School’s out for Martha – Bake-Off teen juggles her studies and career
The last two years have been rather dizzying for Martha Collison.
Back in 2014, aged 17, she competed in the fifth series of The Great British Bake Off, finishing a-not-so shabby fifth place. Since then, she’s baked for the Queen, given the Archbishop of Canterbury a cake masterclass, written her first cookbook, Twist, and put her sweet tooth to good effect as an afternoon tea advisor at Wimbledon.
All of which has been pulled off alongside studying for her AS and A-Levels.
“It’s been challenging,” deadpans Collison, now 19, with a laugh. “My friends have to book days with me in advance.
“It’s strange being a teenager and having to do that, but it’s fine. It’s just like jumping into work life before I thought I would, but there’s nothing bad about that.”
If anything, she’s thrilled by her prospects.
Although she hails from a family of keen cooks, nobody in her immediate circle had been bitten by the baking bug, until Collison showed an interest aged eight. While her friends wanted bikes and Barbies for Christmas, she had her sights set on a blender.
“I was in the dark a little bit, but it made baking more fun because it was exploring new territory,” recalls Collison, who lives in Berkshire with her family.
At school, she’d daydream about the concoctions she’d try later on, stopping off to buy ingredients on her way home, and remembers her family “gritting their teeth and smiling” when she presented them with her early efforts.
“I think they thought it might be a phase,” she adds, grinning. “But it wasn’t. It’s a long phase!”
Collison’s original ambition was to become a food developer, but appearing on Bake Off changed everything.
“It’s just been unbelievable,” she says. “I’ve had to re-imagine my life, but in a really good way. Bake Off has really helped shape my future, which I’m really grateful for.”
She hopes Twist, in which she details tasty ideas to reinvent a series of baking classics, will be the first of many books.
Given her successes since Bake Off, there’s little reason why this shouldn’t be the case – Collison still can’t quite get her head around how everything’s panned out.
“I planned all these things to say to the Queen,” she recalls of her time baking mini coffee and walnut, and lemon and elderflower cakes for the Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations. “But by the time it actually got to me, I was a bit overwhelmed,” she adds with a giggle.
“She told me it was very kind of me to make the cakes for her birthday, and I feel like now I have to always be kind because the Queen has told me that I am!”
While on the whole, Collison’s experiences have been extremely positive, not everybody’s been kind to her, and she received some spiteful comments online during Bake Off.
“Everyone has their opinions,” she says today. “Not everyone’s going to love you when you’ve put yourself out on national TV, and some people are really not shy in telling you that, which is really mean.
“But you just have to remember that the kind of people who are going to write tweets like that are probably people you’re not going to be friends with.”
Watching Bake Off now brings back memories of serving up her first bake on the show – a Swiss roll – and facing Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood’s feedback for the very first time.
“They’d placed me on a station right at the front, which meant I had to be judged first. Because I was so much younger than everyone, I was absolutely petrified. I had no idea what it would feel like to be judged, especially with everyone else listening, it was just the weirdest thing.
“It was quite intense. But they liked my very first one, so that was a relief.”
Now, of course, she’s enjoying the fruits of her labour.
“For the first time in three years, I’m going to enjoy not having to study alongside all the baking,” says Collison. “It’ll be really nice to have that time to fully enjoy and appreciate everything I get to do.”
Inspired? Here are three Twist recipes to give a whirl…
Key Lime Pie Cheesecake
For the base:
200g ginger biscuits
75g butter, melted
For the filling:
1 x 397g tin condensed milk
300g full-fat cream cheese
Zest and juice of 4 unwaxed limes
200ml double cream
Line the base of a 20cm pie dish or a loose-bottomed cake tin with a circle of baking parchment.
To make the base, blitz the ginger biscuits in a food processor until they resemble very fine crumbs. Pour the melted butter into the crumbs and blitz again until all the biscuit crumbs are coated in butter. Alternatively, put the biscuits into a plastic bag, use a rolling pin to crush them to a fine powder then put the crumbs into a bowl and stir in the butter.
Press the mixture into the base and sides of the prepared tin, pressing firmly with the back of a teaspoon to make sure it sticks together, then chill for at least 30 minutes.
Whisk together the condensed milk and cream cheese until smooth. Stir in the lime juice and half the lime zest, then pour into the biscuit base. Ideally, refrigerate for at least two hours, but you could get away with serving this after 30 minutes if you are in a real rush!
Whip the double cream into soft peaks, and spoon or pipe it on top of the pie. Garnish with a sprinkle of the remaining lime zest before serving.
Melt-in-the-middle Chocolate Puddings
125g butter, plus extra for greasing
Cocoa powder, to dust
200g dark chocolate, chopped
2 eggs plus 2 yolks
100g caster sugar
25g plain flour
Cream and berries, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.
Liberally butter eight mini pudding or dariole moulds and lightly dust the insides with cocoa powder. This makes the puddings easier to turn out once cooked. Cut a small circle of baking parchment the same size as the top of each mould and place inside each one to stop the puddings sticking.
Melt the butter and chopped dark chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir together until there are no lumps of either remaining and the mixture is smooth.
Crack the eggs into another large bowl and add the extra yolks and the sugar. Use an electric hand-held whisk to whisk the mixture until it is thick, fluffy and very pale in colour. Fold in the melted chocolate using a spatula, then sift over the flour and mix well to combine. Don’t worry if you knock out the air; you don’t want the puddings to rise like a souffle.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared moulds, filling each one two-thirds full.
Bake the puddings for eight to 10 minutes. When they are ready, there should be a thin crust on the top but the centre should still have a slight wobble.
Leave the puddings to stand for two minutes before turning out. I run a small palette knife around the inside edge of each mould to loosen it slightly. If they do not turn out properly, or you want to play it safe, you can always serve the puddings in the mould and just dive straight in with a spoon. Serve with a nice dollop of cream and a few fresh berries.
PISTACHIO AND LIME COURGETTE CAKE
Butter, for greasing
250g courgettes (around 2-3 small ones)
125ml vegetable oil
150g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour
1/2tsp baking powder
Zest of 1/2 an unwaxed lime
For the icing:
100g full-fat cream cheese
250g icing sugar
Zest and juice of 1/2 an unwaxed lime
30g pistachio nuts
Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 then grease a 20cm tin and line with baking parchment.
Grate the courgettes coarsely (there is no need to peel them); if they are grated too finely, they will turn to mush.
Put the eggs, oil and sugar in a bowl then beat by hand until creamy.
Fold in the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir in the courgette and the zest. The mixture does look unusual at this stage, but bear with it as it completely transforms when baked!
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden on top and firm to touch, or a skewer inserted comes out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin before removing and decorating.
To make the icing, beat the cream cheese, icing sugar and lime juice together until smooth. Spread on the top of the cooled cake.
Chop the pistachio nuts and sprinkle them over the cake, then top with the remaining lime zest.
Twist by Martha Collison is published in hardback by HarperCollins, priced £16.99. Available now
Three of the best… Martha Collison’s kitchen essentials for young bakers
Lakeland Dough scraper
“Dough scrapers are good not just for making bread but for minimising mess,” says Collison. “You can just scrape everything off the surfaces into the bin in one big swoop.”
Wilko Palette knife
“A palette knife will help you to get a great finish on cakes,” says Collison. “It makes it really easy to get clean lines.”
Dualit 89300 Series Hand Mixer
“I have a stand mixer, but an electric whisk does the job just as well,” says Collison. “It makes everything quicker, more efficient and more attainable, so you’ll be more confident about baking.”