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Why do we love to bake?

Victoria sponge cake: BBC Food Victoria sponge remains one of Britain's favourite cakes, a survey has found

Whether they are classic sponge cake fans or lovers of homemade crumble, 9m people are now baking more than they did a year ago. But are we baking our cake for reasons other than eating it?

"You can imagine that baking a whole cake and having to eat it yourself can be a bit daunting, so I think people like having an outlet for their baking," says Lynn Hill, the founder of the Clandestine Cake Club (CCC).

The CCC is a network of 159 baking clubs around the UK where people can get together over tea and cake and meet new people.

"It came about after doing afternoon teas in my own home as part of the supper club movement... after watching people sat around the table enjoying themselves... I decided that I wanted to do more of this but I didn't want to do all the baking in my own home," she says.

Have your cake and eat it:

Mini Victoria sandwiches

Experiment with mini Victoria sandwiches

Take a slice of orange and almond cake

Indulge in a classic chocolate sponge cake

Two years later the CCC has 5,830 members and is due to launch a cookbook of their recipes next February.

The social aspect of the club is just as important for many members as the cakes.

"It's lovely to be able to bake a cake and take it along to an event where other people can enjoy it," she says.

Socialising over food is just one of the reasons more of us are baking goods at home.

Forty-one million Brits or 79% of adults say they enjoy baking at home, and 22% of home bakers claim to be baking more now compared to a year ago, according to Mintel survey results.

Home baking has undergone a revival in recent years as people look to save money at home by getting their own hands dirty.

"With real incomes under strain, Britain has become more of a stay-at-home nation and consumers have sought low-cost activities such as baking to save money," says Emma Clifford, senior food analyst at Mintel.

The UK home baking market is now worth £1.7bn and rose by a staggering 59% between 2007 and 2012.

Start Quote

I think that the resurgence of baking is an attempt to re-establish nostalgic feelings for the past ”

End Quote Dr Hirsch Neurologist and founder of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation

Apart from filling our bellies on a budget, or mastering a Mary Berry classic, is something else driving the British baking frenzy?

Television shows such as the Great British Bakeoff and Masterchef have also contributed to the resurgence of interest in baking.

According to Mintel's survey, 44% of British bakers said they had been inspired by cookery shows to bake more, rising to 54% among the under-25s.

But some experts argue that the act of baking is less about having your cake and eating it, and more about the nostalgic feelings it arouses.

Dr Alan Hirsch, a neurologist and founder of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, studied the phenomenon of olfactory-evoked 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.

a classic bundt with coloured icing Bundt is a ring-shaped tea-time cake that originates from Germany and Austria

Men may also be using baking as a release mechanism during times of economic hardship, he says.

"Men are under a lot of pressure now because of the economy and increases in unemployment.

On the rise:

Orange and Almond cake

Market research company Mintel surveyed 2,000 internet users aged 16 and over about their interest in home baking. It found:

  • 75% of bakers enjoy baking at home (70% of men, 79% of women)
  • 66% like to bake at home so they can control the ingredients (63% men, 68% women)
  • 28% bake at home to treat family and friends (19% men, 35% women)
  • 16% bake at home because it is less expensive than buying prepared baked goods (12% men, 19% women)
  • 79% of 16-24-year-olds bake from scratch compared to 70% of those aged 55 and over

Source: Mintel

"It's also the uncertainty of what will happen to them in future, so they may be using baking as a release mechanism in order to get a sense of comfort and security."

"The fact that Britain has become more of a stay-at-home nation, with consumers' prioritising home-based activities as part of their efforts to cut costs, has allowed more men to discover the joys of baking," says Ms Clifford from Mintel.

In fact 68% of British men surveyed say they have baked at home in the last year, and 22% say they bake more now than they did a year ago.

Claudia Camhi is a former clinical psychologist who now owns her own home based bakery business, specialising in pure almond flour cakes using gluten free ingredients.

She explains that baking is a lot like child's play as it allows us to experiment and make mistakes in a safe environment.

"It gives a good reason to nurture relationships, to share and be generous... and get it wrong without terrible consequences.

"Maybe for people who are engaged for many hours a day in only using their (brain's) left hemisphere, it offers a much welcome balance."

Ms Camhi explains that baking is similar to therapy in many ways.

"The tastes, smells, accents are still very evocative, they transport me in time, when I feel homesick, and cooking and baking have a meditative effect.

"Sometimes I am surprised at how much time has passed, and how calm I feel, especially when I have the kitchen to myself."

Out of the oven:

Yorkshire pudding

Batter up with a classic yorkshire pudding

Take a bite of sage and onion bread

Create a classic sweet or savoury pancake

Bake a chicken and ham pie

Jo Wheatley, winner of the 2011 Great British Bakeoff, also enjoys using baking as a form of relaxation.

"I love baking bread at the moment, when you're doing the kneading you can just switch off.

"It's also quite a nurturing thing to do, to bake your own bread and cakes and things, it has a wholesome feel."

When it comes to deciding what to bake, people are turning to classic comfort cakes.

The Victoria sponge cake and carrot cake emerged as the top five baked items in the past year, reports Mintel, followed by smaller cakes and batters.

"I quite like those quite basic cakes, good old-fashioned traditional cakes that everyone takes home for the family.

"In fact my family day workshop is by far my most popular class, where we bake a Victoria sponge, a coffee and walnut cake and a carrot cake."

"I think it's had this huge revival because people see that it's OK, it's quite cool to bake and there's all these young guys on there doing their thing.

"It's not frowned upon at all or considered old-fashioned any more."

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