Mary Berry reveals a few of her favourite things – from kitchen gadgets to cake to clothes

"I never wore trousers until I arrived on Bake Off! Mel and Sue were wearing jeans, so I thought, 'I can’t be different!'"

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It’s not quite Bake Off season yet, but you can get your fix of the show’s culinary queen with new series Mary Berry’s Absolute Favourites. The veteran cook draws on her wealth of specialist knowledge to share a selection of her recipes, each inspired by a different place. In the first programme, she draws her inspiration from childhood trips to the seaside, preparing goats cheese and shallot tarts with an innovative walnut pastry, considered ideal for a picnic hamper. So here are some of Mary’s favourite things, from kitchen gadgets to Bake Off outfits…

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Favourite cake…

I love a good madeira cake. Nice and simple. The most important thing is that a cake is moist, which is the word, according to The One Show, the whole of Britain hates most! I don’t mind it. Most people overcook cakes, which dries them out. I would rather they were a little underdone if anything, so they’re still a little bit moist in the middle. The secret is to establish the perfect baking time for your oven – all ovens vary. And once you’ve got it right, for goodness sake write it on the bottom of the recipe!

I usually make two cakes – one I put in the freezer and one we have straight away. Freezing is the best form of preservation, and as long as you freeze the cake at its peak and wrap it carefully, it will be just as good when it comes out. Leave it to defrost, and it will be as it was when it went in. 

Favourite kitchen gadget…

Well, in my old age, it doesn’t please me to beat like mad with a hand whisk or a wooden spoon. I like a mixer, I like a processor…I’m not great for all sorts of gadgets – I don’t need something to hang my bananas on, or scoop my avocado out into slices – but I couldn’t do without a mixer! I’ve always used one. Some people say it’s better to hand-whisk, so you can control it – what rubbish! I can control an electric mixer. 

Favourite herb…

I suppose my favourite herb is thyme. We’ve got various thymes in the garden, and as it’s a perennial, it’s always there. It’s perfect with both meat and fish, and it just gives a lift to so many recipes. I love my herb garden – we’ve got all the herbs that I use. We are sowing the annuals at the moment – dill, basil, chervil and lots of parsley! 

Favourite TV dinner…

Something quick, easy and informal that everybody can enjoy. I make a Saturday-night pasta dish with chicken and paprika, with a lovely cheesy sauce, parmesan and tomatoes, and bake it. I never make fresh pasta. I used to, with the children, but only because they enjoyed it. The dried pasta you get in the shops is very good, there’s just no need. But we never eat in front of the television! I have always insisted on meals around the table in the kitchen. And then they can go and watch the telly. I don’t want food all over the place, down the sides of the sofa – sorry about that! When I shared a flat before I got married, we would always eat around the telly, but not now! 

Favourite restaurant…

I like a good local pub. In Beaconsfield, which is near us, Raymond Blanc has just opened a Brasserie Blanc and it really is good value, nice food, jolly atmosphere, and if you take a lot of rowdy children, that’s the best place to put them. I don’t go to fancy Michelin-starred restaurants often. The Waterside Inn in Bray is where we go for celebrations, but somewhere like the Fat Duck wouldn’t be my first choice… I’ve only been once but it’s for the really strong foodies that want a lot of experimental food. That’s not really me. 

Favourite cuisine…

I am very proud of British food now, I think it’s at its best. I mainly cook British food with a few things I’ve had on my holidays. I went to the Canary Islands a few years ago and we had all sorts of different mushrooms on brioche with pancetta on top, and it was delicious! I had it most days for lunch so I thought, “I’ll do that when I get back,” and now it’s in my cookbook, an absolute favourite. 

Favourite holiday…

We like going to Gran Canaria; it is sheer luxury. It’s warm and the food is superb. I like a really hot holiday while my husband would prefer something more temperate, but life is compromise!

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Favourite TV programme…

Downton Abbey – Oh, I’m so boring! – Call the Midwife... I love a British period drama! I’m in another world. I just love seeing all the scenery, the china, the food, the lamps, the beds, the clothes… and also the speech. Listening to it puts you in another world… it’s all gone now. I used to watch Coronation Street but it was totally different then. I don’t really want to watch the stuff that goes on now – the fighting, the drama, the stories about rape, children out of wedlock… That may be as life is, but I don’t really want to know. I want something a little bit happier on my television, something gentle that’s not going to disturb and worry me.