Cambridge University Bread Baking Society (CUBBS) rose from humble beginnings to become a source of comfort and community – both in person and online.
Not many people would establish a society centred around baking when they can’t access an oven, but second-year engineering student Matthew Barker (Caius) didn’t let that hold him back.
“We had to do a presentation on a technical topic, and I didn’t think I could do anything too complicated, so I talked about bread and pitched a made-up society called the Cambridge Bread Baking Society,” he says.
His fellow freshers expressed such enthusiasm that the next time he made a loaf, he posted a message on the College year group chat asking if anyone wanted to come over.
“Fifteen people poured in, some of whom I’d never met before. It was incredible.” It was also a vast improvement on his first attempt at baking without an oven.
“I tried doing it in a saucepan on the hob and ended up starting a chip pan fire, so we all had to run outside at 11pm. The next morning, I bought a Pyrex container, put the dough in the microwave and set it to a convection setting. That worked really well.” It soon became a weekly tradition, with Matthew dishing out three loaves over the course of an evening. “I’d bring one out and, 10 minutes later, it would be gone.” His signature bake is sourdough because it’s easy to make and has a distinctive taste. “It has a really thick crust and a flavourful texture which means it’s delicious on its own.”
Along with Secretary Hannah Obie and Treasurer Evan Thomas, he made CUBBS an official society at the end of the Lent term. But while the chances to break bread in person may have been limited over the course of the past year, they’ve managed to keep in touch via a busy Facebook group, where members swap recipes and share photos of their own creations – from Irish sourdough and Greek Easter bread to a loaf in the shape of a frog!
Matthew now shares a house with an oven, which has allowed him to branch out into muffins and croissants, as well as a pizza-making night with his housemates. But bread is still his favourite. “There’s a reason it’s been with us for thousands and thousands of years. You only need flour, water and salt, but it’s amazing what they turn into.”
Most of all, he loves how it brings people together. “University can be stressful but very few students don’t like bread. It really connects people from different subjects and different backgrounds. To me that’s the best thing.”
From top (all Caius): Precious Ndukuba is a second-year architecture student; Matthew Barker is a second-year engineering student; and Hannah Obie is a second-year law student.