Their motto is ‘bake it, bring it, share it, eat it’. As mottos go, it’s a good one.
Each month, Manchester-based LGBT social group the Village Bakers get together so people with a passion for patisserie can meet and eat all the goodies they’ve made at home. It’s a cult for cake.
And once a year they have a Great Village Bake Off at The Molly House as a pre-Pride event. For this, their fourth year, I thought I’d enter (actually, my Editor made me so I hope you appreciate that I’ll be scrubbing sponge out of my oven for weeks).
Even though it’s in the genes – my Granny’s Belgian loaf brought grown men to their knees – I am not what you would call a natural baker. In fact, I can’t be bothered. Shops sell these things. Not that this is acceptable practice at a meeting. Village Bakers can sniff out a packet mix from three districts away, like the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ferreting out children. Once I took a Tesco sponge along, customised with two flake bars on top to make it resemble a crumbly Stonehenge. It was treated like a mongrel at Crufts.
This year I was determined to fling something together from scratch and so decided to enter the Best Beginner’s Cupcake category. There was only one woman to consult on this endeavour…Delia. Sorry Mary B but some of your recipes require ingredients that Aldi doesn’t stock. Ms Smith is more suited to the common baker and, when it comes to whipping up a few cupcakes, I am Eliza Doolittle.
From past events, I could imagine what some of the other bakers’ efforts would look like. Three-tier effects no doubt, with dancing fountains and maybe a fully operational escalator made out of eclairs. Mentally, I had already said goodbye to the chance of winning a prize.
Still, when life throws you lemons, you make lemon curd cupcakes. I headed to the supermarket and, after flinging packets of flour and sugar into my basket and convincing myself that hens laying the cheapest eggs were having as lovely a time as the poultry with free range facilities, I was ready to create.
One of my more momentous recent events has been acquiring a goldfish (which gives you some idea of the exciting life I’ve lead lately) and it was my amphibian chum that inspired my creation: lemon sole fishcakes. A basic sponge with lemon curd and buttercream filling, a sprinkle of edible glitter and a ruddy big marzipan goldfish on top (the cutter I ordered was way bigger than the pic suggested so my fishies looked more like Moby Dick).
I followed Delia to the letter, aside from making my own curd with shavings of lemon rind because, you know, life’s too damn short. Aside from forgetting to turn up the oven heat on batch two and having to improvise with a lava lamp when I realised I didn’t own a rolling pin, my dozen cupcake creations turned out to be enjoyably edible. Maybe I had a chance after all?
Getting them to the venue in a taxi was fraught with every bump and bend threatening to merge all 12 into some kind of mushy, dayglo aquarium but they (and I) arrived intact – just. Once I set them up on the display area, they didn’t look out of place among the other beginner cupcake entries. I allowed myself to feel a glimmer of hope.
Upstairs, the grown-up cake competition was fierce. The theme was fairytales and there were all sorts of impressive creations from The Princess & The Pea to the house that fell on the witch from Oz. This came with a detachable roof which held biscuit people in its attic. A detachable roof for heaven’s sake! I flung my effort together in a haze a couple of hours before the competition began.
With this week’s much anticipated return of The Great British Bake Off, the Village Bakers had pulled off a coup. Not one but two former contestants from the BBC show were judges, Howard Middleton and Sandy Docherty. They had a serious stockpile of sponge to scoff as they marked each cake for presentation, taste and texture.
TV crews were in attendance. They always seemed to be pointing their lenses at me when I was shovelling sponge in my gob. Still, the vibe in the room was that I stood a chance of getting onto the winner’s podium (maybe this would make up for Tom Daley?). I got off to a promising start by winning six bottles of wine in the raffle.
Thirty minutes and almost as many cakes later (which I only ate to be polite), the votes were counted and verified, and the inimitable Misty Chance handed over to the judges for the results.
My category was up first and there were prizes for the top three. Son of a gun, I CAME THIRD! When my name was announced, a huge “whoop” rose from the crowd…then I realised it was coming from me. Oh well, dignity in victory is for losers. I raced up to the presentation area and accepted my bronze medal and bottle of fizz with gusto.
The other winners all trotted up to accept their prizes with the overall winner being a classy strawberry ensemble…made by an actual chef. I suspect I’ve set a new trend though and that, next year, he’ll submit a cake confection with a giant lobster on top.
The entire event was fun and friendly with everyone entering into the spirit, proving that the Village isn’t all about boozing and loud music. One of the organisers, Kevin Sargent, said later in the day that “It’s been great to see people coming together, having a laugh and sharing their creations. That’s really what Village Bakers is all about.”
I’ve set the bar high – come join me up here.
Photos by Drew Tosh and Phil Curtis
To read Drew Tosh’s interview with the Village Bakers, click here.
The new series of The Great British Bake Off is on BBC1 on Wednesdays – but, hey, you already knew that.