Cake tastes good--nobody's denying that. But is that to say that it doesn't matter what a cake, cupcake or baked good looks like? Most certainly not. We tend to believe that a lovely presentation really does improve your overall taste experience; this is why we were drawn to the work of Naomi Henderson, an Australian university student whose cake decorating skills go far beyond her young years, and whose aesthetic and sense of whimsy instantly had us instantly enchanted. After drooling over her Flickr page for several weeks, we finally connected with this budding pro; here's what we learned about her mad skills in the kitchen, how she even finds time to bake with four jobs, and what the dessert scene is like in Australia:
Cakespy: You live in Newcastle, Australia. What types of baked goods are popular in bakeries there?
Naomi Henderson: The biggest difference between Australian bakeries and everywhere else is pies. All bakeries in Australia sell hot savoury pies as well as sweet pies and cakes and it makes them very popular at lunch. Vanilla slice, lamingtons, custard tarts, apple pies and muffins are the main types of cakes that they sell here. Most bakeries sell cupcakes but they are
just usually packet mix and dipped fondant icing.
CS: You've been to the US (as I see from your Flickr photos)...how did you find the bakery culture different here?
NH: My cupcake obsession started to snowball after I got back from the US (thinking about it now it's probably what started it) and so I didn't really know how big cupcakes were until I got back. Had I known there were so many everywhere I would have planned my whole trip around visiting cupcake stores! Anyway--so I only went to a couple of cupcake stores in New York that I found by accident and unfortunately they were not that great! The cake and the icing were super oily. As for normal bakeries--I didn't really see many around but in Australia they are everywhere.
CS: In the USA, we have quite a few cupcake-only bakeries. Is that the case in your area?
NH: Newcastle is two hours north of Sydney. In Newcastle there are none! But in Sydney there are a few and the number of cupcake stores around the country is growing. Newcastle tends to follow Sydney trends so hopefully they take off here too.
CS: Do you sell your cakes and cookies commercially? If not, what do you do as a day job?
NH: No, not yet anyway! I currently have 4 jobs! I am studying a Research Masters in Computer Engineering where I program robot dogs to play soccer (I have a scholarship so its like a full time job). Also, I am a manager at a drive-thru pie shop / bakery, university tutor and research assistant! I would love to have my own cupcake business and I do plan to start one in the very near future!
CS: What is your favorite type of dessert?
NH: Pavlova! Yum--do Americans know about pavlova??? If not, oh no! It's like a cake made out of meringue and topped with whipped cream (unsugared), passionfruit, strawberries and any other fruit you want to put on it. Mmm...and it's so easy to make! Here's a recipe that's close to what I make (but use a squeeze of lemon juice instead of vinegar and you have to put strawberries on it too): www.abc.net.au/tv/cookandchef/txt/s1590154.htm
CS: What sort of frosting is it on your cupcakes? Fondant? So many of them have such a unique texture.
NH: I use ready to roll fondant. I'm not sure why mine turns out different though! I knead it really well when I'm putting in colour and then try to smooth it as much as possible after I put it on the cupcake.
CS: Do you have any specific bakers, or cookbooks, that inspire you in particular?
NH: I have a bunch of baking, cupcake, cookie and sweet books but my favourite book is Romantic Cakes by Peggy Porschen. I love the colours she uses and her piping!
CS: Are you formally trained in cake decorating?
NH: I've only done a beginner's class where we made flowers, covered a cake and eventually decorated an entire cake, but it's given me enough skills to be able to create most things I want to make.
CS: Do your cakes and cupcakes taste as good as they look?
NH: YES! Even better maybe! They are very fluffy and yum but the problem is that one isn't enough!
CS: What is the next cake project you'd like to take on?
NH: Umm...there are too many! Christmas is coming up so I'm starting to think about that; I'm also trying to design Alice in Wonderland themed cupcakes, and I would like to get more cookie practice so I'm thinking of ice cream, cherry, strawberry, tea pot, tea cup and Pac-man cookies!
Cakespy Note: For some truly delicious cake, cupcake and cookie photos, visit Naomi's Flickr page at this address: www.flickr.com/photos/hello_naomi.