Step into London’s Bake Off tent: could you be crowned star baker? Plus, speed dating meets baking

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Have you always wanted to take part in the Great British Bake Off? You’re in luck – a baking tent has popped up in Tooting and you can head down and compete for the chance to be crowned star baker.

As well as baking competitions, the tent is also the setting for something a little more unusual: a speed-dating baking event, First Bakes. It’s a bit like First Dates meets Bake Off, and it’s a laughter-filled evening – much less intense and cringe-inducing than bog-standard speed dating.

You don’t need to be a pro baker to sign up – you’re provided with the recipe, ingredients and equipment, and there are helpers floating about all the time to give you a hand if you need it. The ladies stay at their stations and the men rotate every 10 minutes. While I don’t want to give away too many details, it’s a formula that does work: there are rarely awkward silences because you’re both focused on building a brilliant bake. As you’ve instantly got something to bond over the conversation flows easily and by the time the 10 minutes are up, you’ve also got a sense of your date’s culinary prowess. If you’ve dabbled with online dating apps previously, think of this as a good way to cut out days of swiping/sending introductory messages back and forth, as you can decide straight away whether you feel there’s a connection.

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Just like on the television programme, the competition really heats up at the end: time’s up and you have to bring your bakes to the head table for inspection. The judges – sadly no Mary Berry, but some bubbly hosts – sample the delights and pick a star baker. The lady chosen must then pick her best male helper (plot twist!) and both get to take home a lovely little gift. You can taste each other’s bakes and take the rest home. Plus, there’s all of the mess and none of the washing up – whoop.

The love bit: after the judging you submit your scorecard – stating who you would consider going on a date with, who you’d like to be friends with, and who you wouldn’t want to see again. It’s all calculated there and then, and you get a lovely handwritten note with any mutual matches and their contact details.

I headed down for the launch event on Valentine’s Day, and although it suffered the same problem that most speed dating events do – too few men and too many women (8:10) – it didn’t matter too much. Although learning that the organisers had to ship in their housemates/friends to fill spaces was a tiny bit annoying, considering the £47 ticket price. Having a cameraman pointing his screen at you during sections of the evening was a bit unsettling but on the whole it was a brilliant night – and I may or may not have come away with a hot date match and a friend match…

Big London Bake takes place in the garden section of the lovely Castle Pub in Tooting.

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Icing with the experts at Biscuiteers

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When you hear the word ‘biscuit’ what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A digestive? A cookie? Perhaps a good old HobNob or gingerbread man? I’d always thought of the humble biscuit as a comfort food, something to satisfy my sweet craving or to dunk into my tea, but when I discovered Biscuiteers, a London-based biscuit gift business and boutique, my entire outlook changed.biscuiteers icing cafe class workshop london

IMG_3653Biscuiteers has reinvented the idea of the biscuit, as something that’s glamorous and something that should be cherished. It has, basically, pimped biscuits – all Biscuiteers’ hand-iced treats are not only yummy, but beautiful, too. The collections are spectacularly inventive; there’s everything from superhero-themed biscuits to designs featuring cats, flowers, butterflies, cupcakes, tiaras, balloons, high heels, teddy bears, tea cups, wine bottles and more (plus personalised ones on request).

Ever since Biscuiteers opened its biscuit boutique and icing café in Notting Hill back in 2012 – a gloriously cute shop where you can browse and buy the biscuit collections, enjoy them over a cuppa, or ice your own – I’d told myself I’d make time to visit, or take a friend for a special occasion. [Regular readers will be well aware of my fondness for girly, cute places to hang out in London, such as Homemade London and The Doll’s House.] Shamefully, I didn’t make it down to Biscuiteers till this week – two years too late – but I visited for a special two hour vintage birthday icing class and came away with a pretty box filled with biscuits I’d iced, a big cheery smile and a desire to make sure all my friends knew about it.

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The icing class

I arrived at Biscuiteers bright and early to browse all the pretty collections they had in the store. I was welcomed with a hot cup of tea before being led downstairs to the ‘School of Icing’ where the class would be taking place. All I knew before I arrived was that I’d be icing a variety of jellies, french fancies, doughnuts, sundaes and a battenburg or two, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

There were four other ladies also taking the class – a tourist from Japan, a mum planning to make cookies for her kid’s birthday, on the hunt for inspiration, and the other two ladies were sisters celebrating a special birthday – and by the end of the two hour session we’d all had a good laugh and I’d made a couple of new friends.

We were each given a lovely cotton Biscuiteers apron to wear (which we were able to take home with us) and our teacher – and head icer at Biscuiteers – Lorena, was a great coach. She whizzed us through simple and slightly more advanced techniques, and taught us the correct way to hold a piping bag, and how to do ‘flooding’. She was always happy to lend a hand or answer our questions and it was great to get to know her too; she told us her background was graphic design, and that she mainly resided at the Notting Hill boutique to work on any bespoke orders, while the rest of the Biscuiteers icers are based at a bakery in Kennington, and they usually get through about 150 biscuits a day. biscuiteers icing cafe london

We each iced 10 biscuits and one gingerbread man in the workshop, and we got to take them all away in a lovely collectible tin and decorative box.

The workshop required a good amount of concentration, and it was fairly quick paced, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours, and – after my perfectionist tendencies were put to the side – I found it quite relaxing. The group size was perfect as Lorena was able to pay us all attention and correct any mistakes we were making. We all came away really satisfied and proud, and with a few surprisingly simple decorative techniques up our sleeves. The certificate we were given at the end, along with the gift bag, apron and tin, were nice touches and make for great keepsakes.

In the spirit of the Great British Bake Off, I’m pleased I can now say I’ve got in on the action and had my turn at creating a few mini masterpieces! But equally, the classes are ideal for special occasions, or rainy days!

If you don’t want to push the boat out and go for a full on icing class, you can drop in to the Biscuiteers icing café, where you get to ice three biscuits unaided for £15 (probably ideal for days out with kids, or a quick pick-me-up) – it’s a great way to switch off from the world for a little bit, except at the end where you’ve simply got to Instagram your beautiful creations! Find out more at biscuiteers.com.