The 2013 series of The Great British Bake Off was the most exciting yet, with all the finalists displaying wit, flair, imagination and enormous skill in their baking. In a fiercely competitive final, Ruby Tandoh turned out a series of spectacular bakes, including this Picnic Pie, but was just beaten to the GBBO crown by Frances Quinn. Her post-Bake Off life has seen her emerge as a major new food writing talent, and she now pens a popular weekly baking column for The Guardian.
We are thrilled to announce that Ruby is now working on her debut cookbook - Crumb - to be published by Chatto & Windus in September this year. We caught up with Ruby to find out more about the cookbook, and to explore her foodie passions (as well as getting her take on the highs and lows of Bake Off).
We are jumping up and down with excitement about your new cookbook. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
It's about flavour, first and foremost, a simpler sort of baking (no sugarcraft! no fondant! no fuss!) to excite the palate without stifling the joy of baking with ceremony and pretence. It'll read much like a friend helping you in the kitchen, guiding you through the whys and hows of everything from simple sponge cakes to teatime biscuits, to steaming pies and puddings and delicate pastries. All areas of baking are covered with the same enthusiasm and excitement, delving into the science of the bakes, exploring the focal ingredients and giving tips for variations. I hope people will find it refreshingly practical – I've never had any interest in expensive kitchen equipment, rare ingredients or novelty tins, cutters and tools, so they have no place in the book. But most important of all, it's a baking book written with care for every single ingredient used, from inky blackcurrants to thick cream. I bake for the love of it, and I hope that you will, too.
The 2013 series of The Great British Bake Off was the most exciting yet, with such incredible baking talent from all the finalists. What is your fondest memory of the show?
Strangely, it's the train ride home each week that I remember most clearly and with most fondness – the dull stretch from Bristol to London Paddington on a Sunday evening. Adrenaline and insulin just about returned to normal and, for the first time all week, I would have the time and wherewithal to actually think about what had happened and how exciting it had all been... and be calm. It was only made better by the tiny-but-terrific defiance of – after a weekend of baking critique, skill and perfectionism – eating a greasy, soggy-bottomed pasty bought from a hut on the station forecourt.
If you had known what it’s like to be a Bake Off contestant beforehand, would you have applied to go on the show?
That's a difficult one. I am happy that I did it but I'm not sure that I would have entered if I had known what I was letting myself in for... So much of what made Bake Off so fulfilling was that I had gone into it with no hopes, complete media naivety and very little confidence in my ability as a baker. It was a year of surprises. But to enter knowing just how competitive it is, well that's either madness or masochism.
We'd love to find out more about your foodie life. What's your favourite restaurant at the moment?
To be honest I've only eaten at one truly good restaurant. The rest of my eating out is done either tipsy or at cheap chain eateries. The restaurant was Bocca di Lupo, near Piccadilly Circus. I'm not sure whether it was hormones or the sauteed brown shrimp, but I came out feeling a bit emotional. It was the first time, after spending my formative years reading cookbooks and restaurant reviews and food supplements, that I'd eaten the sort of food that I had read so much about. I still daydream about the sea bream carpaccio.
Now that you're about to start on your own, we'd love to know what your favourite cookbook is...
Linda Collister's The Bread Book. I'm very fond of it. It's a bit dated now but still the best introduction to bread that I've read. Also, Claudia Roden's Book of Middle Eastern Food, which is written with a clarity, comprehensiveness and love that I don't think I've seen in any other cookbook.
Do you watch food shows on TV? Do you have a favourite?
I don't, actually. There's something intrinsic to the nature of TV which means that those essential ingredients in cooking – slowness, care, sensitivity – really don't transfer. Of course there are some shows, like Bake Off, where entertainment rather than food comes to the fore. But if I really want to learn about food, I turn to books.
Is there an ingredient you are really enjoying cooking with at the moment?
I'm having great fun with fennel seeds at the moment. It's perhaps a bit niche, I guess. I'm playing around with herbs in baking as well. Bay leaves, rosemary, thyme... it's exciting, I promise.
What excites you about the British food scene at the moment?
I'd know a lot more about the food scene if I ever ventured out of the kitchen... I'm happy that there's a growing interest in food. It's really fantastic to see people like Jack Monroe making food more accessible, though – we've had a long period of gastro-snobbery and now it's time for a culinary scene which everyone can afford and fit into their busy lives.
See our exclusive behind the scenes feature of Ruby Tandoh's Crumb here.
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