Anyone who’s watched The Great British Bake Off (or The Great British Baking Show, as it’s known in the United States) has probably wondered whether they, too, could make the creations dreamt up by the contestants. The show, after all, is a competition for amateur bakers, while also showing just how stressful baking under pressure can be.
To a novice baker, real-life baking might feel just as chaotic, but it doesn’t have to be. Paul Hollywood, the iconic silver-haired, blue-eyed judge on The Great British Bake Off — and self-described “best baker in the business” — hopes to help people realize just how simple it is, with his latest cookbook, Bake: My Best Ever Recipes for the Classics, set to hit bookstores in July.
Hollywood knew it was time to write another cookbook (he’s already authored six) and finally got the chance to tackle it during the pandemic. “We were filming Bake Off, and I was running up to my room after a bit in the tent, because we were locked in this hotel grounds for seven weeks,” Hollywood says. “Gave me plenty of time to get the book together.”
The cookbook is intended for anybody and everybody, he adds, but even experienced bakers can glean knowledge and inspiration. “I think people that have never baked before, they could take something from this. It’s very simple, pretty straightforward,” Hollywood says. “The only advice I would say is: Follow my recipe initially and then, once you’ve mastered it and got used to it, then you start to tweak it and make it a very personal thing.”
Adding your own touches might sound daunting at first, but they don’t have to be. For example, if you’re baking a cake, you could caramelize pecans and then use them to decorate the top of the cake, Hollywood suggests. Using citrus in a recipe? Use more of that particular fruit, or add an additional citrus to go with it. So if you’re already using lime juice and zest, go ahead and use some orange too. If you’re making a danish that calls for lemon icing, swap out the lemon for mandarin orange and add some zest. “So you end up with something that’s the same, but a little bit different,” he notes.
Hollywood, known for giving authoritatively critical feedback on the show, got into baking as a teenager when he worked at his father’s bakery. Even then, Hollywood wasn’t necessarily intimidated by the recipes he was baking, but by the volumes of those recipes. “We would be working with 50-kilo mixes, 60-kilo mixes, and you’re thinking, These are big mixes. These are big mixing bowls,” he says, laughing.
That first job instilled a love of baking in him that has led him to be known as one of the top bakers and baking personalities today — whether it’s as a host on Bake Off, Junior Bake Off or the forthcoming Great American Baking Show with co-judge Prue Leith.
Bake With Paul
Hollywood shared three recipes from ‘Bake’ for AARP members to try.
If you’re new to baking, this should be your very first cake. If you get it right, everything else will be easy.
I’ll often take one of these with me if I’m going to a dinner party — it always disappears very quickly!
Even if I say so myself, these are the best brownies you’ll ever taste.
Even with these professional obligations, where he has to try all sorts of baked goods, Hollywood still manages to bake his own creations a few times a week. “I bake bread for sandwiches at home, and toast in the morning. And then I’ll make focaccia probably at least once a month, sourdough probably once every 10 days. I’ll slice them and pop them in the freezer,” he says. “Scones, I’ll make once a month. So I do bake quite a lot at home, to be honest. It’s just that I prefer the taste of homemade bread rather than the stuff you can buy in the shops.”
Bake focuses on Hollywood’s favorite recipes — and the ones that, he thinks, every baker should have in his or her repertoire. There’s the one for apple pie, for instance, which his mother loved to make, and for ginger biscuits, which he made with her. As Hollywood expanded his reach beyond his parents’ bakery and to professional bakeries along his travels (he was the head baker at high-end hotels like the Dorchester and Cliveden House), he gained a fondness for other treats like doughnuts, empanadas and ice cream buns. The book also, unsurprisingly, highlights plenty of British recipes that may delight American readers. (A Victoria sandwich, by the way, is not a sandwich but, in fact, a two-layered sponge cake filled with jam). If you’re feeling indulgent, “feel free to add whipped cream or buttercream,” Hollywood says.
Looking forward, Hollywood is heading into another judging round of The Great American Baking Show before traveling to Spain to spend time with his father. He’s especially excited about the release of this cookbook, though.
“I want people to get used to [baking] and go through everything, and thoroughly enjoy it,” he acknowledges. And don’t worry about what he might say about your cake — this isn’t a contest, after all.
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