MARK KENNEDY Associated Press
If Paul Hollywood needed proof that he and “The Great British Bake Off” have become pop culture icons, all he has to do is turn on Netflix.
In last year’s star-studded heist film “Red Notice” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, was a clip from the Hollywood show, an unlikely hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
In one scene, Gadot, after a double or triple crossover, is shown relaxing in front of a television while waiting for a trap to be triggered on one of her co-stars. “She sits and looks at me during the ‘Bake Off’ and I say, ‘What? It’s Wonder Woman!'”, says Hollywood, still amazed.
Hollywood may have become Hollywood, but he doesn’t forget where the magic happens. The English baking specialist has gone back to basics this summer with ultimate versions of recipes tweaked and updated for the modern world in Bloomsbury Publishing’s new ‘Bake’ cookbook.
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“There were some things that I thought were too sweet and you didn’t need to have that much sugar. I think our palates have changed over the last 20, 30, 40, 50 years,” he says. “I thought to myself, ‘Well, if you can reduce the sugar and still enjoy a fantastic cake, then surely that’s a good thing.'”
The book is divided into six parts: cakes, cookies and scones, breads and flatbreads, pizzas and donuts, pastries and pies, and desserts. There are ripened versions of everything from chocolate orange banana bread and cheese and onion bread to quattro formaggi pizza and fish pies.
Each recipe aims to capture the essence of the dish, and Hollywood hopes home cooks will learn the basics. “Once you master it, you can tweak it and tweak it and change it and make it your own. You have to master it first – walk before you can run,” he says.
In addition to adding less sugar – and also less salt – Hollywood has put its own spin on some recipes, like asking for bread flour – also known as strong flour – in its scones and ditching lemon in enjoy a lime meringue pie.
A former professional baker, Hollywood has built a media empire writing cookbooks and judging on TV. He’s known as much for rewarding contestants with a prized handshake as he does for his direct assessments of dishes, saying things like “I think they’re a little messy” and “They need to be in the oven a lot longer.” . That’s a shame.”
He and fellow judge Prue Leith became world stars thanks to ‘The Great British Bake Off’, which airs in the US as ‘The Great British Baking Show’. Hollywood has created shows such as “Paul Hollywood Eats Mexico”, “‘The American Baking Competition”, and “Junior Bake Off”.
There’s a caveat in every “Bake” recipe, a reflection of Hollywood’s outspoken but fair personality. There are often a few introductory sentences with an explanation of its settings, then a set of economic guidelines, some no longer than a few hundred words.
“You can have your fluffy frills and comments when you eat with your friend,” he laughs. “I said, ‘Let’s cut to the chase, do this fucking thing and then you can sit down and talk.'”
All you really need to cook like a pro, he says, is a kitchen scale, your hands and a good oven. Prospective bakers should not be intimidated by working with moisture or yeast.
“I think at the end of the day, the recipes themselves are very accessible,” he says. “If you weigh the recipe correctly and your oven has been serviced – or it’s been cleaned and it’s been well-maintained and it gets to the temperature it says it gets – you’re at 90 % of the way just by weighing things properly. After that, just throw it in a blender and blend it.”
Hollywood’s passion for baking is contagious and her knowledge profound. If you thought sourdough — which has become more popular during the pandemic — originated in San Francisco, Hollywood dates back further. He traced it back to the ancient Egyptians who baked it for the sun god Ra, then to the Romans and then to the Europeans, who brought it when they emigrated to California.
“What’s a sourdough? Well, to me, as long as you don’t use store-bought yeast, you make your yeast in flour water and exploit the bacteria in suspension in the air, then what you do is leaven,” he says.
Speaking of a pandemic, Hollywood is encouraged by the fact that more and more bakers are turning to their kitchens and baking muffins, cookies or baked goods to sell.
“People have a passion for baking, which, yes, existed before. But what happened is that they nurtured that passion during the pandemic. And now it has become a hobby in their own right, a gift, a trade or a business they want to invest in,” he says.
He says he even sees a higher awareness, sophistication and passion among the contestants of ‘The Great British Bake Off’, which has filmed 12 seasons with no end in sight.
“It’s always been there, but it seems to be intensifying more and more now. They’re so knowledgeable about baking, which they just weren’t in seasons one and two,” he says. “They had an interest and they were good, but they just seem to be so much more informed now. And that takes my breath away.”
Hollywood has also noticed that men are engaging more in baking, which it encourages. He also wants kids to get hands-on instead of spending time on their Playstations or Switches.
“It’s all about how delicate you are with some of the sponges and how skilled you are with your touch to create something that looks and tastes amazing – that’s what baking is all about. . I always find it a very inclusive thing.”