Mary Berry on baking, TV and simple cookery
The queen of baking shares her cookery wisdom. By Sara Howlett.
Her friendly smile and kind comments on the hit show The Great British Bake Off have made 77-year-old Mary Berry the woman everyone wants to invite round for tea. She has published more than 70 cookery books since training at Le Cordon Bleu school in France when she was 17 and admits that she is just like everyone else in the kitchen - using shortcuts and “cheats” to achieve the best dishes she can...
Q: How do you feel about the incredible success of The Great British Bake Off (GBBO)?
Mary Berry: “When I was asked to do it I had no idea how popular it was going to be. I am not too surprised though because I think viewers look at the programme and think, ‘They are just ordinary people who enjoy baking.’ We are not harsh judges, we encourage. It's a very happy family programme and I think it's lovely that so many children are getting involved. The show is very popular with families because baking is something they can all take part in. It has become very expensive to take children off to theme parks and things like that, so why not entertain them at home with something they really enjoy?”
Q: Of all of the puddings, cakes, pies etc you have tasted on the GBBO which dish has impressed you the most?
Mary Berry: “Oh I think it would probably be the key lime pie. It was absolutely delicious.”
Q: Have you and Paul ever had a falling out over the judging?
Mary Berry: “We don’t fall out, no. We are great friends and we take a long time to judge everything. We want the right one to win. And we wouldn’t fall out because we respect each other.”
Q: How do you manage to stay so slim when you need to taste so many lovely things each week?
Mary Berry: “Well I am very careful. I do have a proper taste of everything and a proper slice of everything because I couldn’t be a true judge if I didn’t taste everybody’s food properly especially when they have gone to so much trouble. I have a few days of salads after a show. You have to have a balanced diet.”
Q: How did you get in to baking? Who introduced you to it?
Mary Berry: “My whole career has been 'cooking' and I was asked to write a cake book, and then having written a cake book I did another one because that sold so well and then I moved on to do more and more. I enjoyed it, I liked the precision of it and the science of it and getting it right.”
Q: What are your feelings about the way some chefs and cooks are getting more and more scientific with the use of wacky ingredients like liquid nitrogen? Do you think it just over complicates and intimidates people or do you think it is an exciting way of cooking?
Mary Berry: “A lot of people love the science behind some cookery and are intrigued by it and want to know more. I am much more a family baker, cooking at home, I don’t want people to have to buy extra equipment or learn anything more than really good family baking. I don’t use any wacky ingredients because of fashions. It could be here today and gone tomorrow.”
Q: A lot of people find baking is a form of relaxation - do you feel like that or is it just 'work' for you?
Mary Berry: “I think baking is perfect for when you’ve had a busy stressful day and you come home at the weekend; it is a lovely thing to bake because you can create something that can be shared by your friends and family.”
Q: What is your favourite thing to bake?
Mary Berry: “I have a spiced ginger tray bake that I like a lot. But I am partial to a lemon drizzle cake too (laughs).”
Q: Are there any technical challenges in the GBBO that you would hate to do yourself?
Mary Berry: “Oh, most definitely the strudel pastry.”
Q: Are there any kitchen gadgets that you really couldn’t do without?
Mary Berry: “A set of good sharp knives are terribly important, but then every chef says that. I must say that I find a mixing machine cuts the time tremendously.”
Q: Do you ever use shortcuts in the kitchen?
Mary Berry: “Oh I use shortcuts all the time. You have to be sensible, but I don’t use anything artificial. On the whole I do make everything, except for strudel pastry! If people want to buy ready-made pastry because they want to make things that involve pastry I say go ahead and do it.”
Q: How do you avoid a soggy bottom when baking pastry?
Mary Berry: “(Laughs) Oh well, that is easy. Whether it be a flan or a tart you usually bake it blind. Put it on a hot baking sheet to make sure that it is done in the middle. Baking blind and drying the pastry out before you put the filling in. That's the key.”
Q: What are your top three baking tips?
Mary Berry: “Buy some digital scales - baking does need accuracy. The recipe is everything so make sure you follow a good one and don’t waiver off it until you have done it once. If you want to add things to it or half it or double or whatever, do it the second time around. And most importantly of all, make something that you would like make and that your family and friends are going to enjoy because that is really what it is all about.”
Q: If someone wanted to impress you at a dinner party, what should they cook you?
Mary Berry: “I don’t really mind what they cook me and I don’t mind how simple it is as long as it is well cooked. I don’t like things that are too complicated, but I love simple fish and meat meals meals with fresh vegetables. When people cook for me it is lovely. It is one of my favourite things because I am just very grateful to be cooked for (laughs)."