Tuesday 25 June 2019

Former GBBO winner Candice Brown: 'I had a bit of a hard time personally... and baking was very therapeutic'

Candice Brown (33) is the 2016 winner of 'The Great British Bake Off'. She is a cookery writer and baker. She lives in South Bedfordshire, England, with her fiance, Liam, and their two dogs


My fiance, Liam, is a tree surgeon, so if I'm working from home and up a little bit later, I will get up when he does. But if I need to get into London, I will get up around 6am and creep around. We have two dogs, so I will let them out. Then I'll have a coffee. I've only started drinking coffee in the last six years. Mid-way through teaching [in my former job], I thought, 'I need coffee'.

If there is cake in the house, I will eat it. Yesterday, I had a slice of banana and peanut butter loaf for breakfast. I try to convince myself that because it has banana in it, it is one of my five-a-day. Everything in moderation. I have a Greek yoghurt and some berries and chia seeds. I try to be healthy, because I do eat cake. I test my food. So I have to balance it out. I'm partial to peanut butter on toast, too.

I don't bake in the morning unless I have to. This morning I got up and made meringues. I've got them in the oven right now. If I've made something the night before, I might have a little taste of it.

Before I was on The Great British Bake Off, I was a teacher. My life was very different. I was the head of year within the pastoral side in a secondary school, and I was teaching PE in the inclusion department, working with kids with special needs. Teachers work very hard. My hours were the same, and my days had a structure.

Since winning The Great British Bake Off in 2016, my days and my working life are quite unstructured. In the beginning, I found that quite difficult. Some days I was up before the birds, and other days I found myself working from home, thinking, 'Gosh, should be I be doing something?' Then I'd have to go to work at 7pm.

During Bake Off, I worked the whole time. While it was being recorded, they didn't know that I was on it. It was like a huge secret, and I would go into school looking tired and dishevelled. But I had signed up, and I couldn't say anything about it. The names of the bakers were released when I was on summer holidays. Then all the texts started to come in from colleagues saying - 'crafty', and 'so that's where you've been'.

After I won, I carried on working. That lasted until Christmas. Then, one day, the principal called me into his office. He asked me what I was doing. Then he urged me to take the opportunities that I was being given. This really resonated with me. He said that as a head teacher, he wasn't doing his job if he didn't push and encourage his staff to follow their dream, because it's the same for children. I didn't know what would come of it all, but I was so lucky that he encouraged me. I am so grateful for that.

I've been baking since I was four years old. It's all down to my nan. She was the apple of my eye, and I spent a lot of time with her when I was growing up in Edmonton. She was the most incredible baker and she used to make everything from scratch. I was always watching her. She used to give me the cut-offs of the pastry, and I'd make little jam tarts.

My mum and dad ran a pub, and I was always around, watching mum make pub food - pies and stews. I was happy cooking bits and pieces for myself, and then when I went to uni, I cooked for myself and I baked, too.

The baking became really intense about seven years ago. My job as a teacher was very stressful, and I had a bit of a hard time personally. I wasn't very well and I needed an outlet. Baking was very therapeutic.

I'd make cakes and bread. I loved kneading dough. You bash it down and it grows again. It was almost like a metaphor for life. There is nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread. I'd bake and bake, and then give my cakes away. I think I love baking because you take a lot of little things and turn them into something else.

Nothing comes naturally to me, and I'm not naturally clever. I had to work hard at school and uni, but baking was the one thing that I could do. It came naturally to me, and I think that was from my nan. I applied for Bake Off three times before I was finally accepted.

Since then, I've had the most amazing opportunities. I wrote a book, and for that I wrote every single recipe and tested every single one myself. I write a newspaper column, so I spend a lot of time doing new recipes for that. I even did Dancing on Ice. I travel all over going to food festivals, and I'll be at Taste of Dublin in June. I cannot wait.

When I'm at home, baking, I might wear a onesie and break in a new pair of high heels. Then when I'm out, I like to look nice. It's a confidence thing. I was brought up in a pub, and my mother told me that you are always better to be overdressed than under-dressed. I love make-up, and lipstick, in particular, makes me feel confident.

At the end of the day, I'll eat fish and brown rice and lots of spinach. I balance out the cakes. But the thing with baking from scratch is that you know what has gone into your food. Cakes or bread shouldn't have a month use-by date. They should be eaten that day or the next. Otherwise, you have to realise that there is something in them, making them last that long.

I still have bad days, but Liam is so supportive. When my confidence dips, he puts on Simply The Best and dances around the kitchen. He knows me better than I know myself. We work so well together. We are going to get married later this year. I like to read Harry Potter before bed. Then I have nice magical dreams.


In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

Candice Brown appears at this year's Taste of Dublin, which returns to the Iveagh Gardens from June 14 to June 17. Tickets from €15, available now

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