What sets your brownies apart from ones we might have tried before?
On the face of it, I’d say very little. Brownies tend to look similar across the board. It’s what’s behind the scenes that we feel really give our cakes a backbone – it’s the ingredients we use and our approach to the people we work with. Suppliers are so important, we visit their farms, be that on the other side of the world or down the road from the bakery. From the chocolate, eggs and butter, all the way to the salt, we make sure we are seeking out the best suppliers to support what we do.
Do you have a favourite from the range?
The range is actually really varied so it depends on the mood you’re in, but the salted caramel is always a winner. We make our own French caramel using Trewithen cream and butter and then sprinkle with a generous amount of Halen Môn salt – it is the best you can get in the UK, and I know it sounds crazy, but you really can taste it.
What was the inspiration behind The Exploding Bakery and what made you take the plunge to open a business together?
Both of us have been food obsessed since our school days. We started off cooking bad pasta dishes with Lloyd Grossman sauces in our first shared flat. This slowly turned into baking our own bread, making pasta from scratch, fermenting all sorts and foraging on Dartmoor. The coffee obsession shortly followed and really tied the cafe and bakery idea together. We were inspired by weekends spent at Monmouth Coffee in Borough Market – an easy place to spend an entire afternoon eating and chatting – before rolling into the pub. These are the ingredients needed to get involved in the food industry and so when the chance to open our own space arrived, we jumped at it.
What ingredient can you not live without?
Chocolate! It’s the ingredient which is the foundation of our company. We used to use Callebaut – which is certainly a good chocolate in terms of consistency – but we wanted a bit more quality and more ethical accountability, which is why we partnered with Casa Luker in Colombia, which is the only chocolate we use now. We visited their farm in 2019 and were blown away by the quality of what they do and their commitment to do good, both locally and globally in the chocolate industry.
What has lockdown meant to your company and what lessons will you take from it?
It’s been the hardest thing we’ve been through as a company, which must be the same for so many others. So far it has meant big changes, to both the structure and our perspective. Oliver and I sat at home for a couple of months and I think that gave us so much time to think; we put ourselves through it and really thought about whether to come back. When we finally decided to do that, we did it based on a few things. Firstly, we wanted to really home in what the company stood for. We ditched all the unnecessary bureaucracy and stripped away any corporate structure that we’d sleepwalked into previously, hopefully emerging with a new approach based around positivity, giving back and making things fun along the way.
You place your relationship with your suppliers front and centre and pay tribute to them in a really generous way, why is that?
It’s massively important to us and it’s a way to pay it forward to the people that make what we do possible. There are so many good companies out there and we feel it’s our duty to shout about them. We think that’s the future of capitalism; it’s a positive and collaborative approach to something that has greed at its at heart but it’s the start of doing things the right way and giving credit where it’s due. If you think somethings good, then why not tell everyone?
Although ‘word or mouth’ has been tainted by social media, we hope to spread the good word with honesty and integrity. Authenticity is key.
Giving back seems really important to The Exploding Bakery as a brand, why is that?
I think it’s got a lot to do with middle-class guilt, to be honest. When is enough, enough, and when is it too much? If we are doing well whilst doing what we enjoy then that’s a privilege, so why not share it? Of course, we all want a nice place to live, to be able to eat some quality food, wear some good clothes and go on the occasional trip, but then what? Hoarding wealth is greedy and certainly doesn’t bring happiness.
Letterbox brownies are a genius idea – was this an invention for lockdown? What has the reaction been?
The Letterbox Brownies were indeed a reaction to lockdown, but the first thing we did was a knee jerk pivot to being able to sell online, crudely cutting up our wholesale cakes and selling them in big boxes. it was a bit of a disaster really. After that we regrouped and decided to do some proper planning and create something sustainable. We used something called a customer empathy map and dug into what would really work for an online cake company. The reaction has been so good, and much better than expected. There’s still a lot to learn about the online market, but we’re really enjoying having this new side to the company. It’s helped us feed some new energy into the brand and made us think outside of the cake box for the rest of the company too.
You’ve just celebrated your 10th anniversary. How does it feel to reach such a milestone?
It feels so good to have reached the 10-year mark, but it wasn’t an aim or goal. It just creeps up on you. We started out just wanting to have fun in our work and along the way we’ve developed into a real company. We think things go in cycles without really realising it. Every five years, we start to rethink the business, as if it has a life of its own and needs to shed its skin and have a good shake up. It’s funny to think that some companies we really admire and that have inspired us along the way were here before we got going and are still around. It’s impressive and makes us realise the effort it takes to create something lasting and good, whilst also maintaining a high standard. Ten years is so good but to be honest it all got swept up in the Covid reopening planning. Ideally, we wanted to have a party with all the staff, but weren’t able to, so we’re planning a massive one as soon as we safely can.
What are your plans for 2021 and beyond?
We just want to get better at what we do. We’re pretty excited about sourcing some almonds from a regenerative farm in California. But all our ingredients need scrutinising, with us asking the questions: does this supply chain damage the planet? Can we get a better quality product?
We don’t want to sit still. Complacency is the worst thing you can do when running a business, so we want to continue evolving all aspects, from design work, new products and partnerships or starting some crazy initiatives like a bakery bus, where we can tour the UK visiting schools to talk about the importance of food in a fun way. Kind of a grass roots campaign to improve our food culture.