This is Dromore baker Susanne Taggart showing the cake which expert food judges decided is the tastiest in the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland and other parts of Europe.
Quite an accolade for Susanne and her Little Bakehouse NI, a small bakery started in 2017 at her home in Dromore, Co Down.
Susanne (30) came up with an original recipe for a luxury Courgette, Lime and Pistachio cake that tickled the taste buds of many of the 600 food experts in the prestigious UK Great Taste Awards and led them to award her the coveted three gold stars as one of the top food products in what is among the world’s most exacting blind tasting competitions.
“I was stunned when I was told by the Guild of Fine Food, the organisers of the Great Taste Awards, that the cake had been awarded three gold stars,” Susanne says. “I never in my wildest dreams expected to be among the top food products in the international competition, the first I had ever entered. “Getting the cake and other entries to Britain in a condition that the judges would enjoy was quite a challenge for a one-woman business with no real experience of shipping perishable products. I had to pack the container with ice to keep the products fresh,” adds Susanne. She clearly succeeded. She continues: “I had heard about the Great Taste Awards and decided to enter the cake and other products to get some impartial feedback from the panels of chefs, food writers and top retailers. Winning three stars and hearing the cake described as ‘exquisite’ and ‘extraordinarily tasty’ by the judges was immensely encouraging. It just doesn’t get any better than that.” Everything she produces is baked fresh.
Susanne’s cake was among almost 13,000 food and drink products from 100 different countries in this year’s awards, the final stages of which were held in early September at a gala dinner in London. Susanne’s creation was the only cake to reach the final stages in the judging process and was among just eight from Northern Ireland to win three stars. The cake was among just 208 overall to achieve three stars. It was a remarkable achievement for a small home bakery just two years in existence. “The award gives us a fantastic platform to expand our business and let more people enjoy our winning products,” she adds.
Susanne loved home economics at school and then decided to study food technology at the Loughry campus in Cookstown of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, Northern Ireland’s main food education hub, where, appropriately, she focused on sugar reduction techniques. I’ve always had a passion for food preparation and baking in particular,” she continues. “I grew up watching my late grandmother, Dolores, cooking and baking breads, cakes and biscuits from local ingredients. She influenced me particularly in terms of my focus on using only the best local ingredients. I loved the course at Loughry and learned a great deal about food and the local food industry,” says Susanne, who lives with her partner Garry, a musician who plays guitar with The Breakfast Club, a local band, and their two-year old son Dylan. Garry helps with the business side of the small enterprise.
“I guess one of the benefits of running my own small business is that I can be flexible and spend time with Dylan,” she says. “I had baked cakes and other products for extra cash during my time at Loughry and continued this on graduation. While I looked around at employment opportunities after leading college I decided to take the risk and start my own small bakery at home,” she adds.
Dromore is an established baking centre. It’s home to Graham’s Bakery, a producer of a range of cakes and biscuits for local and export markets. And Krazibaker Mark Douglas there has revived interest in traditional Irish griddle breads such as soda farls and potato cakes at markets across Northern Ireland. Both enterprises have also won Great Taste Awards but not three-star accreditation.
The Great Taste success has presented Susanne with a new and ‘very pleasant” challenge in how best to maximise the undoubted business benefits of the award. “I am already providing cakes, cheesecakes and other desserts to local cafes, farm shops and other outlets. I’ve really got to take advantage quickly of such an important award and raise my profile throughout the area,” admits Susanne. Another priority for the talented baker is to apply some of the research she carried out at Loughry in her creation of new products.
“Researching ingredients and baking techniques is something I enjoy. I’ll be seeking, for instance, to apply my dissertation on sugar reduction to my baking.”