Paul Hollywood: 'I wouldn't mind your apple cake recipe' (2024)

I'll admit it, I'm feeling a bit nervous. Not just because I've baked a cake for Britain's toughest cake critic. But also because it's my first ever cake. It's like singing my first ever song for Simon Cowell.

I do cook. I'm brilliant at it, as it happens. I'm just not a very cakey person, have never felt the urge to make one. But given that I'm interviewing Mr Cake himself, it would have been foolish to throw up the opportunity for feedback. I've done Grandma's apple cake – not my grandma's, my girlfriend's, Grandma Edna's.

"When did you make this?" says Paul Hollywood, prodding it suspiciously. OK, I may need to work on my presentation. It's brown, crusty and cratered, like somewhere Hubble may have sent back a photo of. And it might not look its best in the plastic container I've plonked down on the table (we're in the cafe of a sort of posh indoor farmers'-market-type place in Canterbury, not far from where he lives).

Last night, I tell him. He tries a small piece, savours expertly, ponders. I'm beginning to understand what those poor people on the television go through. "I'm impressed," he says, finally. He's impressed! "It's got a good bake on it, good colour, tastes great, the apples are delicious."

Delicious! Apples are notoriously tricky to bake with, he tells me. All they want to do is to release their moisture into the cake. But I've somehow (I mean, skilfully) avoided the dreaded soggy bottom. It could have done with a bit more sugar sprinkled on top. And he would suggest having it as a pudding, in winter, with a dollop of custard. "But it does taste very, very good. I wouldn't mind the recipe."

He wouldn't mind the recipe! Paul Hollywood off the telly wouldn't mind the recipe! Well, we'll have to see what Grandma Edna has to say about that. So, do I get Star Baker? "If I was judging this for the show as it is, I would give you … put it this way, I wouldn't be worried about you leaving," he says. I'm not leaving!

He's talking about The Great British Bake Off on BBC2, of course, more of a phenomenon than a TV show. Now in its third series, it regularly gets viewing figures of more than five million and has catapulted Hollywood from hotel baker, who has knocked on the door of television before without ever getting much more than a toe inside, to baking superstar. Not to mention national sex symbol.

What's going on, I want to know? "One of the reasons is because baking is more approachable [than other types of cooking] at any level," he says. "So, whether you're making a pie, a pasty, a sponge cake, a cupcake, a muffin ... if you've got a set of scales, good ingredients, a good recipe, anyone – from the age of eight to 80 – can do it."

Some of the credit for the show's success must go to the show itself, "a well-oiled machine", Paul says, which has found a nice balance between serious cookery programme and talent contest. Mel and Sue, providing jolly japes about buns and so on, are just like Ant'n'Dec for the Guardian reader. Mary Berry plays everyone's Grandma, the traditional home baker. And Paul? Well, he says that having come from a professional background (his father's bakery, followed by work in a number of top hotels), he makes a more forensic judge. Certainly he is the harsher critic, the one contestants fear.

Paul Hollywood: 'I wouldn't mind your apple cake recipe' (1)

He also plays another role. I'd call it fox, if he wasn't so lupine. I'm talking kitchen god, a cream filling for a housewife's dream. The shirts-and-jeans combos might not be for everyone, but there's no denying the quiet confidence, the soft but authoritative Scouse accent, the silver mane gelled to stiff peaks ...

Yes, he's aware of that kind of attention, he says. "It's very flattering – any bloke who says it's not is lying – if not a little bit embarrassing as well. I'm actually quite a shy person." Shy! Doesn't that just make you want to eat him up even more, ladies?

Not just ladies. Paul has a big following in gay bear culture. "Yeah, I had heard about that," he says. And? "What? About the gay side? I don't have a problem with that, it's flattering, you know ..." He doesn't seem totally comfortable talking about it, though, changes the subject, mentions his wife a lot (she's a great cook, she cooks, he bakes, he wooed her with a croissant).

Does he think it's attractive in a man, to bake well? "Yeah, cooking, baking, if you can make something ..." He admits there's something sensual about it too. "Yeah, I think so. It's all in your fingertips. You've got to know when it's right and ready to go in the oven, when to take it out; it's all very tactile."

He says bakers make good masseurs too, from all that practice manipulating dough. He does Sue's neck and shoulders a lot on the show; she gets a bit tense. Go on then, I say, turning to present him with my back, if you wouldn't mind? "No!" Just a little one? "No!" That's because you're worried about your gay-bear following. "It's because I know people in here." He does; several have come over to say hello while we've been here, but I don't see how it rules out a little knead.

Oh well. Instead we talk about baking. About what makes a great baker (passion); about his passions outside baking (cars, especially Aston Martins – he owns a DB9); about how well he gets on with Mary (very, he stays with her when he's in London); about whether they agree (usually, but not always; they once nearly fell out over a chocolate fondant); about whether he always knows who's going to win (usually by show five, but not in this series).

And we talk about the contents of his breadbin at home. There's half a baguette, a seeded brown, a ciabatta, all made by him, of course. Then there's a Warburton's medium sliced white ... whoa, what? Paul Hollywood, artisan baker, author of 101 Great Breads, whose almond and roquefort and sourdough bread goes for £15 a loaf in Harrods, has sliced white at home? Not just at home, in his son's lunchbox sometimes. Why? "It's a great carrier," he says. "Don't kid yourself. Every five-star hotel I've worked at buys in sliced white, for sandwiches."

He's tried them all – Hovis, Kingsmill (which used to be advertised by Mel and Sue, remember?), but Warburtons is the best. It has to be medium-sliced, and in the waxed packet, not the plastic bag. He's not sponsored by Warburtons, is he? "I might be after this," he chuckles.

Well, I may not have got a massage from Paul Hollywood, but at least I got his dirty little secret out of him.

The final of The Great British Bake Off is on Tuesday 16 October at 8pm on BBC2. Thanks for help with questions from @MegaHeid, @fraserbrighton, @PooleLINk and others. #OpenJournalism

Grandma Edna's apple crusty recipe


225g self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
225g sugar (I used caster)
Sprinkle of demerara sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp almond essence
140g butter (melted)
400g apples (I used cooking, peeled and sliced)


Put the flour, baking powder and sugar in a bowl.

Beat the eggs and almond essence together, and stir this, along with melted butter, into the bowl.

Spread half in a greased cake tin, cover with apples, then cover with rest of mixture. Sprinkle demerara sugar on top.

Bake at 150C for 1 hour 15 minutes or until nicely crusty. Mmmm.

Paul Hollywood: 'I wouldn't mind your apple cake recipe' (2024)


What yeast does Paul Hollywood use? ›

I always use 'fast-action' or 'easy-blend' yeast.

What's the difference between instant dry yeast and active dry yeast? ›

A Quick Primer

Dry yeast comes in two forms: active and instant. "Active" describes any dry yeast that needs to be activated prior to use, while "instant dry yeast" describes any dry yeast that's ready for use the instant you open the package.

What's the difference between instant yeast and dry yeast? ›

Active dry yeast and instant yeast both help leaven bread and provide an airy, light texture, but they do so in slightly different ways and there's one major difference in how you use them: Active dry yeast needs to be dissolved in water before using, while instant yeast can be mixed right into dry ingredients.


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