Baking Power!

FRI BAKE OFF: Gary Inman and Natalie Wood
FRI BAKE OFF: Gary Inman and Natalie Wood
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USE your loaf and get those buns out... it’s National Baking Week and Blackpool’s would-be bakers are on a roll.

Locals have learned it’s cheaper by the baker’s dozen as they bin the convenience cakes and get stuck in.

Baking has become the new rock and roll. Supermarkets, smaller specialist outlets and online retailers report record sales of home baking kits set to peak for Christmas.

Blackpool is already a bastion of the born-again cupcake boom, with new outlets opening in a niche market which barely nibbles at the established old world bakery market.

Little House of Cupcakes has just celebrated its second birthday at Fleetwood Road North, Thornton, and is one of the fastest rising success stories on the Fylde coast.

Owner Katie Rawcliffe says: “We’ve had the best time for weddings, and now look forward to a really busy Halloween and Bonfire Night in the run-up to Christmas. We’ve themed the shop and cakes.”

The team bake fresh daily, but Katie reckons the home baking boom runs in tandem with rising sales.

“I baked at home for 18 months before opening here. It was a skill I got from my mother. I think people need things like this when times are hard, it’s cheer-up food rather than comfort food,” she added.

There is also a rising market for bespoke business cupcakes.

Margaret Maddern, of Poulton, took early retirement, but got bored and turned her talent as a baker into a cottage industry.

Now she specialises in macaroons and dainty meringues which look deceptively easy to make, but can be eight days in production, from setting aside the egg whites for up to five days to leaving in the fridge for 48 hours, before and after buttercream or chocolate ganache filling.

“You cannot hurry macaroons; it’s a labour of love, but well worth the trouble,” says Margaret who now offers tuition. She supplies markets, local delis and online, and can be seen at Poulton Farmers Market tomorrow.

Away from all the domestic goddesses – and gods, for guys are getting in on the act – we boast one of the best institutions for bakery training in Britain: Blackpool and The Fylde College.

Around 50 students of all ages attend the bakery and patisserie courses from entry level through to level three (A-level equivalent).

There’s a schools link enabling young people such as Natalie Wood, 15, of Highfield School, to work towards vocational qualifications alongside GCSE study. And it’s all come a long way since those chocolate covered cornflake crispies of old domestic science days.

Natalie adds: “I enjoy it as it’s practical, and I’ve always liked baking. You get to test what you’ve made and take some home for your family to try, too. My favourite thing to make is cheesecake.”

Students take part in the annual Hovis Bakery and Granary Competition and regularly sweep the board there – last year the team won 13 gold medals, including Best Loaf in Show (eat your heart out, Wallace and Grommit), along with six silver and four bronze.

They share the fruits of their labours with the public via Ashfield brasserie and Courtfield restaurant and Loafers, the campus onsite bakery, which sells fresh cakes, breads, pastries and savouries – produced in class – to students, staff and visitors. Local resident Jacqui Beazy says: “Everything is delicious, the cakes are beautiful, but go too quickly. It’s important to support the students. I eat in the restaurant too and am here for lunch today.”

Career prospects are good with newly- qualified bakers chasing work in an industry where production or store managers can earn up to £35,000. Kath James, studying level three bakery and patisserie, adds: “It’s a good idea for people to bake at home as it keep costs down. I try to bake at home as much as I can. I make pies, cookies and all sorts of sweet things – whatever we fancy. It’s easy, people should definitely give it a go. I’m driving a taxi at the moment, but I’m hoping to get a job in a bakery when I’ve got my qualification.”

Gary Inman, the college’s assessor instructor, is a case in point. He started work in an in-store bakery in Marton at 17 years old. After nine years he moved to an artisan bakery in Cleveleys, where he worked for 17 years, leaving as manager. He has been teaching for three years.

Gary adds: “We’ve noticed a rise in demand for our bakery courses, particularly among more mature students. I think it’s partly down to what’s happening on television. There’s an increase in people wanting to be chefs as more became famous. We’ve never had a baker known by name before, but that’s changing now, and the popularity is going up.

“I think baking is rewarding as you take pride in making a product from raw ingredients that other people can eat and enjoy.”

Lancashire’s own celebrity pieman Tom Bridge, author of best selling cookbook Pie Society, says the humble pie is the best place to start. “Brits have been eating pies for 6,000 years, but in many ways they define the northerner. Pie is food at its simplest – and best.”