Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Baking-Obsessed Britain (but what about the boys?)

It is undeniable that we Brits are completely and utterly obsessed with baking. From cupcakes to cookies... You name it, we've made it. Or tried to anyway. Thanks largely to undisputedly one of the most popular shows of 2012, The Great British Bake Off, the UK has witnessed a huge resurgence, revival and - I'll even go so far to say - revolution in home-baking.

But watching baking on TV isn't just escapism or for the thrill of schadenfreude when someone produces the cardinal sin of GBBO, a soggy bottom (*gasp*) - we genuinely are getting off our sofas and into our kitchens. We're stocking up on baking powder and treating ourselves to cute muffin cases, resulting in an incredible boom in sales of both bakeware and ingredients. And judging by the recent birthday lists of my friends and I (no, we’re not too old for lists), students have played a key part in this new-found desire for sieves, silicon cases and self-raising flour.

Bake clubs are the new book clubs. Mary Berry appears to have single-handedly revived the WI. Baking is the new therapy; it makes us nostalgic for our childhood. Of course, the fact that we're all feeling the economic pinch may have played a part in this unexpected trend - an afternoon spent rustling up cookies in the kitchen not only saves money on going out for entertainment, but also saves you buying cookies. Win-win! Unless you burn said cookies, that is.

I imagine the incredible British summer of 2012 also played a role in encouraging the masses to dust off their KitchenAids (or Wilkos equivalent, as the case may be for many of us.) The idea of patriotic parties with home-made cakes and Union Jack bunting galore was just too quaint an idea for many of us to resist. Nowadays when we go over to friends' for dinner, we don't take a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates; we take home-baked goods - cheaper, more thoughtful and more delicious (well, they should be, if you've avoided the dreaded soggy bottom.)

According to a survey by Mintel, by the end of 2012, 9 million Brits were baking more than they were a year earlier. Interestingly, however, it really does seem to be students that are leading the revival: more 16-24 year olds regularly bake from scratch (79% of us actually) than those over 55 (70%). And I think there’s more to this than just the fact that we’re broke, bored and hungry.

Yes, baking is now cool, and no longer associated purely with grannies. Think of Radio 1 DJ, Fearne Cotton, who regularly talks about her baking escapades on air (or on Twitter.) Take a look through your Twitter or Facebook newsfeed on any given day, and - especially if you follow me - you'll probably be bombarded with yummy looking pictures of home-baked goods. Instagrammed, naturally.

But while my newsfeeds are full of baking pictures, I'm left wondering why they're all by my female friends. Is there a stigma attached to baking? Men are chefs, women make cakes, that’s what people often think. Why do these backwards, sexist stereotypes still exist? Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, but it does seem like men are more timid about sharing the fact that they may secretly love to bake (in the same way they may love Sex and the City – I mention no names, but you know who you are.)

Let us consider the last series of GBBO, which had an all-male trio in the final (and two of which were students, reinforcing my previous point about us young'uns). Did these men merely buck the trend? I have to admit that upon discovering the opening line up for the series was a 50/50 male-female split, I thought the men must have had an easier ride to the TV show, and were merely there so the BBC didn't appear sexist. I was wrong. But why had society led me to think that way? Perhaps GBBO is a sign that things are starting to change.

Then there's the George Clooney of the baking world, if you will: silver fox, Paul Hollywood. He's the Simon Cowell to Mary Berry's Cheryl Cole, adding a macho touch to breads, pastries and pies, capturing the hearts of women round the nation with every icy glare he gives and every dough he kneads. Paul Hollywood is not a wishy-washy flower of a man, he is a manly man. Yet even he doesn't seem to be enough to convince our men to step away from their oh-so-macho barbecues and roast beef, and to enter the baking world.

Just like the rest of Great Britain, I absolutely adore Mary Berry. And just like pretty much all British women, I was saddened by her recent comments, in which she said she doesn't want women's rights. Could feminism be moving backwards?

I think it's safe to say that men enjoy a slice of cake as much as us girls. According to Tom Junod from Esquire, "You don't need a cookbook to cook, but you can't bake without one, so there's something sort of sex-manual-y about baking" - and as we know, men will NEVER ask for direction. It also seems like bread, pastries and savoury pies are deemed more acceptable for men to make, but sugary sweet cakes have girlier connotations.

Not every cake has to be covered in pink icing, edible glitter and love hearts, even if that is what many of us girls would like. Rest assured, a boy who bakes will always go down a treat with the girls, so when will baking lose its sexist stigma? And why do so few boys bake?

Read this article on the Huff Post here: Sexism and Students in Baking-Obsessed Britain.

Check out my profile on the Huff post here.


  1. Great post! I am currently baking for a Valentine's gift, even following one of Hollywood's recipes...but so far it is disastrous!


    1. Thank you. Ooh good luck with your Valentine's baking... I hope it turns out well (and it's the thought that counts anyway, right?) :) X


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