As fate would have it, journalist Sarah Rainey had just embarked on a new job at the Daily Telegraph when she told her features editor about an intriguing new TV show about baking.
Little did the Belfast-born writer (32) know that her fascination with The Great British Bake Off would shape her journalistic career and eventually lead her to publish a series of cookbooks.
"The first feature I ever wrote at the Daily Telegraph was about The Great British Bake Off," she recalls.
"I'd just been watching it and I remember just saying to the features editor, 'There's this programme, it's all about cake and it's really good, it's really addictive'. And the first feature I ever wrote was about Bake Off - so it was probably all destined to be.
"And then I just wrote about it repeatedly, year after year, and then one year they said, 'Do you want to come and make a cake for Mary Berry'? So it was me and some bloke from The Sun, and I beat him, my cake was the best, that was all I cared about!"
Sarah admits Paul Hollywood was a "little bit meaner" and tougher to please, but Mary was wonderful.
"I made a sticky ginger cake which was just my own recipe - it's like a kind of sticky, syrupy gingerbread cake with lemon drizzle icing. I'm making myself hungry just talking about it!" she says.
"But that properly set me on my path. I thought if Mary likes my cake, maybe other people might like my cake, too."
Ten years on from that fateful first day at the Daily Telegraph, Sarah has gone freelance, is celebrating her son Charlie's first birthday and has been commandeering her in-laws' kitchen in lockdown as she publishes her latest recipe book - Six Minute Showstoppers.
"I'm a freelance journalist as my main, go-to day job, and then I cook every spare minute in between. This is kind of a side hustle, but if I could just do it for a living, I would 100% - but it doesn't really pay the bills," she admits.
Her previous recipe book focused on three-ingredient cooking, and these recipes aim to cut the time spent slaving over a mixing bowl.
"It just kind of came about because I've got less time than I did before, and I really want to bake.
"The brilliant thing about three-ingredient baking is that you don't need too many ingredients, but then I used to find some of the recipes were taking ages," Sarah explains.
"So it was just the idea of trying to find another way that would make baking in particular a bit more accessible to people.
"Although we're at home and we're not having to go out, people are trying to juggle work and homeschooling kids and there's so much going on at the moment that actually no one has the time to spend hours slaving over a cake or trying to do something elaborate.
"So the idea was just to be able to make really tasty things, but in a really short space of time, and Six Minute Showstoppers was born from that idea, that baking should still be easy and accessible and not cost the earth, but also it can be really speedy as well."
These days, the Belfast-born writer lives in Greenwich with her husband, Michael Hilton (34), and one-year-old son, Charlie, but has been locked down in Suffolk with her in-laws after what was supposed to be a brief break.
"We brought enough stuff for a week and my in-laws live in Suffolk, which is only about an hour and a half from London," Sarah explains.
"Come that Monday night and suddenly there's this announcement to stay at home. We didn't think it would be the wisest to trek back to London and be unpacking stuff and, especially with a little boy, we just kind of thought it's better out here, it's safer.
"And it's really nice, we're getting used to countryside living - Charlie's getting used to insects and bugs and flowers and trees and they've got a dog here, which was his first word.
"All these things are happening that wouldn't have happened if lockdown hadn't come upon us quite so quickly. I miss my mum and dad, and I'd love to just be able to come home and see them. It's very hard for them not being able to see Charlie growing up - they've missed his first birthday party.
"But it's been fine, my in-laws have been lovely, really nice and really supportive of the book coming out and me having to keep taking over the kitchen to make cakes and videos - they're being very tolerant."
If Sarah's surname sounds familiar to Northern Irish readers, it is - her dad, Philip, is a former rugby fullback who was capped for Ireland and helped bring Ulster to a Ravenhill victory over Australia back in 1984.
"Needless to say, I did not get any sporting genes from my father - all the rest of my family are very sporty," she laughs.
What she did inherit - from her late granny Kay - was a passion for baking.
"Pretty much all my early memories are being round at her house and her always having something on the go - scones, soda bread, wheaten bread. I just always remember her cooking in the kitchen, and there's bits of flour everywhere, on her hands, on the floor.
"I do remember as a child just thinking it's real magic, that you get these raw ingredients, you mix them in the bowl, you put it in the oven and the thing that comes out is just the most amazing, delicious thing that doesn't look at all like what you put in there. And I always remember that kind of magic, like alchemy."
Sarah lived in Belfast until she was 18 and then studied law at Cambridge, before moving to London and completing a masters degree in journalism.
"I went away and lived in Spain for a year as part of the Erasmus programme, which now I think isn't going to exist because of this EU leaving business. When I was in Madrid, in my third year of university, I started working for a magazine in my spare time."
Sarah met Michael at a party in second year and they've now been together for 15 years.
"I just remember I had far too much to drink one night and he made me tea and toast, and I thought that's the man I'd like to marry," Sarah laughs.
After Cambridge, the couple moved to London with a big group of their friends.
"We moved into a big shared house - there were five of us and we just stayed there for the first three years, so it sort of felt like a continuation of university and it wasn't too daunting," Sarah says.
"I love London. I got used to it quite quickly, the pace of life, the commuting, the noise, all of that. I just really liked it because it was different to home and it just felt really exciting."
Sarah spent a year on the Daily Telegraph's graduate training programme: "I spent six months there and six months at the Belfast Telegraph as a placement and I just moved back to Northern Ireland for six months, which was lovely.
"After that year had passed, I became a features writer at the Daily Telegraph and then stayed there for five years."
Mary Berry was a highlight of her time there - and the late Sir Terry Wogan.
"I think it was the last interview he did before he sadly died," Sarah says.
"I was so, so starstruck and he couldn't have been lovelier. He invited me into his home and I sat down and had tea with him and his wife and we walked around the garden and it was lovely. They were just the loveliest, loveliest couple so that was a real highlight."
In 2016, Sarah moved to the Daily Mail, where she concentrated on food writing.
As part of that role, she was often asked to work up recipes for articles, and discovered how much she loved recipe writing.
"So I had a chat with an agent, pitched some ideas and three-ingredient baking was actually something I'd been looking into for an article. I pitched it to the agent, she pitched it to Penguin, and suddenly I found myself having to write 100 recipes.
"I was working all week, planning my bakes and doing ingredient shopping in the evenings and then I'd spend 7am to 7pm Saturday and Sunday just baking like crazy.
"There was lots of experimenting, lots of things that went well, lots of things that went wrong, lots of cake given away to anyone who would take it, friends, family, neighbours, colleagues. But I got there in the end, it was quite a slog, but I really enjoyed it.
"I worked at the Daily Mail until 2018, and then left just to go freelance because I just had enough of being in an office - I needed to be on my own terms for a little while."
After Charlie was born, no one slept for nine months, Sarah says, but the day times made up for it.
"It's kind of helpful being a good baker at times like that, because you just need sugar to get you through," she laughs.
"He's awesome now, he's really fun.
"I've tried to avoid giving him anything sweet apart from his first birthday when I let him have his first taste of cake, and he really liked it, which is quite alarming.
"I think becoming a mum definitely makes you put things a bit more in perspective - I find life's busier, but not necessarily more stressful. And baking is a very good kind of go-to me time at the end of a busy day."
As for the new recipes, they lend themselves to lockdown life, Sarah says.
"There's a good mix like sweet and savoury, but there's a whole chapter on things you can make in the microwave, and these are whole proper six-eight person cakes.
"There's a pizza you can make in a frying pan, a pavlova you can make in the microwave, there's ice cream you can make in a freezer bag - you put the ingredients into your freezer bag and mix them up with various bits and bobs and they freeze before your very eyes.
"So there's things that are actually really fun for kids to do if you're stuck at home and trying to entertain your children. Whether you're five or 95, there are things for everyone in there, I hope."
The heritage helps though - Sarah believes Northern Ireland is home to the best bakers in the world.
"I think Northern Ireland has such a good ethos when it comes to home baking and passing things on to generations, passing recipes down - and so I was 100% inspired by my roots," she says.
"I think local baking is often quite overlooked. Especially when it comes to making a showstopper, people think maybe the French are good at that or I should look further afield, but actually if you look to local baking, the things that we make at home, that our grannies have been making for decades, are actually really delicious and you can make them look so impressive."
Six Minute Showstoppers, £14.99, is published by Penguin, available now from Amazon, Waterstones and all good book shops. It is also available for instant download on Kindle
Made in a ﬂash, on a ﬂatbread or leftover tortilla wrap, this mini skinny pizzetta is ideal ﬁnger food for parties - or as a yummy dinner for one. I've kept my recipe veggie, with mozzarella and chargrilled veg, but you can add whatever toppings you want.
What you'll need
2 tbsp shop-bought pesto
1 large ﬂatbread or tortilla (you can also use naan bread)
125g ball of mozzarella
180g pot of roasted mixed veg (I use chargrilled peppers, tomatoes and courgette)
A handful of fresh rocket
A generous grind of black pepper
Put a knob of butter in a large ovenproof frying pan - with a circumference big enough to fit the whole flatbread - and put it on the hob over a high heat.
You're ready to start once the butter is melted and sizzling. You'll also need to preheat the grill to high.
Spread 1 tbsp pesto over the ﬂatbread and place it, pesto side up, in the hot pan.
Slice the mozzarella and arrange this over the ﬂatbread, along with slices of mixed veg. Dot the remaining 1 tbsp pesto over the top, followed by the black pepper.
Leave the pizzetta to cook in the pan for a minute or so until it starts sizzling.
Transfer the frying pan to the grill, placing it on the highest oven shelf. Let the pizzetta cook for a further 4 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the ﬂatbread is crisp and golden around the edges.
Serve topped with the fresh rocket. It's best eaten on the day it's made, but the pizzetta can be reheated (by placing it under the grill for another few minutes) if you want to make it ahead and crisp it up later.
Experiment with different ﬂavours of pesto (sun-dried tomato or red pepper pesto work well) and toppings: sliced mushrooms, heritage tomatoes, spinach, Parmesan and Parma ham are all classics. You could even make a sweet version by slathering the ﬂatbread with chocolate spread or peanut butter instead of pesto and topping it with fresh fruit.
A bite of these fluffy, fruity cupcakes is like a mouthful of summer. The bubbles in the Pimm's act as a raising agent, working together with the self-raising flour to make the sponge light and airy like a fairy cake - the perfect post-BBQ treat for grown-ups.
What you'll need
125g unsalted butter, softened
150g golden caster sugar
60ml ready-mixed Pimm's
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
150g self-raising ﬂour, sifted
For the icing/decoration:
30g unsalted butter, softened
200g icing sugar
25ml ready-mixed Pimm's
6 strawberries, halved
12 sprigs of fresh mint
You'll need 12 silicone cupcake moulds (better than paper as they hold their shape when cooking) and a flat, microwaveable plate to bake them on. An electric whisk is good, if you have one, and a piping bag or sandwich bag with a small hole (approx. 1cm) snipped in one corner is needed for icing the cupcakes.
Beat the butter and sugar together, using the whisk.
In a separate bowl, loosely beat the eggs with the Pimm's and citrus zest.
Add half the egg mixture along with half the ﬂour to the butter and sugar, and combine fully before adding the other half.
Divide half the batter between six cupcake cases, spaced out on the microwave-proof plate.
Don't ﬁll them too much - a heaped tablespoon in each is enough - or they'll overﬂow as they bake.
Bake for 2 minutes on high, then repeat with the other six. The cakes should rise in domes to the tops of the cases and turn golden when they're done.
While the cupcakes bake, make the icing.
Whisk the butter, icing sugar and Pimm's together to make a light, ﬂuffy buttercream.
Allow the cakes to cool slightly before piping mounds of buttercream on top of each and ﬁnishing with half a strawberry and a sprig of mint.
Serve immediately - with a tall glass of Pimm's (you don't want any going to waste, after all). They'll keep for 2 to 3 days in an airtight container.