15th November 2021
Independent bakeries seem to be popping up faster than doughnuts in a deep-fat fryer. Has the pandemic sent us crazy for sweet treats and sourdough? Alison Huntley finds out
You don’t have to wander too far nowadays for an artisan sourdough loaf or a loaded sweet treat. And more often than not, you’ll have to queue to buy them. Small bakeries were popping up in North Norfolk before the pandemic struck and have burgeoned since.
Not all are completely new concerns, of course. Two Magpies Bakery co-owner Rebecca Bishop says many existing operations have expanded over the last 18 months. They certainly have, with outlets in Holt and Blakeney recently adding to their presence in Norfolk and Suffolk.
At NoThirty3, which opened in Burnham Market in March 2020 and is the bakery offshoot of NoTwenty9 Bar & Restaurant, general manager Rachael Parke believes lockdowns boosted the popularity of buying local.
“Lots of people were reminded what great businesses they had on their doorstep. This new love for passionate and enthusiastic indies saw a drive in villages and towns to reopen the bakeries and shops once pushed out by high rents and, dare we say it, supermarket ‘convenience’.”
Megan Lockyer who launched The Welly Boot Bakery in Holkham in May 2020, agrees. “I think small bakeries have boomed before and during Covid due to the ‘shop local, shop small’ movement. Often these businesses excel in providing something unique and special.”
For Megan, it’s also a personal pat on the back. “My customers love supporting my little baby of a business. They love seeing their hard-earned money helping someone else create a better, happier life working for themselves.”
Of course, the lockdowns also gave wannabe bakers the chance to hone their skills and ponder a new career, as Megan Hart, who opened Winibees Bakery this summer in Sheringham, points out.
“The pandemic forced people to change their lives in so many ways, including their professions/careers/employment. It’s given both new and experienced bakers the opportunity to create or enhance their skills and products.”
All those skills seem to be particularly devoted to two main products – the sourdough loaf and the sweet treat.
No matter what nutritionists may say, sweet treats are now officially cool. And things have moved on apace since the cupcake boom. Now doughnuts, gorgeous sweet pastries and loaded traybakes hold full sway.
Two Magpies’ Rebecca says the sweet stuff is now their biggest category. “People were locked down for so long and they wanted to give themselves a treat or buy treats to enjoy with family and friends and they are willing to pay more for something that is high quality and truly delicious.”
It’s a similar story at NoThirty3, where there is “a huge demand for treats not packed with preservatives and nasties,” says Rachael. “Smaller bakeries know exactly what is going into their products.”
Winibees’ Megan adds “I think sweet treats have always been cool in larger cities and throughout the pandemic, people were denied so many things and wanted to indulge.” Winibees has recently launched a mail order service too – check their website for details.
So what’s your sweet weakness? Pastéis de nata – Portuguese custard tarts – are winners everywhere. “Rich, indulgent and a lovely treat but make sure you arrive early as we guarantee they won’t last until tomorrow!” says Rachael at NoThirty3.
Winibees’ customer favourites are caramel cornflake brownie and Biscoff rocky road. “Our NYC cookies are also super popular and come in a stuffed version too, with fillings such as Nutella and Kinder,” adds Megan.
At Welly Boot, afternoon tea collections are booming. “People appreciate having something special at home, which before Covid wasn’t really something anyone did in particular.”
The other great success story of recent times of course is sourdough. Its popularity in local bakeries has never been higher, thanks not only to its deliciousness but also its reputation as being better for us.
As Rebecca at Two Magpies says, “What we need to remember is that when the pandemic first hit, there was a national shortage of flour and a shortage of bread. People panicked and many reverted back to learning the skills of baking.
“This has continued and we’ve definitely seen a rise in interest of real bread and an upsurge in our workshop and class bookings as more people want to learn how to make their own.”
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