If you haven't tried one of Claire Ptak's Violet Cakes, you're in for a treat. Former pastry chef at Alice Walters' Chez Panisse, the California native moved to London 10 years ago and has since launched one of the city's most beloved bakeries.
"From a really young age I was so drawn to London," she tells us. "It has been so good to me and allowed me to do so much. Tea and cake time is just part of being English, which doesn't happen in California."
After stints at Moro and St John, the self-taught cook set up a stall at Broadway Market and quickly amassed a sweet-toothed following. In 2010, she opened the doors of Violet Bakery - the happiest, sweetest-smelling building in London. "I love seeing all different kinds of people getting that giddiness from eating something sweet and extravagant. Cake is a real pleasure. I get to watch that happen in front of my eyes! It's amazing."
As well as gifting London with a rainbow of perfect baked goods, Claire Ptak has also worked as a writer and recipe developer on several books including The Home-Made Sweet Shop and The Whoopie Pie Book, as well as teaming up with Henry Dimbleby (Violet Cakes devotee) to write Leon: Baking and Puddings. In March, Claire released The Violet Bakery Cookbook, which includes all of the delectable recipes from the café's bursting kitchen.
We took ourselves over to Claire's whimsical Hackney café, which sits in the middle of a residential street like an old friend's home. "I wanted the bakery to be like coming home, where things reminded you of your family and home cooking. Simpler times!" Claire tells us. "The name came from this obsession I had with violets when I was little. I was thinking about how violets have such a short season, and a beautiful scent. There's so fleeting. I feel like that ties in to what I'm doing here; giving people something short-lived and special."
Sweet things should feel special and fun
Violet Cakes is driven by incredible flavour and the use of natural ingredients, which is probably why its praises have been sung by The Times, The Guardian, Food & Wine, Vogue and Elle. "I'm pretty simple and classic in my tastes," Claire explains. "I prefer things that aren't too complicated. I don't like to be too challenged when I'm eating something sweet. I think it should be about the quality of the experience."
Despite The Violet Bakery Cookbook hitting the shelves just two months ago, Claire is already at work on a new cookbook, and tells us that a new café might be on the horizon as well. Which can only mean one thing - more cake.
High on salted brownies and gooey lemon slices, any hopes of a professional interview quickly went out the window, the whole thing crumbling into laughter and over-sharing. Which just goes to prove Claire's point that cake really does make people happy. She tells us, "Sweet things should feel special and fun. And that's why I want to make every cake delicious and worth it! I'm just doing what's natural to me, and trying to do it really well."
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