On Saturday mornings, Dominique Johns enjoys nothing better than flicking through her recipe books looking for inspiring sweet or savoury delights to bake.
She’s not only looking for ideas that will make her reach for her wooden spoon and kitchen scales. She’s also searching for recipes that will fire the imagination of members of her online baking community.
Dominique started the Sunday Baking Club more than three years ago and it now has more than 5,000 members. In that time it has given hundreds of everyday bakers the confidence to go beyond their tried-and-tested cakes and attempt something new.
“The idea for the club came when I was chatting on Twitter to some other keen bakers after we were inspired by TV’s The Great British Bake Off,” explains Dominique, a 38-year-old project manager from south London.
“I’ve always loved baking but was in a ‘baking rut’ at the time. But while tweeting away with another keen baker in particular, we came up with the idea for the Sunday Baking Club, where we could all help each other.”
The idea is simple. Early each week Dominique announces a baking theme on free-to-follow social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook and her blog. Some weeks, topics are seasonal, for instance Halloween, Christmas, the Wimbledon championships and the Chelsea Flower Show. Members can interpret the theme any way they want. Other weeks there might be a technical challenge – just as on Bake Off – where everyone is urged to make the same thing and see how they get on.
As the members work away in their own kitchens on their cakes and pies, they’re encouraged to tweet about their progress. Once they’ve finished, however successful the results, they can submit a photo, which is then retweeted.
A shortlist of the day’s top bakes is then compiled and members are asked to vote. The winner is awarded a virtual golden spoon for their efforts.
“The emphasis of our club has always been about encouraging each other as well as passing on tips, advice and ideas,” says Dominique. “It’s not about being competitive but instead finding a community of supportive people who love to bake.”
The club, now run by Dominique and her friend Laura Wilcock in their spare time, doesn’t take itself too seriously.
“Some of the funniest Sundays we’ve had were when someone suffered a meltdown while making their creation and joked about it as they went along. Even if the result isn’t perfect, they’re usually happy to stick up a photo. Members are lovely and give handy hints on how they tackled a tricky bit, so no one gets mocked.
“At the end of the day if it goes wrong, it’s not a disaster. It’s only a cake so we try not to get too wound up by anything.”
Dominique used to bake with her mum when she was a little girl and has never forgotten the excitement of mixing the ingredients to make something delicious to eat. Today she still loves to immerse herself in baking to relax.
“Baking gives me the chance to be creative away from my job. I’m not a writer or an artist in any way, but I can bake a decent cake,” she says.
Oddly enough, she isn’t actually a huge fan of sweet things and prefers savoury offerings instead. But her work colleagues certainly love her cooking passion because on Mondays she takes what she has made into the office for them to sample.
The club boasts members from as far away as the US and Australia as well as across the UK. Most only “know” each other online, but Dominique has organised social events where members can put faces to names. Several of its members were invited via the club to be in the audience for spin-off show The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice last year.
“Some members follow the theme every Sunday while others dip in if they feel it’s a bake they want to try,” says Dominique.
“It has certainly given me lots of fresh ideas. I try to come up with the theme on a Saturday morning ready for the following Sunday. It’s lovely searching out new ones, or putting a novel twist on one we’ve done before,” says Dominique. “I’m never happier than being in my kitchen baking something lovely to eat. Our club is all about sharing that same pleasure with others.”