Secrets of The Great British Bake Off showstopper

2013 winner and cake design queen Frances Quinn reveals her secrets for a sponge masterpiece

Paul’s bread lion might have roared in a new era of Great British Bake Off masterpieces, but when it comes to creating the ultimate showstopper, 2013 champion Frances Quinn is still the pride of the tent.


From tottering tiered wedding cakes to matchstick breadsticks, Frances’s creations carried her all the way to the trophy in 2013.

So what advice does she have for this year’s bakers? Read her tips for the perfect Bake Off showstopper below. And if you want more advice, don’t forget that Paul Hollywood will be at this year’s Radio Times Festival for a baking masterclass of his own.

How do you make cake look as well as taste amazing?

My ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. I just have a habit of seeing everything as food. I was looking at a wooden picture frame on the wall the other day, and thought the frame could be turned into shortbread. These ideas are constantly flowing through my head!

Where does the creativity come from?

My background is design; I was a childrenswear designer, and now I say I’m designing food as opposed to fabric. It’s about opening people’s imaginations to baking beyond the typical flapjack slice. It doesn’t always have to be cut up into a rectangle.

A potter has clay, a baker has dough, but in the end it’s the same design and technical skills. I love mixing up all the crafts and mediums: my kitchen almost looks like a studio, it’s full of paint brushes and scalpels.

Does being able to draw help?

I do sketch things out first. A lot of sketch-work that went into my cookery book Quintessential Baking that we wanted to include, but we couldn’t fit in all the illustrations.

Sometimes even sketching it out on a piece of greaseproof paper helps. I might see it quite clearly in my head, and then I have to get my pencil and work out whether it’s going to actually work in the kitchen.

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The whole sandwich #cake #sketchbook

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What tips would you give this year’s Bake Off contestants?

Showstoppers are really tough when it comes to timing. I used to make endless lists before I went in, just so I could tick everything off and know when I had to have it done by.

And practise! A friend came over the week of the final when I was practising the wedding cake, and the whole surface of a large kitchen table was covered in different ginger cakes. I sat her down and we had a tasting test.

How hard was it to cope in the Bake Off tent?

It was just chaos. The floor of that tent turned into a bouncy castle when all the cameramen were running around. It’s not your typical place to bake. I remember when we were doing custard tarts, it literally looked like a scene from Jurassic Park. The custard was bouncing up and down. I remember trying to pipe, and the nerves and the shaky floor takes over and you just can’t control it.

With the British summers we’ve had, it would be raining one moment and boiling hot the next. How are you meant to be tempering chocolate or rolling out pastry in a hot tent?

Lack of work space was another real problem for me, and I could see Flora this year wondering where to put everything. You end up thinking, ‘I’m going to work on the floor.’ Watching now I definitely feel the bakers’ pain.

Who’s your favourite?

I thought Paul’s lion bread was incredible, and Tamal is very creative as well. Flora’s craftsmanship is very skilful, the way she can plaster a cake or pipe. There are lots of people who have taken my eye.

The challenges have taken on more of a creative stance this series. I loved the biscuit one where they had to make biscuits in a biscuit box. You could have made a flapjack instead of a jack-in-the-box, or a television box, biscuit remote control. I was sitting there thinking, ‘I’d love to do that challenge’.


Frances Quinn’s new book Quintessential Baking is out now.