Great British Bake Off host Paul Hollywood talks to TV Times magazine about how to get the perfect loaf of bread, and why we should all be getting busy in the kitchen…
How easy is it to make bread?
“Bowl. Flour. Water. Yeast. Salt. Fat. Hands. That’s it!”
Your new series, Bread (BBC2, Tuesday), shows us everything, from making a classic white bloomer through to soda breads, flatbreads, continental breads, malt loafs and sourdough…
“I want to get people making bread for the first time and hope this series will throw taboos out of the window. I want to get rid of myths and legends – you don’t need to put it in an airing cupboard, or use warm water, or cover it a certain way – it’s all rubbish!”
Well, you’re certainly an expert…
“I’ve been baking bread for over 30 years now so feel qualified to teach viewers how to do it properly.”
Can we really do in an afternoon what you’ve spent years perfecting?
“If I can do it, anyone can. I could probably train a chimp to do it in 24 hours. Make up your dough, leave it in a bowl, out it comes, shape it, leave it to come up again, pop it in the oven. There’s nothing simpler. And once you get the bug you’ll be hooked.”
What’s so special and wonderful about bread?
“Cakes are new – baking powder didn’t come in until 1820 so before then cakes were just bread laced with sugar and fruit. Bread is ancient. It goes back thousands of years and because of that there’s something deep-seated in our soul – the hunter-gatherer element in our DNA – that enjoys making bread. A loaf coming out of the oven is truly fantastic.”
What are your earliest memories of making bread?
“I made my first bread – well, they were rolls, actually – with my dad when I was 10. It was a Saturday afternoon and we had Dickie Davies on. I still remember the taste and smell as they came out of the oven. It was one of the best rolls I’ve ever had.”
You railed against joining the family bakery and enrolled at art school instead. What happened?
“Then Dad said, ‘I’ll give you £500 if you cut your hair and join the bakery,’ so I did! It was hard being a young lad, working night shifts and seeing my mates go out enjoying themselves, but I was disciplined, dedicated. It was a career, a life.”
You became head baker at a number of top hotels in Blighty and then Cyprus, where you met and married your wife, Alexandra…
“We could easily have stayed, but I met a TV producer who suggested I try some telly so I came home and made a series with James Martin [1999’s Use Your Loaf for digital channel Taste]. We both look about 10 in it!”
How has your travelling influenced your baking?
“I’ve been to Jordan, Israel, Egypt – just to expand my knowledge and tastebuds. I love meeting bakers and grandmothers up in the villages who have wonderful old recipes to share. I come home and put a twist on them, adding flavours like almond and Roquefort, which I know work in Britain.”
You have a son of your own now. Is the tradition continuing through your family?
“My dad started me off with white rolls, but I teach my son, Josh, how to make sourdoughs, ciabattas and focaccias, which is purely down to holidaying, discovering foreign breads and wanting to make them.”
You also show us in the series how bread can form the basis of a meal in itself…
“Bread’s normally the side dish, but what I’ve done is put it centre stage and made cooking the side part. So once you’ve made those pittas and seen the magic happen as they explode in the oven, make the souvlaki of griddled pork, onions and oregano to put inside it. Or add mango and curry powder to freshly made naan bread; when you taste that with curry it’s staggering.”
What’s your favourite bread?
“Sourdough. A slice of that with scrambled egg and Parma ham. Job done.”
“My favourite sandwich is a bacon buttie. Warburton’s sliced white, bacon – then sit on it to make it thin!”
We think we’d be the size of a house if we ate lots of bread!
“Carbohydrates are not bad for you, not as part of a balanced diet – any dietician will tell you that. It’s wrong to think bread is the dieter’s enemy. It’s not bread, but what people put on it that’s often the problem; too much jam or peanut butter!”
Do you think the image of bread has changed a lot since you started out?
“Yes. The artisan movement has taken off with people interested in where and how their bread is made. And sourdoughs have become popular over the past decade which with better carb’s and no sugars are really good for you.”
Can you get a workout making bread?
“Kneading’s great for your bingo wings. You end up with toned arms and something nice to eat at the end of it. I can see a fitness video coming on!”