So as the nation stands poised in anticipation of yet another Bake Off Final this week, I can’t help but wonder how this has happened. As a builder, a graphic designer and a Nancy hold our undivided attention I again ask myself how cake has become such a prominent part of our lives..how it has transcended so many dietary and nutritional taboos to become hip, cool and socially acceptable. And I’m pretty sure it’s not just Mary Berry’s skinny jeans and bomber jackets!
As the mother of a nearly 5 year old, cake in so many ways represents every single dietary contradiction in the book. And yet as a mother, you find cake becoming a very important part of your life. Any mum in today’s society will tell you of the constant dilemmas you face on a daily basis in deciding what to let your little one consume. Peer and social pressure to only to feed your children ‘the good stuff’ and that means no salt, no sugar and only reasonable amounts of fat, means you have to be vigilant, read the labels and try to become knowledgable about what is in particular products…because if you don’t, you can be sure some well meaning other mother is going to put you right! As an amalgamation of at least 2 of those forbidden substances, it always seems strange to me that the blind eye is cast when the flour, eggs and butter cream comes out at the weekly coffee dates, and that a large part of the charitable sector is funded purely by feeding cakes and biscuits to children. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great. It’s all about balance, family values and fun and I think that cake and baking represent all of those things. It just fascinates me to see so many contradictions!
Perhaps it is because I have never been a cakey or a bakey person and yet, like the rest of the nation, am gripped by the weekly goings on in the tent. It is the highlight of my televisual week and I can’t wait to see what delights are produced. As a working woman cake seldom if ever graced my life. Now that is not because I lived a healthy and wholesome existence. It is purely because my diet consisted of skipping breakfast, a Sainsbury’s sarnie for lunch and cheese and toast and a bottle of Sav Blanc for tea. I neither craved nor desired cake. But from the moment those hormones start racing around your body in anticipation of motherhood, all of that changes. Your life is crazy busy with little time to eat, and playdates and coffee mornings become the new reality. Lovely as that sounds, for about the first 5 years these are extremely stressful. Chasing small children around cafes and other people’s houses on a damage limitation operation does not make for a relaxing experience. And the only thing that seems to reduce that stress at times is a big mouthful of something chocolatey and butter creamy. Unfortunately what inevitably happens in these situations is that that pile of chocolate and butter cream usually also ends up in small child, making for more stress, chaos and tantrums! So wouldn’t it be better to avoid the combination of the two in the first place I often wonder.
Personally, coming from German extraction, where Kaffee und Kuchen is still enjoyed as a deliciously guilt free daily experience, the combination of a nice doughy base, with plums, apples or cherries, topped in a nutty streusel is my idea of heaven. And surely a little more healthy too. As a child that really was my only experience of cake bar the Sunday swiss roll accompanying The Antiques Roadshow. My mother was never a baker, and nor am I. Despite the yearly attempt to produce a suitable 3-D construction to grace my daughter’s birthday party table, the supporting cake is often bordering on inedible, as the aforementioned mother has often pointed out to me. Cannon balls was the word she once used to describe my home made hot crossed buns.
So caking and baking is something that has definitely come to me through motherhood. During those long and sometimes tedious pre-school years, the foolish and the brave inevitably often find themselves embarking on various baking projects with their small person. I think Ella was only about 2 the first time I decided in desperation to give it a go. Anyone who does this will know that the amount of time spent on the baking is directly proportional to the amount of time you will spend clearing up the mess. I think by my calculations, the clearing up takes at least 4 times as long as the actual baking itself, and that includes sweeping up the ocean of sprinkles on the kitchen floor. The sound of sprinkles hitting the deck still evokes in me the same feeling as when somebody runs their fingers down a blackboard – it is like breaking glass. Slightly sinister and patience eroding! But delighted faces licking pink icing off their little fingers is all worthwhile, and since my baking efforts are pretty much all inedible, we then don’t face the dilemma of having to eat the fruits of our labour in any case.
So as I plan birthday cake number 5, hoping to be inspired by television’s new ‘cocaine’ this week, I will be doing so with a smile. That smile will represent the knowledge that every other mother of a child of similar age will be going through the same process at some point in the year. Because we all feel that we must produce some sort of birthday creation to delight and surprise. And let’s face it even those of us that are rubbish bakers can’t deny the array of products in the supermarkets these days offering us absolutely no excuses at all not to give it a go! It’s easy. It’s child’s play and it still puzzles the hell out of me!