In the kitchen with Holly Bell
We speak to Holly Bell, the runner-up of 2011's Great British Bake Off TV show...
What is your first baking related memory?
Probably stamping out pastry for jam tarts with my Nanna at about 3 years old. Great fun and I imagine a lot of clearing up for Nanna!
Is baking a hobby you've enjoyed throughout your life?
Baking is something that I’ve dipped in and out of over the years. I baked as a small child on rainy days with my Nanna and Mum, then I baked at school under the watchful eyes of Mrs. Hill, my formidable Home Economics teacher. After that baking became a stress reliever – at university, when I worked in advertising in London and then things really took off when I became a stay at home Mum in my thirties.
Who has been the biggest influence on your baking?
Probably my children. I often have ideas for recipes when playing games with them, or something they say will spark a thought. The gingerbread house inside Hansel and Gretel’s croquembouche came to me in a dream after my son had quizzed me that day on what was inside a ‘crock-a-boosh’. He seemed disappointed that there was nothing, and I have to say, I’m with him on that one.
How do you come up with your recipes?
I usually take quite simple recipes and then think about how I can make them more family friendly, or add a theme either seasonal, occasion led or texture related. My recipe for tiramisu profiteroles came to me after eating some classic profiteroles in a restaurant and thinking that I wished I had half my husband’s tiramisu as well as my choux buns!
What made you first decide to enter the BBC Great British Bake Off series?
I was quite a late entrant for the Great British Bake Off
. I applied in January 2011 and filming started at the end of April. I’d given birth to my second son in late October and after a great birth experience and being in a little bit of a postnatal haze I was under the illusion that I was somewhat unstoppable. Let’s just say the Bake Off soon made me realise I had many a failing!
How did it feel reaching the final?
I only ever concentrated on getting to the next week throughout the competition so at the semi-final I just felt a huge sigh of relief as the end was now in sight. The pressure during filming is immense and I was always aware that any one of us could have been asked to leave each week. Stress causes you to make mistakes unfortunately.
What was your favourite task during the show?
I loved pie week! I’m much more a savoury person than a sweet person so I was in heaven tasting all the pies after judging. I also got to make pork pies for the first time, which being a girl from Leicestershire felt long overdue.
And the one you wish you could have avoided?
Ha! Well my croquenbouche went down rather badly with the judges as they felt there was too much dark chocolate. One of the challenges of the Great British Bake Off
is being (wo)man enough to take the criticism on the chin. You might not always agree but the judges are judges for a reason.
Who do you think was the easiest judge to please – Mary or Paul?
I think people have a perception of Paul being very difficult and Mary being a soft touch. They were actually both harsh but fair judges in their own ways. Perhaps their delivery style was just different.
You’ve set up your own cupcake classes since the show – why did you choose cupcakes in particular?
I actually teach bread classes as well as cupcake classes but my main reason for teaching the art of cupcake making is that it’s both satisfying and hugely popular. People just love cupcakes and who can blame them! A simply finished cupcake can be enjoyed less than an hour after
When you’re teaching your students what are the most important pieces of advice that you give to them?
My repeated mantra in my cupcake classes is that you (the baker) are in control of the cupcakes! People often fill their cases, spill batter down the sides of the case and them I hear them sigh and say ‘oh well’ – I always think if you’re not happy with something, do it again. So if you don’t want batter down the side of your case, scoop it out and transfer to a new case. (Similarly if you don’t mind then leave it there.) In short, the cakes are not in charge of you! Same goes for sugarcraft and piping. In my classes the bakers are all in charge of their creations and leave with a confidence that if something goes wrong they know how to rectify it!
Do you encourage your children to bake with you too?
I don’t really need to encourage them as they’re both obsessed with helping in the kitchen! My eldest son will always choose baking with Mummy over any other activity. He loves baking cakes and especially decorating them with sprinkles. More is most definitely more, when
decorating cakes, according to Charlie.
If you could only bake one recipe for the rest of your life what would it be?
One recipe? My vanilla and almond cupcakes – delicate and never dry. My pet hate with cupcakes is them being prone to dryness.
And finally what do you have planned for the future?
The future? Looking after my boys, lots more baking classes planned, an ebook being finished up due for release next month, presenting on BBC Radio Leicester and a few other bits and bobs I’m in talks on. Life is certainly very different post Bake Off…
To find out how you can take a cupcake class with Holly visit