Skirting the Issue - How you can be ‘saved by baking’

I bought a new book at the weekend. It was lovely, pink and filled with delicious recipes and I was almost dizzy with excitement as I paid for it.

Yes, it was the new book by author Marian Keyes who has long since been a hero of mine. This book however is different from her others - it’s not a novel. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t tell a story in its own right. Saved by Cake is the name of the book and to the untrained eye it looks very much like one of many cook books now available.

It seems, you see, that the whole world has gone mad for baking. Take a wander through Tesco/Sainsbury’s/Lidl/whatever your supermarket of choice may be and you will have noticed a very definite expansion in the home baking aisle lately.

And if you get your jollies in the sad way that I do, by walking through the aisles of Dunelm Mill or similar establishment, you won’t have failed to notice how baking tins and silicon moulds, icing bags and rolling pins are now displayed beautifully tempting us to part with our hard earned cash.

A quick wander around social media networks see pages upon pages set up by wannabe bakers and cupcake experts. No longer can us mere mortals get away with buying a cake in Tesco on birthdays - oh no, we have to craft and create, bake and mould, ice and decorate. (Or get someone in the family to do it for us... thankfully for such purposes my children have both an Auntie Nemma and an Auntie Raine).

And now, Marian has gone in on the act - with 80 delicious fancy recipes of treat laden yumminess for us to try and make.

This book tells its own story. It’s more than “just” a cook book. Marian compiled the book while battling a prolonged bout of severe depression. In the prologue to the beautiful, pastel coloured book she talks of how she had a suicide plan, how she kept a bag ready to take with her when the urge to end her own life became too much so that she could do it in the least messy and traumatic way possible for those she left behind.

She writes how she lost the ability to function; to write, to read, to talk, to do almost anything. And then she found baking; just a little measured task in which she created something and filled her time.

She says she was “saved by baking” and in the wake of admission others have come forward to say how such hobbies help them to deal with the tough times. It sounds a bit twee doesn’t it? That simply getting the baking bowl out can make a difference to your mood? But it makes sense to me.

I’ve never considered myself much of a cook, much less anything of a baker. I have rather painful memories of Home Economics in school where my swiss roll wouldn’t roll, my scones could have broken windows and my fairy cakes tasted vaguely of sour milk even if no milk at all was involved in their creation. (I never did warm to cooking in the HE classroom though - not after the day a dead mouse was found in one of the utensil drawers...)

My daughter, however, although not quite 3 (We have 9 days to go until that landmark) loves to cook and every Saturday she stares at me open mouthed with excitement and orders, like a tiny dictator, “Today, we make buns. Okay?”.

I admit I was shamed when my bun making was entirely about melting some chocolate and stirring in some Rice Krispies. So I graduated to those packet buns - where you add an egg and some water and pour the gloop into Disney themed bun cases before sticking on decorations which taste like communion. After a while, however, I was told I would be quicker making my own buns from scratch - and truth be told the upsurge in people whipping up a quick batch of cupcakes made me think that it couldn’t really be that hard, could it?

But there are no two words which strike quite so much fear in my heart as “from scratch”. I like things non-scratchy and almost there, if the truth be told. Five minutes in the microwave and I’m smiling. But with my very own little cook by my side we tried it. We’ve made cookies and cupcakes, the oddly names Apple Dappies and fresh strawberry muffins. And they haven’t been disgusting. Those hours on a Saturday and Sunday have been our time. We have had a silly amount of pleasure from measuring and mixing, cracking eggs and sifting flour. We have dabbed each other’s noses with cake mix and laughed. We have feasted on our buns after painstakingly decorating them with icing or chocolate or sprinkles. (The girl is all about the sprinkles). It all feels like one big shiny scene from an Enid Blyton novel when things were much simpler.

Sharing those moments has allowed me to forget what else may be going on in my life, to forget about the washing which needs washed. The clothes that need dried. The book that needs written. And it has been lovely - and therapeutic.

So I get why we are all going baking mad. I get the enjoyment, finally, out of preparing buns from scratch. I get that is a relatively simple task, but one which can be very soothing. And you get cake at the end of it - what’s not to love?

So when I get the mixing bowl and the cake tin, the Stork and flour and the teddy bear mould and the wooden spoons out this weekend it will be entirely for medicinal and therapeutic reasons.

I might even attempt a swiss roll - and if Marian says its good for me, then it must be.