Baker extraordinaire Melanie Johnson has a new recipe book out featuring over one hundred brilliant bundts. She lets us in on the secret of the perfect bake.
Here she shares her top baking tips, why bundts are brilliant for beginners – and how baking kept her sane through her treatment.
First of all, huge congratulations on publishing Bundt: The Ultimate Bundt Cook Book. What is it about bundt cakes that you love so much?
Bundt cakes are a great way for even a beginner baker to bake something beautiful without much effort. A dusting of icing sugar and you have a masterpiece! The hole means they will never dip in the middle so cook evenly and stay deliciously tender.
I read that the word comes from the German bundkuchen – or ‘cake for a gathering’. What do you think it is that makes them so convivial?
My mother is German, so I grew up with them. I think they’re perfect for a gathering because they make such a beautifully sculptural centrepiece.
There are some 120 recipes in the book. Which are the ones that people might be most surprised by, do you think?
I think people may not know that Bundt tins work brilliantly for jellies and pannacottas!
You also feature bundts with ‘star quality’ – tell us more!
One of the bundt stories I found when researching and recipe testing for the book is that Tom Cruise sends around a hundred of his friends a coconut Bundt each year for Christmas. They’re sent from a bakery in Los Angeles, but I created my own very similar version for the book.
And do you have any top tips for bundt bakers – whether novice or not?
Do prepare your tin really well. And once the Bundt has been baked, leave it to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes and then invert it. This ensures it’s sturdy enough to fall cleanly from the tin.
You write the Kitchen Garden Cook column for Country Life, and work as a professional chef. What sparked your love of food when you were growing up?
My family has always been very foodie, but I actually started out as an art historian. It was when I lived in Ireland and had a beautiful kitchen garden there that I became inspired to create delicious recipes using the incredible produce. After that, I became a chef.
Do you have any particularly stand-out early food memories?
I grew up in Austria and there was a bakery that had the most incredible doughnuts. They were filled with apricot jam and dusted with icing sugar, but the dough was the lightest and most pillowy I’ve ever tasted. Sadly, they closed now and I’ve never tasted anything else like them. There’s a baking challenge for me! Food is linked so intrinsically to family memories and occasions.
Your path to publishing this book has not been a smooth one, having undergone breast cancer treatment during its conception and creation. What role did baking play in your life while you were having treatment?
Baking was my measure of how well I was doing. I couldn’t actually bake while I was doing the very intense chemo because I didn’t feel well enough but, as I started to improve, I was able to focus and it became a welcome therapy.
As mother, the fear must have felt particularly acute. Did you manage to lose yourself for necessary pockets of time when creating and testing these recipes?
In a time of chaos there’s definitely something very satisfying about baking. In an hour or two you can have something perfect and the world feels like a better place.
We hope now, as a survivor of cancer and the author of this new book, you are busy celebrating your wonderful achievement. What are you doing to mark its publication? We hope it will feature plenty of cake!
I’m really excited to be hosting various celebrations of the book and each of them will have a Bundt Bar! And champagne.
And finally, are there any projects in the works that we should look out for?
My next exciting step is the US edition of Bundt that launches there in spring 2023 and starting my YouTube channel.
Your desert island meal?Chicken schnitzel!
The three ingredients you couldn’t live without?Olive oil, lemon and garlic.
Chef/ cook who has most inspired you?From a styling perspective I love Donna Hay.
Five people, dead or alive, you’d invite to a dinner party?Leonardo da Vinci, Chopin, Maya Angelou, Coco Chanel and Marie Antoiniette, because we all know she loves cake.
Photo credit: Talbot Troy, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
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