Despite being a continually evolving industry, that has survived and adapted to modern technologies and ever-changing consumer tastes, bakery is often considered the poor relation to cooking.
Gordon, Delia and Nigella dominate our TV schedules, top 10 book lists and even tabloid pages paint a "glamorous" portrait of cookery. Yet bakery, an industry filled with innovative, creative and passionate people, remains faceless and continually gets left behind.
With its vast heritage - archaeological evidence suggests that the early Egyptians first made bread in 2600-2100 BC - age-old methods and staple products, bakery has long been seen by outsiders as old-fashioned and non-progressive. Yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. Intense competition within the bakery market, combined with an increasingly savvy customer, has continued to drive innovation.
The industry is hugely creative too - you only have to look at the entries for last year’s Baking Industry Awards to see the astounding level of imagination and originality that is out there. Bakers are also passionate about what they do - so many of us spend our whole career in this industry, developing our skills as we go and becoming real experts in our field.
We have to be versatile and reactive in order to keep up with the fast-paced and ever-evolving industry we work in. More and more baked goods, confectionery and cakes are coming on to the shelves and with enhanced choice comes an even more discerning customer. If you fail to use innovation and inspiration to differentiate yourself, like a badly baked cake, you’ll fall flat.
The ingredients we use and our production methods are also changing all the time, as tastes alter and consumers look for longer-lasting, healthier alternatives. The recent emphasis on natural colourings and flavours has been driven by the consumer desire for fewer additives and more natural ingredients and, as we have done for thousands of years, we have moved with the market demands.
Ours is an industry where there is room for everyone - from the home baker, the bakery production line or the student in training. Irrespective of background or skill level, bakery demands imagination and dedication. And if you want to pursue a professional career, the breadth of training is also vast.
As the world gets smaller, we, as consumers and bakers, are being exposed to new and evolving techniques and product types. From the croissant to the crumpet, continental breads, cakes and patisserie are now readily available wherever you are in the world. Cosmopolitan patisseries sit alongside family bakers as the market diversifies and the opportunities have never been so great.
Bakery is not cooking’s poor relation - it is innovative, fast-moving and steeped in tradition. n
l Claire Bailey is business and technical development manager at Renshaw