Bake Off!

May 19, 2015 by Karen B



It is five years since the Great British Bake Off was launched and with the show back for its sixth season this summer, millions are set to tune in to watch contestants tackle tarts, sweet dough, pies and bread. To celebrate the show’s return, we thought we’d take a look at the history of baking.

In the middle Ages, unless you could afford to heat a wood-burning stove, baking was a luxury, with cakes as we know them today only being enjoyed by the very wealthy. And, with ovens not becoming a standard feature until the medieval period, bread baking was very much a niche, commercial activity. Whilst the wealthy enjoyed fine, floured wheat bread, the poor had to endure rye and black bread.

The fifteenth century bought with it an explosion of spices, but again expensive, they were only enjoyed by those who could afford it. Cake and dough with lots of butter, cream and raisins became popular in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Baking was transformed by globalisation. Economic growth prompted an emerging middle class. By the late seventeenth century sugar was cheap making baking more accessible and people began imitating the diets of the upper classes, with the emergence of mince pies made with sugar and spices and gingerbread as we think of them today. Pastries too were considered fashionable and London cookery schools began teaching pastry making.

The semi-closed oven, developed in the eighteenth century meant that shopkeepers and merchants could afford ovens and cake making really took off. Meanwhile, baking powder, introduced in the nineteenth century saw the style of baking change from heavy, yeast based cakes to lighter ones made with flour, eggs, fat and a raising agent. Convenience food also began to grow in popularity – more working class women being employed meant that they had less time for elaborate food preparation and women started relying on convenience foods such as pastries and pies.


Still enjoyed as part of today’s diet, we are often asked about the art of making successful pastry, and our Perfect Pastry Masterclass, covering both sweet and savoury pastries, introduced earlier in the year, is proving to be extremely popular. To find out how you to you can open up this delicious world of baking visit