Mary Berry Queen of baking

Mary Berry

Mary Berry - Credit: Archant

Why not treat mum on Mother’s Day to tickets for the Big Cake Show at Exeter and the chance to see Mary Berry?

Lemon cake

Lemon cake - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

They call her the Queen of Baking and I suspect she might just pull a bigger crowd than the actual Queen of anything else. I am talking, naturally, about Mary Berry – the darling of TV’s best baking shows and a woman whose withering look of disappointment in a soggy bake or pastry base can reduce grown men to tears.

Talking about grown men, Mary says that one of the things that is unique about home baking – both the doing and the watching of others doing - is its appeal to all ages and all members of the family; including dads and brothers who she has been reliably informed “will even miss the football” to watch the Great British Bake Off.

I can’t think of another person – except perhaps Harry Potter, and he’s not even real – who has this kind of impact on family viewing and in order to understand her colossal appeal, it is probably best to use a good food analogy.

Cream, it is said, always rises to the top.

And it would appear this is precisely what has happened with Mary-Rosa Alleyne Berry, 78 (and 79 on the 24th of this month) who has been working away in the world of culinary arts for almost six decades, producing some 70 cookbooks along the way.

If you caught her recent ITV Life Stories interview you may have reeled from the shock that at one point in her early career she had cooked a cow’s udder for a television task. Thankfully today, we’re more likely to see her putting the final touches to a divine opera cake or, one of her own favourites, a lemon drizzle.

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It is worth taking note of which are Mary’s own favourite cakes because the Big Cake Show is staging a showstopper cake cooking competition and if Mary turns out to be one of the judges, then my top tip for you is stick to the spiced ginger pudding recipe as shared on her own website or a darn good lemon drizzle since she cites both as being her preferred flavours. She also likes scones - prerably warmed up - but jokes that she would never dare to step into the West Country and venture to make them herself!

One of the key ideas behind The Big Cake Show is to bring baking, in all its glory, with all its current stars and with a healthy dollop of all the new baking trends to the South West so that we don’t have to trail off to London or Manchester to feel we are part of the baking scene. And it is this notion that Mary has given her seal of approval.

Plus, although she is now based in the South East, she likes Devon. And Cornwall. And Somerset. She still makes regular trips to Salcombe on the South Coast to get away and have a holiday and says she spent lots of her own happy childhood holidays on the beaches of Cornwall looking for mussels and other seafood treats.

Mary says she likes that here, in the West Country, we work hard to use locally-sourced ingredients (instead of just paying lip service to the idea) because this also means we tend to plan and execute more seasonal menus. ‘We’ in this instance most likely means our top chefs but she is right that the fact we live in a beautiful location does have an impact on our national foodie profile because it draws lots of the top chefs and also we have a healthy tourist profile which means they have passing trade to sell their food to.

Mary also has a soft spot for one of our adopted Devonians – Exeter schoolteacher Glenn Cosby who was the last man left standing in last year’s Great British Bake Off show and whom she says has all the qualities that make being around bakers so appealing: “He is an enthusiastic baker, he works really hard and he has really good baking skills. Plus, he liked to bake really generous cakes that captured the whole spirit of baking to share with family and friends. I hope he will be there?”

Happily, Glenn will be present at the Big Cake Show, as will a number of other well known and not so well known baking experts – all on hand to share their knowledge, enthusiasm and skills.

Mary says she is really looking forward to The Big Cake Show which runs 28, 29 & 30 March at Exeter’s West Point and so are we. We are looking forward to welcoming our Queen of Baking to the West Country, we are looking forward to learning more about upcoming baking trends and to eating cake!

Mary Berry’s Masterclass:

The Big Cake Show competition is open to all bakers – amateurs and professionals. You need to bake a cake that is inspired by the fantastic landscape we live in and if you win, you will walk away with a Kitchenaid.

You can improve your chances by following some of Mary Berry’s top baking tips.

Q. Why do cakes sink?

A. You have opened the oven door too soon or under-baked your cake

Q. Why has my cake cracked when baking?

A. Your oven was too hot or your cake was on a rack that was too high which means the crust formed too soon. The cake carried on rising causing the crust to crack

Q. So, how can I tell if my cake is cooked?

A. If you are making a sponge cake, it should be springy to the touch and shrinking slightly from the sides of the tin. You should aim for a cake that is pale and golden brown in colour. If you are making a fruit cake, gently insert a fine skewer which will come out clean if the cake is properly cooked. The cake should be light brown for a light fruit cake and dark brown for a traditional rich fruit cake.

Q. Why do some cakes have a speckly top?

A. The baker has used granulated instead of caster sugar. Also, the mixture was not mixed well enough which means the sugar has not been properly dissolved.

Q. Why do my cakes always seem too dry?

A. You have used too much baking powder or left the cake in the oven for too long.

Q. Why have my meringues wept on baking (and me too)?

A. You have added your sugar too quickly or added too much sugar all at once.

Q. Why have my meringues stuck to the paper?

A. Your oven was too hot, the whites were not whisked enough or you have used oiled greaseproof paper?

Q. How do you avoid getting a cake rack mark on the top of your cakes?

A. Cover the cake rack itself with a clean tea towel before inverting the cake on to it

For more fantastic tips and a list of all Mary Berry’s best-selling cookbooks visit her website: article was first published in the March issue of Devon Life. To get the magazine delivered every month to your home, subscribe at or call 08448484217

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