Did you know that medium eggs weigh c. 55grms? I didn’t but I do now, thanks to the talk given to a large and receptive audience at the Aye Write! festival on Saturday, April 18th by James Morton.
James, who qualifies as a doctor this year and was runner-up in the 2012 Great British Bake-off, was promoting his book 'How Baking Works'. His presentation was so articulate, smooth, entertaining, knowledgeable and amusing and the interviewer, Zoe Venditozzi, allowed him full reign. He also managed to eat muffins without them impeding his flow. Giving us an insight into the machinations behind reality TV he led us through the process of how he came to be the ‘runner-up’ as mentioned above. Although not interested in reality himself he did ‘fit’ the image for which reality producers were looking – young, free, from an island, good-looking. All right I added that last but am sure it would have been a consideration.
First a written application form was completed. People who made it to a second round were then subjected to a telephone interview. Those making it through that were invited to a self-paid London interview. Presumably an inability to pay further reduced the number of potential participants. It seems that ‘fit for TV aspect’ was of far more import than the actual ability to bake. Having reached the final cut there was then 10 weeks of 12 hour days of filming. And this while James was in the middle of his 2nd year medical exams at Cambridge. He admitted he didn’t bake for several months afterwards – until a book deal was offered!
In his book 'How Baking Works' he claims that baking is easy. Groans from the audience belied this statement so James went on to say that, although there would always be disasters, the trick was to find out what went wrong and why. Many in the audience still didn’t seem convinced! They were reminded, as were we all, that all was revealed in his book.
It was a surprise that James advocated value-range, own brand, the cheapest, offers, when buying ingredients - the only exception being a ’better’ butter. He did suggest free range eggs for improved taste and appearance.
Lots of tips followed; never use an electric whisk for anything involving flour folding, have basic ingredients on hand –flour, sugar (white is fine!), eggs, butter, always pre-heat oven if required etc. One that caused several gasps from the audience was his firm assertion it was quite in order to open an oven door for a peek at your cake! As a Yorkshire lass my heart missed several beats as I tried to dispel the horror of even contemplating opening an oven during the ceremony of cooking Yorkshire puddings. He did qualify his claim by explaining how to avoid having the door open too long.
Many of the ensuing questions involved baking disasters and what might have caused same. Have to admit I’m not a baker. My mother always said I was too heavy handed.
I enjoyed the talk though, learned something(s) and the bonus – everyone present was offered a slice of chocolate cake and/or a muffin, made from James’ recipe, though not by him on this occasion, on the way out. Watching people take LARGE slices of cake AND 1 or even 2 muffins I opted for a small slice of cake, sharing with my friend who selected a muffin. We tasted each and agreed both were delicious. We also had the benefit of feeling virtuous by not being greedy.
‘How Baking Works’ by James Morton, available on Amazon in hardback at £13.60 or Kindle at£6.99