It is our firm belief that dessert – and cake in particular – should make a statement. Roll in the dessert trolley of tiered confections in fantastical hues, drizzled in rich chocolate and topped with Maraschino cherries; we’re ready for a little drama after dinner (or anytime, really).
Fans of a Marie Antoinette aesthetic, Roxy and Corinne Mankoo of sister-run cake shop, April’s Baker, agree. Though diplomatic when faced with ultimatums like “butter cream or chocolate cream?” – they note there’s a season for both – there’s no contest when it comes to the most important ingredient in their kitchen: butter.
Here, we chat cake mixtures, artistic endeavours and the importance of celebration.
Tell us about some of your childhood food memories…
People always laugh at how quickly the Mankoos eat their food. Since we are sisters in a big family – there are five siblings – it was always a race to get to the food before our brothers. Our heritage is half-Greek half-Indian so we have grown up in a food loving culture. Having big, noisy dinners was the norm, we have always known food to be the thing that brings people together.
What got you into baking as a profession?
Roxy: Initially I trained in art and design and knew I always wanted to do something creative, however struggled to find a 9-to-5 job that really inspired my artistic side. I decided to train in patisserie in order to be in a job that was hands-on creative rather than sitting at an office desk. Food has always been one of the biggest joys in my life, so this way I get to be creative with something that is important to me – and hopefully can bring joy to other people too. Having food that is not only delicious but also a piece of art is the goal.
What inspired you to start April’s Baker?
Roxy: Having worked as a pastry chef, and in several cake shops, I really wanted the chance to have full reign over my creations; to develop and share my own style. I knew I always wanted to “be my own boss” and I knew I had the perfect potential business partner in my sister.
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What are your favourite cakes to make?
Roxy: I love it when customers give me free rein and ask me to be creative. Creative juices flowing, I get to make something really unique.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Roxy: As an art lover, I like to look back at styles gone by. As many people know, I love a good Marie Antoinette aesthetic. I also like to think about growing up as a kid of the 90s and all the pretty pastels from my childhood – Polly Pockets and My Little Ponys. I think this nostalgia connects with a lot of our customers who also grew up in that time.
Advice on flavour selection…
Roxy: My favourites would have to be the Vanilla Earl Grey. I love my cuppas of Earl Grey. Strawberry Elderflower is also delicious.
Corinne: I am definitely a sucker for the Orange Prosecco but Mocha is probably my standard go-to; definitely more of a coffee gal.
Butter cream or chocolate cream?
We love a light vanilla buttercream in the summer and an indulgent chocolatey cake for the winter.
What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?
Butter. This is probably the ingredient we use the most, but we are also obsessed with slathering it on our toast and bagels in the morning. Everything tastes better with butter!
Four tips on cake decorating for beginners…
- The biggest tip I can give is to practise relentlessly; as with all art trades, practice makes perfect!
- Invest in a great piping nozzle set and keep growing your collection. I recommend brands Wilton, JEM and PME.
- See if you can gain experience by shadowing a cake maker you admire or watching online tutorials to see how the experts do it.
- Try and tap into your own style, be creative with colours, flavours and try to make cakes that reflect what makes you unique. Don’t be afraid to try new things and experiment with your ideas.
The kitchen items no baker should be without…
Roxy: A great mixer, my personal favourite brand is Kenwood. Cake decorating tools are obviously a must, the PME plastic scraper, and your trusted small offset palette knives.
Nothing formalises an occasion quite like cake; why do you think that is?
With cake it is not only meant to be delicious, it also is meant to be part of the visual display of an event. Everyone wants their guests to gasp in awe at the incredible cake; ultimately it is meant to be a beautiful, edible sculpture that represents the individual/s it is celebrating.
What’s your favourite cookbook?
Whenever we want to make authentic Greek food, we always turn to this ancient book that’s been in our family for generations. It’s called Nicholas Tselementes Greek Cookery. Our mum would always use it to make delicious dinners for our family. You can tell how much use it has had – completely falling apart, stained with food, but could never be thrown away.
What is your go-to meal at home when you’re low on time?
Anything with pasta, we both love a good hearty Italian inspired penne or spaghetti dish.
The food that makes you the happiest (and why)…
Roxy: I love eating bread, especially when it’s been freshly made. It’s such a timeless comfort food and you can always tell when a baker has really made it with love.
Corinne: Roxy laughs at me all the time because every time I do my weekly shop for my lunches I come into the kitchen with a bag full of feta and couscous salads from Sainsburys. I eat them for my lunch everyday. Highly recommend.
Must-visit food cities (based on their bakeries)…
Paris – obviously. Not sure that many places can top France when it comes to their pastries and baked goods. Also Tokyo for their impeccable and beautifully crafted sweet treats.
Where are your favourite places to dine in London?
Da Mario’s pizzeria in South Kensington is definitely high on our list. We love to go there as a family; it is one of our go-to spots for great Italian cuisine. We also recommend Archipelago, if you’re feeling brave and up to try new things. If you love tapas as much as we do, go give Lobos in Soho a try.
For the best pastries in (London) town head to…
The Pavilion Bakery is one of our faves, they do really delicious breads and pastries for takeaway in Hackney. Try and get there early because they sell out quickly.
Do you find baking therapeutic?
Roxy: Yes, for sure, I love baking! Except for the crazy busy days where I do end up running around the kitchen like a mad woman.
As sisters, what’s the best part of working together?
As sisters, we can definitely give it to each other straight. There’s complete security in us being 100% honest with each other, which helps the business be really transparent. We don’t have that being scared of your boss scenario, which ultimately means we can maximise our strengths. Plus, anyone walking past our shop knows we are both hardcore Disney fans from the music being blasted out (and the terrible singing).
Advice for women thinking about starting up a business in the food or restaurant industry?
We just think it is really important for women to be confident and to trust their instincts in order to bring a refreshing and different approach to business, especially in food which has been a very male-dominated industry.
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A recipe for: Mini Chocolate Cake (serves six)
350g dark chocolate chips
400ml double cream
- Weigh the chocolate chips in a bowl.
- Heat the double cream in a pan on a medium heat until steaming.
- Pour the hot cream onto the chocolate chips.
- Whisk together until all the chocolate is melted and you have a smooth ganache.
- Set aside for several hours to cool, or pop in the fridge until the ganache starts to set.
82g all-purpose flour
24g cocoa powder
56g light brown sugar
75g caster sugar
1 large egg
0.75 tsp. baking soda
0.25 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
0.5 tsp. espresso powder
0.5 tsp. vanilla extract
45 ml olive oil
90ml whole milk
90ml boiling water
- Heat the oven to 170C
- Grease two 4 inch cake tins
- Boil the water and pour in the espresso. Set aside.
- Mix together the oil, sugar, brown sugar and egg. Beat on high till thick and fluffy.
- Weigh the dry ingredients and mix together in a bowl. Add to the sugar/egg/oil mix till just incorporated.
- Pour the milk and vanilla into the mix.
- Finally, slowly pour in the boiling water. Mix together, scraping down the bowl to ensure there are no lumps.
- Pour the batter into the cake tins and bake for approximately 45-50 minutes till done.
- Trim the chocolate sponges if need be so they’re flat on both sides.
- When the ganache has started to set but is still soft, place a little in the middle of the cake board or cake stand.
- Stack the sponges, spreading the ganache in the middle and around the outside.
- Using an offset palette knife and a cake scraper, smooth the ganache until crumb-coated
- Chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes until set.
- Cover again with a second coat of chocolate ganache.
- Smooth the ganache with an offset palette knife and cake scraper.
- Decorate however you’d like, we like to use Maraschino Cherries