Since winning The Great British Bake Off in 2012, John Whaite has bought his own flat, set up a chocolate business, studied at Le Cordon Bleu in London and released two cookery books.
It’s hard to believe this confident law graduate is just 24 years old — until he reveals his mum still does his washing when he goes home.
“I give her a hug, then a bag of laundry,” the Wigan-born baker confesses. “I’ve still got that perpetual studenthood about me... But mums want to feel needed, don’t they?”
On the plus side, Whaite’s family do get to try out his delicious creations, from rum-fuelled mojito cake to jammy Bakewell tarts.
“Sometimes they can get on their high horse and lecture me about things, and all I wanted to know is whether they liked it or not,” he says.
“They’re very helpful, and I adore them for that. I think it’s the lawyer in me — I want people to be honest all the time.”
Many of these tried and tested treats feature in his new book, John Whaite Bakes At Home, along with the Turkish pizzas he cooks when friends call over, and the picnic delights he makes with his nieces and nephews.
Whaite does all the cooking at his new flat in south east London, where he lives with his partner of six years, graphic designer Paul.
“Paul can’t even heat up a can of beans! I think that’s because of my whirlwind nature in the kitchen though — he’s too afraid to step into my realm,” he says.
“He does do the washing up after. It’s not a big price to pay for some tasty cuisine.”
After winning Bake Off’s third series, former commercial banker Whaite embarked on a nine-month patisserie diploma at Le Cordon Bleu, graduating last month.
“I was very nervous because I still had a lot to prove in the industry when I started the course,” he admits. “At first, my classmates were sort of like, ‘You’re that guy’, but I said, ‘Of course, I’ve done Bake Off and it was a great thing, but in this classroom, I’m no better than anyone. We’re all starting from the same keel’.”
He’s also set up The Hungry Dog Artisan Chocolate, and hopes to do more TV work.
Does he ever miss the structure of his pre-Bake Off days in the City?
“Sometimes,” he admits. “If I go out for a meal, I’m constantly thinking. My partner’s always saying to me, ‘Just switch off’. I can’t, because it’s a creative industry.
“It’s liberating, and also exhausting. But it’s a good sacrifice to pay, because I’m doing something I love.”
Here are three recipes from John Whaite Bakes At Home to try in your own kitchen.
LANCASHIRE BEEF HOTPOT PICNIC SLICES (makes 8)
1tbsp olive oil
5 stalks celery, cut into 5mm cubes
1 large red onion, very finely chopped
2 large carrots, cut into 5mm cubes
3 large new potatoes, cut into 5mm cubes
Salt and pepper
200ml hot water
400g stewing steak, cut into small chunks
A 28g beef stock pot
Homemade rough puff pastry or 500g shop-bought all-butter puff pastry
Heat the oil in a large saucepan (with tight-fitting lid) over a high heat. Add the celery, onion, carrots and potatoes with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to coat the vegetables in the oil, then reduce the heat to low, add the water, put on the lid and sweat down for 25 minutes, stirring every once in a while.
When soft, scoop the entire contents - liquid and all - into a bowl, then set the pan back over a high heat. Add the beef chunks and another small pinch of salt and pepper, and stir until browned on all sides.
Put the vegetables and their liquid back in the pan, stir in the stock, then reduce the heat to low. Stir well, then put the lid back on and allow the hotpot to slowly stew for 45-60 minutes until the meat is just tender. Keep an eye on it and stir occasionally. Add a little water if it seems to be drying out, but remember that you want this to be thick.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool, covered, until completely cold.
When the hotpot is cold, preheat the oven to 200C/180Cfan/gas mark 6. Roll out the pastry on a well-floured worktop, with a well-floured rolling pin, to a rectangle of at least 32 x 36cm, then trim the edges. Cut lengthways into four long rectangles of 8 x 36cm, then cut each crossways in half so you have eight rectangles of 8 x 18cm. Score inside each rectangle, just a few millimetres from the edge.
Divide the hotpot amongst the rectangles, leaving those few millimetres free to rise in the oven and create a border around the filling. Bake on a baking sheet lined with baking paper for 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry has puffed up around the filling and is a gorgeous golden brown.
ROCHER POPS (makes 18-20)
80g salted butter
1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda
75g golden caster sugar
For the ganache covering:
200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
100g milk chocolate, roughly chopped
200ml double cream
For the hazelnut covering:
200g skinless hazelnuts, finely chopped but not pulverized
Gold leaf, to decorate
Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/gas mark 6.
Beat all the ingredients together into a smooth batter, scoop into a disposable piping bag with the end snipped off and pipe into one half of a 12-hole cake pop mould, filling the half sphere well. Pop the other half of the mould in place, then bake for seven to eight minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining batter and the cooled, re-greased mould.
Make the ganache by placing the chopped chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a medium saucepan over a high heat until it just starts to bubble around the edges, pour on to the chocolate and leave it for about 30 seconds. Using a whisk, mix to a smooth, glossy ganache.
Sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts on to a plate. Dip each cake pop into the ganache to cover it well, then roll in the hazelnuts. Allow the ganache to set for a good hour, then place a little gold leaf onto each pop.
SHERBET LEMON CAKE (serves 8-10)
For the candied lemon topping:
600ml water (in batches of 200ml)
75g golden caster sugar
For the cake:
Zest of 3 lemons
225g golden caster sugar
225g butter, very soft
225g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
For the filling:
400ml whipping cream
500g mascarpone cheese
300g icing sugar
Zest of 2 lemons
1tbsp lemon juice
2 packets of lemon Dip Dabs (sherbet only)
Icing sugar, to dust
For the lemon topping, use a potato peeler to pare thick strips of peel from the lemons — if you get any white pith, scrape it off with a knife.
Chop the lemon peel into thin matchsticks, then place in a small saucepan with 200ml water. Bring to the boil, then drain the water, place the lemon zest back into the pan with another 200ml water and repeat. Drain again then repeat — you should bring the lemon zest to the boil three times in total. Set the drained lemon zest matchsticks aside.
Place the 100g sugar and 100ml water in the saucepan and bring to the boil until the sugar is dissolved, then return the lemon zest and allow to poach for about five minutes. Drain. Place the 75g caster sugar in a bowl and add the lemon matchsticks. Toss in the sugar then arrange on a baking sheet and allow to dry out for a few hours (overnight is better).
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4.
Place the ingredients for the cake into a mixing bowl and beat together until well incorporated and smooth. If you have a free-standing electric mixer, use the paddle attachment.
Divide the batter between two 20cm loose-bottomed, round cake tins, greased and lined with baking paper, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly, before removing from the tins and turning on to a cooling rack until completely cold.
Meanwhile, make the filling by whipping the cream to very soft floppy peaks. Fold this into the mascarpone along with the sifted icing sugar and lemon zest until smooth. Then quickly beat in the lemon juice — though don’t over-beat, as you don’t want the mixture to split.
When the cake is cooled, and the candied lemon is dry, slice each cake in half horizontally so that you have four layers. Place one on a 20cm (approx) cake stand.
Fill a piping bag (with a 12mm nozzle) with the filling and pipe little blobs around the edge of the cake, then a spiral of filling in the centre. Sprinkle over a third of the sherbet, then top with another slice of cake. Repeat this until you have four layers of cake and three layers of cream and sherbet.
Sift a layer of icing sugar over the top, then scatter over the candied lemon matchsticks.
John Whaite Bakes At Home is published by Headline, priced £20. Available now.