Due to shows such as The Great British Bake Off and other powerhouses of popular culture, baking (of the sweet stuff, particularly,) has gone mainstream. The Cake and Bake Show last weekend in Earl’s Court is evidence of this; with hoards of very excitable amateur and professional cake-bakers flocking the stands to find out the next big thing in cake creation.
How to adorn the outside of your cake seems the eternal question – with much-loved hand-sculpted sugar birds, forests and berries, edible paint stencilling, printing and the very versatile cake lace. Created by cake designer Claire Bowman, cake lace is an edible pre-cut cake decoration that is easily applied to its subject – whether that be cake, cupcake or…person?
The Cake Catwalk depicted just this – with models strutting down the catwalk in garments celebrating 100 years of British fashion and embellished with edible cake lace – this is where food and fashion intersect.
With London Fashion Week in our midst, the catwalk was lined with fashion-inspired cakes from competition hopefuls – all due to be judged by cake decorator supreme, Elizabeth Solaru of Elizabeth’s Cake Emporium, who herself made cakes representative of various fashion eras with a Bowie-inspired cake, a cake in honour of Philip Treacy’s famous red butterfly fascinator and a Lulu Guinness iconic “lips” cake decorated using six tubs of edible glitter.
Fashion seeps into everything Elizabeth creates. A favourite being Oscar de le Renta, she can recreate a catwalk look almost instantaneously, changing the canvas from model to made-from-scratch cake.
The popularity of cake lace reflects a baking trend spotted by Elizabeth, ‘ever since Kate Middleton’s cake at the Royal Wedding, people have been after cakes that are tall, royal and tasteful.’ And she has spotted other trends on the rise too, ‘the inside of cakes is getting a lot of attention – hidden pattern design and colour is becoming important – such as baking in a message or having a hidden ombre effect.’
She admits that some trends are fickle – there have been, as she phrases it, ‘all sorts of pretenders to the cake throne’, including cupcakes, macaroon towers and cake pops, but none have prevailed.
And lest we forget cake’s competitors the meringue or the marshmallow too – these lighter surprises had a definite presence at the show – and have been appearing in goodie-bags and shop windows across the country for some time.
Widely respected British chocolatier Paul A Young is not one for following trends, as he prefers to start them himself, ‘I have always innovated, I don’t want to be a follower.’ He adds matter-of-factly, ‘it doesn’t excite me.’
One of the only real artisan chocolatiers in London, an innovator he certainly is, selling entirely hand-made chocolates that are either classically delicious or outrageously imaginative. Think chocolates and truffles filled with scone, jam and cream, port and Stilton, Marmite or Bakewell tart.
‘We are not about gimmick,’ Paul states, in his passionate Northern timbre. His time (six and a half years to be precise) working as a pastry chef for Marco Pierre White drummed into him about quality, ‘we don’t use any Belgian chocolate or Swiss chocolate, we use some large producers like Valrhona and some small producers like Duffy from Lincolnshire who make really tiny batches, Pacari from Ecuador and from Madagascar as well, we use only artisan growers.’
Paul says that his chocolates make you feel something, experience something. And after tasting his Marmite truffle, I can attest that they do. He is an artist; his tools his fine ingredients, his influences his past, his childhood and seasonal British food.
As a fine British chocolatier, Paul’s chocolates are art that is ultimately approachable, ‘If you want to be the people’s chocolatier, you can’t keep belting on about high percentage and single origin all the time, you’ve got to be able to say I still eat Kit Kats and Dairy Milk because of what it is and what it’s for, but you can’t make chocolate elitist, because it is for everybody.’
As you can likely tell, Paul has got a penchant for heritage food brands and tastes that incite nostalgia, instead of what we think we need to be eating now. ‘I have a love-hate relationship with food trends because in London there are trends that hit that are so fast and faddy that you think, what was the point?’
His theory is that food trends are reverting. ‘If you look at all of the people here, there is not one person selling an Eccles cake, or Battenberg or Madeira cake, or rice cake – that’s what I think will come back. Because you can only go so far before you then start looking back a bit. But that’s down to people like me to start it…so I hope I am. ‘
What the next big thing in cakes is may change depending on whom you are talking to, but there is solidarity in the view that the way we approach cooking and baking is changing. The consumer is savvier than we have ever been; we don’t always want to buy, we want to make, and when we do buy, we want to know where it has come from and how it is made.
Whether it is a Jamaican Ginger Cake and custard truffle that reminds you of home or an uplifting message inside of a sponge cake, Brits want food that tells a story, instead of simply tasting great.