Bake Off star Frances on the moment in the hit show that really took the biscuit ...
The 2013 winner, Frances Quinn, was heavily slated at the time for choosing 'style over substance'. She's now back with her debut baking book, and nothing will curb her creativity, she tells Ella Walker
Frances Quinn says with a laugh "There's only so long you can talk, in everyday life, about how much cinnamon you like in your buns before someone's like, 'Okay, enough'," says.
The former Joules designer is giddily recalling the joy of spending a summer in the Great British Bake Off tent, nattering with her fellow bakers, who were all as obsessed with ingredients as she is.
Despite weekly digs from judges Paul 'twinkly eyes' Hollywood and Mary Berry for going all-out on style, sometimes at the expense of substance, Quinn still claimed the Bake Off crown (well, apron) in 2013, and since then has created a slew of tasty public masterpieces - including piano shortbread for Jools Holland, a giant Club biscuit surrounded with sweet Bombay mix for indie band Bombay Bicycle Club, and even a cheesecake inspired by Matisse.
Now, finally, the 33-year-old is releasing her first book, aptly named Quintessential Baking and packed full of cakes and sweet treats.
"I suppose the book is like my baking: that mix of baking and design, so the ingredients are as important as the ideas," she says.
Born in Northampton, Quinn was baking by the age of five, and spent hours in her father's bookshop in Market Harborough - where she still lives - poring over Quentin Blake's illustrations and Roald Dahl's fantastical tales ("That stuff really did capture my imagination").
It wasn't until she began working at Joules as a childrenswear designer, that making cakes for friends turned into blogging about cakes, and then one particular bake - a secret squirrel cake made for a very pregnant colleague - had the entire office clamouring for her to sign up for Bake Off.
"Everyone was like, 'Oh my God', when I cut into that cake and there was a squirrel inside it. That was where it took a real creative slant," she remembers. "It's just snowballed from there."
While no longer at Joules, she's adamant she's designing as much now as ever. "But I'm designing with food, rather than fabric," she notes. "It's just a different medium to be creative with."
Quintessential Baking is, of course, unapologetically heavy on the design front. "I think that was the thing with 'style over substance'," Quinn says ruefully. "If I had gone, 'Okay, I'm going to completely ignore the design and the creative part of my brain', I always thought I may as well have left the Bake Off tent, because I wouldn't have been being true to myself as a baker."
As such, the book even has its own colour palette and colour-coordinated props. And the level of detail is extreme - from coffee and walnut cakes in disposable coffee cups, to mini 'fried egg' lemon cakes and paw-printed marmalade cat-flapjacks.
Still, there were a few mishaps along the way, she reveals - Quinn won't be travelling with meringues again any time soon, that's for sure - but nothing compares to the levels of stress she experienced in the Bake Off tent though. "It was literally pandemonium, it was just insane," she recalls. "The tent is just mocked up, so the floor is really bumpy and bouncy because you'd got so many camera guys running around.
"I remember when we were doing egg custard tarts, the floor was literally a bouncy castle." She counts her competition-winning wedding cake as a major highlight on the show, but it was "getting the Hollywood handshake for my cauliflower cheese scones" that really took the biscuit.
"Time and fridge space are the enemy on that show," she says.
"You have to run on your adrenaline and just deal with things when they don't go right and be able to change tack, and go, 'Okay, I'll have to think of something else'."
Quintessential Baking by Frances Quinn is published by Bloomsbury,£25
Coffee Shot Cup Cakes
What you'll need
3 tbsp instant coffee
3 tbsp boiling water
3 tbsp whole milk
150g light muscovado sugar
150g self-raising flour
150g walnuts, toasted and chopped
For the coffee syrup:
Half tbsp instant coffee
50ml boiling water
50g caster sugar
Half tbsp coffee liqueur
For the topping:
Few drops of vanilla extract
50g icing sugar
Dash of milk or cream
Cocoa powder (to decorate)
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with espresso-sized paper cups.
Mix the coffee with the hot water, then stir in the milk. Set aside to cool.
Beat the butter and sugar together until very light and creamy (10-15 minutes). The mixture will turn from a rich toffee brown, to a pale cafe-au-lait shade.
Beat the eggs together and gradually add to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, beating well after each addition. Add a spoonful of flour if it looks like it’s going to curdle. Sift in the flour and fold until just combined, then stir in the chopped walnuts.
Spoon the mixture into the paper cups and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cakes have risen and a skewer pushed into the centre comes out clean.
While the cakes bake, make the syrup. Put the coffee in a small pan, add the boiling water and stir to dissolve the granules. Stir in the sugar. Set the pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for a few minutes or until the sugar is completely dissolved and you are left with a runny syrup. Remove from the heat and stir in the liqueur, if using.
Once the cakes are baked, remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for five minutes. During this time, prick them all over with a cocktail stick and brush over the coffee syrup using a paint or pastry brush, allowing the syrup to soak into the sponge. Use about half a tablespoon of syrup per cup.
Remove the cakes from the tin, still in their cups, and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Beat the mascarpone, vanilla and icing sugar together until creamy, adding a dash of milk or cream if necessary. Spoon some on to each cake and decorate with cocoa.
What you'll need
100g golden caster sugar
Zest of one orange
2tbsp shredless marmalade
200g porridge oats
20g dark chocolate - orange-flavoured if you like
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Put the butter, sugar, orange zest and marmalade in a pan over a medium heat and warm, stirring occasionally, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Take the saucepan off the heat and stir in the oats, combining thoroughly.
Spoon the mixture into a lined 12-hole muffin tin — you’ll need about 37g of mixture in each hole, which will mean each hole is just under half full. Level the mixture with the back of a teaspoon. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Leave to cool. Melt the dark chocolate and paint a chocolate pawprint on the top of each flapjack. Leave to set before serving.
Fried Egg Cakes
What you'll need
50g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
50g self-raising flour
1 tbsp ground almonds
1 tbsp lemon juice
For the fried eggs:
50g icing sugar
Half tbsp lemon juice
25g orange curd
Makes 24 mini cakes
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Line a 24-hole mini-muffin tin with muffin cases.
Beat the butter and sugar together for five to 10 minutes until very light, pale and creamy. Add the lemon zest.
Beat the egg and gradually add it to the creamed butter and sugar mixture. Sift the flour and almonds into the bowl and fold them in until just combined. Stir in the lemon juice. Spoon the mixture equally into the muffin cases.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the cakes are risen and lightly golden brown.
Leave the cakes to cool in the tin for five minutes before transferring them, still in their paper cases, to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the fried eggs, sift the icing sugar into a bowl and stir in a little lemon juice, a few drops at a time, until you have a smooth, thick paste.
Spoon the icing on to the top of each cake creating an uneven shape that looks like the white of a fried egg.
Apply a blob of orange curd to the centre of each egg and leave to set.
Serve in egg boxes.