Why Bermuda is a Baker’s Paradise

Carved out by 10,000 years of Atlantic waves, Bermuda’s coastline is an array of sweeping crescents of pink-flecked sand, towering palms, and crystal clear ocean-fed lagoons. Beyond the shore, centuries-old pastel-colored cottages dot the lush hillsides, and hibiscus and oleanders drape the byways in bold pink blooms.

Bermuda is a kaleidoscope of color and life, and its baking culture is no exception. While you may be drawn to this island for the gleaming waters and vibrant vistas, you’ll leave blown away by the baked goods. Sink your teeth into a warm slice of rich gingerbread, a cheesy scone made with sweet Bermuda onion, or a Bermudian fish sandwich piled high with fried fish, tomato, lettuce, and tartar sauce on raisin bread (more on that later). To fully experience Bermuda, you have to taste it. That’s where we come in. You probably won’t travel to Bermuda solely for a bakery tour, but while you’re there, you should enjoy the most epic baked goods the island has to offer.

One hundred thirty-eight islands make up this subtropical archipelago, stretching 22 miles long and about a mile across, and we’re covering all of it. Only about 655 miles due east of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, Bermuda is a convenient 90-minute or two-hour flight from most major airports in the eastern United States. It is split up into nine parishes, including St. George’s (the “tip” in the East End, where our bakery tour starts), Devonshire, Hamilton, Paget, Smith’s, Pembroke, Southampton, Warwick, and Sandys (at the West End’s “tail,” where we’ll finish up).

Our editor-in-chief, Brian Hart Hoffman, taking in the sights and refreshing seaside air that are characteristic of Bermuda’s breathtaking landscape.

From the ooey-gooey cinnamon buns in the East End to the ultimate rum cake in the West End, there is an all-around standard of excellence when it comes to Bermudian baking. The homemade breads and cake slices sold in gas stations are as delicious as the ones spotlighted on the menus of five-star restaurants, and you can barely make it a mile without running into another must-visit bakery. It’s rare to come across a Bermudian who didn’t grow up elbows-deep in flour, baking with loved ones. Almost every baker, professional or hobbyist, bakes from generations-old family recipes that utilize locally made ingredients and fresh seasonal produce, like loquats, grapefruit, and bananas. While most claim their banana bread is “the best on the island,” Bermudian bakers are gracious and humble in their work, just as they are in all aspects of life. Professional training and accolades aren’t as important in Bermudians’ no-frills, no-fuss approach. From-scratch baking is in their blood.

The baked goods of Bermuda embody all that the island is: a dynamic confluence and celebration of cultures from around the world. Bermuda does not have an indigenous people, and the population is diverse and eclectic with many of African, English, Caribbean, Portuguese, and Native American descent. Bermudians have created their own national identity. Settled by the English in 1609, Bermuda remains a British Overseas Territory, and you’ll see British traits laced throughout Bermudian culture, from the bright red public telephone booths in the Royal Naval Dockyard to mincemeat pie and hot cross buns. Yet Bermudians have created their own traditions surrounding these raisin-filled buns. During the two weeks leading up to Easter, hot cross buns are sold by the dozen in bakeries across the island. Every Good Friday, residents and visitors convene on beaches to fly homemade kites, eat fish cakes, and participate in hot cross buns competitions.

One of our favorite places in Bermuda to grab a loaded fish sandwich is at Seaside Grill.

Raisin bread may not be distinct to Bermuda either, but using it to make a fish sandwich is. Served in both local beachside dives and formal restaurants, this dish in itself is worth booking a flight to Bermuda. There is a fierce debate over who serves the best. We like Art Mel’s Spicy Dicy in Hamilton (go for “the works”), the dockside New Woodys Sports Bar & Restaurant in Sandy’s Parish, and Devonshire Parish’s Seaside Grill. Some Bermuda eateries offer their fish sandwiches on whole wheat bread, too, but we suggest going for the raisin bread. And, of course, washing it down with a ginger beer. (Check out our story on Bermudian bread culture, and bake up our take on Bermudian Raisin Bread!)

One of the island’s most precious exports, rum is used in a slew of Bermudian breads and desserts, but rum cake remains the most celebrated. The concept of a cake soaked in rum can be linked back to the hard biscuits dipped in the rum ration or “tot” and given to sailors on British Royal Navy ships. While rum cake is popular in many tropical and subtropical regions, like Jamaica and the Caribbean, Bermuda’s rum cakes are special because of the spirit they’re soaked in: Gosling’s Black Seal Rum.

Gosling’s, which has been the island’s premier rum distiller since 1857, played a major role in making it the island’s signature spirit. Gosling’s rums are also featured in two of Bermuda’s classic cocktails, the fruity rum swizzle, made with pineapple and orange juice, and the Dark ’n Stormy, a highball cocktail made with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum and ginger beer, another Bermuda- made beverage. (Don’t miss our Rum Swizzle Cake and Dark ‘n Stormy Bundt Cake, both inspired by these beverages!) High-quality rum not only gives Bermuda’s rum cakes exceptional flavor but also an exceptionally long shelf life (up to six months), making them great souvenirs.

Traditionally served as a side dish during holiday meals and inspired by the Filipino cassava cake, cassava pie is another Bermudian crowd favorite. The interesting savory-sweet dish features a pound cake-like batter made with cassava root, also known as yuca, and savory chicken or pork baked into the center. Bermudian tip? Slices are even tastier fried in the skillet with a little butt

Exploring Bermuda by bike is one of the fun and relaxing ways to take in the island nation’s charming streets, gorgeous ocean views, and eclectic baking scene. Photography courtesy Bermuda Tourism Authority

After you have satisfied your sweet tooth, Bermuda offers a myriad of exciting activities to partake in year-round. Explore by land: in a bus or taxi, atop a scooter or bike, or, our personal favorite, in a Twizy (an electric car outfitted with two cockpit-style seats). Opt for the nautical route with a scenic ferry ride, sailing trip, or scuba dive.

The best way to take in Bermuda is by chatting with the locals because the real spirit of the island lies in its people. Bermudians exude a warm blend of Old-World European charm and island swagger. Civility is valued. Drivers honk at each other in greeting, and everyone makes time for small talk. Strangers will greet you like an old friend and may even invite you over for cocktails and carrot cake if you strike up a conversation. The majority of the 65,000 residents are eager to share the stories from their home, embracing visitors and each other— except for one weekend every summer during the annual Cup Match cricket tournament when the island stands still and divides between the two rivals, St. George’s Cricket Club and Somerset Cricket Club.

Late in the evening, when the only remnants of the day’s fresh cakes and breads are a smattering of crumbs, visitors and locals alike clink their glasses of rum and say cheers to this enchanting, ever-changing island. While it’s impossible to define this island’s magnetic mystique, we know one thing for certain: Once you get a taste of the “Bermudaful” life, it stays with you forever.

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