Mercury reporter Kerry Coupe puts her baking to the test at a meeting of Stamford Clandestine Cake Club.
Birthdays are all about presents, cards and spending the day with your nearest and dearest. And of course, you can’t let the day go by without tucking into a nice big slice of birthday cake.
It’s with this in mind that Sophie Douglas set the theme of the third Stamford Clandestine Cake Club - big birthday bash - which takes place just a few days after she celebrates her own 30th birthday.
Clandestine Cake Clubs have been popping up all over the country with the aim of gathering people together to “bake, eat and talk about cake” - and leave with a few like-minded friends. Members bake a cake of their choice at home and then bring it to the venue, which is announced just a few days before the club meets to give it a “hidden society” feel - as if there is something slightly naughty about tucking into dozens of delicious slices of cakes.
Having been an enthusiastic baker for the last three years, I was keen to give it a go. So with this in mind, I decide to make a chocolate
Complete with a wonky smile, the caterpillar cake is a great choice because cake club recognises what bakers have thought for years - homemade is best.
In addition to Sophie and myself, there are six other bakers who turn up at the Crown Hotel in Stamford on Monday, January 7 for the meeting. Four are Sophie’s colleagues and friends and two learnt about the club on the Clandestine Cake Club website and gamely went along to see what it was all about.
Sophie, like thousands of people across the country, was inspired to take up baking by television hit the Great British Bake Off, a BBC Two series.
She applied for the show, which is judged by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood last year to no avail and is undecided whether to give it another go this year. She heard about Clandestine Cake Clubs through social networking site Twitter and attended two meetings in Market Deeping before it disbanded.
Sophie, a sub-editor at Bourne Publishing Group, decided to launch the group in Stamford because “I thought Stamford would be a great place in terms of getting new people”. There is a different theme at each meeting.
But Sophie insists the theme is just for guidance - and if you’re not feeling inspired by the theme, just bake what you fancy eating.
The only rule that she strictly observes is that bakers must bring a large cake, which can be shared between eight to 10 people. There are no cupcakes, muffins or brownies allowed. Although my presence means much of the conversation is led by my questions - a whole range of (baking-themed) topics are discussed, including whether John Whaite was a worthy winner of the last series of the Bake Off, which supermarkets have the best baking aisles and how many eggs were needed for each cake (four for the caterpillar in case you were wondering).
The conversation turns to baking disasters and poor Rachael Buzzel, 27, of Stamford, even had a disaster for this meeting when her giant schnauzer Archie decided to leap onto the worktop and tuck into her chocolate and vanilla marble creation. Thankfully, we are treated to a second attempt - and none of us can blame Archie for being tempted by the cake.
All you need for cake club is just an enthusiasm for baking.
Paul White, 44, of Peterborough, comes in for much flack for being the “professional baker” of the group thanks to his day job as an artisan bread baker at Hambleton Bakery in Exton. He even appeared on ITV1’s Britain’s Best Bakery, which was eventually won by Hambleton.
His role as the “professional” of the group isn’t helped by him by producing a huge cake in the shape of a teapot which when sliced into is half chocolate and half vanilla - inspired by Sophie’s love of tea.
He decided to give cake club a go because there’s not much room for baking something to satisfy a sweet tooth in his day job.
For Laura Hall, 25, of Owston, baking runs in the family - her mother used to bake wedding cakes - and for Rachael, she aspired to be “one of those mummies that can bake” for her three-year-old daughter Abi and her son Jasper, one.
Most of the group are registered as members on the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club website, which has an online forum, gives members discounts and news on the local club, including light-hearted blogs on the events written by Sophie.
On the night, there are a total of eight cakes to tuck into - and if there are any left, bakers are encouraged to swap the remaining slices of cake. Sophie also puts together a plate of left over cakes for the venue, which is met with as much appreciation as the tin I bring into the office the following day when I am already thinking of what I can bake next month.
Sophie urges anyone to give the club a go. She said: “It’s not just coming to the event, there’s the preparation beforehand, and it can be quite daunting. But I really want to reiterate that it is not a competition.
“It’s a social club with friendly people and lots of cake.
“What’s not to love about that?”
The next club will be held on February 5 with the theme Use Your Loaf and anyone who wants to book or find out more should e-mail Sophie.