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  • Donna Hay

    Best-selling cookbook author and food stylist, Donna Hay, shares her favourite recipes, guilty pleasures and the inspiration behind her new book Modern Baking...

    What first attracted you to food?

    Growing up, my grandparents had a luscious vegetable garden lined with fruit trees. And my grandmother loved to bake, too – she’d fix an apron around my little waist and let me help her in the kitchen, teaching me her secret recipes for cakes, cookies and puddings. Looking back, it was mostly her influence that lead me to where I am today. My mum didn’t necessarily love to cook – she was busy with work while raising my sisters and me. I think she taught me that not everyone wanted to spend lots of time and energy in the kitchen, which has actually been equally important in shaping the recipes I create.

    What was the inspiration behind your new book Modern Baking?

    Baking sweet things is a kind of therapy for me – it’s always been my first love in the kitchen. I like to think of this book as my modern baking bible. It’s everything I love to bake in my own kitchen (with all my years of tweaks and updates added in). It’s big and beautiful, with more than 250 recipes: my all-time favourite essentials, plus some super-smart shortcuts and better-for-you treats.

    What’s your favourite recipe in the book?

    I think it would have to be the chocolate meringue cake. Of all the chocolate cakes I’ve made, it’s this recipe I keep coming back to. The base is dark and rich, the meringue layer light and crisp… and the middle? It magically turns all fudgy and decadent in the oven. By nature, it’s meant to look a little bit rustic, so I embrace a few cracks on top – it’s pretty low-pressure actually! Try it - I think you’ll love it, too.

    How would you describe your style of cooking?

    The easiest way to explain it is fast, fresh and simple. I’ve always been fairly ingredient-driven – whether my inspiration is an abundance of fresh produce from the farmers’ markets, or just what I have left in my pantry, I’ll usually start with what’s in season or available to me. My style is pretty fuss-free and there’s usually a cheat or shortcut involved, but I also believe food that looks good tastes good, I’m quite visual in that way. 

    What’s your go-to recipe for entertaining, particularly at this time of year?

    You’re heading into the cooler months in the UK; we’ve just come out of winter in Australia. I did a lot of beef brisket ragu and slow-cooked lamb shoulder this year. And for dessert I found myself baking plenty of pies ­­– whatever winter fruit was in season, I’d pile it into my basket and bake with it. From traditional latticed to hand-pies to rustic tarts and galettes, they’re perfect after lunch or dinner. I think guests love the cosiness of them, topped with a scoop of vanilla bean ice-cream - yum.

    What inspires your cooking?

    I have to admit, a lot of my recipes really spring from my own lifestyle. I have very busy weekdays (who doesn’t!), two boys, and I’m forever entertaining both their friends and mine at home, plus I travel a lot. As I say, fresh produce is always a driving force in my recipes, but I’m also constantly on the lookout for ways to make something easier, quicker or a little more on-trend. 

    What’s your favourite cookbook or food blog?

    I see so much. There are so many people doing fun, clever, creative things with food these days – it’s fabulous. But my favourite foodie-friend is Jamie Oliver. I always keep an eye on what he’s up to on his social media channels.

    What food is your guilty pleasure?

    Ice-cream. Always ice-cream!  

    What did you want to be growing up?

    I teetered on the edge of working in fashion actually, but deep down I think I always knew I’d end up being in the food world in some capacity. I never thought to such an extent though – I feel so lucky to love what I do.

    What’s your biggest achievement?

    That’s a tough one… But besides my two gorgeous boys, I’d have to say that being a crew member on the boat Beau Geste, in the 2016 Sydney to Hobart off-shore yacht race, was both the bravest and craziest thing I’ve ever done.

    How do you unwind?

    Time at home with my friends and family, days at the beach – it’s pretty simple stuff really. I now know, after years of not being so good at this, that time for myself is really important. When I skip my early morning run, or I pack my overseas schedules too tightly, I don’t function so well creatively. I try to allow time to soak in the world, my boys or even just my natural surrounds – it all helps.

    Visit Donna's website here and follow her on Instagram @donnahaymagazine, her new book Modern Baking: Cakes, Cookies and Everything In Between is out now!