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Bake Off's Andrew wants to bring world of engineering to TV

By Margaret Canning

It's been quite a year for Great British Bake Off finalist Andrew Smyth from Co Down.

He'll soon be flying home to Holywood for Christmas after a packed year of baking and keeping up his day job as an aerospace engineer at Rolls-Royce in England.

"It's been very busy. I'm kind of leading a double life because I'm doing four days a week engineering and the other three are Bake Off-related things," he said.

The 25-year-old even managed to impress the Duke of Cambridge when he baked a cake in the shape of a Rolls-Royce jet engine to mark the Royal's visit to the firm in Derby last month.

But despite a continued love of baking and desire to spread the word - including sharing a recipe for German lebkuchen biscuits with readers today - he told the Belfast Telegraph he doesn't aim for a long-term career in it.

Instead, his ambition lies in broadcasting - though not by giving Bake Off professional judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood a run for their money with his own food show.

Instead, he wants to popularise engineering and technology through TV, following in the footsteps of scientists-turned-celebrities like Brian Cox.

And he joked at his eagerness to get involved: "I think TV moves quite slowly and it's about being in the right rooms with the right people... people don't always know what a varied career engineering can be and I think there is demand for someone in that space, so here I am, waving my arms, and I'm ready to jump."

Andrew's already notching up the TV appearances, with demonstrations on BBC's Christmas Kitchen, an interview with the Nolan Show on TV last night and his second appearance on Lorraine on ITV today.

"I have always loved baking and I've always had a sweet tooth, and I just loved taking part in the Great British Bake Off. But what I would really love to do is bring engineering and technology to a bigger audience using TV as it's already been done with science," he said.

He added he had been experimenting with his baking and passing on the results to his three housemates in Derby and to colleagues at Rolls-Royce.

Andrew impressed Bake Off viewers with his semi-autiobiographical bakes, such as a gingerbread scene he named Punting on the Cam, inspired by his time at Cambridge University. Local viewers were also gratified when he made some chocolate barmbrack.

His Great British Bake Off experience turned out to be an historic one, as it was the last of the programme's seven series to be broadcast by the BBC.

As it was being transmitted in the autumn, a heated row began between the BBC and maker Love Productions, resulting in the latter selling the format to Channel 4 for £75m.

But the show was pre-recorded some months before being shown in the early autumn.

Controversy over Bake Off culminated in an outcry when Hollywood chose to move with the show to Channel 4.

"It totally took us by surprise, as we hadn't known any of that was in the pipeline. But it will be exciting to see what new direction it will go in... sometimes it's exciting and fresh to have a change," said Andrew.

Berry and the show's presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc opted not to move and left the Bake Off kitchen.

Andrew is part of a close-knit family.

His father Nigel is a familiar face in public life in Northern Ireland as the former regional director of business organisation the CBI, although he recently retired from the post after 25 years.

His mother Kay is a retired languages teacher, while younger brother Jamie (22) is studying architecture at Queen's University.

Andrew's no one-trick pony, as he is a member of two choirs in Derby - Derby Bach choir and Sitwell Singers - and has also taken part in amateur theatre.

His appearances on the 12-week Great British Bake Off featured recipes inspired by his parents, as well as grandmother Helen McDowell.

And, as with all the other finalists, Andrew's family members travelled to England for the show's final.

The Duke of Cambridge was so impressed by Andrew's creation on his visit to the Derby factory that he observed: "You should have won."

But Andrew is happy with how things turned out and maintains contact with all the contestants in the show, including winner Candice Brown.

And he also has fond memories of Mel and Sue's lively jokes in the baking tent.

"They provided much needed comic relief and always reminded you that, at the end of the day, it's just cake," he said.

Chocolate-dipped lebkuchen

MAKES 25-30

Lebkuchen seem to have grown in popularity these past few years, and rightfully so. I first came across them at the Christmas market in Belfast and was smitten. I love the added chewiness compared to a classic gingerbread. These make great little gifts and require very little kit to make — exactly what you want during the hustle and bustle of the festive season. I’m not sure I’ve ever pronounced lebkuchen entirely correctly, but who cares when they’re  this moreish?

Ingredients

250g plain flour

90g ground almonds

1 tsp mixed spice

2 tsp ginger

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

200g honey

85g salted butter

Zest 1 naval orange

½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)

150g plain chocolate

Any special equipment?

Just some baking trays, the larger the better. 

Method

Preheat the oven to fan 160C. Line whatever large baking trays you have with baking parchment or (even better) silicone liners. Into a large mixing bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients and stir to combine, then make a well in the centre. Add the honey and butter to a small pan and melt over a medium heat. Once melted, add the orange zest and vanilla and combine.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the well and mix until a stiff but wet dough is formed. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and set aside for 20 minutes to cool down.

Take small teaspoonful-sized balls of the dough (21g each for those precision bakers out there) and roll between your hands into 3cm-wide balls and place these on the baking tray. Make sure to leave at least an inch or so between them as they’ll spread in the oven.

Bake in 160C fan oven for 15 mins. Lebkuchen should be golden brown with a slightly cracked domed top. Move to a cooling rack.

Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie or in a microwave (tempering isn’t that essential for this bake) until runny. Dip the lebkuchen individually into the chocolate, either just the bases, just the domes or the whole thing, and set onto baking parchment until dry. If dipping the whole thing, increase the chocolate to 250g to make sure you have enough.

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