Monday, 24 February 2014

Let Them Eat Cake

Let Them Eat Cake..

Baking makes me go all misty eyed with nostalgia, remembering my childhood in the 80's, watching Cheryl Baker's "Eggs N' Baker" on a Sunday morning and subsequently badgering my mother to assist me in recreating whatever magic I had witnessed on screen in our large and pristine Poggenpohl kitchen. The kitchen was without doubt the heart of our home in coastal Northumberland. It was the source of not only frequent culinary activity but also of blissful family meals and many an impromptu social gathering (the wine flowed more freely than at a Dionysus festival and I will forever have images of my mother dancing to whatever 80's music was blaring from the Bang & Olufsen stereo in her stilettos, mohair jumper dresses and leggings etched into my memory. Well it was the 80's).

I was the type of child that always wanted to lick the bowl (especially if mum was making her chocolate fudge cake, to this day an enduring favourite). I recall baking Stottie cakes (as much a Geordie institution as Gazza and brown ale) at school in Jesmond and chocolate muffins at boarding school in Pitlochry, Scotland. Extra curricular cooking classes were always a "must" for me. For one, I got to eat more, which in my mind was always a good thing.

Given my own happy memories of baking, it really warmed my heart when I found out that my friend Ashley Van Baalen recently made the brave decision to quit a successful and much-sought-after career in Beauty PR to launch Mini's Bakery in Ascot, her own entrepreneurial venture. It seems that Marie Antoinette wasn't the only fashionista that wanted to "let them eat cake". 

Ashley Van Baalen, founder and CEO of Mini's Bakery

Edible Makeup Bags and Accessories

Custom-designed biscuits for Chantelle Lingerie (as endorsed by Lisa Haynes, Fashion & Beauty Editor for the Press Association)

A Valentine's Cupcake

Pink Raspberry Macaroons

Engagement Party Cupcakes

A lovely boss ordered these lemon cupcakes to thank her team for all their hard work

Spring Cupcakes

Lace Heart Biscuits

Cinnamon-Raisin Danish Swirls

Cheese, Broccoli, Tomato and Onion Mini Puff Pastry Bites

Ashley sweetly agreed to take time out of her hectic baking schedule to answer some interview questions:

DOAFM: Ashley, I first met you when you were working at boutique PR agency Store PR. From there you went on to work with one of my favourite "Eco-Beauty" PR agencies, Pure PR. What inspired you to take the leap from working in PR to launching your own venture, Mini's Bakery?

AVB: My decision to leave PR after 8 years came after I realised that I was at my most happiest when pottering about in the kitchen baking with Saturday Kitchen on in the background, or kneading dough while singing along to George Michael on my iPod. I thought, “if these are my most happiest and content moments, why can’t I do it all the time.” So I signed up to a number of decorating and baking classes to refine my skills and started creating cakes and designs for friends, product launches and events, for which I was being paid for. Unfortunately it isn’t easy to work full-time commuting into London and start up a baking business so, with the support of my family, I was able to leave PR and focus 100% on Mini’s Bakery.

DOAFM: British consumers seem to have become baking mad over the last few years with TV shows such as Paul Hollywood's "The Great British Bake Off", Eric Lanlard's "Baking Mad" and well, all things Nigella. Why do you think baking seems to have made such a huge resurgence in popularity?

AVB: I think that baking has become popular (again) because it is something that the whole family can enjoy together. Whether you are making cakes for a friends birthday or teaching children to crack and beat eggs, everyone can be involved and enjoy the outcome of a couple of hours in the kitchen. In addition, in this time of austerity people are looking for less expensive ways to enjoy their free time.  Key baking ingredients do not cost a lot, compared to a day trip into London, and can actually be more rewarding. There is nothing more satisfying than providing your loved ones with something that they can enjoy.

DOAFM: There was a point where it seemed as if no fashion or beauty launch event was complete without a selection of treats from the likes of The Primrose Hill Bakery or Laduree. People assume fashionistas don't eat, so why do you think cupcakes and macarons are so popular with the style glitterati?

AVB: Cupcakes, macaroons, cake pops and meringues are always going to be popular for events and launches as they are ‘Instagramable’ and a talking point. Having your brands logo on a cake or a macaroon fashioned into the shape of a lipstick will always catch peoples eye and draw attention. Recently, I provided cupcakes and biscuits for a lingerie launch and the client requested that they were decorated with bras and knickers. The style glitterati love the finer things in life as well as something personal and unique, and what better way to experience this than with a delicious and beautifully constructed treat.

DOAFM: My patisserie spies tell me that Krispy Kreme have competition in the shape of Dum Dum Doughnuts, the new, low-fat British Artisan doughnut brand. Where do you stand on fat versus taste? 

AVB: I think that it is great that companies are trying to create healthier alternatives for those looking for a ‘lighter’ option. However, as with everything, there is nothing wrong with indulging in something that you fancy from time to time, everything in moderation.

DOAFM: Who are you baking heroes and why?

AVB: I have a couple and of course Delia Smith is number one. I remember as a child my mum had Delia’s Complete Cookery Course book from the 1970’s and I would use that as my go-to resource for fail proof recipes such as scones, shortbread biscuits, and cakes. Delia is a stickler for following a recipe to the gram and is a good teacher for those looking to get the best results. Another of my baking heroes is Adriano Zumbo, an Australian patissier who for me brings a modern twist to the more traditional art of patisserie. He brought the croqembouche tower to a wider audience and creates masterful V8 cakes.

DOAFM: If you had to pick just one star product from all the delectable goodies produced at Mini's Bakery, what would it be and why?

AVB: That is a difficult questions, but my most popular recipe is my banana and white chocolate muffins, for savory it is my cheese twists every time, which is a mixture of parmesan cheese, whole grain mustard and chilli flakes.

DOAFM: What is your dream recipe / creation and why?

AVB: I have been challenged to create a croqembouche tower by a friend which really will be some task and I would be proud to complete one. I’d also like to say that I created by own wedding cake with 100 matching cupcakes, but as a perfectionist, I have been told by my fiancĂ© that I am not allowed, due to the potential stress levels!

DOAFM: Where do you see Mini's Bakery in five years time?

AVB: In 5 years I’d love Mini’s Bakery to be the go-to place for ‘at-home’ afternoon tea services. Bringing the full experience to peoples homes without any hassle, we provide the treats, crockery and best of all clear up after!

DOAFM: If you had any pearls of wisdom for aspiring bakers, what would they be?

AVB: Practice, practice, practice and practice some more! That is really the only way to perfect your skills. If it goes wrong, it is ok; it is only eggs, flour, and sugar! Also, try odd combinations, play with flavors and techniques, you will be surprised by what you can create.

DOAFM: What product from Mini's Bakery are your customers going crazy for right now?

AVB: Cupcakes are still a big seller with our customers, as they are easy to share and can be decorated to any specification. The orders for macaroons and chocolates are becoming very popular as wedding favours too!

You can find Mini's Bakery on Pinterest:


Mini's Bakery, Lavender Row, SL5 8QR, Ascot, Bracknell Forest, United Kingdom

T - 07921 396376