Frances Quinn triumphed in the famous tent last year. Here she shares her top tips for surviving Bake Off and staying organised in the kitchen...
Frances Quinn was the 2013 Great British Bake Off champion, and shot to victory with her creative bakes and clever cakes. As the 2014 contestants are rapidly wittled down to a final three, we asked Frances how she handled the heat and became the last woman standing in the country's favourite kitchen...
Frances Quinn's top 10 tips for Bake Off success...
1. Keep a stack of sticky labels
Nearly all the ingredients we used on Bake Off got de-branded, so together with bars of chocolate and jars full of flour, I would stick labels on to my ramekins, bowls and measuring jugs to keep a check of what was what. This labelling system came into its own in my first showstopper challenge, featuring what has become my signature secret squirrel cake. Because the cake was marbled to look like a tree trunk I had three bowls on the go, each one labelled almond, hazelnut and walnut. Nutty, but very necessary!
2. Don't forget digital scales
I couldn’t be without these when baking, so much so that I even took my own from home when travelling down to the Bake Off tent every weekend. I love the fact that you can measure anything on them, whether it be a bowl of chocolate, a pan of golden syrup, divided up pieces of dough or even eggs. However, make sure you have spare batteries to hand, in case of emergencies or finding yourself baking in a field in a marquee in Somerset!
3. Always carry a pencil
As essential a kitchen utensil as a spoon in my kitchen. I use mine to draw round tins on parchment paper as well as drawing ideas on the scraps. I could have used a whole pencil case worth while on the show when trying to describe my planned designs to Mary and Paul! They are also great to have to hand when compiling and crossing off both shopping and baking to-do lists…
4. Make lots of lists
I was notorious for my list making on the show. They helped me create order while dealing with tent challenges and chaos. The longer I remained on the Bake Off the more epic my lists became. The ingredients and stages needed to create my wedding cake were, quite literally, running off the pages I’d written them on.
5. Be a multitasker
Whether it be keeping an eye on both a cake in the oven and custard on the hob, or talking to camera while rolling out pastry and poaching a pear, multitasking on Bake Off is a must.
6. Have a sporting mindset
Determination, belief and focus are key to creating great bakes and staying in a competition like Bake Off. Being a lover of sport and a keen runner, I tried to approach each challenge and episode with a sporting frame of mind. For example, if I’d done badly in the signature and technical challenges I still had the showstopper to turn the score around. In other words, it wasn’t over till it was over!
7. Be prepared for all weather
Baking in a tent in the middle of a field isn’t always easy, especially when the temperatures start to soar and your ice cream refuses to freeze! Havign clever tools to hand can make all the difference. Shower caps are brilliant for covering bowls and tins of proving bread, in place of cling film and tea towels, while putting rolling pins and baking trays in the fridge and freezer makes dealing with warm biscuit dough and pastry a lot easier. I also like to think that having both asbestos fingers and cold hands helped me as a baker on the show. The latter inherited the other earnt!
8. Think outside the baking bowl
For me, thinking beyond the basics and seeking inspiration outside of the kitchen is important. Ideas and designs shape my bakes as much as the ingredients i'm adding. I find starting with a theme, key ingredient or word can help trigger an edible design. I also have a habit of turning everyday sights and smells into food. For example, a brick wall very easily transforms itself into gingerbread biscuits and chocolate cement in my eyes.
9. Make it memorable
From turning cakes into tree trunks to creating giant matchboxes for themed breadsticks - a good prop can elevate a bake from ordinary to extra ordinary. Making sure the judges, audience or your friends and family remember your creation for all the right reasons is a great feeling.
10. Keep a poker face
Keeping all the happenings in the tent a secret before the show and episodes are broadcast is a technical challenge in itself. Since winning, no one wants to play poker with me anymore and if I stopped baking tomorrow I think the official Bake Off Secrets Act has set me up for a stint at MI5, with or without a secret squirrel hidden in a cake!
Stunning wedding cakes, allotment bakes and creative decorations - try out Frances Quinn's recipes for yourself.
You can also keep up with all the happenings in this year's Great British Bake Off in our Kimberley Comments series. Each week, 2013 finalist Kimberley Wilson gives us her opinion of the contestants, the bakes and the judges' decisions.