He was struck recently when a customer told him she couldn’t afford to bake Christmas cakes this year, since each one takes four to six hours to bake — and she couldn’t fathom increasing her already exorbitant energy bill.
“That hit a chord with me, and I thought, well, there’s got to be something we can do,” Hamilton-Trewhitt said, adding that energy prices surged in the United Kingdom amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and millions of people cannot afford to heat their homes.
That’s how it came to be that Hamilton-Trewhitt is baking people’s homemade Christmas cakes in his bakery oven for free. He is hoping to soften the blow of soaring energy prices and help combat the cost-of-living crisis in the U.K.
Christmas cakes, he explained, are “a very rich preserved fruit cake” that are commonly given as gifts in the U.K. during the holidays.
The cakes are “really dense,” he continued, which requires “a very slow cooking process.” While Christmas cakes incorporate different varieties of dried fruits and spices, “they’re all pretty much the same.”
“This is what we used to do long ago,” he said. “Why can’t we do it again?”
After all, Hamilton-Trewhitt has a commercial oven that runs “virtually 24/7,” and cakes are a very personal holiday gift, he said. “What’s more beautiful than having a present that’s actually made for you with love and attention?”
He pitched the concept to his customer: “Make your cakes, use your recipe, and let’s use my oven,” he told her. She was elated.
Seeing her face fill with relief, Hamilton-Trewhitt decided to offer the same service to the whole community.
“If one person’s struggling, there’s probably loads of people worrying about how much energy they’re going to use,” he said.
On the bakery’s Facebook page, he posted: “We will bake your Christmas cake free.” He also offered to pick the cakes up on Friday and hand deliver them to patrons’ homes on Monday.
“No transport — no problem,” the Nov. 21 post says.
Before long, requests started coming in, and Hamilton-Trewhitt — who grew up in the area — realized the real need for his oven offering.
His shop, Brickyard Bakery in Guisborough, is a community interest company — meaning it puts all profits toward social good.
“Its principle was always to make good food affordable,” said Hamilton-Trewhitt, who is known around Guisborough — a market town with a population of less than 17,000 people — as “Baker Ed.”
“If we make any money at the end of the year, we put it back into community business, or we give it to a charity,” he explained. “I’m subsidizing the business personally, because I believe in what we’re doing.”
Not only does Brickyard Bakery serve savory and sweet pastries and breads for fair prices, but it also offers pay-what-you-can cooking classes. Recently, Hamilton-Trewhitt opened a warm lounge above the bakery, welcoming anyone to escape the cold and sip free coffee, tea or hot chocolate, and snack on homemade biscuits.
His Christmas cakes offer is part of his ongoing effort to make life a little easier for everyone.
“It’s just a small act,” Hamilton-Trewhitt said, but “loads of people are appreciative.”
That includes local resident Harriet Morgan, who said she was delighted to give him her Christmas cakes to bake in his oven.
“As soon as I saw the initiative Ed was putting forward, I was filled with glee,” she said.
“Our energy prices are so high at the moment,” said Morgan, who lives with her daughter and grandson in a single-income household. Their energy bill is nearly $500 a month.
Although making Christmas cakes with her 6-year-old grandson is a holiday tradition, if not for Hamilton-Trewhitt’s offer, “I think I probably would have thought twice about making the cakes,” she said. “It’s not affordable.”
Morgan baked four traditional Christmas cakes in Hamilton-Trewhitt’s oven, including one with cherries and another with apricots and cranberries, which she plans to give as gifts. While she was warmed by Hamilton-Trewhitt’s touching gesture, Morgan wasn’t surprised.
“He is absolutely fabulous,” she said.
Morgan and her grandson Olliver have attended several pay-what-you-can cooking classes at Brickyard Bakery, during which they learn to prepare cost-effective, locally sourced and nutritious three-course meals.
“I think what he does is absolutely amazing,” she said. “Olliver is autistic and Ed is really patient with him.”
“Because of the experiences he’s had in the past of cooking for the queen and having his own restaurants and being very much a highflier, he’s very comfortable now giving back to the community,” Morgan added. “He’s doing it in ways that everybody appreciates; everybody needs it.”
In the early days of his career, when he was 25, Hamilton-Trewhitt worked as an army chef at the Royal Military Academy in Berkshire, England — where he cooked for Queen Elizabeth II.
“I fed our royal family and a number of other royal families from around the world,” he said. “It was fantastic.”
After spending 20 years as a chef at various hotels and eateries, Hamilton-Trewhitt went on to run six fine dining restaurants for 10 years, which he no longer owns. Despite his many successes, he said, nothing has been more fulfilling than his current work.
“I get to be reminded every day that there’s so many nice people out there,” he said. “We hear about the nasty ones because they’re really loud, but for every one of them there’s literally hundreds of really nice people.”
“Sometimes I forget that,” he continued. “It’s been really, really good for me to be reminded.”
Since offering up his oven in late November, Hamilton-Trewhitt has baked about 40 cakes for people in his community, and he plans to continue for as long as there is demand.
“I’m going to carry on doing it until people say, ‘We have our cakes now,’” he said.