Kim-Joy: 'Baking can give you a sense of purpose back when you are down'

Kim-Joy is releasing a new baking book for Christmas.Kim-Joy is releasing a new baking book for Christmas.
Kim-Joy is releasing a new baking book for Christmas.
The Great British Bake Off finalist from Leeds is back with a festive book full of cute recipes. Prudence Wade finds out more.

Christmas and Kim-Joy Hewlett are a match made in heaven.

The baker, who lives near Leeds, burst onto our screens as one of the finalists in the 2018 Great British Bake Off, winning a legion of fans for her adorable animal-inspired creations.

For Kim-Joy, writing a Christmas baking book was a no-brainer.

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“I love colour, cute things and all the Christmas flavours like cinnamon and cardamom and all those warming spices,” says the 29-year-old, whose previous book – Baking With Kim Joy: Cute And Creative Bakes To Make You Smile – was released in summer 2019.

She admits Christmas might be “a bit weird and different this year” – and says that’s why “we need some good baking at home”.

The cookbook is everything we’ve come to love from Kim-Joy, full of sweet bakes made to look like cute animals and whimsical creatures. This includes snowmen meringues and reindeer Bakewell tarts, as well as recipes with more unusual flavours – like the matcha bamboo swiss roll decorated with festive pandas.

With such delicate and seemingly perfect decorations, some people might be put off trying to tackle Kim-Joy’s recipes themselves. However, the baker is all for giving things a go in the kitchen – regardless of the outcome. “I taught myself to bake and I definitely got to a decent level by messing up a ton,” she says. “And I still mess up – I just don’t talk about it as much!”

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For Kim-Joy, it’s all part of the process. “I have had times I’ve messed up in the past and it’s got me down for a little bit,” she admits. “But after that, you pick yourself up and you learn from those mistakes – but they’re not always mistakes.

“A lot of people say how baking is really sciency and specific and exact, but I don’t think it is – a lot of my good ideas have come from complete mistakes and turned into something nice.”

She has recently been applying the Japanese technique of kintsugi to her baking. This is the art of gluing broken pots back together and painting the cracks with gold, so that the breaks become part of something beautiful – and in the kitchen, Kim-Joy has been painting the cracks in her meringues gold. “I think that perfectly encapsulates making mistakes and then making it work for you,” she says. “And actually, it’s even better.”

Even if things do go wrong, Kim-Joy still advocates baking to boost your mental health.

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Before entering Bake Off, she worked as a psychological wellbeing practitioner and says: “One of the treatments for depression is something called behaviour activation, which basically means getting people to slowly increase the amount of activities they’re doing that they’re enjoying. Because when you’re feeling depressed and down, you don’t want to do things – you don’t have that motivation, and it’s hard to get it back.

“Baking is one of those things that gives you a sense of purpose once you do it. It touches on all your senses, like feeling things, the smell of things and the taste of things, and it’s also an activity you can lose yourself in and forget about time. Not only that, but at the end you have a bake and you feel really productive. You can give it to somebody else and feel even more useful.”

Christmas can be a difficult period for many people, particularly now after such a tough year, and Kim-Joy’s recipes could be a much-needed balm this festive season.

But perhaps surprisingly for someone who’s written a whole book of festive bakes, December 25 has never been that much of a big deal for Kim-Joy. “Christmas is a weird one, because I stopped kind of celebrating it as a kid,” she says with a shrug. “My family just stopped kind of doing it, I think because we were a bit broken up.” Since then, she’s spent the holiday with friends, working in care homes, and even in Japan.

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So what about this year? Like so many of us, Kim-Joy is planning a low-key Christmas. “It’s just going to be me and my partner, Nabil, and our cats Inki and Mochi,” she says with obvious delight. “We’ll get them some treats and put stockings up and decorate – it will be lovely.”

Christmas With Kim-Joy: A Festive Collection Of Edible Cuteness by Kim-Joy is published by Quadrille, priced £15. Photography by Ellis Parrinder. Available now

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