Great British Bake Off's Jane Beedle Dishes On The Show - Exclusive Interview

It's no surprise that Jane Beedle is today a celebrated baker, even something of a celebrity in her U.K. homeland, as well as overseas thanks to her long run on Season 7 of "The Great British Bake Off" (yes, it's aka "The Great British Baking Show," if you were scratching your head). And that's not just because this understated yet magnetic gracefully middle-aged lady is a great baker, but it's because she seemed almost destined to bake. It just runs in the family.

When Mashed sat down with Beedle (remotely via Zoom, of course, given the realities of the day), she talked about some of her earliest memories being those spent in and around bakeries owned and operated by her grandfather. Well, owned, at any rate — apparently by the time Beedle's memory kicked in, her granddad tended to spend more time with his feet up in the back office than his hands kneading the dough. But the baked good left their indelible impression on Beedle just the same.

Runner-up on "Bake Off," winner of the 2018 special "The Great Christmas Bake Off", and long family history of baking aside, what is something of a surprise is the fact that, for many years, Jane Beedle didn't do all that much baking. And it was always simply a hobby, never a career until her time on TV changed everything for Beedle not long after she entered her 60s.

For Jane Beedle, baking runs in the family

When did you first start baking, what got you into it, and has it been a lifelong hobby?

Probably, a lifelong hobby with sort of brief breaks in the middle what with being a student and young person around London, I suppose. My grandfather owned a bakery in Hastings in Sussex on the South Coast of England. And my dad was being brought up to run the business and take over. That didn't happen, but my dad always baked. He would always do the Christmas cake, he would do the birthday cakes so, it was this sort of thing dad and I used to do together. My mother baked, but she wasn't a great baker. So, I sort of learned my love of baking from my father really. And then when I'd finished uni and was living in London I didn't really didn't bake very much, [but] I went back to it when I had my kids. I suppose my daughter's coming up 31 now. So certainly [I've] been baking pretty much nonstop for the last 30 years.

Did you have a favorite thing that your grandfather baked? Are there any specific fond memories of baked goods from a family shop?

Well, when I remember my grandfather, he used to sit in the office and not doing an awful lot to be perfectly honest. They had about 10 or 12 shops or cafes that they baked for and supplied that were all part of the company. But I do remember — I don't know whether you guys get it over there — we have hot cross buns, which are basically fruit buns with, for lack of a better word, a pastry cross on the top. And it used to be the bun that you had on Good Friday.

Well, now we get them over here in the shops as soon as Christmas is finished. But it used to be a thing: you could only buy them on Good Friday and Easter. They were pretty standard buns, but with this cross on the top, and the bakery had to work all night in order to get sufficient buns into the stores on the Friday. And I remember my dad working all night, but he would then come home and bring us hot cross bun men. And I just remember these hot cross bun men as being the most delicious things. And of course, they were fresh out of the oven and it was all very exciting. So my fond memories of the hot cross buns. And I make a mean hot cross bun myself, I have to say.

Jane Beedle's early cooking inspirations

Did you have early inspirations for your baking or cooking, be it a show like "Joy of Cooking," a book, or was it mostly inspired by your family?

A bit of family, yes. So we did have shows, and [for me the inspiration] was probably Delia. Do you get Delia [Smith] in the States? Well, okay, so we used to have the most awful — well, I mustn't say she was an awful woman — but there was a couple called Fanny Cradock and Johnny and she was this, well, she looked awful to be honest. She's incredibly made up and it was very '50s. And then Delia sort of came in. I couldn't tell you when actually, probably in the '70s, and she is a household name over here. She's fading away a little bit now. 

So I would've thought Delia, but to be honest, but I didn't really watch a huge amount of cooking shows in those days, far more now, but I probably got [more ideas] from recipe books, good old recipe books before we had Google, I think. I just loved and still do love a recipe book. I'm always seduced in a book shop by the recipe books and I always come away with yet another book that I probably won't get past about page one or two, but I do just love them. They're beautiful things.

What inspired Jane Beedle to try out for Bake Off

So what inspired you to try out for the show?

Well, it was a friend of mine really. I didn't particularly watch it. I used to run a little gardening business with a friend of mine. We used to go around and mow lawns and sweep up leaves and things. And she was, well, she still is, she's one of these very, very sickening people to have as a friend who is very lovely, gorgeous looking and slim as a pen, and can eat food all day long without putting on an ounce of weight, unlike me. So I would always bring various bakes along to keep her going mid morning and she loved "Bake Off" and encouraged me to take part. 

So it took me a while and I applied for, well, my series over here was series seven. I'm not sure whether that's the case in the States — I think we might've been your series four or something, I don't think you've got the first few series. So I applied for our series four, which might be your series one, and didn't get anywhere at all. And then I applied again. I didn't apply for the next one, but after that I applied for series six and got a little bit further in the process. And then on series seven I got my way through. And to be honest, apart from [my friend] Harriet nagging me all the time to keep applying, I just wanted to be part of the fun, it just looked so much fun to be part of. Our presenters then were Mel and Sue who were hilarious. Then I'd reached a ripe old age and I thought, "Well, there's no point in sitting back and wishing you do these things. You got to give it a go." So that's what I did. I just wanted to be part of the fun.

What it's really like on Bake Off, according to Jane Beedle

So what is it like on the show? Is it as much fun as it looks like? 

It's pretty much like you see it on the television. Huge amounts of pressure and long days because filming, I mean, I think we started in the tent at half past six, seven o'clock in the morning and certainly in the early stages, when there were more bakers, we didn't get back to the hotel until about half past nine, 10 o'clock at night, and then back to be picked up at six in the morning. So it's quite tiring, but I mean, it is huge fun, a lot of laughing. I think it all depends on how good your presenters are. And we have the most brilliant presenters. As for the camaraderie, it is exactly as you see it — there's probably even more helping each other than you see. And we were told, and I've talked to bakers from previous series as well, we were pretty much told we must remember it's competition and not to help each other quite so much, but we all bond so quickly, and it's a very intense experience and you can't let somebody struggle if you can possibly help.

I think we all agree that we'd all love to have won, but not at the expense of tripping somebody else up. So we'd want to win on our own merits. Not because somebody else had failed. And we're still very much in touch. And in fact, an email came around recently from, I think one of last year's bakers who we haven't met because of COVID, [saying]: "I'm organizing a big party for bakers to get together at the end of October!" So all of us that want to be sociable are, and when you meet somebody from a different series, it's as though you've known them forever, it's the weirdest experience. 

It's like having a great big family without sort of a dysfunctional uncle.

Jane Beedle talks cooking on camera

How is cooking or baking on camera different? What are the challenges versus just being in your kitchen, cooking away regularly?

You very quickly get used to having the camera crew there. I mean so much so that the sound guys have come along and changed your battery pack in your microphone, and you'd barely even blink. You wouldn't even notice that [they] were fumbling in your back pocket. The difference is you haven't got everything to hand in the same way. All the extra ingredients are kept behind the scenes, which we are not allowed to go to. They do very much try to maintain the magic of the tent for us. So we don't see any of the monitors. We don't see any of the washing up. We don't see any of the rubbish. It's all behind that huge bit of the back of the tent. So it's just not having everything to hand and having to ask for everything I think is the thing that makes it the most difficult.

And of course, [there are] a certain amount of nerves. So you are going to drop things. You are going to muck up because you've got huge time constraints on you. But other than that, once you settled down and I mean, Candice and I were incredibly fortunate to be there, right until the end. So, it begins to feel very, very, very comfortable in the tent. I mean so much so, we had a floor manager come in just to do one episode because our usual floor manager had to go and do something. And basically, we all knew what we had to do and he hadn't got a clue. It becomes like a second home really. It's very, very peculiar.

How Jane Beedle's life has changed since Bake Off

How has your life changed since the 2016 show and then the Christmas special?

Yeah, well, I wouldn't be doing things like this interview. Just for the launch of the new series, which started here on Tuesday, I had back to back interviews on the radio. I mean, nobody would normally want to speak to some 66-year-old baker, and now that she's been on "Bake Off," well. So I now do Zoom, a lot of Zoom classes, and masses of Zoom classes for people in the U.S. Apparently, we're very big in Minnesota, which is great. I've just been watching the "Fargo" series, so I know a bit about Minnesota now. 

So the Zoom classes — that I don't think I would've ever had the confidence to do before. Food festivals, the requests to do all sorts of baking things. So it's almost, it starts to weigh in a bit because there are five other series, but we still get recognized. People are lovely to us actually. And to have the opportunity to do things that you would never as a normal person would have the opportunity to do, I think is incredibly special.

Jane Beedle's favorite (and least favorite) thing to bake

What is your absolute favorite thing to bake?

Oh bread. I love bread. I think you can only eat so much sweet stuff. But I'm not great at sourdough! I keep killing my starter, so I tend to not do so much sourdough, but bread. It's the sort of thing we eat every day in our house. And you can't beat on the smell, and the variety. So you can make it a sweet bread or chocolate bread or a lovely savory bread or a seedy bread. So bread is my absolute favorite.

Are there any baked goods that you would just assume never make again?

Well, after being in the tent, yes, I would never make dampfnudel. Do you know what dampfnudel is? You look it up. It's German, needless to say, and I failed spectacularly with it. But no, I can't think of anything that I wouldn't bake — I think one of the things about being a baker and being fortunate enough to be a reasonably popular baker is that it spurs me on to try new things and share those new things with people. So I've yet to find anything that I wouldn't bake again, apart from those wretched dampfnudel.

Jane Beedle's tips for aspiring bakers

What are some tips you have for home bakers who want to improve their cooking?

If I'm speaking to a U.S. audience, I would say ditch your [measuring] cups and buy some scales. It's much more accurate and you're much less likely to have issues if you can weigh things out. I would say, take your time. It's an expensive thing if it goes wrong, because there's no turning back; it's not like a savory dish that you can always add something extra to. If your bake has failed in the oven, it goes straight in the bin. So take your time, follow a baker that you trust, or have a cookbook that you trust and make sure you get all your ingredients out beforehand. It's so easy to leave something out, especially if you get distracted, if the kids are around or the cat jumps on the work surface or something. So just make sure you have it all organized, all weighed out, and just take a little bit of time in the preparation.

Are there common mistakes that you see people make when baking?

Well, it does dovetail with the rushing. I think people get nervous about baking and when they're not quite sure about the techniques, they will overwork things or underwork things. And I would say nowadays it's so much easier because you can have a look on YouTube and there will be somebody showing you how to do everything, from the texture of rubbing in pastry or the texture of your custard. So if in doubt, give it a quick Google and then you're much less likely to fail with anything really.

Do you have any favorite kitchen tools or gadgets you can't live without and that you just swear by?

There are two things, and they're not expensive. Apart from a good set of kitchen scales, there are two things that I wouldn't live without and that's the silicone spatula and a metal balloon whisk. I very rarely use electric things just because it's just so much more washing up. Get yourself a spatula and a balloon whisker and you can't go wrong.

Season 12 of "The Great British Bake Off" is now on Netflix, and you can keep up with Jane Beedle by following her on Instagram.