Posted 30th Sep 2014
To celebrate Craft Bakers' Week (29th Sept to 5th Oct) we delved into the history of Warings Craft Bakers, a family bakery started in 1932, now run by a fourth generation of family. We spoke with Public Relations and Demonstration Studio Events Manager (and family member) Daniel Carr to find out more about growing up around a bakery and what the future holds
With six bakery shops dotted around Hampshire and Berkshire, Warings Craft Bakers is still going strong after being founded in 1932 by Lawrence Webster. Starting his own bakery from the back of his house, the business has grown over the years as more of the family became involved, today boasting a series of thriving craft bakeries keen to keep tradition alive. We find out more from family member Daniel.
What is your role at the bakery?
Currently I am the Public Relations and Demonstration Studio Events Manager, however I cover many different areas of the business. Being family normally means you wear many different hats and do whatever needs to be done.
Where did your interest in baking start?
As part of the family and growing up almost in the bakery, the interest has been there from as early as I can remember. Any opportunity I had to go to the bakery with my granddad, I did, and loved watching the bakers produce all these amazing cakes and bread. For me I was quite literally a kid in a bakery shop – far better than any sweet shop! I spent most of my school holidays helping in the bakery to earn a bit of pocket money and so most mornings you’d find me jamming doughnuts, making apple turnovers and folding Eccles cakes, and of course, lots of washing up!
Tell us about a 'typical' day in the bakery, if there is one...
It’s not so much a typical day as a typical night for our bakers. We bake fresh throughout the night to produce all the wonderful bread and cakes you see in our shops. The bakery is spilt into two separate production areas, albeit under one roof. Our bread bakers can start as early as 7pm in the evening working through until 4-5am the following day, and during this time will produce all the bread, rolls, buns and Danish pastries as well as make the doughnuts ready to be fried by our confectionery bakers. The confectionary bakers arrive early in the morning, around 3am, and start on all the short-life 'made today to eat today' products like dairy cream cakes. They fry the doughnuts and then ice and decorate all the buns, cupcakes, tray bakes etc. Deliveries leave the bakery around 6am and are in all our shops by 7am. Although our bread bakers are finished and at home by now, the confectionery bakers remain until about midday and bake the longer life products like biscuits, loaf cakes and Swiss rolls. Our seven bakers work six days a week, supplying six shops.
Is using local produce important to you at the bakery?
It can be very difficult to find local produce that fits our purpose as much of what we need is grown abroad due to climate. However, we do try to use local suppliers where possible. The majority of our flour is supplied from Wessex Mill in Wantage not too far away from us in the next county of Oxfordshire, and we use our local butcher and greengrocer for our fruits, salad and roasting meats. Using local businesses and independents is a great way of supporting traders like ourselves, keeping money in the community and building great working relationships.
Who comes up with the new bread and cake ideas to sell in the shops?
It’s a collaboration. We rely heavily on feedback from customers about what they would like to see and also encourage staff to feed back any suggestions of products they may have seen or enjoyed when out and about, or on holiday. Obviously market trends dictate a certain amount as well, and so we’re always watching to see trends emerging, for example gourmet marshmallows is tipped to be something big and we have already developed a range for our Indulgent Baker brand.
Can you recommend some top tips for baking bread?
Patience – great bread takes time. It’s quite a common mistake not to knead the bread enough. Kneading helps build the strands of gluten which in turn will help the dough to rise. Kneading by hand should take approximately 10-12 minutes. A good sign you’ve kneaded the dough enough is smooth dough. By the time you finish, it should be completely smooth and slightly tacky to the touch. It should then be left to double in size before you knock it back. Knocking back is the process of knocking all the air out of the dough before shaping it into your final loaf or rolls and once again allowing time for it to rise before baking in the oven. Finally, don’t rush the baking – you’ll have burnt crusts and a soggy lump in the middle. Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/Gas Mark 6 and bake for 15-20 minutes for crusty rolls or 20-30 minutes for a crusty white loaf.
What's the secret to a light cake sponge?
Aeration is the key here. Firstly beat together the sugar and fat until you get a really nice, smooth, creamy consistency. Next, add the eggs gradually mixing in each amount completely before adding the next. Finally add the flour, but make sure you sift it first and for great results try sifting twice, this should really help make a light cake sponge.
What are the future plans for Warings Bakery, anything exciting in the pipeline?
We’re currently in the process of fitting out a new shop. This will take us up to seven retail properties. However we are going to try something a bit different to our current format and move away from your traditional continental style fittings and long rows of bakery counters and have a more rustic farm shop feel, with open displays, more customer interaction by having staff on the shop floor rather than standing behind counters and for the first time we’ll add an in-store bakery where our customers will be able to watch our staff bake and create the products our customers will be buying. Having a bakery in our new shop in Thatcham, Berkshire, will also enable us to offer different products at different times of the day, so if you visit in the morning you’ll find breakfast baps, pancakes and waffles along with other delicious treats to get your day going, but if you visit in the afternoon you might find a more indulgent selection of tea-time treats like tarts and cakes, freshly baked cookies, warm chocolate fudge cake and ice cream. Of course it goes without saying, throughout the day we’ll bake beautiful artisan traditional and continental breads for any occasion too.
Is it ever too late to start baking?
It’s never too late to start baking. We’ve seen a huge resurgence in home baking with the success of The Great British Bake Off and similar programmes. In fact, three years ago we launched our very own demonstration studio hosting masterclasses in bread, pastry and sweet dough and the popularity of these is growing year on year. The studio also welcomes schools for educational trips where we talk to them about the life of a baker and demonstrate how bread makes it to their table from wheat to Warings.
Has much changed in terms of work method and basic recipes since the
bakery first started in 1932, or do you try to keep up tradition?
Not a lot for us. Many of our methods and recipes remain the same and you’ll still find a fantastic selection of traditional buns, doughnuts, pastries and cakes and I think that’s what makes us unique. Many of these baked goods from yesteryear have faded away from the more mainstream bakers and supermarkets, but we still find there’s huge demand for products like lardy, Eccles and the famous Warings gypsy tart. I suppose the biggest change comes from the customers desire to have more choice. With customers being more well-travelled they enjoy seeing products they may have encountered abroad or will enjoy something that will evoke fond memories. With this in mind throughout the year we have promotional products that complement our range. For example, our Summer of Bread will see us produce walnut cobs, chilli loaves, olive and rosemary focaccia, Mediterranean pia do and corn bread.
By Natalie Crofts