She creates some of the world’s cutest bakes, but how easy are they to pull off? Lauren, Rowan and Tair went to Kim-Joy’s kitchen to find out – and compete furiously
As the nation collectively puts on the kettle before this year’s Great British Bake Off, Kim-Joy – perhaps the biggest breakout star of last year’s show – is hosting her own warm-up competition.
In her candy-coloured home in Yorkshire are three amateur bakers sent by the Guardian to compete to be Kim-Joy’s Baker of the Day. At stake – an edible medal baked by Kim-Joy herself.
When I arrive, Kim-Joy and the bakers are drinking tea and looking jolly. There are three cows in the field outside, a mere iced-bun’s throw away, and bees are buzzing about the yellow-lidded bins inside.
Kim-Joy and her partner, Nabil, have just returned from San Diego Comic-Con. Jetlagged, but very relaxed, they are manning a pale yellow KitchenAid mixer, while three of the gamest bakers this side of the Bake Off tent look on.
There’s Lauren, who only realised how far her hobby had got out of hand when her boss introduced her to a visiting colleague as “Lauren. She bakes”. Taking treats in to work was her way of dealing with her fears that people wouldn’t like her, she says. These days, it is mostly her workmates who are afraid: frightened that she will stop. Her most recent triumph was a mango mousse cake – although she is proud of the fact her colleagues now come in to work asking for advice on cookie baking times, having followed in her baking footsteps.
Next up is Rowan who, like Lauren, has been baking since she was four. Her mother, she says, starts planning Christmas in August, and now delegates the entire sweet section to her. When a friend mentioned today’s contest, she thought: “I’ll probably be doing that at home anyway.” She works at a publishing house and sits down the hall from the cookbook department, meaning taking in treats can be nerve-racking. But her boundless creativity (she also runs artistic retreats and creates video essays about queer culture and film) and her knack for a good flavour combo has won over every colleague.
And then there is Tair, a customer service specialist and serial 10k runner, who has been baking since 2006. It all started when he encountered a bonkers multilayered dessert that featured a sweet pie baked into each tier of cake. His friends have had to move to another country, just to get away from the calories he was plying them with.
“I took up baking so people would like me,” he says. “But then they started hating me because they were putting on weight.” He has even written a play about the pitfalls of baking, which he is now turning into a book. It is a cautionary tale, he says: “Like HP Lovecraft, but with cookies.”
Kim-Joy has never had this many people in her kitchen, and she loves it. “Usually, it’s just me on my own, with Nabil looking at me going: ‘How have you made all this mess?’”
I decide this is going to be just like the tent, only much better.
The recipes are from Kim-Joy’s forthcoming cookbook, a compendium of edible cuteness. The plan is for the guest bakers to collaborate on baking, then compete on decorating.
“Do you have enough ingredients?” asks Nabil.
“I think so …” says Kim-Joy.
On your marks, get set, bake!
Lavender & lemon pandaleines
The three bakers take it in turns to squeeze blobs of dough into the chilled tray’s shell-shaped moulds. When it is time to slide the day’s first bake into the oven, everyone crowds around and sings with joy.
Things get serious when the madeleines have cooled down, however, and Kim-Joy declares that it is time to “start dipping”. There is silence in the kitchen. You could hear a chocolate sprinkle drop.
After testing the black icing for consistency, Rowan cautiously pipes on her first panda face. It is a bit wonky. She promptly calls him Boris, and says she may just eat him. Lauren is next, and Rowan channels Jonathan from Queer Eye: “Look at this confidence! YASSS!” Tair is a picture of stoic calm – until his whole body heaves a huge sigh of relief and I realise he hadn’t been breathing.
The rack fills up with a menagerie of panda-ish creatures – some mouse-like, some sleeping, one with a goatee – and I gain a new appreciation for the skill involved in drawing on sponge with liquid sugar.
Pigfiteroles in mud
In this challenge a batch of profiteroles have their tops sliced off before being filled with strawberry cream and given piggy faces with icing and pink marzipan.
Kim-Joy’s recipe says they are “quick and actually so simple” to make. The level of collective concentration, though, would suggest this is optimistic. Just watching the bakers peer into the oven to check if the choux balls are browning makes me feel nervous, and that is well before they have turned them into baby boars.
Rowan whips some cream with freeze-dried strawberry powder and sugar, then dribbles in some pink food dye. Lauren methodically makes all her marzipan snouts then heads to the stove to melt dark chocolate which will act as mud. When Tair has finished slicing and dolloping pink cream, he anxiously starts icing faces. It only requires two little dots for the eyes and two smaller dots for the nostrils. But a shake of the hand here or a squeeze of the piping bag there and things can quickly take a turn for the monstrous. Our bakers are not to be undone by royal icing, though. Their composure is impressive.
“Shall we get a plate for each of you so you can mud up?” Kim-Joy asks.
Tair dishes up a bold puddle and plops his four little piggies down in a row. Rowan plates hers first then dribbles and flings the melted chocolate with Jackson Pollock-style abandon. Lauren’s plate is minimalist, with the chocolate poured into a smooth pool and the piglets huddled at its edge.
The three of them take a moment to smudge their anxious brows and appraise. Nabil brings round a tray of cheese sarnies. Everyone tucks in. Competitive baking is hungry work.
Iced ginger biscuits
Kim-Joy conquered spice week with a show-stopping chandelier made of these beauties. Today, she has prepped the dough ahead of time (a salted butter, black treacle and muscovado mixture, spiced with cinnamon and cloves). “What do you guys fancy decorating?” she asks as she tips out two entire boxes of cookie-cutters on the floor and uncovers a basket of food dyes.
They settle on cacti and llamas. Tair opts for egg-yolk yellow, Lauren, cerise pink and Rowan, a light and a dark forest green. Kim-Joy takes a selfie with the bakers and their piping bags just as a butterfly flies up to the door.
“Can things possibly get cuter?” I whisper softly to no one in particular. The contestants get decorating.
Kim-Joy hands out toothpicks for fixing holes – or “for wiggling”, as she puts it – and candy rocks, sprinkles and shimmer pearls. “Oh, I got some eyes, too, if you want to make it crazy.”
“Dammit, no, wasp, not right now,” says Rowan as yet another stripy inspector takes an interest in her sugar work.
Lauren is wiggling, too, bent over the kitchen counter as if her life depends on it. She oozes precision, commitment and focus, as she delicately pokes the icing to create a prickly texture. She dots her succulents with white-icing thorns and sets them in a bed of coloured rock-sugar topsoil.
Meanwhile, I fear Tair has stopped breathing again. He smothers his three cacti and lone llama in yellow, then bejewels the lot with red, pink and brown blooms.
There is half an hour to go and everyone suddenly realises that, contrary to GBBO tradition, no one has been calling out timings. The whole day has unspooled without the slightest glitch, largely because Kim-Joy is a master of time management.
Tair is the first to finish, so we have a bit of a chinwag. How is the book going to develop? “Well,” he says, “I need to work out the recipes. And it will involve a celebrity chef who is also an elephant. A bit Jamie Oliver, a bit Gordon Ramsay. He’s a bit of an ego, but gets brought down to size.”
Time is up. Kim-Joy looks nervous for the first time. She says she wants everyone to win.
She was up at 1am (the jetlag) baking a biscuit medal for the winner. “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever decorated,” she insists, then disappears upstairs to deliberate, yelling down for Nabil to bring up her edible pens which she has stashed in her pen pot.
Downstairs, the bakers and I catch up. It transpires that none of them knew this would be a Kim-Joy event: this wasn’t about the celeb factor. No, it was, is and always will be – for each of them – about the baking. And the day has not let them down. They have relished the fine decorating, the communal baking and being part of a team.
Kim-Joy comes back down with books, pin badges and that biggest, kindest of smiles. She announces the winner. Lauren! That final procession of colourful cacti set on a bed of edible sediment seems to have been the deciding factor.
The beautiful biscuit medal falls off its green ribbon instantly, which gives her permission to dig right in and eat it. Lauren, Tair and Rowan finally taste their wares.
The table looks like a Technicolor feast. The photographer, Chris, can’t quite believe what they have accomplished. Kim-Joy has loved baking with the trio so much that Nabil suspects she may want to do this every weekend.
There’s no doubt in my sugar-sated mind that all three are potential star bakers and each has a chance at a Paul Hollywood handshake. Get yourselves signed up for the TV show sharpish: the country’s cuppa’s getting cold.
Baking with Kim-Joy is published by Quadrille on 22 August and is available for pre-order from guardianbookshop.com