Mary Berry webchat

Mary Berry signing copies of her new book Recipe for LifeMary Berry, Great British Bake Off judge, food writer and baking doyenne, joined us for a webchat on 16 September 2013.

She shared her baking secrets and answered your questions on everything from how to make perfect meringues to what she thinks of Paul Hollywood.

Baking tips

Q. ArtisanLentilWeaver: What is the secret to fluffy scones?

A. Mary Berry: I think the perfect scone should be beautifully moist and baked really freshly. If they're a day old, just warm them before serving, just like they do in Devon and Cornwall for cream teas.

When making the mixture, make sure it's really wet and sticking to your hands, don't knead them too much either. It makes the best scones.

Q. GwendolineMaryLacey: How on earth do I stop fruit/chocolate chips etc sinking to the bottom? I have asked a million people and got a million answers but nothing works. If you can solve this I will be the toast of the school coffee morning!

A. Mary Berry: Fruit and chocolate chips sink to the bottom because the actual cake mixture is too runny. Even though you follow the recipe, sometimes fat with a low active content is used, which makes a runny mixture. If this is not the case, add a little more self-raising flour to your mixture to make it stiffer. It will then support the fruit or chocolate chips.

Q. littlestressy: Whenever I make sponge cakes I always cream the butter and sugar first then add the eggs. But the mixture always looks like its curdled after the eggs have been added. I add them a little at a time but nothing seems to work. What am I doing wrong?

A. Mary Berry: I now use the all-in-one method, using Stork for cakes instead of butter. Everything goes in the bowl together and you beat it. It's quick, easy and gives very good results.

Q. Handsfullandlovingit: My question is about Christmas cake, specifically the light and golden Victorian Christmas Cake in the Baking Bible. It is glorious. How far in advance would I be safe to make it? I like to do Christmas as far in advance as possible.

A. Mary Berry: You can make your Christmas cake right now! It needs to be well wrapped and kept in a cool place. If your kitchen's very hot and you have space in the fridge or freezer, keep it there then ice it nearer Christmas. You can ice your Christmas cake mid-December.

Q. hermancakedestroyer: My aunt used to make delicious meringues that were crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle, but I have never managed to replicate them. Can you help?

A. Mary Berry: Have a look at my Cookery Course book. It has meringue recipes in detail. Have a look in your local library. To make the best meringues put the egg whites in a clean bowl and whisk with an electric whisk on full speed until it looks like cloud, then continue adding the sugar on full speed a little at a time until it is exceedingly stiff. This should give you really good meringues.

Q. forcookssake: When making crème patissière - other than using cornflour, which looks a bit like cheating - does Mary have any tips or hints to stop it curdling please?

A. Mary Berry: When making crème patissière I always add either cornflour or flour, otherwise you wouldn't get the thickness to the mixture that you require. Have a look in my Complete Cookbook.

Q. LegoCaltrops: Please could you advise what I'm doing wrong with my shortcrust pastry. I've used various recipes, they taste fine when cooked but invariably when I lift the pastry up with the rolling pin to transfer to the dish/tray, it falls apart. Every single time! Is my kitchen too warm, am I over/under-working the dough, is it too dry? I currently use a simple recipe of 225g flour, 110g butter, 2 egg yolks and a couple of tsp water to bind.

A. Mary Berry: Your recipe is fine. You may need just a little bit more water to make it easier to handle. If you find it very difficult on a warm day you can always roll it between two sheets of cling film and then chill it on a baking tray before putting it over your pie.

Marry Berry Recipe for LifeQ. bundle: Can I use preserved cherries in a clafoutis?

A. Mary Berry: Certainly you can use preserved cherries in clafoutis. Make sure they're well drained before adding them to the mixture. You can use any of the syrup that remains slightly thickened as a sauce.

Q. expatinscotland: I'd like to ask if it is necessary to adjust my cake and biscuit recipes in any way if I am using duck eggs, which are richer than chicken eggs.

A. Mary Berry: Duck eggs can be used to replace chicken eggs using the same volume. If you break four eggs in to a jug then compare it with a couple of duck eggs, I think you'll find it'll be about the same volume. You could use the chicken eggs that you've broken up in scrambled eggs. Duck eggs are very good for baking. I bought my grandchildren an ostrich egg last weekend and we made it into scrambled egg. It had a very tough shell!

Q. HoneyDragon: Cake is my son's favourite thing. He doesn't like fondant icing (and I'm rubbish with rolling it out!) and he doesn't particularly love buttercream either. So what else can I use to decorate the fancy birthday cakes he asks for each year?

A. Mary Berry: You can just make water icing which is lemon juice added to icing sugar. There is a new icing sugar called fondant icing sugar which is excellent and sets reasonably firmly. I've found it very good and it has a nice shine.


Learning to bake

Q. NotAFeminist: For someone who has only really baked in cooking classes at school and a handful of other times, what advice would you give to someone starting out in the world of baking? For example, simple recipes to start with, what vital cooking utensils should every budding baker have in their kitchen, or what ingredients must one always have to hand etc..

"Always have self-raising flour, plain flour and caster sugar in the cupboard, and Stork and eggs in the fridge so you're already at the ready for baking."

A. Mary Berry: When starting off, just sit down and think what sort of cakes do you want to make? If it's a victoria sandwich, buy yourself two tins of the size of the cake you're likely to make. Some bun tins or muffin tins, and a couple of flat baking sheets.

A hand mixer is not expensive and a great help if you want to take it fairly seriously. Always have self-raising flour, plain flour and caster sugar in the cupboard, and Stork and eggs in the fridge so you're always at the ready for baking.

Q. down2earthwithabump: Apart from the 'kitchen working triangle', what would you say is the most important aspect in kitchen design?

A. Mary Berry: Kitchen design is all about what suits you. For example, I like to have plenty of space for recycling and I have four containers in two draws. I therefore don't want a waste disposal unit.

I like a separate kitchen table for eating so that I don't have to keep clearing it when I'm working.

Choose a floor that's easy to clean otherwise you'll regret it! I like my ingredients and equipment in cupboards rather than on open shelves to reduce cleaning.

I like vertical storage for my baking trays, chopping boards, bun tins as it takes up less space. I could go on indefinitely - good luck!

Q. Valentinegal: I was just given your latest book for my birthday and am enjoying working through it. Don't want to out myself but your sister taught me all I know in the kitchen and gave me such confidence in cooking. Seems like these days, and in the past, cooking lessons in other schools have often been rather inadeuqate. Her lessons were the highlight of our week and I have always wanted to thank her, so could you pass the message on?

A. Mary Berry: I suspect it was my sister-in-law, Margaret Berry, who taught cookery and is a brilliant cook.

Q. ThisTimeItsPersonal: Who inspired you to become such a fantastic baker? You have inspired so many people and I think you really are a fab role model!

A. Mary Berry: I was very lucky at school to have a fantastic cookery teacher, Miss Date. She inspired me to cook and bake. I only wish that cookery was back in school, but there is a lot of talk about it coming back, which would be wonderful and hopefully inspire a whole new generation.


Recipes and cook books

Q. mamathechicken: What cook books other than your own would you recommend, for good family meals?

A. Mary Berry: I do very little ethnic cooking and I would therefore recommend Madhur Jaffrey for Indian cooking and Ken Hom for Chinese, and for detailed fish recipes Rick Stein. For Middle-Eastern cooking, Claudia Roden.

Q. Elliptic5: Are all your recipes printed nowadays designed with fan ovens in mind, or are conventional ovens considered best for some types of cakes?

A. Mary Berry: In my recipes I give both fan and conventional. Fan is 20 degrees less than most conventional cookers.

Q. MrsCampbellBlack: I have an AGA and no other cooker and wondered whether you had any plans to do another AGA book - one focusing on christmas in particular would be wonderful. I am already dreading the trauma of trying to get my roast potatoes to roast whilst the temperature plumits.

"I enjoy developing new recipes because we're all so lucky that we have new ingredients. I can well remember when we didn't have avocados or butternut squash, and mangoes were rare."

A. Mary Berry: The Christmas Collection cookery book comes out in three weeks time, and it has AGA cooking times in so hopefully it will help you navigate through Christmas.

I enjoy developing new recipes because we're so lucky that we have new ingredients. I can well remember when we didn't have avocados or butternut squash, and mangoes were rare. Also, we have such a variety of sugars nowadays. I like to use natural sugars and we can buy them of many textures and flavours.

Q. cm22v077: My mum had the Hamlyn Cook Book - it was our bible as we were growing up and we had the clock cake every year for our birthdays. I still love looking through it because it's so dated - all that aspic Jelly. Do you ever use this book?

A. Mary Berry: I still love the Hamlyn Cook Book but I am certainly not into aspic anymore!


Great British Bake Off

Q. tinypumpkin: What has the biggest calamity on GBBO been?

A. Mary Berry: The biggest calamity was when Rob dropped his chocolate cake on the floor! He'd made a beautiful genoise sponge and it slipped onto the floor. He coped brilliantly and covered it in icing so he wasn't sent home!

Q. itsonlysubterfuge:  You always look so amazing and I was just wondering how you stay in such great shape? Especially during the Great British Bake-Off and sampling all those great cakes?

A. Mary Berry: I try to have a really good taste of all the recipes on the Bake Off, but when it comes to cake at home it's a small slice and not a second one. I keep an eye on what I eat and exercise a bit too. Tennis on Mondays and plenty of walking!

Q. TerrorMeSue: During GBBO do you eat anything at all except what the contestants make?

A. Mary Berry: I enjoy the tasting very much. The bakers are most inventive but I'm very careful not to go back for a second slice. I can assure you I eat a normal meal in the evening, but at lunch time I just have soup because it's cold.

Q. TallyGrenshall: What has been your favourite bake from all the GBBO series?

A. Mary Berry: Ryan's key lime pie. It was delicious.

Q. Whistleforit: I want to ask whether you quite often think Paul is a sanctimonious twit. Albeit with very pretty eyes.

A. Mary Berry: Paul is a great co-judge on the Bake Off. We have loads of fun and he is brilliant at yeast and breads which is a weak point with me. And his eyes are just as blue as you think they are!



Q. OddSockMonster: We're thinking of doing a Backwoods Bake Off with our Scout group (Beaver scouts right up to parents), cooking on fires and gas stoves. Do you have a favourite outdoors cooking/baking recipe?

A. Mary Berry: I was a Girl Guide, so outdoor cooking is not new to me. One of the best things to do with the troops is to make drop scones. You may not have a griddle but you can do them in non-stick pans. They're quick to cook and delicious to eat! 

One of my first cooking experiences was outside with my brothers on a fire that we built at the bottom of the garden. Health and safety would not have liked it! We used to fry eggs - we had chickens and my mum used to wonder where the eggs went!

Q. MrsKwazii: Do you ever look at fads in the baking world - like the current seeming obsession for salted caramel - and think "I give that flavour combo two years before we all come to our senses"?

I'd also like to thank you for being so open about being a bereaved mother. It can be such a taboo subject and something that many people would prefer us to hide. I think that when parents like you talk about your experiences it really does help other bereaved families and may help little by little to change others' attitudes.

A. Mary Berry: I'm not a follower of salted caramel, or cupcakes with too much butter icing on top. I'm more of a traditional baker but I've learnt a lot of new ideas from bakers on the Great British Bake Off. 

I'm sorry about your losses and thank you for your comments. I always think we were lucky to have our children and have many happy memories. Child Bereavement UK, which I am a patron of now, is a wonderful charity that helps bereaved parents and their children in so many ways. If anyone needs some additional support please contact them.

Q. TheContrastofWhiteonWhite: I am just starting to deal with the scariness of having to do a school lunch box. Other than flapjacks, what cakes do you recommend for withstanding the bashing and dropping that tends to happen to a four-year-old's lunch box and still being edible at lunch time?

A. Mary Berry: Children seem to like homemade biscuits best. I suggest that you wrap one or two in foil within the lunch box -they'll be less likely to get damaged!

Q. cm22v077: Which point of your career would you consider to be the highlight?

A. Mary Berry: I'm enjoying my time right now. It's such fun on the Bake Off and I'm really proud to have finished my autobiography, <says she with a sigh of relief>. It's been a real trip down memory lane, and it was great to look at old photographs. We've included lots of them in the book.

Q. sybilfaulty: You are very stylish and always look amazing. Do you have a stylist for the programme or do you just love clothes? I've heard you say you dress very differently at home. What sort of look do you rock then?

I just wanted to say that your pieces about William have moved me to tears. He sounds like a fine young man and I am so very sorry for your loss.

A. Mary Berry: On Bake Off for some of my jackets a stylist gives me some to choose, but very often I enjoy shopping around in Zara, Phase Eight, John Lewis and Jaeger. At home I'm pretty relaxed - I'm always wearing something warm round my neck. Thank you for your kind comments about William.

Q. AndIFeedEmGunpowder: <CAN'T BELIEVE NO ONE HAS ASKED THIS YET!> Mary, what is your favourite biscuit?

A. Mary Berry: My favourite biscuit is shortbread. I've put my favourite recipe in my autobiography at the end of chapter 16. I've also included 19 of my other favourite recipes - one for each chapter!


Last updated: 9 months ago