Don't make it like they used to

Making pastry

When I learnt to bake, I was taught basic skills such as creaming, whisking and folding. Pastry was fun to make; rubbing the fat into flour and feeling the dry ingredients come together when water was added to form a dough that felt 'right'.

A friend's daughter made an Apple pie at school recently - using ready-made shortcrust pastry and a tin of apple pie filling. Where's the skill in that? Yes, peeling, coring and slicing apples is fiddly and making pastry means there's more washing up, but I don't think it can match the unbeatable flavour of a pie made from scratch with real apples and homemade buttery pastry .

Lemon meringue pieAnother friend always buys ready-made pastry - ready-rolled if possible. She won't make dough as she hates the 'gungy sticky feeling' on her hands! Puff pastry I can understand - all that rolling, folding and chilling - even chefs buy good quality puff pastry, but shortcrust pastry is so easy to make. People usually tell me that they never make pastry and when I say I always make it myself, they look at me in amazement. I made a Lemon meringue pie last week and was speechless when someone said 'This is nice', and then asked if it was from a leading supermarket!

My granny could whip up a delicious cake in minutes without the need for weighing scales or a recipe. But now it seems that many people rely on shortcuts that do away with the need to know any traditional skills at all. It's horrible to imagine that we might follow the American trend of cake recipes listing '1 box yellow cake mix, 1 box white cake mix' in the ingredients.

It's sad to think that the traditional kitchen skills, which we once used every day, are now becoming less frequently practised. I have a baking book published in 1932. Whole chapters are devoted to explaining the difference between a rubbed in mixture, creamed mixture, gingerbreads made using the melting method and whisked sponges. The different methods are explained in detail with advice on techniques for perfect results.

Our lifestyles have changed enormously since granny's day, but surely we all need to know the basic skills needed in baking, along with cooking methods such as braising, poaching and how to make tasty stock.

CustardSome people haven't the faintest idea of how to make custard or gravy and rely on ready-made. I'm astonished that lots of people buy expensive packets of crumble mix to scatter over fruit before baking, or batter mix for pancakes or Yorkshire pudding. As you have to add an egg and milk to the latter, why not just weigh out the flour and do it yourself? But it seems even a packet mix is beyond some people; now you can buy pancake mix in a plastic container and all that's needed is to add cold water, replace the lid, shake and the batter is ready to use.

Old favourites such as Braised lamb shanks and Treacle tart are back in fashion in restaurants. I hope the revival of dishes such as these will encourage everyone to spend time getting back to basics in the kitchen.

Do you still bake from scratch?

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