CRAFT baker James Herron admits to being stunned by the small company’s success in what has become the ‘Oscars’ of the bakery industry in the United Kingdom, the World Bread Awards. “I was actually shaking when Master Baker Stephen Hallam announced that we had won the Irish Wheaten Loaf category,” he says. James runs the family bakery, Cookie Jar, in Newcastle.
“Of course I was really happy and delighted in particular for the Cookie Jar team for getting up at stupidly early every morning and baking fabulous and award-winning breads and cakes,” he continues. “They all do a brilliant job,” he adds.
Event host Stephen Hallam is managing director of Dickinson & Morris and chair of the judges who selected Cookie Jar in a hotly contested and coveted category in the prestigious awards. James was presented with his trophy by John Graham of Andrew Ingredients of Lisburn.
The category is supported by Food NI in transporting the freshly-baked loaves from local entrants to London for the judging day.
Wheaten bread is described by the organisers of the annual awards as “an oven-baked loaf made with a blend of flours and leavened with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and buttermilk, sometimes known as soda bread”.
Runner up in the same category was Ann’s Pantry in Larne and third placed was Deli-Lites of Warrenpoint.
Cookie Jar, Ann’s Pantry and Deli-Lites beat off stiff competition from hundreds of loaves sent in from around the United Kingdom – delivered by courier, taxi and in person on the morning of the judging at Cathedral Hall, Westminster Cathedral, to ensure maximum freshness. Ann’s Pantry, owned by brother and sister John Agnew and Helen Porter, also gained two silvers for spelt and black pudding potato bread and Irish white soda.
Another local bakery, Tony’s Griddle Goods in Ballycastle won bronze for its bread.
“The field was more competitive than ever,” says Hallam, whose fellow judges, all 90 of them, included legendary baker Richard Bertinet, Dr John Foster of BBC’s Victorian Bakers, Harry Lomas, executive head chef, Wembley Stadium.
The Herron family has owned Cookie Jar since 1965. James Herron’s grandparents had a grocery shop in the seaside town and his granny made her famous wheaten bread to sell in the shop.
She was a talented and creative baker. The bakery side of things grew over the years and lead to the creation of the Cookie Jar home bakery, famous for wheaten bread. James’ father then ran the business for more than 30 years and now it is James’ turn.
He trained at Loughry Campus of the College Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise and at the College of Food Technology in Glasgow.
“We bake a full range of traditional Irish breads and pastries, and an ever-changing range of treat items. We sell our products in our own shops, two in Newcastle and one in Kilkeel,” he adds.
A traditional Northern Irish home bakery, Cookie Jar boasts a full list of quality Irish bread, pastry and cake products including wheaten bread, fruit bannock, crusty, batch loaves, pancakes, soda farls, snowballs, almond buns and a small range of ‘Bake Your Own’ bread mixes.
The bakery won a gold star in World Bread Awards for wheaten bread 2017 and two gold stars for the same product in the UK Great Taste Awards in 2015.
Another top bakery, Yellow Door, based at Portadown, was runner-up in the Showstopper category, which is sponsored by Tiptree. The bakery, headed by top chef Simon Dougan, won the award for its novel Banofee Brioche. This category was for the ‘best and most creative bread using a Tiptree product as an ingredient’. Yellow Door also won two bronze medals for its Horny Bull brown soda and beetroot loaf.
Tiptree, in the heart of the Essex countryside, has been the home of jam making by the Wilkin family for over 133 years.
The awards promote the skill of bread-making at its most diverse and inspiring, and also seek to encourage and foster the art of baking both now and for the future generation.
The competition is open to artisan bread makers, small high street bakers, home bread-makers, trainee bakers – the next generations.
Bread is a huge industry in the UK – 12 million loaves are sold every day. The phenomenon of the artisan bakery has taken off in the last decade. Not only is commercially-made bread popular, but home-baking is massively on the rise too.
“The choice, range and quality of bread in Britain today is immense,” according to Caroline Kenyon, the director of the awards.
The event was held at St John’s Church, Hyde Park, London and is sponsored by Tiptree, a leading producer of jams and preserves. The awards were launched in January 2013.