Feature: Our grandmas baked the best

Heather Smith, pictured with a small collection of cakes available from her shop Amazing floral sugar, in the Waterdale. Picture: Marie Caley D5377MC
Heather Smith, pictured with a small collection of cakes available from her shop Amazing floral sugar, in the Waterdale. Picture: Marie Caley D5377MC

There’s something incredibly comforting about the smell of delicious home baking wafting out of a kitchen.

A swift sniff of freshly baked raspberry buns, or a glimpse of icing sugar being sifted over a fluffy victoria sponge, can instantly transport you back to a kitchen from your childhood, watching in awe as your mum or grandma pulls her latest mouth-watering creation out of the oven.

And now it seems this new generation of eager bakers is keen to grab a slice of the culinary action. The Great British Bake Off returned to our screens this week. Once again it seems to have re-ignited the country’s enthusiasm for grabbing an apron and wooden spoon, rather than grabbing your car keys to head to the ready-made cakes aisle of your nearest supermarket.

One woman and baker extraordinaire who is seeing this first hand is Meryl White, author of Grandma Abson’s Traditional Baking.

Meryl, 63, of Sprotbrough, was lucky enough to inherit her Grandma Abson’s recipes - a gold mine of baking knowledge which Meryl lovingly turned into a book. She now hosts events and classes across Doncaster and has seen how quickly people can get the baking bug.

“What they like is that you know exactly what you are putting into it,” she says.

“You can make something impressive with basic - and local - ingredients. I get many of my ingredients from Tim and Jane’s Tasty Flavours on Doncaster Market.

“I do a Grandma Abson Board Recipe of the Month there which uses seasonal food and is proving very popular.”

Like many of us, Meryl’s taste for baking came from watching her grandmother.

“I remember watching Grandma bake on an old Yorkshire Range, like the ones in The Great Kitchen at Cusworth Hall and in The Mansion House when I was very young,” she says.

“We lived on a railway station so there was a constant stream of visitors dropping by. She used to make scrumptious cakes, pastry and puddings in the oven and toasted teacakes on the open fire. At certain times of year, there were baking rituals such as simnel Cake at Easter, jams and chutneys in the late summer, parkin and bonfire toffee for November 5, and of course Christmas cakes, Christmas puddings and home made mincemeat.

“I suppose I learnt how to bake by watching grandma and gradually acquiring her skills, knowledge and expertise but never had any formal training.”

Perhaps one of the biggest inspirations for viewers of the Great British Bake Off is being able to see just how spectacular your baking can be - even without formal training.

Heather Smith, 49, is the owner of Amazing Floral Sugar in the Waterdale Centre. Despite building a successful baking business for herself, her educational background is in fact in an entirely different field.

“I went to agricultural college when I left school,” she laughs. I came out with the top prize for bricklaying and woodwork even though the majority of students there were farmers’ sons so it was quite impressive. I didn’t really do anything with that although I have used a piping bag to grout tiles when I was tiling once!”

Like Meryl, Heather’s love of baking was down to her grandmother.

“I was born up here and my grandmother always cooked and baked. It didn’t matter what she did - it always came out absolutely fantastic.”

In addition to making special occasion cakes to order from her premises, Heather also stocks a full range of baking equipment so people can arm themselves with everything they need to start a Bake Off of their own.

“It’s all ages of people doing it now,” Heather explains.

“What I have found over the last two to three years is I’ve had customers come in and they’ve gone from baking their first cupcake with a simple swirl of buttercream to making spectacular cake with all the trimmings in a very short space of time.”

But no matter whether you’re making a simple sponge cupcake or an extravagant beetroot or courgette cake - it seems it’s all about the enjoyment you get out of it and the satisfied tummies you are able to fill.

Meryl says: “I get a lot of pleasure out of baking.

“When you combine simple ingredients from the store cupboard to produce a tasty cake or biscuits, it’s always a delight. People always enjoy what I bake and I like it when they tell me so. I think baking is therapeutic too. After all, who can resist the sensuous smell of home baking straight out of the oven?”

l Read Meryl’s Grandma Abson baking blog at www.grandmaabson.com, and find out more about Amazing Floral Sugar at www.amazing-floral-sugar.co.uk