Frances Quinn was slated week after week for choosing ‘style over substance’ in the Bake Off tent two years ago - before going and winning the show. Now she’s back with her debut baking book
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 age five, and spent hours in her father’s bookshop in Market Harborough - where she still lives - pouring 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, ‘OK, 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 (more of which below).
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, ‘OK, I’ll have to think of something else’.”
Here’s a beautiful bake from Quinn’s new book to try at home...