The Great British Bake Off has made a star of Paul Hollywood, but he is determined to stay true to his baking roots. Diana Pilkington meets the breadmaking heartthrob.
For around seven million of us, there’s a gaping hole on Tuesday nights now the latest series of The Great British Bake Off has come to an end.
But it’s not just those glorious gingerbread structures and plaited loaves that will be missed.
With his twinkly eyes, authoritative voice and enviable skills in the kitchen, judge Paul Hollywood has become a housewives’ favourite.
“It’s a bit of an embarrassment, but it’s very flattering. Any bloke who says it isn’t is a liar,” the married star says of his new-found attention.
“I get a lot of tweets and have had a couple of marriage proposals. I’m also contacted by lots of kids who want to get into baking. There’s a real cross-section.”
Indeed, the baking trend continues to sweep the nation, with new research by Kenwood revealing more than a third of us manage to bake every fortnight.
“It’s been popular for a long time. I think we’ve just highlighted it,” Hollywood says.
“Cooking can be a bit tricky, but baking is relatively quick and the basics are easy. Get a good recipe, get all your ingredients weighed up on digital scales and you end up with something that’s very palatable.”
Viewers saw law graduate John Whaite crowned surprise winner of the third series. He beat Midlander Brendan Lynch and James Morton to the crown after wowing Hollywood and co-judge Mary Berry with his ‘heaven and hell’ cake.
“We chose John because when you go into the final, you go in there with a clean slate. It’s only if it’s really close that we have to look back on the series,” Hollywood explains.
“James failed on the day, and I don’t think Brendan quite managed to live up to John because John’s cake at the end was absolutely gorgeous.”
Hollywood is a dab hand at cakes himself, but it is for making bread that he is best known. He has his own artisan bread business, and reckons the humble loaf is the next big trend in baking.
“Cakes are still popular but are ebbing slightly. People could be moving on to healthy things. I think bread’s taken off in a big way - healthy breads, rye breads, wholemeal all seem to be on the rise, as well as home bread making kits.”
In his new book, How To Bake, he laments the fact that commercial baking has become “too focused on speed and profit”, and urges home bakers to allow time to let their doughs ferment slowly, thus creating flavour.
But with a new solo cookery show in the pipeline and rumours of possible work on the US version of Bake Off (“I would be interested, yes,” is all he will say on the matter), it’s a wonder he finds time himself to indulge his passion. So does he ever find himself popping to the supermarket for a ready-made loaf?
“Of course! I get bread from my business, but I’ll go and have any bread if it’s any good. Warburtons is probably the best sliced one I eat – I use that for a bacon butty.”
As much as he enjoys his TV work, he is adamant he’ll always stick to what he does best.
“My business is baking and I’ll carry on doing that,” he insists. “The rest is just the icing on the already substantial cake.”
Test your own bread-making skills with these two recipes from Hollywood...
SODA BREAD (Makes 1 loaf)
500g plain white flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
Heat your oven to 200C and line a baking tray with baking parchment or silicone paper.
Put all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and mix well, then stir in the buttermilk to form a sticky dough. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape it quickly into a ball. Flatten the ball a little with your hand.
Put the dough on the baking tray. Mark it into quarters, cutting deeply through the bread, almost but not quite through to the base. Dust with a little flour.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the loaf is cooked through – it should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the base. Leave it to cool on a wire rack. Soda bread is best eaten within a day of baking. It also freezes well.
PUMPKIN SEED STICKS WITH POPPY SEEDS (Makes 10)
100g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
200g strong wholemeal bread flour
200g malted bread flour
10g instant yeast
30g unsalted butter, softened
340ml cool water
150g pumpkin seeds
50g poppy seeds
Put the flours into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Add the butter and three-quarters of the water and begin mixing on a slow speed. As the dough starts to come together, slowly add the remaining water. Mix for another 2 minutes on a slow speed, then 5 minutes on a medium speed. Add the pumpkin seeds and mix for a further 3 minutes.
Tip the dough into a lightly oiled large bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave until at least doubled in size – at least one hour.
Line two baking trays with baking parchment or silicone paper. Scatter the poppy seeds on a large board.
Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and fold it in on itself repeatedly until all the air is knocked out and the dough is smooth. Divide the dough into 10 pieces. Roll each piece out to a slim stick, about 30cm long. Brush with water and roll in the poppy seeds, then lay the dough sticks on the prepared baking trays, spacing them apart.
Put each tray inside a clean plastic bag and leave to prove for one hour, or until the dough is at least doubled in size and springs back quickly if you prod it lightly with your finger. Meanwhile, heat your oven to 220C.
Bake the dough sticks for 15-20 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Leave to cool on a rack.
* How To Bake by Paul Hollywood is published by Bloomsbury, priced £20. Available now. See Paul Hollywood along with Mary Berry and this year’s winner John Whaite at the BBC Good Food Shows in Birmingham from November 28 – December 2. Visit www.bbcgoodfoodshow.com or call 08445 811 360.