Baking is sexy.
Cake-, bread- and biscuit-making is no longer bubbe’s domain. A series of whisk-wielding lovelies, headed up by Nigella Lawson and ex-model Lorraine Pasquale, have given it some serious glamour.
The Great British Bake Off attracts millions of drooling viewers each week, and with mixing bowls, cookie cutters and colourful, designer mixers plastered over television screens, glossy magazines and websites, everyone is getting into baking.
And it is not all just food porn. Many are actually getting their hands floury and having a go themselves. Instead of commissioning someone to make their occasion cakes, one group of north-west London women have taken their passion for sweet treats a step further and started a baking club.
“It’s like a book club — but with cake,” says Lindsay Shaerf, whose mother-in-law, Linda Morris founded the group last January.
Linda has always loved baking: “I prefer it to cooking a meal,” she says, as she waits for club members to arrive at her Bushey Heath home for a baking session. “There is something so calming and therapeutic about it.”
So she invited a group of her friends and neighbours to meet monthly to share recipes, skills — and cake. “They were all eager to join in,” she laughs. The women take it in turns to host. “Whoever is hosting also bakes cakes,” says Linda.
Her long kitchen table is covered with pink voile adorned with pretty, vintage-style flowery tea cups and saucers. A row of cake-stands laden with squares of rocky road and lemon drizzle cake line the centre of the table.
The members arrive bearing their home-baked offerings — a gluten- and sugar-free lemon drizzle cake, a huge banana cake topped with fresh banana, and almond rock cakes. The first member, Simone Silver, arrives with her husband staggering under the weight of her home-baked offerings.
But before they can progress to a nosh-up there is work to be done.
“Each time we meet, the hostess shares a skill,” says Linda. Tonight they are going to learn how to make professional-looking iced biscuits. Linda attended a short course on biscuit decorating — “I wanted to do something special for my sons’ aufraufs so learned how to use fondant icing.”
Blue Peter-style she has prepared a range of cookies in shoe, wedding cake, dress and teapot shapes. The group gather around the breakfast bar to learn how to roll icing, and print it with pretty designs. Soon they are busy “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” over cute pink and white biscuits in various designs.
One member of the club, Elisa Margolin, has made pink and white royal icing to pipe onto the biscuits. The young mum is a keen cake decorator. “I’m I make novelty cakes for friends and for my children” she says.
But it is not all about cake. As the women decorate, they chat. “It’s an excuse for a gossip” says Lindsay, who says she has made several new friends through the group.
Another member, Ingrid Salida, adds that: “We, the older generation, are passing on our skills to the younger generation, and they are teaching us.” The group’s ages range from 27 to over 60. At a previous gathering, Ingrid taught some of the younger girls how to make a traditional strudel.
As well as sharing skills, the cake club has led to another project. Five members have formed a committee called the Baking Belles to publish a book of celebrity recipes in support of the Ben Kinsella Trust, which raises awareness of knife crime. The project has been sponsored by television channel Food Network.
The Baking Belles compiled recipes from a diverse range of celebrities — from the Duchess of Cornwall to Lauren Goodger of The Only Way is Essex. A number of top chefs, including Jamie Oliver, Gary Rhodes and Thomas Keller, have also contributed. “We contacted most of them through Twitter,” says Ingrid. “We tested each celebrity recipe and then sent a photo to an illustrator to make a drawing for the book.”
With the work done, the group sit down to tea and the selection of cakes. Each is made from a recipe in the book, including a delicious wheat-free, sugar-free and dairy-free lemon drizzle from Emma Freud, and almond rock buns from chef Richard Corrigan.
Over cake, their thoughts turn to next month. They decide Simone will host and they will concentrate on choux pastry. Not content with profiteroles or eclairs, they decide they will attempt spun sugar and construct a croquembouche – the choux bun tower served at French weddings.
When I leave them, they are still deep in discussion, debating which of the cakes still sitting on Linda’s table will freeze.