Bake Off finalist Frances, 31, is a clothes designer who has brought more than a bit of flair to the Bake Off tent. Here’s what she had to say to Radio Times about her baking journey…
It’s an all-female final. Are women better bakers?
Girl power! But it’s also interesting how many guys have got into Bake Off. My brother says all his friends love it and people at work tell me their dads tune into Bake Off rather than the football. So it’s an all-women final but an increasingly male audience.
Do you have cold hands as the old saying goes?
I do. Everyone used to tell me, “Oh, you should be a doctor, because you’ve got cold hands” – and so one of my nicknames is Doctor Quinn.
How long have you been baking?
I’m the youngest of five so there were always mouths to feed, and the kitchen’s always been a really big part of my life. In friends’ houses baking was a big thing – they had to make sure they wore an apron and mum was there – whereas the kitchen was just another playroom for me. I even made tiny loaves for my Sylvanian Family bakery.
Why apply for Bake Off?
Quite a few people at work put the application form on my desk. I’ve got a bit of a reputation because I bake for meetings and people’s birthdays. When we are naming colours for the new season, everyone knows it’s me if it’s food-related like lemon curd or piccalilli – “You’re always talking about food, Fran!”
Did you have much practice?
I did a lot of nocturnal baking. The neighbours must have been thinking: “What is going on? The lights are still on in that kitchen at 3am.” Practice sometimes makes perfect and sometimes it makes for a messy kitchen and exhaustion! My diet was ridiculous: cake, chocolate ganache, even raw pastry at times. I remember thinking, “I’m going to bring diabetes on if I’m not careful.”
Probably the squirrel cake or the millionaire banoffee bonus shortbread Jenga. Those two have had the best reaction. I’d walk down the street the next day and hear people whispering “That’s the squirrel girl!” Even in the tent, a lot of the crew were like, “Can you make that again?”
Have you thought about patenting your edible Jenga?
No, but I’m trying to think of more: shortbread draughts or chess… I am someone who wants to eat with my eyes as much as my stomach. When I have an idea for a bake, I can paint it quite clearly in my head and I’m determined to get there. But I did learn from Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood and just from things going wrong that you sometimes have to rein the idea in a little. Also, I couldn’t be a perfectionist. I couldn’t always achieve the standards in that tent that I could at home because of the time contraint, the cameras, the things going on you can’t control.
The biscuit tower collapsing! That was horrendous. It was weird watching it back because it really was an out-of-body experience when it happened. I remember saying I wanted it looking like a haberdashery box that had been dropped – and unfortunately it did. It was more style over structure than style over substance that week.
Did the phrase “style over substance” haunt you?
I had shortened it to SOS by the end. I had Sting and Police playing the chorus to Message in a Bottle in my head: “I’ll send an SOS to the world…” I can’t deny it – I do allow the idea to get ahead of the bake sometimes – but the flavours are so important to me as well. I’d hate people to think all I care about is style.
How did you cope with the pressure?
Rescue Remedy [a natural remedy made from flower essences]. I feel bad because I’m the one that started the trend for it. I became Ruby’s feeder. You’re only meant to have a few drops; we’d jokingly go, “A few drops, or a few shots?”
Who do you watch with?
Friends and family have been wanting to share it with me so we’ve been taking it in turns to hold Bake Off gatherings. Of course we know who wins but can’t say a thing so I’ve been working on my Lady Gaga poker face.
What do you make of accusations of favouritism?
What’s lovely is that we’ve supported each other because we know what actually happened and what we are all like as people. Sometimes, because of the way it is edited, we’re like, “Well, that did and didn’t happen…” No one else properly understands what went on in that tent.
My dream is to combine design and baking. At the moment I just don’t have enough hours in the day to make all my ideas. Sitting at my desk at work, I sometimes think, “I just want to be at home now, making a biscuit structure that stands up”.