About Baking With Guest Tutor, Great British Bake Off’s Marc Elliot

On July 9th Great British Bake Off 2020 quarter finalist Marc Elliot will be joining us at Philleigh Way for the first of his baking courses. Marc’s an incredible baker with a particular passion for dough, and as well as sharing his knowledge of bread and enriched doughs, he’ll also be teaching attendees how to make everyone’s favourite Portuguese pastries, pastéis de nata.

Marc lives just up the road in Padstow, by way of Leicester and latterly Sheffield where he was previously a fixture of the Peak District climbing scene. A talented climber, he started surfing when he moved to Cornwall, where he has worked as a support worker, a bronze resin sculptor and photographer. In 2016 Marc was involved in a motorcycle accident and was injured so badly that his left leg had to be amputated above the knee. Whilst rehabilitating he discovered baking and a talent turned into a passion that led him to the iconic GBBO tent. Last summer Marc was one of 12 contestants who formed a bubble with the cast and crew of the hit Channel 4 series for seven weeks so that the competition could go ahead despite the pandemic. He made it as far as the quarterfinals, picking up fans and garnering a huge amount of support along the way. Last year’s series was Bake Off’s most popular yet, attracting a peak audience of 10.4 million viewers – partly perhaps because of the explosion in the popularity of baking and the sourdough trend through 2020s lockdowns. I’m really excited that Marc’s going to be leading some special courses as a guest tutor, and can’t wait to welcome him to the cookery school.

plaited brioche loaf baked by marc elliot

Marc, you shot to fame when you reached the quarterfinals of the Great British Bake Off 2020. What was your journey to the famous Bake Off tent?
It started four years ago after my accident, because of a need to do something as I was incapable of climbing or surfing, or going out and wandering the moors taking photographs like I was used to doing. I needed something to challenge myself with and stimulate my mind whilst I was still in a wheelchair. One day I thought to myself “I’m going to start baking bread”. It turned out really well and I found that it was really calming and helped the anxiety/depression/PTSD – whatever you’d call what I was experiencing at that time. It grew from there into a hobby and then a passion. My daughter’s always been a big fan of The Great British Bake Off and for the last few years has been saying that I should apply. Last year, just to keep her quiet, I applied and lo-and-behold, I got on!

Considering your creative background [Marc’s also a resin sculptor and photographer] why did you choose baking bread as opposed to another activity such as painting to help your rehabilitation?
I suppose it wasn’t really an obvious choice, and wasn’t an area that I thought I’d ever go into, coming from a very active background as a climber and surfer, and channeling my creativity through photography. But, after the accident, my whole world was pretty much ripped apart and turned upside down. Although I didn’t have the physical or even mental capacity to even think about going climbing again, or wandering the moors, I still needed something. I’ve always had a very busy mind and I need to challenge myself and it was just by chance that one day I decided to bake some bread and it lit a spark. It developed slowly at first, it wasn’t an immediate thing, but it grew to be something that I’m very passionate about. Baking’s here to stay!

enriched loaf baked by marc elliot

GBBO covers so many different disciplines within baking. What did you think were your strengths and weaknesses going into the competition? Did any of your bakes surprise you?
Certainly my strength was bread. That’s the thing I’ve had most experience in and the area I’m the most comfortable with. My weakness was and probably still is, cake. I can bake cakes but I wouldn’t describe myself as a great cake baker because I don’t really have the patience to finely decorate cakes as many people can. I can bake a cake and it’ll taste good, but going into the competition it soon became apparent in week one with the failure of the David Bowie cake, that cake wasn’t going to be my strong point!
I say that cake’s my weak point but on week four when I made the white celebration cake, that really did surprise me because I panicked a bit and changed it right at the last minute. I made that on the day without practicing. It was a completely new idea and it turned out well. Also the ice cream cake, that surprised me as well. The judges really liked that.

bakewell tart by marc elliot

Were there any bakes in particular that you were hoping would or wouldn’t come up?
Not really, but I suppose the one technical bake that I was the most disappointed with was when we were asked to make éclairs on pastry week. That particular day was incredibly hot – I was on my knees with the pressure and the heat and my mind just went blank. That whole bake was pretty much a disaster – my choux pastry was awful and the crème patisserie was too! I wasn’t particularly worried about that challenge turning up, but I was disappointed with my performance when it did.

What is it that you enjoy so much about working with dough?
You’re working with so few ingredients – with sourdough you’re only working with three ingredients! I like using the best ingredients and then it comes down to the importance of being really methodical, being patient, and having good judgement when working with dough and yeasts and cultures and ferments. That part of it fascinates me. I enjoy the science, and making those judgements is something that I find quite therapeutic.

sourdough loaf baked by marc elliot

What’s the best tip that you picked up from Prue, Paul, or any of your fellow contestants?
Going back to pastry week when I did the éclairs, Prue gave me a really good tip, which I do every time I make choux now. That was to take them out ten minutes before they’re cooked, then pierce the bottoms, turn them upside down and cook them for the final ten minutes. You then leave them in the oven with it turned off and the door slightly ajar. They’ve been coming out amazing – so I think that’s a really great tip. When you pierce the bottom and turn them upside down that lets all the internal steam out so you get a really nice, crisp and dry choux shell.

What advice would you give to any enthusiastic home bakers?
For me, it’s about being methodical. Get it all planned out. Read the recipe, get all of your ingredients out and weigh them out, and just be organised. I think that really helps. Also, just follow trusted recipes. Unless you’re designing your own recipe, follow a recipe that you know people have made and had good success with. I’ve found there are a lot of dodgy recipes on the internet! Find a trusted baker and use trusted recipes.
I think it’s important to know and expect that you’re going to fail sometimes in baking, that’s par for the course. Try not to get frustrated with that and use it as a period for learning rather than for berating yourself. As a self-taught baker I made a lot of mistakes and still continue to do so, and I have to remind myself to use that as an opportunity – which is easier said than done, sometimes! Finally, enjoy the process. Often I think that one bakes wanting to get to the end and see the final result, but I think that enjoying the process from the start to the end is a really important piece of advice also.

brioche loaf baked by marc elliot

What skills and recipes are you looking forward to sharing on your courses at Philleigh Way?
I’m looking forward to sharing my brioche croissant and pastéis de nata recipes. They’re really good recipes. The pastéis de nata are such amazing little tarts but they’re quite involved to make and I’m looking forward to sharing those skills and seeing what people can make with those.

pastéis de nata portugese custard tarts baked by marc elliot

Cornwall’s a county with its fair share of signature baked goods. As an adopted Cornishman, what’s your favourite and why?
I think it has to be the pasty. Cornwall’s got lots of good bakes, from saffron buns to clotted cream cakes and things like that, which are all nice, but I think that for me, it’s hard to beat a really good Cornish pasty.

Marc’s Baking Courses will be taking place on Friday the 9th of July and Saturday the 18th of September. To join him for the day, click here:

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