Lily Vanilli‘s baking prowess has seen her become one of London’s most in-demand bakers, with her cakes selling, well, like hot cakes.
She’s baked for the likes of Alexander McQueen, Lulu Guinness and Downing Street, and was listed as one of VOGUE‘s rising stars in December 2010.
She began selling her creations in 2008 and her first book – A Zombie Ate My Cupcake – was released in 2010. She curated Cake Britain (the world’s first edible art exhibition – amazing, we know) and last year set up 180, the world’s first private members cake club.
Here, she shares her secrets: her favourite ingredient, the secrets behind her success and what it takes to whisk up a storm in the kitchen.
Yes, ever since I was a little kid, but I didn’t get to be any good at it until about 5 years ago, when it turns from a casual hobby into something I was doing all the time, and getting more obsessive about.
What did you do before you set up Lily Vanilli?
I was working as a graphic designer in Australia, then I moved back and was broke for a while, I fell back on my baking skills to support myself, I would never have dreamed it would have grown into a proper business – it really grew very organically from selling a few cakes to make money, to handling bigger and bigger orders.
It was just a joke – I needed a name and was playing around with baking puns – it stuck!
Other than the basics, what is your favourite baking ingredient?
I love using different salts, from a good Malden, to Fleur de sel, to black Hawaiian Lava salt – the right salt can be the crowning glory to a good chocolate brownie or cookie.
What’s your favourite recipe and why?
My favourite is always changing, according to the seasons, the time of day and whatever I happen to have lying around. In my new book Sweet Tooth, I really encourage people to bake the same way – to not be afraid to deviate from the recipe and alter things to suit you.
Why do you think we’re all so obsessed with ‘cute cakes’? (cupcakes, cake pops, etc. etc.)
I think they represent a very affordable luxury – something pretty and decadent and perfectly formed for under £5. It was perhaps born of the recession, but it looks like its here to stay.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I loved the creative challenges such as making a cake sculpture for the V&A and making fashion cakes for POP. But the real highlights were opening my bakery on Columbia Road and putting all my recipes, ideas and inspirations into my new book. I really didn’t hold anything back, its all in there.
What are the best and worst parts of running your own baking business?
The best part is having the space to bake in, for a long time I was baking in cramped kitchens and share houses and never had the right tools or equipment, having a proper kitchen, ovens and a good stock of ingredients allows me to be much more creative and experimental.
What is the inspiration behind your shop?
It’s a very simple formula – we do great coffee, beautiful seasonal cakes, sweet and savoury pastries, tarts, pies and doughnuts. Our menu is always changing and we keep on experimenting in the kitchen.
Do you make all your cakes by-hand?
Everything is handmade, yes.
What advice would you give to budding professional bakers?
Work hard on becoming the best baker you can be. Put your time and energy into making amazing cakes and pour as much focus into that as you can. If you get good enough your reputation will spread and the marketing and pr you need will take care of itself.
Visit The Bakery – The Courtyard, Ezra St, London E2 7RH.