The Queen of Baking
PUBLISHED: 08:05 11 March 2014 | UPDATED: 16:16 26 October 2015
With a following now bigger than most rock stars, the presence of Mary Berry will be one of the biggest attractions at this month’s Big Cake Show. She tells Susan Clark why she said ‘yes’ to coming West and why she thinks Somerset’s food scene is thriving
They call her the Queen of Baking and I suspect she might just pull a bigger crowd than the actual Queen of anything else.
I am talking, naturally, about Mary Berry – the darling of TV’s best baking shows and a woman whose withering look of disappointment in a soggy bake or pastry base can reduce grown men to tears.
Talking about grown men, Mary says that one of the things that is unique about home baking – both the doing and the watching of others doing - is its appeal to all ages and all members of the family; including dads and brothers who she has been reliably informed “will even miss the football” to watch The Great British Bake Off.
I can’t think of another person – except perhaps Harry Potter, and he’s not even real – who has this kind of impact on family viewing and in order to understand her colossal appeal, it is probably best to use a good food analogy.
"It is such a beautiful county that you can easily see why so many people – including lots of good chefs – want to live there"
Cream, it is said, always rises to the top.
And it would appear this is precisely what has happened with Mary-Rosa Alleyne Berry, 78 (and 79 on the 24th of this month) who has been working away in the world of culinary arts for almost six decades, producing some 70 books along the way.
If you caught her recent ITV Life Stories interview you may have reeled from the shock that at one point in her early career she had cooked a cow’s udder for a television task.
Thankfully today, we’re more likely to see her putting the final touches to a divine opera cake or, one of her own favourites, a lemon drizzle.
Mary was born in Bath and attended Bath High School.
She trained at what was the Bath College of Domestic Science and says her two-year course there had an enormous influence on her cooking and what she went on to do next.
It is worth taking note of which are Mary’s own favourite cakes because the Big Cake Show is staging a showstopper cake cooking competition and if Mary turns out to be one of the judges, then my top tip for you is stick to the spiced ginger recipe as shared on her own website or a darn good lemon drizzle since she cites both as being her preferred flavours.
One of the key ideas behind The Big Cake Show is to bring baking, in all its glory, with all its current stars and with a healthy dollop of all the new baking trends to the South West so that we don’t have to trail off to London or Manchester to feel we are part of the baking scene.
And it is this notion that Mary has given her seal of approval.
Mary says she likes that here, in the Westcountry, we work hard to use locally-sourced ingredients (instead of just paying lip service to the idea) because this also means we tend to plan and execute more seasonal menus.
‘We’ in this instance most likely means our top chefs, but she is right that the fact we live in a beautiful location does have an impact on our national foodie profile because it draws lots of the top chefs and also we have a healthy tourist profile which means they have passing trade to sell their food to.
Mary says she is really looking forward to The Big Cake Show which runs 28, 29 & 30 March at Exeter’s Westpoint and so are we. We are looking forward to welcoming our Queen of Baking to the Westcountry, we are looking forward to learning more about upcoming baking trends, we are looking forward to a great day out with the whole family and mostly, we are looking forward to eating some really good cake!
Mary Berry is so switched on she has her own baking app!
You can improve your chances by following some of Mary Berry’s top baking tips..
Q. Why do cakes sink?
A. You have opened the oven door too soon or under-baked your cake.
Q. Why has my cake cracked when baking?
A. Your oven was too hot or your cake was on a rack that was too high, which means the crust formed too soon. The cake carried on rising which caused the crust to crack.
Q. So, how can I tell if my cake is cooked?
A. If you are making a sponge cake, it should be springy to the touch and shrinking slightly from the sides of the tin. You should aim for a cake that is pale and golden brown in colour. If you are making a fruit cake, gently insert a fine skewer, which will come out clean if the cake is properly cooked. The cake should be light brown for a light fruit cake and dark brown for a traditional rich, fruit cake.
Q. Why do some cakes have a speckly top?
A. The baker has used granulated instead of caster sugar. Also, the mixture was not mixed well enough, which means the sugar has not dissolved.
Q. Why do my cakes always seem too dry?
A. You have used too much baking powder or left the cake in the oven for too long.
Q. Why have my
meringues wept on baking (and me too)?
A. You have added your sugar too quickly or added too much sugar all at once.
Q. Why have my meringues stuck to the paper?
A. Your oven was too hot, the whites were not whisked enough or maybe you have used oiled greaseproof paper?
Q. How do you avoid getting a cake rack mark on the top of your cakes?
A. Cover the cake rack itself with a clean tea towel before putting the cake onto it
Q. What early inspiration did you take away with you from your early years in Bath?
A. I trained at what was the Bath College of Domestic Science (now Bath Spa University, I think) and so that two year course had an enormous influence on my cooking and what I went on to do next.
Q. Do you have any favourite places you like to visit when returning home to Somerset?
A. Bath. I still have family and friends there and of course I have those strong connections made during my childhood there.
Q. What do you think
makes Somerset’s food and drink scene thrive in the way it does?
A. It is such a beautiful county that you can easily see why so many people – including lots of good chefs – want to live there. And if the chefs come then that reputation for good food and drink comes too. The number of tourist visitors also helps because you need someone to buy your food but it all starts with what a beautiful place it is.
Q. What do you love most about Somerset?
A. All of the above.
For more fantastic tips and a list of all Mary Berry’s books visit maryberry.co.uk
As the Big Cake Show’s official media partner, the editorial staff of the South West Life magazine titles – including the editors and food writers, - will be attending every day of this fantastic event to meet with our readers and share our joint enthusiasm for good baking and good food. Tickets cost from £12 for as one-day adult entry (£6 for children aged 5-12) and £32 for a family ticket from thebigcakeshow.com
Numbers will be limited to 20,000 across the three-day event so that we avoid any uncomfortable squeeze so don’t leave it too late to book yours.
And watch this space for a special Somerset Life Big Cake Show ticket give away, which we will be running through our social media networks this month. We have just five pairs of tickets to be won. Check our Facebook and Twitter accounts for upcoming details.