Do you think you could be surrounded week-to-week with home-baked mounds of gorgeous cupcake heaven and not bury your face in it all? I'm not sure I could. But Jenny Gradwell, from Cottage Cupcake Co., says if you're baking for a living, there comes a time you have to stop taste-testing-everything. Spoil sport.
Jenny does indeed make a very envious living out of baking vegan cupcakes and other sweet treats, and I met her recently when she was doing a vegan baking presentation for the Manchester Cake Club (of which I'm a member because of my own interest in baking and vegan catering).
Jenny brought a tempting selection of her cupcakes and cookies for everyone to try - they were pretty damn impressive. Her cherry-topped vanilla cupcakes were every bit as delicious as they looked, and her chocolate chip cookies every bit as chewy and crumbly.
Anyhow - I was intrigued to find out more from Jenny about her vegan baking business. Because a) I'm very nosey and b) I was hoping Jenny might be happy to offer some tips and inspiration to Chocolate and Beyond readers. Which I'm glad to say, she has done. Please read on to find out more from Jenny.
How long have you been interested in baking and in particular, what was it that sparked your interest in making a business out of baking?
"Though I occasionally baked at home when I was young, I was never really a very keen (or successful) baker. My interest was really sparked when I became vegan, five-plus years ago. Being someone who always loved food (sweet and savoury) I was disappointed with the choice of sweet vegan options in Manchester.
"That's when I bought the fantastic "Vegan Cupcakes..." book by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terri Hope Romero, and a love affair was born. My first attempts weren't brilliant, but they tasted good and that's all I cared about.
"Over three years later I've learned from my many disasters, and expanded my repertoire significantly. I've been massively influenced by a lot of the vegan bakery success stories across America, and inspired by the online vegan community. I eventually decided to give selling a go, and found there was a market for yummy vegan treats. My initial success has inspired me to register for a regular Manchester Markets spot and so I hope it will be onwards and upwards from here!"
"The time I spend on Cottage Cupcake Co. varies greatly from week to week. Chocolate peanut butter layer cakes or cupcakes are definitely a favourite! People also love a classic vanilla. Sometimes I can spend more than twenty hours a week baking, but other weeks I might have nothing on at all. At those times I try to spend more time on my food blog, or just on real life!"
I'm assuming you bake & run things from your home kitchen? How do you manage when you have large orders & when doing everyday cooking for meals?
"I do bake from my home kitchen, which is exceptionally small! I also author my vegan cooking blog, so I'm often equally busy with all my pots, pans, spices, etc. I made sure to implement some clever storage solutions so that I can keep the kitchen clean and tidy at all times, which helps enormously when faced with large orders!
"For exceptionally busy days, my boyfriend and I treat ourselves to a takeaway so I can have full run of the kitchen - many a busy night of slaving over a hot oven has been fuelled by chips & mushy peas, or salt & pepper tofu! Anything over three dozen cupcakes is usually the tipping point for me. Planning is the key to it really - for example, I usually make my frostings in advance and store them in the fridge, which is one less job when baking."
"Once upon a time I tasted everything I baked, definitely! I think it's wise to do so in the early days, and to seek brutally honest opinions from other people (my boyfriend was particularly good at this). These days I don't taste anything unless it's a new recipe for me - in which case, I have to make sure it's yummy! It takes a lot to put me off cake - a recent very busy week involved a huge amount of baking and I confess that I was pretty tired of the sight of cake by the end of it. Two days later, though, I was back to normal and happy to start baking again! I do love eating cake and sweet treats that I haven't baked......sometimes it's nice to have the cake and eat it too, without the effort."
What top tips can you offer readers about baking & decorating vegan cupcakes?
"My top tip is to buy three or more good quality, recommended vegan baking recipe books and thoroughly read and digest their 'about' sections at the beginning. Then start slowly, try one or two basic recipes and see how you get on. Follow the recipe PRECISELY - don't cut corners or leave ingredients out or not let your oven heat up - you're likely to fail and then get disheartened. Cooking is art but baking is most definitely a science.
"For decorating, I would recommend attending a local class first of all - it's fun and you'll learn some good techniques and they may even prepare vegan ingredients for you! YouTube also has a wealth of instructional videos - and then it's just a case of practice, practice and more practice!
"Find a technique that works for you and don't worry if you can't achieve perfection with that rose swirl, or whatever else - find your areas of strength and build on them, then impress all your friends and family with vegan yumminess. This to me is one of the best forms of outreach!"
Order cakes from Jenny via her website, Cottage Cupcake Co.