Let them eat cake
There is some debate about the origins of that comment, but many attribute it to Marie-Antoinette, the Queen Consort of Louis XVI who supposedly uttered the phrase ('Qu'ils mangent de la brioche') when informed that the French population had no bread to eat….so make that brioche if you want to be precise . One thing is for sure, that regardless of the years that have passed our love of cake has certainly not dwindled and as for baking, well, there is a current obsession sweeping the globe. Who or what should be held responsible for our current fascination for all things crumbly and delicious?
No doubt series like Great British Bake Off in the UK which pulled in more than 12.1 million viewers on BBC One for the recent season six finale, more than for the World Cup , have played a part. Familiar faces like Gordon Ramsay and his ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ and ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ series have proved popular internationally, he has also been a judge on the BBC inspired series MasterChef which has attracted worldwide attention. Not to mention numerous other culinary extravaganzas like Barefoot Contessa, Cake Wars, Chopped, Top Chef Masters, The Kitchen, Chef’s Table and many more.
We’re not just sticking to our original mainstream channels to digest salivating ideas, the latter series premiered on Netflix exclusively and profiles world-renowned chefs in each of the six mouth-watering episodes. Not to mention social media platforms, particularly Instagram, which has us ogling on a regular basis over visual jaw-dropping gourmet creations - many of which have been created by mere average Joe’s in the comfort of their own home, not top notch chefs. Buxom chefs like Nigella Lawson, Irish favourite Rachel Allen and the Food Network Queen, Rachael Ray, have helped eradicate the dowdy image of female cooks from decades past. This has paved the way for ever increasing new talent like Cat Cora who found fame thanks to her Iron Chef America success and ex-model Kim Barnouin and her attractive business partner Rory Freedman who founded the Skinny Bitch series . Whilst chefs like Jamie Oliver, Wolfgang Puck and Bobby Flay are breaking the traditional mould and making cooking, particularly hearty daily meals and baking, more appealing for your average male.
What’s driving our obsession with baking and cooking though? A creative release from the day-to-day stresses of life? According to Dr Alan Hirsch, a neurologist and founder of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago it comes down to nostalgia. "We found that the smell of baked goods was the number-one odour that made people nostalgic for their childhood," he explains. He found that the phenomenon occurs in two distinct situations - at times of political upheaval or during economic downturns. In times of difficulty or distress, targeting our sense of smell is the quickest way to alter our emotional state. I think that the resurgence of baking is an attempt to re-establish nostalgic feelings for the past when people feel safe and secure," says Dr Hirsch
Of course we can’t ignore the significant historical part pastry has also played in satisfying our sweet tooth and driving our sugar and butter addictions. ‘Patisserie’ remains a legally controlled title in France and Belgium that can only be used by bakeries who employ culinary artists or ‘maître pâtissiers’ (master pastry chefs) as they are best known. Although pastry has ancient Mediterranean roots, we can also thank our French ancestors and affiliates for developing the choux and puff pastry.
It is thought that around the 15th Century Marie de Medici played a role in bringing puff pastry from Tuscany to Paris, but the world-renowned Croissant is believed to be based on a Viennese kipferl brought to Paris by August Zang in the late 1830s who went on to open his ‘Boulangerie Viennoise’ on Rue de Richelieu, thus inspiring the term ‘Viennoiserie’ . It is Antonin Careme (1784-1833) though who is generally recognised as having elevating French pastry to an art form after the fall of the monarchy. The new bourgeoisie were keen on the aristocratic life and its indulgences which was aided by the abolition of guilds, giving rise to a new class of bakers and pastry-cooks who could innovate. Come 1869, the buttery flaky phenomenon that is the croissant formed the foundation of Parisian breakfasts and Charles Dickens acknowledge it in his periodical ‘All The Year Round’ 1872 as the bread of the workman and the soldier ("the workman's pain de ménage and the soldier's pain de munition, to the dainty croissant on the boudoir table")
The Canadian bakery market is expected to reach $9.6 billion in value sales by next year . Whilst Waitrose, a major shopping chain in the UK reported a direct correlation between Great British Bake Off and sales . Baking ingredients sales surged by 30% as did the demand for baking colours and essences by 40%. It seems there is no holding back our inner Domestic gods and goddesses, or enthusiasm for all culinary delights - Happy Baking!