Claire Ptak - baker to the Royals, as one of our current 12 Week students put it, shared her magic with us at the Ballymaloe Cookery School recently. Claire, who loves to bake, started her career at Chez Panisse in Berkley in California, baking delicious, simple pastries, cookies and galettes with beautiful ingredients. Beautiful butter, beautiful fresh eggs, beautiful, seasonal fresh currants, cherries and organic flowers and herbs to embellish the cakes.
In 2005, she moved to London and set up a stall in Broadway Market in Hackney selling cupcakes. There was a queue from the very first day for Claire’s beautiful but sometimes not picture perfect looking creations.
Somehow, people’s gut feeling told them that this was real and much more likely to taste delicious than the perfect looking fondant iced confections so prevalent nowadays.
Violet Café and Bakery was started and word spread fast. Both royalty and celebrities snuck in or sent along quietly for a goodie box of Claire’s treats from Violet Café. Claire never divulged their names or very personal cravings.
Her style is Anglo-American – her scones are long triangles with sugar tops and many delicious additions peach, raspberry, white chocolate...
Her buttery ‘biscuits’ which we would call scones are made with lots of sour cream and occasionally butter, are split in half and sold as breakfast ‘biscuits’ with bacon, egg and hot sauce inside.
Among the celebrities we now know who were her fans, was a fellow American girl with style, called Meghan Markle which led to Claire being asked to make ‘the wedding cake’ for Harry and Meghan’s wedding. When the story broke, Claire was suddenly catapulted onto the international stage – her Instagram followers went from 69,000 to 205,000 in a few days.
There are now plans to open a second Violet Café next year and all because of cake….
Claire is passionate about the importance of using quality ingredients for baking delicious cakes, breads and pastries. She told us about a fast emerging trend for ‘seasonal cakes’. The wedding cake was an Amalfi lemon and elderflower perfumed cake because the wedding was in the midst of the elderflower season in May.
|Claire and her daughter Frances at Ballymaloe Cookery School - Image: @violetcakeslondon
I love the idea of cakes reflecting the seasons, so easy as we come into the summer with an abundance of summer fruit, berries and currants around the corner. Claire also used lots of spelt, sorghum, kamut, rice and rye, khorasan flour and soft cane sugars for her cakes and has many gluten free and accidentally vegan confections – something for everyone to enjoy.