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Dec 7, 2013 08:54 AM

A "Lost Generation" of Bakers

Very interesting article about how the availability of cake, cookie, muffin mixes have resulted in what an industry expert calls a "lost generation of bakers."

Not in this house!

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  1. Like many CH's, I was brought up in a household of bakers, both professional and generational. My own Mother was a very lucky girl to have fresh baked foods at every meal. She didn't bake much but all her children (no surprise, I'm the oldest) do and we all learned on the step stool inside our grandparents bakery. I miss those folks every day. And I'm trying very hard to pass on what I learned.

    Not only have we lost a generation of great bakers; especially bread bakers and European pastry makers but we've lost access to some of the tips, tricks and ingredient stretchers they were known for.

    My great grandmother would explain over a cup of tea how to turn 4 basic ingredients into bakery magic. And like all good magic tricks, many are lost when we lose those magicians.

    2 Replies
    1. re: HillJ

      What a sweet story, J. The closest I came to being from a baking family was my great aunt who was the baker for the Woolworth's lunch counter in the 50's-60's. She made all of their pastries from scratch--can you imagine? She left me her handwritten recipe for Austrian cookies (I forget what they're called) and I'm determined to make them this year.

      Being of the Julia Child generation, I latched onto cooking when I was a lass, and have no idea where it came from other than home cooking was a big trend in the early '70's, and her obvious influence (and Martin Chan).

      Learning to cook also included learning to bake and I had to start from scratch. But over the last 15 or so years, I've become pretty good at it. I would never, ever buy a mix. I make all the birthday cakes, morning buns and Christmas cookies and pastries plus all of our bread and crackers.

      My biggest challenge is that we live in the mountains at 6,700 feet and I have an Aga range. Combine those two things and baking can be a REAL difficulty, but I have rather mastered it and love every minute of it.

      1. re: sandiasingh

        Some of those early Woolworth's lunch counters kept me occupied while I was waiting for my Father to finish a business appointment. And both of my girls hit Woolworth's after school for freshly made snacks. Today that bldg space is a retail chain but when I pass it, I still see the Woolworth's sign. How lucky you have those memories!

        I am not a 100% from scratch baker, probably 80%. I've been known to doctor up a brownie mix, create something from frozen pizza and pkdg ramen and if someone else is baking it better than I can, I'm going to buy it. But, I adore baking bread, cookies and taking on a baking challenge from time to time.

        As for baking at 6,700 feet, I'd love a lesson!

    2. I would say overall this is true. I am 31 and most people my age seem shocked when I bring things to parties like homemade cookies or cupcakes or mention baking bread from scratch. Recently I went to a party where I made chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting from scratch, and someone asked me "what mix did you use, these are awesome!". Same thing with lemon bars at a family gathering... "did you use the Krusteaz mix?".

      But, I learned to bake starting at 5 years old. I became an expert baker before I even learned how to cook. My mom stayed home when I was young and that's how I learned. Most of my friends growing up didn't have stay at home moms. Also my dad's mother was an awesome baker and she would watch me once a week, and we would usually bake something.

      I do still use mixes occasionally when I don't have tons of time.

      1. It's very interesting they say British and Canadians prefer baking from scratch. Among my friends and colleagues, it's 50/50 BUT if it's an individual who is a first generation Canadian, I find baking from scratch is almost done.

        I was very lucky early on to have a Finnish neighbour who baked Pulla bread from scratch each month and shared it. Oven baking is foreign to my culture so my first memory of bread is this dark golden braided bread that smelled like buttered pastry and had a lovely chew. Eating Wonderbread at a friends house was a shock to my system.

        I envy all people who are lucky to have learned the art of 'heritage' baking at the elbows of a loved one!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Nevy

          We have an 8 year old friend who spends a lot of time at our house while her parents are helping us renovate our casita. To keep her entertained while we are working, I started putting on the Cooking Channel and over the past 18 months she has become hooked. She wants to be a chef, possibly a pastry chef. You know how kids are--she's enchanted by all the Unique Sweets, etc.

          I'm encouraging her as much as I can without being pushy. She loves to help in the kitchen and has a broad appetite--sardines for breakfast and sauerkraut for lunch (her dad is German), so I think she has a good chance of reaching her goal someday. I can definitely see her as a baker.

        2. I'm grew up in a household where my mom used a mix of boxed and from scratch - but I would say that the primary reason why she didn't really pass along baking was weight related. My mom's struggled with her weight (and I definitely don't have it easy) - and cutting out baked goods, particularly pastries/cookies/cakes was always an easy first step. As a result, any baking that I did was when I was first learning to cook and tried out recipes. But nothing I learned was from baking with my mother.

          I don't know if this is more of a unique story to my situation or if other people have a similar story where "weight issues" contribute to cutting out baking all together.

          1 Reply
          1. re: cresyd

            I don't think it's at all unique. Weight has always been an issue for me (and as a family concern), and I also don't have much of a sweet tooth. So I never was interested in baking all that much because I'd rather spend the time learning to cook more savory, healthy dishes than sweets and treats.

            I also think it's a very different skill set and interest: baking vs cooking. When I do bake for the holidays and for parties, I find it a bit tedious and far less interesting because it's so much more about following exact measurements and recipe steps, all butter/flour/sugar/yeast, versus being able to experiment a lot more with ingredients and proportions to suit my tastes.


          2. Not in this house either! Even as we speak, I have the King Arthur Crusty European Rolls in the oven, having already make Peter Reinhart Knotted rolls ( taking breads to a dinner party tonight) and the Odense recipe for Pignolli are chilling in my fridge to bake when the rolls come out. Baking is something I do practically every day and love every minute of it. My friends (all 50+) can't believe I spend so much time in the kitchen. I can't believe they spend so much time OUT of the kitchen. What do they do????? How do they eat that stuff out of boxes, when tasty, scratch baked goods are a great and easy wonder!! BTW, I just checked on those crusty rolls and they are gorgeous!

            4 Replies
            1. re: amazinc

              You sound like me, amazinc. I can have three or four baking projects rotating through my ovens in one day. I don't know what people do who don't cook except rattle off reasons about how they don't have time to cook! Cooking is what I do too, my office is the kitchen and that's my favorite place in the world to be.

              I recently saw a post by HillJ about cardamom bread that she found at Ikea and I realized I have never made it so it's on my list. Have you done?

              I posted a quote on FB the other day and I cannot recall who it was from but it was something like no yoga class or meditation can compete with the awesomeness of making bread. I find it very disheartening that people have lost that connection. Except a few of us here. And there are some very dedicated folks on Fresh Loaf, etc.

              That's some party! You must have a baker's rep in your crowd :-)

              1. re: sandiasingh

                Here it is from none other than M.F.K. Fisher:

                “No yoga exercise, no meditation in a chapel filled with music will rid you of your blues better than the humble task of making your own bread.”

                M.F.K. Fisher

                1. re: sandiasingh

                  That was my error, sandi. I bought saffron bread @ IKEA, which was very tasty warmed in the toaster. I've returned since and bought several more bags of those saffron mini loaves.

                  But, the cardamom bread I grew up baking was a standard braided pulla loaf like this but my Grandmother would also make a loaf stuffed with sweetened almond cream.

                  1. re: HillJ

                    That is gorgeous! I haven't made braided bread is so many years. I will let you know when I get to it.

                    Thanks for that great recipe, J.