At Lily Vanilli's tiny bakery (pictured above) tucked away off Columbia Road, her fellow judges Claire Ptak from Violet Bakery and Birmingham bread maker Tom Baker, readied themselves for the carb and sugar fest to come. On the dot of eleven, an explosion of colour and energy burst into the room. This was Wing Mon, all striped sweater and polka dot blouse, pulling freshly baked sourdough loaves from her bags. After training at Manchester's Trove cafe, she moved to south London's Brickhouse Bakery: bringing together flour and water and salt in that special alchemy, she said, had brought something out in her: "I realised I wanted to bake bread for the rest of my life. This is it."
She slices up chunks of bread, the crust baked daringly dark. There was one with Gosnells mead and rye, sweet and dense with a backnote of sourness; another was, thrillingly, made with Pump House Bakery chocolate, with sour cherries and cacao nibs. The chocolate melts on our hands as we tear open the crust. "The transformation is like a magical thing. I love it so much, that when I get home from work I start on my own bread and experiment with recipes." We move on to a beetroot, black sesame and tahini loaf, sweet and nutty and savoury all at the same time. Wing's enthusiasm spills over: she wants to work with the community, educate people about real bread – and to keep learning herself... "You never bake your perfect loaf."
Next up, a cake maker all the way from Dublin: Kate Packwood from Wild Flour. She started baking as a hobby while studying a PhD in Shakespeare – a market stall to make a bit of cash went so well, she turned it full time. She sees cakes as a way of "wowing the socks off someone" for less than the price of a pint or a packet of fags: "It's a moment of brilliance in a boring day". Her flavours, matched with various kinds of whisky or gin, are intended to surprise. We try a dense dark chocolate cake with a tonka ganache, another made with rhubarb and rose, with a hit of Hendrick's gin. An olive oil cake with dried fruits and hazelnuts has the unexpected note of long pepper. "I love using different flavours. I use very little wheat flour, too – there's hazelnuts and almonds, and kamut flour instead", she says, before offering us segments of a cake iced in caramelised white chocolate which she's roasted for five hours.