Baking – we just can’t seem to get enough of it these days, and TV programmes such as The Great British Bake Off are feeding our addiction to all things cake, bread and pastry. Although it may feel like the baking craze is a reasonably new phenomenon, it has actually been around forever. Or very close to it.
It was in ancient Egypt that baking first began to take shape – in around 2600BC. Although some of the bread was certainly used for eating, much of it was made solely as a sacrifice to the gods, to ensure a good harvest for the coming year. In order to keep the gods happy, sweet cakes and treats were baked as well as bread. It was thought that something sweet would calm any wrathful god’s temper, and stop any hardship from befalling the people.
As time went on, and times got harder, the sweet bakes were considered frivolous and decadent – which is possibly why the Romans loved them so much. By 300BC, it was only the rich and powerful who ate sweet baked goods, and those who made such delicacies were revered.
The first pastry chefs emerged at this time who were known as the pastillarium, and they were in severe competition with one another. Whoever could make the biggest, most elaborate, and most delicious cakes was the best of the best, and was handsomely rewarded by Roman noblemen, and the emperor himself.
As with everything the Romans did, the art of baking soon spread throughout Europe and into Asia, and the idea that bread was the ideal sustenance and anything sweet or ‘pretty’ was for the upper classes continued.
In the Middle Ages in Britain it changed even more; if you had money your bread would be made with the more expensive wheat bread. If you were poor, you had rye bread. It was much tougher to eat, and it certainly didn’t taste as good.
Pies were a big feature of the kitchen by this time, but it was a rare thing for a poor commoner to have enough meat to fill theirs. Being able to make good pastry, therefore, was essential. Bakeries sprang up (it was far too expensive to have a fire working at home simply to cook on) across the country. These bakers would use a cart to take their goods from door to door, selling as they went.
The 15th century saw some major changes in the baking world. With the explosion of spices and different fruits and ingredients that were being brought into the country by merchants, it became possible for the poorer people in society to buy much better tasting bread, and even to indulge in treats made with cream, butter, and fruit. Over the next one hundred years, pioneers in baking began to create recipes that we still use today, and if we could go back in time and see what they were making, we would certainly recognise the pies, buns, loaves and cakes that they created.
Since then there has been no going back. We are officially addicted to baked goods. And as for baking competitions, we’re not so much different to the Romans in that regard – after all, when it comes to The Great British Bake Off, whoever can make the biggest, most elaborate and most delicious creations is handsomely rewarded.
Over the years, The Great British Bake Off has created some stunning pastries, and also some stars. Edd Kimber was the very first winner of the show, and he has come a long way since, with recipe books including Pattiserie Made Simple, Say It With Cake and The Boy Who Bakes. We asked Edd for some of his favourite bakes, and he gave us some wonderful recipes from Patisserie Made Simple, published by Kyle Books, priced £19.99, (photography by Laura Edwards).
For me, these little cakes are brilliant, because the batter can be prepared a couple of days in advance and then baked in no time at all – the perfect prepare-ahead recipe. They are also really versatile. I have flavoured them in all sorts of ways, from mixing cacao nibs into the batter to using a blood-orange glaze, and even dipping them in tempered chocolate.
To get that characteristic shape there are a few things you can do to help. Firstly, chill the batter for at least 3 hours and chill the tray for an hour before baking. Secondly, don’t overfill the mould, as this will result in a plain, domed Madeleine without that classic hump. And thirdly, baking at a relatively high temperature also helps.
2 large eggs
100g caster sugar
100g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus extra for greasing
For the lemon glaze
zest and juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
160g icing sugar, sifted
Put the eggs and the sugar in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer, whisk until thick and pale, about 6–8 minutes. Put the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl and whisk together to combine. Sift a third of the flour mixture over the egg mixture, carefully folding to combine using a spatula, then add the remaining mixture in two additions in the same way.
Take a large spoonful of the batter and add this to a small bowl along with the butter, mixing them together to lighten the butter. Pour the butter mixture into the batter and gently fold together to combine. Press a sheet of clingfilm onto the surface of the batter, then put it in the fridge to chill for at least 3 hours before baking (the mixture can be chilled for up to two days at this stage).
To make the lemon glaze, put the lemon juice, zest and icing sugar in a medium bowl and mix together using a wooden spoon until you have a smooth, pourable glaze. Press a piece of clingfilm onto the surface of the glaze until needed – this will help to prevent it from forming a crust. An hour before baking, grease a 12-hole Madeleine tray very well and dust with a little flour, tapping out the excess. Transfer the tray to the freezer to chill.
Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C fan oven)/gas 7. When you are ready to bake, spoon the batter into the Madeleine moulds. You don’t need to spread it out, as this will happen as the Madeleines bake. Bake for 8–10 minutes until the edges have started to brown. Remove from the oven and immediately turn out onto a wire rack.
Leave to cool for 10 minutes, before dipping into the glaze, coating fully. Allow the excess to drip back into the bowl before setting on the wire rack, set over a piece of baking parchment, to set.
These are best served as close to baking as possible – they are great the day they are baked.
The chocolate sablé is the little black dress of biscuits: reliable, grown-up and with just a little hint of naughtiness! They take no time at all to make, but the rewards are bountiful.
For the sablé dough
275g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon flaked sea salt
200g unsalted butter at room temperature, diced
50g caster sugar
200g light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
175g dark chocolate (60–70 per cent cocoa solids), finely chopped
For the coating
250g dark chocolate (60–70 per cent cocoa solids), tempered
cacao nibs, to sprinkle (optional)
Sift the flour, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda into a medium bowl and add the sea salt, then stir together. Set aside.
Put the butter in large mixing bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat until smooth and light. Add the sugars and vanilla extract, and beat together for 2 minutes until smooth. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and mix together until you have a mixture that looks sandy (which is what sablé means in English), add the chocolate and mix to combine. The final dough should look almost like soil; it should not have formed into one large ball of dough. This is the key to getting the correct texture – mixed for too long the biscuits will be tough.
Tip out the mixture onto a work surface and gently press together to form a uniform dough. Divide in half and roll into two logs, 4cm thick. Wrap in clingfilm and put them in the fridge to chill for 3 hours or until firm. (At this point you can freeze the dough for baking at a later date, or do as I do and bake one half of the dough and freeze the second.)
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan oven)/gas 4 and line three baking trays with baking parchment. Remove the dough from the fridge and, using a thin, sharp knife, cut into rounds about 1cm thick. Put the biscuits onto the baking trays, leaving 2cm between each one. Bake for 10–12 minutes until set around the outside but still soft in the centre.
Leave the biscuits to cool on the trays for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Line a baking tray with baking parchment. Once the biscuits are cool, dip each one halfway into the tempered chocolate, allowing the excess to drip off. Put onto the prepared tray and sprinkle with a few cacao nibs before allowing the chocolate to set fully at room temperature.
The biscuits will keep for up to one week stored in an airtight container.
In 2015, the Bake Off champion was Nadiya Hussein, who has gone on to become a household name when it comes to sweet treats. Her book, Nadiya’s Kitchen, is full of fabulous recipes you can make at home.
Wellington Sausage Rolls
Sausages are my guilty pleasure. I hate admitting it, but I love sausages – there, I said it! Wrapped in flaky puff pastry, surely they’re every girl’s secret dream (apart from a cappuccino-skinned hottie, which is every girl’s other secret dream)? Anyway, these are my beef Wellington sausage rolls. The mushrooms mixed with the sausage make for a darker, meatier flavour. The layer of English mustard gives the sausage rolls a subtle heat once cooked. These are always a winner at kids’ parties, and are even better when they end up in the packed lunch the next day. They freeze really well, so they can be popped in the oven as and when you need them.
30g unsalted butter
100g mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Tabasco, or less if you prefer, depending on your tolerance for heat
6 large beef sausages, taken out of the skins
a pinch of fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
plain flour, for dusting
450g puff pastry (shop bought, or you can make your own)
4 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
1 medium egg, beaten
sea salt flakes, to sprinkle
Prep: 20 minutes / Cook: 25 minutes.
Can be frozen before or after baking.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C.
Put the butter and the mushrooms in a small frying pan over a medium heat, and cook the mushrooms until they are soft and any moisture has evaporated. Put them in a bowl and leave to cool completely.
Once the mushrooms have cooled, add the Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, sausage meat, salt and pepper. Give everything a good mix by hand, and set aside.
Dust your surface with flour and roll the puff pastry out into a long wide rectangle approximately 25 x 35cm. Then cut down the middle lengthways to give you three long rectangles.
Brush the pastry rectangles with a generous layer of wholegrain mustard, making sure to leave a gap of 1cm along the long edges.
Brush the exposed edges with the beaten egg. Down the centre of the pastry rectangles, lay out a generous line of sausage meat. Encase the filling with the pastry, making a seam joined with egg wash, underneath the roll.
Brush the three rolls in egg wash, and give them a light sprinkling of sea salt flakes. Cut each long roll into 8–10 pieces. Place the small rolls on a baking sheet and bake for 15–20 minutes, until golden on the outside, making sure the meat on the inside is cooked through.
Parsnip and Orange Spiced Cake
Now, before you say it – yes, there are parsnips in this cake. My parents love a good carrot cake, but when it’s the only thing they ask me to bake because they are not adventurous enough for much else… well, I had to change it up just for my own creative sanity. Carrots may give colour, but parsnips add a similar flavour and sweetness with a whole lot more fragrance, so this isn’t as bold and daring as it might sound from the title. It’s a moist and delicious cake, and an excellent alternative to carrot. You could also give this recipe a go with courgette or beetroot. They all add different things and work equally well.
For the sponge
230g self-raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons ground mixed spice
200g caster sugar
100g walnuts, chopped, plus extra for topping
3 medium eggs
150ml sunflower oil
500g parsnips, peeled, ends trimmed and coarsely grated
zest of 2 oranges, plus extra for decoration
For the frosting
50g unsalted butter, softened
200g full-fat cream cheese
150g icing sugar
zest of 1 orange
Prep: 25 minutes / Cook: 30 minutes.
Sponges can be frozen.
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C. Grease and line the base of two 20.5cm sandwich tins with baking paper.
In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and mixed spice. Add the caster sugar and chopped walnuts, mix through with a wooden spoon, and set aside.
Put the eggs and sunflower oil in a different bowl, and beat for a few minutes. Now mix all the dry ingredients into the egg and oil mixture, along with the grated parsnips and orange zest. Mix everything together until you have a thick batter; about 2 minutes.
Divide the mixture between the two cake tins, and level it off using a spatula. Bake for 25–30 minutes. The cakes should be golden, and a skewer inserted into the centre should come out clean.
Leave the cakes in the tins for 10 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack and peel off the baking paper. Leave to cool completely.
To make the frosting: In a bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon then add the cream cheese and icing sugar. Beat until it all comes together, but be careful not to overdo it, or the frosting will become runny.
Leave the frosting in the fridge until you need it, if your kitchen is really warm.
Take your cooled cakes and sandwich them together using the frosting. Top the cake with lashings of frosting and sprinkle with walnuts, and some extra orange zest.