We talk to James Hillery, a.k.a. Cluck Muck & Cook, about his passion for baking and what you can expect from his 'Baking with kids' recipe series featuring in Baking Heaven magazine! Plus get James’ perspective on his time in the GBBO tent, including which bake made the best frisbee…
Where did your passion for baking begin?
My passion for baking grew from learning to bake with my father as a child some 40+ years ago. Dad and I have many fond memories of time spent in the kitchen, celebrating our successes and laughing at our failures. I wholeheartedly blame my father for my carb addiction! Now with two boys of my own, who have also inherited the baking gene, I happily spend time sharing my passion for baking with them. Taking out that hour from the day and not being distracted by technology is a great opportunity to connect and build memories with my children. It’s a passion I'd love to see all parents and children sharing.
We loved watching you on series 8 of The Great British Bake Off and in The Great Christmas Bake Off 2020! What did it feel like going into the tent for a second time?
Thank you – it was a joy to be back in the tent. It felt especially magical being full-on Christmas in the tent. The tent holds so many great memories, I still got goosebumps every morning as we walked into the tent for the day. It was fantastic to make some more wonderful memories with three talented bakers. It was also great to catch up with the fantastic team that make the show – you build such a bond with them all, it felt like a family reunion. The joy of the Christmas special is that it felt a little more relaxed. We all wanted to do well and impress the judges. It was a chance for some redemption and the hope that I'd not get a ‘rustic’ comment from Prue – plus we knew no one was being sent home! © Love Productions Ltd. 2020
Do you have a favourite challenge that you tackled in the tent?
The thing I loved most about being on the show was that it challenged you to try bakes that are way outside your comfort zone. Before being on the show in series 8 I wasn't confident in making bread and it is the week you really want to impress Paul. The signature bake was tea cakes. Mine were Nordic inspired, spiced with cardamom and had port-soaked cranberries in them. Paul absolutely loved them and kept coming back to eat more off camera. I was so chuffed. It was GBBO which really started my passion for baking bread.
What would you say has been your personal highlight of taking part in The Great British Bake Off?
I know it sounds a cliché but the highlight is the long-lasting friendships you make with the fellow bakers. Not just your year, but across seasons, and across countries. It's such a unique experience, which forges that friendship. It truly is a big GBBO family.
Do you have any funny/embarrassing/interesting stories to tell us that weren’t captured on camera?
My favourite part of the day was always when we went into the tent early in the morning to run through our ingredient lists with the food teams, where they check you have everything you need. Sandy would always pop in to give everyone a big hug and have a natter with us all. She really cared about all the bakers and it was a lovely calming moment before the madness started. On bread week there's a lot of waiting around while things prove, so we did end up playing around while we were waiting. At one stage Noel brought in a radio to have a disco. I can also confirm teacakes make great frisbees! On the Christmas episode, Matt Lucas and Tom Allen were hysterical – I was amazed we got any baking done! © Love Productions Ltd. 2020
We’re very excited to announce that you’re writing a new monthly ‘Baking with Kids’ feature in Baking Heaven magazine, starting with the February 2021 issue! Can you tell us where you get your recipe inspiration from?
I get inspiration from everywhere. Social media is brilliant to see what the new trends are. I follow lots of talented bakers and pastry chefs that constantly inspire me. I have an addiction for baking books, magazines and cooking shows. But ideas can pop into my head when I’m just walking around the aisles of a supermarket or even when walking the dog. One of the cakes I baked when I auditioned for the show was inspired by a walk through a woodland full of silver birch trees. The cake I made looked like a silver birch stump, decorated with other woodland items. When I was on GBBO I realised just how much baking and cooking has captured the hearts of the younger generation. Since being on the show, I've talked to lots of parents who love the idea of baking with their kids but are perhaps not comfortable in their own baking skills, or they lack inspiration, need to be cost-aware or have time pressures. Most recipes will be quick and no more than 30 minutes of hands-on time in the kitchen to keep the kids interested before being popped in the oven. Most importantly, they'll be delicious and they're made for the kids to really get involved, with a little parent supervision. The ingredients will be mainly store cupboard staples or things that would be easy to pick up at the local corner shop. That way, if the kids are in the mood for baking, they'll be easy to rustle up. The pride and sense of achievement that you see on children’s faces as they pull out a bake that they have created themselves from start to finish melts the heart. Not only are they learning baking skills but they are also building their confidence and self-belief.
What are your top tips for baking with little ones?
- Embrace the mess! When baking with kids it should be about fun and not be about perfection.
- Just like when I baked with my Dad, you can enjoy the failures as much as the successes.
- Relax, just have fun and enjoy making memories together.
If you could only bake one recipe for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
It would be bread. Nothing can beat the smell and taste of a freshly baked loaf! It's so versatile and where would the world be without toast and butter?