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.

“Great British Bake Off” contestant Martha Collison says “America does cupcakes a lot better” than her fellow countrymen. (Tara Fisher)

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.

“Twist” is the first of two cookbooks for Collison. It was just released in the States.
(Harper Collins)

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 …


(All courtesy of PBS Pressroom)



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