Susie Cornelius “You don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to become a good baker, just the motivation to give it a go, and a few little tricks up your sleeve.”
1. Get Inspired
Tune in to The Great British Bake Off, create a WhatsApp group of mates who are watching at the same time, talk to your colleagues or friends about it over a cuppa the next morning. See what people are saying about the show on Twitter and join the conversation. You’ll soon find yourself shouting at the TV like a football fan: “No! Not the salt! He put salt in instead of sugar! Did you see that? He has no idea! This is going to be a disaster!”
Above all, listen and learn. You know Paul and Prue’s cryptic tips before the technical challenge? They’re always worth paying attention to. And the bakers themselves often have a wealth of knowledge to share.
You don’t have to wait for the next series of your favourite cooking programme either, check out the travel and food channels for reruns of old classics. Netflix also has some great flagship food shows.
Dust off your old cookbooks and flip through for ideas, pick up supermarket magazines and use post-its to bookmark bakes you’d like to try. Read baking blogs and save your favourite online recipes using Pinterest. Take a look at The Little Library Café – recipes inspired by the books Kate Young grew up reading.
Looking for vegan friendly options? These days there are plenty of simple, tasty recipes out there – like this one from The Little Blog Of Vegan.
BBC Food has loads of great recipes and you can search by chef, programme and ingredient.
The number one thing to remember when cooking (and the TV chefs are always nagging on this one) is that you have to taste as you cook. A good place to start is by figuring out what flavour combinations you like and what’s already out there.
You want to be a baking pro? It’s a great excuse to eat cake… and lots of it. Even if you’re watching your calorie intake, it’s good to treat yourself every so often.
Take a trip to The Hummingbird Bakery, find your local patisserie, or just pop to your nearest supermarket. Savour your favourites, try something new. There’s a huge array of tastes to discover, with lots of vegan and gluten free options if that’s your bag.
3. Master the basics
Get the basics right and you’re on your way. Build up a shortlist of quick and simple bakes to impress – those go-to recipes for when your in-laws are popping round for tea that afternoon, for the bake sale your kids forget to tell you about until the night before, or when you just need a little treat.
Channel your inner Nigella (dressing gown by midnight fridge light optional) and whip up a batch of emergency brownies.
Build up a baking shelf (or a whole cupboard full) of basic ingredients like flour, baking powder, sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla essence. Make sure there’s always butter in the fridge. Then you’ll only need to pick up a few key bits when it comes to it.
Master a simple Vicky sponge and your friends, family and co-workers will be queuing up (hopefully with a cup of tea in hand). Mary Berry’s perfect Victoria Sandwich is sure to be a firm favourite and is so simple to make.
4. Give it a twist
Once you’ve got the basics down, you can show off a little. Try new flavour combinations, new piping bag nozzles, and artistic designs.
Swirl some passion fruit through your buttercream icing, give your cooled cookies a Jackson Pollock style flick of melted chocolate, or try lemon curd instead of raspberry jam in your sponge.
Making cupcakes? Get the kids involved with the decorating by laying out bowls of different toppings such as sprinkles, chocolate stars or fruity sweets and let them get creative. Or make your cupcakes a little more grown up by adding gin, Baileys or Kahlua to your icing.
5. Practice makes perfect
Use the office bake off or school cake sale to hone your skills in the kitchen. Get a little friendly competition going with your co-workers or mummy friends (competition is healthy, which means baking is healthy, right?)
Start a knead and natter club with your friends for some regular kitchen practice alongside a catch up and gossip sesh. You can bash out any frustrations from the week whilst kneading your dough and have a cup of tea and a good chat whilst waiting for your bread to rise. Try Bake Off series 3 finalist James Morton’s book Brilliant Bread for ideas.
Off the booze? Instead of bringing a bottle of prosecco to your next dinner party, offer to bring dessert. Or organise an afternoon tea with your friends – try Paul Hollywood’s scone recipe and buy a couple of pots of good quality jam and clotted cream.
Baking is a great way to relax, pick up some new skills, and get creative. Sharing your bakes with loved ones is sure to put a smile on their faces and they’ll definitely appreciate the effort and personal touch. There’s no special recipe for success, just give it a go; you might be surprised at how easy it is to create something both simple and special.