t be intimidating for novice bakers but also appealed to experienced bakers. I modelled it on a DIY manual, with the recipes laid out really clearly, with all the equipment you need, and easy to source ingredients. I am so proud of the final book, it’s better than I pictured it in my head and so much credit for that is down to the amazing team I worked with on it. I still have the book schedule pinned to my fridge and my Bake Off schedule on the kitchen wall. I’m too sentimental to take them down!
I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens to this year’s Bake Off contestants and what they’ll do next. Bake Off alumni are a close bunch and I’ve been in touch with quite a few of this year’s lot. I hope to catch up with some of them soon. After the drama of last week’s semi-final, this week’s final was a fitting end to the series. I hoped Nadiya would win, as I said in my final Radio Times review. But to date on Bake Off (as I can testify!) the favourite going into the final doesn’t always edge it. Nadiya’s win made great TV. Her winning speech was so articulate and so moving, and Mary’s lip quiver set me off a bit too. I think she’s got the potential to be the most successful Bake Off champion of all time.
I was pretty busy in the run up to the final and it was definitely a week where I’m glad to live in London as I was back and forth to BBC Broadcasting House for interviews with the BBC News Channel, BBC London Radio (who I made the coffee and walnut cake pictured above for), and loads of regional BBC interviews. I also did telephone interviews with BBC Northern Ireland and BBC 5 Live on the day of the final. It’s a good job I watched the series so closely as I’ve answered so many questions on it this week that it could be my Mastermind specialist subject! My top ten bakes from the series was also featured in the Radio Times this week, which was a good reminder of how inventive this year’s bakers have been.
Speaking of top tens, I was delighted to feature in the Independent Top 10 Bake Off books this week. I’m really glad they appreciated the book’s photography so much in particular. I’ve also spent most of the week in the Top Ten baking books on Amazon. All these top tens and our “Class of 2014” programme have had me thinking about my own top ten things that have happened since the 2014 final last year. So in reverse order:
10. Meeting David Tennant – I’m a massive Doctor Who fan so getting to meet my favourite Doctor at the Radio Times Covers Party, alongside many other TV favourites, in January left me totally star struck.
9. Scoff channel – making the series of Scoff video recipes for VideoJug was a real laugh this year and gave me some valuable experience that I’ve used in all my live baking demos since.
8. Les Mis – who’d have thought the cast of Les Mis were such big Bake Off fans?! From visiting the show for a backstage tour (including a spin on the revolving stage) last year, to going along again last week to judge their 30th anniversary themed Bake Off, it’s been a privilege to get to know some of the cast of such an iconic London musical.
7. Strictly – thanks to an invite from the lovely Karen Clifton, who’s a keen baker herself, my wife Sarah and I got to watch the filming of Strictly last autumn. It’s only filmed ten minutes down the road from us so we stayed until the after party closed and had a blast. We went along with Heidi Stephens, who writes both the Bake Off and Strictly live blogs for the Guardian and has been one of the people I’ve been lucky enough to get to know over the past year.
6. Great Ormond Street – I’ve enjoyed working with Great Ormond Street Hospital’s Children’s Charity quite a bit over the past year. I’ve done various things with them, but in February this year I baked boxes full of biscotti and went along to help them pitch to become Morgan Stanley’s charity of the year. They were successful in this, which should bring in about £1.5m for GOSH over the next year.
5. Pointless – a few months ago I partnered up with Frances Quinn to film a food-related episode of the gameshow Pointless Celebrities. Pointless is one of my favourite programmes so I was so chuffed to be on the show. I think our episode will be screened on Saturday 21 November but I’ll confirm closer to the time.
4. The Big Feastival – doing demos at different food festivals has been great fun but of all of those I’ve done this year, I had the best time at Jamie Oliver and Alex James’s Big Feastival. It was an epic weekend and none of us wanted to come home. Fantastic for all the family.
3. Gorilla Birthday Cake – as with Great Ormond Street, I try to do as much as possible for the Zoological Society of London. Back in October I made Zaire the gorilla a 40th birthday cake. I was thrilled to see her chow down on one of my bakes and I’ll never tire of watching the film of her delicately savouring it.
2. Hootenanny – in December, my wife Sarah and I were invited to the filming of Jools Holland’s annual Hootenanny celebrations. It featured live performances from Paloma Faith, Ed Sheeran, Paolo Nutini, Ellie Goulding, Joss Stone and loads more, with free-flowing champagne all evening. It was one of the best nights of our lives!
1. My Book – finally, the highlight of a great year has been becoming a published author with my book B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself. I’m really proud of the book and all of the hard work that went into it. It’s an opportunity I never thought I’d get but I loved every minute of the recipe testing, writing and creating.
As we reach the autumn again, I’m reminded it’s my favourite time of year for baking and I’m working on a load of new recipes at the moment. I’ve had a great week of back to basics this week, making windfall apple pie (above) and plain white bloomers. If you have a passion and skill for baking yourself, now is the time to think about your application for Bake Off 2016. My top tips are to include loads of photos, be honest about the stuff you have no experience making, and to think about what makes your baking stand out. You never know, as the Class of 2015 are about to find out, it could well change your life…!