Richard Burr: An Interview on His New Book – BIY: Bake it Yourself

Richard Burr: An Interview on His New Book – BIY: Bake it Yourself

1. Hi Richard! So tell us how and when did you first get into baking?

Throughout my life I have always been around baking in one form or another. My early memories of making plum crumbles with plums from the garden and getting to stir the Christmas pudding mix for luck are some of the most vivid I have. My Mum always used to make cakes and puds for us and there was always a battered copy of the Cookery Year open somewhere in the kitchen. Being a builder, it was always expected I’d find my way on site at some point, but when I was smaller, not really big enough to pull my weight, I got a job washing up in a local bakery. I used to get in at 4.30 in the morning on weekends and do the washing up for the baker and his boys. I was never really set loose on the food, but the two years of washing up and mopping the bakery must have meant that something penetrated my young brain. Since then I’ve been messing up kitchens as often as I can (sorry Mum!)

2. Who is your baking hero?

I have to say my baking hero is the baker I used to work for as a lad; a man called David Anstee. No matter how early I managed to get in to work he’d always have been there for hours singing at the top of his voice (and completely out of tune) to Capital Gold, or just blasting out the Hallelujah Chorus. He was very patient with me and always turned a blind eye to the odd scrumped doughnut. For a daft kid who was usually half asleep, I managed to be constantly amazed by his creativity and deft hand. From then until now I have always hoped that I could turn out bakes that he would be pleased with.

3. What made you decide to apply to go on Great British Bake Off?

My wife and I watched Bake Off avidly from about half way through season 2. By the time season 4 arrived we were full on Bake Off geeks! We’d have our friend Dawn come over from round the corner and all settle down with a massive cake to watch. By the time the final of season 4 came by we were massive armchair patisserie chefs and were critiquing every bake as it came out. I just happened to mention that the showstoppers for that final (wedding cakes) could have been better; especially if I had made them, and my wife Sarah’s ears pricked up. From then on, everything I made started to get mysteriously photographed, until New Year’s Day, when in the throes of quite an impressive hangover, the application form was downloaded and Sarah started building a case for a builder to be allowed in the tent. I had no idea that I’d be finding out just how hard making a showstopper in the Bake Off final could be. As it turns out- pretty hard!

4. What was your best moment of your time on Great British Bake Off?

My experience of GBBO was (and still is) such a parade of amazing events. From meeting all my fellow bakers and building lasting friendships, to Paul telling me I was in the wrong job when he tasted my Swiss roll in Episode 1. From the dizzying feeling of walking into the tent for our final showstopper to finally peeking my head out and seeing a wife and family I had missed so much when the bake was over. It really is impossible to pick one moment out. Winning Star Baker for the fifth time was obviously pretty awesome too!

5. And your worst?

I had my share of bad baking experiences in the tent; sugar work that constantly burned, pears wrapped in pastry that missed every technical mark available, but I reckon I took them all with good humour – a bad day in the tent will always beat a good day at work! I think my worst experience was seeing my mate Iain go in such spectacular circumstances. The poor fella was so passionate about his cake and so focused on what he was doing on the day that I don’t think he noticed the pandemonium that was going on around him. When he had that split second lapse and binned his Baked Alaska it felt like one of our gang had fallen down a black hole never to be seen again. All the other bakers were gutted! He and I took the same train home that night, and we talked it out over a pint (or 3). He remains a really good friend and I must say, an excellent baker.

6. What advice would you give would-be contestants on Great British Bake Off?

Bake what you love! It’s a simple one, but all too often forgotten. If you have affection for a bake, or are fascinated by a flavour or an ingredient, then use that. I find that the urge to shine can make you move out of your comfort zone, which is a brilliant thing, but if you stray too far, you’ll lose sight of your most important asset; your own baking experience.

7. Do you still see your fellow contestants?

Regularly. In fact, I was out with Martha last night! When we all started Bake Off, we all set up a Whatsapp group so we could stay in touch. As it turns out we are all a bunch of chatterboxes, and whenever I look at my phone there is always a string of 50+ messages from the conversation we started more than a year ago now. Also, being the Londoner in the gang, my house has turned into a halfway house for visiting bakers, which is ace really, because they nearly always bring treats, and Claire and her husband Carl make a mean fry up!

8. How did you go about writing your new book BIY: Bake it Yourself? How long did it take?

When I entered Bake Off, the thought of writing a book couldn’t have been further from my mind. I assumed that it would be a bit of a laugh for a summer, then it would blow over leaving a few fun stories to bore my kids about. The book was such a treat for me. I’ve always had a tonne of recipes that have floated around the family, so the opportunity to collate them and add to them the things I had learned on the show was something I grasped with both hands. I was surprised by how little help you get when doing the initial writing. I assumed, fairly naively that all I would do was provide ideas, and a clever person would write the prose and a giant kitchen of boffins would figure out the bakes. I was wrong, and happily so! Last year was the first winter in 15 years that I have worked indoors; usually I’m fixing roofs or digging foundations. Instead I was locked away in my kitchen making, remaking and writing down all my favourite food. Mysteriously all my trousers shrank during this time, not sure why…! From first talking about B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself, to it reaching the shelves it has taken 9 months, and I’d honestly do it again in a flash – it was so much fun!

9. How did you decide which recipes to include? Are there any you regret leaving out?

Deciding what to put in and what to leave out was pretty easy for me, because I knew exactly what book I wanted to write. I heard a quote once that of each recipe book a person owns, they usually only do 1 or 2 recipes out of it. I’ve done it myself; listlessly flicking through a book thinking “well I don’t have that ingredient”, or “I don’t own that piece of equipment” and eventually settling on a bake I’ve done a hundred times before. I wanted to write a book that people could do loads of the recipes without panicking over their skill level or worrying about the contents of their larder. Because of that I’ve graded each chapter according to difficulty; Levels 1, 2 and 3. If you are a novice baker, you should be able to tackle at least a third of the book, with more challenging bakes available to more adventurous bakers. So even though I’ve managed to cram loads of my favourite bakes in, I still have a few that didn’t fit – you never know, I might get to do another book…

10. What’s next for Richard Burr?

Loads more baking! Getting to do a book means I also get to go around the country promoting it. Before Bake Off, my wife Sarah and I used to have to book time to go to baking and food shows, and never got to go to as many as we liked. Well, now I get to pretend it’s work and go to loads of them! I’m legging it all over Britain now to do book signings, master classes and appearances, which is really quite a surreal experience. During my life I’d never really craved the lime light, preferring to make things in the background and watch people enjoy them afterwards. But I must say, I’ve found I enjoy a bit of showing off these days. Baking on stage, meeting people and seeing the country is an added bonus I hadn’t really considered, and I’m enjoying it loads. I have to be back by December though as Sarah is expecting our third child near Christmas; so another big adventure is waiting for us in the New Year…