Claire Ptak’s Violet Cakes, London’s Sweetest-smelling Building

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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