Originally published in Arkadia magazine, November 2014.
With the Great British Bake Off inspiring a nation, a new book about to hit the shelves and a tour taking to the road, we thought it was about time we had a chat with Paul Hollywood to find out a little more about the world of TV’s baking star…
Paul and I can both remember growing up on shows like The Galloping Gourmet, which was extremely popular at the time, but these days cookery shows like GBBO enjoy cult status. But what is it about baking that has captured the public’s imagination? “I think it’s because it’s accessible,” says Paul. “Nine times out of ten, you’ll find that you already have the ingredients you need in the cupboard. If you want to zhoosh it up a bit, you might need to pop to the shops, but the basic ingredients are usually right there. It’s so cheap to bake too – the average cake will cost around 60-70p to make and it will serve eight people. You’d have trouble cooking a meal for that. I love reminding people just how easy it is to bake something and there’s also a great feeling of nostalgia attached to baking.”
With the delay between the filming and screening of GBBO, I’ve often wondered if it’s like living in a permanent state of Déjà vu, especially when it comes to situations like ‘Bingate’, which became headline news after the episode was screened earlier this year. “The length of time between filming an episode and the time it is shown on TV is around 2½ months,” explains Paul. “It was a bit like Déjà vu to start off with, but after doing the show for five years, you get used to it and it becomes a way of life. I do sometimes have to think ‘Can I answer that yet?’ or ‘Oh, hold on, how do I answer that?’ when I get asked about particular incidents.
Talking of ‘Bingate’, I had to ask if Diana was really to blame for Ian’s Baked Alaska fail? “No,” Paul insisted, “Ian was way behind and it was never going to work anyway. There just wasn’t enough time for him to finish. There was no way that his ice cream being out of the freezer for such a short time made any difference!”
One of the attractions of GBBO is the on-screen relationship that exists between Paul and co-host Mary Berry, but are they still friends when the camera stops rolling? “Mary really is as lovely as she seems and we get on really well,” Paul reassured me. “You can’t act the way we work together on screen – we just genuinely get on that well. I really don’t know why the relationship works – but it does! We have a right laugh and always look after each other and if we stay behind after the show, we’ll always go out for a meal together afterwards.”
Speaking to Paul about his new book, Paul Hollywood’s British Baking, which is packed full of favourite recipes such as Cornish pasties and Bakewell tarts, I asked if we would ever run out of new things to try. “The interesting thing about that question is that there are no new recipes,” replied Paul. “If someone tells you they’ve invented a new recipe, don’t listen, it will just be a modern spin on an old recipe. In the book, I’m revisiting classic dishes – just putting new twists to them. The only area where we are seeing something new is flavour combinations. We all like to try new combinations and that is something that keeps these classics alive.”
Paul is returning to the stage with his hugely successful live show this autumn, having played to over 30,000 fans with his first tour, Get your Bake On. With dates across the country, the tour will bring Paul to Poole’s Lighthouse for an evening of baking, comedy and fun. “We’re going a bit more festive this time round with festive recipes and a bit more banter and more of a giggle! We’ll also be inviting people up on stage, setting them a challenge and getting the audience to judge their efforts.”
As ‘TV’s sexiest baker’, I wondered if Paul receives a rock star reception when he’s out and about on these live shows. Does he get knickers thrown on stage mid-bake? After the laughter subsides, Paul explains: “I was a bit shocked when we first started the tour. We’d go to leave via the stage door and there would be 80 people waiting for me. I wasn’t expecting that! The audience reaction is always really nice, we have a good laugh and people are always really generous with their comments about the show.”
So what is next for Mr Hollywood? Paul didn’t give the game away completely but he did say that he was working on a project with the BBC about another of his passions – a passion that would see him leave for the Isle of Man later that day. The Great British Bike Off? Watch this space…
For tickets to see Paul on his British Baking Live Tour go to http://www.paulhollywood.com and his book, Paul Hollywood’s British Baking, is published by Bloomsbury, £25.
Paul’s Soda Bread Recipe
Ireland’s most famous bread is made with two of its oldest foods, wheat and buttermilk. The acid in the buttermilk reacts with the bicarbonate of soda and creates the rise. If you have kids, do teach them how to make soda bread, because it’s great to be able to put a loaf on the table within 45 minutes. Once you’ve mastered it, try adding some grated Wexford cheese (vintage Irish Cheddar) and chopped raw onion to the dough.
Makes 1 small loaf
250g plain white flour
250g plain wholemeal flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
About 400ml buttermilk
- Heat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.
- Put the flours, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl and mix well. Make a well in the centre and pour in half the buttermilk. Using your fingers or a round-bladed knife, draw the flour into the buttermilk. Continue to add the buttermilk until all the flour has been absorbed and you have a sticky dough. You may not need all the buttermilk – it depends on the flour you use.
- Tip the dough out on to a lightly floured surface, shape it into a ball and flatten it slightly with the palm of your hand. It is important to work quickly, as once the buttermilk is added it begins to react with the bicarbonate of soda.
- Put the dough on the baking tray. Mark into quarters with a large, sharp knife, cutting deeply through the loaf, almost but not quite through to the base. Dust the top with flour.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the base. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Eat on the day of baking – or toast it the next day.