How old were you when you started baking?
I started baking when I was old enough to read a recipe I think – chocolate fridge cake and peppermint creams were two of my specialities. I still have a notebook that I wrote in from when I was around 10 years old and in which I pasted recipes and pictures of cakes and cookies! I trained at the prestigious Leith's School of Food and Wine in London where I completed a Diploma Course.
How did your culinary career begin?
After leaving college I worked all over London in various high profile establishments and catering companies specializing in providing incredible food to A-list parties. I got itchy feet and then spent 3 years travelling the world cooking for rock and roll bands while they were on tour.
Can you tell us how you create new recipes?
When I'm writing recipes for baked goods I draw on my experience in all things sweet and use a selection of basic recipes as building blocks. And then I like to try out new flavour or texture combinations to come up with something new. I then ask my family and friends to be taste testers for me.
Why is it so satisfying to bake instead of just going for store-bought desserts?
Anyone can buy a store bought dessert – but a home baked treat will not only taste better but I think desserts and baked treats are fun to make – filling your kitchen with tempting aromas. By baking your own cakes and cookies you can be sure that the ingredients you are using are of a high quality too – no preservatives and other hidden nasties. This is especially important when cooking for kids.
What inspires you?
I try and cook according to the seasons and am inspired by the regional, seasonal produce I find in my farmers markets and local stores. I also love to travel and pick up ideas and new flavours from my journeys – I spent a long weekend in New York recently eating brownies and another weekend in Paris eating macarons - it's a tough job but someone's gotta do it!
Your new book, Holiday Cupcakes, is full of festive treats for the holidays. Can you give us your top cupcake-making tips?
Invest in good quality piping bags and a set of basic piping nozzles - plastic, disposable piping bags are brilliant though can be pricey. I keep a good selection of food colouring pastes, edible sugar sprinkles and edible glitter in my cupboards so that I can make a batch of decorative cupcakes whenever the mood takes me. I also have cupcake cases in just about every colour of the rainbow so that my cupcakes are always dressed up to the nines.
What are some of your favorite recipes from the book?
I love the caramel cupcakes for when I'm feeling in the need of a triple dose of toffee sweetness. The glittery green Christmas trees are perfect for full-on festive fun and the Flock of Robins are bound to bring a smile to anyone's face. Any anything with chocolate is always a winner.
What is it about the combination of the holidays and cold
weather that makes the home-baked goodies so magical?
During the holiday season when I have a little more time I love to make myself a mug of coffee, turn the radio up, switch the oven on and settle in for a comforting day of baking. If the weather outside is chilly it somehow makes an afternoon spent baking sweet treats even more indulgent. And if you can get the kids involved too the whole process becomes more creative - and messy.
Interview by Marny Smith.