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Everything you need to know about three ingredient baking

by Jessica Lockyer-Palmer

published on 20 July 2018

There’s nothing The Happy Foodie loves more than a nifty tip or trick to make baking easier, so new cookbook, Three Ingredient Baking by Sarah Rainey has got us pretty interested. Delicious brownies, cakes, biscuits and breads all made using only three ingredients? Yes please. We caught up with Sarah to get the low down on this growing trend and to find out more about the talented baker behind this revolutionary cookbook.

Ginger Lemon Freezer Cake | Easy Bakes
Ginger Lemon Freezer Cake

What inspired you to write a book on three ingredient baking?

Three Ingredient Baking was inspired by the traditional, comforting, indulgent baking I grew up with. At home in Northern Ireland, my lovely Grandma taught me to bake – and she was all about simple, straightforward recipes that didn’t cost the earth and wouldn’t take more than half an hour to rustle up.

Although shows like The Great British Bake Off and MasterChef have been wonderful for encouraging people to get into their kitchens and give baking a go, the food we see on our screens these days is so complicated and so extravagant that it’s started putting people off. Rather than trying it at home, beginners sometimes feel intimidated.

I wanted to go back to basics, by stripping back ingredients lists and showing people they could make brilliant showstoppers at home – without the fuss or expense.

From the book

I came across the concept of three ingredient baking in 2013, when I stumbled on a recipe for a three-ingredient cheesecake – made from eggs, white chocolate and cream cheese – which had been shared on YouTube by a Japanese food blogger. She’d become a culinary sensation overnight – and I thought, if you can make a cheesecake from only three ingredients, what else could you rustle up from a few everyday bits and bobs?

What are the benefits of three ingredient baking?

For starters, you need fewer ingredients! Before writing this book I actually sat down and totted up the number of ingredients in my favourite baking books: the average per recipe was 14. With Three Ingredient Baking, you will only ever need three everyday ingredients – the sort of thing you’ll have in your cupboards or fridge at home. There are no hidden extras, fussy seasoning or fiddly extras – I’ve been really strict on this.

You’ll also save money. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve bought an obscure ingredient for a special recipe, spent an absolute fortune on it – and then never used it again (ahem, pomegranate molasses). The ingredients in my book are ordinary, cheap supermarket basics – so you won’t be out of pocket. And they’re easy to find, so you won’t spend hours traipsing up and down the aisles.

There’s also the undeniable smugness of making something amazing-looking for your friends or family – and then gleefully telling them it only contains three ingredients. People tend to be intrigued by this unique way of baking – and rightly so. The limited ingredients list doesn’t mean compromising on taste or appearance – these are Bake Off-standard bakes without the faff.

Praline Brownies | Easy Bakes
Praline Brownies

Which recipe in the book do you think best demonstrate the amazing world of three ingredient baking?

My favourite has to be my ‘Magic Scones’, which are made from plain flour, double cream – and a can of lemonade. The clever part is how the lemonade does the job of several ‘ordinary’ scone ingredients – it contains sugar, the citrussy tang acts like buttermilk, and the bubbles are an alternative raising agent.

The idea underpinning the whole of Three Ingredient Baking is alchemy – which is what made me fall in love with baking in the first place. Take three unremarkable raw ingredients, combine them, put the mixture in the oven – and what comes out the other side is so amazing, so unlike what went in, that it can only be magic.

Scones | Easy Afternoon Tea Baking
Amazing scones

What advice would you give to a nervous baker?

I hate the pressure that’s put on bakers – especially beginners – these days. If you go to the effort of making someone a cake, that is wonderful in itself. And if it turns out as you’d hoped, well that’s even more wonderful.

Baking might seem scary because it’s a science, but ultimately this makes it easier than cooking – which sometimes requires experience and flair. Just take your time, follow the recipe step-by-step – and if you get stuck, Google always has the answer. Above all, relax and enjoy yourself: a stressful bake will never make a tasty cake.

 What are your baking kit essentials?

I swear by my KitchenAid, which my lovely Auntie Rosie gave me for a wedding present a few years ago. For whisking eggs or whipping up buttercream, it’s a godsend – and, even when I’m not using it, I like gazing at it (it’s ice blue and BEAUTIFUL).

I’ve also got a great sugar thermometer, which I bought at Lakeland, and I’ve found it indispensable for making fudge, toffee and doing fancy sugar work for the tops of cakes.

Irish Soda Bread | Easy Baking

Who would be your dream tea party guest and what would you bake them?

I’d love to have tea with The Queen. She is such an extraordinary woman and I have so much admiration for her. I’ve heard she has a soft spot for chocolate biscuit cake, a really simple cake made from dark chocolate, butter, sugar, eggs and broken-up Rich Tea biscuits, so I’d make this. It’s so easy it doesn’t even require any baking – you just chill it in the fridge and then ice it with more melted chocolate. Apparently Her Majesty loves it so much that she devours the entire cake, without letting anyone else have any, and carries any leftovers around with her in a biscuit tin. That makes me like her even more!

What are your favourite baking cookbooks?

For failsafe, traditional cakes, I love Delia’s Cakes by Delia Smith. It was first published in 1977 and reissued in 2014 – and the recipes in there are timeless. I adore her chocolate beer cake, made with malty Guinness.

I love Mary Berry’s Absolute Favourites, Nigella Lawson’s Simply Nigella and, for bread, I use Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake, which contains the most amazing recipe for fruity glazed cinnamon buns.

Who are your foodie heroes?

Queen Mary [Berry], of course, is my foodie icon – I’ve been lucky enough to meet and interview her several times through my day job as a journalist, and she has always been utterly lovely. I once baked her a cake and she was very nice about that, too.

The late Fanny Cradock is another hero of mine. She was a trailblazer – flamboyant and fabulous and just a joy to watch. You can see most of her old cookery shows online and I love how no-nonsense she was about food, and how bossy she was towards her viewers.

We could learn a lot from the foodie faces of old – Elizabeth David is another I admire. She took this country from bleak austerity cooking to a world awash with vibrant colours and fresh herbs and spices… we owe her such a debt for opening our eyes and recasting food as something exotic and exciting.

These days, I am in awe of the amazing bloggers, chefs and stylists who are quietly doing the most magnificent things with food – people like Anna Jones, Rosie Birkett, Emma Spitzer, Signe Johansen – and I think they’re all heroes.


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