Meet Sarah Rainey: the Gutsy Journo Wielding Three-Ingredient Magic

Cookbook author Sarah Rainey doesn’t just pride herself on recovering from a minor disaster or two in the kitchen – this Daily Mail feature writer, baking addict, and author of Three Ingredient Baking has also survived a stint with the SAS, impressed Great British Bake Off judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood with her signature ginger cake, and is inspiring home cooks everywhere with her three-ingredient concoctions than morph, as if by magic, into totally desirable baked goods. All in a day’s work right?!

Sarah joined us in the Khoollect Studio to demonstrate one of her delicious recipes and tell us a few tales from behind enemy lines…

Where did the concept of your new book Three Ingredient Baking come from? 

The idea for Three Ingredient Baking came from some research I was doing in my day job into baking trends. I found lots of YouTube videos and photographs, most of them from Japan, promoting a ‘three ingredient cheesecake’, which seemed to have gone completely viral on the other side of the world. The more I looked into it, the more I realised how big an interest there was in baking with few ingredients. Recipes these days seem to have become ever-more complicated and convoluted, and as amazing as the results are, the lengthy ingredients lists put a lot of people off. I started scouring old recipe books and experimenting in my kitchen to see if I could come up with more three ingredient recipes that actually worked.

How did you turn the idea into a book deal? 

A friend from work introduced me to a book agent – the lovely Clare Hulton – who works with lots of cookery writers, and, very nervously, I pitched the idea to her one day over lunch. Fortunately she liked it, and I was so lucky that my publisher, Michael Joseph at Penguin, did too. To secure the deal I had to write eight sample recipes and a list of 50 recipe outlines (which was later extended to 100) for the rest of the book.

This is your first cookbook. What did you enjoy most about writing it? 

I was so nervous writing this book – I still am – and I think that’s only natural. But I loved the freedom it gave me, to create my own recipes and share them with other people. I’ve never really written recipes down before – they’re always just in my head – and this was something I found really therapeutic. I find the methodical nature of recipe-writing strangely satisfying, and it’s a nice change of pace from the 2,000 word features I write at work.

What did you find the most difficult part about writing your recipe book? 

The most difficult bit was when bakes went wrong. I can’t tell you how many brilliant – or so I thought – ideas I had that turned out to be completely disastrous. There were the yoghurt muffins that turned to mush and flooded my oven, the meringues that exploded all over the kitchen, the cake that nearly burnt my flat down… those were bad days!

What’s your top tip for someone who has an idea for a cookbook?

My top tip is to do your market research. I had to source statistics about the three ingredient baking trend, looking into YouTube data and get to grips with social media analytics. Publishers don’t just want good ideas – they want well-researched business plans. There are so many cookery books around nowadays that you need something that will stand out from the crowd.

By day you’re a journalist. You recently completed SAS training for a feature you were working on. What was that experience like?

Yikes, don’t remind me! I was writing a feature on whether women should be accepted into the SAS – they’re considering adapting their recruitment process – and I was really put through my paces by the team from the TV show SAS: Who Dares Wins. It was incredibly tough – not only physically (lots of scrambling around in the mud and crawling through tiny spaces) but also mentally, as they put us through a simulation hostage experience, which involved being interrogated by some very scary men in balaclavas.

Where do you currently call home? And what inspires you about your city?

I live in Greenwich, South East London. I’m originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, but I’ve lived and worked in London for the past 10 years – so I’d say it’s safe to call it home (just don’t tell my Mum…). I love that London is such a vibrant, busy city, bursting with so many different cultures and languages and exciting things to do and see, but at the same time it’s a place where everyone can find their own little corner to settle in and call home.

What’s your favourite item in your khoollection? 

A mint green Olivetti Underwood Studio 44 typewriter, dating from 1965, which my husband bought me as a surprise for my birthday last year. It is so beautiful I’m almost afraid to use it – and I have to confess I spend more time looking at it than writing on it – but I’ve promised countless typewritten letters to friends, so I should really stop staring and get on with it.

What’s your secret ingredient or top tip in the kitchen? 

I’m a fan of using fresh, rather than dried, spices and herbs in my food, especially in baking. My best ever recipe for a sticky gingerbread cake came about because I accidentally used fresh ginger rather than powdered ginger in the cake mix – and what came out of the oven was the zingiest, punchiest ginger cake I’d ever tasted!

Favourite corner of the Internet?

I love the website Digg.com, which compiles all the most groundbreaking, humorous and mind-boggling articles from around the world – from videos of cute pets to thought-provoking long reads from The New York Times.

Recently, I’ve been watching re-runs of Fanny Cradock cookery shows from the Seventies on BBC iPlayer – as much for her fabulous, flamboyant outfits as for her weird and wonderful ways with food! And when I can’t sleep I listen to ‘Happier’, a podcast by the American author Gretchen Rubin, which is full of lovely little life tips that make me smile.

Can you imagine a world without Internet? 

If I went ‘offline’ today, I’d do more creative writing. I go to a lovely little early-morning writing workshop once a fortnight, called Write and Shine, where we assemble in an old library in central London, eat some croissants, switch off our phones and just write for 90 minutes on everything from food to the night sky. It’s really special, and rare, to take that time out away from everything else, to reflect and let your brain whirr away.

What inspires you?

I get inspiration from people – strangers, loved ones, colleagues, famous faces, you name it. I’m a terrible starer and could sit in a café and people-watch for hours… I love seeing how they go about their days and get a little insight into how their world works and how it’s different from mine.

In my day job as a writer on a national newspaper I get to meet some incredible, ordinary people who’ve experienced extraordinary things, whether it’s enduring a personal tragedy or achieving something impressive. Hearing their stories – and having the honour of retelling them – inspires me on a daily basis.

Top three foodie spots in your city? And why?

1.    The Buenos Aires Café in Greenwich – a tiny, family-run, Argentinian restaurant that serves the most mouthwatering steak, insanely good Malbec and dulce de leche-stuffed alfajores to die for.

2.    Morito in Exmouth Market – so small your knees knock into the person sitting opposite, but their daily tapas menu is a feast for the senses.

3.    Pavilion Café in Victoria Park – I used to live round here and it’s the locals’ secret spot for a cheap, delicious brunch. Best bubble and squeak around.

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Photos by Lara Messer