Now we are baking a living
We meet three mums who are took the plunge, changed their lives and are living the Bake Off dream
SINCE THE first Great British Bake Off hit our TV screens in 2010, a career in cake has become everybody’s pipe(d) dream. JC Food met three mums who spend much of their working week elbow deep in flour, butter, eggs and sugar, to find out what it’s really like. Natalie Allen left a six-figure salary as a project manager in the City to bake. “It was a total change but I wanted to enjoy my working day. My father said ‘you’re mad’. But for me it was not about money, it was about fulfilment,” she smiles over tea and peanut butter mini cup cakes at her Primrose Hill cakery, Sweet Things.
Allen says she always had a passion for food but decided to do a business degree first. “I knew it was going to be useful eventually and I went on to work in sales, recruitment and project management.”
Ten years ago she catered a friend’s baby blessing for 60 people.
“Everyone raved about the sweet stuff, so I knew I had something. I started supplying some local businesses with carrot cake and brownies.” She admits the early days were hard work. “I was doing it all — baking, icing, delivering, invoicing — but I would never say no to work. I was up until 3am one night icing 300 cakes all baked at home with my domestic ovens.”
After three years, with her home disappearing under mountains of ingredients, Allen found commercial premises in Primrose Hill where she continued to expand.
“From day one my goal had been to get into Selfridges. As soon as I moved into my premises I approached them. When I finally spoke to their buyer, he turned me down. I was horrified, but insisted in dropping my samples in anyway. An hour later he called to order cakes for the London and Birmingham stores.” In 2011 — just after the birth of her second child — Allen moved the business into the current café unit with the bakery downstairs, where she employs nine staff.
Unlike Allen, Emma Babb, who last year foundedvintageteaparty caterers, Tea Time Events, had no desperate long- Happy bakers Emma Babb, Natalie Baynes and Natalie Allen ing to bake. Her motivation was a love of afternoon tea and a need to change her working life. Says Babb, who spent 15 years in advertising, 10 of them with her own agency: “I didn’t even know I could bake. I’d made a Victoria Sponge and cookies and that was about it.
“My mother and I loved tea — that was our thing. We were having a moan about work, over tea, when we came up with the idea of Teatime Events.”
Employing a baker wasn’t financially viable, so Babb — now a passionate baker — decided she would bake — and discovered a hitherto unknown talent. “I made a carrot cake and it was delicious. I was really surprised,” she laughs.
Babb and her mother, Jan Berman, — a one-time window dresser who’d worked for Mary Quant — serve sandwiches, scones, cakes and Yorkshire tea on vintage china at stylishly laid tables in their customers’ homes. They also deliver tea tray gifts of a cup, saucer and side plate with a mini cake, mini bottles of Prosecco and orange juice plus chocolate dipped strawberries and scones, clotted cream and jam. “They make a really unusual present as you keep the tray and cups and saucers.”
Another baker whose treats are popular with gift givers is Natalie Baynes, founder of Lovecakepops. Baynes’s Italian father and his family own Pasta Brown restaurant in Covent Garden.
Apart from a six-year stint in advertising, she’d always worked around food. A year ago she needed sweet birthday treats for her daughter to take to school. She decided to try cake pops — a truffle-like cake on a stick covered with chocolate. “I was really delighted with the result. Baby pink cake pops covered in sugar — every school girl’s dream.”
The response from her daughter and friends was Emma Babb’s Tea Time Events vintage teas ( cake pops by Natalie Baynes ( and ( a range of Natalie Allen’s mini cup cakes fantastic and she started fiddling around with different colours and designs, making some for a friend’s 40th birthday. “I discovered a creative streak I never knew I had.”
Like Allen, Baynes never refuses work. “I never say ‘no’ to anything, but I think I should sometimes. My first challenge was 40 Minions. I was really nervous but they turned out so well they are now a popular choice for children’s parties.”
Baynes has found fitting her creations around her young children can be a challenge. “I can’t do it when they’re around or they’ll want to eat them.”
Allen and Babb have also had to fit their creations around their children but husbands and friends have been invaluable supporters.
Despite the juggling, none of them regrets her decision to bake.
“I have the best of both worlds,” says Babb, who combines her weekend baking with two days’ freelance advertising work.
Allen, who is about to open a second store in Notting Hill, says it has been a career that has fitted into motherhood.
“There are positives and negatives — I sometimeshavetocomebackintowork after school pick-up if there has been an issue, but the children love being here. In the early days I couldn’t have a week off, but now it is easier to manage with a family.” sweetthings.biz; tea-time-events.co.uk; facebook.com/cakepopsbynatalie