For many of us baking is a Sunday afternoon treat with the end result often being one too many cremated cupcakes; but for Lily Vanilli, it’s more than just a hobby, it’s her business and a successful one at that.
As the go-to-girl of the baking world, we caught up with Lily to chat about the work she’s done with Lurpak on their new Cook's Range. She shared some of her favourite recipes, celebrity secrets and her opinion on why baking is back with a vengeance. We learnt how to be a better baker, the Lily Vanilli way.
When did you start baking, who taught you?
‘It’s hard to remember but I guess it was about 10 years ago that I got really into it as a hobby. I was learning bits from people around me; my boyfriend at the time was actually a really good baker, which I used to tease him about. But most of the stuff I learnt was from reading books, watching Youtube and little clips of information, so I’m just self taught.’
What is it you enjoy most about baking?
‘There’s not many parts that I don’t find enjoyable. I think ultimately it’s a generous act, it’s always for someone and that’s always nice; especially having a business as a baker you’re kind of always surrounded by people who are celebrating in some way or another. You never buy a cake if you’re in a bad mood, it’s always a special occasion, so that’s really positive. For myself, I generally find it really relaxing, which has been strange that it has grown into a business because sometimes, when it’s even the business part, which I find stressful, I still relax by going to bake and spending that time in the kitchen by myself. I think the whole thing is quite enjoyable.’
So you’ve managed to combine business with pleasure?
‘I was worried about that when it started growing into a profession; that that (combining business and pleasure) would kind of sabotage my favourite thing but it’s managed to stay.’
What ingredient would you advise your fellow bakers to always have in their cupboard?
'It’s really cool that baking has captured people’s imaginations so much.’
‘One of the most important ingredients is a good butter, especially for a home baker. The new Baking Butter that Lurpak have developed is a genius thing because you can use it directly from the fridge, so you don’t have to plan really far in advance if you’re going to bake something. When I was baking at home I’d have to take the butter out the fridge a couple of hours before to bring it to room temperature and you’re always treading that fine line between it being fresh and soft enough to use. So this is perfect because you can keep it in the fridge. You can also use it to make your icing with, and then put your whole cake in the fridge and it won’t crust and go hard and weird, which is actually kind of rad. So I think having a good butter is really important.’
What’s your advice on the most essential piece of baking equipment?
‘In terms of tools my favourite tool is something which you generally can’t buy in ‘home ec’ shops but you can buy really cheaply and easily online. It’s basically just a piece of plastic called a scrapper. I think of it as a baking app for your hand; it turns your hand into just a more efficient tool for baking. I use it for everything from chopping doughs to, scraping bowls and cleaning up and everything in between. So it’s kind of just a little piece of plastic but it’s incredibly useful; it makes you a better baker.’
Tell us more about the cakes you have baked for your celebrity clients, like Elton John and Downing Street?
‘I think I’m lucky enough that quite early on- since I started the business - I became the go-to-girl for weird cakes and creative baking. Those clients, whilst they may be celebrities, the reason why they come to me is because they want something different and so it’s always a really creative brief. With Elton John and the White Tie and Tiara ball, they basically gave me a really abstract theme of ‘GaGa in Wonderland’ and then were like: ‘You can do what you want, as many different canapes as you want, whatever style, whatever flavours!’ So I was able to do all this bonkers stuff and that’s really nice, that’s what I like about it; I get the kind of celebrities that want something unusual or weird.’
What’s the most outrageous cake design you’ve ever bake? What’s been the strangest brief?
I made a cake for a couple a few years ago. It was a Valentines day present from the girlfriend to the boyfriend and it was a 3D replica of his head, which was a weird one. It looked like the movie Se7en; I delivered it to the office, it was too big for the box with a lid and the receptionist recognised the guy from the cake. I had to sneak around because I saw him in the corridor; he obviously didn’t know who I was but I had been looking at pictures of him for 17 hours so it felt really creepy. But they recently got married and I made their wedding cake, which was nice.’
What’s your favourite sweet treat?
‘It changes all the time; at the moment I really like the light and summery fresh flavours, all those things that are coming into season. So like the Citrus and Courgette Friands that I did for Lurpak; they’re kind of citrus and courgettes and really quite nice, you can have them anytime of day and not feel bad.’
Why do you think baking has become so popular, why is it cool to be a baker again?
‘It constantly baffles me, I could never have seen that coming. I think that it’s part of a bigger movement towards craftsmanship, which has really affected the whole country. It seems to have been born in some respects from the recession; people returning to making things themselves and developing skills, not just relying on the supermarket for food but thinking about what goes into it and taking pride in understanding the steps that make something and learning how to do it. I think it’s happening on a much bigger scale but it’s really cool that baking has captured people’s imaginations so much.’
Tell us a little about your involvement with the 180 Cake and Cocktail Club.
‘It’s actually something I set up a few years ago just for fun. It’s a private members club but basically anyone can join. I like the idea that the thing that’s exclusive about it is not money, it’s not like you buy a membership, it’s just a shared interest for people who like cakes and cocktails; there’s quite a lot of members! We had a residency for a while and then it just naturally grew into some that a bit more nomadic, so now I do them from time to time and let people know through our mailing list.’
Have you got anything exciting planned for the future?
‘Lots of things in the pipeline; definitely another book and I’m working on a 3D printing project at the moment with an architect. We’re going to launch that quite soon, that’s quite gothic and strange and exciting. I’ve recently just opened a bakery in Kochi, South India, so I’m kind of just back in London and looking for new exciting things to get stuck into; but I think the best way to do that is just to get back into the kitchen and start playing around.’
Lily Vanilli’s Citrus and Courgette Friends
120g plain flour, sifted
200g icing sugar, sifted
Good pinch of sea salt
180g ground almonds
6 egg whites
200g Lurpak® Baking Butter
2 tsp. zest of any combination of unwaxed lemon / lime / orange
Reserve thin slices of citrus fruit to decorate
40g grated courgette, use kitchen paper to soak up excess water
(optional – save peelings from skin of courgette to decorate)
One 12-hole cupcake or muffin tray, greased
Preheat the oven to 180°C fan assisted/gas mark 6
Melt Lurpak® Baking Butter with citrus zest and allow to cool completely
Whisk together the flour, salt and icing sugar in a bowl, then whisk in the ground almonds. Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the dry ingredients, lightly stir in the melted butter and finally add the courgette. It should come together into a batter
Spoon evenly into your prepared cupcake or muffin tray, top each one with a slice of fruit and some courgette peelings (optional) and bake for 15–20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean
Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before transferring on to a wire rack to cool completely
Chef tip: Add extra flavour by infusing melted Lurpak Baking overnight with citrus zest and store in the fridge - you can use it straight from the fridge the next day without having to re-melt it. Leaving it overnight gives the flavours more time to infuse, resulting in a stronger taste.
Lily's favourite ingredient, Lurpak Cook's Range Baking Butter is available in all major retailers for an RRP of £3.25.