Baking has once again risen in popularity in recent years, As the Great British Bake-Off returns to our TV screens this week, and office bakeathons become competitive craze among colleagues again, it’s time to think about how our favourite pursuit can get even better as we reduce our plastic consumption. Are you ready for plastic-free baking?
Baking is as old as our most ancient civilisations. Perhaps our can ancestors teach us a thing or two about plastic-free baking?
Baking from scratch always seems to make cake taste that much more delicious. With baking back in vogue you can get everything from edible glitter and cake toppers to melting candy. Bright coloured sprinkles have become the forgiving gems on a failed Victoria sponge.
You will agree though, that the best cakes are not always the most colourful or elaborately decorated, but those stemming from simplicity: a few good quality ingredients mixed up with love.
Baking has always been a beautifully slow and comforting leisure pursuit, where raw ingredients are given life through warmth.
A brief history of baking
Unlike today’s baking for pleasure, baking was once a necessary means for nourishment.
“Acorns were good until bread was found.”Francis Bacon, English philosopher
The application of fire so that we could bake and cook raw ingredients changed the way we eat. We no longer needed to chew so long. Food was so much easier to digest and, more often than not, safer to eat.
The earliest evidence of baking was when humans took grains of wild grass, soaked them and mashed them into a paste and heating them on hot rocks. In 2014 archaeologist digging in Croatia discovered what they believe to be the world’s oldest oven, dating back 6,500 years ago.
The ancient Egyptians baked bread using yeast, and it was the Greeks who invented enclosed ovens around 600BC. By the middle ages, bread was baked by all who could afford a stove – and the wood to heat it.
Baked goods are treats from the heart
Baked treats have always been cherished, with lashings of gratitude whipped in.
Baking found its firm place within the Roman Empire, and mills to grind grain into flour began dotting up, and ovens began being made with solid rock and a chimney, much like you see wood-fired pizza ovens today. Roman pastry chefs were prized professionals, respected for their contribution to the decadent banquets from 300BC to 1AD.
Every kind of breads, sweet cakes and fritters imaginable were created.
Cake baking was a particular luxury until currants, raisins and treacle became more readily available and sugar became cheaper in the 16th and 17th century. Biscuits, cakes and even pastries were baked for a sweet dessert course as part of the evening meal.
By the 18th century even the poorest families would be able to enjoy Christmas cake and receive hot cross buns. It was only one generation ago in post-war Britain where families would have to divide up one egg among the entire family. This meant that to bake a cake with such prized ingredients was a real treat.
Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can. Pat it, and prick it, and mark it with “B”. And put it in the oven for Baby and me!Traditional British nursery rhyme
How the ancient world embraced plastic-free baking
Baking never used to use any kind of plastic-based products. Plastic spatulas didn’t exist nor did silicone moulds.
Bread was for most of history moulded by hand or baked in earthenware pans that were glazed on the inside. Some baking techniques used clay or large leaves to cover and preserve moisture when cooking over open fires or on hot embers.
Re-invent the oven: the ultimate plastic-free baking accessory
The oven, in all its variations, it in fact the most crucial accessory for the art of baking, as this influences how the loaf or cake will turn out.
For over 300,000 years, hearths were used as the main source of cooking and baking. Due to risk of fire within homes made from flammable materials, it is quite possible that hearths would be open-air or housed elsewhere.
The hearth became the heart of every home, heated by burning wood and later, coal.
Steam baking in a bamboo basket has been consistently popular among Asian culture – just think about baos and gyoza as an example.
Even today, you will still see steam cakes being made in households without ovens in Asian kitchens. This is a very healthy method of baking as it reduces the need for fat.
Ovens have not always been above ground. Earth ovens allow bakers to bake, steam and even smoke food. The Egyptians used barrel-shaped containers of baked clay featuring an internal baking chamber. Historians believe earth ovens formed the basis of the popular tandoor oven, found across Asia and the Middle East.
The concept is simple: dig a pit in the ground and make a fire in it. Once it has produced heat, you can bury your food until it has been cooked, before digging it back up!
Even today, across the world, you will still see this method. Aboriginal communities use the Kup Murri method in which they bury dough made from foraged and hand-milled grain, in black ash. After the bread is baked, the ash is brushed away, leaving a surprisingly delicious charred element to the bread.
There is also the Kālua method in Hawaii and the Pachamanca method in Peru, which has been an important ritual in Incan tradition.
Pachamanca translates as Mother Earth: cooking food underground showed respect to the earth while celebrating life.
Is silicone bakeware good for the environment and our health?
Silicone has become a favourite material for baking given that it is non-stick. It’s definitely better than plastic as it extremely hardy: it’s water and salt resistant, antimicrobial and able to endure extreme temperature fluctuations.
You can use silicone in the freezer and oven alike without it degrading, melting or cracking. But how good is silicone bakeware for the environment and for our health?
Silicone is made primarily from silica, which is derived from sand and a plentiful natural resource.
Silicone lies somewhere between a synthetic plastic polymer and synthetic rubber, and it contains chemical additives that normally originate from petroleum or natural gas.
Studies by Life Without Plastic suggest that silicone isn’t completely inert and that it can leach synthetic chemicals at low chemicals, especially in high fat content foods.
All Silicone isn’t created equally. Some low-quality silicone products contain fillers – you can tell if you see white appearing when you pinch and gently twist the product.
If you do wish to use silicone bakeware, choose high-quality, food-safe versions.
While silicone does last for decades, there are few places that accept silicone for recycling when it does reach the end of its lifespan. Hopefully this will change in the future.
Plastic-free baking is easy
Use cake tins and trays
It was only in 17th century that wooden hoops and round iron cake pans first began to be used. Holland and Britain were the first countries to adopt baking pans and trays improved the capacity of the oven and ensured uniformity in our baking.
The good news is that we don’t need to soak our crusted cake tins and baking trays overnight and end up with crumbs under our fingernails. There is another way to avoid the mess of plastic-free baking while still using classic cake trays and tins.
Bread is the staff of life, but the pudding makes a good crutch.Scottish proverb
The If You Care brand provides a fantastic plastic-free baking service with its range of 100% unbleached greaseproof paper and packaged in 100% recycled cardboard. Why not use the chlorine-free baking sheets, which are coated in silicone derived from sand – ideal for lining baking trays, or the parchment paper baking rolls You can also use the large baking cups for muffin making.
Alternatively you are also able to use If You Care’s 100% recycled aluminium foil which is an excellent food wrap that uses 95% less energy in production compared to regular aluminium foil. The heavy duty aluminium foil is also fab. You can pop these into your recycling bin for continued life.
Get into beeswax wrap
You know how clingfilm can be an absolute pain when it gets all wound up and stuck together. Why struggle? Do yourself and the planet a favour by opting for beeswax wrap.
Beeswax wrap has been around since the seventh century – it was in fact the Ancient Egyptians who first used waxed cloths to preserve food.
You use beeswax wrap just like you would use clingfilm, only you can wash and reuse it again and again. The Beeswax Wrap Company provides a fantastic range of beeswax wrap for you to use, including a starter kit, and beeswax wraps sized especially for wrapping bread and cheese.
Bulk buy your larder ingredients
Standards of ingredients have always varied depending on one’s riches. It is said that the poor could cut their teeth on the toughness of their coarsely ground grains of rye and black bread. Today, there are now plenty of delicious flours and grains we can use to ensure variety.
Better thin kneading than to be empty (a half loaf is better thanHebridean proverb
You can buy most of the ingredients you use during baking and cooking in bulk, to avoid the huge amount of plastic packaging you will still find in the baking section of supermarkets. It is possible to choose from a huge range, whether it’s dried fruits, nuts and seeds or grains, pulses and cereals. You will be able to meet the requirements of every recipe.
You don’t even need to buy very much with our bulk buy options; most of the options in our Realplasticfree.com shop start at 100 grams or 250 grams.
Did you know? Gingerbread was traditionally made with breadcrumbs.
The great thing about all these raw ingredients is that we deliver them in plastic-free, biodegradable packaging, so once you’ve received your ingredients and decanted them into your mason jars and tubs, you can simply scrunch up the packaging to create air pockets and add it to your home compost. Within a month or two it will have biodegraded.
Alternatively, you can put it in your general kitchen waste bin, and it will break down.
Support Real Bread
While this isn’t strictly about plastic-free baking, we do think it’s an important one to mention: Support the Real Bread Campaign. Taste the difference between your supermarket sliced bread that’s loaded with artificial additives and a loaf made at home or from your artisan baker.
What you put in the dough you’ll find in the cake.English proverb
Support heritage grains such as Scottish beremeal that’s produced in the Orkney Islands, spelt flour, and stoneground strong wholemeal flour, which features organic English wheat that has been milled in the UK.
Experience a wide range of healthy and natural wholefoods and the joy of plastic-free baking from your friends at realplasticfree.com.