08 Dec An interview with Mary Berry
If you had 15 minutes to chat with The Great British Bake Off’s Mary Berry what would you ask her — other than, “Will you adopt me?” Last week, I got a chance to speak with the Mary Berry herself. Due to time differences, our conversation took place at 5:30 AM. I’ll be honest. I was so excited and worried about oversleeping I didn’t sleep much the night before. Despite setting two alarm clocks, I woke up every hour to check the time. The only one amused by this was the cat.
When I spoke with Mary, it seemed a little unreal to hear her voice, not through the TV, but on my phone. But my nerves settled down after a few minutes, and we chatted about food like it was perfectly normal to call someone at 5:30 AM to talk baking. Mary was as gracious and doyenne-esque (she needs her own word) as you’d expect.
Below is a moderately condensed transcript of our conversation. I am foregoing the convention of using our initials to identify the speaker. Messy Baker and Mary Berry are both MB. Coincidence? I hope not.
And in case you were wondering, she pronounced my name correctly. Her perfection is solidified.
My Interview with Mary Berry
Over the course of your 60+ year-career, how has baking changed?
Most people have a big repertoire now. Thanks to The Great British Bake Off and cookbooks, people have a much wider range. They simply make more things.
If you could give amateur bakers one piece of advice, what would that be?
It’s very important to have a good recipe to start with. After that, weighing carefully is key. Johnny Iuzzini, my cohost in The Great Holiday Baking Show, measures in grams. With measuring you have to be so careful.
North Americans tend to measure in cups not grams. Is this a problem?
No. You can measure accurately with cups. You just have to be careful.
Even experienced bakers have off days. Is there any recipe that still makes you wonder, “Will it work out this time?”
If I have a new recipe, I might be cautious, but with an old, tried-and-true, I’m quite confident it will work out because I’ve made it so often.
Which baked good do you have the most emotional connection with and why?
The Victoria Sandwich Cake. It’s something my family loves when they come. I always make it for them. That or Lemon Drizzle Bake.
Conversely, is there a baked good you wish would just disappear into the history books and never resurface?
I’m not fond of seed cake. I’m not fond of caraway, but other people like it so I have to make it from time to time.
You’re now judging The Great Holiday Baking Show in the US. From your perspective, how do palates and preferences differ between North American and Britain?
They’re very similar. There’s a bit more sugar in the bakes in North America. We also had a lot of pumpkin recipes and pie spices. But they were really delicious bakes.
Have you ever given such a tight timeline on the show that nobody finished the challenge? If so, what happened?
Early on, when we first started, no one was ready, so everyone was given 10 minutes more. By Series 5, everyone knew what to do. We’re experienced now. Everyone gets done on time.
How do you select the contestants from the tens of thousands who apply?
It’s very difficult. We have a team of specialists who whittle down the list. They [the contestants] apply via a detailed form. They send pictures of what they’ve made. The team, which will have 7 people next year, goes through more than 400 entries, asking them phone questions. Then they bring in dishes to taste. It’s very thorough.
I made the chocolate roulade which stumped most people in the technical challenge. Why do you beat the sugar into the yolks and not the whites?
You get volume from the yolks when you beat them with sugar. So, this way, you get volume from the yolk, and volume from the whites. I’ve tried both ways and this works best.
We’re taping another Bake Off in Britain. Season 7. It’s the biggest viewed show on BBC Channel One. Bigger than Downton Abby. Bigger than Strictly Come Dancing. I also have a new book that coincides with the American baking show. [Note: She is referring to Baking with Mary Berry, which I recently reviewed.]
It has many of the dishes from The Great British Bake Off.
It does, but it’s some of my favourite recipes. The baking on the Bake Off is from all over the world. For this book I chose my favourites. The ones I make for my family. Like the Swiss Roll, Fairy Cakes, Brandy Snaps, Shortbread. Classic English baking. Some of the recipes are from the show, but the recipes are chosen because they’re my favourites.
If I were to invite you to my house for tea, what would you like me to make you?
Classic Victoria Layer Cake — or Sandwich, as we call it. It’s on page 140.
Chocolate or vanilla?
Plain. Not chocolate! Key Lime Pie is a favourite of mine. It’s not popular here, but I rather like it. And brownies.
And with that our time was up. Should Mary Berry ever come to my house for tea, I will make her Victoria Sandwich, Key Lime Pie, and Brownies. And maybe some Brandy Snaps. I’ll slip in some Canadian butter tarts in hopes she finds them scrummy.
This interview has been condensed slightly to make me look better. Mary didn’t fumble a single word.