Tell us about your book, The Weekend Baker
Basically the cookbook sees me travelling around the world, as opposed to just the UK, from Miami to St Petersburg via many different European cities, finding the best classic bakes from each place. For me, the trip was about finding kindred spirits – in New York, Madrid, Copenhagen, Warsaw, St Petersburg – and learning from them. By the time I’d finished filming the series and writing the book, I’d discovered a renewed passion for baking. I hadn’t lost it, I was just doing very similar things over and over again. Getting out there and learning again equipped me with a load more information and inspiration.
I’m like an encyclopaedia when it comes to baking but when I went to these cities, I realised that although I knew a lot, my knowledge was restricted. I’d seen recipes from books and I’d tasted them, but to see them being made in situ in local cafes and bakeries, that I found fascinating. To actually get my hands dirty with the professionals helped me enormously and it was a huge influence on everything featured in The Weekend Baker.
I wanted the book to have a strong feeling of movement, bringing recipes together not just from the UK but from all over the world and I think we’ve achieved that. I wanted it to be a book that people could look at and say ‘do you know what? I’m going to make that this weekend,’ and feel like they’re having a weekend break to that place. I want the reader to be able to visit Paris simply by baking a rustic fig and apricot tart and washing it down with a great glass of French wine, or to go to Madrid by making a traditional empanada to have with a nice Rioja; to get that feeling of making the effort and doing something a little bit special.
I want the book to be well thumbed through, well used, but I also hope it influences where people go on their city breaks. Each of the cities in there can be reached within 3 hours, with the exception of Miami and New York – so they’re all very accessible. I hope the book not only inspires people to bake some different things, but also to visit and explore different cities.
If you had to choose one recipe to show off what the book is about, what would it be and why?
Choosing just one is tricky, but the scones from the London chapter would definitely be a contender. When filming the series, we went to Cliveden House, where I used to be Head Baker, and it was great to get back into the kitchen and revisit this classic. The recipe I’ve given is fool proof – provided you use strong white bread flour, it gives a great structure to the dough and creates a fluffy, light crumb. Saying that, the Caprese Cake from the Naples chapter brings back such amazing memories of the Amalfi coast. The key to this recipe is grinding the almonds yourself – the traditional way to do it – and it makes all the difference. The importance of this technique only became really apparent when I saw Andrea Pansa, a fifth-generation baker, doing it first-hand, and now I’d never do it any other way.
Is there an ingredient you’re really enjoying baking with at the moment?
One of my favourite ingredients is lime, as I just love the flavour. They use it loads in Miami, in Key lime pie and mojitos – I had quite a few of both while I was there! You can also use dried lime, which is great for making a really smooth, tangy lime posset with a little bit of ginger biscuit underneath . . . oh my, it takes me back. If I close my eyes, I’m back on the beach in Miami.
What’s your comfort food?
Doughnuts. I realised this in New York when I went to a place called Dough. The owner, Fany Gershon, makes amazing doughnuts. Some of the flavours she uses are incredible, from passion fruit to mango, pineapple, rose and tequila. She even does a mojito one. So, yes, this is my comfort food.
Do you have an all-time favourite bake?
Croissants, definitely croissants. To eat a good croissant in the morning, with a strong coffee, is really special. You get the buttery-ness on your fingers and that flaky, melt-in-the-mouth pastry. And then you get that little bit of tension from the structure inside. Just beautiful. I’ve put together a great recipe for them in the book, where you can also see photos of me making them alongside Laurent Duchêne in his Parisian bakery. I definitely learnt a few tips from him – his croissants have been awarded prizes for being the best in France.
Find out more about The Weekend Baker here. And check out Paul's delicious recipe for Lemon Drizzle Slices from the book.