Why Britain Has Gone Mad About Baking | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Why Britain Has Gone Mad About Baking

The first rule of cake club is: You ONLY talk about cake.

The second rule of cake club is: Try as many cakes as possible.

OK, so the members of Britain's Clandestine Cake Club may not be pugilistic like those of Chuck Palahniuk's fictional Fight Club, but they're just as hard-core about their chosen obsession. Just listen to founder Lynn Hill:

"There is instant interaction as soon as you slice into a cake," she says. "If a cake is completely covered in frosting, you have no idea what's inside; the moment you slice it, it's suddenly revealed. There's so much engagement with the 'oohs and aahs,' and 'Isn't it amazing?' "

Over the past three years, cake clubs like Hill's have been growing in popularity in the U.K. The concept is similar to a book club — except with cake. Often there's a theme: new recipes only, international or other mandates. Hill, who created her Clandestine Cake Club in 2011 (there are now 168 chapters in the U.K. alone), likes to build excitement by keeping meeting spots secret until the last possible moment.

Members rendezvous regularly at local tea shops and cafes, where they show off their homemade cakes before digging in.

There are no limits on servings, but rookies often forget a key rule: Pace yourself. "I've learned to moderate by having finger slices," she says, "which means no thicker than the width of a finger."

The clubs are just one manifestation of a baking madness that's sweeping Britain.

In the last year alone, some 9 million Britons have taken up baking, according to market research firm Mintel. Indeed, the home-baking market grew a whopping 84 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to Mintel. Increases included sales of all baking-related products, from flour to decorating items, baking tins, mixers, even cake stands.

"Sales of flour were at an all-time high in 2012," says Alex Beckett, senior food analyst for Mintel.

The recession and the rising cost of food in the U.K. are just part of what's making baking so popular. Last summer's London Olympics and the Queen's Diamond Jubilee inspired Brits to bake for street festivals and village fairs to commemorate both events.

And the financial crisis has encouraged the nation to stay at home, finding low-cost leisure activities — including watching cooking shows on TV. "The Great British Bake Off," which premiered in 2010 and tests home bakers on every aspect of baking skill, is also credited for the revival. The show is the most-watched in the history of BBC Two. It's been syndicated in other countries, including the U.S., where it's set to air this month.

"Every charity and school is now doing a bake-off," says London-based chef Eric Lanlard, who was one of the hosts. "One program really changed the way people think about baking. Every food magazine has had a cake on the cover in the last two years. We've never seen that before."

Baking's so hip these days that, when 31-year-old Chris Holmes decided to quit his job as an airport immigration officer to become a full-time baker, he wrote his resignation letter in icing on a cake — an image that quickly went viral.

Baking, says Holmes, is "an antidote to modern life." Hands getting dirty cracking eggs and mixing flour are too busy to check email, which Holmes says, is a big part of the attraction. (Funny enough, that was also part of the appeal of fight club for the characters in Palahniuk's novel.)

"Everyone's glued to their smartphones, consuming so much of this digital stuff," says Holmes. "It's nice to be creative in your own kitchen. ... It makes you feel alive."

Hill's local cafe in Leeds, The Arch, regularly hosts Clandestine Cake Club meetings. It recently began selling cakes based on recipes from the club's newly published cookbook, more than 70,000 of which have been sold since February. Manager Fiona Rotherhay says she's had to double production every week to keep up with customer demand. "The ginger syrup cake," she says, "has sold amazingly well."

Lanlard says he doesn't care what people bake. He's thrilled to see the baking industry get such recognition.

"Last year, for the first time, they did a cake and bake show in London," he says. "This year, they're doing a three-day show to accommodate all the interest. This would never have happened before. We go there and we're like rock stars."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.


Living Small In The City: With More Singles, Micro-Housing Gets Big

Single people represent the fastest growing category of households in the U.S. That's made small dwellings — from micro-apartments to stand-alone tiny houses, a niche force in the real estate market.

Don't Be Fooled By The Fishy Ingredients: This Burger Is Delicious

Chef Marcus Samuelsson has a ritual whenever he travels to a new place — ask the cabdriver, "Where do you eat?" When he did that on a trip to Barbados, he fell in love with a fish sandwich.
WAMU 88.5

Hogan Refutes Claims That His Charter-School Bill Is A Union Buster

More than half of the state's 47 charter schools are located in Baltimore, and Hogan believes making it easier for more to open there — and elsewhere in Maryland — would help close the widening achievement gap between white students and students of color.

FCC Approves New Rules Intended To Protect Open Internet

The Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines — 3 to 2 — to approve new net neutrality rules that would regulate access to the Internet more like a public utility.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.