At The Orange Bakery in Watlington, Oxfordshire, queues tail out the door. The sourdough is light, the cinnamon buns fragrant – and the owner, Kitty Tait, is just 16.
Kitty Tait is not your typical teenager: not only does she run a bakery, but she loves mornings, too. “I’ve always been an early bird,” she chirrups, after charging into the kitchen extension of the family cottage. It’s 6am. Kitty, 16, feeds the sourdough starters a breakfast of flour and water, her pyjamas just visible beneath her tomato-red jumpsuit, while her dad, Alex, transfers 80 loaves of bread from the fridge to the oven. They will sell these this morning at their tiny shop down the road.
Since it opened 18-months-ago, The Orange Bakery in Watlington, Oxfordshire, has become a floury sensation, often clearing out within a couple of hours. Its sourdough is fluffy, its cinnamon buns fragrant and Kitty, the chief baker, is a delight. Regularly manning the till, she greets almost everyone by name, is familiar with their children and their dogs, and knows who can’t do without a cinnamon bun on a Saturday.
But for all Kitty and Alex’s success, running a bakery was never the plan. Back in 2018, Alex taught dyslexic students at the University of Oxford, while Kitty went to the local state school. Bright and popular, Kitty had started to struggle.
“I wanted to be the best at everything, to be in all the sports teams and all the plays,” she says. “I’m the youngest of three children and I wanted to stand out… If I got an average mark, I would be distraught. The pressure was like never-ending torture. I became badly depressed – I didn’t want to do anything; I didn’t want to go out.”
Kitty’s depression escalated and she had to leave school. Her parents encouraged her to go on walks, paint and sew, but nothing stuck. Then one day, Alex, who baked the odd loaf of bread, suggested she help: “It was amazing: I could feel the dough breathe beneath my fingers. It was alive, it needed me, it gave me a sense of purpose.” Kitty didn’t stop. She learnt how to make sourdough from Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread and baked four loaves a day. She gave them to neighbours, then friends, and started a subscription service.
Kittys tips for success
Find a daily uniform that feels super comfortable. For me, dungarees can double as a tea towel, a headband hides the fact I haven’t brushed my hair and stacked Converse give me a little bit more height.
Work with someone you really like. If this happens to be your dad, that’s a bonus.
Generosity always repays itself. We give our customers hot snacks from the bakery while they’re queuing (and sometimes people who are just passing).
Crying a lot in your first year is to be expected. Especially when you put sugar in the dough instead of salt.
Get a dog. In fact, go one better and get a corgi.
From pop-up to permanent
In January 2019, Kitty launched her first pop-up in a neighbour’s garage, roping in her dad. They sold all 100 loaves in 20 minutes. A few months later, someone offered the Taits their shop as a bakery and they set up a crowdfunding page to rent it. Within two days, they’d hit their £5,000 target. The supporters’ names, including singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, are part of a mural of an orange tree on the shop wall.
Today, that shop – decked out in orange felt stars – is a furnace of energy and merriment. As Christmas approaches, customers flood in to stock up (the bakery is open on Christmas Eve, before closing for a week). “We get busier and busier,” Kitty says, “and sell more and more and more.” Kitty and Alex pick up extra flour from Wessex Mill and milk from Laceys’ Family Farm, both nearby, and cram the larder with oranges, cranberries and chocolate: “It’s a crazy time.”Kitty’s ‘non-mince pies’ – croissant dough encasing a swirl of soaked brandied fruit – are especially popular.
“I don’t like regular mince pies – they’re so dry – but these are the best.” Her mini panettones are just as gluttonously good. “I put chocolate chips in them, because panettones without chocolate chips are so wrong.” There are also stacks of gingerbread, and pyramids of mini orange and cardamom doughnuts. Kitty likes to experiment, counting Michel Suas’s Advanced Bread and Pastry among the most influential of her 60 baking books.
A recipe for success...
The Taits have a slick routine. “I love it,” Kitty says. “It’s just me and Dad every day. Because we’re producing so much, we have to be so streamlined.” Every morning, after feeding the starters and putting everything in the oven, they have the same breakfast – smoked salmon and fried eggs on two slices of sourdough. Scout, their corgi, sweeps up the crumbs.
One of them then takes the freshly baked loaves and pastries to the shop, while the other makes up sourdough for the next day. Music on – Kate Walsh (for Alex) or David Bowie (for Kitty) – they mix flour and water, add the starter and salt, and allow the dough to rise (known as bulk fermentation). Every hour, from 10.30am to 2.30pm, they stretch this dough and fold it over itself, extending the gluten and trapping air. “We use the San Francisco method,” Kitty says. “It’s respectful to the dough.” Finally, they chop it into 900g balls, mould it into oblong shapes, fit these into proving bannetons and slide them into the fridge.
Every day, from Tuesday to Saturday, the pair bake three types of sourdough: the Watlington (a traditional white loaf), the Albert (a white loaf without holes, made using the Japanese Tangzhong method, and named after Kitty’s brother) and a History Loaf (made with ancient grains). They might also make a Comfort Loaf (Marmite sourdough), challah or Christmas Trimmings Loaf (with cranberries and walnuts – “it’s really, really nice”). By now, Kitty or Alex will be back from the shop. In the afternoon, they mix up dough for the next day’s pastries, which they bake in the morning. Over the festive season, Kitty will bake for the family. She’ll make “giant loaves” to get them through, and pastries for her cousins and grandparents. “I love Christmas as I’m a feeder and I can go a bit mad loading up the table with all my creations.”
A different path
Kitty skipped GCSEs, which she would have completed in the summer just gone. Instead, she was homeschooled mainly by her dad and podcasts about business and food. Instead of A-levels, she hopes to take the EPQ, a project marked at a similar level. Students choose the subject – Kitty’s will be food.
Kitty’s friends are the baking community from across the world. Many have given her equipment, from mixers to bannetons. “If you love bread and you meet someone else who loves it, you have a bond. There’s this awesome community.” She has also developed a friendship with her dad: “We’re really close. Before, we had a father-child relationship; now, we’re friends and business partners.” If something goes wrong – they forget to turn the oven on one morning, for instance – they just get on with it. “Dad’s better at
the bigger picture, but I’m good at sorting things out on the spot.”
Kitty’s mum Katie works in communications for a charity, but also helps out in the bakery – as does her brother, Albert, 18, now on a gap year, and her sister Aggie, 20, who’s at the University of Bristol. Kitty’s path will be a bit different. “I’ve got a 20-year plan, which involves taking sourdough into everyone’s homes,” she says. First, in January, Kitty and Alex will be moving production into an old scout hut, just behind the shop: “I’ve also been looking at a barn to turn into a café. I’d like to run it for two or three years, and then travel around the world. I’ll probably stop when I’m 21 or 22 and see who I meet.” For now, however, she can’t go anywhere. Locals want their bread. A regular needs a cinnamon bun. Someone is hungry for panettone.
This is a feature from Country Living magazine. For monthly doses of positivity and inspiration, subscribe to Country Living magazine today.
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