The awesome Joan Rivers has a v. amusing joke about baking that goes something like: ‘why would I want to learn to bake? So my husband can tell some hooker that his wife makes a delicious cake?’
Joanie is, as ever, totally spot-on. The problem with the concept of baking is that it is in no way embodies any sexy- glamorous-intellectual archetypes. If identity is to mean anything at all, it must be carefully constructed by channelling the delicious dark sheen of the soul into delicious dark behaviour that is the outward manifestation of the inner spirit. Skin-tight red dresses and Marlborough Lights. Shakespeare, whisky-on-the-rocks and adultery. This is the definition of fulfilment.
Even if you relish contrariness and contradiction – and I don’t see why you wouldn’t, I shall be engaging with both in this very post – it is exceedingly difficult to portray yourself as both a home-making, cake-baking Delia Smith and a lipstick wearing, hell-raising, tequila-drinking, philosophy-reading Pamela Anderson/Paula Yates hybrid. To admit that that you enjoy baking immediately conveys to others that you think of yourself as a twee, harassed suburban housewife, icing cakes in a chintz patterned apron and wiping sweat from your brow while the ‘kids’ frolic in the garden.
This image of baking certainly hasn’t been helped by the recent swathe of middle-class, plump home-counties girls, who have moved to East London in order to wear pastel cardigans, get a couple of birdie tattoos and a moustachioed boyfriend and set up online ‘cupcake’ businesses. These are the type of women who buy ‘vintage’ furniture and like to be described by other people as ‘nice’. It’s all a bit sickly. If I were their boyfriend, I would definitely visit a prostitute in order to introduce some illicit pleasure to my sexual menu. I’m sure that statement won’t endear me much to the cardigan-wearing branch of the sisterhood, but whatevs. Who wants feminism if it means we have to stop bitching, and joke only nicely about our fellow females? Not I! Although, I would offer this advice to any of the cupcake women who do find their boyfriends employing the affections of a prostitute: the severed penis makes a very pretty addition to any home-fashioned wind-chime.
As will be obvious, readers, a vision of myself as an archetypal housewife is not one that I have ever nurtured. My own fearsome mother was, is, the worst housewife that has ever lived, and therefore my role-model. The one cake she ever tried to bake came out of the oven an inch thick and the density and texture of industrial steel. When she threw it into the garden even the sparrows turned their beaks away from it in disgust, preferring to peck ravenously at the dry, dusty earth than ingest her culinary efforts.
Considering my loathing for any kind of domestic activity, it was obviously a massive surprise to me to find out that baking is totally amazing. That it involves following simple, step-by-step instructions in order to turn bland store-cupboard staples such as eggs, flour, sugar and butter into fairy-tale style sponge cakes that let you have a teddy-bear’s picnic with your cushions. What initially started as a way to obtain biscuits when I had run out of dollar at the end of the month turned – to my unease- into an actual hobby. Such was the satisfaction of pulling a fluffy, bouncy Victoria sponge from the oven; of adding moisture and flavour with a syrup – one-part water, one-part sugar, four-parts cointreau; of topping it with thick whipped cream and strawberries, that I began to bake more than I could eat. I wanted others to taste the delights of my wares and so, ‘altruistically’, I baked cakes and pastries and biscuits for friends and colleagues.
What I discovered, in baking for others, is that no reaction to your home-baking will ever cause you anything other than resentment. This is because, if you bake a cake and offer to share it with another human being, they will either want to eat it; in which case their appreciation will never be profound or vocal enough and you’ll want to snatch the creamy slice from their fat, ungrateful mouth and stamp it into the floor. Or else they won’t want any at all and you’ll be tempted to throw your efforts into the bin, in a huff, as you scream ‘DON’T YOU APPRECIATE ME?!’ into their face while salty drops of frustrated hatred leak out of your tear-ducts.
With friends and colleagues it is obviously possible to stifle these childish urges by stabbing yourself in the hand with a fork and going outside for a fag. I’m not sure I could show the same restraint with a lover. I’m not sure anyone could. Suddenly, I have massive respect for the twee cardigan-women, who, I realise, are actually emotional geniuses. They have discovered that they will never gain satisfaction from trading their baking in for good-will and instead trade in cupcakes iced with roses for cold, hard cash – which can at least be exchanged for jewels and vodka.
Although I am loathe to disagree with as formidable and brilliant a human being as Joan, I have spent some time mulling her cake joke over and come to the conclusion that she’s wrong. It’s not baking we need to give up, it is husbands, it is boyfriends – it’s anyone who might make us share. Better to bake light, airy sponges and devour them alone, over the sink, in your knickers, in the dead of night than to lose all control and drive a pointed dagger into the heart of your beau when he doesn’t say ‘thank-you for the viennese whirls’ with quite enough fervour.