I have been into baking for as long as I can remember – since I was tall enough to reach the kitchen bench. It was my French grandparents who first triggered my love for it I think; I would help bake apple tarts, cherry clafoutis, jams and other delicious desserts at their knee. To some degree my competence in baking might have been passed down from my great-grandfather, who was a successful bread baker and pastry chef in Paris. I never really thought I could make a career out of baking though, it just seemed like a hobby and passion that would fit nicely alongside a day job.
I would bake a cake a week for my family while I was still at school and university (I did a Business degree), and then one day, after baking a particularly successful one, my parents suggested I make a career out of it. So I started a blog called The Caker in 2010, which became a vehicle for selling cakes. Because I’ve always been involved in the fashion industry, it worked out nicely that some of my first customers were quite high profile fashion people. The day I really thought The Caker could become something was when [designer] Karen Walker asked me to make cakes to supply the Department Store café.
Word seemed to spread like wildfire, and before I knew it I was making my first wedding cake. I think that’s the beauty of Auckland – it’s so small, and everyone talks, so it was really easy for my business to become well known almost overnight. I hadn’t been baking and selling cakes from home for long before I decided I needed to be in a commercial kitchen. I looked long and hard for the perfect space to run my business from, and baked from a few different places which didn’t quite work for me. I finally now have my own space on K Rd, with a beautiful kitchen designed by my father, as well as a little shopfront with tables and chairs, which I use to host baking classes and special afternoon teas. My space isn’t open to the public as a café, but I like it this way. I’m able to focus on my daily masses of orders (usually between 10 and 30 orders per day) and play my music really loud!
I use organic and unrefined ingredients where possible, because there’s no denying that the better ingredients you use the better the final product will be. I really believe that you don’t need a heap of refined white sugar and flour to make a cake taste delicious. Baking certainly goes through trends, e.g. the cupcake followed by the macaroon and then the cronut. But I think, as we become more conscious about our health and what we put into our bodies, the current trend that has emerged is all about wholesome, nutritious baking, and lots of raw cheesecakes! While I think some people take the raw food movement a little too seriously, and put so much effort into being gluten and dairy-free, I think it’s great because most of the time cakes taste better this way anyway. Ground almonds are extremely nutritious, and I use these religiously to replace flour. I use a lot of honey and natural maple syrup to replace sugar, and coconut oil to replace butter. The only chocolate I use is very expensive, but I will never switch, because it’s just the best stuff. It’s 70% cocoa, which means it’s not too sweet or full of nasties.
My style of baking is fairly humble. I think it’s much more important for a cake to taste incredible, rather than look inedible. There’s nothing worse than a cake which looks too perfect to cut into, but when you do it tastes like sawdust. So I steer clear of any fondant or marzipan or rainbow sprinkles. I use a lot of seasonal fruits, nuts, seeds, spices and herbs in my cakes and decorate simply, with fresh flowers. I don’t mind if they are dense as opposed to light and airy, so long as they are really moist and decadent. I want people to be able to eat my cakes and not feel guilty.
I try and come up with unique flavour combinations, because I want to be different to all my competition out there. A few girls doing very similar things to me have popped up over the last couple of years, so I have to stay ahead of my game! A fair amount of experimentation goes on in my kitchen, especially when I was coming up with recipes for my book last year… that was a lot of work. At the moment I’m really into adding a savoury element to my baking, so I’ve played around with truffle oil, sea salt and pepper, fresh herbs and different sorts of tea. Seeing as I’m self-taught, I never properly learnt the art of making pastry, but I’m slowly teaching myself through trial and error, and have come up with some lovely sweet pie recipes, which are now also on my menu alongside my nine cakes.
I travel a lot, which I think is important to keep my ideas fresh and inspired. I’m in New York at the moment, and being here always makes me want to make The Caker the most that it can be, so I’m starting to think of ways to turn it into more of an international brand. The dream would be to live in NZ for six months of the year, and NYC for the other six, but I haven’t quite figured out how that will work. For now I’ll focus on releasing my line of pre-mix cake boxes (the kind that you just have to add some coconut oil and almond milk to in order to make your own Caker cake at home) as well some seasonal recipe journals. And of course, as wedding season kicks in, dozens upon dozens of wedding cakes!
Image by Harriet Were.