The Jane Hornby Interview

Baking Tips from the UKs Jane Hornby


Jane Hornby’s What to Bake & How to Bake Itis a lush looking title from Phaidon, perfect for holiday gift giving or for your own library. Jane was called the “Gen Y Nigella Lawson” and indeed many of her recipes have a decided UK flair from her Festive Fruitcake covered in marzipan and fondant and her Coffee & Walnut Coffee Cake, which she says “is a stalwart of British teashops” but there are also perennial favorites such as Flourless Chocolate Cake, Red Velvet Whoopie Pies ands both the Iced Gingerbread Cookies and the Cranberry Stollen, both of which we are featuring. Jane took some time to answer a few questions for us.

Dédé Wilson: Jane, first of all, congratulations on the book. It is beautiful and of all the books I viewed this year it has such a pretty visual point of view – from the cover and the end papers to the way each recipe is extensively photographed. How did you choose the 50 recipes? Was part of the choice to present ones that are really helped by the visuals?

Thank you! I drilled the recipe list down to the 50 favourite recipes beginners are most likely to want, need or aspire to bake, with everything from a super easy peanut butter cookie to a celebration cake and everything in between.

The process was both easy and hard; the list of ideas flowed freely as I’ve always wanted to write a baking book and have many many favourites. But only being able to choose 50 of them was a battle!

As you suspected, I tried hard to make sure that as well as giving recipes suitable for all occasions, I had covered most of the main core techniques in baking, so that people cooking from the book really learn some key skills as they follow the recipe. I tried to limit too much repetition, include a good balance of flavours, and include enough different shapes to make the book interesting, without calling for a million different cake pans.


Dédé Wilson: Do you think there is a certain style or approach to UK baking? How would you describe that? And what do you find is universal, wherever one is baking?

I’d say us Brits have a very deep, nostalgic connection to our baking, and pour plenty of love into our cakes and bakes. Home made cake is deemed as ‘best’ – we’d rather make it than buy it (or heaven forbid us a packet mix!), though the skills aren’t necessarily coming through the generations anymore, which is another reason why I wanted to write this book. We can be rustic or refined – as with much of our cuisine, we have picked up baking styles from around the world and made them our own.

I think the universal element of baking is in the basic ingredients, which are the same the world over. Whether you’re in Paris making croissants or pie crust in New York, we can’t get anywhere without good butter, flour and eggs, and I find it fascinating how many products can be made with the essentially same ingredients and come out so differently!


Dédé Wilson: You are a baker who is also a trained chef. How do you explain your difference of approach to baking and cooking, or is there any?

I think there is a difference, but I enjoy both for a reason. I’m a calm, methodical baker, taking my time and going into the zone a bit – which is for me all the part of the joy. Even if I’m designing a cake that is aimed for busy Mums and hectic kitchens with only 2 minutes to spare to mix a cake together, I need to have taken my time over the process to make sure I get the recipe spot-on. I know what I want from a recipe, and have a picture in my head and a taste in my mind of exactly what I want it to be.

Some people find baking recipes restrictive and worry about getting baking ‘wrong’. But I believe if you have a well-explained recipe then anyone can bake with success.

The main difference with writing baking recipes compared with (most) savoury stuff is time; if it’s going to go wrong, you have to wait an awful long time to find out, waiting for the baking and the cooling…

I’m methodical when recipe testing savoury recipes too, but when I’m cooking our dinner or entertaining, then I love to cook on the fly, with the radio blaring and merrily ignoring whatever bits of a recipe I fancy (if I’m using one at all!).


Dédé Wilson: Your book is geared towards the home baker. What are the three most important things a home baker should know or do to have success?

This is so hard to distill – so I’m going to base my reply on the key pitfalls I see happening again and again when cooks are raring to go:

First, it’s measuring. Don’t guesstimate, or go by eye; each baking recipe has been worked out, carefully, like a little chemical equation, and it needs to be followed if you want to have the same result as you see there in the photo. In most cookbooks there will be info about this at the front of the book, which I know can be overlooked. But go there; take the time to find out how your author has measured their flour (especially if it’s with cup measures). You can easily add an ounce of flour to a cup by filling it the wrong way. If there are notes of temperature too, heed them well. Cold eggs beaten into creamed butter and sugar will make the mix split, for instance.

Really cream butter and sugar together well, if called for. By the time you have finished, the mixture should be pale and soft and feel almost like buttercream. This adds air and lightness and helps cakes rise. I find electric beaters or a stand mixer best for the job. Even if I am making an all-in-one cake, I do this first, before tipping in and mixing in the eggs, flour etc.

If a recipe contains bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and/or baking powder, always mix with the other dry ingredients and sift together well. Then when you have added the wet ingredients and dry together, get them into the pan and oven as soon as you can to avoid holes or a flat cake.

There are so many points I am itching to mention here, such as choosing pans, lining them properly… agh I could go on!


Dédé Wilson: Lastly, we are showcasing your Iced Gingerbread Cookies and the delectable Cranberry Stollen. Any particular tips to help our community members with these recipes?

The book’s recipes are written on a need to know basis – as you probably gather by now, I can write about cooking until the cows come home, but for this book I wanted the copy to be as immediate as possible. So, here are a few things I wish I could have added, had we the space:

For the cookies, be sure to melt the ingredients in the pan gently; don’t let it boil. And make sure you plan in the cooling time, as the dough really does need to be chilled for 2 hours or more to firm up and let the flour grains swell. You can always make the dough the night before and then bake it next day.

Sometimes when Stollen proves (proofs), the edges that you have pressed together can spring apart or start to pull apart a little; particularly if proving (proofing) quickly in a very warm spot. Give it a good pinch together again before baking.

Most recipes for bread will say to prove (proof) until doubled in size. But what you don’t want to do is overprove bread dough, as this will cause your loaf to lose its shape and have large bubbles. The best way to check if it’s ready is to prod the dough with your finger. If the dough springs back, it’s not ready. If it stays pushed in, get ready to bake.

One final tip here; put each loaf on its own sheet of paper, rather than both onto one. That way, if the loaves prove at different rates, you can spin them around independently without any problems. Look closely at the photo and you’ll see that’s what I did on the shoot.

Also note that the butter in my recipes is unsalted, and I add salt back to the recipe instead. Eggs are USA large and I fluff, scoop and sweep my flour, giving a cup that weighs 125g, if anyone has a scale.


Dédé Wilson: Jane, thank you so much for your time. I keep staring at that Stollen…it’s on my to-do list for gift-giving this year.

Me too. I’m going to make some especially for my Dad – he LOVES dried fruit. Thanks for the thought-provoking questions and kind words.


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