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Open Features: Cup Cake Cult

"Why is there such an upsurge of interest in the - let’s face it – rather boring bun?'' muses Mary Pilfold-Allan in this tasty column.

How on earth did the cup cake cult catch on? Once upon a time, desperate mothers with little time to spare and even less cash, beat up a plain sponge-type recipe, spooned the mixture into a dozen paper cases and popped them into the oven. Hey presto, a few minutes later out came buns that, with a bit of icing on the top, kept the kids going in the fractious time between arriving home from school and the evening meal.

The grander sounding name of cup cake, complete with bright yellow icing was, when my children were small, attached to a product manufactured by a certain mass bakery and came in a
cardboard box with cellophane lid so that the tops winked out at customers rather like traffic lights stuck on caution.

Now the world has gone crazy and a whole art form has taken off around cup cakes. At summer fetes the traditional, much loved Victoria sponge is sidelined in favour of …you guessed it, the best decorated cup cake. Shop window displays are given over to pyramids of cup cakes and I have lost count of the number of magazine covers that have featured a…cup cake. As for cake stands, those three tiers of decorative plates so beloved of the Edwardian era and high tea on the terrace, they are now part of the modern woman’s ‘must-have’ china cupboard. The sad thing is that, no stretch of the imagination could account for the number currently on sale. Many have been manufactured by eager vendors keen to meet demand and are fashioned from pretty plates by the judicious use of a drill and an adapting kit.

Why is there such an upsurge of interest in the - let’s face it – rather boring bun? Indeed, the same question could be asked of the whole concept of baking where hitherto unknown ‘bakers’ have taken on the status of celebrities? If being able to turn out a decent cake or pound a piece of dough into submission until it rises to become something edible constitutes ‘star’ quality, then there are enough stars in the world to rival the galaxy.

Before the ability to stroll into a supermarket and pick up a trolley load of biscuits, bread and cakes, the average housewife expected to spend some hours each week baking. In the 1970s and 80s with four ever hungry children to satisfy I produced batches of bread on an almost daily basis, not to mention several cakes, tea breads and trays of pies and tarts each week. Today if someone bakes a cake, dippity-do-dah, everyone hold your breath and gaze in wonderment!

Do I sound like an old cynic? So be it but there comes a time of life when watching someone bake a cake as television entertainment seems a trifle short on exercising the brain cells. The same can be said for opening the pages of a certain supermarket magazine and being confronted by a young lady of no known fame other than her relationship to a genuine high profile person. There she is teaching readers how to prepare dishes long since relegated to the boring bracket by any average cook. Come on supermarket, wake up and realise you have been duped by a public relations company who clearly have a misread your customer base.

Baking is a skill, it is also a pleasant way of pleasing the family and offering something homemade to friends; it can also be a comfort. The amount of fuss and false glamour being attributed to it and to the people promoting it at the moment is just bazaar.

The media have hyped the business of baking to an unimaginable level and it is possibly at a point where it might just crash and burn. Personally if I never see another cup cake I will count myself fortunate, and as for those baking programmes, like the fastest shot in the wild west, I am a dab hand at the off bottom on the remote control.


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