The five of us who enjoyed a baking day at Alweston before Christmas went home laden with enough mouth-watering baked goods to stock a stall at a festive market – each with a tray of buns (Bath buns, cinnamon buns, Chelsea buns and Belgian buns), a panettone, two lardy cakes and a brioche!
Not bad for an afternoon of much laughter and merriment and a fair amount of energetic kneading. We learned lots too, not only about the basic techniques of making (in this case) a versatile enriched dough, but about the history of the bakery and little hints and tips to help us when we make our own buns at home.
For my four companions I think it was as much about having fun together before the mad hectic Christmas holiday as gaining long-term skills that they will practise at home. But we all went off with delicious food that we had made ourselves. And that’s a very good feeling.
Steve runs regular baking courses at his School of Bread, for traditional English breads, sourdough and buns, sharing the knowledge he has acquired during his years at the bakery, founded by his great-grandfather more than a century ago.
Oxfords Bakery was established by Frank Oxford in 1911 at Alweston and Steve is now the fourth generation at the bakery, which also has shops in Sherborne and Canford Cliffs, as well as stalls at Dorset Farmers Markets across the county.
In those early days the flour was collected by horse and cart, and the freshly baked bread was delivered by horse and cart to the houses in the village and the surrounding countryside. There were changes over the next few years and in due course the horse was replaced by a motor vehicle
Ron and Joyce Oxford took the business through the biggest changing times for the baking industry. The introduction of mass produced goods threatened the existence of small village bakeries and many closed, but Oxfords weathered that storm and in due course Roger took over from Ron and Joyce. He was joined by his wife Sue and they worked hard to maintain the consistent quality of Oxfords Bakery products.
Frank Oxford’s oven is still used – originally wood-fired, then coke and now oil. The 1911 dough mixer continued to be used for many years by Roger Oxford at shows to demonstrate how bread used to be made.
Steve worked closely with his parents, and is now managing the difficult feat of maintaining the heritage of the business while taking the bakery on into the 21st century with new products alongside traditional favourites.
For more information on Steve’s baking courses, and Oxford’s shops and range of bread and other bakes, visit www.oxfordsbakery.co.uk
Pictured are Bath Buns fresh out of the oven; Steve with our brioches in some of the pre-war “vintage” baking tins that are still in constant use at the bakery; the baked panettones; my basket with buns, brioche, lardy cakes and panettone; and all smiles at the end of a successful afternoon, from left, Hannah, Steve (with the paddle he uses to move bread around in the hot oven behind him), Michelle, Jess and Lucy.