I would convince you all that my weekend trips to visit my friend in the countryside are due to the fact we’ve been firm friends for 16 years and that I can’t think of anything better than spending an entire weekend with her, but I have a confession…
It’s not ALL about that.
She also happens to live a short distance away from the best English bakery I have ever been to.
I made it through Friday night, the whole of Saturday and the first hour of Sunday before I could stand it no more. I forced my friend out of bed, chased her around the house to get dressed and demanded that she take me to Hambleton Bakery immediately.
When my friend first took me to Hambleton Bakery during one of my weekend visits to stay with her, she didn’t quite know what she was starting. An obsession was born, and everytime I’ve returned to Rutland I have been all-consumed with an urgency to race to the bakery and buy my bodyweight in English muffins.
Opened in September 2008, by Julian Carter and Tim Hart (previously chefs at Michelin starred Hambleton Hall), they purchased an old pumphouse on the outskirts of the Hambleton estate with the express purpose of providing top-quality artisan bread for Hambleton Hall (although they now supply a range of pubs, restaurants and delis in the local area as well as having opened additional retail shops in nearby Stamford and Oakham). They converted the pumphouse into a large kitchen, complete with a specialist bread oven that was manufactured in Spain and shipped over before being put together like a giant jigsaw and installed into the wall of the kitchen.
Using an average of 12lbs of wood (approximately an entire basket of wood – see pic below) per day the giant, cavernous bread oven maintains a heat of 180ºC.
The atmosphere in the kitchen is very calm, friendly and welcoming. With a small retail shop attached to the front of the kitchen, the healthy footfall of loyal locals (and visiting friends up from London) are all welcomed with warm smiles and you are allowed to ask as many, or as few, questions as you like. An overwhelming passion for baking comes through when you talk to the staff here. They love their bread and they’re keen as mustard to tell you all about it as well as offering tips/advice for successful breadmaking.
The retail shop is where I really come into my element however. Suggesting that the lady serving ‘brace herself’, I launched into a long rambling list of produce I wanted to buy. As well as the mouthwatering aesthetics of shelves stacked full of fresh, still warm breads, the aroma in Hambleton Bakery is just to die for. I’m sure I attracted many a concerned stare on the train ride back to London this afternoon as I continually buried my face into the shopping bag (filled with a variety of loaves and muffins) and sniffed loudly and longingly. It’s actually a miracle I made it all the way home without eating half of everything, but I was good, I managed to exercise a modicum of restraint.
Below is a selection of photos from the small (but perfectly formed) shop at Hambleton Bakery, if my recommendation alone doesn’t convince you of a visit next time you’re in the Rutland area, then surely the fact their scrumptious, soft, English muffins are only 40p each should have you scrabbling for the car keys and the sat nav!