Conversation begins when you cut the first slice
I had heard whispers of The Clandestine Cake Club a year or two ago, when news of secret meetings taking place in Yorkshire made it into the national papers. Who were these people? A rogue break-out group from the WI? Why did the venues change all the time? And why are cupcakes banned?
News of a local branch leaked through on twitter and I made early investigations into how I could infiltrate The Clandestine Cake Club. Almost six months later I finally made a breakthrough and found myself, early one Sunday morning, at a secret venue in St Albans, with a blueberry and lemon friand cake tucked away in my bag. Would I be allowed in? And would my cake be up to standard?
To take you back to the origins: The Clandestine Cake Club was started over three years ago by Lynn Hill in Leeds. Lynn had been running a Secret Tea Room at her home, where strangers came for afternoon tea – a variation on the supper club idea. Popularity for Lynn’s events grew, and it became clear that she would need to share the baking. So she created The Clandestine Cake Club, keeping events secret, save only for those who booked a place, and wherever possible, held at different locations. The idea was to bring people together for tea and cake and to encourage friendship over a shared love of baking.
As popularity grew, branches of the club have popped up around the country. Food writer Hilary O’Cuanachain organises the St Albans CCC(although as it grows another willing helper would be appreciated) and I went along to this month’s meeting, held at The Pudding Stop on Verulam Road, St Albans. Each meeting has a theme, and the group had chosen ‘puddings’ to match the surroundings. We took over the large table at the back and everyone unpacked their cakes. The idea is to bake a cake for sharing, hence the ‘no small cakes’ rule. Lynn had found that when a cake is to be cut and shared, it forms the basis for conversation and interaction; you just have to talk to the baker, and ask questions, and pass plates to each other. And so it was; as we cut slices of cake, we shared baking techniques and ideas and heard how people had adapted and researched recipes to meet the theme. Every cake was different: there was a Boozy Inside Out Trifle Cake, Raspberry Crumble Cake, Sticky Toffee Cake, Pecan Pie Cake, Banana Split Cake, Raspberry Cheesecake Cake and a Banoffee cake, and many others. As I had my research hat on, I tried all the cakes. The bonafide members come prepared and tend to try only one or two cakes, and come prepared with cake tins and boxes; at the end of the meeting they all cut up the cakes and take them home to share with family and work colleagues.
Conversation flowed for two hours, from the recent women’s cycling, to fundraising activities, and new jobs. There was a real range of ages, and it was lovely to see chat between people who may not have met otherwise in day to day life. I asked why people enjoyed coming to the CCC and reasons included “I love to bake, and there are only so many cakes you can eat yourself”, “it’s relaxing to bake after a stressful day”, and “I love to share ideas and try something new”. All keen bakers, the standard was high, and there were many tales of special occasion cakes made for friends, and one member told me that when she started her new job she took cake – a lovely idea. We were told about a charity called Free Cakes for Kids (www.freecakesforkids.org.uk) whereby people bake birthday cakes for families that may not have time or money to do so. The CCC members were very interested, and as one said “its baking without the calories!”. I had a chance to look at The Clandestine Cake Club cookbook which is a collaborative collection of cake recipes from members, and is full of original ideas (published by Quercus). It was a very welcoming and friendly group, and we were all supportive of each other’s baking efforts. I am sure any newcomer would feel very at home, very quickly.
If you would like to join The Clandestine Cake Club, visit the website http://www.clandestinecakeclub.co.uk to register for the secret emails. The next meeting has been planned for a venue nearby, but I cannot possibly tell you where…