After a long and successful career as a cookery book editor and recipe writer, Jane Middleton decided that when it came to bakery and patisserie, it was the making that interested her more than the writing. Cinnamon Toast, a bespoke bakery business launched just a few months ago from her kitchen in Larkhall, near Bath, was born from her desire to make really delicious, beautiful bite-sized cakes, biscuits, macarons, tarts and treats for private and corporate customers.
“I wanted to add a touch of luxury to home baking,” Jane tells me as I look down at perfect raspberry and rose, chocolate mango and passion fruit ganache filled macarons and golden brown orange spice madeleines. It’s not easy choosing. I am an experienced cake baker myself, but even I know when I am facing a very high standard of professional deftness and scrupulous attention to detail. Immaculate ridges, delicate colouring, soft texture, intricate decoration, layered flavours: this lady knows her stuff. I am humbled and hungry in equal measure.
Jane’s kitchen is beautifully tidy, clean, modern and open plan, taking up half of the ground floor reception space of her Georgian terraced house. It leads straight into a very well designed conservatory dining room, where, on a big wooden table are laid in neat sections the tools of her trade: cookie cutters, a wooden board and a jaunty red stainless steel tool kit filled with colours, sparkles, decorations, spatulas, piping bags and cones. Both the front and back windows look out onto immaculate, herb and flower filled gardens. Near her study desk are shelves upon shelves laid out in rows upon rows of cookery books, testimony to Jane’s prolific erstwhile career.
“I originally studied French at University in London, and my first job in publishing was with Harper Collins. In the early 1990’s however, I decided I wanted to be a freelance editor, and over the years I worked for the likes of Ebury Publishing, Fourth Estate, BBC Books, Bloomsbury, Absolute Press and many others. I edited the cookery books of many celebrity chefs and my challenge was to ensure that the work they were doing in professional kitchens could be translated into the domestic kitchen,” she told me.
The arena that Jane originally entered all those years ago has changed dramatically, however, and now supermodels, television presenters and wives of chefs with little or no experience of cookery are able to sell millions of cookbooks, many of which are ghost written, recipe tested, photographed, airbrushed, checked and assembled by a whole team of secret, silent assistants in the penumbra of the publishing world: les petits mains in the “Acknowledgement” section.
“I was quite happy to have assisted so many people make their name, but I suppose I got to the point that I thought I owed it to my two children to show them that I could do something for myself, by myself. And baking is something I love to do: it is so practical and skilful. I wanted to leave the intellectual world and do something with my hands, something artisanal, creative. Food is how I express myself,” Jane told me.
A course at Leith’s School of Food and Wine and a number of years dining out and writing for The Good Food Guide piqued Jane’s interest in the world of professional cookery and there is also no doubt that the skills she learned from editing and recipe writing are extremely useful to her new business: attention to detail, empirical accuracy, methodical logic and a love of good presentation. It is relatively easy to “have a go” in bakery, but it is extremely hard to produce patisserie of this standard. It requires patience, repetition, lightness of touch and steady nerves. I asked Jane where the seed of this gift was planted, originally: was her mother a good baker?
“Well, I am originally from Yorkshire, and there is a very long tradition of bakery there. Both my grandmother and my mother were formidable cooks. My mother worked all day, but when she came home she would not dream of ever stopping to buy a cake. All the cakes, scones, pies and biscuits I ever ate were all freshly homemade,” was her reply.
It’s so true. So many professional artisans start at “The Kitchen School of Mum and Granny”. She has also been inspired by the work of Claire Clarke, Dan Lepard and Pierre Herme, and I spy certain books on shelves that look like they have had their fair share of chocolate, sugar and eggs splattered on the pages, corners earmarked and covers shiny from buttery fingerprints.
To prepare the business for marketing and selling to the corporate market, private parties, weddings, fairs and the mail order sector, Jane set out to find suppliers that were able to provide her with good quality ingredients at reasonable rates. She was also able to use the knowledge and insight of old friends and colleagues:
“There are very useful companies online, such as Keylink (www.keylink.org) where you can buy really good patisserie chocolate in bulk. I have been able to hunt down professional equipment from the Kitchens shop (www.kitchenscookshop.co.uk), as well as packaging, stickers, labels and bags from companies that sell wholesale. I had my business cards designed by a friend, Louise Brooker, (www.edwynuk.wordpress.com) and printed by Minuteman press (www.minutemanpress.co.uk). Jonathan Cherry (www.jonathancherry.net) did my photography for the website, as I had already worked with him on a book. Tristan Hogg of Pieminster (www.pieminster.co.uk) was really helpful in giving me lots of practical business advice. I then went round to eat and shop in various places across London and Bath that sold the same sorts of customised cakes, biscuits and pastries, to evaluate the different levels of pricing that I could charge as well. I did some of my research at a school fair in Bath, where all my macarons were snapped up, so I knew that my prices were in line with other producers.”
Word of mouth has spread fast in the busy, foodie enclaves of Bath and already The Tasting Room in Green Street (www.tastingroom.co.uk), purveyor of fine foods and wines, is stocking her branded packets.
The future holds many plans for Jane, but the current recession precludes any thoughts of opening a tea room or cake shop, despite her work meriting a wider and higher profile platform. Teaching is a viable commercial idea, however, and there are cookery schools now that charge around £150 for a cupcake making class.
“Eventually I would love to be able to teach people here in my kitchen. I feel that there is very little proper instruction on the television, and that when chefs are filmed achieving wonderful, fast recipes, it is not realistic for people at home, who may never had any training whatsoever, to try to achieve such techniques. Cookery books used to be practical manuals, not lifestyle manuals. We are in danger of losing skills and knowledge because in today’s world everything needs to be quick and easy. The whole process of baking is a pleasure, cake is happiness and sometimes good things take time.”
Jane Middleton’s website: www.cinnamon-toast.co.uk
E-mail Jane: [email protected]