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Young British Foodie Baking Awards 2015

Young British Foodie Baking Awards 2015

by Felicity Spector 18 August 2015

Talk about living the dream. This really did take the biscuit. Several dozen biscuits. I had been invited to observe the judging at the Young British Foodie baking awards - with four highly impressive candidates up for the prize.

Felicity Spector has worked in national television journalism for nearly thirty years, but has now combined her day job with an increasing interest in food writing in her spare time.

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.

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Wing Mon and her sourdough loaves
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Cakes by Kate Packwood of Wild Flour

By now, well sugared up, we are glad of another bread course. Rachel Cockerell only began baking a year ago, when she lived in Venice and got bored of plain white rolls. She taught herself to make sourdough, using the Tartine recipe, and back in London began baking a few dozen loaves a week, delivered by bike. "I want to fight back against all the gluten terror", she says, as we try slices of oat and almond bread, and another with olives and rosemary. "People are starting to realise it isn't the enemy – it's processed white bread made too quickly that's the real junk food". Now she's got access to a local pizza oven, she says she's looking to expand. The little project she started to fill in time between university lectures is on the cusp of something new.

It's time for more desserts. Huge boxes of canele in dizzying variety, thanks to Philippe Moulin and Nicolas Wetter, the talented pair behind Babelle. With a wealth of high-end culinary experience around the world, they decided to create a business based around the Bordeaux delicacy with a recipe that's four centuries old. "We chose London because it's forward looking, cosmopolitan – people are prepared to try new things." They are, they say, the first bespoke canele bakery in Europe to offer up to a hundred different toppings and fillings. It seems they've brought along all one hundred for us to try. The edges are crunchy, the middle like custard: we taste one with passion fruit and mango, another with chestnut and rum, another with salted caramel and truffle. "We just thought – time flies. If we didn't go for it now - when?" They now sell in Fortnums and Selfridges, and would love a shop of their own. But they don't want to compromise their product: "We'd never want to lose the ownership of what we do."

By now the sugar levels in the room are higher than a warehouse at Tate & Lyle, but there's one more candidate to see. Lucie Bennett, who's been a finalist before, unloads boxes of intricate pâtisserie which she designed for a wedding, along with a signature carrot cake filled with orange cream cheese frosting and caramel. She trained in classical pâtisserie on a course which offered work experience alongside the studies. Her first job, with master chocolatier William Curley, was revelatory: "It was just wonderful to work there, to see how a small shop works, and how they moved the business on." Her family, rooted in farming and a love of food, have been an integral part of her growth. "I have this rural background", she says, "so I can use our own raspberries, carrots, beetroot, herbs and flowers." Blueberries come from a neighbour, the magnificently named Blueberry Bob. We dig into a layered slice of blueberry mousse, lemon sponge, and white chocolate ganache, and another matching raspberries and pistachio. A simple looking fruit tart has roasted almond pastry, and the crème pâtissière has been made by infusing toasted nuts in milk, lending the whole thing an astonishing depth of flavour. The carrot cake is sublime. Now, Lucie says, the business is at a crossroads: she's ready to grow – and wants the YBF award to help her get there.

 
 
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Babelle canele
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Lucie Bennett's cakes

Four inspiring bakers: four completely different products – each made with passion and integrity and impressive levels of skill. As the sugar rush subsides, Lily, Clare and Tom have to decide the final winner: no easy task. I won't give the game away here, all will be revealed next month, at the YBF awards. But what a tribute to the state of British baking: more than one moment of brilliance, on anything but a boring day.

Tate Food is supporting The YBFs for a second year – celebrating emerging young food and drink talent and our shared passion for British producers. All profits made by Tate Food are invested back into the Tate Galleries, and they set out to champion and promote the best British food and drink producers.

 
 
 

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