The art of baking, and why it’s back in vogue

Goodies from Bakewell & Co. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Goodies from Bakewell & Co. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

For many of us, getting into the kitchen, putting on an apron and baking is a perfect way to relax. It’s one of the rare times in life where you have instructions and if you follow them carefully, the outcome is pretty much guaranteed.

We’ve all heard of comfort eating, but science now says there is such a thing as comfort baking. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that those who engage in creative projects (like cooking and baking) are happier in their day-to-day lives. 

In recent years, there has been a renaissance of the art of baking– everything from sponges, lamingtons, cookie sandwiches, doughnuts, tarts and pies have been spotted at cafes and markets across Melbourne. Despite modern life making it easy to buy a cake (or cake mix) from a supermarket, many of us are exploring the habits and routines of yesteryear.

As we socially move further away from the hearth, we are drawn to those skills that remind us of tradition, such as baking, fermenting, slow cooking or tending a garden,” says Nat Paull, a doyenne of the Melbourne baking scene.  

Paull is the owner of Beatrix Bakes, a tiny cafe in North Melbourne with a glass cabinet brimming with homemade, sophisticated sweet treats (think banana brown butter tart with hazelnuts, red velvet layer cake with white chocolate cream cheese buttercream and strawberry streusel rings). For Paull, baking is both calming and focussed.

Paull's Beatrix Bakes store. Photo: supplied

Paull’s Beatrix Bakes store. Photo: supplied

It is mediative in its preparation and executions,” she says. “Following procedures, the layering of tasks, attaining a desired consistency before proceeding. There’s the joy of baking victory and the thoughtful reflection of the not-so-successful bakes, and the eternal baking quest to tinker and improve.”

Melbourne blogger Sophia Purvis has been creating sweet treats for as long as she can remember. Purvis is the award-winning author of A Piece of Cake, a cookbook featuring her own recipes for biscuits, cakes, tarts, slices and puddings.

“People are becoming more aware of what’s in their food and although a baked treat isn’t always particular heathy, if you bake it yourself at least you know what’s in it,” she says. “People like to create and make something and with baking you always end up with a great final product that doesn’t take long to produce.”

Camilla Clark. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Camilla Clark. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

When I call Camilla Clark at the commercial kitchen she hires in Clifton Hill she tells me it’s a good time to talk because she’s “in between pies”. Clark is a passionate baker who runs Bakewell & Co, a micro-business (it’s just her and her husband who “folds pie boxes”) specialising in buttery American-style pies jam-packed with flavour.

“I make 12 different pies including blackberry and ginger, apple and salted caramel, pecan, cherry and key lime,” she says. “I’ve always loved baking and I wanted to bake something that no one was doing in Melbourne. Cafes want something different on their menu and there are lots of small bakers in the city who specialise in one particular baked item.” Clark’s pies have been stocked at a range of cafes, including Sensory Lab, League of Honest Coffee, Grange Road Egg Shop, Slater St Bench and Capeside Coffee.

For Paull, who loves nothing more than being in the kitchen and cooking the kind of cakes she likes to eat, there are numerous benefits to whipping up delicious baked goods.

“Baking is about sharing,” she says. “It offers the connection of a gift to celebrate and to make someone feel good. Baking is a powerful elixir of friendship and joy. And as a side benefit, working with butter makes for very well moisturised hands!”

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