An interview with Great British Bake Off's Makbul Patel

One of TV’s most popular shows, The Great British Bake Off, returned to our screens this autumn with 12 contestants keen to rustle up their best bakes. Amongst them was our very own Makbul ‘Mak’ Patel, an accountant at Bolton at Home, who left the programme in episode two. We caught up with Mak to find out what it was like being on the show, and if he had any insider gossip to share.

How did you get into baking? My mum inspired me to cook. My parents came to this country in 1960 from India. They weren’t used to cooking in an oven so my mum didn’t bake but I always watched her in the kitchen. I got into baking when I was about 10 years old – probably because I’m greedy!

What made you decide to apply for Bake Off? I contacted the programme about two years ago to ask how to apply. They came back to me but I didn’t take it any further. Then late last year they emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in applying, and I thought ‘why not?’ but I didn’t actually think I’d end up on the show. What was the process that took you from application to selection? I filled in the online application and that led to a phone interview. I then got a call to say I’d been selected for an audition in Manchester, along with hundreds of others. I had to take two of my own bakes and explain how I’d made them. I decided to do salted caramel Koign Aman (puff pastry) and cheese bread in a swirl. There was also a screen test. Amazingly, I got through to the next round and was invited to London to do a baking challenge in front of the camera. After another trip to London for further interviews, I got a call in March to say I’d been selected for the show.

What safety measures were put in place on set? Three days after getting the phone call to say I’d been selected for the show, the country went into lockdown. Filming was moved to July and August and we all had to quarantine for 10 days beforehand. All bakers were tested for Covid three times. Once on site, we were literally in a bubble – no-one else was allowed near the set and we had our temperatures taken every day. We stayed at a hotel on site with the production team, presenters and judges.

What did your family think about you being on TV? I think my wife and three children were more excited than me! Once the programme aired, from September, I started to get spotted – particularly in my local Asda where the staff would call my name. And it’s quite surreal seeing yourself on TV.

"I think my wife and three children were more excited than me! It’s quite surreal seeing yourself on TV."

What was your proudest moment on set? I think my proudest moment came in the first episode. The Battenberg cake was the best I’d ever made. Just before filming I had to change the dimensions so it was pretty nerve-wracking but I was really happy with how it turned out.

The judges sent you home in week two, how did you feel about that? I was relieved not to go in the first week. But by the second week, I have to say, the tension on set was starting to get to me and I was missing my family. For me, just getting on the show was an achievement.

What baking tips did you pick up while doing the show? Make sure your flavours are spot on and stick to one flavour rather than mixing. And, because every task was done to a very tight timeframe, I learnt that with better planning, you can spend less time in the kitchen and still get the same good results.

What was the most challenging task and why? The bust cake in episode two was undoubtedly the most difficult cake I’ve ever made. I chose to do a bust of the author, Bill Bryson. When I practised at home, I did much better because I had the luxury of time. There was so much to think about – the quality of the cake, the flavours and the assembly.

Did Matt and Noel’s jokes help to put you at ease? It was hectic on set. You had to think about the task at hand, work quickly and talk to the producers standing behind the camera. Matt and Noel were brilliant at lightening the mood. They were on set all day but they left you alone if they could see you were under pressure. Although, when they called out the time we had left on a task, and jokingly fibbed, that wasn’t so funny!

Tell us something about the show that viewers might not know We didn’t have to do our own washing up – that was all done for us. Also, there were lots of props on set that we couldn’t touch such as the basket of eggs on the bench. Basically, everything we needed for baking was under the bench. The judges and presenters are genuinely nice people, and Paul Hollywood arrived on set in style on his motorbike.

What was the best thing about being on the show? It was a real privilege to have been selected. The friendships I made during the show made the experience extra special. I’m now part of the Bake Off family and everyone is treated equal regardless of their exit week. I’m also proud of the fact that my recipes are featured in the new Great British Bake Off ‘Love to Bake’ book. And ultimately, I’ve shown my children what can be achieved when you step out of your comfort zone and just go for it.

Try Makbul’s Chocolate Steamed pudding

For the pudding

75g (3oz) self raising flour 25g (1oz) cocoa powder Pinch of salt 100g (4oz) butter, softened 100g (4oz) caster sugar 2 eggs, beaten 30ml (2tbsp) fresh milk

For the chocolate sauce

30ml (2tbsp) cornflour 600ml (1pint) fresh milk 100g (4oz) good quality plain chocolate 30ml (1tbsp) caster sugar 5ml (1tsp) vanilla essence 30g (1oz) butter

Equipment needed: A mixing bowl, large heavy based saucepan with lid, a metal cookie cutter (or similar), a medium-sized ovenproof glass bowl.

Method

  1. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt.
  2. In the mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Taking a tablespoon at a time add the dry flour ingredients with the some of the eggs into the sugar and butter. Mix well at each addition and alternate the adding of flour and eggs. Once the eggs have finished, do the same with the milk until all the flour and milk has been added. This should now be a smooth batter.
  4. Grease the glass bowl and add the batter mixture. Make sure it’s level. Cover the top with parchment paper and make a pleat in the middle. Tie with string around the bowl.
  5. Place the bowl on the metal cookie cutter inside the saucepan.

The chocolate sauce

  1. In a bowl, mix the cornflour and sugar with a little of the cold milk until it becomes a smooth runny paste.
  2. Heat the rest of the milk with the chocolate in a saucepan until all the chocolate has melted. Keep stirring.
  3. Add about a cupful of the warm chocolate milk onto the cornflour paste and mix well. Add this back into the pan with the rest of the milk and keep stirring.
  4. Once thickened add the butter and vanilla. Stir well until the butter has been fully mixed in. Simmer gently for about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a serving jug.

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