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Issue Six / Interview
“British baking is much more inclusive and has an honesty to it that strikes a chord with people”

The Baker Brothers

Words & Photographs by Rosa Park

A butcher, a baker, but no candlestick maker: We chatted with the Herbert brothers about their Bristol-based Hobbs House Bakery and Butchery, who are reinventing classic British cuisine.

Tom and Henry Herbert are fifth-generation bakers, and brothers from the beloved Bristol-based Hobbs House Bakery and Butchery (Tom runs the bakery, and Henry the butchery next door). They star in the popular Channel 4 TV series The Fabulous Baker Brothers and released a cookbook by the same name earlier this year, to much fanfare. The embodiment of great modern British cuisine, these guys celebrate and preserve their proud English heritage with the food they prepare, and believe that all gatherings should feature homemade bread at the center of the table. Conversation should flow around the bread, as people tear big hunks off the loaf. It doesn’t matter whether the bread gets recognition or not. The point is that it’s there, and it’s filling the home with the scent of warm, fresh baking.

The brothers revive and reinvent classic British dishes. They understand simple pleasures—like fish finger sandwiches, bread sauce with roast chicken and beef stew—and know how to give them tweaks that make each meal more enticing, like serving sourdough pancakes with poached fruit and crème fraiche. Their collective cooking reads like a recipe for a delicious life, and their passion for food is infectious. From them I’ve learned that a BLT done right is a thing to behold and devour, and a great beef Wellington can be mind blowing—especially with foie gras. Representing five generations’ worth of Herbert’s bread knowledge, Tom and Henry demonstrate how mixing flour and water can lead to a lifetime of peace and loaf.

Tom Herbert
What is British baking to you?
For me, British baking is all about real bread. I’m an ambassador for the Real Bread Campaign. In a nutshell, it’s bread that’s made with simple, natural ingredients—bread that’s easier to digest and something that’s been touched by a craftsperson. At Hobbs House, we use four words to describe the bread we make: flour, water, time and passion. I really believe you need all four to make bread that’s worth traveling for.

What is the difference between British and French baking?
British baking is much more inclusive and has an honesty to it that strikes a chord with people, just the way that sitting around a campfire does. I believe that wherever there’s good British food, there should be real bread. But that doesn’t require a plaited brioche; it can be something simple that’s made with time, passion and love. If you gather loved ones around a table, it should be around a loaf that you’ve made yourself or from a bakery that’s made it with integrity.

What role does bread play in gatherings?
Bread brings everything and everyone together. The word “companion” is made up of three Latin roots: “com,” which is friends, “panis,” which is bread, and “ion,” which is doing. So companionship is all about friends, bread and being together. That’s where bread is at its best—when it’s loved and shared.

What is your favorite Hobbs House bread?
It would have to be our Sherston overnight dough bread. It’s made to my great-grandfather’s recipe. We still make it the same way. The story goes that he used to sleep on the dough bin and it’d tip him off in the morning when it was time to start baking.

If you were a bread, which one would you be?
I’d be the tiger bread, because it’s misunderstood and has an interesting story to it. The tiger bread goes back 400 years in Cornwall, before people knew what tigers looked like. Back then, they were hearing stories of these exotic tigers, so they created a bread that they thought resembled the pattern of a tiger. Of course it looks more like a leopard or a giraffe.

What is the perfect small gathering for you?
It’s about being with the people you love. And the location is key—somewhere that feels like home and has soul. There needs to be good food and wine, exciting cocktails with fantastic music and the promise of dancing afterwards.

What is your favorite food memory?
For my mum’s 50th birthday, we invited 50 people and threw her a surprise party at the barn on the farm where my mum and dad live. We made the setting similar to the film Where the Wild Things Are, when his bedroom turns into the woods. We made a massive seafood bisque and fed our guests with hot bread and soup.

Your finest moment to date?
On my birthday this year, my son Milo baked me a loaf of bread from scratch. He got up at 6:14 am and used my white bread recipe card. He put it in the oven before he went to school. I was so touched.

What inspires you?
Hearing that the message we’re putting out there is having an effect on people.

Henry Herbert
What is British baking to you?
Something like a cottage loaf. It’s a bit fuddy-duddy, and is a big, crusty white loaf. When they’re made well, they’re wicked. And Britain is full of cottages—well, at least, that’s what everyone thinks it’s full of.

What is the difference between British and French baking?
French patisserie is more refined in terms of technique. English baking, on the other hand, is more hefty and stodgy. We’re more famous for our sliced white rather than delicate pastries. We’re also like magpies—we love influence from other cultures, so we’ve collected things and made them our own. A British bakery is much more diverse. We offer everything from a cottage loaf and a baguette to a rye loaf, pita and naan bread.

What is your favorite Hobbs House bread?
For sandwiches, I’d go for our Sherston. I also love our seeded spelt loaf—it’s squishy and moist and a great accompaniment to cheese.

If you were a bread, which one would you be?
I would probably be the Behemoth. It’s larger than life, it’s exuberant and slightly ridiculous—cutting it is a nightmare. But it’s good fun and it’s got presence; I don’t know if I’ve got that though…

What is the perfect small gathering for you?
It would be me cooking for a selection of people—some friends and family. I love cooking for others. I’d serve rustic, family-style dishes, featuring meats and whole fishes. I’d finish with a nice pudding and make sure there’s enough drinks, coffee and, of course, great cheese.

Give us a cool butchery fact.
We sell 2,000 handmade sausages a week, which is impressive for a small shop like ours.

What inspires you?
The people I meet.

What is your favorite food memory?
Eating hot peaches on the beach in Greece, and tasting the sweetness of the peach mixing in with the saltiness of the beach.

What would you be doing right now if you weren’t answering these questions?
I’d be drinking cocktails at home, probably cooking some fish on the barbecue—just enjoying this beautiful Sunday.

Your finest moment to date?
Getting married.

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