Of course, she knows her way around a loaf now, and after writing a few cookbooks focusing on Indian cuisine, she’s going back to her baking roots. Her new book, Easy Baking, is for people who are put off by complicated recipes – exactly how she used to feel about the prospect of homemade bread.
The book is all about simple baking that young kids and older people alike can make quite easily, she says. “I want people to not worry about the technicalities of the bake, and just enjoy the end product and the experience. I have tried to keep it very simple and approachable, to get the fear out of baking.”
As someone who has experienced the steely glare of Paul Hollywood in the tent, she knows the baking fear is real – but this push towards more accessible baking is a breath of fresh air, at a time when it feels like all we see are complicated cakes on social media.
And with a return to pre-pandemic levels of socialising, we are all too busy for anything too complicated. Makan wants to make sure people have the recipes they need – for example, if guests are unexpectedly coming round, and you want to whip something up.
The 43-year-old says: “If I have a last minute dinner party where I don’t have time to cool things down, I’ll be making a warm cake, like a banana traybake with toffee chocolate sauce. It doesn’t need fresh cream, and it doesn’t need to cool down.”
Makan wants to make sure amateur bakers don’t make mistakes that might put them off the whole process – but even pros can fall victim to a silly errors.
Embarrassed, she says: “I made a chocolate pudding for my friends for dinner, and I didn’t add sugar. I’m not even kidding, they actually ate it. When I sat down to eat it I realised. It didn’t taste foul because it wasn’t off – it’s just that it had no sugar!”
So it is important to follow the rules to some extent, she says.
Likewise, you’re tempted to eyeball the amount of yeast in a bread recipe instead of measuring it, it won’t work, she says. “Too much yeast can ruin the bread – it could just get too yeasty, and it could ruin the texture.”
But it doesn’t need to be about making a showstopper on your first try. “Baking can be very complicated. There are some bakes which I wouldn’t attempt myself, because they’re just too time-consuming, or too complicated.”
When Makan was a beginner herself, she started very simple. “I realised actually it’s not that complicated. You just need these four ingredients [flour, yeast, salt and water], properly measured, you just knead it, prove it and then you get bread.
“I think the key is to go for straightforward, simple recipes, not stuffed breads or sourdough with many kinds of proving involved. Just go for simple breads, like focaccia, for example.”
And kids can get involved too.
“My daughter absolutely loves baking. She doesn’t need me anymore,” says the mum-of-two. “She’s 14 and she’ll say, ‘I want to make brownies today’ – so she just makes them. She likes baking cakes and cookies, and if I have to make a cake and I’m running out of time, she can just pick up the recipe and start making it. It’s great, because she will also wash up after.
“The banana cake really is the family favourite. I can put it down and they will just demolish it. And chocolate pistachio cookies, they love those too. My daughter loves making those, because they are so easy.”
Black tahini honey tart recipe
For the pastry:
100g unsalted butter, softened
30g icing sugar
pinch of salt
2 egg yolks
200g plain flour, plus more for dusting
For the filling:
180g unsalted butter
100g light soft brown sugar
3 large eggs, plus two large egg yolks, lightly beaten
125ml double cream
2tbsp black tahini
1tsp cider vinegar
Pinch of salt
2tbsp black sesame seeds
1. To make the pastry, combine the butter, tahini, icing sugar and salt in a bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until creamy and smooth. Add the egg yolks and mix again. Fold in the flour. Add one to two tablespoons of water to bring the dough together. Press the dough into a circle, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for two to three hours.
2. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a two to three-millimetre thick circle big enough to line a 20 centimetre tart tin. You should have one to two and a half centimetres extra hanging over the tin. Line the tin with the pastry. Let it rest and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Prick the base of the tart with a fork. Scrunch up some non-stick baking paper, then unscrunch it, put it in the tin and fill with baking beans. Blind-bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 15 minutes until golden. After 10 minutes, cut off the excess paper.
4. Meanwhile, prepare the filling by heating the butter in a saucepan until it starts to bubble and change colour and the milk solids start to turn golden. Transfer to a bowl and once it is slightly cool, add the rest of the filling ingredients except the sesame seeds. Whisk it well and then pour this carefully into the tart case.
5. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 50-55 minutes, until the filling has puffed up and is golden with a slight wobble in the middle. Let it cool completely, then remove from the tin and serve.
6. Best eaten the day you make it, after that the pastry starts to soften.
Pineapple and elderflower cake recipe
For the cake:
100g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tin
220g canned pineapple pieces, roughly chopped
200g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
100g self-raising flour
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 large eggs
130g natural yoghurt
2tbsp elderflower cordial
For the cream:
300ml double cream
30g caster sugar
1tbsp elderflower cordial
Elderflowers to decorate
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Butter two x 20 centimetre round cake tins and line the bases with non-stick baking paper. Scatter half the pineapple over one tin.
2. In a large bowl, with an electric whisk, or in a food mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, put all the cake ingredients except the remaining pineapple and whisk for a minute until smooth and pale. Stir in the remaining pineapple pieces. Divide the batter equally between the prepared tins and bake for 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Set aside to cool completely.
3. Whip the cream, sugar and elderflower cordial together in a bowl with an electric whisk until it forms soft peaks.
4. Put the cake without pineapple on top of a serving plate and spread all the cream on top. Place the second cake, pineapple-side up, on top. If you manage to find some elderflowers, place on top of the cake and serve.
5. This cake can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to four days. Bring it to room temperature before serving.
Chocolate, pistachio and cardamom cookie recipe
120g vegan butter, softened
170g light, soft, brown sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
275g plain flour
1½tsp ground cardamom
1tsp baking powder
½tsp bicarbonate of soda
70ml almond milk
300g vegan dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
60g pistachios, finely chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Line two baking sheets with non-stick baking paper.
2. Put the butter in a bowl with the sugar and salt and beat it together with an electric whisk until smooth and creamy.
3. Sift the plain flour into another bowl with the cardamom, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda and mix it together.
4. Add the milk to the butter bowl followed by the flour mixture and then add the chocolate and pistachios. Fold it all in and bring it together into a soft dough.
5. Take a lemon-sized portion, shape it into a circle and place on a prepared sheet. Repeat to form all the cookies, leaving enough room between them for the cookies to spread when baked.
6. Bake for 15 minutes and let them sit on the tray for two minutes before transferring to a wire rack.
7. Store in an airtight container for three to four days.
Chetna’s Easy Baking by Chetna Makan is published by Hamlyn. Photography by Nassima Rothacker. Available now.