Paul Hollywood falls for Naples: “It’s vibrant, it’s a little bit dirty, and I loved it”

The Bake Off judge picks up tips from the masters – and samples deep-fried pizza

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It’s not often Paul Hollywood admits he’s wrong. As any fan of The Great British Bake Off will tell you, the TV baker usually sticks to his guns when it comes to bread, pastries and cakes. Yet here he is, unashamedly telling us he has spent years dishing out the wrong advice.

“I went to Naples to work with one of the best pizza-makers in the world,” he says. “And guess how long he bakes his pizzas for? He bakes them for 45 seconds. In and out. And they’re incredible. Any more than that, and it’s no longer considered a pizza. I’ve been spouting off to people for years – six minutes in an oven.”

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A pizza-maker pours oil on an uncooked pizza

It seems Paul is actually happy to admit he doesn’t know it all – and is keen to learn from those in the know. On his solo travels, he meets fellow bakers in cities across the world, from Madrid to St Petersburg, Copenhagen to Miami. In each, he samples a local speciality, learns the cuisine, and has a go at baking something himself. Some of the cities were more of a hit with Paul than others – but Naples, which he visits this week in his series for Food Network, was undoubtedly one of his favourites.

“Naples is curiously chaotic and, if I’m honest, a bit dilapidated. It certainly has a ‘lived-in’ look,” he says. “It’s alive, it’s vibrant, it’s a little bit dirty, it’s busy, and I loved it. I felt like this was how Rome would probably have been 2,000 years ago. There’s a real bustle and it’s down and dirty. There’s graffiti and street food and it’s got a great energy. It has an edginess, probably because it lies in the shadow of Vesuvius. The streets are paved with lava.”

As well as the 45-second pizza, Paul tried a deep-fried version that is claimed to be the original, before wood ovens were invented in the 18th century. “I didn’t really like it, to be honest. The more usual local pizza is the classic thin crust with just a couple of simple toppings – mozzarella, Parma ham, maybe some basil. I didn’t see any ham and pineapple!”

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Washing often dangles from lines above Naples’s narrow streets

Less famously, Naples is also home to some stunning pastries and cakes. A local speciality called sfogliatelle has made an indelible impression on Paul. “It’s a puff pastry fanned out like a pack of cards, filled with cream made from ricotta, semolina and various different flavourings. The Neapolitan people claim it as theirs, but we drove up the Amalfi coast and tried the original version – which is filled with an orange blossom cream from the Santa Rosa monastery. It was unbelievable. I wanted to take some home, but they wouldn’t have kept very well. Italian food is some of my favourite anyway, and the bakes I tasted on this trip didn’t disappoint.”

One of the downsides to filming abroad is not having time to do all the things you want to do. But Paul intends to solve that problem – by returning for a holiday. “I did really love it,” he says. “Everything in the region, whether it be the cars, the food, the people, the passione. We drove tantalisingly close to Vesuvius and I would really like to come back and have a proper look at that. And try some more pizza, of course.”


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Paul’s tips

EAT LIKE A NEAPOLITAN

“Like most of Italy, Neapolitans like their food and there are restaurants everywhere. But to make like a true Neapolitan, grab a pizza from a street vendor and eat it there and then. We tried a pizza that’s folded over four times to make it nice and portable, then you eat it straight out of paper, like fish and chips. That was a bit messy, but great.”

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Vesuvius looms over the Bay of Naples

DRINK LIKE A NEAPOLITAN

“Just like us, the Neapolitans wash their pizza down with a good beer, and Italians are known for some of the best beers in the world. They also seem to like rum. They make a thing called a baba, which is a small brioche-style light sponge soaked in rum. It’s delicious — but you probably couldn’t drive after eating one!”

TRAVEL LIKE A NEAPOLITAN

“I drove from Naples to the Amalfi coast in an Alpha Romeo 1969 Spider, which was lovely. There have been lots of movies made down there, and I felt a bit like James Bond — the driving is quite hairy. The locals have mopeds, but you wouldn’t catch me on a bike on those roads. A tank would be safer!” 

Paul Hollywood’s City Bakes is on Mondays on Food Network at 9.00pm


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