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The Icing on the Cake

An interview with Frances Quinn, winner of The Great British Bake Off: "I look at a brick wall and see gingerbread”
“My life has literally taken a somersault”

After years of gifting the office with her baked goods, it was Frances’s work colleagues who first encouraged her to apply for The Great British Bake Off. Over the course of the baking competition we saw the design-centric baker triumph – and stumble – over weeks of complicated and precise bakes. As to be expected, Frances’ life took a dramatic turn upon being crowned the Queen of The Great British Bake Off.

“It’s crazy! Today is actually the one year anniversary since I won down in Somerset. Of course it didn’t get broadcast till four months later and it is crazy how quickly time has gone by.”

As an established childrenswear designer for Joules, Frances is clearly a visual thinker.

“I’d always wanted to do something with all the ideas I get creatively. I remember that as a childrenwear designer I always used to get asked, ‘Fran, what would you choose, baking or design?’ But I feel now I’m just getting to design with food rather than with fabric.”

“My medium to design with at the moment is edible but there’s just so much crossover creatively, whether it be with architecture, fashion, even music. I’ve always got music on both when I’m in the kitchen baking or when I’m coming up with designs. I remember doing pastry pattern cutting and instead of puff pastry doing puff sleeves and darts and tarts, so there’s a real sort of medly that can go on between all the different creative fields. I just have a habit of seeing everything as food - I look at a brick wall and see gingerbread.”  

If a brick wall equates gingerbread, we’re intrigued to see what Cumbria landscape will inspire in Frances as she dons her hiking boots to host a 12k walk in aid of children’s charity NSPCC. Frances will be creating delights for a ten-man strong picnic in the Lake District. What can be expect on the menu?

“I’m going to be doing my Rainbow Trout Picnic Pie. Then I’m doing all bakes centred around Cumbria; Grasmere gingerbread men, Battermere tarts, Cumbria sausage rolls and a Kendal mint cake rocky road with trail mix and gingerbread.”

This will be the second time round for Frances’ picnic pie which made its debut in the nerve-wracking final of The Bake Off. It seems Frances has a real thing for al fresco dining … so what makes the perfect picnic?

“Firstly, it’s the company that you’re with. A great picnic needs lots of different variety going on, so you’ve a little sweet, a little savoury. I think food should all be about different textures. And – as it will be with the NSPCC picnic – an amazing location and backdrop to enjoy it with.”

From picnics to cakes and beyond, Frances may have forged a reputation for delicate and delicious goods, but she ensures us she’s still taken by a nice, simple bake.  

People say, ‘Oh I can’t bring you a cake round anymore’, but I’m like ‘no, I love a humble scone and a flapjack! Some of my bakes are quite elaborate but they don’t always have to have a squirrel hidden inside! Give me a good honest scone and I’d be more than happy.”

The Leicestershire local’s go-to cake recipe still hanker back to basics; “a good ginger cake, an all in the pan job, it saves on the washing up, and doesn’t normally hang around for too long!” 

And from the sound of it, the classic plain Victoria Sponge may epitomise what we think of as a classically Quinn bake, enabling the prefect platform from which to create a masterpiece.  

“I’ve been doing lots of naked wedding cakes so that’s been lots of sponge, laced with maybe a lemon drizzle and lemon curd and cream, so like I said I still like a good, honest cake. But sometimes you can just make it more interesting. I think that’s what I’m even wanting my recipe book to be about – taking a really simple basic bake but through the way you present it making it a little extra-ordinary to stand out from the ordinary.”

Frances is supporting the NSPCC on June 21st during National Picnic Week, and along with other top foodie names has created an auctioned picnic in the Lake District to raise much needed funds to support the work of the NSPCC in Cumbria. To donate please visit virginmoneygiving.com/PeterSidwell.