THE former Bake-Off winner tells Taste that he’s found his groove – in the kitchen and in his new book.
John Whaite may have won the third series of the Great British Bake Off while it was still on the BBC, but he really doesn’t go in for impartiality.
In his fourth cookbook, Comfort, the Chorley-born food writer, cookery-school owner and telly chef, now 28, is hoping to provide an alternative to the deprivation of clean eating, which he sees as “a very insidious and stealthy way of making people feel guilty about food”.
“I want to get people back onto food that’s hearty and wholesome. You don’t have to spiralize vegetables – it’s nonsense,” he says, incensed. “I’d rather die clutching a bag of Haribo and a family-sized Galaxy than a stick of carrot and hummus!”
While the idea of comfort food might make you think of so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ (John’s one and only concession is loving a Domino’s pizza “on a hangover at 11 o’clock in the morning”), he doesn’t relate the two.
“Guilt isn’t something I associate with food. I’ve been in a situation where I’ve had an eating disorder – I was almost too thin to function at one point in my life – and that’s because I was so obsessed with my body image.”
The key, he says – to eating, cooking and to life – is to find a way to “be happy with who you are, and be comfortable in your own skin – I mean, don’t be a fat slob and sit on the couch all day eating buckets full of fried chicken, because you will get fat!
“You’ve got to look after your body; I do yoga, I go to the gym, but that’s not say I deprive myself of the things I need to eat if I’m feeling sad or ill or just in need of comfort,” he explains. “Be careful of junk, but don’t feel guilty about good, home-cooked food.”
Since winning GBBO in 2012, John’s been candid about how he was shoehorned into the Bake Off champion mould. “I don’t berate them,” he says of his two ‘Bake Off’ books, “but they weren’t me. The recipes were, but the style of them, the feel of them, had no reflection of who I am.
“You win the Bake Off and you get offered a ridiculous six-figure sum to write two books,” he explains. “I was just out of university, I wanted to break away from the career I was in, and my family and friends said, ‘You have to take the books’.”
Despite five years of moving away from Bake Off, career-wise (he’s studied patisserie at Le Corden Bleu and presented daytime cookery TV show Chopping Block on ITV), John is, of course, watching the new series. “I love it – I think Prue Leith is amazing, she’s so good, she’s so constructive, she knows more about food than anyone I know.”
Here are a couple of recipes from his new book to try at home.
FISH PIE POTATO SKINS
These mini individual fish pies are nutritious and adorable.
Here’s how to make them…
6 medium baking potatoes
For the filling:
40g unsalted butter
1 leek, very finely sliced
2 anchovies, finely chopped
100g skinless salmon, cut into 1cm cubes
100g skinless pollack, cut into 1cm cubes
100g skinless smoked haddock, cut into 1cm cubes
200g creme fraiche
1tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
1tbsp wholegrain mustard
1tsp fine sea salt
1tsp black pepper
For the topping:
1tsp fine sea salt
50g Gruyere, finely grated
1tbsp creme fraiche
1. Preheat the oven to 210Â°C/190Â°C fan/gas mark 7. Put the potatoes on a baking tray and bake for one to one-and-a-half hours, until the skins are crispy and the insides soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until you can handle them. Reduce the temperature to 200Â°C/180Â°C fan/gas mark 6.
2. Heat the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat. Once the butter melts, add the leek and fry until very soft – about 20 minutes – stirring occasionally. Put the leek into a bowl with the remaining filling ingredients and stir to mix well.
3. Halve the potatoes and scoop most of the flesh into a bowl – leave about 5mm of flesh against the skin. Fill each potato skin with the fish filling and place on a baking tray – or use a 12-hole bun tin so the filled potato halves don’t fall over.
4. Add the topping ingredients to the bowl of potato and mix until fairly smooth, then blob it on top of the fish filling in each potato skin. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the potato is slightly coloured.
STICKY FRIED LEBANESE SPROUTS
These are sprouts, but nothing like the mushy waterlogged ones you might be used to.
75g dried figs, finely chopped
75ml dry sherry
200g natural yogurt
1tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
1tbsp sunflower oil
500g Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
200g sharp-tasting green grapes, halved
75g pecans, roughly chopped
1/2tbsp sherry vinegar
2tsp ground sumac
Small handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
Sea salt flakes
1. Combine the figs and sherry in a small pan and bring to the boil. Boil until the figs cook down and you have a thick paste. Add a splash of water to loosen it into a thick puree. Set aside until needed.
2. Mix the yoghurt with the mint and a pinch of salt. Set aside until needed.
3. Heat the oil in a decent-sized frying pan over a high heat. Once the oil shimmers from the heat, add the sprouts and fry, tossing frequently, until they smell delightfully nutty and have started to char. Add the grapes and pecans and fry, tossing, for a further minute, then add the sherry vinegar, sumac and parsley and toss together. Finally add the fig puree and toss to combine.
4. Serve the sprouts on a platter, with the yoghurt drizzled over the top.
CLEMENTINE AND CARDAMOM UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE
The cake has spark and brightness, and is a perfect tea-time treat.
For the topping:
125g caster sugar
For the cake:
285g unsalted butter
285g light brown muscovado sugar
5 large eggs, beaten
285g self-raising flour
1 1/2tsp ground cardamom
1tsp fine sea salt
For the glaze: (optional)
4tbsp apricot jam
1. Preheat the oven to 170Â°C/150Â°C fan/gas mark 3. Grease a 23cm round loose-bottomed cake tin and line with baking paper.
2. For the topping, heat a medium saucepan over a medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the sugar and allow it to melt and slowly turn to an amber caramel – the sugar touching the base of the pan will turn first, and slowly but surely the sugar on top will soon become liquid too. Give the pan a little swirl as the sugar starts to melt. Once you have a dark caramel, pour it into the base of the prepared cake tin.
3. Keeping them whole, peel the clementines, then cut them in half horizontally to retain that little hole in the top and bottom. Arrange the clementine halves, hump-side down, on the caramel.
4. For the cake, cream together the butter and sugar until really soft – the butter should become very pale and the sugar will more or less dissolve into it. Add the eggs, a little at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the flour, cardamom and salt and beat in just until incorporated to a smooth batter. I do all of this in my KitchenAid fitted with the paddle attachment, but an electric hand-held mixer will do.
5. Pour the batter over the clementines and gently level it out, being careful not to displace the fruits. Bake for one hour and up to one hour 10 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean, apart from the odd crumb of cake made soggy by the oranges beneath. Remove the cake from the oven and allow it to cool in the tin for five minutes, then invert onto a plate.
6. For the glaze, simply combine the jam and water in a small pan and bring to the boil. Paint the glaze onto the cake with a pastry brush. The cake will keep for a few days in an airtight tin; it’ll actually be that bit better on day two.
n Comfort: Food To Soothe The Soul by John Whaite, photography Nassima Rothacker, is published by Kyle Books, priced Â£19.99. Available now
Source : BournemouthEcho