The Great British Bake Off – or What Brown Owl Never Told Me

The home page of today’s Daily Mail online has stark news for its readers. Brits are over-baking their cream horns by up to ten minutes. It’s Bake Off season! Which is why cream horns have made it to the top of the agenda.

What has happened in the world of baking is properly a sign of the times. Back in the seventies, the shop-bought cake ruled.

In our house, the Fondant Fancy with its frilly casing and soft, sugary nipple was top of the list of treats.  Slightly lower down but still desirable was the Cherry Bakewell and the Battenburg. 

Those mouthfuls of empty calories, stabilisers and preservatives danced about my imagination as I waited for the school day to end. Which of them would be waiting for me on my arrival home?

By contrast, my mother’s jam tarts, misshapen and invariably slightly burned, lacked glamour and spoke of weeks where the housekeeping had gone on something more pressing; a new pair of platform sandals, perhaps.

To be fair, she did try. Like many mothers she subscribed to ‘Family Circle’ magazine which throbbed with recipes, most of which started with a tin of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup and ended with a glass of Andrews Liver Salts.

When I arrived at Brownies, I was surprised to discover that many of my peers enjoyed home baked goods and that lots of them spent time in the kitchen with their mothers, learning to bake fairy cakes. 

These girls did not have to paint their mother’s toe nails or pluck her eyebrows or check for any stray hairs in her chin.

Becoming a Gnome (I’d actually wanted to be a Pixie but ‘you don’t always get what you want’ was just another lesson I took home from the Brownies) was a real eye opener.

The Hostess badge has probably changed quite a lot since the seventies, but back then, we had to invite the vicar and his wife for tea and serve them things we’d made ourselves.

I made a pretty invitation and a batch of barely edible rock cakes. Mother had decided these would be easiest as there was no butter icing involved. The fewer processes involved, the fewer things to go wrong, right?

I could have gone into arms sales with my rock cakes.

The vicar however, did not let on and instead drank more than a usual amount of my very good tea. (I was well practised in tea – it was something I made in between painting my mum’s toenails and plucking her eyebrows.)

His wife declined the rock cakes claiming that she was ‘reducing’ which is a word you don’t hear much now, probably because not enough people are doing it.

The upshot of my childhood experience is that I don’t bake. I believe I can’t bake. I wish I could bake.

I watch Mary and Paul saunter around the Great British Bake Off tent judging the contestants as they concoct ever more fantastical creations and I have a pang of jealousy.

It’s not that I haven’t tried. I have. In one eight hour period of my life I made Nigella’s buttermilk sponge three times.

Every one of them went in the bin.

The reason I am jealous… Have you seen the price cupcakes are commanding? What Brown Owl didn’t tell me as I wrestled with the cake mix, was that thirty odd years down the line, people would be making profits the size of Venezuela out of cake.

She didn’t think to tell me that one outsize fairy cake, topped with something we would come to call ‘frosting’ would sell for three times the cost of a box of eight Fondant Fancies!

Or that Fondant Fancies would become ‘French’ Fancies (though this could all change again post-Brexit.)

Maybe it didn’t occur to her either that one day we’d all be glued to a TV show watching grown men cry over creme pat.

I don’t know what state your cream horn is in, but I have every intention of getting to grips with mine.

You may also like