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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 http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes... 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.

              2. With so many high quality baked products commonly available at reasonable prices, is it really a concern that fewer people bake at home? The range of quality baked products commercially available is much better than even just a decade ago.

                Many European countries don't have a tradition of home baking, particularly southern Europe.

                I love to bake and I bake all the time but I also know it's easy for me to find high quality baked goods, breads, cakes and pastries. I bake because I enjoy it, not because I have to.

                10 Replies
                1. re: Roland Parker

                  Me too. I bake and cook because that's what I love to do. But I am also very aware of ingredients, additives and chemicals in my food and choose personally to use only the best organic ingredients in my kitchen. That's just my personal choice but the taste is incomparable and it's real.

                  While the range of baked products available is better than a decade ago, it's because a lot of young people have gone back to making them from scratch and opening small bakeries. So good--that's great. It's just not for me due to my very rigid rules about organic ingredients (I only buy WF "organic" bread in case of emergency).

                  Moreover, I do not outsource my food to corporations, also my choice and I am fortunate to be able to have the time it takes to cook and bake, not because I have nothing else to do, but because it is my highest priority.

                  Lastly, why is the loss of a human skill--making anything with your hands, whether it's bread or furniture--so casually dismissed? The concern that fewer people bake or cook at home is the loss of a quality of life and of learning. Cooking/baking teaches you so much about math, about chemistry, about the senses, about motor skills. How is that not important?

                  My answer to that is it's about time. Most people will not take the time to cook or bake because they don't have to anymore and have grown up used to the addictive flavor of manufactured fats, sugars and additives of factory made products. They think it's food. It's not food.


                  1. re: sandiasingh

                    My father in law was a furniture re-finisher for 44 years. He could tell you a lifetime worth of stories as he watched the loss to this skill, passion and know-how die away in the retail business. Yet, he remained on the auto dial list of 1,000's of people who still needed their REAL furniture cared for up until his passing.

                    Is it worth losing skills that procure what we fill our lives with..I'd rather own a dining room table from Spain that requires oil treatment and polish than buy a table that will go into a landfill within five years of purchase.

                    If it doesn't matter, we've lost of way.

                    1. re: HillJ

                      I totally agree, J. Your father sounds like some of the elder Irish woodworkers we knew in Boston. In fact, there is a very famous school there--the Bennett School, I believe, in the North End--that teaches old-world skills and it is very successful and well attended.

                      We also have very close friends from the local pueblos and the amazing skills they still use in their ceremonies and traditions are awe-inspiring. We recently received a hand-made sling shot from our close friend. They still use them for hunting.

                      I believe in learning and in passing on, especially when you're talking about a useful life skill, like baking. To many others it's not important because it's no longer required to live, so be it. It's the world we live in now.

                      We have been fortunate to create a lifestyle in a beautiful location that is unique, and that is to live as authentically as we can, using our brains for more than watching Netflix. And when you make that choice the first thing you think of is food (at least we do!). That is our choice and we have reaped the benefits through our good physical and mental health. Our lives are so full and fulfilling, we really couldn't ask for anything more.

                    2. re: sandiasingh

                      Our societies are constantly evolving and as the world changes around us we, as people, evolve along with it. As old skills are rendered obsolete due to changing technology, new skills appear on the horizon.

                      I can sit down in front of a computer and immediately know how to do so many things electonically, which would have been completely lost on my grandmothers. I can operate a washing machine, so does not washing clothes by hand anymore mean I've sacrificed a skill? By the way my grandmothers and great grandmothers, like quite a few women of their generation, actually didn't bake at all because they had help and urban residents have been happily buying from bakeries for centuries because it was more practical and cheaper than baking from home.

                      I'm not casually dismissing a skill. People who love to bake will continue to bake. New cooks attracted to baking will continue to explore the wonderful world of baking. But for most people it's really not an issue whether they bake or not, they're quite content with the breads from the store or from a gourmet bakery. Their priorities are simply different from yours and mine and I don't fault them for it nor do I consider them missing out on an important skill. Nor do I critique other people's dietary habits nor judge whether they eat food or "not real food." I'm now old enough and have lived around enough people to know that lots of people are simply indifferent towards food, and guess what, many of them are perfectly healthy and live happy, productive lives.

                      1. re: Roland Parker

                        You know it's not the end result I'm focused on (entirely). I mean yes, we can buy what we need today with great ease (as long as we have the financial means) and we can "look up" how to do many things on a computer (as long as we own one) and yes the world is a big and differing experience place (thank goodness!) but what is lost is also valuable. The people who make are bread, load those "how to videos" on YouTube are still participating in learning how. I suppose it comes down to how much we want to learn ourselves and how much we enjoy just having something handed to us.

                        Patience to learn, patience to work with your hands, the curiosity to learn a new skill from 100% scratch, the idea that the past (and not so long ago past) has value still.

                        It doesn't need to be an either or, or a all or nothing approach to appreciating that where society evolved to means original, hands on methods are obsolete.

                        Today, wood workers, refinishers, builders, artisans are still called upon, paid very well in some cases, and far from obsolete. They use technology to enhance their "old world" skills and hopefully pass on those skills to a younger generation.

                        And I suppose (and I'm neither judging or criticizing, I'm simply observing what I've experienced in my own family) what I'm focused on is the process it takes; not the product that results.

                        Shortcuts. Some are great. Some simply change forever the way we learn.

                        While I've gotten sidetracked into an analogy of my own here, I do have the same reaction to baking, glass blowing, glazers, pottery and even farming.

                        1. re: HillJ

                          Well said and I don't disagree with Roland's comments either, it's just a different way of looking at things, I just thank my lucky stars I have a choice because so many people don't.

                          I forgot you are a potter, J! While looking at the cheese domes on Pinterest, I stumbled on another board called "lids" or something and there was some beautiful, contemporary pottery I pinned. I love pottery and have a huge collection of old bowls and pitchers.

                          We're doing the farming thing too on our 3 1/2 acres with the help of friends who's dream is to own a farm someday (probably ours!). We grew lots and lots of stuff this year and hope to increase every year. Would love to have chix and goats but we have too many bears and mountain lions for that.

                          Interesting thread and especially interesting to see what the consultant in the article recommends as improvements to existing mixes, etc. like nuts and fruits. Am I hearing a veiled referral to FRUITCAKE? Haha! I'm on a fruitcake campaign and have leigonettes of fans for my annual Tequila Lime Fruitcake at this time of year. Leave it to a Brit to make that suggestion :-)

                          1. re: sandiasingh

                            A different way of looking at things is the enjoyable point. I hope we always have choices, lots and lots of choices.

                            The way I mix glaze and create fresh pot clay in the studio couldn't be more different today than when I began. The kiln technology, wheels and process is truly spectacular. But there is nothing like some slip pot leftover from a run on a cold wheel going round and round to create a single mug or small vase. I still marvel at the simplicity of enjoyable things.

                            A batch of bread dough, a new piece of glass Hill will cut into a bird, these things we do at their most basic still ring our creative bells.

                            sandi, I'm beginning to visualize the many and varied projects you're taking on in your life. It's been a wonderful read and lesson. Keep coming back!

                            1. re: HillJ

                              Thanks, J! Gets me up in the mornin' that's for sure.

                              I've been on CH for three or four years but wasn't very active until recently. I am gradually getting to know the different personalities here & it's a lot of fun.

                              And oh so helpful!

                    3. re: Roland Parker

                      Roland...... honestly once I started reading labels in stores and realized how many products contain high fructose corn syrup...mega amounts of sodium I will only buy certain brands. I do have access to Dave's Killer Breads at $3.88 per loaf and I will buy fresh sourdough locally at a bakery once in awhile but I prefer baking my own baked products whenever possible. I live alone so obviously I do not have to work too hard at it:)

                      1. re: MamasCooking

                        The question is not whether we do, because as CHs, we have the interest but if the general population, who might not enjoy it, should need the skill since they have access to what they enjoy whether it's boxed mix, grocery stores or high end bakeries with professional bakers.

                    4. Noticed you said you had not baked a braided loaf in years and wanted to point you to Food 52's recipe for Ima's
                      Challah. Beautiful braid and a good sounding recipe...my next to try, as I have a friend who adores Challah. Both you and Hill J are right as to the the sadness of the loss of old skills and 'tho I agree with many of Roland's points, the passing on of all skills, be they computer or baking is something we should do. Not everyone is as blessed as you and I are in having ample time and $$ to acquire the best ingredients and MAKE things we love. Lucky, lucky us!
                      I have a friend who is afraid of "yeast breads" and I just saw and bought for her the best kitchen towel... reads, "Take a deep breath. Keep Baking" Love it!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: amazinc

                        I will check out the Food 52 Challah bread recipe. Already printed out the knotted rolls and King Arthur's recipes you mentioned. It seems like there is never enough time, but I do eventually get there.

                        I think it's a travesty how terrified people are of bread these days. I am well aware of the gluten problem but it's not the bread, it's the GMOs and pesticides that are causing this epidemic. So many people I know don't eat gluten but very few actually have celiac disease. It has become a fad and I have read quite a few articles about that but people get very offended when I say that. So whatever people want to glom onto they can have it. Thank god I don't have that problem!

                        Hope your friend takes the advice of the apron! I have already made a New Year's resolution to stay calm and bake more :-)

                      2. I'll try to find the link to the articles about how Marketing jerks worked very hard to convince women that baking was drudgery - no, no not the evil 'feminazies' that radio jerk targets...
                        Started way back in the 30s, 40s and 50s. Yep - media studies review of magazine and radio ads for companies selling - mixes.

                        guess why the mixes - even today - require you to add eggs, oil etc....?? even when some or all those ingredients can be incorporated into a mix (like Bisquick) ???

                        people rediscover that like almost all human activity, doing things with our own hands and brains feels good/rewarding.
                        food especially.

                        1. In Europe many homes do not have ovens. No one laments about lost generation(s) of bakers there.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: jaykayen

                            What if all the Parisians started baking and stopped carrying baguettes around? Then we'd have a lost generation of bread buyers.

                          2. I will make scones and muffins, but rarely make cookies, cupcakes, cakes, pies, etc.

                            I do bake bread. Lots of breads - and pizza dough.

                            King Arthur and I have gotten serious over the years.

                            1. Interesting. I am an early Boomer, and I can tell you that most of my acquaintances did not bake from scratch. The skills started being lost in my generation.

                              My mom, one of the "greatest generation" didn't bake cakes from scratch ever. In fact she never met a mix she did not like.

                              So there has been attrition along these lines for around 50 years.

                              I learned to bake cookies in her kitchen though. And I learned to bake at an early age. Although I never mastered any sort of layer cake, I have done other baking, and did so frequently when I had a young family. I do think that not having a cooking mom has a lot to do with people not learning to do things in the kitchen.

                              Can't do much now because of carb issues.

                              1. As a calligrapher, I hear this discussion often as calligraphy goes. How many people can whittle a feather into a quill, grind their own ink, etc. and calligraphers bemoan the fact that few are learning it. It might bring perspective to how non-bakers might see bakers bemoan that few are learning to bake. Many just don't have the desire to do it. What we end up with is a group of skilled artisans who choose to do it, love what they do and not a large group of people who do something because they have no choice. It's not a bad thing.