How the Krazi Baker took the hotplate to the street

How the Krazi Baker took the hotplate to the street

Mark Douglas – aka the Krazi Baker – has been named Northern Ireland Food Hero at the TipTree World Bread Awards for stepping up during the pandemic. He tells IF&CR how he’s bringing his baking skills onto the streets – and where he goes from here.

Mark Douglas spent his whole life working in bakeries before taking his trade out into the great outdoors eight years ago to launch his Krazi Baker business, baking hotplate breads in front of an audience at markets and festivals.

Now he’s racked up an impressive stack of awards including four Great Taste Awards and has been named Northern Ireland Bread Hero at the TipTree World Bread Awards for his pandemic efforts to deliver homemade bread across Co Down.

The 55-year-old dad of two says he was taught how to cook by his mum.

“Home cooked food was the order of the day, three times a day, and my mum baked bread, she baked cakes, it was non-stop,” he says.

“There was nothing that wasn’t home prepared and that had a lasting effect on me.”

When Mark left school in 1982 he became an apprentice at Moira Bakery.

“The hotplate was the beating heart of the home bakery back then. The hot plate is intense work, but you can roll over large volumes quite quickly, and once it was seen that you were capable, you were kept there for at least a year to make sure you were efficient in all areas of the hotplate,” he says.

Hungary inspiration

Thirty years later and much more experienced, Mark started pondering a new way to approach baking – and it was a holiday in Hungary that brought his thinking into sharp focus.

“I had this idea of wanting to bake bread on site in a market – nobody ever baked bread on site then,” he says.

“Then I was in Hungary, walking around the Grand Market, and it was such an amazing big market and it set my mind racing with ideas about everything under the sun.

“So I was thinking about what you could do, how you could bake bread on site, and I went home and looked at the hot plate – and there it was staring me in the face. Hot plate bread was the only bread you could possibly make on site.”

Conway Mill

Mark was practising yoga at Conway Mill in Belfast when he learned that they were planning to launch a small market in their hallway, so in September 2013, he gave market life a go for the first time.

“I had the car filled with the hot plate and whatever else I needed, and I made potato bread, soda bread and pancakes on site,” he says.

Eventually he threw in the day job and started working regularly at markets, including Newtownards Market, the Inns Market in south Belfast, the car boot sale in north Belfast and Carrickfergus Market.

Meanwhile, he decided to branch out and deliver baking classes from the Krazi Soda School, a purpose-built building at the side of his house.

“I hold classes in breadmaking, cookery classes, Christmas cake classes and seasonal things like Pancake Tuesday or Halloween,” he says.

“Then in 2016 I won Best Stand at the Balmoral Show and 2018 I won four Great Taste Awards for my potato apple, shortbread biscuits, treacle farls and cinnamon and whiskey soda side.”

Pandemic pressure

Mark makes 99% of his products on site at the markets but he does sell some breads at the Old Mill Garden Centre and supplies the Red Hills farm shop at Brookvale Farm in Dromore – but everything had to stop when the pandemic hit.

However, Mark was one of the earliest businesses to switch tack and launch a delivery service, first delivering bread around Dromore and Banbridge but later expanding to Comber, Newtownards, Katesbridge and even Newry. They delivered everything in two Fiat 500s, offering hotplate goods and focaccia, and weekly specials such as sticky toffee pudding or lemon drizzle cake.

“At the start I couldn’t keep up with it – I was delivering on Wednesdays and Saturdays. I would have had around 200 customers on Saturdays,” he says.

There was a bit of uptick for markets in summer 2020 but as Christmas approached, the markets were over and there were no agricultural shows or classes, and then the early 2021 lockdown happened.

Looking ahead

Since then, Mark has extended his purpose-built classroom and has just relaunched his cookery classes, planning a new schedule for 2022.

He’s keen to get back to a more regular routine – “It feels like a whirlwind spinning around, and I’d like to get levelled out to a more steady programme.”

Part of his plan would be to extend the classes, as market life can be gruelling.

“You leave the house at 3.30am to arrive at 4.15am, and you’re not home until 5.15pm – I can’t do it forever,” he says.

“I’d like to try and schedule myself for more regular classes.”

Mark says what he has noticed is his customers’ nostalgia for so many homegrown treats that have become difficult to find these days, such as potato apple and varieties of soda farl.

“When I do treacle farls, they are always massively popular and everyone says they haven’t seen them in years,” he says.

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