Friday, 6 May 2016

Memoirs of a Gentleman Baker - Chapter 1, The Beginning

As I stood there, my nose pressed against the cold glass window I was transfixed by the cornucopia of treasures displayed so tantalisingly close inside. Pastries, breads, tarts and cakes adorned the shelves, glistening and dazzling in the morning sun. The enchantment of these precious jewels was matched only by the hypnotizing aroma emerging from the doorway to the small shop and being a mere a whip of a lad, I was powerless to resist their charms.

Steeling myself, I cautiously edged inside and was near lifted off of my feet by the booming voice that greeted me.

“Good morning young Sir!”

Behind the counter stood the personification of the word “jolly”, his face as round as his frame. My whole body shook as he bellowed.

“And what can I get for you today?”

I fixed my gaze at my toes and replied meekly

“I’m sorry I only have a few pounds. I’d just like to look if that’s ok, everything in here is so beautiful”

The man laughed, slapping his hand down onto the wooden counter top.

“Sir, for that you may choose what you like!”

I was astonished. How could anything so wonderful, so desirable be so affordable? How could I choose from such a bounty? I was so dumbstruck I could hardly raise a response.

“I, um I don’t know. There’s just too much. Can you choose please”

His expression changed to one of mischief as he theatrically produced a paper bag. I hopped to the counter, which I could barely see over and on my tiptoes gripped it tightly to see what this magician was about to materialise. He quickly and covertly filled the bag, sealed it and presented it to me proudly.

“My boy, these are for you”.

As I ran from the bakery, carefully protecting my precious cargo I could scarcely contain my excitement. I denied myself even the briefest of glimpses, fearing I would yield to temptation and as I reached my home I felt I would burst with anticipation.

I placed the bag gently on the kitchen table. Both my heart and mind raced as I imagined what treats awaited me and, unable to stand the torture any longer I looked inside...

That is where it all began. The spark that ignited a fire within, all consuming, that has burned deep inside me ever since. An interest that grew into a love, that grew into a passion. I have become a fanatic, and my obsession is baking. Baking, baking, baking. It’s all I think about, all day, every day and it’s what keeps me awake at night. Biscuits, pies, tarts, breads, puddings, crumbles, cakes, they fill my thoughts and haunt my dreams.

When I began I viewed baking as tortuous and treacherous, where the slightest deviation from the recipe would result in inevitable disaster. It intimidated me, scared me even and creating anything remotely edible, let alone appetising seemed beyond my limited skills.

What changed however was that I tried. I set to one side my apprehension and trepidation and I never looked back. I started with the simplest of cakes, the most basic of breads and from there my eyes were opened. Baking is not complex, precise or pressured, it is a joyous, fulfilling diversion from the tedious, toneless and tiresome. A colour, texture and flavour filled bonanza of achievable and affordable luxury.

I am now intent on only two things. The first is to bake, to create both the sweet and the savoury, indulging in the traditional, as well as discovering new flavours and textures. The second is to share, not only the fruits of my labour, but my recipes, ideas, and love for all things baking. I want everyone to feel as I did that day as a boy. The sense of wonder, of excitement, of joy and I truly believe with only a little endeavour everyone can.

What started as purely an avocation quickly became an odyssey, on which I ventured far and wide, meeting a kaleidoscope of colourful characters. Each of my experiences has made me both the gentleman, not to mention the baker I am today and the pages that follow are sprinkled with but a few morsels from my memoirs. My hope is that you can find more than just information, but inspiration and motivation to try some of the recipes and ideas yourself.

So now my new friend, it is over to you. The stage is yours... 

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