Last Saturday my friend B and I went along to Taste Christmas at the Excel Centre.
I've never been to the Excel Centre.
It is huge.
Properly, aircraft carrier sized ginormous.
After a couple of near-misses when I almost joined the queues for the Britain Got's Talent auditions and the British Olympic Taekwondo try-outs, I finally found Taste Christmas. Lovely.
B mentioned that Mary Berry was making a guest appearance, undertaking demonstrations and signing her books. The chance to be within poking distance of the Great Dame of British Baking was too good an opportunity to miss in favour of more free samples of curry.
So, dragging B, we sat and patiently waited in the Demonstration Theatre a whole 45 minutes before Mary's appearance. In the front row we sat, like over-eager school children in assembly. And the next half hour was spent in awe of Mary as she demonstrated tips and tricks to make delicious mini brownie cupcakes and a suitably festive mincemeat frangipane tart (both of the recipes can be found on the Taste of Christmas website).
And Mary's top tips?
- Mary explained she uses Bourneville chocolate in all her chocolate recipes and advised to use only the very best natural sugars
- She will often microwave very lumpy sugars (that'll be the muscovados of the world) for a few seconds to de-lump (I'm sure Mary used a slightly more technical term than 'de-lump')
- For the crumbliest pastry, use half lard, half butter
- To try and stop her sweet-toothed family from eating all her yummy bakes Mary hides them in tins she labels 'dog food'. I'm not entirely sure she was joking.
- Mary pleaded for budding bakers to apply for the next series of the Great British Bake Off and promised she'd look after you. She said she didn't always agree with Paul's comments and often found him to be on the tough side with his views on the bakes
We then had the chance to ask questions. My hand shot up like an over-enthusiastic school-girl-swot who knows all the right answers. Bearing in mind I'd had a whole half hour to think of a question, this is the most original, unique, never-asked-of-Mary-before question I could come up with:
'Mary, what is your most favourite ever, ever cake?'
Mary's response? Her Mum's stem ginger treacle traybake, which I decided to make today. And it is yummmmmm-y. Crumbly, a good kick of ginger and warmingly spicy.
A little meet-and greet session followed. Guess who was at the front?
I got to shake Mary's hand. THE Mary Berry! And I asked her yet another unique and original question:
'Mary, will you be cooking dinner this Christmas or do you have a day off?'
I can exclusively reveal that yes, this year, Mary Berry will be cooking Christmas dinner for her family.
It took a while to recover from the excitement of meeting Mary Berry (THE Mary Berry) and shaking her hand but 'sampling' copious amounts of Russian vodka from a nearby stall did help.
And then I discovered Mary Berry was doing a Book Signing session at the Foyles stall. Guess who was first in line?
And what did Mary Berry said when she spotted me?
'Its YOU again!'
To which, mortified, I muttered 'I'm really sorry Mary Berry!'. Under the watchful gaze of two rather burly security guards, I scampered away, realizing 'Mary Berry thinks I'm stalking her! Mary Berry thinks I'm stalking her!!'
Sorry Mary Berry.
Mary Berry's favourite ever, ever cake: Treacle Spice Traybake
225g butter softened
175g caster sugar
300g self-raising flour
2 tsps baking powder
2 tsps mixed spice
1 tsp ground ginger
4 tbsps milk
3 bulbs stem ginger, chopped finely
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas Mark 4. Line and grease a traybake tin approximately 30cm x 23cm with foil
2. Measure all the ingredients into a large bowl and beat well until thoroughly combined
3. Spoon into the prepared tin and smooth the top
4. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes
5. Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before lifting out of the tin to cool completely
- I've made a few adjustments to the recipe (sorry Mary Berry) and used 200g of treacle rather than the 225g in the original recipe.
- The original recipe also advises just 1 tsp mixed spice, and 1 tsp allspice. As I had no ground allspice to hand, I upped the mixed spice to 2 tsp and, to add to the firey stem ginger, added a tsp of ground ginger
- The original recipe also advises an icing made with icing sugar, stem ginger syrup and finely chopped stem ginger, but I felt a dusting a icing sugar would also work
- Taste Christmas is a great day out, check out next year's dates here
- This recipe is taken from Mary's 'Christmas Collection' and is said to be a great stand-by to give to carol singers with a glass or two of mulled wine
- Do we think Mary Berry's security people have a photo of me in a folder marked 'Undesirables'?