The Great British Bake Off interview: Nancy Birtwhistle

The ultimate home baker talks to Radio Times ahead of tonight's final

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How clean is your oven?
I boast a clean oven. Nothing nice comes out of a pigsty. I have dogs, so I clean the kitchen every morning before I bake and again afterwards. In the Bake Off tent, when we’d finished we were sent outside while everything was blitzed and cleaned, and then we would come back in for judging. Amazing! 

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What did you do to prepare for each weekend’s baking?
My method was to get up really early in morning and practise. I would wake up at 5am and do the challenge in real time; there aren’t many five-hour slots in the day you can set aside. The show gave us something like £50 a week to buy what we needed. You can get a lot of ingredients for that. Baking isn’t that expensive.

Did you feel protective of the younger bakers?
I can remember one time when Martha was really wobbling, and I just wanted to remove her from it. She’s incredibly strong and confident, but she was only 17. I have years of thick skin, and was prepared to give as much back if I didn’t think criticism was warranted. But she was too young for that. 

Were you prepared for the reaction to baked Alaska week?
That weekend was fraught, incredibly hot and something happened to everybody – I remember blowtorching my dessert while it was still in the freezer. What happened with Iain and Diana happened, but it wasn’t as if everything was calm and Diana took his ice cream out and left it to melt. It was right next to me, and that ice cream was only out for seconds. When there was this negative response I was quite shocked. Diana was obviously knocked back by the outcry, but I’ve telephoned her since, and she’s all right. 

What has been your proudest bake?
My showstopper jaffa cakes from the first episode. It was week one, I had given myself an awful lot to do, and finished with only ten minutes to spare. Everything was strange, but I was star baker!

What have you learnt from Bake Off?
I’d never developed a recipe of my own, but when I was putting flavours together the judges really liked them, so I’ve learnt to trust my palate. I’ve also learnt about the existence of freeze-dried fruit powder. I always flavoured cream with fresh fruit, but you never get the intensity of flavour and the cream goes runny. Mary told me about it, and it’s a fabulous tip.

What’s next?
I’d like to share the skills I take for granted, whether that’s doing demos or teaching small groups. I’m also interested in engaging children: I’ve got all my eight grandkids baking. One thing I know I won’t be doing full-time is making wedding cakes. I made one for my daughter a month ago, and it was loaded with stress. When I got married we had a fruit cake you could make a year in advance, but young people now want sponge, so everything has to be done at the last minute. I made a three-tier wedding cake: chocolate, lemon and vanilla, covered in fondant and hand-made roses. Not a lot to ask for! 

Paul and Mary’s verdict

Mary says: “Nancy is an absolute perfectionist. She thinks everything through, is very methodical and has great style.”
Paul says: “She’s one of the best home bakers we’ve ever had. She is Mrs Consistent.” 

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The Great British Bake Off final is on BBC1 tonight at 8.00pm