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Harry Thomas, Baker & Musician

May 15, 2022
by the gentle author

Bookings for THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S TOURS are now open for June & July

The recipe is old but the cakes are fresh

This is Harry Thomas, baker at Townhouse, who makes all the cakes for our walking tours. His Queen Cakes from a recipe of 1721, served in the drawing room of the three hundred year house overlooking Christ Church, Spitalfields, have proved to be the ideal restorative for guests when they put their feet up and relax after a ramble round the neighbourhood.

Yet Harry has another string to his bow, since he matches his superlative flair in baking with an equal talent in music and songwriting – as Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie and I discovered when we joined him in the basement kitchen to hear the full story and observe the culinary spectacle of baking in progress.

“I would describe myself as a baker by trade and a musician in the rest of my time. Music has always been my passion and I played in a band for seven years when I was at school, growing up in Maidenhead, and then again at Goldsmith’s College where I studied Media & Communications. I graduated five years ago and started baking at Townhouse when I was twenty-one years old.

By then I was already in The Jacques. We are a touring band with more of an audience in France and continental Europe than here, so for the first couple of years, before Covid, we toured extensively. We are working on our second album now – I am a singer and we all write our songs together.

I have always been passionate about cooking and especially baking. My mother is a nursery school teacher, and we baked together and she took me to music lessons. As a child, I did not like reading fiction, instead I read cook books – that was what people bought me at Christmas.

At first, I read children’s cook books but then I graduated to adult ones at school, supplemented by Youtube cookery shows and the Food Network. As a consequence, I am not afraid of creating aggregates by taking parts of one recipe and the combining it with another. My parents will follow a recipe by the book exactly whereas  I do not. The more batches of cakes I have baked, the more I have come to understand the variables which gives me leeway in terms of how I want a cake to turn out.

Since I came to work here, I have introduced more cakes into the repertoire although I still make a lot of those that were being baked before I arrived. But the more I have baked them, and by listening to customers’ preferences, I have evolved the recipes.

Flavour-wise, I just play around with things until I am happy. I bake cakes the way I like them and I will not bake something that I would not be interested in eating myself. I like old recipes and cakes that remind me of the cakes that my mum would have baked or those I remember at bake sales at village fairs.

I want my cakes to make people feel special. When I introduced the Bakewell cake, I liked it because it was very crumbly, and I dust it with icing sugar and it feels special without being pretentious. It is very simple, equal measurements of everything in the cake and it just needs to be done correctly, with care.

I have a great balance in my life of baking and music. I could not have dreamt of a better balance of my passions in life. Obviously, I would like my music to advance and we have a record deal and a publishing deal. I am very uncompromising in that I always wanted my job to be rewarding and it is instantly gratifying. I get to cook all day and regularly go and play music all evening. Sometimes I get up early and go to the gym, bake cakes all day, and go and play music until midnight. Then I go to bed and come back and do it all over again!”

At the foot of the page in Mary Stockdale’s recipe book of 1721 is the recipe for Queen Cakes

Harry and his celebrated Queen Cakes, laced with mace and nutmeg

Photographs of Harry Thomas copyright © Sarah Ainslie

6 Responses leave one →
  1. Jane permalink
    May 15, 2022

    A lovely tranquil article, so positive to meet a young person creating a very balanced, interesting and creative life.
    You have captured Harry’s immersion and pleasure in his baking craft in these photographs, and words from him.

    What a peaceful start to a Sunday, before encountering the horrors of too much of the news. Thank you.

  2. May 15, 2022

    So, these biscuits seem to be really special. Yet another reason to go to London and book a guided tour!

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  3. Andy permalink
    May 15, 2022

    I really like this.
    Well done Harry.
    If anyone wants to see a glimpse of my talk please e maul me.

    Andy

  4. Gaye Richmond permalink
    May 15, 2022

    Having experienced the GA’s tour of Spitalfields recently I can recommend Harry’s cakes, they are superb and a welcome and much appreciated end to what was a very interesting and absorbing walk. It was also a lovely experience getting a glimpse of the house.

    ACHIM – yes, book the tour, it’s well worth it!

    Best wishes.

    Gaye.

  5. Marcia Howard permalink
    May 16, 2022

    What a wonderful way to end a walk… I don’t know this young man, but I lived in Maidenhead for 34 years, and it was where my own sons were born, went to school, and grew up there. Nice to see ‘local lad makes good’

  6. Miriam McDonald permalink
    May 19, 2022

    Harry! I agree with Achim, yet another reason to book the GA tour, if another reason was needed. I hope to meet you or your cakes (not a euphemism) this Christmas coming. Nutmeg…mmmmmm. Brilliant to see a young un’ respect the past and relish the present. More power to your mixer. Regards, Miriam.

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