I grew up in a village in Rutland and the nearby market town had a fantastic bakery where my parents bought our bread. I can remember gazing wide-eyed at the cakes and buns piled high. One day I slipped, split my head open on the plate-glass window and had to have it stitched back together. The tile floor of the bakery and the glass were quite splattered with blood. I’ve had a fear of red sponge cakes ever since.
Have you got a baking background?
I come from a foodie family; even my father is a great cook, which isn’t usual for his generation. But we’re not bakers. The closest we got was making Greek doughnuts called loukoumades. I remember deep-frying them with my grandmother in Greece – my mum is half-Greek – and smothering them in honey, ice cream and cinnamon. They’re absolutely delicious.
What’s your family’s favourite cake?
These days we’ve gone Italian: the whole family celebrates their birthday with a tiramisu rather than a cake. We all follow a fantastic recipe of my mum’s, although I have been known to order one from my local Italian. Last year I made a massive one with a “Z” for my little boy Zephyr’s first birthday but only allowed him a little lick of the finger. It would be hypocritical to ban chocolate because I’m a chocoholic, but I’m trying to put it off for as long as possible!
And what’s your own favourite?
For me the winner every time is chocolate cake: a nice, gooey, almost soggy chocolate cake with thick, thick chocolate cream in the middle and on top. I do not have sophisticated tastes so if you want to sprinkle Smarties on top too, I wouldn’t object.
Did you enjoy baking for Comic Relief ?
I’m quite competitive and Bake Off was a challenge I couldn’t resist. I practised: I think if you’re going to do something, you should do it to the best of your ability. I had a lesson from my best friend’s husband who is a chef and thought I was a complete idiot because I didn’t even know the basics – like the fact that you don’t need baking powder as well as self-raising flour. On the day I was quaking. You don’t think you’re going to get nervous; you don’t think that it matters to you or that you care but of course you do.
What have you learnt from the experience?
It sounds incredibly corny but this has lifted the lid on a whole new world of exploration for me. I’m a mum now and trying not to work away as much, so for the first time I’ve afternoons to spend in the kitchen. My new year’s resolution was to continue baking and I have. Pre-Bake Off my showstopper was chocolate mousse, so very simple and boring; now I’ve mastered profiteroles filled with vanilla-pod ice cream and dripping with melted chocolate. The family is amazed at the new domestic Julia. Next on my to do list: cupcakes.