Despite placing fourth on the Great British Bake Off in 2014, Chetna Makan says she had never made bread before entering the tent.
Of course, she knows her way around a loaf now, and after writing a few cookbooks focusing on Indian cuisine, she’s going back to her baking roots. Her new book, Easy Baking, is for people who are put off by complicated recipes – exactly how she used to feel about the prospect of homemade bread.
The book is all about simple baking that young kids and older people alike can make quite easily, she says. “I want people to not worry about the technicalities of the bake, and just enjoy the end product and the experience. I have tried to keep it very simple and approachable, to get the fear out of baking.”
As someone who has experienced the steely glare of Paul Hollywood in the tent, she knows the baking fear is real – but this push towards more accessible baking is a breath of fresh air, at a time when it feels like all we see are complicated cakes on social media.
And with a return to pre-pandemic levels of socialising, we are all too busy for anything too complicated. Makan wants to make sure people have the recipes they need – for example, if guests are unexpectedly coming round, and you want to whip something up.
“I want people to not worry about the technicalities of the bake, and just enjoy the end product and the experience”
The 43-year-old says: “If I have a last minute dinner party where I don’t have time to cool things down, I’ll be making a warm cake, like a banana traybake with toffee chocolate sauce. It doesn’t need fresh cream, and it doesn’t need to cool down.”
Makan wants to make sure amateur bakers don’t make mistakes that might put them off the whole process – but even pros can fall victim to a silly errors.
Embarrassed, she says: “I made a chocolate pudding for my friends for dinner, and I didn’t add sugar. I’m not even kidding, they actually ate it. When I sat down to eat it I realised. It didn’t taste foul because it wasn’t off – it’s just that it had no sugar!”
So it is important to follow the rules to some extent, she says.
Likewise, you’re tempted to eyeball the amount of yeast in a bread recipe instead of measuring it, it won’t work, she says. “Too much yeast can ruin the bread – it could just get too yeasty, and it could ruin the texture.”
But it doesn’t need to be about making a showstopper on your first try. “Baking can be very complicated. There are some bakes which I wouldn’t attempt myself, because they’re just too time-consuming, or too complicated.”
When Makan was a beginner herself, she started very simple. “I realised actually it’s not that complicated. You just need these four ingredients [flour, yeast, salt and water], properly measured, you just knead it, prove it and then you get bread.
“I think the key is to go for straightforward, simple recipes, not stuffed breads or sourdough with many kinds of proving involved. Just go for simple breads, like focaccia, for example.”
And kids can get involved too.
“My daughter absolutely loves baking. She doesn’t need me anymore,” says the mum-of-two. “She’s 14 and she’ll say, ‘I want to make brownies today’ – so she just makes them. She likes baking cakes and cookies, and if I have to make a cake and I’m running out of time, she can just pick up the recipe and start making it. It’s great, because she will also wash up after.
“The banana cake really is the family favourite. I can put it down and they will just demolish it. And chocolate pistachio cookies, they love those too. My daughter loves making those, because they are so easy.”