Local Heroes - The delights of Leakers Bakery in Bridport Dorset
PUBLISHED: 16:21 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:41 20 February 2013
Continuing his series in which he focuses on stores at the heart of their community, Michel Hooper-Immins samples the delights of Leakers Bakery, in Bridport.
Bread is a much abused commodity. While today's mass-produced bread comes in many sizes and with exotic descriptions, it often simply lacks any flavour. Not so at Leakers in Bridport, where the old-fashioned bakery, founded in 1914, produces bread like it used to taste! They also make a range of interesting cakes and pastries, sold in their Georgian shop fronting East Street.
While croissants are essentially French, Leakers make three superb varieties of their own. I was bowled over by their almond croissants, the inside like marzipan and the whole tasty crescent a real marvel. This innovative yet unashamedly quality approach has been pioneered by the family team of mother Caroline Parkins and daughter Jemima Giblin, plus business partner Paul Barnett, who have owned the bakery since 2002.
Caroline Parkins can claim to be a true cockney, born within sound of Bow bells "if the wind's in the right direction!" Running cafs in Wiltshire, at Devizes and then Avebury, in the centre of the famous stones, became a breeding ground for ideas. But she and Jemima fancied a move to Dorset. The initial thought to put an oven into a caf and "bake a few cakes" advanced when one day the estate agent told them Leakers had just come onto the market.
So, Bridport became the fortunate home for this very inventive operation, which has gained much ground in the six years since they bought it. Improvements included a new floor and shop fittings, replacing those unchanged since the 1950s.
The shop frontage is original, possibly from Georgian days. The bakery is behind, in a row of 17th-century cottages, with the historic town wall at the rear. George Leaker started the business in 1914 and today his grand-daughter, Jo Leaker, is one of the eight staff - her speciality being apple cake. Michelle Powell manages the shop. Bridport-born Pam Good has been here for 24 years.
London-born live wire Jemima Giblin married Jonny, a London conference organiser, a year ago. With a degree in journalism and a talent for marketing, Jemima has inherited the same creative talent as her mother. She loves the pace of life in Dorset, "not so hustle-bustle as in London and much more congenial". Yet every weekend she does the reverse of most people and heads to London to spend time with her new husband.
Paul Barnett drives the van and keeps the ovens working, amongst many other jobs - he's Logistics & Services Manager he says! He, too, escaped over the border from Wiltshire, having been a coppersmith at Swindon locomotive works. Coming to Bridport on holiday gave him the yearning to move here. Paul delivers to hotels, B&Bs, farm shops and cafs as far away as Blandford. Among local customers are the noted Hive Caf at Burton Bradstock, the Ropemakers pub, and the Electric Palace, both in Bridport.
Caroline is clearly not only a baker but a talented chef as well - her skills have crafted so many different creations lovingly produced at Leakers. "I'm a cook primarily," she says. "I like to make my own fillings and experiment."
Her scones are famous. On sale when I called were prune and cherry, and date and ginger scones, interesting combinations to tantalise any palate. While there, I sampled the fresh soup of the day, sweet potato, chilli and coconut.
Again, the combination of flavours is inspired.
Caroline is forever thinking of new ideas, inventing, with Muriel Finucain, the Jurassic Slice. With caramel in layers, dates and apricots, a little semolina and small chunks of chocolate to emulate the rocks, this is a truly unique creation reflecting the Jurassic coastline.
Among 20 varieties of bread are the Jurassic Foot loaf, the Dorset Cider and Cheese loaf and the New York Deli - 60% rye, 40% wheat, plus caraway seeds. The organic bread is made from flour supplied by Cann Mills at Shaftesbury. But as I mentioned, it was the delicious croissants that got my vote - plain, chocolate and the superlative almond, all made with unsalted Denhay butter.
Chocolate and pear cake, plus the chocolate and rum, and fruit and nut cake are divine mixes of flavours, and the cherry, prune and sultana slice is packed with goodness. Wheat-free samosas contain a blend of spinach, coconut and Indonesian spices. The Delhi Delight is Caroline's own vegetable curry.
From 4 January it is Leakers' Healthy Food Fortnight, a chance to try out more new ideas and particularly those that may be good for us! Never using hydrogenated fats, already their products are healthier than most. Local suppliers are important to Leakers too: eggs come along the coast from Vurlands Farm at Swyre, spinach and veg from Steven Will on the road to Beaminster.
As in many industries, costs are increasing. The cost of spelt doubled last year and Caroline says the gas bill for the ovens is "frightening!". The 85-year-old ovens were converted from coal 25 years ago.
Caroline finds Bridport very friendly. "The town is such a melting pot, the visitors love Dorset and our local customers are lovely." Both she and Jemima are determined to maintain the high standards attained over the last six years.
"Now we have a good reputation, we have to work harder to keep it up," Caroline tells me. "My priority is to keep Leakers as good as we are now, but aiming to move forward all the time. When times are hard, the evidence is that shoppers look for better quality - and quality is certainly our market."
Leakers Bakery, 29 East Street, Bridport DT6 3JX. (01308) 423296. Open 7am-5pm Tuesday to Friday; 6am-3pm Saturday. www.leakersbakery.co.uk