Jane Lewis is a South Wales baking legend; from her famous doughnuts to stunning custom three-tiered cakes, we get hungry every time one of her beautiful bakes graces our Instagram feeds.
We sat down with Jane to chat with her about her baking journey, mum life and what inspires her.
How long have you been baking?
Since I had the kids, I would say. I always baked when I was a kid, helping mum out in the kitchen, but mainly playing with bits of pastry she’d cut off things and making those into biscuits. But I started baking more seriously when I had Jake. He’ll be 13 in June.
My career as a beauty therapist ended almost overnight. It was a mobile beauty unit, and I used to see people and talk all day. And then you’re at home with a baby and it’s just like overnight your life has changed. Baking gave me something to focus on, to learn new things and just use my brain a bit. So that’s when I would say it seriously started. Now, I try to do something new every week or just have a project on the go.
Do you think it was a kind of nesting instinct? It’s such a domestic thing.
I don’t know. It wasn’t so much about feeding the family as doing something for myself. I felt like I’d lost my identity a bit and I felt like I wasn’t using my brain either. I just needed something to zone out. I’m pretty sure I had post-natal depression, but only looking back now can I see that. When you’re baking you don’t really think about anything, it just takes you into another zone. It’s like mindfulness.
What or who made you get into baking?
My mum, grandma and nanny all baked a lot. I think everybody in the family. Even my brother bakes, actually. We all dabble in the kitchen, my dad is the only one that doesn’t. But yes, we’re used to having homemade stuff around all the time!
We used to come home from school and there was always some sort of sponge or cake on the go, and weekends were more of a dessert thing. I think mum used to do desserts on a Sunday. I can remember we used to be eating the leftovers on a Sunday night because I’d always eaten too much. Puddings are a weekend thing, so I do have a massive love for puddings.
When I started to bake full-on, it was the same year that the Great British Bake Off started. That was a massive inspiration as well because seeing the different themes every week made me think, well, maybe I’ll try that, and that’s how I started making all these different things at home. Trying something from one theme one week, or whatever the technical challenge was that week.
I have a theory that everyone is either a starter person or a dessert person. Are you a dessert person?
It depends on the menu. I’ll always look at the dessert first and then decide backwards. If there’s a starter I like, I’ll go all three. If there’s goat's cheese on the starter I’m having it. I think I’d miss the main if I could, but overall I’d go all three!
How, when and why did you start Baked by Jane?
I think it’ll be about 9 years, because my little one was about 1 year old. It just got to the point where, with that extreme baking at home, people were like, why don’t you make a business of this?
I couldn’t really go back to doing mobile beauty because the kids were so dependent on me, and it used to be really long hours and late nights. I just used to never be home. So with having two little ones and no childcare; I tried to go back to it but the cost of creche just didn’t make it worth the hours I’d be out, and then people cancel on you, so sometimes you’d be working for nothing. So at least with the baking, I could bake while the children were asleep or in their nap times or with them hanging off my leg, crying at me.
As they’ve gotten older, it’s kind of grown and got to the point where the business has taken over now. Now i’m never home again! But they’re older, they don’t mind.
At least it happened organically rather than a ‘needs must’ situation.
Yeah, and it’s been a very long, slow process. There’s been so many points over the last 9 years where i’ve thought, is this worth it? Because doing that staggered way of working where i’d do it inbetween all the other things that i’ve got to do being a mum, you feel like you’re not getting much done but you’re working constantly, and i wasn’t earning very much, either. But i’m glad i stuck with it because it’s got to the point where it is finally paying off and i’m finally getting somewhere after nearly 10 years.
Tell me a little bit about your training at The Bertinet Kitchen Cookery School.
So I started going there maybe 5 years ago. It was the first thing i’d ever done where I’d really left the kids on their own after all these years, so it was the first thing i’d done for myself. It was really nice because they’ve kind of taken me under their wing since then and i’ve become friends with them, and i ended up doing a week’s course there, which i never thought i’d get the opportunity to do. It was a lot of money for me to save up, but it was something i wanted to do. But it has been lifechanging because it put me on a different career. Before that, i wasn’t really thinking of it as a serious job, i just loved baking. But after doing that week there it was like, this is really what i want to do.
I’ve been lucky enough to go back there and do a week’s work experience and do some other stuff with them, so it’s been really lovely. And they’ve looked after me, encouraged me and pushed me outside of my comfort zone, so i’m very lucky to have had that experience as well. And he [Richard Bertinet] is a really knowledgeable and a lovely guy, so it has been really nice. That’s the only real training i’ve had, because i don’t even know where people go to train as bakers or chefs but when you’ve got kids it’s not really an option to go to some fancy college for a year or whatever. It’s been worth every penny, i would say. So highly recommend that, as well.
Were there any specific highlights from your time there?
I think when i did the week of bread, which is the first time i’d actually stayed away from the kids, that was 5 days in Bath and I was so nervous about having that week away, but it was like finding a bit of myself again. You sort of forget who you are a bit and I met this girl Sabrina on the first day and we immediately hit it off and spent the week together. It was so nice and in the end i didn’t actually want to go home. I was having such a nice time i was just like, can i stay here?
Sabrina’s gone back to Corsica and is now a pastry chef, but we’ve stayed friends. It was a turning point for us both; she’s gone into her career and i’ve gotten into baking here, so we’ve both gone in different directions but we still keep in touch. So that’s the really nice thing about going there, is there’s so many other people i’ve met doing courses, and some people i haven’t even met, we just know each other over instagram, and they know we’ve both done courses there. And it’s like this community of fans, if you like. We all help each other out with recipes or advice. It’s really nice, every time i go on a course i seem to make new friends, which is really lovely. Like a support network of baking buddies.
What’s your favourite thing to bake?
If somebody comes over, i hate it if i haven’t got something homemade to offer them. So cookies would be my go-to. And i love eating cookies! Warm cookies are just the best. But pastries… i love pastries… i love bread, too. I can’t choose one. Depends on my mood. And i love making focaccia. I love all sweet things but pastries are one of my favourite things to eat, as well. I think pastry is my first love, especially things like croissants and pain au chocolats and danish pastries. Yum. those are my favourite things, i just don’t get to do it very often and they take time.
Who’s your favourite person or people to bake for?
I do love feeding family. Kids don’t appreciate it, i will say that! But when my dad and everybody comes over on boxing day, that’s a big thing. We used to go to his house before we all had kids. His house is very small and we’ve all had children, so it’s not as child friendly. So they now come to me. And even though my house is small, the kids can just run riot, so i love feeding all of them on boxing day and i go all out and make everything from scratch, and it’s so nice to see people enjoying everything. So i do loads of desserts, and seeing everyone enjoy is just so satisfying.
Do you cook?
I do. I used to cook before I baked and was more into cooking years ago. When the children were babies I used to make all of their purees from scratch, all of their food. I remember cooking things from my Gordon Ramsay books and pureeing it, and it was just like, these kids don’t know how good they’ve got it. But whatever I put in front of them, they’re just like, I don’t like that, or, oh not this again. I think they’ve stolen the joy of cooking!
I used to love feeding people but when you’re getting constant bad feedback from the kids… they’re a tough crowd. So it’s more baking i bring joy from, because i dread asking what they want for dinner or what they want to eat, because they’ll just respond with pizza.
Whereas if you say you’ve got brownies for pudding…
That’s the first thing they’ll ask, "what’s for pudding?"
What’s your favourite weird food combination?
I don’t think I really eat anything weird weird. I’m quite traditional. The only thing that’s cropped up recently where i’ve spoken to a few people about this, is I used to have cheese and jam sandwiches when i was little, but I didn’t know if that was a weird thing. I always used to have raspberry jam with cheese but people have confirmed to me that it is normal!
What do you listen to while you bake?
If I have my way, I’ll have Radio 1 on, because I’m still clinging onto my youth! I do love a kitchen rave, that keeps me going. Especially when you’re really tired and need to get stuff done, having a bit of a dance around the kitchen just helps you forget that you’re tired once you start having a sing to yourself, and just get it done. I wish i had disco lights, that would be really cool.
What’s your go-to coffee order?
I’m a latte girl.
How do you brew coffee at home?
In a french press, nothing fancy. I don’t know if we do it right, there’s probably a science behind that.
Thanks so much Jane for coming to talk to us!
If you'd like to see more of Jane's recipes or just drool over pictures of her latest bakes, check out her blog or her Instagram.
Very proud of Jane and all she has done!! ( Baked by Jane’s Dad)