Winner bakes all. Candice Brown on life after GBBO – and why her new cookbook takes comfort recipes to the max.
Candice reveals her biggest inspiration, the best time to eat cake and the importance of lipstick in the kitchen
What’s the big idea behind your new book?The title, Comfort, says it all. It’s a collection of sweet and savoury recipes for food that soothes and satisfies, brings back memories and puts a smile on faces. It reminds me of the food I ate when I was growing up.
What’s your favourite comfort food?I love macaroni cheese, which lifts my spirits if I’m feeling a bit low. In the book there’s a recipe for a chunky shepherd’s pie that I created for my partner Liam, which tastes incredible. And crumbles are good for the soul.
Top tips for successful baking? Use really soft butter for sponges; when making pastry, make sure that everything is cold – even the flour.
Who taught you to cook?My incredible nan. She made everything from scratch and as a child I used to cling to her like a limpet, watching how she did it. The two recipes in the book that mean most to me – Florentines and Boiled Fruit Cake – are hers. She died some years ago, but I owe it all to my nan, which is why I dedicated the book to her.
Guilty pleasure? Chicken nuggets. Homemade, takeaway, from the supermarket, whatever – I love them.
Last meal on earth?Chinese dim sum, which is a comfort food in its own way. My family always has it on Boxing Day.
Most memorable meal?Rib-eye steak, truffled macaroni cheese, tempura pork belly, chips and a big glass of malbec at Cau, an Argentinian steak house in Cambridge. It was before Liam and I went to a Paloma Faith concert. Everything about it was decadent and perfectly done.
Favourite restaurant?Rather than a restaurant, I would choose a street-food market. Particularly close to my heart – and the scene of such heartbreak recently – is London’s Borough Market. There’s one stall that sells the best gyoza [Japanese dumplings] I’ve ever tasted and I always have them when I go.
Most useful kitchen gadget?I couldn’t live without my KitchenAid mixer, and everyone needs a good spatula.
What did you have for breakfast today? I blitzed some frozen fruit to a sorbet-like texture and topped it off with Greek yoghurt.
Food heroes? Keith Floyd, who I grew up watching on television, and Tom Kerridge, who invited me to appear at his Pub in the Park festival in May. I love everything he does.
Signature dish? Whenever there’s a family get-together, I’m always asked if I’m going to make my black pudding sausage rolls.
Which foods conjure up childhood? Roast dinners, macaroni pies – a Scottish staple, which I discovered on family holidays to Tomintoul in the Highlands – and cornflake tart from my schooldays.
What would you make if you only had five minutes?A prawn stir-fry with loads of vegetables if I want something healthy; savoury parsley pancakes with cooked ham hock, cheese, mushrooms and a bit of garlic if I’m feeling indulgent.
One thing that drives you mad about food? Small pudding portions. My heart sinks if a sticky toffee pudding or a chocolate brownie is served as a tiny little square.
Food philosophy? Everything in moderation. I eat cake most days, but balance it by making sure I have a very healthy main meal. You should never deprive yourself of something you love.
Most underrated ingredient? Smoked paprika, which adds a lovely background flavour to dishes such as shepherd’s pie, chilli, spaghetti bolognese and stir-fries.
You’re famous for your lipstick. How important is it when baking?Absolutely vital! I’ve always loved lipstick, especially old-fashioned Hollywood red, and baking is the perfect opportunity to test out new ones. If they can survive the heat of a kitchen, you know you’re on to a winner.
If you could have only one cookbook, what would it be? One I inherited from my nan called Farmhouse Kitchen II, based on a Yorkshire Television series and published in 1978. The fact that she used it – it contains some of her own handwritten recipes – means so much to me.
Bake Off and beyond
Life has changed dramatically for Candice since she won the seventh series of The Great British Bake Off last year. She quit her job as a PE teacher, encouraged by the school head, who felt it would set a good example to the children to see someone follow their dreams.
‘I never expected to be on Bake Off, let alone win,’ she says. ‘I still don’t think I was the best baker, but I put everything I had into it. I take nothing for granted and intend to make the most of the opportunities I have been given. I wrote and tested all the recipes myself for the book and I’m so proud of it. I want everyone to love it as much as I do.’
Nan’s boiled fruit cake
This is my nan’s exact recipe – I converted the quantities to grams as my nan had written it in ounces. It was one of my Grandad’s favourites. My nan always used margarine, but you can swap it for unsalted butter if you prefer.
340g mixed dried fruit (I use 100g sultanas, 90g raisins, 50g chopped dried apricots, 50g dried cranberries, 25g mixed peel and 25g chopped glacé cherries)
75g walnuts, chopped
225g golden caster sugar (or a mix of light brown soft sugar and caster sugar)
225g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
½ tsp mixed spice
2 large eggs, beaten
● Preheat the oven to 140C fan (160C/325F/gas 3). Grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.
● Combine the fruit, walnuts, sugar, margarine and 235ml water in a heavy-based saucepan and heat gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.
● Stir in the flour, salt, mixed spice and beaten eggs. Mix well.
● Transfer to the tin. Bake for 1½-2 hours until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tin before turning out. Store in an airtight tin.
Date & ginger cake
150g unsalted butter
125g dark muscovado sugar
200g golden syrup
200g dark treacle
4 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
75g stoneless dates, finely chopped
finely grated zest of 1 lemon (keep the lemon for the decoration)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
100ml fiery ginger beer
150ml-200ml whole milk
2 large eggs
300g plain flour
pinch of salt
3 pieces stem ginger
● Preheat the oven to 150C fan (170C/340F/gas 3½). Grease a 25cm springform cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.
● Melt the butter with the sugar, golden syrup, treacle, grated fresh and ground ginger, cinnamon, chopped dates and lemon zest in a saucepan over a low/medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat.
● Mix the bicarbonate of soda with 2 tablespoons of the ginger beer, then add to the pan along with the rest of the ginger beer, the milk and eggs. Sift the flour and salt into the pan and whisk until all lumps have dissolved and you have a smooth, runny batter.
● Pour into the tin. Bake for 45-60 minutes until the cake has risen and feels firm to a light touch on top but a bit sticky (slightly undercooked is better as the cake will be stickier). Leave to cool before removing from the tin. Turn down the oven to 100C fan (120C/250F/gas ½).
● Slice the lemon (kept after zesting) across into 3mm rounds. Arrange in one layer on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Leave to dry out for 1-2 hours.
● Slice the dates and stem ginger lengthways. Arrange the lemon slices on top of the cake and scatter the date and ginger slices over the surface.
Coconut, banana & dark chocolate loaf
I am a nightmare for letting bananas get overripe – I only really like to eat them green. This is a great recipe for using those poor bananas that I haven’t got round to eating! There won’t be a huge rise on this loaf but that’s because it is super moist and packed with banana and coconut. This is a great quick cake if you are short on time. You can cover it in frosting, too, if you want to dress it up!
2 ripe bananas
70g plain flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp baking powder
15g cocoa powder
50g unsalted butter, softened
75g dark brown soft sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp whole milk
50g desiccated coconut
75g dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids)
1 banana, cut in half lengthways
25g coconut flakes
100g dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids)
● Preheat the oven to 160C fan (180C/350F/ gas 4). Grease a 450g (1lb) loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.
● Put the peeled bananas in a large mixing bowl and mash them with a fork, or beat using an electric mixer. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and cocoa powder into the bowl and add the soft butter, sugar, egg and milk. Mix until well combined using a wooden spoon or the mixer. Fold in the desiccated coconut.
● Using a sharp knife, chop the dark chocolate into small irregular pieces. Add to the cake mixture and fold in until evenly distributed. Pour into the lined loaf tin. Lay the banana halves, cut-side up, on top. Bake for 40-50 minutes – test by inserting a skewer in the middle of the loaf; it should come out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool fully.
● Place the flaked coconut in a cold frying pan and gently toast over a low heat until slightly golden. (Keep the coconut moving in the pan and watch carefully as it will brown quickly.) Tip on to a piece of kitchen paper and allow to cool.
● Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of boiling water. Drizzle the melted chocolate over the top of the loaf, then sprinkle on the toasted flaked coconut.
Mint chocolate cake
Ever eaten those thin, square, minty after-dinner chocolates? Well, I’ve been told this is the cake version of them! It is a moist, rich and satisfying cake that can also be served as a warm pudding with ice cream or cream. You can use different oils in the mixture, too – coconut is a favourite of mine and rapeseed also works.
130ml light olive oil, plus extra for greasing
200g dark brown soft sugar
3 large eggs
30g cocoa powder (with a high percentage of cocoa solids)
100g mint dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
140ml boiling water
10 fresh mint leaves, chopped
125g ground almonds
25g plain flour (see tip)
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
100g white chocolate, to decorate
● Preheat the oven to 160C fan (180C/350F/gas 4). Lightly grease a 25cm springform cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.
● Put the oil, sugar and eggs in the bowl of a free-standing electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on a medium speed for about 3 minutes until pale and fluffy.
● Combine the cocoa powder, mint chocolate and boiling water in a bowl or jug and stir until the chocolate melts. Mix in the mint. Whisking the egg and sugar mix on a low speed, slowly pour in the chocolate mixture in a steady stream. Keep whisking until combined. Add the ground almonds, flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt and mix with a spatula. It will be very runny but this is fine.
● Pour the mixture into the tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out with just a few sticky crumbs adhering. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
● Melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Drizzle the chocolate over the cake to decorate.
TIP To make this a gluten-free cake, simply omit the flour and increase the ground almonds to 150g.
Lemon & blackberry drizzle loaf
We love walking our dog, Dennis, and where we live we are lucky enough to have lots of fresh brambles growing. So come autumn we take a bag with us on walks and collect brambles. (We don’t pick the ones that are close to the ground!) Adding them whole to this loaf means you get a burst of blackberry juice when you take a bite – tart but sweet perfection.
115g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
115g unsalted butter, softened
165g golden caster sugar
2 medium eggs
1 tsp fresh lemon thyme leaves
about 50g icing sugar
shreds of lemon zest
fresh lemon thyme sprigs
● Preheat the oven to 160C fan (180C/350F/Gas Mark 4). Grease a 450g (1lb) loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper.
● Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and add the soft butter and 115g of the caster sugar, along with the eggs. Grate the zest from two of the lemons into the bowl. Squeeze the juice from half of the third lemon and add along with the lemon thyme leaves. Beat with an electric mixer just until smooth and light (take care not to over mix). Fold in the blackberries.
● Pour the mixture into the tin. Bake for 45–50 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean (avoid skewering a blackberry). Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly while you make the syrup.
● Squeeze the juice from the two lemons you zested and pour into a small saucepan. Add the remaining 50g caster sugar. Set over a medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved to make a syrup. Turn the heat up slightly and let the syrup bubble away for a couple of minutes.
● Using a skewer, poke holes all over the top of the still-warm cake, then slowly pour the lemon syrup all over the surface so it penetrates right through the sponge. Leave to cool fully.
● Squeeze the juice from the remaining lemon half into a small bowl and stir in enough icing sugar to make a smooth, runny icing. Once the loaf is cold, drizzle over the icing and top with fresh blackberries, shreds of lemon zest and tiny picked sprigs of lemon thyme.
150g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
25g ground almonds
pinch of salt
100g cold unsalted butter, cubed
30g golden caster sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg yolk
75g unsalted butter
150g golden syrup
50g light soft brown sugar
pinch of salt
25g desiccated coconut
100g raspberry/strawberry/cherry jam (preferably home-made – see my recipe in the book)
● To make the pastry, put the flour, ground almonds and salt into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub in to make a breadcrumb texture. Add the sugar and lemon zest and mix through with a blunt knife, then add the egg yolk and continue mixing with the knife. If the pastry dough isn’t quite coming together, add a little cold water, a teaspoon at a time.
● Now use your hands to bring the pastry dough together without kneading it too much. Flatten into a disc and wrap in cling film, then chill in the fridge for 1–2 hours.
● Preheat the oven to 180°C fan (200°C/400°F/Gas Mark 6). Roll out the chilled pastry on a lightly floured work surface to about 3mm thick. Use the rolling pin to lift the pastry up and into a 23cm fluted, loose-bottomed flan tin. Take a small piece of excess pastry dough from the edge and use it to push the pastry into the flutes of the tin. Trim off all the excess pastry. Prick the base of the pastry case with a fork, then chill for 15 minutes.
● Scrunch up a piece of greaseproof paper, then smooth it out and use to line the pastry case. Fill with baking beans. Blind bake for 20 minutes, then remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven, but leave the oven on.
● Combine the butter, syrup, sugar and salt in a saucepan set over a low/ medium heat and allow to melt together and become glossy and thick, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat, then tip in the cornflakes and coconut and mix in gently to cover evenly in the hot syrup – try not to break up the cornflakes too much.
● Spread your jam over the bottom of the cooked pastry case and top with the cornflake mixture. Return the tart to the oven to bake for 15–20 minutes until the filling is golden brown.
● Serve warm with my Vanilla Custard.
Chocolate hazelnut brownies
My go-to, quick and easy crowd-pleaser of a brownie. I slightly undercook mine as I love the gooey centre but it’s personal preference. I could eat these every day, no problem, but then again I am known to eat peanut butter straight from the jar! Slightly warmed the brownies double up beautifully as a pudding with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream.
MAKES 9 SQUARES
250g crunchy peanut butter (I like peanut butter that doesn’t contain palm oil)
175g dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids)
275g dark soft brown sugar
25g unsalted butter
100g self-raising flour
75g chocolate-hazelnut spread
75g blanched hazelnuts, chopped
50g dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cocoa solids)
● Preheat the oven to 160°C fan (180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4). Grease a 20cm square baking tin with fairly high sides and line the base with greaseproof paper.
● Put 200g of the peanut butter, the chocolate, sugar and butter into a medium-sized saucepan over a low/medium heat and stir until everything is mixed together and the sugar has almost completely dissolved.
● Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well in between each addition. The mix will be glossy after the eggs have been added. Sift the flour over the chocolate mix and stir in. Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared tin.
● Heat the remaining 50g peanut butter in a small pan until warm and runny, then drizzle over the brownie mix. Dot the chocolate-hazelnut spread on top. Using a sharp knife, swirl the top to make lovely swirls of peanut butter and chocolate spread.
● Bake for about 25 minutes – I like my brownies extra gooey (bake a bit longer if you want them to be more cake-like). Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
● Meanwhile, spread the chopped hazelnuts on a small baking tray and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes until golden. Remove and set aside.
● Once the brownie has cooled, melt the chocolate for the topping either in the microwave, in 30-second bursts, or in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of boiling water. Drizzle the melted chocolate in lines across the brownie, then sprinkle on the toasted hazelnuts.
● Cut into squares and enjoy, or warm in the microwave, on 20-second bursts, and eat as a pudding with ice cream.
SAVE 25 PER CENT ON CANDICE’S NEW BOOK
Today’s recipes are from Comfort: Delicious Bakes & Family Treats by Candice Brown, published by Ebury Press, price £20.
Chapters cover: cakes; brownies, biscuits and traybakes; treats and pastries, puddings and preserves; savoury bakes, bites and soups; breads and buns.
To order a copy for £15 (a 25 per cent discount) until 30 July, visit you-bookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15.