Bake Off winner Candice Brown
on her new book, family favourites and life after Britain’s favourite TV show
Words Helen Brown
Great British Bake Off winner Candice Brown stole the show with her stylish soufflés and enviable lipstick collection. More than 15 million people watched her take the cake in 2016 when she pipped fellow contestants Jane Beedle and Andrew Smyth to the Bake Off crown in a white-knuckle episode of meringue, sponge and a marzipan peacock showstopper.
Now, not even a year later, Candice is back with her first cookbook, Comfort. In a nod to her childhood and home-life, the book is jam-packed with comfort food, comfort baking and foods intended to make you feel warm and cosy inside.
“It’s completely nostalgic and full of the sort of cakes, bakes and food that makes you say ‘I remember eating that when I was younger,’” Candice explains. “I like things that evoke memories and I wanted to go down that route. They are warm, hearty, ‘I can’t wait for it to cool down so I’m having a big slice now,’ kind of recipes. That’s the sort of thing I wanted to do,” she says. “That’s how I like to cook – with sauce dripping down the side and crispy bits on top that my dad would pick at and my mum or me would tell him off because we’d not finished making it yet.”
Candice grew up in the pubs that her parents ran. She would watch her dad prepare meat – skinning rabbits, plucking pheasants – before her mum baked it into rich, hearty pies. But the earliest memories Candice has in the kitchen are of baking with her Nan, Margaret. “I remember she’d make a bakewell tart and then give me the leftovers. Or she’d make Yorkshire puddings and put jam in the scraps to make me a little jam tart,” Candice recalls. “I would drag our heavy leather dining-room chairs through to the kitchen and I’d stand on it next to her. I was a bit of a limit, wherever she was I was attached to her,” she jokes. The book is named after Margaret in testament to the influence she had on Candice growing up. “She was the absolute apple of my eye and when she died the bottom of my world fell out. Whenever I could spend time with her I would. She was the most modest, hard-working lady and she took so much joy in the family being there. She was constantly cooking and baking and making pastries,” Candice remembers, “If I could be half the lady she was I would be happy because she really was incredible.”
The book is peppered with tributes to Candice’s family members and memories. Alongside Margaret’s Boiled Fruit Cake there’s Dad’s favourite Black Forest Gateau with lashings of extra cream, a Coconut, Banana and Dark Chocolate Loaf for mam and sister and Tottie Scones for partner Liam.
“I really wanted Comfort to start off as mine, but as time goes on it becomes the reader’s,” Candice explains, “So if you don’t like a flavour or an ingredient, change it. If you don’t like a texture, change it. It’s okay to do that. Start making things your own and stop worrying about baking, because it shouldn’t be worrying. Baking should be fun and relaxing,” she says. True to her word, Candice heads to the kitchen for rest, recovery and a break from her busy schedule. “At the moment I’m trying to bake every day when I’m at home,” she says. “The other day I had two hours before heading over to my mum and dad’s. I could have spent those two hours doing something constructive, like packing and getting ready for the next couple of days, or I could bake and then run late… And that’s normally what I do,” she laughs.
We’re all of course wondering how on earth she stays so svelte with all that sugar. “Well, we do eat a lot and I eat cake most days, so when I’m at home I try to balance it out with a decent lunch – I’ll have a salad, spinach and rice, and for dinner it’s normally stir fry or something similar,” Candice says. It is also no doubt partly down to having a schedule that barely lets up. It’s not even 11am and Candice has already done a hefty stint on Radio 2. She also writes for The Sunday Times and frequently appears on ITV’s This Morning, though things have calmed down considerably now that the book is done. “I wrote every single recipe and I tried out each one. I really wanted to do it by myself and I got it done in just under three months,” Candice says. “I don’t think I slept very much at all during the process. One time, Liam came down to the kitchen; it was about four in the morning and I was making a fish pie. I had gone to bed but my brain was ticking over so much that I just had to get up and make this fish pie. We had interesting meals at interesting times,” she laughs.
Life before Bake Off saw Candice teaching at Ashlyns School in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. She trained in and taught PE at the school before moving over to the special needs department. “It was something I took great pride in and I worked really hard to get to where I was,” Candice says. A career in baking is quite the departure and the decision to give up teaching was tough. So does she miss it? “I do some days,” Candice muses, “especially now it’s the end of term and the kids are sitting their exams; I keep thinking I should be there to help them out and I wonder how they’re getting on,” she says. “But on the other hand, when I do demonstrations and I talk to children and to parents who’ll say ‘You’ve got my daughter or my son into baking,’ it’s like I’m almost still doing that role of inspiring and teaching,” Candice continues.
Now with the release of Comfort, Candice will certainly continue to inspire and encourage people to get cooking. Her life since Bake Off has been on a sugar high that shows no sign of dipping any time soon.