John Whaite felt restless about his latest cookery book.
Since winning the third series of The Great British Bake Off, the 27-year-old has published two books – Perfect Plates being his third – regularly whizzed up meals for Lorraine Kelly on her ITV morning show and founded a cookery school.
But his recent cook book, his most “personal” yet, was also the hardest.
“I lost sleep over the book, all the panic over how people would receive it,” says the Lancashire-born cook.
“The first two books, I was in my very early 20s. I was this grateful guy, who had just won a TV show. I didn’t have a clue what was going on, what the industry was about,” says the law graduate who was in his final year at Manchester University when he appeared on the BBC baking competition.
“I am much more anxious about this book – and it feels like my first true book, because I’ve had such an input.
“It’s much more a reflection of me. When you put the effort into it, you really do worry and think, ‘If people don’t like this, then what’s going to happen?'”
Worry though he might, Whaite’s diary is full. Cookery classes, including pasta making and an afternoon tea – “We devour all these cakes and sandwiches with Prosecco… so that’s a popular one!” – in the listed barn on his parent’s Lancashire farm he grew up in, are “almost completely sold out”, meaning he’s up and down the country whizzing up meals on ITV’s Lorraine between courses.
Not that he minds.
“Lorraine was my saving grace… I didn’t know where I was going to go in the industry [after Bake Off],” he says of the Scottish host.
“Lorraine’s not fussy, she doesn’t have any dietary requirements and she’s a girl who loves her food, so she’s a dream to cook for, she’ll eat it all,” he says with a laugh.
And he’s proud too of Perfect Plates, in which he uses just five ingredients – exempting oil, butter, salt and pepper as ‘free passes’ – and teamed up with boyfriend Paul, who designed it.
“It’s the first food book that he’s ever done, so it probably made it far more difficult [for him] because he had me stood over his shoulder every night saying, ‘I don’t want that there’,” he says with a chuckle.
“He really has helped develop my own style, because I’m not very artistic, so it meant it was much more personal to us and I think that comes across.
“I think people appreciate it not just being a highly-designed book. It’s more pared-back as well and the ingredients are what stand out. I’m really proud of that.”
Feeling inspired? Here are three recipes from Perfect Plates…
Hummus, Pepper and Dolcelatte Flatbread Pizza
(Makes 1 large pizza)
175g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
4 roasted peppers from a jar
100g Dolcelatte cheese
2tsp sweet chilli dipping sauce
Sea salt flakes
Preheat the oven to 260C/240C fan/gas mark 10, and place a pizza stone or a strong, large baking sheet in the oven to get hot. Toss together the flour with 3g of salt, then add the water and a glug (about one tablespoon) of olive oil. Bring together into a dough, and knead for a couple of minutes until smooth. Ball up the dough and leave it in the mixing bowl to soften for 20 minutes, at room temperature.
Once the dough has rested, lightly flour the worktop and roll out into a large, thin circle – if the base is left too thick, it won’t crisp up and will stay doughy and soggy.
Slide the pizza base onto a well-floured baking sheet. Spread the hummus over the pizza base, then tear the peppers into long strands and scatter them over the top. Crumble on the Dolcelatte, then slide the pizza onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet and cook for seven to 10 minutes, until slightly coloured and very crispy around the edges.
Drizzle the baked pizza with the chilli sauce and serve. You can slice this into neat portions with a pizza wheel, but I like to embrace its flatbread origins and just tear off pieces.
Cidery BBQ Ribs
1l dry cider
1.5kg pork ribs
250g tomato ketchup
60ml Worcestershire sauce
50g dark brown muscovado sugar
Sea salt flakes
Coarse black pepper
Pour the cider into a fairly capacious saucepan and add a teaspoon of salt and the ribs. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the ribs for 25 minutes, skimming off the foam twice during cooking, then drain, reserving 150ml of the cider.
For the sauce, put the ketchup, the reserved cider, Worcestershire sauce, sugar and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper into a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, or until thickened – you don’t want it be very thick, just thick enough to coat the ribs and stay there.
When the sauce is ready, coat the ribs well with it – just scoop up the sauce with your hands and rub it into the ribs. Don’t throw the leftover sauce away.
Preheat the oven to 240C/220C fan/gas 9. Place the ribs on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes, glazing with sauce halfway through. When the ribs come out of the oven, paint with the remaining glaze and serve.
Apple Custard Tarts
80g icing sugar, plus extra to dust
320g ready-rolled all-butter puff pastry
250g Bramley apple sauce (any shop-bought one will do, unless you fancy making your own!)
5 large egg yolks
80ml single cream
Oil, for greasing
Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas mark 7 and grease a deep 12-hole muffin tray well.
Dust the worktop rather liberally with icing sugar, then unroll the pastry onto it and sprinkle it with icing sugar. Roll the pastry back up tightly – you might need to wet the top edge with just a little water so it sticks and stays rolled. Slice into 12 even discs – I cut it in half, then cut each half in half, then cut those quarters into three chunky discs.
Stand a disc of pastry up on one of its flat cut sides, then squash it down with the heel of your hand. With a rolling pin, roll it out into a disc big enough to tuck messily into the muffin tray. Press it into the tin, lining the muffin hole, and then repeat with the remaining portions of pastry until each hole of the tray is lined. If you’re working in a hot kitchen, it might be a good idea to keep the chunks of pastry in the fridge, then once all cavities in the tray are lined, pop them, tray and all, into the fridge for 10 minutes or so.
Divide the apple sauce between the pastry cases. To make the custard filling, simply whisk together the icing sugar and egg yolks until the sugar dissolves, then whisk in the cream until combined. Pour the custard into the pastry cases – I always find it easier to put the custard into a jug first then gently pour it over the apple sauce. Leave a millimetre or two of pastry clear at the top, as the custard will rise quite dramatically.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. The custard will darken on top and sprout up over the pastry – and please don’t worry if these look cracked, it’s all part of their charm. Remove the tarts immediately from the tin and set on a wire rack to cool. Finish with an extra dusting of icing sugar.
Perfect Plates In 5 Ingredients by John Whaite is published by Kyle Books. Available now.