EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT HOW CLAIRE PTAK BUILT VIOLET BAKERY
Ten litres of elderflower cordial from the Queen’s Sandringham Estate have been used to make the Royal Wedding cake, along with 200 Amalfi lemons and 500 Suffolk eggs. The cake itself has been conceived and created by Californian Claire Ptak of Violet Bakery, a small business in Dalston, London. You can find out how the cake is being made by following Kensington Royal on Instagram, especially their stories.
The elder is an ancient hedgerow tree, native to Britain, and a common sight in the south of England where I live. According to folklore, it was often planted close to the home because people believed a Goddess lived inside the tree who would ward off evil spirits and protect those who cared for it.
Its creamy white elderflowers, abundant in early summer, are used to make cordials, syrups and other drinks. Elderflower cordial is remarkably easy to make (see here for the River Cottage recipe) and is often added to wine, Prosecco – and cake.
One of the things I love about this story is how a quintessentially English flower has been fashioned into a cordial by the Queen’s Estate and made into a cake by an American (from Meghan’s home state of California) in the heart of hipster London. Establishment and modern, tradition and modernity, British and global brought together in one glorious cake.
Violet Bakery is just 500 metres from the home where I lived until recently for 20 years. Recently named the coolest place in Britain (I can assure you it wasn’t when I first moved there) Dalston is the epitome of transformation from working class to warehouse chic. It opened just as the area was undergoing a huge regeneration,with new homes, two Overground stations, community gardens, fringe theatres, restaurants and a great mix of late-night bars, making it a thriving and trendy area that’s now home to a diverse mix of people.
Violet Bakery opened its doors at exactly the right time. But there’s far more to Violet Bakery and its’ founder Claire Ptak’s success than being in the right place at the right time. Here’s what you need to know about Claire Ptak and Violet Bakery.
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1. CLAIRE PTAK GREW UP WITH A PASSION FOR BAKING
Growing up in Marin County, California, Ptak says she and her elder brother regularly came home from school to be greeted by their mother with brownies, chocolate cake, lemon bars or chocolate-chip cookies at home.
Ptak told The Telegraph that she has ‘baked as long as [she] can remember’ and got her first job at a bakery at the age of 14. Her family are also bakers – she told CBS: ‘Well, my mother’s a great baker, my grandmother’s a great baker. And where I grew up in Inverness, just north of San Francisco, it’s rural, and we had wild blackberries and apple trees. And so there was a lot of emphasis on baking with fruit that was in season.’
2. SHE LEARNT HER TRADE FROM THE BOTTOM UP
In an interview with the British chef Anna Jones, Ptak explained that her first job was as a catering assistant at the age of 12. Yes, that's right, 12.
After attending a talk by Chez Panisse pastry chef Alice Waters, she took on an internship two days a week, doing freelance baking on her days off. In 2003, she was given a job making desserts for Chez Panisse's cafe as well as patisserie for the downstairs restaurant.
Later, when she moved to Hackney in 2005 to be with her now-husband, Claire worked as a freelance food stylist, working with Jamie Oliver for television adverts.
3. CLAIRE STARTED VIOLET BAKERY FROM THE KITCHEN TABLE
Claire started her business by baking at home and selling her wares at a stall on Broadway Market before she moved to permanent premises in 2010. This was a smart move for a number of reasons:
- Broadway Market is a vibrant Hackney market, bustling with an exciting generation of artisan chefs, makers and growers. It’s the perfect place to launch a fledgling business as East Londoners flock there to buy its mouth-watering selection of produce.
- It’s a low cost way of getting started. Just a couple of years ago it cost just £15 to hire a market stall at Broadway market, while the mark-up on cupcakes is high, even if you use the finest organic produce.
- It has an impressive footfall of 21,000 visitors every Saturday. (I remember Broadway Market back in 2000, when it was three lonely stalls with tumbleweed blowing down the street. Prior to then, you didn’t walk down Broadway market on your own!)
4. CLAIRE'S ALL ABOUT ORGANIC, SEASONAL FOOD
All of Ptak's cakes are baked with organic eggs, sugar, milk and flour; most other ingredients are organic as well such as their Madagascan vanilla pods and pure cane molasses. She’s equally renowned for her seasonal creations, and wrote a column for the Guardian titled Baking The Seasons.
To distinguish her cupcakes, Claire created limited edition buttercream icings with seasonal ingredients. “Elderflowers, gooseberries and Alphonso Mango in springtime; Kentish cherries and Dorset blueberries in the summer; figs or Fragola grapes from Italy in autumn, along with local apples and quinces; and blood oranges, clementines and grapefruit in winter,” writes The Independent of her bakes.
5. MEGHAN MARKLE INTERVIEWED CLAIRE PTAK FOR 'THE TIG'
Meghan’s lifestyle blog, The Tig, is no longer available online so we can’t now access that article. What we can conclude however is this speaks to the power of relationships. Meghan Markle, who is known to be loyal to her friends and associates remembered Claire when it came to planning this major event, and has provided her with a game-changing opportunity.
6. CLAIRE IS A PROLIFIC CONTENT CREATOR
Claire has written 4 cookbooks, including The Violet Bakery Cookbook. She’s also written for the Observer Food Monthly, The Guardian and Vogue. Claire hosts the podcast show, Violet Sessions, where she talks to inspirational women doing incredible things. Her guests range from Ruthie Rogers, the owner of renowned Italian restaurant The River Café, to fashion design icon, Zandra Rhodes.
7. HER FOODIE HERO IS BRITISH FOOD WRITER, NIGEL SLATER
Fun fact. Claire Ptak is a fan of the British food writer, Nigel Slater.
“He's such a great home cook. Being from a restaurant background, it's good to remember that people do cook at home and they don't always have these restaurant skills,'” she previously told the Independent.
With her business on the verge of becoming a global phenomenom, it would be all too easy to forget that Claire’s business started like so many others. With a childhood passion for seasonal produce and baking. Mastery of her craft. And humble beginnings on an East London market stall.
Question: What’s your key takeaway from this story about how Claire Ptak built Violet Bakery? I love reading your feedback so please do take a moment to share let me know in the comments box below.
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