It’s a testament to her own work that when Donna Hay forgot she had people coming for dinner the other night, she quickly turned to her latest book Modern Baking to pull something amazing out of the hat for dessert, at the last minute. “I just really quickly made the Caramel and Biscotti Tiramisu – it’s very much a cheat’s throw together but it also says ‘of course I knew you were coming and here’s your dessert,’” she says.
While she may have given up her magazine, life is by no means idle for the beloved food personality – it’s just that now she gets to focus on the more fun aspects of her work, namely the creativity of food. “I love the food styling part and the creative direction,” she says. “It’s probably one of the reasons why I closed the magazine,” she adds, lamenting all the time spent on budget meetings and admin. “It’s nice to get back to doing what I love.”
This seems extra evident in the drool-worthy pages of her latest baking book.
With 27 titles under her belt, this one really does cater for all sweet occasions. There’s a “quick fix” section in each chapter for exactly the type of situation Donna found herself in – when you run out of time or just get caught on the hop. It’s helpful, too, for impatient young cooks, who perhaps need instant gratification. “I sound like my mother but in this day and age they do,” she says. “Kids often want to do something really quick – they’re not into let’s bake this for 45 minutes, let it cool, come back and ice it later.” But if you are after a sweet showstopping spectacular, the book is not short on those, whether that be a Chocolate Mousse Cake or a Passionfruit Three-Milk Ice-Cream Cake.
For health or nutrition-conscious folk, there’s also plenty to choose from. Which ties in to Donna’s own personal food philosophy. “I just try to keep a balance. There’s always room for treats but as you can see from the large ‘fresh and light’ [portion of each] chapter, there’s no harm in swapping out processed sugars when you need to. I’m a believer in balance – the food I cook is very much vegetables first, as we say in my house.”
That house includes two sons, aged 12 and 15. “They’re taller than me – both of them. They’re both still growing, right in front of me.” Donna likes to keep a full freezer as a “back-up”, she says. “I’d rather give them something with some nutritional value than open a packet of whatever… If my freezer gets really low, I start to get in a slight panic.” Right now, the boys are loving the Cacao Caramel Bites from the book and “the Raw Caramel Peanut Crunch Bars are normally always in my fridge,” she says.
It’s lucky then that Donna finds baking a meditative experience. “When you bake you have to measure so it deliberately slows me down. I use it as my relaxation. I like the process as well – there’s something really nice about seeing all the ingredients come together – it’s beautiful when you’re cooking – the smells and the joy it brings other people”.
Her cookbooks have certainly brought people joy. What is it about them that has touched a chord with so many people? Obviously the photography is amazing, all important considering we eat with our eyes. But also, she says, “The recipes work. I really like that people buy my books but I actually prefer they buy them and use them.”
She’s off for a whirlwind tour of European cities to promote the title and then she has a well-deserved holiday planned. “I’m an ocean girl. I’m going full relaxation with the boys – in the water, snorkelling,” she says.