Back in 2014, my dear friend Hannah was just starting her new baking business – I was just about to get married, and she was automatically our first choice to make our wedding cake. A sound choice, it turned out. Our brief had managed to be both vague and complicated at the same time, but Hannah fulfilled it marvellously with the most splendid purple cake, partially gluten-free, partially dairy-free, three different flavours, and with a hint of Harry Potter.
That should give a pretty good hint towards Hannah’s talent as a baker.
Four years along the line, and that little baking business has grown and grown. Hannah and her mum, Carol, have just opened their first official premises – a café and deli in their hometown of Doncaster, serving up their own bakes alongside tried and tested local products.
Teddy and I had a little trip down there on Friday to see how it’s going, and I had a secret mission of my own, too…
It’s been far too long since I’ve had a regular writing spot: Darlington is woefully devoid of cosy hipster cafés of the type I frequented back in Manchester, and even getting into the semi-soulless chain coffee houses requires some luck. On days where I’ve got Ted sleeping in the pram next to me, it’s next to impossible.
I’ve been on a proper hunt for somewhere to be my new writing home-from-home: somewhere comfy and friendly, with excellent coffee and tempting food. Plug sockets would be a plus, and preferably somewhere that wouldn’t look down on me for rocking up with a noisy toddler. I’ve found a couple of places I like in York, but so far not a single one that fulfils all of my criteria.
What perfect timing, then, that Dreambakes should be opening?
Less than an hour on the train from home, and we’d arrived. Barely far at all: it used to take me longer just to get to work, back in Manchester. Dreambakes itself is only a short hop away from the train station itself – essentially, go through the Frenchgate shopping centre and round the corner, just off the main shopping street. It literally couldn’t be any more central.
The first thing you notice when you go into the café is the sheer brightness of the place. Huge windows surround two sides of the seating area, letting in plenty of light. The brightness is helped along by the yellow-and-teal colour scheme, with bright copper accents. The counter and tables are made from reclaimed Scottish wood, and give a homely feel alongside the more modern paintwork and beautifully bright pictures on the walls. Obviously very keen on their own history, the Dreambakes team have an entire section on their wall devoted to the building itself, the site of an ancient priory.
My writer-eye immediately went to ankle-level: yep, like I automatically do in all coffee shops and cafés, I was looking for plug sockets.
Dreambakes definitely ticks the box for them – more than one table has a double socket tucked underneath, and there is of course WiFi. Perfect. Plus, the seating space itself isn’t small: there are plenty of tables, with lots of room to manoeuvre a pram around, if you happen to have one.
Within seconds of coming through the door, Ted and I had been greeted warmly, and installed at a nicely spacious table for two, with Ted of course road-testing a beautifully pristine highchair.
One thing that immediately scored a massive plus from me: Dreambakes is table service. The holy grail of casual eateries – as someone who often goes for coffee and writing-time on my own, or just with Ted, it’s a pet hate of mine when other people are in a big party of people and can save themselves a table while one person goes to the bar to order. On my own, I have to either dump all my belongings (and potentially the baby) at a table, or take the risk that I’ll be juggling a drink and a cake and a toddler, with nowhere for us all to sit down.
Not so at Dreambakes: get yourself a table, and someone will take your order. Marvellous.
Now, formalities done with, onto the food and drink!
It was breakfast time when we arrived, so I ordered ‘Cloud Egg’ on toast for me, and a cheesy muffin with some butter for Ted. Also, as the ultimate coffee test, I ordered myself a flat white. I always say if you can’t make a decent flat white, you have no business calling yourself a barista. Flat whites are warm as opposed to hot, they must be strong, and smooth – not the kind of coffee that burns your mouth, not watery, and certainly not frothy. It’s very hard to find a really good one.
I won’t keep you in suspense: the Dreambakes flat white was the best one I’ve tasted in a long, long time. Absolutely beautiful. The coffee, supplied by the Dark Woods roastery just up the road near Huddersfield, is smooth and perfectly strong without being bitter, with just a hint of chocolatey sweetness. I usually take sugar with coffee, poor excuse for an ex-barista I am, but I didn’t remotely need it with this flat white.
Dreambakes happens to sell bags of the Dark Woods coffee they use, and I must say, I’m sorely tempted, not to even mention the chocolate or preserves. Mmm.
What if you’re not a coffee fan? How about some tea? Dreambakes is using tea from two local companies: Birdhouse Teas from Sheffield, and The Tea Experience from their hometown of Doncaster. The Yorkshire rhubarb tea is a particular favourite of mine: fragrant but not too floral, with just enough sweetness to tempt the palate. Beautiful. Or if hot chocolate is more your game, they have it in both milk and white varieties – another massive tick on my checklist, because I adore white hot chocolate.
The food arrived swiftly, having been freshly prepared in the open kitchen. My ‘Cloud Eggs’ were fluffy baked eggs on toast, served with Yorkshire chorizo on the side for an optional extra tang of flavour (I didn’t know Yorkshire chorizo was a thing, it comes from Ilkley, and you know what, it was rather nice). Ted’s little cheesy muffin was served warm, baked with Red Leicester cheese.
We both enjoyed our breakfasts immensely – Ted couldn’t shovel his into his face any faster, even though it was in fact his second breakfast of the day. There was plenty on each plate, and Ted had enough left over to take some home in a box to finish later: considering the entire cost of the two breakfasts came to just over £5 for both of us, I’d say that’s pretty good value for money.
If I hadn’t had to get a grumpy toddler away for a nap, I would have had to stay to eat my way through the lunch menu. Open sandwiches, Yorkshire rarebit, soup, tasting boards with yummy pies… I wanted it all. All very customisable, too – as everything is made freshly to order, there is always the option to tweak things to meet your personal preferences or dietary requirements.
Luckily, Dreambakes being a deli, even with Ted strapped to my back and whining to have a sleep, I could try out some of their takeaway offerings. I got myself a chunk of stuffed focaccia, with a deli salad and some blue cheese on the side. I had this when we got home, and oh my god, was that bread amazing. Little chunks of tomato baked into it were like tiny explosions on my tastebuds, set off by the tang of the cheese. I could have eaten an entire loaf.
Next time I go, I’ll be sure to dive into the sweet offerings, too. I could see the cakes, cookies and brownies lined up on the counter, and they all looked amazing. I’ve tasted Hannah’s cakes before, I know full well they taste as good as they look. Though I’m dying to try an ice-cream sandwich – warm, freshly baked cookies sandwiching locally sourced ice-cream with (vegan) chocolate sauce? Oh, yes.
I mentioned the ‘V’ word there, didn’t I? Vegan. Well, although I’m nothing of the sort, those of you who are can rest assured Dreambakes will cater splendidly for you. There are fully vegan options for breakfast, lunch and dessert, including a frankly amazing sounding Black Cherry Walnut ice-cream sandwich. And the vegan cinnamon brioche is already calling to me. Gluten free? Of course, there are plenty of options for that, too – you’re not going to have to sacrifice taste, here, just because you happen to have a dietary requirement.
In fact, there are certain gluten-free options on the deli counter that I cannot wait to get for my coeliac husband: locally made gluten-free pork pies! He already can’t wait.
I was pleasantly surprised to see an entire section of the menu devoted to children, as well. All in all, while not being reduced to the appearance of a playgroup or soft-play that some ‘family friendly’ cafés can have, Dreambakes caters very well for families with small children: there is a decent offering of soft drinks, child-friendly food, enough highchairs to contain plenty of toddlers, and a substantial, modern baby-change.
So the big question is: did I get my wish? Have I found a new writing haunt?
I do believe I have.
I can very easily picture myself popping down to Doncaster on the train, setting up with my laptop near one of the plug sockets, and enjoying a flat white or five while scribbling away an afternoon and working my way through the menu. If I happen to have Ted with me while I do so, I know he’ll be well-catered for, too – and I won’t get any of the ‘oh god, a toddler’ looks. The staff are all incredibly friendly, sparky, and dedicated to their job – if you need to know anything about your food, from its calorie-count to its provenance, someone will certainly be able to tell you.
I must add, I’m immensely proud of Hannah and Carol for all the work they’ve put into Dreambakes. Their hard work and dedication has really paid off, and is a victory for girl bosses everywhere.
You can find Dreambakes in Doncaster at 3 Priory House, Priory Walk, just outside of Frenchgate shopping centre – a short walk from the train station. It’s open from today, Monday 21st May, Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm. Visit their website at www.dreambakes.co.uk for more information.