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Bake Off’s Candice Brown on finding solace in baking

By Prudence Wade

Candice Brown burst into our living rooms in 2016 as the winner of the Great British Bake Off, making a name for herself with exceptional cakes and an impressive collection of brightly coloured lipsticks.

Since her victory, Brown quit her job as a secondary school PE teacher, published a cookbook, competed in Dancing On Ice and started running The Green Man pub in Eversholt, Bedfordshire, with her brother, Ben.

Brown admits owning a pub during the pandemic has been “tough”. Ever the optimist though, she adds: “We saw one of the worst things ever to happen to the world en masse, but we also saw the best side of people – people really rallied together.”

Brown has been doing her bit over the past few months, describing how she organised care packages for the village, making “close to 200 portions of cake”. There’s no doubt something as simple as a slice of cake can bring joy – and Brown entirely understands why the act of baking has seen such an explosion in popularity as we all spent more time at home.

“Baking can be all-consuming, you get your head down into it and it’s a methodical approach,” she says thoughtfully, her dog Albus barking in the background. “It’s the weighing out of ingredients, the adding of ingredients, the mixing, and turning nothing into something that is beautiful and tastes amazing. It can make you smile, and make other people smile as well.”

From a personal point of view, Brown’s love of baking is very much linked to her mental health. “I only really spoke about my mental health last year. It’s something I had been dealing with and living with for five, six years now – including on Bake Off,” she explains. “That was one of the things I always said: baking was what I did, it was my happy place, it was my sad place; it was what I did when I wanted something to do with my hands.”

Something as simple as making bread can be a real solace when things feel overwhelming. Brown refers to baking as a “form of therapy: the kneading of it, the feeling of it, the smell of it”. Plus, she thinks this year gave anyone who was scared of baking the time and space to play around with it. Brown doesn’t think it’s anything to be afraid of, and is constantly telling people: “If it goes wrong, it doesn’t matter – you can turn it into something else.”

Despite being incredibly busy over the last few months – before pubs reopened, her staff was on furlough, so it was just Brown and her brother cooking and delivering food – Brown made time for a weekly Instagram Live she called her ‘food technology’ lessons.

She considers it a shame food economics isn’t a mandatory part of the UK national curriculum, saying: “It’s tough coming from someone who only really did practical subjects, because that’s the only time I could concentrate, whether it was PE, sport, drama, food technology.” When she was teaching, Brown met teenagers “who didn’t know what the ingredients to a burger were, or were bringing Pringles to school to eat for their lunch – they need to have an understanding of food”.

“It’s not just a case of getting your vitamins and minerals, there’s a whole other side to it,” she continues. “It’s an integral part of growing up, and it should be a compulsory life skill.”

(PA)