Candice Brown: Crumbs of comfort

She owes her Great British Bake Off win to exact measurement and precise timing, but Candice Brown’s new cookbook is all about messing about with the recipes and making them your own

Hero image

Candice Brown is dumbfounded. She’s just come off air from Radio 2’s Breakfast Show with Chris Evans, and it was clearly an enjoyable hour of her life. “You shake your head thinking, wow, that’s happening,” she says with the same kind of humble, awestruck gratitude with which she greeted her win of last year’s Great British Bake Off.

“If it looks that bad, just eat it with your eyes closed. It’s all about flavour. All about taste.”

Famous for her weekly choice of lipstick, the gingerbread challenge in which she recreated her parents’ pub as a three dimensional biscuit structure and for being the last winner of the now institutional television programme on the BBC – ahead of its move to Channel 4 later this year – the 32 year old been busy since she was crowned Britain’s best amateur baker in 2016. She’s made regular appearances on ITV’s This Morning and Loose Women, has a column in the Sunday Times, and has been working on her first recipe book. We speak the day before she heads up to Chester and Manchester (a “fabulous city”) to promote it.

Comfort is a collection of simple, everyday home baking recipes, the kind of book you might have found on your grandmother’s kitchen shelf and, says North-East London-born Brown, “the sort of food that brings back memories and sparks a bit of nostalgia. I love food that does that. It’s the sort of food I was brought up on and the sort of food I love now.”

Included in the book are sweet and savoury recipes, cakes, puddings, bites, breads and buns covering everything from cornflake tart to chunky shepherd’s pie. Many of the recipes in the book are inspired by Brown’s own childhood, watching her mum and dad prepare food in the pub, and some come directly from Brown’s late grandmother Margaret Florence Brown, who Brown spent many summers with, and who she credits as instilling in her the love of baking. “I love her so much,” says Brown. “And it was so important for me that her recipes appeared in the book so that we could carry on the legacy in some way.”

The idea of baking as a tradition passed down through the generations is one of things that Brown hopes her book will inspire. She’s keen that readers know that the recipes are there to be messed with – not a sacred set of immutable instructions but rather the start of something that people can then make their own.

“I really wanted to get people to change the recipes and change the ingredients. If people don’t like certain ingredients or a flavour they can change it. I want people to cross things out, combine recipes and fold pages over, which should be covered in splats of butter and smears of chocolate. I want something that started off as mine to become theirs.”

And while the Great British Bake Off may have been all about achieving the perfect pastry, Brown says for bakers at home there should be no fear of things going wrong. “Just say it’s supposed to look like that,” she laughs. “It’s deconstructed and that’s fine. Or if it looks that bad, just eat it with your eyes closed. It’s all about flavour. All about taste.”

Taste, and the idea that a little bit of what you love does you good. The curious tension between the revived love of baking that the Great British Bake Off brought about, and an obsession with “healthy meals” devoid of things like full fat milk and butter, doesn’t worry Brown. Her motto is, “If you want some cake, then have some cake” and while she recognises that there is a need for everything in moderation, her other grandmother, Ivy – also mentioned in the book – provides a good antidote to the killjoys who insist on a fat-free world: “Her diet was about 98 per cent sugar,” says Brown. “If she can live to 93 on a diet of Maltesers and chocolate mousse then I think I’m going in the right direction.”

Brown is clearly enjoying the public spotlight that winning has afforded her, and she’s undaunted by the occasional snarky headlines that appear in some of the tabloids about her and partner Liam Macaulay. “You know what?” she says. “This is just the most incredible experience and of course you can’t please everybody – I understand that – as much as I would like to. But the positives outweigh any kind of negatives by so much they don’t even factor. I am so lucky and so privileged to be in the position that I am now. It makes me laugh, because it’s such a weird situation, but the positives are just so, so high.”

Indeed, the price of fame can’t be too much for Brown, as there are now rumours emerging that she’ll be appearing alongside the likes of Katie Price and Antony Cotton in a new series of Dancing On Ice, which will see her back on our television screens again, probably in the new year.

And Brown’s become so busy she’s made the choice to leave teaching behind. She was a trained PE teacher,  and then worked in a special needs school. She credits the head of that school as encouraging her to grab the opportunities that were coming her way and to show the kids that “it’s OK to have a dream and go for it”. But even now, she’s pragmatic about the future.

“People ask what are your expectations, but you know, none of this is expected. It’s very much a case of whatever happens happens.”

And of the Great British Bake Off itself, Brown says that despite a gruelling 10-week shooting schedule during which she continued to teach, and found herself baking late into the night and early in the morning before setting off for work, she wouldn’t hesitate to repeat the process. “I’d do it a hundred times over. I loved every second of it.”

In an emotionally charged final, teary eyed and with her voice cracking, Brown said how winning meant “more to me than anyone will ever realise” and it’s a sentiment she reiterates now. “I never, ever thought I could do that and then I did. I did it,” she says, as if she’s still reminding herself of the fact. “And just to be part of that and to meet all those other bakers was just incredible.”

There was controversy last year when Love Productions sold the rights to the programme to Channel 4 after refusing a £15 million offer from the BBC, which had nurtured the show from its birth on BBC Two back in 2010. Regular presenters Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins publicly dropped out of the show, along with one of the judges, Mary Berry. Only Paul Hollywood from the original series will carry on in the new show that is due to air later this year. He’ll be joined by judge Prue Leith and presenters Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding.

Despite the public outcry at the time, the raised eyebrows over the new cast, and the current predictions that ratings for the show will plummet from the 14 million who watched the 2016 final, Brown insists she’ll be tuning in.

“I cannot wait to see it. I think the new line-up is genius and I think it will be incredible. And I can’t wait to see who the new bakers are as well, because it’s like welcoming them into a lovely little family that we’ve got which is an amazing thing to be part of.”

Comfort: Delicious Bakes and Family Treats by Candice Brown. (Ebury press, £20) is out now

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Candice Brown: Crumbs of comfort

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.