Among a sea of toasty brown loaves lined up for close scrutiny at Britain’s Best Loaf 2023 peaked a glimmer of vibrant green, which caught the eye of the judges.

Fortunately for Derbyshire’s Kuma-San Bakehouse, its Brioche Japonais loaf backed up an intriguing appearance with a delightful flavour profile, sumptuous soft texture inside and crispy topping, all of which helped it secure the title of Britain’s Best Loaf 2023.

The recipe for the ‘special teatime loaf’ is an East-meets-West fusion of ingredients and baking styles. Giving its distinctive green hue, the matcha green tea flavouring pays homage to the culinary heritage of the micro bakery’s Japanese founder Miyo Aoetsu. The brioche loaf and macaron topping, meanwhile, can be attributed to Aoetsu’s gastronomic discoveries while living in France.

“I wanted to create something different,” Aoetsu tells British Baker, noting that she was inspired by Japanese pastry chef Sadaharu Aoki, who is known for using traditional Japanese ingredients in French-style flavours at his Parisian bakery.

Brioche Japonais by Kuma-San Bakehouse.

Source: Kuma-San Bakehouse

The distinctive green-coloured Brioche Japonais loaf featuring matcha green tea flavouring, white chocolate and dried fruit pieces and a crispy macaron topping

An inspired substitution

Sweet red beans are the traditional accompaniment to green tea in Japanese baked desserts. However, Aoetsu couldn’t source red beans of a sufficient quality and so opted instead for creamy white chocolate to balance the aromatic and subtly bitter matcha. She also added mixed peel and dried fruits, including cranberries soaked in Cointreau.

As with many delicate ingredients in baking, the flavour of green tea can easily diminish when exposed to high temperatures meaning Aoetsu had to “carefully optimise temperature and hydration” to ensure the flavour was still present in the finished loaf.

For added flair, the Brioche Japonais is finished with a macaron topping for additional sweetness and crispy texture.

It is this precision and innovation that won over the expert judging panel with one industry veteran declaring that they’d never seen anything like it before and another excitedly declaring it was one of the best breads they’d ever eaten.

The thrill of victory

One of the most heart-warming moments of the competition – which took place on Tuesday 25 April and was sponsored by ADM Milling, Bako, Brook Food & Bakery Equipment, and Lesaffre UK – was Aoetsu’s reaction to being announced winner of the Innovation category.

A sustained high-pitched squeal of delight could be heard as she bobbed her way through the crowd before taking to the stage and triumphantly lifting her trophy. “I was so shocked,” she says. “My heart was beating so fast.”

The excitement turned to shock when her Brioche Japonais was named Britain’s Best Loaf over the other six category winners. “I never thought I could win this,” Aoetsu explains. She was baking until quarter past six in the morning before rushing to the Birmingham NEC, concerned that she wouldn’t make it in time for judging. “I thought ‘Oh no, I’m not going to make it!’,” she says. “Suddenly, I’ve got two trophies. I don’t know what is going on anymore!”

Kuma-San Bakehouse founder Miyo Aoetsu  2100x1400

Kuma-San Bakehouse founder Miyo Aoetsu holds her trophies for Britain’s Best Loaf 2023 and Innovation category winner

Seeds of passion in baking

Originally from Tokushima in Japan, Miyo Aoetsu is a teaching expert with two master’s degrees in education. She fell in love with baked goods after living in France and developed her baking skills to through lessons at Forge Bakehouse in Sheffield and the nearby School of Artisan Foods.

With her English husband David, she set up Kuma-San Bakehouse in Matlock, Derbyshire in 2018. Kuma means ‘bear’ in Japanese, with the Kuma-San’s website saying the company name refers to either ‘Mr Bear or Mrs Bear or the large sleuth of teddy bears that live at the bakehouse’.

The micro bakery supplies two local cafes and offers a selection of items baked to order via its website. These include Japanese Cotton and Pullman loaves, sourdough loaves, speciality breads such as focaccia and hybrid baguettes, sweet buns, and brioches.