The Orange Bakery Is Keeping It In The Family
The Orange Bakery is special. Very special. A father and daughter-run bakery in Watlington, Oxfordshire that specialises in sourdough bread and freshly made pastries, The Orange Bakery is a living, breathing, sourdough-slinging example of what you can achieve when you set your mind to something and put all of your heart and soul into it. Alex Tait and Kitty Tait are the duo behind the operation – a concept that grew from a pet project at home into a fully-fledged bakery within a matter of months.
At just 16, Kitty is a wunderkind baker – the next big thing in patisserie – and it was only six months after baking their first loaf together that Alex and Kitty were able to open their first shop. Today, you can find The Orange Bakery open on Watlington High Street firing out glossy buns and gorgeous, crackly loaves of sourdough most days of the week.
I’m far from the only person that’s found themselves enamoured by Alex and Kitty’s journey. Bloomsbury is set to publish the duo’s debut book, Breadsong: How Bread Changed Our Lives, after winning a three-way auction. I haven’t been lucky enough to sample their sticky cardamom buns for myself yet but I was fortunate enough to speak to Alex and Kitty the other week all about how they got started in the sourdough game, the importance of not mixing up salt and sugar, and what the future holds for The Orange Bakery...
Where did the idea for The Orange Bakery come from?
Alex: I wish we had a smooth little patter here but everything that's happened with The Orange Bakery has been entirely unplanned, unrehearsed, and unexpected, really.
Kitty: I started baking about two and a half – maybe three – years ago when I was 14 and, honestly, I was an awful baker. Not even an average baker. I was really, really bad. If I said I was going to bake a cake, everyone would leave the house and I'd end up pulling something out of the oven that resembled a frisbee rather than a cake. It was never a good scenario. At that time, I really struggled with my mental health and suffered from depression and anxiety, so I left school. I spent 6 months after that not knowing what to do with myself; I couldn't really leave the house or get out of bed most days. Then, one day, I just watched Dad bake a loaf of bread – not an amazing loaf of bread, I have to say, looking back now – but I loved how he turned flour, water, and salt into something edible.
A: That was the starting point, really, because that same loaf was then repeated the next day and the next day and the day after that.
K: I can get a little bit obsessive, so once I made one loaf I thought: 'I'm going to make another loaf and another and another'. I started making about ten loaves a week and we were eating bread at every single meal of the day. We knew we couldn't keep on doing that forever so we started giving the loaves out to neighbours and friends. That eventually grew into a subscription service which then grew into us doing pop-ups. We yarn bombed our whole village with orange pom poms so everyone knew about our first pop-up. My biggest fear was that we were going to bake all this bread and then no one was going to come and it would be so embarrassing. But we sold out within half an hour of that first pop-up...
A: And then that eventually led onto a shop that led us here to the bakery. Kitty was 14 and definitely not a baker when she started – I was a teacher and a pretty poor baker when I started, but we've sort of just found ourselves as bakers.
How did you get to learn the basics of baking? Is there a specific book you turned to as a bible?
A: There are various different people who we really like. James Morton was one of the first people we got into
K: He was from Bake Off. He did this book called Brilliant Bread and it taught us how to get started basically.
A: That built up our confidence and Kitty found endless stuff on the internet and Instagram to try out. Then we discovered Chad Robertson, who is the king of sourdough, and that got us into sourdough. From then, it's just been through learning and an awful lot of failing. A lot of failing. But unlike doing cakes and whatever, it's not expensive to fail in bread. You've only got a limited number of factors, after all, so you can normally work out what's gone wrong.
What's been the biggest failure you guys have experienced?
A: Let’s just say salt and sugar look very similar.
K: Too similar. Why can't one be dyed blue or something?
A: I think they've been more than a few moments where we've mixed the two. Also, it's very easy to forget to put salt in your bread.
K: We've made a few baguettes that we've bitten into and very quickly realised that we forgot to salt them.
A: Salt-less bread can still look amazing but it just tastes like a dementor has sucked the soul out of it if you haven't put salt in there. I also tried to make a Christmas dinner inside a doughnut one time which didn’t go well. I was really interested in the idea of savoury doughnuts. But that's something for later on, I think...
K: The world wasn't ready for it.
What’s a typical workday like for the both of you?
K: The bakery is open Wednesday to Saturday so Tuesday is like a prep day where we have to get all the dough ready. It takes a good 48 hours to make one loaf of sourdough – so everything is a long, timely process – but our work hours are actually pretty good. We wake up at about six o'clock and we're normally done by around four o'clock – maybe earlier. The bakery is also about five minutes from the house so I used to bake a lot in my pyjamas but I've finally got myself out of that habit.
How has working together professionally affected your relationship with one another?
K: I think that I've been written out of the will now [laughs].
A: It's a really interesting thing: working within a family. It's made me really interested in other family businesses and how they make it work or, moreover, how they don't. For me, personally, it’s been very instructive because Kitty's got a much more instructive and natural feel and curiosity and flair for things. I'm quite good at just making things happen and quite good at washing up.
K: And you're very good when it comes to grating cheese!
A: And grating cheese.
K: He'll have a whole block of cheese and then I'll turn around and it'll all be grated. That is a talent. That’s Olympics in Paris 2028 levels of impressive.
A: I think it's just about working out what your different strengths are. I think it's been really good since we've moved out of home. Because we used to bake everything at home and it was much harder in terms of blurring the lines there.
Do you think that more families should be baking and cooking together?
A: Yeah, definitely.
K: If you can, do. I mean, us cooking together is a different thing. When we're making a meal together it always goes badly. I tend to try and add everything we've got in the cupboards into a meal whereas Dad is better at sticking to the recipe. Because I think baked beans can go in everything – they're just so versatile. Spag bol? Add a few baked beans, y'know.
What are each of your favourite things to bake?
K: We're quite different. I like more things like cinnamon buns, anything with a dough is my thing. Dad's very good when it comes to savoury.
A: It is a bit of a savoury-sweet divide – we crossover between the two but most of my life has been cheese-based and anything to do with cheese seems to be in my wheelhouse...
K: Most of your body is cheese!
A: Whereas Kitty is much better on the sweet stuff.
K: Thank you. I love all these compliments!
I’ve seen stuff like the charcuterie loaf on Kitty's Instagram. Where does your inspiration tend to come from?
A: Some of it is just about experimenting with stuff that we've seen in the shops. But because we're not very orthodox, and we haven't been trained, it gives us a bit more freedom to just sort of experiment with whatever we like. We've got a very forgiving customer base who are happy to go along with our inventions as a whole.
What’s the long-term goal for The Orange Bakery?
A: There's no plan with a five or ten-year timeline but there are different things we're hoping to do. We're possibly, hopefully, going to work with a local prison and have an apprentice from there who we can train up and that would be a really nice thing to try and get going. We'd also love to try and get a teaching space so we could teach. Overall, though, we don't know. We feel there's some sort of platform that we're building but we're not quite sure what it's going to be for.
K: It's like a trampoline but we don't know where we want to jump to.