Festive Fare at Festive Fairs

Somerset College

I’ve had a really busy week this week, trying to get to as many places as possible before the imminent arrival of baby number three. It’s definitely got me in the mood for more Christmas baking too!

Challah demo

On Tuesday this week I went down to the Taunton Literary Festival in Somerset. The organisers had put on a fantastic event at Somerset College. Around fifteen of the catering students at the college chose different recipes from my book, B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself, to bake for the evening and I got to sample them all as well as undertaking a Q&A session and B.I.Y. book signing. It was a real treat to see the effort that the students had gone to. The recipes in my book are graded for difficulty in levels 1, 2 and 3 so that you have the confidence to tackle them no matter what your level of baking ability. Some of the students had made the most complicated bakes in the book, for example my rhubarb and custard entremets and my Black Forest Gateau – as you can see in the pictures here.  I was so impressed with the standard on display and it was really interesting to see the different interpretations of my recipes. I also showed the students how to make and knot challah rolls in the video below.

I’m really passionate about the value of vocational education, and both the staff and facilities at Somerset College were excellent. Much of the work I’ve done with the Federation of Master Builders, of which I’m a member, has been to promote the benefits of building and vocational education, and the positive image of the building trade as a career option – it didn’t do me any harm!

Brian May

I’m lucky enough to have benefited myself from vocational education through my job as a builder and my qualifications in bricklaying. However, a few years ago I also undertook a part-time BSc degree at Birkbeck College, University of London in Biodiversity & Conservation. Birkbeck is a really good University for working people as it runs most of its courses in the evenings. I was in the process of applying for an MSc (in either Climate Change Management or Environment & Sustainability) when I was accepted onto the Bake Off, so I’ve deferred my studies for the time being while I juggle building, baking and my interest in the environment (oh, and an ever expanding family!) My enthusiasm for conservation is one of the reasons I like to work with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). This week, ZSL invited me to the première of ‘Racing Extinction‘, which will be shown on the Discovery Channel this week (see trailer below). The film will be aired across the world in over 200 different countries on Wednesday 2 December, and if you can catch it I would highly recommend it!

I was a bit star-struck to have met Brian May at the event last Wednesday. He spoke really eloquently about his own passion for conservation. The film itself is an incredible piece of work.

Foodies demo

On Friday, I went to the excellent Foodies Festival London Christmas event in Brick Lane and did two demos, making my festive Swedish wreath. There are lots of delicious Christmassy bakes in my B.I.Y. Book but this is one of my favourites for demonstrating as the effort-to-glory ratio is pretty good. It’s fairly straightforward to make but looks seriously impressive when it’s complete, as the picture below from my book (by the awesome Chris Terry) shows.

Tea ring

It’s always fun catching up with other chefs and bakers at these events and on Friday, it was really good to see Ian from this year’s Bake Off again. We had a great time scoffing chorizo scotch eggs and swapping Bake Off stories.  I also got to catch up with Charlotte White, who is one of the best cake decorators in the business (and she also lets me finish off her chocolate cakes at the end of her demos!)

GFShow book signing

I’ve just returned this evening from a busy weekend in Birmingham at the BBC Good Food Show Winter – the ‘biggie’ in the winter food calendar. I had a great time doing B.I.Y. book signings on the WH Smith stand, interviews on the Lakeland stage, and meeting so many Bake Off fans. It was a real pleasure to catch up with Paul and Mary again too. I also got to chat to the Hairy Bikers, James Martin, and Paul Hollywood’s lovely mum and dad! I watched my good mate Nancy do her demo on the Bakes & Cakes Stage and managed to have a cuppa and a chinwag with her, but I’m really looking forward to catching up with her properly at our Class of 2014 Bake Off Christmas Party on Saturday. Being self-employed, I’ve never really had work Christmas parties, so one of the nicest things to have happened since last year is having a gang of baker mates to celebrate with. We’ll be painting the town red, so next week’s blog might be written in a bit of a fuzzy state! See you next week…


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