We chat with ex-GBBO winner Frances Quinn about how baking fails can be turned into baking wins, and she shares top tips for getting Paul 'n' Mary on-side

Frances Quinn

Photo: PR / Dave Smith

In keeping with our GBBO cake fever, the show's 2013 winner, Frances Quinn, has just released her first cook book this week.


Called Quinntessential Baking (we see what you did there, Frances), the book is all about adding extra creativity to your bakes. Frances shares some of the amazing designs that knocked out Paul and Mary a few years ago, as well as a few new exclusive recipes.


We caught up with Frances to find out more about her ultimate showstoppers and to get the inside goss on the most famous tent in Britain:


You can always eat your mistakes.

What’s the most ambitious cake you’ve ever made?

I think making the Shard out of gingerbread – that took a lot of cutting out of windows.


What about in the book?

There’s references to the giant bread matchsticks I made on the show, but we’ve got the little matchstick butter biscuits instead. The secret squirrel cake has been scaled down to the tree-trunk cake, but it still has a squirrel inside and he’s squirreled away a Ferrero Rocher instead. It’s about giving people ideas and inspiration to think beyond a typical flapjack or cake.

It's a Shard knock life for us

Do you ever have any ideas that just haven’t worked at all and ended up as massive baking fails?

Oh, plenty. But sometimes the fails can produce something great. Like the winter wonderland cake in the book: I made the trees in a mould, but they got stuck inside as they hadn’t been greased properly. I was thinking “Oh God,” but the bits that came out actually looked like a reef, so I turned that in to a reef cake, which is now featured in the book. So if it hadn’t gone wrong, then that design wouldn’t have happened.


So it’s a happy accident, then?

Yes – look at things like Eton Mess and Tiffin, which came out of broken biscuits and broken meringue. So unless it’s completely burnt or cremated, you can turn anything around. There’s loads of broken biscuit crumbs or cut-off cakes in my freezer that I then blend up into something I call cake fudge. You can always eat your mistakes.

Fried egg cakes

Via PR / Dave Smith

Frances' Fried Egg cakes

What inspires you? Do you walk past things and think, "Ooh, I could make that in cake”?

Yes, I have a habit of seeing everything as food. 


Do your friends and family pester you to make cakes for their birthdays?

I love creating bespoke bakes for people. I ask them about their favourite biscuit or what’s their favourite flavour or something associated with them. I like building up the ideas and ingredients to create something that’s going to tell a story. 


What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before going on GBBO?

That I might need a bigger fridge! It was like Tetris with all the butter in there. I also wish I’d known that Mary didn’t like coconut (although apparently she’s coming round to it). But Paul loves it, so I was, like, how am I going to play this? Even on the alcohol front, you think, oh Mary loves it, so I put a little more in. But baking is such a subjective thing; sometimes they’re going to like it and other times they’re not. I think you’ve got to stay true to your own baking identity and take it as constructive criticism and learn from it – but ultimately not change your approach to baking.

You’ve got to stay true to your own baking identity

Who do you think is favourite to win this year?

I think it’s still a bit early to tell. They’re all like your Bake Off brothers and sisters – to choose a favourite, it wouldn’t be fair! I love Nadiya and her cinnamon crème brûlée on Wednesday night’s show, as it’s my absolute favourite spice. But Paul’s lion bread was just amazing, and so was the cheesecake that Tamal made this week. I’m looking forward to meeting them all. They've become the new Bake Off lot.


What advice would you give this year’s contestants?

It’s all about keeping the results a secret – if MI5 ever want new recruits, they just have to get in contact with the Bake Off contestants! You have to get good at keeping a poker face when people ask you who won... I learnt a lot from that secret squirrel. 


Quinntessential Baking is published by Bloomsbury and is available now.

Quinntessential Baking

Photo: PR