Moira Blake is not a baker but a photographer by trade. This might seem odd considering she is in the pastry business, but in fact when she had a baker on trial to see if it would help her small business – Dorset Pastry – they had one of their most unproductive days to date. ‘He was a disaster,’ she says ‘He was approaching pastry like you would bread, judging quantities by hand, kneading it around. He had to go!’
Indeed, Ms Blake has found that her business works best when she employs people who know nothing about either cooking or baking. In a very Blumenthal-esque way she constantly refers to pastry making as science, not art. ‘It has very much in common with the process in a dark room,’ she points out. Which goes some way to explaining why she has ended up where she has.
At just three years old, Dorset Pastry has already won countless awards, not least after only two months in business managing to scoop the prestigious Waitrose/Times Small Producer Supreme Champion Award 2003 from under the noses of seasoned professionals. This is clearly no ordinary operation.
But if Ms Blake is not a baker, how on earth did she fall into making the only pure butter organic pastry in the world? ‘I’ve no idea really how it happened!’ she claims, playing dumb. The one thing which is quickly clear is her passion for the product she makes to such a high standard.
Growing up in South Africa, Ms Blake’s passion for pastry was nurtured alongside the knowledge that because of the warm temperatures, good little wives all over Cape Town had to rise at 3am to begin the baking process, because that was the only time of day it was cool enough to get the recipe right. It is this attention to detail, and respect for correct procedure that she brings to her business now, in the rather cooler climes of south west England.
The obsession developed: while she was studying in Paris for her photography degree, while others would be on bar crawls, she went on pastry crawls, wherever she went she would seek out good pastry, in her never ending quest.
After relocating to the UK, Ms Blake was looking to change her career to spend more time with her teenage daughter, and at the same time it became obvious to her that the tradition in Britain, exemplified by the Edwardians and Victorians, of making pure butter pastry was dead. In the 20th Century, after two World Wars butter had been forgotten in favour of lard. Ms Blake was horrified, yes, but she also spotted a gap in the market.
So her hobby became her job, and she set about constructing a small factory with top grade machinery which could produce pastry the way it was originally meant to be made. Her first batch ended up in Harrods and Harvey Nichols and since then there has been very little time for celebration: they’ve been too busy.
‘We came back from Christmas to an order from Dubai and a client in Honk Kong wants a palette by the 15th,’ she says breathlessly by way of explanation, from which it becomes obvious that her niche is not merely domestic. As we have seen, it is worldwide.
And nor does Dorset Pastry stop at merely making normal pastry products. For those who would rather eat something already made, aside from the puff pastry, vanilla shortcrust pastry, pastry with toasted cumin seeds, the company makes tortes and tarts.
The medley of mushroom tart flambéed in cognac is mouthwatering and the cognac adds bite. They also do a vintage cheddar with caramelised onion tart, and a smoked salmon and preserved lemon and rocket tart which a colleague singled out as her favourite in this office.
The chocolate and lemon tortes make fantastic puddings. What better to feed a lover on Valentines Day than fine zesty lemon, and pastry from heaven? A suggestion from Ms Blake is that the chocolate torte may benefit from the addition of some fresh raspberries. Wonderful. As she is fond of saying: ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating.’ Why not give it a whirl?
The tarts and the tortes are a relatively new development and were only being offered from December, but they are proving a hit with regular customers already. ‘We’ve plans to develop more, I’ve got lots of ideas – I’m always having ideas – it is just making them a viable option, and having the time to develop them. I’m a very creative person.’
Something tells me we won’t have to wait all that long.
For more information about Dorset Pastry, or to buy some of their products, visit www.dorsetpastry.com