Words by Amy Sedghi
When we speak, Sophie Faldo is in the middle of baking a cake, “It’s just a lemon and raspberry fondant," she says breezily as if I’ve caught her throwing together something as simple as a packet mix. The cake she is baking is for a Blind Veterans UK charity evening.
Commissioned as an officer in the Royal Artillery, after attending the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, Sophie served all over the world, including in Afghanistan, before working as a surveillance consultant, a personal trainer and an Alpine ski touring instructor. She's a rower and track cyclist having competed at national levels. Phew! Keeping up?
But if you spent last summer gripped by the baking goings-on in a rather famous white marquee tent, then you’ll know Sophie better as the 2017 winner of the Great British Bake Off. How’s it been since winning Bake Off? She hesitates, “Yeah, it’s been a real change, but quite fun."
From penning pieces to taking part in quiz shows and getting in the thick of it with her boyfriend at the Michelin starred Black Hat restaurant in Kew, she’s certainly been busy embracing the opportunities that come with winning a much loved national contest. Although, with her impressive CV and list of accomplishments, Sophie’s clearly never been shy about taking on a challenge.
Starting out as a rower, she took to the bike following a bad back injury during a yoga class. “The coach put me on a Wattbike, whilst the others were out on the river," she explains. “I thought ‘this is silly, I can cycle, I might as well take it up a bit more seriously', so I joined a club".
“I rocked up at the race with my hire bike to find out it was Women’s National Omnium"
It was whilst taking part in the women’s session at Herne Hill Velodrome that she was encouraged by one of the coaches to give racing a try. “I rocked up at the race with my hire bike to find out it was Women’s National Omnium," she laughs. “But, actually it was quite good".
She’s since gone on to win age group national championships in the sprint and individual pursuit and cemented her love for track cycling. “I think it just suits me better," she says. “I prefer the training and I like that there’s more gym work. My back tends to seize up after a few hours so I’m not a big fan of really long road rides. Also, I love the atmosphere of the velodrome".
Currently training with her team, PMR, Sophie has her sights set on the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in October, after having had to take a year out from racing in 2017 due to the Bake Off. Does she get nervous at all before competitions, I ask? “Yeah, of course," she says adamantly with a big laugh. “I get a really funny feeling in my tummy, even when I’m training".
It’s a question she’s been asked more times than she can count, but here we go: how does the pressure inside the tent compare to the other high-pressure situations she’s been in?
“I don’t think I realised initially how much it was going to help, that I was used to dealing with high-pressure situations but as the weeks went on it definitely helped massively," she explains. “Pressure is something I kind of thrive on, it doesn’t bother me and just kind of makes me focus better. It’s probably a military thing. I just shut it down". She says there were a couple of times where she knew she was running out of time but instead of getting increasingly flustered, she allowed herself to panic for 10 seconds before saying “right, forget it, let’s get on with it".
We all know cycling and cake go hand in hand, so there was more than a little excitement in certain cycling quarters when it was revealed that the 2017 winner of Bake Off was a keen competitive cyclist too. “It [café stops] turns training into a more sociable activity and everyone loves a coffee ride," she says. “Especially when you’ve got how many calories on your Garmin, you’re like ‘yes, that’s definitely three pieces of cake!’"
She’s very passionate about what she calls ‘performance baking’, recipes that provide sports nutrition but that can be baked easily at home. “I think people just think they’ve got to take all these supplements but actually if you just eat well, you don’t need to," she says, listing her home-made flapjacks, protein balls and Isotonic chews as her staples on a ride.
I say she seems to give everything she tackles 100% of her effort. She muses: “Baking was supposed to be just a bit of a laugh. I was just doing it to make my friends' birthday cakes so that just became a bit serious. The cycling was quite laid-back until I got picked up by my team and then that became serious. I don’t always mean to but I think when I get involved with something, it becomes a real challenge for me".
What’s her secret? “I just avoid the ones I’m bad at," she jokes, “I’m a terrible runner".
Sophie's Bean-based High Protein Chocolate Brownies
This is a great way of introducing a bit more protein and a lot less fat into a real treat. It might seem a bit weird to use beans, but they give these brownies their fudgy texture. When cut into 12 squares, these brownies have only 166 calories, 7g of fat, but 9.5g of protein. If you’re wary about the amount of sugar (11.4g) you always have the option of replacing the syrup with sweeteners such as stevia or xylitol and omitting the chocolate chips or using sugar-free chocolate.
1 can black beans
110g maple syrup, agave nectar or runny honey
3 large eggs
75g skimmed milk
3 tablespoons melted coconut oil, or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
70g chocolate or vanilla protein powder
45g unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
60g dark chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 175C (fan). Grease and line a 9-inch square baking tin.
- Place the beans, syrup, eggs, oil, espresso powder and vanilla in a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is completely smooth, intermittently scraping down the sides.
- Add the protein powder, cocoa powder and salt to the mixture and process again until all the powders are mixed in, stopping to scrape down.
- Spread the batter mixture evenly in the pan and sprinkle on the chocolate chips.
- Bake for 25-30 mins or until the top looks dry and the sides are starting to retract from the pan.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into 12 squares and store in the fridge or freezer.