What’s Cooking? With Susie Whitfield
In this Muddy regular, we bring you the best of the counties' chefs, makers and bakers to spill the beans about their work, lives and cooking. DIshing it up this week is passionate baker Susie Whitfield from The Cotswolds Baking Workshop.
Share your earliest food memories?
Cookies! I remember baking Christmas cookies every year. The tradition was pecan snowballs and peanut brittle with my mum, oatmeal raisin cookies with my grandmother, and chocolate chip cookies with my sister.
Your first job in a kitchen-related role?
I was a birthday party hostess at Pistol Pete’s Pizza in Albuquerque, New Mexico for a summer when I was 17. It was frantic and fun but I realised that, although I enjoyed party hostessing, I didn’t want to work in a restaurant environment. When I moved to the UK I bought and ran a bed and breakfast in Shropshire for 13 years, and I loved it, having people back in my kitchen, it’s where my ideas for the Cotswold Baking Workshop began.
Your career highlight so far?
Launching The Cotswolds Baking Workshop during lockdown in January 2021 and building the business to where it is now in just over a year. Some of my customers have come to every class I teach so I am under pressure to create some new ones — watch this space for new Italian and choux pastry classes.
We hear some exciting news about you appearing on the BBC’s Escape to the Country! Tell us more…
Yes! Last summer I was privileged to be featured as a business making waves in the North Cotswolds, the episode I am in airs on Tuesday 8th March and will be on BBC iplayer after that. The producers actually found me through my Little Black Book listing on Muddy Stilettos too!
Sum up your baking style and food philosophy?
I fully subscribe to the philosophy of ‘everything in moderation’ and eating real food and foods that are in season. If I am baking just for us or friends and family, I try to bake fantastic variations of favourite bakes such as brownies or chocolate cake. A pavlova or a pavlova roulade with fresh fruit is my ‘go-to’ dessert.
Most memorable moment at work?
Meeting Kaleb Cooper from Clarkson’s Farm when I was organising the Food Demonstration Marquee at Moreton in Marsh show last September. Kaleb was absolutely lovely to chat to and even posed for a photo. As a colleague put it, ‘he’s tv royalty!’.
Ever baked for, or with, anyone famous?
In 2017, I appeared on Gordon Ramsay’s Culinary Genius USA and was the winner of the episode – I won $1,000 which was very exciting! I spent it on a new Kitchen Aid stand mixer to replace the one I’d had for over 20 years. The first challenge on the show was to cut sweet potatoes into perfect matchsticks and the ‘mystery ingredient’ was duck breast.
I made a blackberry, honey, and orange sauce for the lamb, turned the sweet potatoes into fries and made a homemade mayonnaise by hand. The show was actually filmed in London with American expats and Gordon appeared via video link from his home kitchen. I also recently did an IG Live bake-along for Matthews Cotswold Flour from Cornwall with Marc Elliott who was on The Great British Bake Off.
You’re tired, starving and impatient: what do you cook for dinner or bake?
A fillet steak for dinner, and blondies for a quick and easy to put together dessert.
What would you bake to impress a date or mate?
If I was going to bake something that my partner Jake would really enjoy, it would be a Sachertorte. Jake was brought up in Berlin and loves German bakes. Many years ago when I was at university, I remember ringing my mum to read me out the recipes for a self-saucing chocolate pudding and a peach cobbler from one of her cookbooks to bake to impress a new boyfriend.
Favourite baker or chef?
Molly J Wilkinson – Molly is a fellow American living in Versailles and makes French Patisserie very easy and accessible and has recently published her first cookbook, French Pastry Made Simple. I have been doing Molly’s online classes for over a year and can’t wait to meet her in person.
Favourite baking cookbook?
Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book. It is out of print now, but it is an excellent resource that I have baked from for years! Definitely one to have in your collection – search secondhand bookshops for a copy.
Favourite type of cuisine?
Mexican food from my home state of New Mexico. As soon as I land in Albuquerque, I have to go and get Mexican food at Frontier Restaurant and then stop at The Golden Crown Panaderia to get biscochitos, the traditional New Mexico aniseed shortbread-style cookie.
I have been in England for 26 years and whilst I don’t miss the States, I do go back to see my family. When I first moved to the U.K. in 1995, I lived in the Midlands and really liked the people and central location- the Cotswolds was a natural choice and a great base for my business.
Your best ever bake?
It depends on who you ask! I would say my fruit pavlovas, my partner would say my biscochitos, friends would say my Portuguese custard tarts, and my brother-in-law would say my chocolate peanut butter balls that I make at Christmas. I also say you can’t beat a well-made scone with clotted cream and jam.
Favourite kitchen gadget?
My Salter digital scales – it is so important to have very precise measurements in so many of my recipes. I use them constantly!
Favourite eating hotspot in the Cotswolds?
I love the halloumi fries at Blockley Cafe in Blockley and the chocolate brownie pudding with honeycomb at The Seven Tuns pub at Chedworth.
Your three favourite local markets and suppliers?
We are spoiled for choice here! Cacklebean Eggs from Stow on the Wold, dairy products from North Cotswolds Dairy, and deli items from Taste of the Country in Shipston on Stour. I also like Vegetable Matters near Chipping Campden.
What mistake do inexperienced bakers tend to make?
Using unreliable recipes and not following directions. I always suggest that new bakers start with a Mary Berry, Delia Smith, or a BBC Good Food Magazine or website recipe that is foolproof to build their confidence. It is so disappointing spending time, effort, and money making a recipe that doesn’t work.
Most over-rated cake?
Red velvet cake. I’m never sure about wanting to eat something with so much artificial colouring in it.
All time favourite ingredient and why?
I’m really enjoying experimenting with tahini and white miso for some new flavour variations in baking at the moment.
How can we be more sustainable in the kitchen?
By sourcing and eating locally grown seasonal foods, using up what we buy to reduce food waste, and sourcing reusable products such as beeswax wrap to reduce single use plastic.
The bake you’re most proud of creating?
Strawberry Paris Brest. There are several processes to making a Paris Brest so I was very proud of it when it was finished.
Tell us your best ever baking tip?
Read the recipe thoroughly, make sure you have everything you need before you start, and weigh everything accurately. Also never bake when you’re in a rush!
Three bakes every home cook should master?
Pavlova, brownies, and a really good Victoria Sponge cake – these three are firm favourites and will just about cover all baking occasions.
To find out more about The Cotswolds Baking Workshop, head to www.cotswoldsbaking.com. Book in for one of her baking classes, popular baking parties for kids, teens or adults or a cake masterclass, all at Susie’s welcoming studio near Moreton-in-Marsh (online classes also available).