Jo Wheatley: Winning The Great British Bake Off made my dream come true

We catch up with Jo Wheatley, winner of the last series of The Great British Bake Off, as she launches her cookery book ‘A Passion for Baking’. Enjoying a macaroon masterclass with her, we find out her secrets to macaroon success, who inspires her in the food world and how her life has changed since winning the show.

How did your love of baking start?
I loved being in the kitchen with my nan. She always made pastry and she’d give me the trimmings to make jam tarts. I was 3 and it all started from there, really. I’ve always cooked with my three boys, Billy, Jesse and Dylan and now I’m starting to cook with my grandson, Harley, who is only 18 months. Well I say ‘cook’ – we tried to decorate some fairy cakes the other day, but didn’t get very far. As soon as I turned round his elbows were in the cakes.

What made you enter The Great British Bake Off?
My friend told me about this new cookery show she thought I would like. I looked it up online and there was an application form so I just filled it in. I was too late for the first series, but they contacted me for the second series. I’m naturally a shy person and the whole experience has helped me be more confident. I just took it stage by stage, never expecting to get through to the next level. I was so nervous all the way through, but when it came to the final, strangely, I wasn’t nervous. I thought, whatever happens I’ve done well.

And what has your life been like since winning?
It’s so unbelievable to me that this has all happened – a dream come true. I keep expecting a tap on the shoulder to say it isn’t so. I’ve always wanted to run a little cookery school, and winning the show gave me a good platform to start it. I run the school from my home in Essex, the classes are small, about 6 people, and very informal. I really enjoy it, but still get nervous before each class. I also have a blog called Jo’s Blue AGA.

Which celebrity chefs or cooks inspire you?
I really love Nigella and admire the way she combines family life with her cooking. Mary Berry is wonderfully kind and I think Jamie is great, especially the way he campaigns to improve the way we eat, in particular school dinners.

How did you choose the recipes for your book?
A lot of them are recipes that I’ve cooked for years and others are from ideas that come to me in the night. I wake up at 3am with an idea in my head, so I always keep a notebook by my bed to jot down my ideas straight away. Then I get my friends to come round, try my recipes and give me their feedback.

How often do you bake and what do you love to make?
Virtually every day I’m baking something. I keep a well-stocked cupboard so I’ve always got ingredients to hand. I’m really enjoying making bread at the moment and love kneading the dough. I’d never made Danish pastries before the show and now they’re one of my favourites, but so calorific I have to restrict how often I make them.

What do you think will be the next baking trend?
At the moment everyone wants to make macaroons – it’s one of the most popular classes I teach and I’d really like to see bread-making become much more popular.

You’ve clearly mastered making macaroons, what are your top tips?
Firstly, separate the eggs a couple of hours before and leave the egg whites to stand at room temperature. To colour the mixture, use gel food colourings – you need to use so little to get a good colour and it doesn’t change the texture of the mixture. For even-sized macaroons just count 123 in your head as you pipe the mixture, it’s easier than drawing lots of circles on the baking paper. Once you’ve piped the macaroons, leave them until they form a skin before you bake them. This can take from 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen. Finally, don’t overbake them. They should be just firm enough on the outside to lift off the baking paper but still be soft and chewy in the centre.

Jo’s Book ‘A Passion for Baking’ is available exclusively from Sainsbury’s (RRP £8)

Where to next?

Jo Wheatley’s recipes

Great British Bake Off recipes

Mary Berry recipes