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Connoisseur of anything sweet, aptly named Lily Vanilli (real name Lily Jones) owns a bakery on East London’s Columbia Road. Her creative and original cake designs, which include a cake shaped like a brain and edible glitter galore, garnered her much attention. This became full-blown fame when Lily Vanilli was featured in Times magazine.
With two best-selling baker books, A Zombie Ate My Cupcake and Sweet Tooth, we followed Lily around the capital, seeking out melt-in-the-mouth macaroons and calorific custard doughnuts to satisfy our sugar cravings. For those of you who want to have your cake and eat it, look to Lily’s sweet guide to London for the tastiest treats.
What sweet treats did you love as a child?
I grew up in Saudi Arabia and baking wasn’t really a part of my life, except once a year when I visited my Irish grandmother. She grew gooseberries and black and red currants in her garden to make jam, and baked really classic English Victoria sponges and scones and Irish soda bread. I was obsessed.
What fulfills your sweet tooth now?
Where would you go for tea and cake in London (if you weren’t making your own)?
I would go to my friend Claire’s place Violets on Wilton Way, she makes these incredible macaroons that I love, and there’s a really nice chill room upstairs as well a a lovely little outdoor space. It’s really close to my house too.
What about the best fresh bread?
I’m quite loyal to the Hackney Wild from E5 Bakehouse, it was one of the first great sourdoughs I tasted in London and they are still doing great things over there. I also use it in the café for our loaded toasts. Its an iconic loaf.
Got to be the king: custard doughnuts by Justin Gellatly of Bread Ahead. Calmly showing us all how it’s done. The custard doughnuts are the best around. The rhubarb doughnut at St John is a thing of beauty too.
Who are the London-based bakers we should know about?
Fergus and Wing Mon at Brickhouse Bread are doing incredible things, if you haven’t been there it’s well worth the trip – whether you’re interested in bread or have a sweet tooth. Also Poppy & Sebastian make the most divine patisserie, if you can find them – keep an eye on Instagram for when they pop up. Henrietta Inman makes delicious and clever free-from cakes and pastries if that’s your thing (or even if it isn’t) and Dominique Ansel is also in London now and he’s way more than just the man behind the cronut, his bakery makes the most inspired and creative patisseries.
Can you remember the best pudding you’ve ever had in the city?
I do love the eccles cake and Lancashire cheese at St John.
What’s the best thing about being based on Columbia road?
Its so quiet and secret during the week. Monday to Saturday you can hear a pin drop, it’s very peaceful and a wonderful place to work, then the crowds come through on Sunday and it’s a totally different energy – I really love having both. Also we’re close to three amazing florists: Grace & Thorn, Palais Flowers and Rebel Rebel (the latter two being studios) which is really handy for fresh flowers.
If London was a cake then what would it look/taste like?
I think it would have to be multi-tiered with layers and layers of different complementary flavours and traditions, representing the rich history and multiculturalism of the city. It’s definitely the best thing about this city for me. We recently threw a fundraising bake sale #BakeForSyria on Columbia Road, which brought together the city’s best bakeries and invited them to put a Syrian twist on their signature bake to help raise funds for charity, it was a wonderful reminder of how different cultures in this city are brought together through food.
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