Star baker Brendan Lynch is using his culinary skills to help others – and not just by letting them eat cake.
It’s not only the tastebuds that Brendan has been titivating. He’s also helping them to regain vital memories.
Brendan, the runner-up from the third series of the TV show Great British Bake Off in 2012, has been boosting the well-being of dementia sufferers.
He takes them back to a time they can remember and helps them to cook food from that period, whether it’s 1960s or 1990s.
Brendan, from Wylde Green in Sutton Coldfield, explains: “I’ve been going into retirement homes for the past year to get them baking rather than just watching me demonstrate.
“That’s working well – baking has great therapeutic benefits. But more recently I have been working with 20 people who suffer from dementia.
“As part of their therapy, I find out what they can remember – for example, their memories of the 1970s might still be good.
“I talk to them about what they enjoyed eating or making, such as a black forest gateau. I create a recipe and then make it with them.
“The results so far have been very encouraging, to see the uplift and sense of wellbeing it gives them. The result is dramatic.
“They come in looking forlorn and lacking in confidence, but when they see the bakes come back from the kitchen, they start talking to each other and are much more engaged.
“The results are lasting up to two weeks.
“They want me to go in every week to help, which unfortunately I can’t, but I’m doing it once a month at New Oscott Village in Chester Road, a retirement village run by Extra Care Charitable Trust.
“I also go into their Hagley Road Village in Edgbaston.
“I just want to create some value from my baking.”
Brendan certainly does that. He works with all ages to encourage cooking, having recently visited Boldmere Junior School to judge a charity bake-off contest.
He will give demonstrations at eight food festivals around the country this year, and takes cookery courses at grand houses.
He works at Carlton Towers in Humberside – “it’s like Downton Abbey, with the original Mrs Bridges-type kitchens” – and Catton Hall near Burton-upon-Trent. The next Seasoned Cookery School there is on September 11 and costs £175 for the day.
He also does demonstrations to passengers on the occasional cruise.
His Twitter account has 23,000 followers and he has his own mouthwatering website, brendanbakes.co.uk.
He says: “I’ve been passionate about baking since my youth. I had hoped to pursue it professionally but events overtook me.
“In the decades since then I’ve taught myself from studying books.
“Currently I am exploring wonderful breads, cakes and patisserie from the Nordic countries and the Middle East.”
Brendan, 65, works part-time as a recruitment consultant but will step down in October to devote more time to baking.
He was the favourite to win his series, in which he showed off technical excellence with dishes such as his showstopper of a pear, chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise or his spinach and walnut strudel. It was a surprise for many when John Whaite pipped him to the trophy.
But that hasn’t diminished his passion for baking or for the TV series.
“Oh, I’ll be watching the new series,” says Brendan. “It’s one of those reality TV programmes that works nicely. Some of them can be like a Roman arena, looking at people falling apart and destroying people for dramatic television.
“Of course there is pressure and tears on Bake Off, but that’s because people are trying so hard.
“The contestants are not trying to harm each other. If someone drops something or makes a mistake, people rally round to help. It promotes decency, unlike shows like The Apprentice.
“I love to bake as a way of relaxing, and I used it to de-stress when I was working in the business world. I would come home at 8pm and reach for a bag of flour instead of the gin bottle. By midnight I would have created something and feel much better.”
The Great British Bake Off returned last night with a promotion from BBC2 to prime time BBC1.
Viewing figures have risen more dramatically than a Victoria sponge, from around three million in the first series in 2010 to 9.4 million watching the final last August.
Now it even has a new spin-off show, An Extra Slice, hosted by Jo Brand.
We have become addicted to the battle against soggy bottoms and uneven bakes, as amateur bakers strive to impress Midlanders have featured in every series and this time it’s the turn of Diana Beard, who at 69 is the oldest contestant to take part. She grew up on a farm in Whitchurch, Shropshire, and has been baking for more than 60 years.
The series can really change lives. It encouraged another young contestant, Ali Imdad, to make a huge decision – giving up a well-paid job to become a full-time baker.
Ali has set up his own business, making up to 60 cakes and tray bakes a week from his mum’s kitchen in Saltley, Birmingham.
He supplies coffee shops, colleges and Leicester University with his sweet confections and is also in talks with a new Asian digital TV channel to have his own cooking show.
“Considering I only came ninth, Bake Off opened so many doors for me,” says Ali, 26.
“It convinced me I wanted to spend all my time baking. So I gave up my job in marketing and set up my own company, Bakes By Ali.
“It was a difficult decision which I thought long and hard about, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. I would be a fool not to have a go.
“I’m mainly supplying places in Birmingham but also Leicester, which I visit every Friday to deliver my products. I’m also in talks with HSBC to supply their offices in London and Birmingham.
“I make large cakes, which I sell for between £15 and £18, and tray bakes of things like shortbread and brownies, which I put in packets that customers can grab and go.
“I also get private orders for things like wedding cakes. I’m just in the middle of making 800 petit fours for a VIP afternoon tea.
“I live at home with my parents and I’m doing it all from my mum’s kitchen, though I am looking to expand into my own premises.
“I am very lucky, I have turned my hobby into a dream job.”
Ali’s speciality or “signature bake” is opera cakes, as shown in episode nine of the last series of Bake Off.
It’s a French cake made of thin layers of sponge held together with ganache.
“It’s very indulgent,” says Ali. “My most popular one is a strawberry chocolate brownie opera cake.
“For those taking part in future series of Bake Off, I’d advise them not to take any comments too seriously.
“Regardless of how well you do, people on Twitter and Facebook will say hurtful and mean things, but you just have to ignore them and enjoy the ride.
“Doing Bake Off was the most terrifying but brilliant thing I’ve ever done.”
Mary-Anne Boermans, a housewife from Kidderminster, was 45 when she took part in the second series.
She reached the final, losing out to Joanne Wheatley, and said of taking part: “It was great fun, how many people can say they have cooked for Mary Berry?”
Mary-Anne published a book last November. Great British Bakes: Forgotten Treasures for Modern Bakers contained historical recipes ranging from yeast-raised currant cakes made in 1685 to chocolate meringue pie (1777) and Maids of Honour, which originated in court of Henry VIII.
She regularly posts recipes on her Facebook page Time To Cook.
The first series of Great British Bake Off in 2010 was very different to the format we know now.
It only lasted six weeks, with two bakers being eliminated every week. The rounds took place in various locations across the UK – for example puddings were made in Bakewell.
The voiceover was by Stephen Noonan rather than presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins.
Jasminder Randhawa, aged 49, an assistant credit control manager from Knowle, was fourth to be eliminated.
Jas, who has since moved to Sutton Coldfield with her family, says: “We had no idea that Bake Off would become such a hit.
“Everyone says I was in it too early, but I think our series was the best because we had no pressure on us and we got to travel around the country.
“I am definitely hooked on baking. I do it even more now, but purely for pleasure or to help charities.
“I get the urge to bake something and then I take it into work to share.”
* Great British Bake Off is screened on BBC1 on Wednesdays at 8pm.