She has baked for Pierce Brosnan, President Obama and the Queen – can Mich Turner teach us too?
Baking, it seems, was always going to be a big part of Mich Turner’s life. Even at a tender age, the celebrity cake connoisseur and judge on ITV’s Britain’s Best Bakery, was baking biscuits.
‘My earliest baking memory is when I was four years old, standing on a chair in the kitchen and making little butter biscuits,’ recalls Mich. ‘I would always pretend to be Delia Smith. I’d make biscuits in front of my imaginary audience, showing them what I was doing and how I was doing it.’
She’s come a long way from then, becoming one of the UK’s finest cake bakers – making creations for everyone from the Queen and President Barack Obama to David Beckham and Miranda Hart. But when she started out in the industry, things were rather different. Cakes, and cake making, didn’t have the kudos they do now.
‘I’m a trained scientist,’ explains Mich, ‘so my colleagues who were qualified in the same degree as me [food science and nutrition] were moving into the world of new product development, working for major food manufacturers. The idea of me actually starting my own business in the world of catering, doing something very beautiful, stylish and creative, was really unheard of.’
But Mich was a forerunner of the celebrity bakers who are so popular today. Her first highprofile client was Pierce Brosnan – she created his wedding cake in 2001, and his wife, Keely Shaye Brosnan, was quoted at the time as saying, ‘If I have a great man, great dress and great cake, nothing else matters.’
Mich continues, ‘I think it was around that time that the whole idea of the wedding cake had sort of risen to centre stage and become an aspirational item as much as the flowers, the dress, the man, and the ring.’
And since then she has become something of a byword for fabulous cakes. ‘Yes, I have made cakes for some pretty highprofile people,’ she acknowledges. ‘I made a cake for Her Majesty’s 60th wedding anniversary that was given to her as a gift. She set it up in a private room in Buckingham Palace for a family Christmas lunch, then took the top tier with her to Sandringham.
‘I make this fruit cake with the different vine fruits – it was developed for her particularly. The Queen Elizabeth date cake is made with medjool dates, fresh British apples and sultanas – because she likes the vine fruit – and the zest of fresh lemon, and it is just the most delicious cake. And what is just so great about it is that you can eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.’
The cake she created for the Obamas was magical, too, Mich reveals. ‘Barack Obama’s daughters were in town, so we made a cake for one of them to celebrate her birthday – it had a Harry Potter theme.’
But with the quest to find Britain’s Best Bakery well under way, and Mich judging the hopefuls (along with bread expert Peter Sidwell), what advice can she offer the amateur bakers among us?
‘When it comes to cake making, do make sure you really follow the recipe,’ she advises. ‘Weigh accurately, use the best-quality ingredients and don’t rush any of the stages, because the magic can’t happen once the cake is in the oven.
‘You have to make sure the physical chemistry is right, that all the elements have been done properly, and you have maximised your ingredients before it goes in the oven. So if you’re creaming, cream until it is at its absolute optimum. If you’re going to add the eggs, add them at room temperature because they will aerate better. They will not be able to hold in the air if they are cold. ‘Use everything right and it will go right.’
Mich Turner’s Cake Masterclass by Mich Turner, is published by Jacqui Small, priced £25.
The second series of Britain’s Best Bakery is on ITV, weekdays at 4pm.
Mich’s sound bites
What is your pet hate?
‘When people cut corners, using cheap ingredients, substituting margarine for butter.’
What is the worst part of baking?
‘Lining tins! But you can never underestimate it. It’s tedious lining a tin when you just want to get on with baking, but preparation is second to none. Always line the tin first. As long as you do it properly, it will ensure that the baked cake comes out well.’
What will we be baking in 2014?
‘Meringues have started to take off. But also it will become much more about quality, choice of ingredients and flavour combinations – rather than just a basic white sponge with decorations.’
Recipe:Queen Elizabeth Date Cake Recipe
Moist and tasty, this nutritious cake is sustaining and simple to make, and it turns out well every time. It can be covered with marzipan and sugar paste and decorated for an impressive centrepiece, or simply enjoyed on its own served with English breakfast tea or some freshly brewed coffee.
- 200g unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus extra for greasing
- 240g medjool dates, stoned
- 50g sultanas
- 300g light brown sugar
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 25g preserved stem ginger, chopped
- grated zest of 2 lemons
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 250g Bramley cooking apples, peeled and cored, then grated or chopped
- 200g plain flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/ gas mark 2 if fan, or 170C/325F/gas mark 3 if conventional. Grease and line a deep 20cm round cake tin or 900g loaf tin with non-stick baking paper, or use a non-stick tin. Ensure all the ingredients are at room temperature.
Place the dates and sultanas in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Melt the butter and sugar together in a saucepan and leave to cool slightly. Beat the eggs, ginger, lemon zest and vanilla extract into the butter and sugar. Drain the fruit and chop the dates finely. Add to the saucepan with the apples and mix well. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in well.
Spoon the mixture into the tin and bake in the oven for about 1 hour 15 mins, until well risen and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin.
First published in the Lady magazine