Naughty but Nice: Three star bakers share some sweet secrets with Velvet
Visitors to our local farmers’ markets may be familiar with the cake fest created by George Hepher, aka George’s Bakery. Sponges in all shapes and sizes, colours and flavourings compete for space on his generously-packed stall providing a sweet feast for the eyes. You see, George is no ordinary baker – he is like the Willy Wonka of the cake world mixing a deep understanding of the pleasure of cake with a fearless quest for new flavours. It’s a winning combination – within hours of setting up at markets in Ely, St Ives and Cambridge the stall is sold out. So how does he do it?
“Innovation! I create a new flavour of cake every week and a new rocky road every other week, plus there are regularly new tray bakes. There are now five flavours of Cornflake Crevice and the Biscoff Bulge may be getting an upgrade soon,” says George who is four years into his baking career, having ditched higher education for the love of cake.
“I was studying at sixth form and knew I didn't want to go to uni because being in debt doesn't sound like my kind of thing, so I mulled around at home for a couple of months before my Mum nagged me to start doing something and I decided that, if I can't make a career out of lying on the sofa and watching movies and box sets all day, then my next best skill is baking so I better get up and do it. I've gone from someone who would always do the bare minimum to believing that a day not making money is a day wasted,” says the St Ives based entrepreneur.
George is never short of new ideas for flavour combos and has a well-honed philosophy of cake. “They usually just come to me but I listen to a lot of TV and movies, love drag queens and I'm no stranger to filling a trolley up with alcohol so I'm always feeling inspired. Making a new cake every week means some of the flavours have become rather outlandish. I love stuffing a tart or pie in between two layers of cake.” And George’s customers love him dearly for it.
“A good cake should always be a thick wedge so large that, if finished in one go, it renders you incapable of moving for a couple hours. I want to give people the same feeling they get after a Christmas dinner, on a weekly basis. I believe too much decoration is an abomination – fondant-decorated cakes shouldn't be made for anyone over 5 and don't even get me started on cupcakes.”
Fondant icing aside, George’s Bakery is going great guns and George has moved from his family’s kitchen at home in St Ives to a purpose-built kitchen unit in the garden.
“I made the move a couple of summers ago. There's so much more room and the commute is approximately 20 seconds which helps with my crazy baking schedule,” says the star baker. “It's been getting exponentially ludicrous... I work from 8am to 3 or 4am Monday to Thursday (although I've been known to go until 5am on a Friday morning), and then a shorter (9am to 10pm on Friday before 2am-10pm on weekends. There's no better feeling in the world than flicking through a bulging fanny pack while sipping a vintage bottle of WKD blue and feeling exhausted.” Sleep is something George doesn’t, thankfully, need too much of. “I don't get a lot – four hours is more than enough for me. Lots of people tell me I'm going to burn out but I ain't no damn candle. I bake around 80 to 130 cakes a week, depending on what I've got on and that isn't including all of the rocky roads, crevices, bulges, cookie sandwiches, donuts, brownies, quiches, cake jars, flapjacks, chubby chunks and whatever else I'm inspired to bake.”
George’s flamboyance tints everything he does, from his rainbow-coloured cakes to his (sometimes) quite saucy social media posts; he is a cake bake rock star. “My social media posts are often mumbling soliloquys with little to no punctuation but people seem to like them. I have some followers that come to the stall and claim to be star struck! I've had people make eight-hour round trips to get to the markets, so lots of them want to stop and chat. Some just hand me a list of what they'd like and then there are the husbands who are annoyed that their wives made them wake at 5am to travel and queue for some of my Biscoff Bulge. I always want the market to have a 'wow' factor and it's amazing when it all goes to plan. I recently turned the stall into a giant rainbow to celebrate Pride Month and had all of the cakes coloured accordingly, which was met with overwhelming positivity.”
George’s bakes are so high in demand he has invested in the family firm. “My sister Samantha has recently started working for me (she's in charge of rocky roads) and my mum, Lady Jayne, has closed her shop to help me more – she's washing up for more hours a day than I get sleep. My dad also helps me set up at markets because the equipment weighs a tonne and the only heavy lifting I do is when I'm carrying a thick wedge of cake to a box ready for someone to devour.”
Despite the occasional challenge – hardly any time off and don’t get him started on copy-cat bakers – George is loving life. “I absolutely adore what I do. It's so much fun being able to create new products all of the time and not having to answer to anyone. The interaction with people, on the stall and on social media, has to be the best part though. It feels like a little community in itself and I really put myself out there with some of my posts (I love an innuendo) and most people seem to love it.” As for future plans George is just trying to keep up with demand. “I've doubled the size of the stalls at St Ives and Ely farmers’ markets to offer more choice, with Samantha and Lady Jayne helping to serve to reduce queues. I’m no longer taking orders for bakes but currently working on setting up a postal service launching in autumn. I'm working more than 130 hours a week currently and the markets get busier and busier every week.”
Follow George on Instagram and Twitter @georges_bakery and Facebook/GeorgesBakeryCambs. Additional rocky road images can be devoured @ Samantha_at_georges and @ladyjayne_at_georges
Moo Moo Cakes
Obsessed with all things delicious since a young age, it is no surprise that Fiona Murphy spends much of her time making cakes in her Suffolk village home. And not just any old cake; Moo Moo cakes really do taste as good as they look and are made lovingly from the highest quality ingredients – no refined sugars, organic where possible, British, local and seasonal.
“To me, there is nothing worse then eating a slice of cake that looks nice, but in reality actually tastes disappointing. I always say, if you're going to eat cake, eat good cake,” says Fiona, who explains the Moo Moo comes from her daughter, “whom I call Moo Moo and is my chief taster (self appointed) and biggest fan”.
The cakes are truly beautiful; from pretty-as-a-picture floral fancy summer wedding cakes and fruit-smothered birthday treats to high-rise-butter-icing cup cakes, multi-tiered naked cakes and intricately iced affairs as delicate as lace.
“I love my girls,” says Fiona, referring to her cakes. “For me it’s all about the passion for creating the cake and each and every one has her own personality.” Take one of Fiona’s original signature bakes, the Suffolk Root Cake that is an ode to the Sudbury village she lives in with her foodie husband and children. “She’s full of carrot, parsnip and beetroot, pumpkin seeds and wholegrain spelt flour and has a very warm character with lots of spices all wrapped in a lemon butter cream. She’s very rustic and quite humble compared to my more glamorous girls but she’s a real crowd pleaser,” says Fiona, who launched the business four years ago.
Diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome in her twenties, Fiona, who worked in sales for a number of national magazine titles, faced a possible future of surgery and infertility; she decided to change her diet to put her health back on track. Now a mum of three littlies, Fiona appreciates the power of good food. Baking has always been part of her life. “My mum always baked for family visits and as I grew up I found it very relaxing, but when I decided to make cakes for a living I was so unsure of myself I trained as a child minder just in case.” No need for a safety net, Fiona bagged a Best Newcomer food and drink award from the East Anglian Daily Times in 2016, supplied a number of rather lovely coffee shops – including Paddy & Scott’s – and orders kept on coming. “When I had my third child I decided to streamline the business to focus on what I love to do most – my wedding and celebration cakes. It’s wonderful to see the happiness a cake can bring ¬and witnessing the reaction of a child who has lots of food allergies and has not been able to have a birthday cake before.”
As well as the super-popular cakes, Fiona offers one-to-one bespoke baking tuition and runs a monthly Cake Club on the second Friday of every month at the George pub in Cavendish, where she lives. “I started it with the owner of the pub to create a cake community and it’s so lovely meeting the people who come to enjoy a slice of cake. I try out new flavour combinations and get feedback which is fantastic for recipe development. It’s a beautiful setting and my cake can be accompanied by a glass of bubbles, coffee or tea.” In Fiona’s hands cake really is a thing of wonder. “It’s all about making a moment – not just a cake.”
Moo Moo cakes is at: moomoocakes.co.uk. Follow on Instagaram @suffolk_cake_snob and Twitter @MooMooCakesSuffolk and Facebook/MooMooCakesSuffolk
A cosy coffee shop on Mill Road Cambridge, the Urban Larder is no stranger to cake. The boutique-sized counter is packed with platters of delicious lemon drizzle, honey, date and banana loaf and chocolate brownies. Reviews are raving and the coffee served alongside the chunks of cake comes from Butterworth and Son in Bury St Edmunds, which roasts only ethically-sourced beans. It all seems to go down rather well with legions of loyal customers in the community and beyond.
While the cafe opens seven days a week, it is Doughnut Thursdays (#genius) which are truly hallowed. Loz (Laura Spencer) is the talent behind the delicious doughnuts having learned her trade from former Urban Larder baker Bellsie (Annabel Greenwood), who now has her own cake company Peppy Neds which supplies the Larder. “Doughnut Thursday has been running for some time now and is a big hit. We were offering 'Take away Fridays' – cheap take away coffee in the morning – to start the weekend early and wanted something special for Thursday to extend that feeling further. We’d been considering making doughnuts for a while and like a challenge so thought why not,” says Duncan Mason, who owns Urban Larder.
Turns out it was a sell-out idea. “We make one jam, one flavoured cream and a different ‘guest doughnut’ each Thursday and our lovely customers seem to like them and come back en masse each week. We make about 50 to 60 doughnuts at a time – it may not sound like a massive operation but it’s enough crazy for one week.” The doughnuts are truly spectacular – last week’s guest was a Crunchie special that sat alongside doughnuts packed with strawberry jam and raspberry cream. Past glories have included lemon and poppy seed, cookie dough, key lime pie, lemon, cream cheese and blueberry, and mint choc chip.
A nice touch comes in the shape of the #guess the guest doughnut on the Larder’s social pages; whoever guesses the right flavour of the deliciously photographed guest doughnut wins a free one.
Duncan acknowledges the importance of staying ahead in the sweet-stuff game: “People still want cakes and sweet treats but you need to put in the effort and make your customers want to come and visit. Hopefully a decent coffee and a smile on the side help? We’re very lucky – doughnuts continue to sell out every week. Life in the Larder can be quite chaotic. You wouldn't do it if you didn't love it and this is never truer than on Doughnut Thursdays.”
The chaos is mostly down to the size of the establishment – Urban Larder certainly packs an impressive culinary punch for such a small space. “We basically can't prep for lunch on a Thursday until doughnuts have been finished. It's all a bit of a rush,” says Duncan. “That's why, despite requests, we have had to restrict doughnuts to one day only. And it wouldn't be Doughnut Thursday on any other day, would it?”
Urban Larder is at 9 The Broadway, Mill Road, Cambridge. Follow Urban Larder on Instagram @urban_larder and Twitter @Urban Larder and Facebook/Urban Larder