Bake Off’s Howard Middleton on getting experimental with gluten free-baking
09:00 01 September 2015
Sheffield star of the Great British Bake Off reveals his bad habits in the kitchen, baking tips and life since the BBC cookery show
Charming us with his quirky personality and creative bakes, Howard Middleton became a firm favourite with the viewers of The Great British Bake Off series 4. A former Sheffield Council worker, these days Howard can be found at food festivals around the country, teaching at Hartingtons artisan food school in Bakewell or on the pages of his first book – Delicious Gluten Free Baking – a journey into the sweet and savoury pleasures of a wheat-free life that is packed with tempting pictures and recipes. We caught up with him about life since his time in the tent.
Congratulations on your recent marriage – did you bake your own wedding cake?
Thank you! No, there was no cake this time! Peter and I had our civil partnership in 2007, so this was just a simple conversion because of the change in the law enabling us to marry. We celebrated with a family meal after but we didn’t want to take anything away from that special day eight years ago. And yes, I did bake my own cake then – a blue, nautical themed creation, which you can see on my website!
How has life changed since The Great British Bake Off?
Wow, where do I start? Being on Bake Off has opened up so many wonderful opportunities. You sort of expect that lots of people will ask you to bake cakes, but I never really thought that anyone would want to come along and watch me do demos or see me teach, but they do. And I love the fact that people seem to like my quirkiness and sense of humour. It’s made me much more confident to just be myself.
If you had your time in the Bake Off tent again, what would you do differently?
I always think there’s not much point in thinking about ‘what if’s. It would have been great if I’d had more time to practise some of my bakes but it’s hard if you’re still working full time. And even the things you have practised don’t always turn out the same in the tent – often worse, but sometimes better too! Everyone who takes part in Bake Off has a unique experience and I’ll treasure mine forever.
You’ve written a gluten-free recipe book – is that something you always wanted to do?
I think a lot of people dream of writing a book. My first cake on the Bake Off was gluten-free and the response was amazing. People started asking for more and more gluten-free recipes. Baking gluten-free also gives you an opportunity to experiment with alternative flours, like quinoa, chestnut and hemp and I’m fascinated by their different qualities and uses. But I hope that people will see these are recipes that everyone can enjoy – not just those who have to avoid gluten – it’s a very inclusive baking book.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get inspired by all sorts of things – eating out, holidays abroad – there are lots of cuisines that use gluten-free ingredients so it’s interesting to tap into these. I love pottering around delis and whole food shops and being inspired by new ingredients.
What advice would you give to those amateur bakers looking to take their baking to the next level?
It’s important to find your own style of baking, but you should also try to learn as many basic skills as possible – make meringues, jam, spun sugar, custard! Oh, and do both sweet and savoury baking.
The Bake Off often plays host to a scandal or two – who can forget the theft of your custard! Do more things like this happen during filming that get edited out by the final cut of the show?
It would be pretty dull if everything went perfectly in every bake… and almost impossible! You have two days of baking and interviews edited into an hour, so there are bound to be things missed, but it was clear from the start that the case of the missing custard wasn’t going to be missing from the final cut!
What are your top tips for the contestants this year?
It is stressful, because when you bake at home, you’re not doing it up against the clock with cameras in your face and with the prospect of Paul and Mary judging you. But my advice would be to relax and enjoy the experience as much as possible – you’re only in the tent once.
Do you have any bad habits in the kitchen?
Yes, I really need someone on hand to wash up after me. I use bowl after bowl, spoon after spoon, and then I feel a little overwhelmed when I realise there’s no work top left. But I’d argue that it is a small kitchen… and I do have a lot of utensils.
What are the items you can’t live without in the kitchen?
I’m actually pretty resilient – I can cope without most things really. We went to a friend’s house in France when her kitchen was still being built and I made bread on an upturned cool box. At home, I like some big metal mixing bowls and my rolling pin that can be set to roll to a specific thickness – perfect for pastry and biscuits. But my favourite item is a red spatula that a friend gave me, which is just the perfect size and so incredibly useful.
What is your favourite thing to bake?
That’s the great thing about baking – sometimes you feel like baking something simple and rustic, at other times you want to pull out all the stops and impress with a showstopper. But I do really love creating birthday cakes for my three nieces – they have some very original ideas and I love a challenge!
To discover beautiful baking products, head over to the Great British Life.