Helen’s original home baking is inspired by memories of her Guyana-born mother and infused with the rich colours and flavours of the Caribbean
Be your own Bake Off star this Christmas with a choice of delicious recipes from Wincanton baker Helen Hermanstein Smith of the Acorn House Bakery. Helen, whose cakes are sold direct to customers and at Coles Yard, the Wincanton greengrocers and whole food shop, has lived in the town for many years and has built up an enviable reputation for her delicious cakes, some of which recall the Guyana heritage of her parents, who came to England in the late 1950s. Now she is sharing her baking creativity in her first book, The Acorn House Bakery Recipe Book.
A gorgeous-looking Caribbean Rum Fruit Cake is one of the recipes handed down to Helen from her mother, who made the cake every Christmas and for other celebrations.
A winding route to the kitchen
Helen was born and brought up in south London, in a large household where she remembers her mother and grandmother baking bread and cakes. Work and marriage took her away from the kitchen, and she worked for a publishing company, spending three years in Hong Kong with her husband Derek while their two children were very young.
Back in London, she completed an MBA and worked in tech for several more years before changing direction and retraining in patisserie, bread baking, cake decorating and chocolate-making at Westminster Kingsway College and Le Cordon Bleu School in London, eventually going on to become a qualified baker.
Helen and Derek lived in London but had a country get-away in Wincanton. They eventually decided to move full time to Somerset, and this was the perfect opportunity for Helen to focus on her baking, particularly in making and decorating celebration cakes, cookies, chocolate and confectionery.
A few years ago, she began to make an organised collection of her tried and tested recipes, both from her childhood and from her professional training. Her mother’s influence has continued since her death a couple of years ago: ‘It was in baking that I sought solace, not only to help deal with my grief and loss, but also to bring back many happy memories of our times baking together.’
In 2021, she set up Acorn House Bakery at her home, specialising in luxury treat boxes filled with personalised artisanal cookies, chocolates and fudge. Two years on, the range has extended to include her own-recipe artisanal jams, marmalades and chutneys, using locally grown produce and fruit from her own garden.
Now collated into her first book, Helen’s recipes range from savoury to cakes to confectionery and special treats such as a sophisticated gin and tonic lemon drizzle cake or locally inspired Somerset cider apple cake. The savoury recipes include the utterly moreish Parmesan shortbreads. One of the most inviting is the almond and apricot flan pictured on the book cover!
Baking has always been a family affair for Helen – and it still is. She says: “Derek and our children Charlotte and Adam love baking and cooking too. Sadly, it’s a bit of a competition between us – but I’m the master baker!’