Spreading her wings
17th May 2023
Rebecca Bishop, founder of the Two Magpies Bakery empire, tells Sarah Hardy about her first cookbook which is now on sale
Two Magpies Bakery is a bit of a runaway success story. In just 10 years, it has grown from one lovely little shop in Southwold to nine branches across Norfolk and Suffolk – with our nearest ones in Holt and Blakeney, and one which has just opened in Wells.
We all love their decent coffee, their sourdough breads, their very moreish cardamom buns and, well, as for their sausage rolls – they seem to have adopted a life of their own, with their own Facebook appreciation page. It must, says Rebecca, a very charming woman in her mid 50s, be something to do with the all butter pastry and the Blythburgh pork!
Rebecca is living her best life at present as her first cookbook, something she has dreamt about for at least seven years, is now published and receiving very favourable reviews. She says: ‘I’d always wanted to write my own cookbook as I am such a fan of them, I must have about 300 at home – I have a whole wall of them.
‘I’ve thought about it for years, and admitted to people that I’d like to do it about five years ago. I’ve always collected ideas, thoughts, bits and pieces, really. But just as I was thinking I really should get on and do something about it, someone from a publishing company came into our Blakeney shop and suggested it.
‘So that was that, really, I had to do it. I thought I had it just about ready so was given quite a short deadline. And then, when I looked at what I had, it was really just lots and lots of scrappy bits of paper!’
The cookbook contains just over 100 recipes, all tried and tested in the bakery and they include ideas for celebration cakes, pastries, pizzas and breads. There are also plenty of those vital tips and hints and a few little stories, too. ‘I enjoyed producing it very much,’ says Rebecca, adding that she would like to write more.
Rebecca now runs Two Magpies Bakery with her husband, Steve Magnall, who used to be CEO at St Peter’s Brewery, near Bungay. She was originally an art teacher, teaching art and textiles in high schools, and a fitness instructor, too, but decided to follow her passion and attended a bread making course at the renowned School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire which fuelled her ambition to set up her own bakery.
She established Two Magpies Bakery with her first husband, Jim, saying: ‘I wanted somewhere with a good butcher and greengrocer but no bakery. And somewhere lovely, too. So Southwold was perfect. I built a little bakery out the back and we baked throughout the night.
‘The first five years were very hard – being a baker is a very tough life as you basically bake throughout the night so everything is fresh for the morning.’
Rebecca has now stepped away from the day-to-day operations of running the business, which employs around 100 people and has its baking headquarters at Harleston and Darsham, with a cafe and Bake School at Darsham, too.
Her teaching roots shine through as she very much enjoys teaching day classes at Darsham, especially her sourdough workshops. ‘Our classes are suitable for all abilities – there is always something new to learn, and we make them fun, too.’
And she is very interested in recipe development, coming up with new products for the shop and new dishes for the cafes. ‘I lived in Hong Kong when I was young and people just eat out all the time there so I got used to lots of different flavours. And I really like cooking from scratch, making my own mincemeat at Christmas, for example.’
Two Magpies Bakery – Stories and Recipes From the Heart of East Anglia by Rebecca Bishop, with photography by India Hobson, is published by Headline Home at £26.
You can see Rebecca in action at the Norfolk Norfolk Food and Drink Festival in The Walled Garden at Holkham Hall on 2 September. She is demonstrating how to make sourdough on the Arthur Howell Cookery Theatre stage. Admission to the festival, which runs on 2 and 3 September, is free (parking is £5 per car). More details at www.northnorfolkfoodfestival.co.uk
Rebecca also has her own website www.thenextloaf.co.uk, and a fun Instagram account @thenextloaf where she tries out new recipes – with varying degrees of success!