A bit of a baking industry legend to say the least, Ernst Bachmann has been nominated as a finalist at the Baking Industry Awards no fewer than 15 times, and last year was the fifth time he walked away with a gong. Readers of BB will also know him for his series of recipe Masterclasses in these pages - not that this would have biased the independent judges, who praised his exceptional products in the face of tough competition.
"From talking to the sponsors on the night, I think that the all-round standard was pretty high last year," says Ernst. "The other two finalists each had great merit and it was good to meet them on the night. Why we won? You never know exactly!"
The clincher, the judges say, was adding a new twist to an established range of individual desserts, by offering complementary sauces for customers who want a complete at-home plated dessert.
"Everyone always says they use the finest ingredients," says Ernst. "But the key to creating something really special is how you combine those ingredients and what the product tastes like. The concept we sent the judges was strong, and I do believe that the taste of our entry was sublime!"
Bachmann’s shop on Portsmouth Road, between Kingston and Thames Ditton in Surrey, has reaped the rewards since Ernst bagged Patissier of the Year, sponsored by Puratos. He says: "We had signs in and outside the shop detailing our progress throughout the competition, so our existing customers were already excited on our behalf before we won."
Some opportune PR sent out to local papers and magazines paid off with a couple of front pages. "We also chose advertising spots to complement the PR - this seemed to work really effectively, as many people mentioned the fact that they had seen us in the papers and knew we were winners of the award when they came to the shop," he recalls.
== RICH BACKGROUND ==
Ernst bought the business in 1989 - the site of a bakery for the best part of 100 years. With a rich background as a patissier at prestigious hotels including The Dorchester, and having fulfilled his dream to build a successful business and reputation, he recently handed over the reins to his son, Chris, who bought the business last year.
He is now taking a step back - though it’s a small step and he is on hand most days to guide his protégés in producing impressive pastries, gateaux and handmade chocolates.
Will Glazier is the latest addition to the staff, and will be carrying the tradition of competition entering by constructing a decorative chocolate piece as part of the Hotelympia competitions next week at ExCeL, London; last month he also entered the Academy of Chocolate’s accolades, launched in 2005, to promote greater awareness of fine chocolate.
Due to the sheer variety of skills to be learned, staff retention averages around six years. "Because we have lots of seasonal products they’re constantly learning and never really get bored," says Chris Bachmann. "If I could find a clone army of the guys we have working here, I would. There’s not that many shops that do this range, at this quality and this price point."
== NEAT AND TIDY ==
The small space and the huge array of products made means the bakery is kept rigorously neat, with a place for everything and everything in its place, and the workflow is ruthlessly efficient. For example, gateaux are semi-constructed using combinations of sponge, mousse and biscuit, and then frozen; he uses a ring lined with card, to protect the gateau while it’s freezing, and then builds the gateaux within it. If it’s a lemon cream gateau, it will include sponge, lemon curd and a lemon cream. The moment a customer requests a product in the shop, a gateau can be pulled from the freezer and finished in minutes - in this case by piping a meringue and flambéeing it with a blowtorch.
"People have a thing about freezing food, but it’s quite the reverse in this sense," says Ernst, who believes that the best way to get a nice, light structure to the mousse is to chill it very rapidly. "That’s why we can work really quickly. If someone says they want 10 of something, we can do that in a matter of minutes." The same applies to the chocolates: 200-300 will be made and then frozen, to be packaged in boxes as needed.
Though the business is well established, it constantly reworks the range, and the newer snack-size products have been great sellers. In terms of chocolate, products range from £1.80 snack-size packs, to bars of chocolate, to smaller chocolate boxes, right up to £25 boxes of chocolate. "We’re always surprised at how well the fudge bars and the crackers go," notes Chris. "The snacking market here in the UK tends to be quite low-standard - people don’t snack on delicacies - whereas on the Continent it’s quite the reverse. So we’re trying to get that side of things going."
There are also plenty of Swiss specialities on offer, such as a Linzer Torte, the Swiss equivalent of a Bakewell Tart, a dense cake made with piped hazelnut and cinnamon paste, a layer of jam and topped with a glazed lattice.
It was the twist on the traditional product line - selling them with the tubs of coulis - that grabbed the judges’ attention. "For awards such as this, it’s best to enter a product that’s already a proven success in your range," says Ernst. His tip for this year’s BIA entrants is to never design something specially for the award. "Also, avoid over-complication. Good patisserie - and all good food - is about clear balanced flavours, so don’t mix too many things at once. And never substitute something that looks flashy for something that tastes good!"
=== What the judges said ===
"Ernst’s winning strawberry and lime cheesecake was visually appealing, with a melt-in-the-mouth texture"
What winning the Award meant to his business
Ernst: "It was quite nerve wracking when the award was announced, but It was terrific to be recognised once again. I love the great room at the Grosvenor House and I’ve always been a fan of Joanna Lumley so I have no complaints.
"Feedback from the shop since then has left us in no doubt that we’ve gained a lot of new custom. We’ve seen many new faces in our shop. Many people had lived near to the area for a long time, but did not realise where we were and what type of quality we produced. The award has definitely encouraged people to give us a try. This has resulted in us increasing our sales in the last quarter."