Early for us, lateish for her, Claire Ptak answers the door of Violet Cakes, the cutest working bakery this side of a 1950s children’s book. There’s nothing in here that isn’t either pretty or cool or funny: antique madeleine moulds, jars of candied citrus peel, elegantly arranged spires of buddleia, the odd postcard of a donkey wearing trousers, piles of fresh cinnamon buns and viennoiseries, and rows of the superlative cupcakes that Claire helped to make a London thing. There’s Dr John on the iPad, and several of Violet’s 10 part-time staff pinnied up and working hard; as well as cakes, good coffee and infusions, they prepare lunches of fresh salads, sandwiches and quiches.
At the weekend, there are locals outside the bakery even before it’s open, pouncing on the couple of outdoor seats as soon as the door blind is raised. There’s a little yard at the rear, planted with culinary herbs and plants – rosemary, thyme, mint, verbena, rose geranium – and an upstairs space with room for 22. As well as running Violet, which started life as a market stall in 2005, Claire is a cookbook author and food stylist for The Guardian.
Today, she is showing us how to make a Victoria sponge. ‘My version is different from the traditional recipe, in which you weigh out egg yolks, sugar, flour and butter in equal measures. I add milk to the mix, and my main thing is get a lot of air and sugar into the butter until they’re really fluffy – always take it a little further than you think.’
As almost always with our food experts, Claire advises using the best ingredients you can get your hands on. Most of the raw materials at Violet are organic: Dove’s Farm flour, cream from Ivy House (available at Neal’s Yard) or Yeo Valley Organic; Kent eggs; fruit and veg from Leila’s in Shoreditch, Fern Verrow at Maltby Street and Chegworth. Butter is unsalted, French or Danish, and sugar is Tate & Lyle – not the beet sugar alternative.