Frances Quinn: “I love bread and I’m really keen to learn more skills.”

23 October, 2013

Frances Quinn, winner of this year’s The Great British Bake Off which aired on Tuesday 22 October, BBC Two, speaks to British Baker about her future plans, bouncing back from the judges’ criticism and hiding her trophy under her bed.

Quinn, a clothes designer from Leicestershire beat Ruby Tandoh and Kimberley Wilson with her Showstopper bake: a Midsummer Night's Dream three-tiered wedding cake.

Many congratulations on winning! How did you feel when Sue Perkins announced that you had won The Great British Bake Off 2013?

Every emotion was going through my mind. It felt like the longest minute waiting for Sue to announce the result. Seeing my reaction back last night was so strange – it was definitely a mix of relief and exhaustion. I remember when they gave me the flowers I was just so shaky.

The response that I’ve had from friends, family and everyone has been unbelievable. I’ve still got the trophy under my bed from four months ago, when I had to sneak it in, which can finally come out. Any cards that I received from those that knew had to be quickly stored away.

I was definitely a dark horse going into the final. After the first two challenges the competition was still wide open, which made for an incredibly nerve-wracking final for us to perform, and for the audience to watch.

You regularly faced criticism for being too “style over substance” according to Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. How did you bounce back from that?

Style is something that comes naturally to me and it’s what I want to bring to my baking. I didn’t want to leave the show with people’s memories of me as someone who can make attractive bakes but not live up to the taste. The style is so important to me and I wanted the substance to work alongside that, but sometimes the style part kept jumping ahead.

I think criticism is never easy, but you just have to take it as constructive and to use it to your advantage. It was great when a few of my flavours really shone through like my chai tea loaf and banoffee jenga.

You were called the most creative contestant from any series. Where do your ideas come from?

Everywhere and anywhere. For me, the ideas are the most exciting part of my bakes and they just come naturally to me. I like to create a narrative with the ingredients, the process and the final presentation. They say you eat with your eyes and I like to make cakes bespoke to the person with personality and a story running throughout. I actually take a lot of inspiration from Paul Smith.

How did you develop as a baker throughout the show?

With every criticism and comment it really did make me think, and made me concentrate on my flavours more than just the final look. When you’re in that environment and seeing the array of skills that everyone was bringing to the table, it can be intimidating, but you have to swallow it up and take everything on the chin.

Funnily enough, I tried to recreate the puff pastry challenge at home, but without the adrenaline rush and cameras I just couldn’t do it in the time slot. I can’t imagine how I managed to create it in the tent. 

Your final Showstopper, the Midsummer Night's Dream wedding cake looked wonderful. Where did that idea come from?

I wanted to do something different, as well as romantic. When we were given the brief, initially my mind went blank, but I wanted to create something unusual, and at the time I’d been experimenting with naked cakes with a flurry of fruit and flowers. I’d previously worked with beetroot hearts that looked like rose petals, as well as the rhubarb. When all of the fruit came out of the oven, they turned from such a bright colour into something a bit darker. The summer day wedding turned into dusk and that really interested me. From there the cake followed.

When did you start baking?

When I was younger with my mum and sister. I’m part of a large family and the kitchen has always been the focal part of the house. I could go in and use it as another form of creative relief. Food has always been a key component to my life, even within my design job. At times I’ve been known to name colour palettes after foods, such as lemon curd!

Have you had any professional training?

No, none at all. That’s the thing, I really was an amateur. I had only really dabbled with cakes, so it meant so much to me when I won star baker during pastry week, which I was the least confident in. The thing is, I love bread and I’m really keen to learn more skills to develop what I already have. 

Are there any bakers that you look to for inspiration?

It’s a really broad spectrum. I love Yotam Ottolenghi and his use of colours and flavours, especially the way he creates a feast for the eyes. Also Lily Vanilli, Jamie Oliver for his no-nonsense approach, as well as Heston Blumenthal for his experimental, vivid imagination.

Outside of baking I look to architects, ceramicists and textile artists to see what they’re doing. The other day I was at a pottery school, looking at how they use plaster, and I could see a link with dough. It immediately made me think how I could use these skills in the kitchen.

Do you have a book in the pipeline?

There has been a lot of talk about the book but I’m not entirely sure what it’ll be. Having grown up in a book shop I want it to be special, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time. It needs to collaborate both of my passions for design and baking, and I’m open to lots of ideas. What's important to me is that I don’t want to alienate people with my recipes and ideas. I want the book to show people that you can actually create show-stopping bakes with minimal ingredients. In the end, it’s just how you decide to put them together.

Have you thought about professional training like last year's winner, John Whaite?

I would love to do that, especially something patisserie-linked. I know that it would really help by adding more techniques to what I’m already doing in the kitchen. I love new skills anyway, and I want to take inspiration from outside the kitchen and bring it back in.

Read our final Great British Blog Off here.





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