Lisa Shepherd and Saskia Roskam want to introduce you to the delights of chocolate red wine cake and apple and beetroot pie. Neil Hudson met them
Some of the best friendships are forged over food and that’s certainly the case with Lisa Shepherd and Saskia Roskam, both of whom hail from the Continent and who found themselves working at the same digital marketing agency in Leeds.
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A chance conversation one day about sourdough bread revealed a mutual passion for baking and the pair began to swap ideas and recipes. Now they want to foster some of their more exotic concoctions upon the people of Leeds.
Indeed, since March they have been doing a roaring trade down at the monthly Kirkstall deli market - held on the last Friday of each month - where the pair have been selling their cakes, pies and spiced biscuits while also keeping a keen eye on people’s expressions.
Saskia, 33, who has two children, Tumisa, four and Miles, two, explained: “We think the products are wonderful but you never know what the public will think. That first market day was so reassuring for us. When you see people taste something, you cannot fake the reaction and so we were pleased people enjoyed it. We were watching people eating our products to see what they thought.”
When you bake, you just focus on that. You need to concentrate on what you’re doing, otherwise the biscuits will burn. Also, you start with such raw ingredients and I like the way it all comes together and when it’s done it puts a smile on people’s faces.Saskia Roskam, who together with Lisa Shepherd, runs Bloom Bakers, based in North Leeds
Lisa, 30, who has a daughter, Alma, with husband Stuart, whom she met in the Galapagos Islands nine years ago while traveling, agreed: “At first we didn’t know what people would make of the recipes, it was really hard to tell really. When you first hear of apple and beetroot cake, your first reaction might be one of surprise. When people tasted our cakes and biscuits, we were both keenly watching how they reacted, because that was so important to us. We were so pleased that everyone appeared to love it.”
In fact, she says people “go crazy” for the aforementioned pie, with most being pleasantly surprised, but that’s not the only unusual combination of flavours on their menu. There’s also Dutch apple pie, deep filled the way they have it in Lisa’s home town of Fuerth, near Nuremberg, which incidentally was where the first German railway ran from in 1835. Then there’s chocolate red wine cake (made with a third of a bottle of red wine, no less), which has a touching story to go with it.
Lisa said: “My mother doesn’t really bake a lot but when she does, this is the cake she makes. She made it one year and took it into work and gave pieces out and one man who tasted it shouted out, ‘oh my god, whoever made this cake, I am going to marry her’ and basically, he did and they are married today… so, there’s a lot of love in that recipe.”
But Lisa credits her grandmother, Hildergard, 80, for her passion for baking, adding: “I learned a lot from her, she was always baking when I went to see her and it’s her recipes I use today and I think she is really proud of us.”
Saskia is equally passionate and recalls learning her skills from her mother.
“I remember baking with my mother every other Sunday, the apple pie definitely comes from her, although it’s what they eat in the Netherlands for birthdays and other occasions. It’s normal there. That’s why I think there’s a place for it here.
“I love apple pie and I know where to go in Amsterdam to get the best but when I first came to Leeds, I would go into different cafes and try apple pie but it was never the one I wanted, the one I remember from back home and so that’s when I thought there’s space for our dish.
“We hope that it’s close enough to what people are used to but at the same time a little bit different.”
Judging by the reaction so far, it seems they are onto something, because more often than not they manage to sell all their produce before returning home. Lisa said: “The husbands and boyfriends get upset if we come back from market and there’s nothing left.”
Listening to them in Lisa’s north Leeds kitchen up in the tree-lined streets near St Edmund’s Church, Roundhay, it’s clear they both have a real passion for what they do and moreover they both want to take the business a step further.
Having started the company six months ago and dipped their toe into the water with a series of successful appearances at local farmer’s markets, they now want to entice independent shop and restaurant owners to sample their wares. And they have already branched out into catering, to cover one-off events such as weddings and birthdays, with bespoke messages baked into the sugar-dusted biscuits.
“Saskia and I do everything together, she mainly does the Dutch part and me the German. We are decided to call the business Bloom bakers. In Dutch, it’s spelled differently but it’s the same word and it means flour. So we thought that was a good fit. We also feel we bloom whenever we bake, plus it’s a break from being a mum and working. Life gets busy, there’s not much chance for anything else. It’s therapeutic.
“When you bake, you just focus on that. You need to be in the moment and switch off from everything else and concentrate on what you’re doing, otherwise the biscuits will burn. Also, you start with such raw ingredients and I like the way it all comes together and when it’s done it puts a smile on people’s faces.”
Saskia added: “We started about six months ago and it’s really hard to get into the farmer’s markets, so we are pleased about that but we are now trying to see if we can get our biscuits and pies into local shops and doing a lot more bespoke occasions, we’ve done a wedding, we sell online, people can look at our website - www.bloombakers.co.uk - and see what we’re about. It would be great to grow the business but we’re just taking things one step at a time.
“It’s all about making people happy and I think it helps make you happy too. We both love what we do and I think that comes through in the products, which are different but hopefully not too far from what people are used to here.”
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