Food: Jane Dunn talks sugar, cake, and the impact of pandemic baking

Blogger Jane Dunn has seen interest in her bakes grow exponentially since the pandemic hit. Ella Walker finds out about her debut cookbook.

Chocolate cheesecake crepes. Pina colada cupcakes. White chocolate biscotti. Chocolate cherry babka. Bakewell blondies. Such bakes – are you lulled into a confectioner’s heaven too?

This is the pattern of food writer Jane Dunn’s debut cookbook, named after her blog, Jane’s Patisserie. Sweet treat after sweet treat; each one seemingly promising comfort, deliciousness and nostalgia.

The 28-year-old has been blogging her bakes for around six-and-a-half years, creating recipes designed to suit all skill levels – hence why she wouldn’t dream of judging you for buying ready-made caramel (it involves far less risk of singeing your fingers on molten sugar), and gladly recommends decorating her no-bake millionaire’s cheesecake with shop-bought millionaire shortbread bites.

Jane’s Patisserie the cookbook presents her easy-breezy chocolate-adoring ethos in paper form – and “you can get it messy!” says Dunn, which means no more coating your phone in flour as you scroll to the next step in the recipe.

Eliminating fear around baking is something that underpins Dunn’s bakes. Each comes with customisable elements, so you can amp up flavour combinations, swap in ingredients you do have for ones you don’t, and avoid having to nip to the shops mid-mix for a missing item.

“I tried to cover all bases so people can just have fun with it, and not be scared,” explains Dunn. “With cooking, you can sort of wing it mostly, but with baking, it is science. So you have to get it right mostly.” She’s hoping her nifty comments and reassuring advice will ease any oven-related concerns. Her honesty around her own cake mishaps help too (“I’ve dropped entire cheesecakes and it’s been quite heart-breaking”).

Dunn grew up in Hampshire, loving baking, a fascination passed onto her by her late grandmother. “My mum always tells me I’m so like her,” she says, emphasising the fun that can come from turning flour, butter, eggs and sugar into something spectacular and shareable. “I like seeing people’s faces – nothing is better than when you arrive at a friend’s house and you’ve brought cookies. If somebody’s having a bad day, a good day, or whatever, they’re gonna go, ‘Ohh!’ And then suddenly, everyone’s just in a different mood.”

Realising her initial plans to study graphic design or architecture at university weren’t to be, Dunn leapt into an “intense” six-month cookery course in Devon, with a view to work on patisserie in restaurants. Cookery school helped her understand that, “I want to do this with my life, completely and utterly”, she says. But the industry is a tough one, and while her peers went into the kitchens of super yachts, Rosette and Michelin starred restaurants, she found she “wasn’t a massive fan” of the lifestyle and began blogging instead.

By April 2020, she’d hit around 200,000 followers, but as the first lockdown drove many of us towards banana bread and comfort baking, more and more people began to discover her blog. “I don’t think I ever could have imagined it. It was surreal,” she says now, with three-quarters of a million Instagram followers to her name. “Everyone was just baking so much stuff every day. It was amazing to see it. I’d get comments from teachers saying, ‘We made this in class over Zoom!’ It was the cutest thing,” she recalls.

Dunn – who is inspired by legends Mary Berry, Nadia Hussain, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith – hopes our renewed appreciation for baking doesn’t wane. “I’d love to see it grow and people to fall more in love with [it].”

Funnily enough, Dunn admits she (shock horror) actually prefers savoury food… “Maybe, probably because I have so much sugar in my life every day, I actually adore savoury food,” she says with a laugh. “I love saltiness. But baking is best to share. Baking is better to bring to a party.” The occasion factor, the way bakes are used to celebrate and adorn an event, is what her recipes revolve around, “so for me, I love savoury foods, but I’m always happy to bake something.”

What she does find problematic is when sugar is demonised, and when people make comments that connect food with guilt and judgement. “I’ve suffered with an eating disorder in the past,” she notes, “so I find it quite difficult when people make those associations.”

Comments like, ‘that’s diabetes on a plate’ she says are unhelpful, potentially harmful and “can be insulting to people who do have diabetes, whether it’s type one or two”. It’s also unnecessary when “everything is about balance, at the end of the day. My recipes are designed to be for an occasion, not something you eat every second of the day.” Within a balanced diet, enjoying the odd slice of cake is perfectly reasonable – “even if it’s full of sugar,” says Dunn, “which I think makes it taste beautiful!

“[Sugar] exists, people enjoy it,” she continues. “And that’s what you should do with food, whether it’s low calorie, high calorie, savoury or sweet.” It’s when someone has the opinion “of food as being scary” that things may have tipped, and professional support may be needed.

Dunn’s bakes focus on bringing the joy, and as you’d imagine, stumble into her kitchen and you’ll find an incredible stash of sweet treats. She buys her baking chocolate in huge bags, and then, because her bakes demand it of course, she’ll “go down the supermarket and buy 10 Terry’s Chocolate Orange, five giant Toblerone…” Her friends and family reckon she has the best snack cupboard that’s ever existed, which is fortunate, because they – and her local coffee shop – help her keep cake waste to a minimum. “Sometimes people think I just make it and throw it away. No, no, no! My friends and family love me because I always have cake available.”

So what’s next for Dunn? “I just want to roll with it and see where my baking takes me,” she says. “I’m a normal person, just chilling, baking cake. But the rate it’s grown, I’m like, how far can this go? It’s just cake! But it’s so much fun.” Dunn looks set to ride that icing wave, and happily take us with her.

Jane’s Patisserie by Jane Dunn is published by Ebury Press on August 5, priced £20. Photography by Ellis Parrinder.

The Herald Scotland

The Herald Scotland

The Herald is a Scottish broadsheet newspaper founded in 1783. The Herald is the longest running national newspaper in the world and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world. The title was simplified from The Glasgow Herald in 1992