A while ago I discovered the fabulous Lily Vanilli and became an instant fan of her kooky baking creations. Think giant brownie pyramids or a Valentines day cake that looks like an actual human heart and you have got Lily’s style. In particular, Lily’s recipe for bacon and maple syrup cupcakes is to die for. So I was excited to meet Lily when she was promoting Harvest at Jimmy’s and couldn’t resist asking her for some baking tips…
Photo of Lily in a giant cup (I am not sure why) which she kindly let me use from her blog
How did Lily Vanilli start?
It started by accident – I was broke and finding it harder than usual to find work after coming back from working in Australia right when the recession hit. I started baking for a little hidden weekend market in East London to make a few extra pounds a week and before long orders started coming in, then press and it snowballed from there.
Who taught you to bake?
I’m self taught, although I’m learning little bits here and there all the time, my grandma and I used to bake very simple but perfect classic English cakes. Victoria sponge, tea bread, butterfly cakes, when I was really small.
How do you get your inspiration for the different flavours and combinations?
Usually just by thinking about things that might work and trying them out – although now I have so many orders for bespoke and quirky things I’m often forced to come up with something – I really like it when people present me with a challenge.
What is your favourite recipe?
I have a few that I really love, that have been evolving for years and are always improving. I find my favourites are always either the most elaborate, complex and extravagant or the very very simple. For example I have a recipe for vanilla sponge that is very light and simple but has the most incredible texture and flavour. It’s very versatile and I never get tired of it – when I bake a perfect batch it puts me in a really good mood!
What is your favourite kitchen gadget?
I really love my Kenwood Chef Titanium – we’ve been through a lot of enormous tasks and long long nights together. it never lets me down. the boys I work with tease me because I always give it this really loving bubble bath at the end of a shift no matter what. We take good care of each other (that makes me sound like a weirdo). I think because I used so many bad ones when I was broke and starting out, I just have real appreciation and respect for a good design that works.
What is your best baking tip?
Learn the basics – the science behind what the ingredients and method are for. Baking has a set of very simple but strict rules and if you understand the reasons behind them you will follow them more carefully, and, crucially – know what went wrong if you do make a mistake so you can learn from it.
…But if you don’t fancy that then (for cakes): sift flour three times, measure carefully, mind the temperature of your fats and eggs, don’t open the oven until you’re at least 3/4 through the bake time and don’t over-beat.
What has been the most exciting thing that has happened thanks to Lily Vanilli?
I’ve been very lucky in that I’m constantly presented with new challenges and the business is always evolving, that’s the part I enjoy most: a new challenge. Launching in Harrods was exciting, as was baking for Elton John’s white tie and tiara ball, and curating Cake Britain (the edible art exhibition) – but hopefully there’s lots more fun stuff to come.