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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 23 April, 2014

Column: Why I love baking – from measuring flour to licking the spoon

With the Great Irish Bake-Off due to start in 2013, Rosanne Hewitt-Cromwell explains why baking has made a resurgence in the recession.

Rosanne Hewitt-Cromwell

Recently, there has been an influx of baking on our TV screens. Programmes like The Great British Bake Off have captured the imagination of people who have never even seen an oven, and the Irish version is due in 2013. So what has people measuring their flour and icing their cakes again? Rosanne Hewitt-Cromwell explains why she thinks baking is so popular:

THE POPULARITY OF home baking has been on the rise over the past couple of years. With viewer figures surpassing 6.5 million for the final episode in the latest series of The Great British Bake Off this should come as no surprise.  The show, which has just finished its third series, sees contestants compete against each other in three baking challenges. One contestant is eliminated weekly to crown Britain’s greatest amateur baker in the final.

There is a rule in this house that during that one hour of programming each week there has to be silence. It is my ultimate televisual pleasure and I cannot wait for the Great Irish Bake Off to air in 2013.

Popular past time

While baking is popular amongst both males and females, in my experience it is women who primarily bake on a regular basis. Why the recent increase in the popularity of baking? There are a number of reasons in my opinion. We have been faced with austere times in recent years, and when belts are tightened the first things for the chop are usually luxury items. Baked goods can be expensive, especially if you want to buy quality, but baking at home can reduce costs to a fraction of that of shop bought.

In addition, home baking allows a much tighter control over the ingredients that go into the mix. Breads and cakes left to sit on a supermarket shelf for days on end require preservatives and chemicals to keep them fresh for longer, but the need for these added ingredients is eradicated with home baking. I know that in our house the cake tin doesn’t stay full for long – not even a crumb lingers long enough to turn blue. If you are feeding people with a food intolerance or allergy home baking allows for the substitution of ingredients so that bread and treats can be made gluten or dairy free etc, meaning dietary requirements can easily be catered for.

Recession baking

Financial and health benefits aside, baking also boasts a social aspect. As the trend for entertaining at home continues it offers a prime opportunity to show off your culinary prowess. What better way to round off an evening spent with family or friends than presenting a delicious confection to the table, a little something that you “just whipped up” earlier in the day?

In addition the number of cake clubs, clandestine or otherwise, is on the rise. Dotted throughout the country, groups of friends or strangers for that matter, gather to sample the wares baked by each member. Not only is this a great way to sample lots of different cakes, it also offers an opportunity to pick up valuable tips and new ideas to add to your baking repertoire.

For me however, the main draw with baking is the comfort and nostalgia that it evokes. I have lost track of the amount of times that I have sampled a treat, still warm from the oven, and been whisked back in time to a special moment. Food is very evocative, and in these days of economic instability it has the power to instantly transport you to more certain times of the past. Apple tart reminds me of Sunday dinner; sitting around the table stuffed to bursting, but with just enough room for a generous slice topped off with fresh cream. Pavlova reminds me of sunny summer days; they existed in my youth you know, and my sister’s birthday. And the smell of a Christmas cake baking… well if I close my eyes I am once again tucked up in bed, the scent of the warming spices filling the house as the cake bakes late into the night.

Licking the spoon

A perfect rainy day and budget friendly activity to engage in with children, it feeds their curiosity and appetite for learning. It helps to build their confidence in the kitchen, equipping them with basic skills that will later prove invaluable. More important than that though, those moments spent together, mixing, folding, licking the spoon, fall straight into the memory bank to be summoned up in the future.

Baking is a skill that you can easily teach yourself from the comfort of your own kitchen. It may take a little patience and practice, and you might encounter a few soggy bottoms along the way, but I think it is definitely worth persevering. Methodically measuring out ingredients, gently folding flour through a mixture or the repetitive nature of kneading bread dough are all soothing actions and great stress busters. Serving a perfectly risen cake to a table full of family or friends and listening to the silent appreciation as they tuck in with gusto, can fill you with a wonderful sense of achievement. So get into the kitchen, break a few eggs, engulf yourself in a cloud of flour and have some fun.

Rosanne Hewitt-Cromwell is from Dublin and writes a blog, likemamusedtobake.com.

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