Our school was created to share extensive knowledge of the craft with the help of amazing teachers and passionate students. So every few weeks, we’ll introduce you to new team members and if you have any questions that you’d like answering, please email, tweet or comment on facebook with your questions and we'll answer them next time. For now, we hope you enjoy this first interview!
What’s your baking specialism?
Recipe development; almost every recipe I use in my classes is created by me. I love designing new flavours and recipes to suit different needs, including free-from cakes. For decoration, I’m a huge advocate of piping skills. They are just so versatile and can give you a look that is classic, contemporary, refined or extravagant. I studied with Eddie Spence at Eastleigh College and I have adapted the royal icing skills I learnt from him to use with buttercream, ganache and even marshmallow frosting!
How long have you been baking or in the food industry?
I took a Cordon Bleu cookery course when I was 18 and worked for a while as a private chef, so I’ve been involved in the food industry for over 16 years. I’ve been working as a pastry chef/cake decorator full time for eight years and I’ve been lucky enough to work in a variety of kitchens; from pâtisseries to restaurant kitchens and wedding cake makers.
What do you love most about baking and decorating cakes?
Everything! I think if I could go back and tell my childhood self that I would be baking and decorating cakes for a living, she would be ecstatic! Baking is quite scientific, methodical and precise and recipe development is about problem-solving, which uses the analytical, academic side of my brain quite well. Whereas the decorating and designing involves letting go a bit more, allowing me to be quite playful and experimental. So I love being able to apply both my passion and precision when teaching. I want students to feel inspired but also supported with the necessary skills and knowledge to create beautiful and delicious cakes with total confidence.
As a professional, what baking skill do you find the most challenging?
A lot of people think that if you have a good ‘tried & tested’ recipe for a cake, that you can take it anywhere and it will work out the same. Sadly, this just isn't true. Different ingredients, especially different flours, and even different weather and equipment will make a huge difference to the final bake. The most challenging thing for me is to adapt recipes or methods to suit different kitchens and different ingredients. The more you experiment, though, the more you learn, and I’m much more knowledgeable now about why something might go wrong and how to fix it!
If you could bake a cake alongside any famous person, alive or deceased, who would it be?
For relaxation, I think I could really have a good time with Nigel Slater! He is definitely a more rustic cook than I am and such a fruit and vegetable geek. It would be amazing to have a baking session with him – he could bring some obscure but incredible fruit and we would craft a new cake or pudding recipe together and eat in his kitchen. It would have to be served with unpasteurised farmer's market cream, because that's his style!
What’s your favourite food?
When I'm not eating cake, I do really love healthy food, including lots of fruit and vegetables and fragrant spicy flavours. I went to Cambodia a few years ago and fell for the fresh flavours and gentle spices. If it's dessert I’m a total crème pâtissière addict. Whenever I teach choux pastry or croquembouche classes, I have to be restrained at the end from eating all the leftover crème pâtissière from the piping bag!
When you bake at home, how do you like to work, what’s your style? With music, with family or maybe in complete silence?!
Definitely with the radio on; ideally Graham Norton on Radio 2. But no real-life company, thanks! Baking is my living but it is also my down-time and playing with recipes is a good time to be alone and spread out over the entire kitchen. It's a great way to recharge the batteries.
How much cake do you eat each day, all in the name of ‘testing’ of course?!
I do eat cake daily but I’m fussy about quality. And with all the recipe development, it‘s very unusual for me not to have some cake stashed in the freezer somewhere.
Which one baking skill do you think every amateur cook should know?
I think that, in general, good preparation will get you through unfamiliar baking territory; read the recipe thoroughly before you start, even before you buy ingredients, so you can check if there's any equipment you need. Using good quality equipment and ingredients will also make a huge difference to a beginner.
What do you most enjoy about teaching? Please provide any interesting stories about your teaching experiences…
Cake is a celebration, so a lot of people come to learn about baking and decorating so they can produce special cakes. I once had a student who travelled from Amsterdam to learn how to make delicious cakes for her daughter's birthday. She was quite nervous but by the end of the week, she was so overwhelmed by the progress she had made she cried at the end of the class! Making connections with people and helping them to achieve something personally important to them is absolutely the best thing about teaching.
To book on one of Marianne’s next courses, visit http://www.squires-school.co.uk/courses/tutor/marianne-stewart.
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