As the competition on this year’s Great British Bake Off hots up, star baker extraordinaire Richard Burr shows Claire Spreadbury how to whip up a storm in the kitchen
Richard Burr might not have won last year’s Great British Bake Off, but he’s definitely one of the show’s most memorable contestants.
Maybe it’s the pencil behind the ear. Maybe it’s the consistency that saw him scoop the most Star Baker accolades the programme’s ever seen. Or maybe it’s his delectable, down-to-earth demeanour, which never saw him flap, fluster or throw a Baked Alaska in the bin.
And while a new crew of bakers craft their showstoppers in this year’s series, 39-year-old Burr has been beavering away releasing his first cookbook.
“I got to spend the whole winter making all of my favourite food,” he tells me in the kitchen of his North London home, all doe-eyed and dimples.
The house, which was derelict when he bought it and lovingly restored with his own fair hands (he runs a building firm with his dad), has seen a fair bit of action of late. The entire book was shot, cover to cover, here (“the crew all but moved in”), and includes lovely images of old tools from Burr’s toolbox, including his beloved grandfather’s saw.
It’s clear that family’s really important to him. He lives with his wife Sarah, who joins in when we’re chatting, nips off to M&S insisting she needs to buy us sandwiches and tells me stories about being woken up at 2am for Bake Off taste tests, and drunkenly devouring an entire Beef Wellington when the pair clambered in after a night out.
And then there’s their two adorable daughters, three-year-old Genevieve, all tousled blonde locks, who chirps away in the background, popping her head up for a spoonful of daddy’s custard, and Elizabeth, six, who’s at a summer camp today. There’s another bundle of joy on the way too, due in December.
Baking has always filled a delicious hole in Burr’s life.
“Mum baked cakes and kept us alive, but I got a Saturday job in a bakery and scrumped as many doughnuts as I could. That’s where my love of baking really comes from,” he says, as he lays out the ingredients to make the millefeuille recipe from his book, BIY: Bake It Yourself.
“And now I cook with the kids. I’m an early bird, so I’ll often be kicking around with the girls in the morning, and if it’s a choice between cooking in the kitchen or watching Nickelodeon, I’d rather have them in here with me.”
As we get to work on one of Burr’s favourite sweet treats, he’s a pleasure to share a kitchen with, giving me instructions, tips and encouragement as I do my very best not to split the creme patissiere.
After the success of Bake Off and landing a book deal, you’d be forgiven for thinking he might decide to knock the hard graft of building on the head. But building is a big part of Burr’s life – evident as he draws out his steel tape measure to size up the slices of cooked puff pastry.
“The business went huge after Bake Off,” he reveals, whipping out some piping bags and wandering about the hub of his home, sporting a T-shirt, jeans and bright green socks. “I could have just used it to expand, but I wanted to have some fun with food, too. I try not to say ‘no’ to anything.”
Indeed, he has a degree in biodiversity and conservation – which he took on while doing Bake Off and running a building firm, and he somehow managed to get a first.
Burr’s also a keen fisherman. And now, he’s an author, too.
“My favourite recipes from the book include the blackberry and elderflower pavlovas. My wife is actually pathologically addicted to them. The millefeuilles are great, and there’s a brilliant mincemeat muffin in there, that doesn’t look much, but once you have it, you’ll never eat mince pies again.”
And with that, he shows me how to pipe the custard and stack the millefeuille, we throw a load of icing sugar over the top, skip lunch and go straight to dessert – delicious!
Fancy baking some of Richard Burr’s creations for yourself? Give these tasty treats a whirl…
:: PUFF PASTRY – FOR THE MILLEFEUILLE AND WELLINGTON RECIPES
225g strong white bread flour, plus more to dust
1/2tsp table salt
225g unsalted butter, chilled
1tsp lemon juice
This is very important (and a bit like a choose-your-own-adventure): If you don’t have a day to prepare, just buy a pack of all-butter puff pastry from the shops and move straight to the millefeuille or wellington recipe. If you do have a day to prepare, to make the puff pastry, first mix the flour and salt in a large bowl, then chop 25g of the butter and rub into the flour with your fingers.
Add the lemon juice and 140ml of cold water and mix with a knife until the mixture is brought together enough to handle. Tip out on to a floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic (probably five to 10 minutes). Allow the dough to rest for five minutes.
Roll out on a floured surface to a rectangle of 51 x 17cm (or thereabouts). You need quite a bit of worktop space for this. Roll out the remaining 200g butter between sheets of cling film to a large rectangle of 33 x 15cm. You’ll need to peel off and reapply the cling film regularly to stop it ripping.
Working quickly now, peel the top layer of cling film off the butter and flip the butter onto the rolled-out dough, covering two-thirds of the length of the dough and also leaving a clear rim around all the edges. Fold the unbuttered dough on to half of the butter and press the edges to seal the butter in. Fold this layer over to cover the remaining butter and press down the edges all round to form a 17cm square: two layers of butter separated by three layers of dough. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Take out of the fridge and roll back out to about 51 x 17cm. Fold up into thirds as before, to make a square. Turn the square through 90 degrees and roll out to 51 x 17cm again, then fold up as before. Wrap in cling film and chill for another 30 minutes.
Repeat the last step, so the pastry has been folded a total of five times. Chill for another 30 minutes.
:: FIG AND ANISE MILLEFEUILLE
For the pastry:
2/3 quantity puff pastry dough (or you can cheat and buy it ready-made)
Plain flour, to dust
Icing sugar, to dust
For the custard:
170ml whole milk
3 star anise
2 egg yolks
35g caster sugar
11/2 tbsp cornflour
100ml double cream
For the figs in syrup:
4 baby figs
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
50g light brown muscovado sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Follow the instructions to make the pastry (if you’re not using shop-bought), rolling it out to about 45 x 15cm each time and chilling in the fridge.
Now for the custard. Pour the milk into a saucepan with the star anise and set over a medium heat. Bring to a simmer, then take off the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
Put the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl and whisk with the caster sugar and cornflour, using a hand or electric whisk.
Once the milk has infused, fish out the star anise and pour the milk into the egg mixture, whisking as you do so. Pour back into the saucepan and set over a low heat. Stir constantly, using a silicone spatula, until the custard thickens up, then quickly scrape into a clean bowl. Lay cling film on the surface of the custard (to stop a skin forming) and put in the fridge to cool.
While the pastry is chilling in the fridge, you can poach the figs. Cut each fig into sixths, put in a saucepan with the orange zest and juice, sugar and cinnamon stick and set over a low heat.
Once simmering, cook for eight to 10 minutes, occasionally turning the figs. Fish the figs out of the saucepan and lay on a plate. Put in the fridge to cool.
Preheat the oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and take the pastry out of the fridge.
Roll it out on a floured surface to a neat rectangle 30 x 25cm and lay this on the baking tray. Lay another sheet of baking parchment on top of this and weigh it down with another baking tray to stop the pastry from puffing up too far. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
Take the tray off the top of the pastry and return to the oven for another 10-12 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven, take the pastry off the tray and off the baking parchment. Set on a wire rack to cool down.
Returning to the custard, whip the cream with an electric whisk until it forms soft peaks. Take the now-cooled custard out of the fridge and fold in the whipped cream, a couple of tablespoons at a time. Load into a piping bag and snip the end to make an opening about 5mm in diameter.
Once the pastry is completely cooled, put it on a chopping board and carefully cut into three rectangles of 25 x 10cm. Cut each of these into 10 pieces, each 10 x 2.5cm, to give 30 neat fingers of puff pastry. Some of the outside ones may be a bit ragged, but those are generally the baker’s treats!
Assemble each pastry: Pipe 14 small blobs (two rows of seven) of custard on to the bottom layer of pastry. Lay the next layer on top and pipe on another 14 blobs of custard.
Take the figs out of the fridge and cut each segment in half (giving you 48 segments). Lay segments of fig on top of the custard, all facing in the same direction. You might have a few fig pieces left over, depending on size.
Lay a third layer of pastry on top and dust with a little icing sugar.
Repeat to assemble all the pastries.
:: GREEN OLIVE AND ROSEMARY FOCACCIA
500g strong white bread flour, plus more if needed
2tsp table salt
1tbsp ‘quick’ yeast
50ml olive oil, plus more to knead, prove and shape
20 pitted green olives, in brine or oil
A few sprigs of rosemary
Sea salt flakes and freshly coarse-ground black pepper
Measure the flour, salt and yeast into a bowl, making sure you add the salt and yeast to opposite sides of the bowl, then mix with a wooden spoon. Add the 50ml of olive oil and all the water, and combine with the spoon until you have a wet dough.
Pour about two tablespoons of olive oil on to a work surface and tip out the dough on to it. Knead for at least 10 minutes. The dough will be sloppy and this is going to be a messy business, so don’t worry if you get your hands covered. Use your judgement about whether to add more flour; don’t add too much, as it should remain a wet dough.
Oil an ice-cream tub or any large plastic container (more than 2L capacity) and plop the dough in. Cover with cling film and leave to rise at room temperature for one to one-and-a-half hours, until it has at least doubled in size. It might be worth taking a photo of the dough on your phone so you can compare later to see whether it has risen enough.
Pour another couple of teaspoons of oil on to a work surface and gently tip out the risen dough. Take two long knives and oil the blades. Cut the dough into two equal pieces: use one knife to cut them, then slide the other knife alongside the first and use both knives to push the halves apart. (This is the easiest way of prising the dough into two pieces.)
Gently pick up each half and place on a baking tray, lined with baking parchment, forming each into a thin lozenge shape.
Cover with a plastic bag and leave to rise for 45 minutes. (The bag shouldn’t touch the loaves but should form a tent around them.)
Preheat the oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7 and uncover the dough.
Cut the olives in half lengthways and press firmly into the dough.
Drizzle with a few more tablespoons of oil and lay cut sprigs of rosemary on top. Season with sea salt flakes and pepper.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, then remove and cool on two wire racks.
Drizzle with more olive oil before cutting into strips and eating.
:: BEEF WELLINGTON
For the filling:
1kg good-quality beef fillet
2tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp vegetable oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
25g unsalted butter
225g button mushrooms
75ml white wine
1tsp thyme leaves
150g Parma ham
For the pastry:
1 quantity puff pastry – or buy ready-made
Plain flour, to dust
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Rub the beef with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan to just smoking, then put the beef in; it will spit, but keep the beef moving so it doesn’t stick to the pan. Sear the beef on all sides until a rich brown colour forms: you really want to get some colour on here, so about 15 minutes spent in the frying pan is perfectly acceptable. Reduce the heat to low and set the beef aside to cool.
Put the shallots in the pan with the butter and half a teaspoon more each of salt and pepper, and cook until they’re translucent.
Put the mushrooms in a food processor with the wine and blitz until smooth. Scrape into the frying pan. Cook for five to 10 minutes to expel some of the moisture, stirring the whole time. Once the mushrooms resemble a fine paste, stir in the thyme, take off the heat and set aside to cool.
Lay two large sheets of cling film on a work surface, overlapping each other by about 5cm, to make a large square. Lay out the Parma ham in a rectangle about 35 x 30cm, overlapping the slices. Using a small palette knife or a table knife, spread the reduced mushrooms over the ham, covering it totally.
Lay the beef in the middle of the mushroom and Parma ham rectangle and gently lift two corners of the cling film up, to roll half the ham over the meat. Flatten the ham down with your hands and peel the cling film away to lie back down on the work surface.
Roll the other half of Parma ham over the beef in the same way. You should now have the beef totally wrapped in mushrooms and ham.
Fold the ends of the Parma ham neatly and roll up the cling film tightly so that it looks like a massive shiny sausage. Twist the ends of the cling film to seal the wellington together and put in the fridge to cool while you make the puff. (If you’re using packet puff, you still need to chill the beef for one hour.)
Make the puff pastry (see recipe).
Lay a sheet of baking parchment on a baking tray and take the wrapped beef and chilled puff pastry out of the fridge.
Roll the pastry out to 35 x 30cm and peel the cling film off the beef.
Gently lay the beef in the centre of the pastry. Put the beef on upside down: it should have a flattish surface that formed while it was in the fridge – this needs to be facing up.
Fold the pastry over the beef and stick together by liberally painting with beaten egg. Fold the loose ends over, too, and stick down with beaten egg.
Roll the wellington over on to the baking tray, so the seams of pastry are now on the bottom and the top surface is smooth.
Paint the remaining beaten egg over the pastry, then slash the pastry quite deeply (but not all the way through) with a sharp knife. Put in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6.
Take out of the fridge. Bake for 25 minutes until golden brown, then take out and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving. This will give you a medium-rare wellington, so if you like it cooked more or less, adjust the time to your taste.
Carve to serve and fight over who gets the last slice!
:: BIY: Bake It Yourself by Richard Burr is published by Quadrille, priced £20. Available now