Since winning The Great British Bake Off in 2011, Jo Wheatley has been one busy lady. Balancing a cookery school at her home and writing two recipe books, Jo even finds time to lend her baking services to charity.
As she prepares to take part in the Big Hour Cake Sale she tells us what life has been like since The Bake Off, including her favourite moments, keeping up with the other contestants and her top tips for anyone planning on entering The Bake Off! And, we finally get to thank her in person for contributing to our very own charity bake sale.
Thanks for making the cake for our Bake-A-Wish bake sale – we loved it! What is it about bake sales that you like?
I think it brings everybody together and it’s a feeling of community. You’re able to raise money for a good cause and I think with the massive upturn of baking at the moment, it seems a great way to get everybody together to chat about the different bakes, try new things, maybe swap some recipes and raise money.
Tell us about your latest charity baking scheme.
I’m working with The Rainbow Trust, which is a charity that raises money to support families with terminally ill children which obviously is a fantastic cause, it’s when people need support the most. I made a rainbow cake (below) and I’m heading up their campaign to get everyone involved when the clocks go back. We want everybody to use that extra hour we get in October to do some baking and either have a bake sale themselves or take the cake into work and sell it or have coffee with friends. It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, you could bake a cake and have everyone round for tea and each person can make a donation and give it over to The Rainbow Trust and then they can continue doing their fantastic work.
See how to make Jo’s fantastic rainbow cake here
If you were hosting a bake sale yourself what kind of treats would you sell and why?
I always think tray bakes are the best, they’re synonymous with bake sales. They’re almost made for a bake sale and with the supermarkets selling those big silver trays you can just transport them so easily. Classics like coffee and walnut and lemon drizzle always go down a treat, as does chocolate Malteser cake. Brownies are always popular, cut them up when you get there, they look quite neat and tidy, wholesome and homely and I think that people are always drawn to those.
What would be your top tips for hosting a bake sale?
Let people know about it, get the word round as much as possible – getting lots of people involved is the key. Go round your local schools and get the children and mums involved, I always think that’s a good place to start.
We’d love to know what you’ve been up to since the Bake Off days. We hear you’re running cooking classes and everything, you must be a busy bee?
Well I’ve written two books. They both went into The Time’s bestseller list which was obviously amazing and just a massive surprise to me really, a real thrill. You couldn’t imagine how amazing it is to see your name up there with the best of the best. I’ve had the cookery school from my house in Essex which always get booked up and are always good fun. It’s lovely you get to meet so many different people that all have the same passion as me, and to be able to work doing something I really love is a very unexpected surprise. It all stemmed from being on Bake Off. The same with my blog, that still gets huge hits and before the Bake Off I couldn’t even use a computer! While I was on Bake Off I was teaching myself to use a computer as well!
How has your life changed since the Bake Off?
I’ve had the chance to meet lots of chefs, do all the food shows, do talks and I get to meet people I would never have met. It’s given me a huge confidence which I didn’t have before. It really has made a massive change; I always say it’s like me before but better.
Did you ever think you’d be baking for a living?
I didn’t really, my boys Dylan, Jesse and Billy, were getting older and I began to contemplate what I would do once they were all off my hands, I had sort of thought that it would need to be in the food industry because that was my main strength. You know when you write down a list of things that you’re good at and things that you’re not and the foody side was always what I came up with. I never dreamt that I’d ever be able to write a cookery book. In fact, when we started filming Bake Off and they said that our recipes would go into this Bake Off book, that was one of my most exciting moments. To then have two cookery books full of my own was amazing. When A Passion for Baking came through and I got to see my name on the spine that was literally spine tingling stuff.
What is your favourite part of life after the Bake Off?
That moment when I saw my first hard copy of A Passion for Baking was just unbelievable. I have to pinch myself when I walk past and see my two cookery books in shops, and think ‘they’re mine’. That was pretty strange as well, walking into Sainsbury’s and I’m outside swinging on one of those signs. In actual fact my little godson sent me a photograph pulling a face and pointing at a banner of me!
Are you still in contact with any of the other bakers fron your series of The Bake Off – do you know what are they up to now?
I still speak to Holly Bell regularly and I speak to Yasmin Limbert occasionally. We sort of all tweet each other. I think Yasmin runs a children’s cookery school. Holly does lots of stuff for QVC and Sainbury’s. Mary Ann Boermans, who was in the final with me, has a book coming out. Keith Batsford, who went out on the first week, has just emigrated to New Zealand I think. So with Twitter and Facebook now you get to see what everyone’s doing.
Have you been enjoying this series of the Bake Off? Who’s your favourite contestant so far?
It’s been really good, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been quite nice to be a little bit detached from it. This week someone’s hand was shaking and it brought back real memories of when I was doing my mille feuille and I couldn’t stop my hands shaking. I quite like Ruby, Francis always does amazing designs, always has a plan and everything is really methodical, very unlike me. Ruby doesn’t realise how good she is, I think she’s really good. I like Kimberly. Actually I think they’re all great, they’re all really good. You don’t get horrid bakers!
If you could give the winner one piece of advice for life after the Bake Off,
what would it be?
Prepare for the bombardment of emails, I got something like 1700 emails in the week after my win. I did try and answer them all back myself, I’m not sure if I managed. Bearing in mind I wasn’t someone who was particularly computer literate before, it was ridiculous for me. But it was lovely the amount of well-wishers, so it was really nice.
If any of our users wanted to enter the Bake Off, what would your top tips be?
My top tip would be to make sure that they answer the application form as fully as they possibly can and, when they do their first bake audition, to do something that they’re confident with and not something that’s all show stopper-y. Do something that they know tastes really good and that they’ve been baking for a long time, the showstopping thing for me is that it tastes good. My first bake was a lemon drizzle cupcake with a Italian buttercream and a stromboli that I used to make for my son’s packed lunch.
For further details on how to register to take part in the Big Hour Cake Sale and to see some of Jo’s tasty recipes please visit: thebighour.org.uk