On the eve of a new season of “The Great British Baking Show” on PBS (a.k.a. Series 4 from the original “Great British Bake Off”), we’re checking in with an alum of Series 5: Martha Collison. You may remember her as the youngest contestant, a 17-year-old sweetheart who made it to Round 8 before Showstopper doughnuts did her in.
Collison, now 20, still lives in Ascot, Berkshire, with her family. After her run on the show, she took a deep breath before capitalizing on her newfound fame — and then in fairly short order began writing a weekly recipe column for the Waitrose grocery chain, did “cool stuff” with charities and taught cookery classes. Oh, and she produced two cookery books: “Twist: Creative Ideas to Reinvent Your Baking” (Harper Collins) was released last year in the United Kingdom and in the United States earlier this month, and “Crave: Brilliantly Indulgent Recipes” (Harper Collins) is due out in the U.K. in late July.
Excerpts of our conversation follow (edited for length and clarity):
WaPo Food: It was smart but challenging, I bet, to take a year off. What did you do?
Collison: Well, that was a massive whirlwind! I finished my studies — a second year of A levels, in math, chemistry and food technology. I got approached to do a book deal about a year after the show aired. I got a lot of marriage proposals … it was the weirdest thing. And I baked — still do — everyday.
I have to say, my parents have been so brilliant. It’s been full-on for the whole family. They’ve kept me grounded — as in, I still have to do the washing up.
What’s the baking scene like for young millennials in Britain?
It’s quite strong. Shows like the “Bake Off” have inspired a new generation to bake from scratch. Baking was a grandmother thing before that, although I feel like baking is ingrained in the British. I was only 13 when the first series came out, you know.
Which was more daunting — being on the show or publishing cookbooks?
Both presented challenges! I did lots of research for “Twist,” read textbooks. I went through long periods of testing and getting feedback from friends. A home economist tested them as well. I tried to put my own unique touch on the recipes, and make them easy to follow.
On the show, everyone else was over 30. I was worried I wouldn’t make proper friends. It took a few weeks, but then I was surprised at how well the group gelled. Baking in an oven that isn’t yours, not being able to use your own pans — that was difficult.
You all seemed to get along. Do you keep in touch?
Yes, especially with Richard [Burr] and Chetna [Makan]. We share baking advice.
What can we see in “Twist” that represents your special touch?
I wanted to include lots of diagrams and illos that show the breakdown of steps involved in a brownie or cupcake. I made rough drawings and they hired a proper illustrator to make them look more professional.
Cupcakes are tricky?
America does them a lot better. Here, they tend to be a bit too sweet, especially when we make them at home. I’m keen on decorating them, and matching up flavors. You’ll see.
We’re getting ready to see a series with Mary [Berry], Paul [Hollywood], Mel [Giedroyc] and Sue [Perkins]. Have you seen the “Bake Off’s” new format on U.K.’s Channel 4?
Not yet. I loved the way it was. I hope the new contestants will have the same wonderful experience I had.
The first two episodes (Cake and Biscuits) of “The Great British Baking Show” Series 4 air starting at 9:15 p.m. Friday on MPT; the back-to-back episodes will air beginning at 8 p.m. Sunday on WETA-UK.
Here’s what you can look for this season …
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