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Martin's American dream
7:00am Saturday 2nd March 2013 in Lifestyle
If you think Britain is obsessed with baking, then take a look at how they do it in the US. TV chef James Martin gives Diana Pilkington a taste of his sweet American adventure.
By Diana Pilkington
Britain may be in the midst of a baking boom, but James Martin reckons we can learn a thing or two from how Americans approach the cake industry.
"We've got a better history and certainly have some better dishes but we don't promote and market it as much as these guys, and that's the big difference," says the host of Saturday Kitchen during a break from filming scenes in New York for his new show, United Cakes Of America.
The series sees Martin drive along the east coast of the States, trying out authentic sweet dishes along the way, meeting the colourful characters behind them, and marvelling at their business acumen.
"We went to the Hammond Pretzel Bakery, where the oven is proper old-school. It's got this massive stone block, it still uses all the wooden boards and the pretzels are made by hand," he says.
"They're in this shack in the bottom of the garden, but they're shipping pretzels all around the world so they are very business savvy."
He was also impressed by the famous Magnolia Bakery in New York. "It was only on [the TV show] Sex And The City for 10 seconds, but they've got queues round the block for their cupcakes," he says.
When I meet Martin, it's also in a bakery that appears to have nailed its market. Make My Cake in Harlem is a girly pink paradise, piled high with mouth-watering red velvet cakes with pictures of its many famous fans, from Tina Fey to Jay-Z, adorning the walls.
"In the UK we're contemplating things like, 'Do we do Facebook? Do we do Twitter?' In America, they're all over it. You go to a tiny bakery and they've got all these gadgets and are selling hats and aprons and T-shirts," says Martin.
Despite being an experienced pastry chef, Martin has come across dishes he has never tried before, such as butter cake, whoopie pie, the syrupy Amish dish shoofly pie and the calorie-laden Pumpple Cake, which incorporates a pumpkin pie, chocolate cake, apple pie and vanilla sponge.
"My favourite thing was probably the icebox cake we made at Magnolia," he says. "I'd never heard of but it is well known in New York. It's made with ready-made cookies, whipped cream and a few strawberries or raspberries. You make it in three minutes then stick it in the fridge for 24 hours."
Throughout the trip, Martin has been picking up baking tips and figuring out ways to put his own twist on the dishes back home.
"You can't translate an exact recipe from America to the UK because the flour is different and the butter is different. They use a lot of corn oil, which we don't use, and we have far better chocolate in Britain.
"But certain things are better in the US, particularly the fruit. I went to a peach farm and you can't compete with the peaches there. They are absolutely fantastic."
Martin may be full of admiration for the American way of doing things, but he's pleasantly surprised Britain has fallen back in love with baking.
"I've always been interested in it myself, but when I did a series about desserts about 10 years ago I never dreamed that baking would become what it is now.
"It's particularly good on television because there's the element of unknowing. Once it's gone in the oven, the failure is much more visual than just burning a bit of fish, for example.
"And you've got to get the ingredients right. There's no cheating with baking. It's either right or wrong. You get these people working for six hours and it can be a disaster in 20 minutes."
The baking trend goes hand in hand with the success of The Great British Bake Off, and Martin is thrilled for its judges, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, both friends of his.
"I'm godfather to Paul's sons so I've known him for about 15 years. He's a great guy, an amazing baker and fantastic at bread making.
"And I've known Mary just as long. She's in the same agency as me and when I first started out she used to give me advice, hints and tips. Both have been around for a long time and they are a good mix."
But with all these cakes around, the chef, who turned 40 last year, admits it's time to pay attention to his weight.
"I suppose I have to now. I am racing this year - I race cars as a hobby - and have been put on a diet," he says.
"You are what you eat. Simple as that. But you have to exercise too. I spend a lot of time working in restaurants and I think if I stopped doing that my weight would balloon!"
Here are three tasty treats inspired by Martin's US travels...
Ginger and banoffee cheesecake (Makes 4) 1 ready-made ginger cake loaf 300g full fat cream cheese 200ml creme fraiche 200ml double cream, plus extra for the sauce 1tbsp sugar 1 vanilla pod 1 x 397g tin dulce de leche 50g butter 100g caster sugar 2 bananas Pre-heat the oven to 100°C/80°C fan/gas ¼. Slice the cake thinly and place onto a baking sheet. Dry out the cake completely in the oven. This will take 1 to 2 hours. Cool and blitz in a food processor until it resembles fine crumbs.
Whisk together the cream cheese, creme fraiche, double cream, a tablespoon of sugar and the seeds from the vanilla pod.
Swirl half the dulce de leche into the cheesecake mixture.
Melt the butter and sugar to a caramel, halve the bananas and cook for 1 minute in the caramel. Then add a good splash of double cream to create a sauce.
Sprinkle the base of four chefs rings, 8cm wide, with the blitzed ginger cake. Fill them with the cheesecake mixture, smooth off the top then top with more of the blitzed ginger cake and place in the fridge.
Put the cheesecakes onto the plates and warm the edge of the ring with either a blow torch or a hot cloth to loosen and then lift it off to reveal the mini cheesecakes.
Place the caramelised bananas and sauce around the cheesecake on the plate and serve.
Lemon curd butterfly buns (Makes 12) For the buns: 175g butter 175g caster sugar 1tsp vanilla essence 4 eggs 1tsp baking powder 175g plain flour To fill the cakes: 250ml double cream whipped 100ml lemon curd Icing sugar, for dusting For the buns, pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, add the vanilla and slowly add the eggs, two at a time.
Add the baking powder to the flour and gently fold into the mixture.
Divide into a 12-muffin tin lined with paper cases, bake for 15 minutes until well risen and golden brown and then set aside to cool.
Cut the tops off the cakes and cut the tops in half to make the butterfly wings.
To fill the cakes, fold the cream and lemon curd together, until marbled, pipe onto the top of the cakes, put the cake wings on top and dust with icing sugar.
Apple crumble cake (Serves 6-8) For the cake: 250g butter 250g light brown sugar 1tsp ground cinnamon 1tbsp maple syrup 4 eggs 250g self-raising flour 50g pecans 2 apples, cored and diced For the crumble: 50g butter 100g plain flour 50g light brown sugar For the fudge topping: 25g brown sugar 25g butter 25g maple syrup 50ml double cream For the filling: Whipped cream For the cake, pre-heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4. Grease and line a 25cm spring form cake tin.
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the cinnamon and maple syrup, then the eggs, one at a time.
Fold in the flour, pecans and half the diced apples. Add the mixture to the cake tin.
For the crumble, rub the butter into the flour and sugar to resemble breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the top of the cake mixture, with the remaining diced apples, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.
For the fudge topping: while the cake is cooling, add brown sugar, butter, maple syrup and cream into a pan and bring to the boil.
Slice the cake horizontally and sandwich with whipped cream. Drizzle with the fudge topping.
:: James Martin's United Cakes Of America is on Good Food on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, starting Sunday, February 24