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Dorset members of the Clandestine Cake Club

PUBLISHED: 15:41 28 September 2016

CCC members proudly display their colourful cakes: (back row) Jenny Beck, Stephanie Chase, Kate Watson, Naomi Ray and Emma Squire (front row) Jackie Elbaz, Gina Blair, Kate Scammell, Gabi Morris and Caroline Jackaman.

CCC members proudly display their colourful cakes: (back row) Jenny Beck, Stephanie Chase, Kate Watson, Naomi Ray and Emma Squire (front row) Jackie Elbaz, Gina Blair, Kate Scammell, Gabi Morris and Caroline Jackaman.

Hattie Miles 07907 645897

Sue Quinn shares a slice or two with Dorset and Bournemouth members of the Clandestine Cake Club - the world’s trendiest underground baking society.

As the nation tucks into a fresh slice of The Great British Bake Off, one group of fans will be watching with a keener interest than most. Cake tins at the ready and offset spatulas to hand, members of the Clandestine Cake Club (CCC) – an international ‘secret’ society of home bakers which has a growing membership in Dorset – will be glued to their screens as the latest round of the ultimate baking battle returns.

Not that it’s wooden spoons at dawn for these bakers. The non-competitive CCC was set up in Leeds six years ago by enthusiastic home cook Lynn Hill to showcase what ordinary folk were baking in their domestic kitchens. Since then, this gentle baking club has blossomed into a network of some 200 groups spanning four continents – including Dorset and Bournemouth branches – made up of amateur cooks with a serious interest in cake.

Members meet regularly at a venue kept secret by organisers until the week before – thus the ‘clandestine’ – armed with a freshly baked confection and a hefty appetite for cake: cooking it, sharing it, eating it and socialising around it. If you’ve spotted a posse of (mainly) ladies bearing large baked goods lately, chances are they’re CCC members on their way to an event.

Dorset Magazine joined the Dorset and Bournemouth branches at one of their meetings at Roxy’s Bistro Bar in Charminster - there is much friendly crossover between the two branches, and members attending each other’s events. The theme for the evening was colourful cakes, and bakers had risen to the challenge with psychedelic vigour. They arrived bearing vividly festooned creations that everyone quickly demolished amid much good cheer. For this isn’t a competition and there are no Paul Hollywood-style arched eyebrows here. CCC is about kindred spirits enjoying each other’s company over cake.

“Life is generally so competitive, it’s a joyous thing to do something that absolutely isn’t,” says Gaby Morris, who jointly co-ordinates the 50-strong Bournemouth branch with Jackie Elbaz. “People are genuinely happy to see other people being creative, and they get joy from sharing. Everything seems achievable rather than difficult, which is wonderful.” Gaby, who works for the NHS, loves baking because it’s a soothing distraction from the demands of everyday life. “There’s something almost meditative about baking,” she says. “You have to concentrate, so I switch off from everything else and just focus on what I’m cooking. It’s such a change from other aspects of my life.”

Jackie, who also works for the NHS, agrees that cake unites rather than divides; CCC members come from all walks of life. “Everyone has really embraced the idea that we are not competitive and that aspect appeals to a lot of people,” Jackie says. “The really nice thing about the CCC is that we have a wide range of ages in our membership, from mid 20s to late 60s. Some people are retired, some work, some are supporting people in their careers – it’s a real mix. You can be any age to enjoy cake.”

But exactly how much cake do they enjoy? Good form demands that everyone at CCC events at least tries to sample every cake – but with around 15 members turning up to each meeting, that amounts to an awful lot of iced sponge. Do they ever reach peak cake? “Too much cake is never a problem,” laughs Gaby. “And we just have a slither,” Jackie adds.

I meet up later with Dorset co-ordinators Gina Blair and Emma Squires. As Gina settles down to chat she whips out – you guessed it – cake. She’s been experimenting with gluten-free flours and her carrot and banana cakes are triumphs. “I just adore cooking,” declares Gina, who is now retired but previously ran her own catering business. “I love to experiment and I think the cake club gives you the chance to bake something that you might not bake otherwise.”

For Emma, a stay-at-home mum with two young children, the club is an outside interest that she can work around the demands of family life. “It got the point where I wanted to do something for me,” Emma explains. “I think the cake club is very much a social thing. There are quite a lot of mums who want to do something for themselves.”

Amateurs they might be, but CCC members are no baking slouches. The organisation’s second cookbook, A Year of Cake, was published last year to wide acclaim. It features a drool worthy collection of 100 gorgeous professional-looking recipes, all from CCC members. But organisers stress that no baking expertise is required to join the club – members come to events bearing soggy bottoms, sunken tops and all manner of baking mistakes – and no one judges them.

Both of the branches in Dorset would welcome more members – organisers would especially like more men to balance up the numbers. They urge anyone who thinks they might be interested to just come along to see what it’s like. Meetings are always in the evening to enable those who work to attend – although obviously not on Bake Off night. I ask the organisers if they assiduously watch the show, and they look at me as if I’ve lost the plot. I take that as a firm yes.

Details on how to join the Dorset or Bournemouth branches of CCC as well as lots of recipes can be found at their website clandestinecakeclub.co.uk.

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