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All rise for Tenby’s Finest Baker! – Michelle Evans-Fecci

The Seasonal Baker. Baking All Year Around.

We recently had the pleasure of speaking with the wonderful Michelle Evans-Fecci, a participant on 2019’s The Great British Bake Off (Series 10), who made it to week 5 before exiting the show. She was voted Star Baker during cake week and has since gone on to develop some magnificent bakes inspired by seasonal fruits and vegetables. She has since been on TV and radio and at various local events. She has even created recipes for food producers Castello cheeses and Nutella. She has been on Joules and Popsugar blogs, and she also provides recipes, cook-along guides, festive and special occasion bakes, and how-tos. She is now referred to as a recipe creator and food stylist.

She began in 2016 as ‘The Girl Who Loves To Bake,’ with a Facebook profile dedicated to her hobby. Her experience and skills have advanced significantly, particularly after her Bake Off series. She now has over 50K Instagram followers and goes by the name @BakesbyMichelle!

She lives in Tenby with her husband Ben Fecci (of our beloved and famous Fecci Fish and Chips), her teenage son Alfie, and a whippet called Rosie. Before Bake Off, she worked for Ben’s family business, Trade Canvas. Ben Fecci is a talented photographer who created all of the stunning imagery for Michelle’s new book.

She grew up on a farm and is an avid gardener. Her mother taught her to bake from an early age, and she recalls standing on a stool in an apron baking with her. She grows a lot of the produce she uses in her baking and cooking. In her baking, she uses seasonal ingredients that are local, sustainable, and ultra-fresh. She prefers rustic and colourful decorations, often with edible flowers. She keeps free-range chickens and uses their eggs for her baking.

Her first cookbook, ‘The Seasonal Baker,’ is now available, published by Robinson, an imprint of Little, Brown Books Group. As well as recipes and ideas, it gives help and guidance on how to grow edibles for baking.

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An interview with the fabulous Michelle Evans-Fecci

Hi Michelle, let’s chat about your book! Can you talk to us about the background, what happened and when the process began?

I have an agent in London who look after all my collaborations. I said to them that I’d love to bring out a book as it’s always been a dream of mine. He told me to prepare some ideas, so I decided to go down a seasonal baking route. It’s something I’m genuinely passionate about and that I’ve always wanted to do as I think it’s important that you know where your food is coming from. I have a little garden patch in my garden, I love homegrown veggies, and my son Alfie still comes out and helps me harvest the fruits and vegetables aged 17. So, I asked to create a seasonal baking book that had a picture next to every recipe. 

I think it’s important to know what a bake should look like and find it frustrating if there aren’t many pictures in a cookbook.

It turned out; two companies wanted to go with the book! We then decided to go for 70 recipes as we felt that would be a good amount to take you through the seasons. The offer came through just after Christmas, and I had until April to put it all together!

Wow, so you must have been in lockdown, was that difficult?

Yes, it was very difficult. 

We live on quite a big estate, but nobody wanted to try the bakes I was preparing for the book. I found it especially hard with my parents, who live in Carmarthen, so I wasn’t allowed to drop anything off to them. I wanted my mum to try the marble cake from the book as it was the first cake I made for her, but she’s actually not tried any of them yet.

What’s your most favourite recipe in the book to make?

My most favourite is my Prinsesstarta cake. It’s got so many layers, and I make it to my husband’s birthday every year with little changes in the jam or colour each time. It’s a domed shaped cake encased in marzipan, with lots of layers of genoiuse sponge, jam, and crème pat. It’s a lovely cake!

What’s your favourite to eat yourself?

Oh, there are so many! One that I love is my multicolour carrot tart. It’s a puff pastry sheet, and then it’s made with beetroot and cream cheese, which is whipped and spread on the base, which you top with carrots roasted with maple and pecan. You can use purple carrots, yellow ones, orange ones and they are then nicely arranged on the top. That’s one I make often because it looks so impressive, but it’s so easy to make!  

Your husband Ben photographed your book; how did that come about, and how was it to work with him?

Obviously, it was lockdown, so we couldn’t travel anywhere, and the Wales restrictions were tight, so it worked out well that he could do them from home.

They just said they loved the way my Instagram worked and asked who did my photography; when they found out it was my husband, they said they would employ him to shoot the book.

So, for me, this book is even more special because Ben, Alfie and I did this in lockdown with no help from anyone else, and it was a special time. Ben is more of a stickler for visual styling and balance, whereas I am obviously the baker, so we had our own roles and worked together well.

What is your own favourite cookbook?

When I was little, I saved up all my pocket money to buy my first cookbook from the touring bus library at my primary school. It no longer has the front cover, and it’s so battered; I don’t even know who wrote it! But it’s full of classic recipes and tips on how to do things like lay the table properly. I still use the pancake and marble cake recipes today; they’re my go-to; my son even uses that book before anything else. It tells you the basics and is really simple to follow. The pages are now brown and held together with sticky tape.

Is there a piece of kitchen or baking equipment you wish you had?

I don’t think you need expensive equipment or gadgets to be a good baker. You just need your hands, really. 

I’m lucky enough to have everything I could possibly need, and companies occasionally send me some bits. I would say my favourite is my stand mixer! It makes things easier, like whipping meringue.

Talking of you being sent things – would you describe yourself as an influencer, and do you get recognised?

A lot of people just know me as Michelle from Tenby. However, sometimes, if I’m at the baking aisle in the supermarket, people will stop and say, ‘Ooh, what are you making today?!’. 

My sister finds it bizarre that people still want to stop for photos.

I just think I’m a normal person who baked on telly for a little bit! I just love baking and sharing recipes with the world.

Let’s chat about your family, who own our beloved Fecci fish and chips on Frog St. What’s your order?

I am definitely a battered sausage, chips, curry sauce and bread roll type of girl! And the curry sauce has to be in a pot on the side. I don’t like it poured all over. I do love a battered sausage. I also shamelessly like the quick soak peas you get in a box that you have to rehydrate with water to make your mushy peas!

We all agree that Tenby is the best place in the world, but where else do you love around the area?

Being self-employed, we don’t get much of a chance to get away, but I love a good countryside walk. I love getting back to nature. My son is a bit of a daredevil, so we like to go to Zipworld at Penrhyn Slate Quarry. We went there recently, and I was terrified, it’s so high! I would really recommend you check it out.

We sure will, Michelle; thank you so much for chatting with us today. 

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The Seasonal Baker: Baking for All Seasons by Michelle Evans-Fecci is out now (£20, Robinson) All images © Ben Fecci

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