Want to be a brilliant baker with just three ingredients? Belfast cookery writer Sarah Rainey says its simple
By day Sarah Rainey works as a journalist for a national newspaper but by night she has been cooking up a publishing storm, devising the recipes for her fabulous new book Three Ingredient Baking. Stephanie Bell finds out more
As a wannabe baker who has the knack of turning rock cakes into sponges and fairy cakes into biscuits, a new foolproof baking recipe book by Northern Ireland journalist Sarah Rainey seems the answer to my kitchen nightmare.
Sarah has redefined the art of baking with her first book which she says will have me producing mouth-watering creations worthy of a Bake Off finalist.
The secret to success Sarah-style is simplicity as summed up in the title of her new book - Three Ingredient Baking.
Sarah has spent over a year in the kitchen of her London home devising more than 100 scrumptious sweet and savoury bakes, every one of which can be made using just three ingredients.
She says: "It really is designed for people who have tried baking and found that it hasn't worked for them. I also hope it will encourage men to start baking - and teenagers and even children can't go wrong with the recipes either."
Sarah (30) grew up in Belfast and has been living in London for 10 years where she works as a feature writer for the Daily Mail.
Her dad, Philip, who runs his own wind turbine business, is a former Ireland rugby star was in New Zealand at the World Cup on June 5, 1987, when his oldest daughter came into the world.
Sarah has a twin brother and sister, David and Anna, who are 29.
Sarah puts her love of baking down to her mum Susan and her grandmother. She started baking at the age of five and has been passionate about it ever since. Today she says it is her way of unwinding after a day at work.
"My earliest memories are of baking with my grandma," she says. "I remember standing on a stool beside her in the kitchen and she would have these big floury hands and her apron on and would encourage me to dig my hands in.
"She also taught mum to bake and I would have baked with mum, too.
"From I was about 10 years old I would have been baking my own cakes for things like my dad's birthday and making stuff for school fairs and sports day.
"I have such a sweet tooth and baking is the thing I adore. There is not a week goes by that I don't bake something. I find it so relaxing to just come home from work and make a batch of cookies or a cake or a loaf of bread. For me it is nostalgic and comforting."
Sarah hadn't planned on a career as a writer. In fact, she studied law at university and had ambitions to be a lawyer. All that changed, however, when she took a year out of her degree course to spend in Madrid.
She got a job with an English speaking newspaper and discovered a love for writing. She completed her law degree and enrolled in a university in London to do a Masters in Journalism.
She met her husband Michael Hilton (32) 12 years ago while still a student and the couple married in 2015.
Michael is a former civil servant who has just retrained for a new career in social enterprise.
Shortly after graduating Sarah secured a place on the Daily Telegraph's graduate trainee programme and as part of her training, spent six months as a news reporter with the Belfast Telegraph in 2010.
She worked for the Daily Telegraph for six years and left to join the Daily Mail as a feature writer three years ago.
As well as general features she is known for writing about food and all things related to cooking and baking.
"I adore writing. I love telling people's stories and I love writing about food," she says. "When you are writing about food you can be really descriptive and I also write about new kitchen trends and kitchen gadgets, and try to come up with crazy new recipes.
"I've also tried to recreate some of the marvellous things from Bake Off from the point of view of a normal person making them.
"I love to experiment with baking and I would be inspired by things which I see on TV and on Instagram. I love trying new ingredients and I find it is fun to experiment and try to put my own twist on things. If they don't work out fine, at least I tried. "
It was while researching food online that Sarah was inspired to create her new book. She came across a Japanese food blogger who had created a cheesecake using just three ingredients - white chocolate, eggs and cream cheese.
She tried it out and was astonished at how delicious it was and how simple it was to make.
The challenge of trying to create similar recipes using just three ingredients took hold and Sarah spent hours every week for over a year in her kitchen coming up with new ideas which have made up her very first cookbook.
"I was really inspired by that cheesecake and it made me realise how baking had become quite complicated," she says.
"Things like Victoria sponges, scones and shortbread have been replaced by towering croquembouches, multi-coloured macaroons and 12-tiered meringue masterpieces.
"It can be quite scary for people who don't bake.
"Even market stalls and charity bake sales have become catwalks for the most extravagant sugary wares, while the internet brims with images of mouth-watering creations baked by home chefs around the world.
"I just felt it had changed from a homely hobby to something of an elite art form, making it often intimidating to those who've never tried it before.
"I actually sat and totted up the number of ingredients in the recipes in my favourite baking books at home: Delia Smith, Mary Berry, Nigella Lawson and the rest. Astonishingly, the average per recipe was 14.
"And this is where my new book, Three Ingredient Baking, came in. My aim with these recipes is to help people to whip up brilliant, show stopping cakes, biscuits, breads, tray bakes and savoury snacks that will look just as good as the ones on Bake Off using three simple ingredients that most people already have at home.
"These can be anything, from an open jar of peanut butter to a handful of flour, a few digestive biscuits or a can of lemonade. It is about taking it back to basics."
All of Sarah's recipes are designed to be quick to make and easy to follow.
She first pitched her idea for her book to her publisher in September 2015 and has been working on it ever since. In total she has devised 103 new recipes, every one of which is her own.
"I dreamt up many of them in the middle of the night and often would be jotting stuff down at 3am. My husband thought I was mad," she says.
"I got old recipe books belonging to my grandma and mum down from the attic and went through them. I did a lot of research on the internet and spent hours in the kitchen experimenting and baking."
Her three ingredient rule has created a new way of baking that rewrites the recipe books. Incredibly she has even managed to come up with a recipe for Christmas cake, which of course typically has a very long list of ingredients.
"My Christmas cake is made using mixed fruit, flour and chocolate milk," she explains. "You leave the fruit to soak in the chocolate milk overnight and it takes about an hour to cook in the oven and you have this delicious, rich, moist fruit cake which bizarrely doesn't taste of chocolate at all."
Another favourite is her magic scones made with plain flour, double cream and a can of lemonade.
"The rising agent is in the lemonade and it is just simpler than having to whisk a whole lot of ingredients up," she says.
"A lot of my experimenting has been discovering a single ingredient that does the job of a couple of traditional ingredients. Nut butters are great - you can do a lot with nut butters."
While Sarah's chief aim with her book is to make baking simple, one other caveat is that the recipe collection is like an antidote to all those healthy cookery books.
"It is fully of gooey confectionery creations which are a real treat and not for everyday," she says. "It is unashamedly unhealthy but everyone can do with a bit of cake every so often."
Sarah has enjoyed creating her first book so much that it has now whet her appetite as an author.
How she follows it up will be her next challenge.
"I loved creating the recipes and seeing people's reaction to them," Sarah adds. "It has been fantastic and I would love to do another book.
"I will have to come up with a clever idea but I am sure I will come up with something."
Three Ingredient Baking by Sarah Rainey is available now in Tesco, Waterstones and on Amazon, paperback priced £9.35
Try three of Sarah’s delicious recipes
Chocolate Praline Brownies
If you like Nutella, these are a must. They're rich, gooey and take just minutes to throw together. The key is in the cooking time - keep an eye on the mixture so it doesn't set too solid in the oven. You want them a little wobbly for maximum squidge.
What you'll need
65g self-raising flour
1 x 400g jar of Nutella (or any other brand of chocolate hazelnut spread)
Small baking tray (25cm x 18cm)
Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan, and grease and line the baking tray. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl, crack in the eggs and mix well with a wooden spoon. Scrape out the contents of a jar of Nutella and add this to the mixture, holding back one heaped tablespoon of the spread in a separate bowl. Stir everything together until the mixture is smooth.
Pour the mixture into the baking tray, spread it out with a spatula and bake for 25 minutes. You'll know they're ready when they're just set and starting to crack on top.
Don't over-bake them as they will continue to cook in the tin and you want them to stay squidgy inside.
As the brownies cool, drizzle the remaining Nutella over the top to decorate. If it's too solid, microwave it for 10 seconds in a heatproof bowl first. Slice into chunky squares or rectangles to serve.
I like to double the quantities in this recipe and make them in the same-sized tin for fat, squidgy brownies that are twice the height. They may need another 5 to 10 minutes in the oven to cook through.
This simple, one-layer cake is dense, moist and syrupy. It uses almonds instead of flour, which gives it a rich, toasty texture, and whisked egg whites to give it height.
What you'll need
5 tablespoons runny honey
150g flaked almonds
Small round cake tin (20cm across)
Preheat the oven to 190C/170C fan, and grease and line the cake tin. Separate the eggs, and whisk the whites to stiff peaks. Beat the yolks with 4 tablespoons of the honey, mixing well.
Blitz 125g of flaked almonds in a food processor to grind them. Put the remaining 25g on a baking sheet and, as the oven gets hot, pop them in for 5 to 10 minutes to toast them. Keep an eye on them; they'll colour very quickly. Mix the ground almonds with the egg yolks and honey, and gradually fold in the egg whites using a metal spoon, being careful not to over-mix and beat out all the air. Transfer the mixture to the cake tin and bake for 25 minutes, lowering the temperature for the final 10 minutes to 180C/160C fan.
Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin before turning it out on to a wire rack. Drizzle the final tablespoon of honey over the top, before sprinkling over the toasted almonds. The cake will keep for 1 to 2 days in an airtight tin - if it lasts that long…
MAKES 10 LARGE SCONES
This is one of those recipes you really have to try for yourself before you believe it works. I defy anyone to tell these fluffy scones apart from the originals, especially when laden with strawberry jam and clotted cream.
What you'll need
600g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
300ml double cream
1 x 330ml can of lemonade
7cm fluted round cutter
Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan.
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Slowly add the cream, followed by the can of lemonade. Stir the mixture together using a metal spoon. I try to avoid using a wooden spoon, as a metal one cuts through the mixture better.
Use your hands to bring the dough together, and shape it into a ball in the bowl, adding a few more tablespoons of flour if it's too sticky. Working quickly (so it keeps its shape), turn it out on to a heavily floured surface and knead it lightly.
Pat the dough to a thickness of around 4cm and cut into circles using the cutter or, if you don't have one, the rim of a clean glass or small mug (you'll lose the pleats, but it's better than nothing).
Put the scones on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper, around 3cm apart, neatening them up using a wet knife if necessary. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Give them another few minutes if the tops haven't turned golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.
You can top the scones with easy, three ingredient jam. Put 500g of fresh raspberries and 500g of caster sugar in a pan, heat until it boils and add one teaspoon of butter. Let the mixture bubble away for 10 minutes until it gets a jam-like consistency - then cool.