East London's baking idol Claire Ptak talks Californian sensibilities alongside a delectable recipe from her new book
Chasing away the privations of Lent, Easter is a time for the sweeter things in life. This year the most delicious sweet ideas are to be found in the pages of the new cookbook from Claire Ptak, superlative baker and founder of East London's The Violet Bakery. Starting out under the patronage of Alice Waters at the world famous Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, she moved to London ten years ago, first building a cult following at a market stall on Broadway Market, then setting up the permanent bakery in premises on Wilton Way in Hackney. Her fans are legion, cramming into the shop to grab her delectable confections, which now, with the arrival of the book, they will be able to attempt to imitate. As Easter beckons with all its delicious possibilities, we speak to Ptak about the best parts of her original and adopted homes, alongside a recipe for a coffee flavoured Easter treat.
Do you have any Easter traditions?
In California we have white hen’s eggs and hard boil them and then dye them. it is so fun to then have an easter egg hunt in the garden. In England it is harder to find white eggs so we have not carried on the tradition here. Now it is about making my Hot Cross Scones (my easy and unbelievably delicious version on Hot Cross Buns) and sharing them with friends.
If there is one thing you could bring over from California to London (apart from the weather) what would it be?
Where is your favourite place in California?
At the moment I am having a love affair with the desert and Joshua Tree. I love the arid weather and the landscape. I keep hearing saloon doors swinging open and that “weeoooweeooo” sound from old Western films.
Where is your favourite place in London?
The Walthamstow Marshes on a Sunday with my girlfriends and our dogs.
What is your favourite Easter recipe from the book?
Savoury bread pudding with leeks and Kale. Make a massive batch and then make some cocktails and hang out with your friends!
What is the ingredient you couldn't live without?
Black treacle. I love it. I call it molasses but it is the same thing. It is a byproduct of the refining sugar process. It is rich with minerals and has all the good stuff that is stripped out of sugar.
COFFEE CARDOMOM WALNUT CAKES
I love the English coffee walnut cake that appears on the menu of every museum café and National Trust house I visit. I’ve always loved the flavour of coffee in cakes and desserts. When I was little, my favourite ice-cream flavour was coffee and I could never say no to a coffee éclair. Adding cardamom to the sponge gives this walnut cake another depth. The three flavours marry very well.
Makes 12 individual cakes
FOR THE SPONGE
210g plain flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground pink peppercorns
180g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
210g crème fraiche
butter, for greasing the tins
FOR THE ICING
200g icing sugar
2 tablespoons freshly brewed strong coffee or espresso
Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C (fan)/gas 3. Brush a 12-hole cupcake tin with butter.
First, warm the walnuts through on a baking tray in the oven. Do not toast them, you just want to bring out the fragrant oils. This should take less than 5 minutes. Let the nuts cool slightly then chop fine. Set aside.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and spices, then whisk this mixture through the chopped nuts. Set aside.
In an electric mixer, whisk the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each one is fully incorporated, then add the vanilla extract. Mix in the flour and nut mixture and then the crème fraiche.
Divide the batter between the 12 tins and bake for 20 minutes until the cakes spring back to the touch. Let the cakes cool in their tins for about 10 minutes, then gently pop them out (you may need to run a small paring knife around the inside of the tins to ease the cakes out). Place the cooled cakes upside down on a wire rack.
Whisk together the ingredients for the icing and spoon it over the cakes. Use the back of a spoon to gently guide it to the edges so that it willingly drips down the sides.
The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak is out now, published by Square Peg.