Comment: Let’s Bake Off some local specialities

Judges of The Great British Bake Off Paul Hollywood (left) and and Mary Berry (right). Picture: PA
Judges of The Great British Bake Off Paul Hollywood (left) and and Mary Berry (right). Picture: PA
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Either the BBC’s obsession with balance and fairness has reached a peak, or the new series of the Great British Bake Off reveals something very interesting is happening in kitchens up and down the land.

In a development that will shake the foundations of the WI, half of the contestants in the new series starting next week are men.

It’s encouraging to see so many blokes being part of the baking renaissance. While commercial bakers have usually been men, the majority of baking in the home has traditionally been done by women.

I like cooking but not baking because I don’t like being told what to do, so find it hard to stick to a recipe. Caster sugar is substituted for brown sugar and self-raising and plain flour are pretty much interchangeable in my book.

The results are rarely successful or pretty, but that is because the chemistry behind baking simply doesn’t lend itself to experimentation in the same way that cooking does. Men like me seem unable or unwilling to grasp this fact.

However, others are following the recipe and weighing and measuring with care and attention. And not just young bearded baking blokes, obsessed with producing the perfect focaccia.

Flying the flag for Scotland in this year’s Bake Off is Norman Calder, 67, from Portknockie in Moray. The son of a baker, he didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and instead joined the Merchant Navy. However, in his retirement, he is on a mission to save traditional Scottish baking skills he believes are under threat. He has a point.

While baking is booming and men are lining up with women to show their skill and ability, what’s being baked is often disappointing. Thankfully the dreary cupcake seems to have finally had its day, but banana cake and carrot cake are ready to take its place on the shelf marked ubiquitous.

What’s missing are the regional specialities that helped make us a great baking nation. On Bake Off, Norman is looking forward to sharing some of his favourite local traditional recipes like butter biscuits and his father’s Garibaldi scones. More than anywhere else in the UK, Scotland has a fantastic history of local baking specialities, but these are under threat of being forgotten in the haste to produce another flaming lemon drizzle cake.

In her just published book Scottish Baking, Sue Lawrence revives some of these fantastic delicacies, including fatty cutties from Orkney, raggie biscuits from Fife, brides bonn from Shetland and the always splendid Ecclefechan tart. “Baking seems to be the new rock’n’roll but it has never really gone out of fashion in Scotland,” she told me.

So good luck to Norman in his quest to become Britain’s next Bake Off king. If he can revive interest in some local delicacies and get the rest of us baking Selkirk bannocks and Aberdeen butteries along the way, then everyone will be a winner.