What's Your Bag: Violet Cakes
It is quite a treat having Violet near our Calvert Ave HQ. At the bakery café Claire has created a space where people visit for a quiet meeting, an easy work place or just to enjoy some simple baked goods.
There is something about the relaxed, no-frills approach that resonates with us at AC. Claire's cakes are exactly what they say they are and taste good for it. There is also a sense of dedicated experimentation in her choices of seasonal ingredients and alternative flours. They are tried and tested to offer an alternative that doesn't compromise on the light, fluffy textures that make cakes that much more indulgent. Claire tried out a few of the Raw Cut bags and fell for Verity- the clean and simple take on an everyday bag. Here she answers some of Ally's (sometimes cheeky) questions.
Ally: Wilton Way is kind of the “in-the-know” street at weekends these days- were you the first pioneering enterprise and what attracted you to the area?
Claire: Since moving to London, I have always lived in the East. When I first started selling cakes in 2005, it was at a stall in Broadway Market- so I already had customers in the area. In 2009 I started looking for a place to have my bakery, but the rents were quite high, so it took a bit of searching.
I found the space where Violet is today, which was an art studio and office. It was quite run-down, but it meant the price was right, so it worked out!
Since then friends like Momoko from Momosan have moved onto the street and you have gorgeous stores like J.Glinert. It’s great to have like-minded people around.
Ally: Your favourite cake- are you ahead of the game or are the customers keeping up with your choice?
Claire: I usually just make the cakes that I like, especially cakes made from seasonal flavours, using natural fruit colourants- which is the ideology at the centre of my food. I also experiment with different flours, like rye, spelt or polenta. Sometimes people make certain requests, which we like to accommodate, but only if they fit with what we do.
Ally: Podcasts- were you bored with cakes or did you want to show your less sweet side?
Claire: I wasn’t bored, but I was definitely looking for something to stimulate me in a different way. Also, I kept noticing these interesting and incredible women who came to Violet, so I made this my excuse to befriend them! My partner on the project, Danielle Radojcin has experience in broadcasting and journalism and does most of our research. I met her when she interviewed me for asos a few years ago. She mentioned that she wanted to start working on her own project, so it was a good time for us both.
Ally: What advice did you take from Alice Waters at Chez Panisse?
Claire: Alice was starting her Edible Food Programme when I was at Chez Panisse. This is a program where children learn about food through gardening. I found it inspiring that, at 60, Alice was travelling the world with her pop-up restaurants and also managing the Programme. When she wasn’t doing that, she was in the kitchen every day, tasting and checking on the quality of the food and dishes.
Alice’s work has always come down to integrity and this is something that she believed she could see in me. She is a remarkable mentor and has always been very supportive of my own projects.
Ally: Alternative flours- how did this become an interest?
Claire: A few years ago, there was what one could call a discovery or interest in gluten tolerance, which created an opportunity for mills to use different grains. One was no longer limited to just white flour or brown flour, there was rye and spelt flour, brown rice flour, sorghum flour- different types of flour that are delicious and have different properties. It takes some experimenting though- you can’t just switch one type of flour for another. The result differs with each type. It’s a lot of fun to try.
Ally: You are from California- are there any specific tastes or flavour that you brought along with you? Or are you fully immersed in British cake culture?
Claire: A few years ago, there was a discovery and interest in gluten tolerance, which created an opportunity for mills to use different grains. One was no longer limited to just white flour or brown flour, there was rye and spelt flour, brown rice flour, sorghum flour- different types of flour that are delicious and have different properties. It takes some experimenting though- you can’t just switch one type of flour for another. The result differs with each type. It’s a lot of fun to try.
Ally: What’s your favourite cake at the moment?
Claire: For summer I am enjoying the Spelt Sponge Cake. As we are approaching winter, we will be indulging in our Ginger Molasses Cake that is made with grated ginger and sweetened with thick molasses that gives the cake its almost black colour.
Ally: Are you a bag lady? What’s your favourite type of bag and what are you likely to carry in it?
Claire: For sure I am a bag lady! I like a simple comfortable bag that can hold a good amount of stuff. I also love pouches, so I can be organised within the bigger bag.
I’ll usually be carrying sunglasses, a makeup pouch, keys, iPhone, a pouch with miscellaneous items like gum, lip balm and maybe a hand cream. Also, a notebook and pen and a paperback.
Ally: Tell us about the Verity that you have got. What is it that you like about it or what makes it different?
Claire: I'm in love with my new bag and use it every day. It fits the bill for what I carry, and I love the colour blocking. It means I can wear it with most things and it is fun with the flash of yellow. Not too serious. Also, I love that it is designed in London on one of my favourite streets. That is meaningful to me.
All photography by Jess Ellis.