The sweet escape: Lottie Bedlow on how to find culinary freedom with baking
As one of the stars of The Great British Bake Off 2020, Lottie Bedlow is no stranger to the pressures and the mishaps that can happen when tackling a homebake – but perhaps it’s time we all found a little more culinary freedom. Here, Lottie delves into her own mindful journey with baking, to share why we should all embrace taste over perfection, and allow ourselves to get creative in the kitchen
“Why do you bake?” It’s a question that people have asked me a lot since Bake Off. At the time, I was a bit more preoccupied with asking myself things like: ‘Why have I done this?’; ‘Was this an awful idea?’; and ‘Could I be any more embarrassing?’ And whatever the question, the answer always ended up being something along the lines of ‘I don’t know anything about baking – who do I think I am?’ So why I bake isn’t something I’ve found a proper answer to yet. But I am going to try…
For me, baking started as an escape from a busy and stressful London life. I would pore over recipe books like novels, and flick through glossy food publications with the same passion and zeal as a 90s teenager stumbling across a top-shelf magazine. I wanted to make it all, now. In my tiny, cupboard-sized kitchen.
I have a science degree. I am a logical, practical, anxiety-fuelled overthinker. So, I initially approached baking like I would a risky experiment in the lab. I followed recipes religiously, spent money I didn’t have on bizarre ingredients that I didn’t understand, and convinced myself that the writer of any recipe was a kind of god: ‘They say I need xanthan gum and the world will clearly end if I use a substitute.’
What I turned out was often edible, sometimes tasty. I remember baking my first big birthday cake for a lactose intolerant colleague, and spending longer looking for a decent buttercream recipe than I did making the cake itself. I needed someone else to provide a recipe so that I could follow their lead. Looking back, there was an element of being able to pass the blame if it didn’t work out: ‘I don’t know what went wrong, I followed the recipe to the letter! Rubbish recipe…’ I couldn’t be the one who had got something wrong.
Then, things began to change. I don’t know exactly when the shift happened but, gradually, I found the confidence to bend recipes – just by tweaking flavours to start with. A lemon cheesecake became a lime cheesecake. Chocolate brownies found raspberry pieces. Ganache tasted better with the addition of alcohol. Once made, these creations felt personal. Yes, I had used someone else’s recipe for the method, but I had added my own flavours so it was my bake.
Soon I started to really pull apart the sacred recipes. Through trial and error, I taught myself how to find my own balance between adhering to the science of baking, and experimenting with the art of flavour. The process encouraged me to use a new part of my brain: the creative side. Baking wasn’t just a distraction anymore; it was space to daydream. This was my mindfulness.
But being creative meant getting things wrong – the thing I had feared all along. I did – and still do – mess up a lot. Early on, I prioritised flavour over everything else, which meant my bakes looked like they’d been run over and dragged through several hedges backwards (twice). But I was loving it. The process of experimenting and testing, then sharing and receiving feedback, was twice as rewarding as being told that my ability to read and follow a recipe was on point. I was finally learning to enjoy the process, regardless of the (quite probably) imperfect outcome.
Bake Off was the ultimate test of this newfound, and not quite consolidated, confidence. Each recipe submitted for the show had to be completely original and written by me. And terrifyingly, the public watching at home wouldn’t be able to taste my bakes, so they would be judging me on appearance alone. Every brief called for ‘showstopping’, ‘immaculate’, and ‘beautifully presented’ creations. Not my forte. But I was determined to try my best. It quickly became obvious to everyone at home that I was suffering from a classic case of imposter syndrome. It turns out that’s how the majority of the bakers were feeling – I was just more vocal about it! As a group, we celebrated each other’s wins and commiserated the losses.
Baking – which had begun as my secret hobby and turned into a personal, creative outlet – was now a hilarious and messy process that I actually enjoyed sharing with others. The sense that we were ‘all in this together’ was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I want to give other people that feeling. That is why I’ve written Baking Imperfect. To encourage anyone who feels nervous about baking to give it a go, and to push more experienced bakers to challenge themselves. What is the worst that can happen?
So, why do I bake? Because baking reminds me that I’m allowed to make mistakes. You are too.
‘Baking Imperfect’ by Lottie Bedlow, available now (Hamlyn, £20).
Subscribe to Happiful issue 64 to try Lottie's banocolatee bread recipe from her delightful new book.
Photography | Courtesy of PR