Wednesday, 30 November -0001
Going like hot cakes
Mary Berry, the nation’s most famous TV granny, is brilliant at inspiring a whole new generation of junior bakers to get creative in the kitchen…
Written by Carolyn HartThe BBC moves in mysterious ways. In one corner, there’s presenter Fiona Bruce, immaculate, intelligent, and busy dyeing her hair for fear of being kicked off the screen in favour of a younger model. In the other, there’s presenter Mary Berry, edging 80 and one of the superstars of the autumn schedule, still sporting her silver locks; astonishingly, no viewer has died of shock as a result.
Some mistake surely… but Berry, unlike Bruce who had the gall to gatecrash television news, has had the good sense to remain in the kitchen – where it’s apparently OK to be old and grey. So Berry can carry on ageing and being a national icon simultaneously.
And she’s doing it brilliantly. This year’s The Great British Bake Off programme, which Berry fronts with Paul Hollywood, is a runaway success, appealing not only to interested adults, but it’s also taking on a whole new generation of junior bakers who, it seems, just can’t get enough of the mixing, rolling, measuring and stirring.
‘Children love to be creative on top of a cake,’ Berry tells me, ‘but of course they need to have a good cake to start with.’ To this end, she has put her considerable energies, not to mention her now rather famous name, behind the latest book in the Bake Off series, Learn To Bake, which is aimed squarely at getting children into the kitchen.
‘I want to get children to enjoy baking, Berry says, ‘but also to learn the theory side.’ She has had plenty of practice at cooking with children; she had three of her own and now has five grandchildren, 10-year-old twins and three more, aged seven, five and two, all of whom enjoy being creative in her kitchen.
So, what are her tips for successful junior bake offs?
‘Choose something that your children or grandchildren are going to enjoy cooking,’ she tells me. ‘Let them choose what it is; if they want to make an orange cake, then make an orange cake. Don’t try to make them do something they don’t want to do – and let them do the weighing or sifting and so on. It’s very educational to bake with children. And don’t worry about the mess,’ she adds. ‘You can lessen it by doing things like making tiny cupcakes in sweet papers…’
Berry’s granddaughters all watch the Bake Off. ‘Lots of children watch it,’ she says, ‘it’s like they’re watching their mums cook. There’s always something to learn.’
Of course many mothers simply do not have time to bake cakes with their children any more. No wonder children are turning to the nation’s most famous TV granny for their fix of home cooking.
‘Baking is good for you,’ says Berry. ‘Several people bake as therapy. One woman suffering from post-natal depression used my Baking Bible to haul herself out of it. Baking a cake, or biscuits, or whatever you choose, means there is something to show for it at the end – crucially, something that you can the share with others…’
Berry published her first book, The Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook, in 1966. More than 70 other titles have followed, resulting in over five million sales worldwide. Her celebrity chef status on the Bake Off means that her Baking Bible is currently selling 900 copies a week. An impressive number when you consider the quantities of other baking books being pushed out by publishers this month.
‘Nowadays it’s all about different finishes and glitter and new techniques,’ says Berry. ‘So much is to do with decoration, but I like that. It’s fun.’
You can see that element of fun on the Bake Off when contestants add, not always successfully, an unexpected element to a classic recipe. ‘They’re rather adventurous,’ Berry thinks.
What about when they make mistakes? ‘I can’t give tips when contestants get into trouble,’ Berry tells me, ‘but I can say, “Oh, if only you’d done such and such, it wouldn’t have sunk like that”. I’m not cross with them,’ she adds. ‘There are no tears; that would spoil everything. So many programmes have such bad manners – you wouldn’t want your child to watch them. People do usually know what they’ve done wrong as soon as it comes out of the oven…’
I imagine disasters are a thing of the past for her. ‘Oh don’t be silly,’ she says. ‘Of course I have disasters. In fact, I had one just now. I was making a Caesar salad for lunch and put the croutons in the oven and forgot to turn the timer on. Then there was this smell…’
‘So you rushed back to put out the flames…’ I prompt.
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ says Berry sternly, ‘there were no flames. And anyway I had made two batches, because I knew I’d do something stupid…’
Not just hot in the kitchen… Mary Berry’s flowery Zara bomber jacket (worn on the Bake Off) has already sold out in stores and is selling for up to £200 on eBay.
You eat HOW much?
For some, it must sound like pure heaven, but it isn’t always easy being a judge in Britain’s biggest cake competition. For while she remains dazzlingly slender, Mary Berry has revealed that she must eat a staggering 80 pieces of cake on each episode of The Great British Bake Off. ‘It depends how many contestants are left in, but it can easily be 80 little pieces. When judging, I taste all the cakes. I have a decent piece and then only something simple for supper. I do try to eat lots of salads.’
With three series and 23 episodes of the show under her belt, some clever clogs has worked out that she must already have eaten 1,840 slices of cake in her role.
Mary Berry’s perfect Victoria sandwich
- 4 free-range eggs
- 225g caster sugar, plus a little extra for dusting the finished cake
- 225g self-raising flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 225g baking spread: margarine or soft butter at room temperature, plus a little extra to grease the tins
- Good-quality strawberry or raspberry jam
- Whipped double cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ Gas 4. Grease and line 2 x 20cm sandwich tins: use a piece of baking or silicone paper to rub a little baking spread or butter around the inside of the tins until the sides and base are lightly coated. Line the bottom of the tins with a circle of baking or silicone paper (draw around the base of the tin on to the paper and cut out).
Break the eggs into a large mixing bowl, then add the sugar, flour, baking powder and baking spread. Mix together until well combined. The easiest way to do this is with an electric hand mixer, but you can use a wooden spoon. Put a damp cloth under your bowl when you’re mixing to stop it moving around. Be careful not to over-mix – as soon as everything is blended you should stop. The finished mixture should be of a soft ‘dropping’ consistency – it should fall off a spoon easily.
Divide the mixture evenly between the tins: this doesn’t need to be exact, but you can weigh the filled tins if you want to check. Use a spatula to remove all of the mixture from the bowl and gently smooth the surface of the cakes.
Place the tins on the middle shelf of the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Don’t be tempted to open the door while they’re cooking, but after 20 minutes do look through the door to check them.
The cakes are done when they’re golden-brown and coming away from the edge of the tins. Press gently to check – they should be springy.
Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool in their tins for five minutes. Run a palette or rounded butter knife around the inside edge of the tin and carefully turn the cakes on to a cooling rack.
To take your cakes out of the tins without leaving a wire rack mark on the top, put a clean tea towel over the tin, put your hand on to the tea towel and turn the tin upside down. The cake should come out on to your hand and the tea towel, then you can turn it from your hand on to the wire rack.
Set aside to cool completely.
To assemble the cake, place one cake upside down on to a plate and spread it with plenty of jam. If you like, you can also spread over whipped cream. Top with the second cake, top-side up. Sprinkle over the caster sugar.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“HEAVEN forbid that we should go back to the days when beauty was under suspicion and plain girls were assumed to have angelic natures.”The Lady. With Prejudice. 28th April 1938