Meet Our Baker: Maxine
In our ‘Meet Our Baker’ series, we are introducing you to some of the talented people behind our wonderful cakes and bakes.
This week we are talking to Maxine. She is fairly new to professional baking. I asked her what inspired her to start baking and sell her cakes. She began by telling me that she just really likes cake – and who can blame her?! Maxine then explained that she spent her gap year living in France with a good friend. Her friend’s mum made an excellent gâteau au yaourt (a simple recipe in which all ingredients are measured in an emptied-out yoghurt pot), and Maxine used this recipe to make cupcakes – but that was the extent of her baking until recently. By the time she became pregnant with her second child, she was looking for ways to work more flexibly. She considered baking seriously after winning the office Bake-Off contest. ‘I wanted to learn more’, Maxine said, ‘so I taught myself.’
I asked what her favourite thing to bake is – a tricky question for any baker! Maxine said ‘it depends on the day. I’m always a fan of the smell of carrot cake and I really like making chocolate cake. I enjoy the chemistry when the wet and dry ingredients come together to create a rich chocolatey mixture.’ And her favourite thing to eat? ‘If I’m in a restaurant, it has to be sticky toffee pudding. I also love apple crumble with vanilla ice cream or custard, or tiramisu – stuff I don’t traditionally make.
I wanted to know what the ethos behind Maxine’s baking business is. For Maxine, it’s simple: ‘if I wouldn’t give it to my kids, I wouldn’t give it to you.’ She admits that she does still use unnatural food colouring, but she’s experimenting with finding natural alternatives so she can stop using it in the near future. Quality is crucial. Maxine is a big advocate of food education, and thinks it's worth paying a little extra to know there are no nasties in your food.
Finally, I wanted to know more about the business side of baking. What are you paying for when you buy an artisan cake from an independent baker? Maxine makes several good points. She starts with the quality of the ingredients: ‘I only use ingredients I'd feel comfortable serving to both to the foodie people I know and love and to my own children’, she says. ’I want to know what's in my food, and I want to be able to look my customers in the eye, knowing that I've served each one with the same quality ingredients I use in my own home.’ Next, she points out that each bake is individual. The baker must take time dreaming up ideas and designing their creation, so that the customer is presented with something truly special. Last but not least, it takes time to create a fabulous and unique bake. She makes all of the components from scratch – the sponges, fondants, syrups, icing and compotes. Maxine says it typically takes her 3 hours to make one of her signature cakes, and 4-5 hours for a custom creation.
It seems that buying an artisan cake is an investment: an investment in ingredients, skills and time. When you order from an independent baker, not only are you supporting a small business, you're guaranteeing exceptional quality and a bespoke product.