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Kate Barmby: Cake Expectations

PUBLISHED: 11:07 31 October 2016 | UPDATED: 13:19 22 November 2016

Kate Barmby talks about how life has been since becoming one of the stars of this year's Great British Bake Off

Kate Barmby talks about how life has been since becoming one of the stars of this year's Great British Bake Off

Copyright Steve Adams

What’s next for Kate Barmby, The Great British Bake Off contestant and Norfolk’s new home-baking heroine? Sarah Cassells finds out when she meets the rising star

Kate Barmby relaxing at her home after going out of the Great British Bake OffKate Barmby relaxing at her home after going out of the Great British Bake Off

It was an irresistible combination: a winsome Norfolk nurse combined with the cream of the amateur baking world and left to prove in the heat of a competitive marquee. The Great British Bake Off might be watched by millions across the country, but this seventh series had a distinctively local flavour and we still cannot get enough of Kate Barmby and her controversial blue icing.

“Going to the supermarket I have to factor in that people will stop me and talk about Bake Off,” says Kate. “And now everywhere I go people expect cake, sometimes in the most mundane places. Like the dentist.”

Kate Barmby's celebration cake after competing in the Great British Bake OffKate Barmby's celebration cake after competing in the Great British Bake Off

Even while at work at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital she has patients bringing their grandchildren on to the ward specifically to take selfies. Kate believes there is a link between baking and nursing too. “Wanting to feed people nice food and wanting to make them better; it’s about nurturing. The skills might not cross over, but the feelings behind them do,” she says.

It is this enthusiasm and compassion that saw Norfolk viewers back the 38-year-old mum with passionate tweets and posts on social media. There was praise and pride when she came top with her Viennese whirls and judge Mary Berry raved about her plaited focaccia loaf with goats’ cheese and onion. Then commiserations when Mary said the blue icing of her mirror-glaze Genovese let her down and her bunny churros turned into recipe roadkill.

Kate shares her recipe for spelt wreath loaf with chorizo jamKate shares her recipe for spelt wreath loaf with chorizo jam

There was also collective indignation when she finally left the show in Batter Week. At the time, fellow judge Paul Hollywood admitted she wasn’t the weakest baker on the show, just on that episode.

And also because, well, is frying really baking?

Kate is diplomatic in defeat: “It was controversial but it made good television. It took us out of our comfort zone. Batter is more unpredictable, and temperature and timing were my downfall.”

She has also faced the critical glare of television reviewers. One, she recalls, described her TV portrayal as overly prim and too nice to be true. In reality, Kate is Bambi-eyed and perky-smiling, but she also has a mischievous laugh and, when we meet, a lingering hangover from a charity ball attended with her fellow TV bakers. Her Brooke home, where she lives with husband Dave and daughters Lucy and Rebecca, smells delicious, and her beautiful bakes cover the kitchen table, but there is still a pile of washing up waiting near the sink. She looks like someone successfully negotiating the worlds of working mum and small-screen celebrity.

She pours tea into swallow mugs; swallows being her “spirit animal” which inspires so much of her on-air and off-air baking – and wardrobe. “The week the show was announced, a lady in the supermarket said, ‘Look there’s a girl from Norfolk on Bake Off’. Unless I wear something with swallows I am completely anonymous,” she says.

Kate’s decision to apply to the show came at the end of a stressful year and was the chance “to do something nice for me”. The process of filming was nothing like cooking at home.

“At one point I set fire to some caramel and was so busy I didn’t notice until I turned around to see the camera men zooming in. I told the crew they were like wildlife documenters and I’m like the baby wildebeest being eaten by the lion – they film and don’t intervene at all!”

Working under the scrutiny of baking greats Mary and Paul was pretty terrifying, particularly as Kate had grown up using Mary’s books, while co-hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins were lovely: “The tent gets quite intense and they do help to dissipate that tension... although Sue has a habit of eating your ingredients.”

Now that filming has ended she hasn’t lost her love of cooking, using “the more local ingredients, the better”, whether that’s fruits from her parents’ farm or cheeses from Fielding Cottage and cured meats from Marsh Pig. She is still in daily contact with all the bakers from the show with plans for them to visit Norfolk soon so they can all bake pizzas together in the brick pizza oven in her parents’ garden.

Given that she’s a Brownie leader and that people have sent Tweets to her to say they have started cooking with their children after seeing her on TV, would she be interested in launching her own classes?

“I have cooked at school with the children and loved it, but I also love the creative side of baking, so I do a lot of sugarcraft and am developing my own recipes. Ideally I would like to write something that would inspire other people to bake.”

When asked about her proudest moment on the show she cites her corn maiden bread, “because Paul said it wasn’t achievable, but I did it”. It is this hopeful determination that suggests a recipe book deal might not be too far away.

Hot half-dozen:

Kate’s quick-fire question round

1 Who would you love to bake for?

Delia Smith. My children are now learning to cook from her books.

2 What’s your earliest baking memory?

Mum gave me a wooden spoon to play with in my highchair.

3 Signature bake?

My own secret-recipe Christmas cake.

4 Favourite cooking utensil?

The stand mixer Dave bought me before we were married. He joked I was more excited about it than my engagement ring.

5 Which cook book is your bible?

Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course, Good Housekeeping’s Cookery Book and Reader’s Digest’s New Cookery Year

6 Biggest baking disaster?

Garlic lemon meringue pie after I accidentally left my pie next to garlic butter in the fridge. Dave still ate it.

See November’s issue of EDP Norfolk magazine for Kate’s recipe for spelt wreath loaf with chorizo jam.

Follow Kate on Instagram @katebarmby for more baking updates

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