Frances Quinn: cake certainly has a lot to answer for

Frances Quinn (Copyright Georgia Glynn Smith)

Frances Quinn (Copyright Georgia Glynn Smith) - Credit: Archant

Former childrenswear designer and Bake Off winner on channelling her creativity to work with food rather than fabric and why she keeps pencils in the kitchen

Frances Quinn (Copyright Georgia Glynn Smith)

Frances Quinn (Copyright Georgia Glynn Smith) - Credit: Archant

Summer 2013 at Harptree Court in Somerset, a tiered wedding cake inspired by a Midsummer Night’s Dream became Frances Quinn’s winning Showstopper bake, beating finalists Ruby Tandoh and Kimberly Wilson to win the BBC cookery show. Imaginative interpretations of a theme characterised the Leicestershire designer’s time on the Bake Off and word play was often at the heart of her designs - remember the ‘secret squirrel’ and ‘jam sandwich’ cakes? Now a regular guest at food festivals and events around the UK, this year sees her fun-loving designs put down on paper with the release of Quinntessential Baking. We caught up with Frances to find out about life since the Bake Off and the inspiration for her book.

Firstly, hello! What have you been up to today?

No day is the same other than it normally starts with a swim and a big bowl of porridge, which it did today. I’ve been creating some very short films for the book based around some of the bakes, so a lot of brownies and biscuits have been involved, together with phone interviews and an attempt to catch up on emails.

You were formerly a childrenswear designer – how has life changed for you since Bake Off?

A lot, cake certainly has a lot to answer for. I’m still designing, but now with food rather than fabric. Being creative is at the heart of who I am, but my medium is now edible and my ideas are being combined with ingredients.

This time two years ago filming had finished for the show – what was it like having to keep it a secret?

It’s ironic that the first showstopper bake I created on the programme was my secret squirrel cake and in the end I was the one keeping a secret. It was difficult, especially once the show started being broadcast and people were asking and speculating about the result. But together with having signed a confidentiality agreement, I just got more used to keeping a poker face. Very close family and friends who knew or had been present on the day of the final were also invaluable, although it was tricky when I found myself and in conversation with those that knew and those that didn’t.

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Is there anything that happens behind the scenes that viewers may not expect from watching GBBO?

The amount of washing up that gets done and the food that gets eaten. There are a lot of camera crew and production team in the tent at one time and although this results in a lack of space, lack of appetite is not an issue!

Did you have to give up your job to take part in the show, or were you able to work around it?

Joules were incredibly supportive and understanding during both filming and then in the run up to me being announced as the winner. Because nearly all the filming took place over the weekend, I had no down time, especially with all the baking I had to do in the week. They did at least get to benefit from all the baking that got brought in for everyone to eat amid the baking marathon!

You’ve written a beautiful recipe book – is it something you always wanted to do?

Having grown up in my parent’s independent bookshop, books have always played an important part in my life so creating my own has been something very special.

Where did you get the inspiration for your creations?

My ideas can come into my head either in a constant flow or at random times throughout the day and night. I find starting with a theme, key ingredient or word helps trigger an initial idea. I always try and keep a sketchbook handy to jot and scribble down my sketches and ideas to then refer and bake from.

What advice would you give to those amateur bakers looking to take their baking to the next level?

Going on GBBO really pushed me out of both my own and baking comfort zone and made me make things I would normally have not tried. I’d definitely encourage others to expand upon their skill set and explore new techniques, flavour combinations and be inspired rather than intimidated in the process. The great thing about baking is that you can eat your mistakes or turn them into a serendipitous sweet success—think Eton mess and tiffin.

What would your top tips be for contestants this year? Is it as stressful as it looks?

Yes, but despite the inevitable stress of it all, I’d encourage them to try and enjoy the whole experience of being in that tent and having the opportunity to eat so many baked goods and talk chocolate, cardamon and cakes 24/7!

Do you have any bad habits in the kitchen?

I have a strange habit of unintentionally throwing tea towels in the corner of the kitchen work surfaces after using them, much to friends and family bewilderment when they come to need to use one!

What are the items you can’t live without in the kitchen?

My flat digital scales, I couldn’t be without them in the kitchen, especially when baking. So much so that I even took my own from home when travelling down to the Bake off tent. I love the fact that you can put and measure anything on them, whatever the shape or ingredient. Whether it be a bowl of chocolate, a pan of golden syrup, and even eggs. They come into their own when making flapjacks and save significantly on the washing up. I also have endless pens and paintbrushes kept in jars on my kitchen work surfaces. I don’t think they should be restricted to the art studio. In fact for me, a pencil is an essential utensil as a spoon in my kitchen. I use them to both draw round tins and draw up ideas on the scraps of the parchment paper. Paintbrushes are a great tool to apply melted chocolate to bakes in the guise of edible glue and decorate and add detail with. From gouache to ganache!

What is your favourite thing to bake?

Flapjacks. As well as loving oats in my porridge, I love them in my baking to. Flapjacks were one of the first bakes I remember making as I child and I love to still create them today, playing with both the design and flavour combinations. The Flapjack chapter is one of my favourites in the book. Cinnamon buns are my favourite bake to eat, like with porridge, I have a serious affection/addiction for cinnamon.

Quinntessential Baking by Frances Quinn (Bloomsbury) is on sale now.

If all this talk of baking has got you running for the kitchen, head over to Great British Life to find the best baking accessories.