Living the sweet life

Elliw Gwawr in the kitchen Elliw Gwawr: the most popular person in the office

If you took a large pinch of Great British Bake Off and added a sprinkle of The Thick of It, you would get Elliw Gwawr.

The Westminster correspondent for Wales can switch from the cut-and-thrust world of politics to the challenges of making a perfect souffle - and she now has the cookbook to prove it.

Panaed a Chacen, the first book on baking to be written in the Welsh language, is the result of months of hard work and more than a few experiments in the kitchen.

Writing the book was not the result of a life's ambition, Elliw tells Ariel, but the idea of a publisher who had spotted her blog: 'I was bored one cold weekend in February and realised there were no Welsh-language blogs on baking. There were millions in English. So I thought, I will start writing one.'

Start Quote

I was coming home from work and baking something nearly every night and most weekends”

End Quote Elliw Gwawr Westminster correspondent, Wales

Her idea to target an obvious niche in the market proved to be popular - she's had 14,000 hits so far, respectable for a blog in Welsh - but the reporter was still surprised that someone would want to collect her best recipes into a book. 'I didn't think anything would come of it. It was just something to keep me entertained and to amuse myself with,' she says.

Marathon baking

The biggest challenge, she admits, was hitting the publisher's tough June deadline after being approached early this year. It gave her six months to try the recipes, write them down and even take the pictures herself. In the midst of all this, she was holding down a day job in Cardiff and preparing to move to London to take up a rigorous job in Millbank and be closer to her boyfriend.

Sounding as if the recollection alone makes her weary, she says, 'I was coming home from work and baking something nearly every night and most weekends.' Her efforts were not in vain and made her the most popular person at work.

'All of my colleagues got to taste nearly every cake in the book and they were very helpful in giving me their critiques. They benefitted enormously,' she laughs softly. As you'd expect, her colleagues were sad to see her go to London in September.

Breadwinner
Dust jacket of cookbook The cover of Elliw's cookbook

Her favourite recipe is for honeybuns, a sweet bread that used to be sold by a bakery in her hometown of Dolgellau until it shut down. Elliw got some instruction from the bakers who used to make the buns and, like a journalist worth her salt, guessed the rest. The idea of bringing an old recipe back from near extinction is one that appealed to her.

The same goes for her grandmother's old recipes, also collected for the newly published book. Many of them Elliw remembers making as a child.

Now in her nineties, Elliw's relative - who is also a prolific baker - is extremely proud of her granddaughter's accomplishments. 'She's the one who always encouraged me and gave me her cookbooks, old tins and tea sets.'

The blog is also still going after a short hiatus while Elliw was busy with the cookbook. She says that people have been very supportive and have been tweeting pictures of their own creations, inspired by the recipes. This is just the icing on the cake.

My Grandmother's Bara Brith (Welsh fruit cake)

Ingredients

  • 225g mixed dried fruit
  • 180ml cold tea
  • 225g self raising flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 115g soft brown sugar
  • 1 egg

Method

The night before you plan on making the cake, make some strong tea and leave it to cool. I use 2 to 3 bags.

Put the fruit and tea in a bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to soak overnight.

The next day heat the oven to 170°C/ Fan 150°C/ Gas 4 and grease and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.

Mix the egg and sugar into the soaked fruit.

Sieve the flour and salt into the mixture and mix with a wooden spoon.

Pour the cake mixture into your tin and bake for an hour.

It's cooked when a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool on a wire rack.

Eat with a thick layer of butter.

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