As this year’s Great British Bake Off is now well and truly underway, I’ve been inspired to dust off the old mixing bowl and whip up some tasty treats (although I am certainly not bothering with making my own jaffa cakes, thank you very much!) But I’ve not only been inspired to bake; I’ve also been inspired by baking. So I thought I’d share with you some of the things baking has taught me about life.
It never goes the way you planned it: This week it was my mum’s birthday. My mum is a fairly excellent woman, and excellent women most certainly deserve cake (note to self: “excellent women deserve cake” would look good on a pillow). The cake in the banner image above is what I ended up with, but that’s not the cake I intended to make! This is the cake I had in mind:
This is an orange and poppy seed cake with cream cheese icing. However, I was making the cake the day I was seeing and presenting it to my mum and, shock horror, the supermarket I went to was out of poppy seeds! I could have had a minor breakdown in the middle of the baking aisle, but luckily James talked me away from the edge. I had to make a decision, I had to adapt and so I went with chocolate orange cake (with real pieces of Terry’s Chocolate Orange on top). I tried to keep the cream cheese frosting as a filling but you know what? It melted as soon as I put palette knife to sponge and the cake ended up covered in yellow goo. I had to turn to a higher power for help – Betty Crocker – and the cake I ended up with garnered one of the best reactions I’ve ever had for a bake. With the best will in the world, things rarely work out the way you want it to but if you give it over to God and roll with the changes, you can end up with something even better than you intended (who doesn’t love chocolate cake?!)
Trying to be perfect is a pointless exercise: I want to walk into a room with a bake, lay it down on the table and have everyone there start making more “oooh” and “aaah” noises than on Fireworks Night. But some of the worst baking moments of my life have been when I’ve tried to do something spectacular and it’s gone horribly wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to be great at what we do, or make the best possible effort when we’re doing things for people we love, but when I decided to make a dragon cake for the sibling’s birthday it wasn’t because of Satch’s love of Game of Thrones; it was because I wanted everyone to say how creative and talented and brilliant I was. So I spent hours on that bake only to have Satch ask: Is it a lobster?
I want everyone to think I’ve got it sorted; to be impressed, and even a bit jealous, of my perfect life. But living for likes on Instagram and smug satisfaction at how great you are is how you end up sitting on your kitchen floor in tears because you just can’t get it perfect every time. And because I focused so much on making it into the shape of a dragon, the actual cake itself was really dense and horrible. By caring more about people’s reaction than making a nice birthday cake for someone, I ended up missing the point of the whole thing: the cake! It doesn’t matter if what you create is or isn’t the greatest thing anyone has ever seen; all that counts is that you do the best you can and don’t lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Things always seem bigger than they are: I’ve lost count how many times I’ve cried over cupcakes, or ended up in a blind panic because the flapjack isn’t sticking together properly which means it won’t slice up nicely and I don’t have time to do it again. Do you know what happens when the flapjack doesn’t stick together? People eat it with a spoon and say “nice flapjack”. When you’re in the heat of the moment (and the kitchen) even the tiniest problems seem enormous but it generally works out alright, doesn’t it? Sweating the small stuff is something I struggle with a lot, and it robs me of the joy of baking (and it makes James want to leave the house as soon as he hears the electric mixer!) In baking, and in life, we need to learn to take a step back, look at the big picture, and ask ourselves: is it really that bad?
We all have good days and bad days: My friends and I have a GBBO sweepstake, and you can imagine my glee when I pulled Selasi’s name and he absolutely killed it in week one. But the next week he was awful and Candice, who was on the verge of being sent home the week before, ended up as Star Baker. I’m constantly comparing myself to other people, and worrying they’re doing so much better than I am, but actually we all have weeks when we’re Star Baker, and weeks when our lives are falling apart more rapidly than Louise’s gingerbread church (if you don’t watch Bake Off then you’ll just have to trust me: that was a hilarious reference). As Theodore Roosevelt put it: comparison is the thief of joy, so stop looking at everyone else’s lives and just focus on living your own. Because none of us have it figured out; we’re all just following the recipe and kneeling in front of the oven hoping it’s going to come out looking alright.