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Winner: David Wright, The Cake Shop Bakery

“I love what I do – baking and running the business,” says 2017 Baker of the Year David Wright.

His business, The Cake Shop Bakery based in Woodbridge, Suffolk, has one shop and a next-door café, which he runs independently. Breads, pastries and cakes are sold through both outlets, and the firm also caters for functions. Where possible, ingredients such as rapeseed oil, flour, organic eggs, and sausage meat are sourced locally.

“Bakery is hard work, but what feels right is the millennia-old connection between field and turning grain into something we can eat,” says Wright. “I enjoy its simplicity: basic ingredients turned into tasty breads and delicious treats; it’s alchemy.”

Having taken over his parents’ business five years ago, Wright completely gutted the shop and café and, with experience in set design after attending King’s College University in London, he redesigned them both, moving production to a new site nearby.

“We make breads, celebration cakes, croissants and everything you might find in a supermarket, but we try to beat them on quality,” he says.

The Cake Shop Bakery has a staff of 30. Wright says: “Success is not just judged as financial enterprise; our core values revolve around caring for our families, workers and customers.”

Finalist: Toby Milner, Milners

“I bake every day and love it!” says Toby Milner, MD of Milners bakery in Blaby, Leicestershire.

The business comprises five shops, with an emphasis on retail, but wholesale is growing. Milner’s father started the business 50 years ago and Milner began working with him in 1984, aged 14, then went to Southfields Bakery College and won The Renshaw Cup.

Since then, he has grown and adapted the business. “We bake products that speak for themselves: breads, cakes, pastries, cake lines, cookies and brownies,” he says. “Quality ingredients matter. I could save on costly butter or quality chocolate, but it gives the best results. It’s important to adapt to the current consumer, so I make sourdough breads with a starter from wild yeasts from plums in my garden.”

In the mornings, the bakery offers sausage and bacon rolls to workers. For popular products such as Eccles cakes, brownies, flapjacks and paradise slices, it uses its own recipes. “The best thing is to think of all the people enjoying your goods and to meet them when they come back for more,” says Milner.

Finalist: Brett Smith, The Ticklebelly Lane Bakery

Judged at his previous employer, The Welbeck Bakehouse, Notts, Brett Smith was described by the company as passionate, innovative and keen to use locally sourced ingredients.

Smith developed a range of award-winning products including new buns, focaccia, pastries, flatbreads and sourdoughs, and worked with local schools to educate youngsters about the importance of good bread.

“I love to speak to customers and be in touch with their needs and wants,” he says. “For example, I learned they like mini bites, which can be shared. I also enjoy researching books on the science of baking, looking up traditional recipes but putting a spin on them.”

Smith’s ultimate ambition is to own his own bakery producing artisan bread and teaching short courses on slow-fermented breads and other products, reflecting another of his interests – live demonstrations. “I’d love to develop a YouTube channel to teach bakers of all levels how to advance their skills,” he adds.