“I am an absolute, unabashed Christmas junkie all the way,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve even already started wrapping up some presents and putting them on the top shelf in my office.”
Famous for her unique approach to vegetable cakes (more on that in a minute), the British-born, Paris-based chef and cookbook author knows more than her fair share about holiday baking.
So, as the talented teams on The Big Bake: Holiday continue to wow us with their festive cake creations, we took the opportunity to catch up with Harry to learn more about her top tips for healthy holiday desserts – including cake baking tips for beginners.
Harry on the set of The Big Bake: Holiday episode Santa on Cakecation
Although it may seem fairly obvious to prep in advance, Harry points out that it’s often one of the easiest mistakes home bakers make – and one that can result in high levels of stress and burnt baked goods. “I’m a big proponent of planning,” she says, “and by planning what I really mean, if I’m cooking a cake on Friday my list of ingredients would be done at least a day or two beforehand so I have time to make sure that I have everything I need. It’s very depressing to start a cake and discover that you’ve got only half the amount of sugar you needed.” So, forget that Santa wishlist: the most important list you’ll need this holiday season is the one organizing all your must-have ingredients. Check!
Budget Your Time
Another cake baking tip for beginners is something that comes with practice – and a whole lot of patience. “Don’t hurry it,” Harry says about getting your bake on. “The thing about cakes, above anything else, is [the realization] that you’re not in charge. The ingredients and the cake are in charge and that won’t bend just because you have a dentist’s appointment. So, budget the time for it.”
Divide and Conquer
There are two stages of baking, according to Harry: one is the actual baking of the cake and the other is the icing and adding any additional decorations. Remember: there’s no reason why you can’t ice and decorate your masterpiece the next day, so there’s no need to rush through the entire process in a couple hours. “It’s like writing a letter by hand, the joy is always in doing,” she says. “Racing to finish it is dangerous and it would be such a shame to lose the joy of [baking].”
Kitsch for the Holidays
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, so don’t be afraid to have a little fun and infuse some of your own personality into your creation. Adding a little colour and texture can easily elevate your cake to the next level, so embrace it! “I’m not afraid of kitsch,” Harry says. “I love making my own [cake] toppers. I love that candy cane stripe; it’s so easy to mix into cakes. You can smash them up and make patterns on top. Everything is an excuse for a story at this time of year, so go nuts on the decorations because it’s such a joyful wow-factor.”
Swap in Some Veggies
If you’ve got root vegetables on hand and you’re looking to make an epic sponge cake that has some real moisture to it, Harry suggests swapping out some of the more common ingredients for some of those sweet veggies. “I think vegetable cake is so underrated just because it’s healthier,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good! If you have a vegetable cake with buttercream icing on top, I defy you to tell the difference.” Bonus: since the holidays are all about indulging in your favourite treats, you’ll appreciate having at least one healthy(ish) dessert. It also comes in handy if you’ve got a few picky eaters on your hands. “Zucchini is probably my favourite ingredient to add into cakes because it’s very easy to introduce without anybody having a clue,” Harry says with a laugh. “The point of a vegetable cake is that people don’t know it’s a vegetable cake so you need to do something which just effortlessly swaps it in. If you’ve succeeded at that, then you’ve done a good job. You’ve nailed it.”
Bid adieu to butter this holiday season. “You definitely don’t taste the butter in a sponge cake, you taste the buttercream [icing],” Harry points out. “It’s the easiest ingredient you can lose without noticing so long as you replace it with a healthy fat, like ground nuts, because there needs to be a balancing act with what you put in.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
You don’t have to wait until you’re a seasoned pro before you can start experimenting in the kitchen. “I’m a big fan of a recipe I wrote a little while ago which is for a sesame tahini white chocolate blondie,” Harry says. “That in itself is a show-stopper. I love offering something unusual around Christmastime.”
For more holiday fare, you can get your bake on with these 20 easy make-ahead Christmas cookies for your holiday bash and Anna Olson’s Ultimate Holiday Cookie Hacks.