Cupcake Champion reveals all

13 August, 2010

British Baker's Andrew Williams speaks to the newly crowned Cupcake Champion of Great Britain 2010 - David Bennett of the six-month-old Sunshine Bakery in Chapel Allerton, Leeds - and discovers the secrets to his success.

Andrew Williams: What was your inspiration? The judges noted that your cake was more refreshing and less sweet than a lot of your competitors.
David Bennett: “What most people do when they come to cupcakes is immediately think Magnolia, Hummingbird, Primrose Bakery and all the rest of them. I came from a different angle, away from the old Victoria sponge method. Why can’t the toppings and sponges be lighter? It only takes one person to turn the corner and that’s how things evolve. That’s why I think I get a lot of repeat custom. People who say ‘I don’t really like cupcakes’ come back and say ‘wow, it was completely different to the ones I had before’. It is lighter and it has a lot less sugar in there.”

AW: What methods did you use?
DB: “I took a technique Iearned working in London restaurants for making a passionfruit sponge with 400ml of fruit juice. You can change that recipe to use any juice at all and that’s how I standardised the recipes here. If you use the Victoria sponge method you can’t put liquid into it - it splits. You can add milk but not a fruit juice - it won’t work. The same with buttercream - it splits - so people generally put essential oils into them. But essential oil is not the actual flavour of the fruit. What I do is make ganaches for the topping using 50/50 chocolate and cream, taking part of the cream out and substituting fruit juice for fruit puree. That way you can get the flavour of the fruit into the topping.

“The cake is made using a genoese method - whisking the eggs and the sugar and then fold in ground almonds and some flour. Because the ground almonds are oily, they won’t soak up all the liquid, so you end up with quite a moist sponge. If you just used flour, it would take on board that liquid and you’d end up with a much drier texture. I caramelised muscovado sugar with butter and banana in a pan to make a buerre noisette, which is blitzed and used in the topping and cake.”

AW: What attracted you to cupcake baking?
DB: “Cupcakes came along and I thought the spectrum is so vast, for both the base and the topping, that it opens up a whole new window of creativity. And that’s what attracted me to them. I thought wow, you can have so much fun with these, there’s no limit to what you can actually do with them.”

AW: How did you find making the transition from being a pastry chef to a baker, which are very different jobs?
DB: “When you’re a pastry chef there’s only so far you can go before you hit the plateau at the top, and it’s all sideways from that moment on. You never get the chance to be the head chef. The natural progression is to get a shop. I’m French trained, and I was getting a bit jaded with it because I’d been doing it for 17 years. It’s the same old stuff - basically, you’re just refining recipes.

“I’d been working in posh restaurants. You’d open the door and you’d see a sea of suits. I got to thinking one day - and all the local bakeries had shut down where I used to live - and I thought ‘why are all these working class lads in these top restaurants cooking for suits and rich people when our high streets are full of crap’?”

AW: Why set up a cupcakery in Leeds?
DB: “It’s just a great job, time consuming, but I absolutely love it. It keeps you happy. You can’t be sad smelling beautiful things all day. The bakery has been very well supported locally. Leeds in general has supported me. A lot of the radio stations, the local magazines and businesses have backed me, which is fantastic. I’m not a businessman, I’m a baker. I think it was apparent when I opened that I didn’t know what I was doing! They all came and held my hand all the way through it. Leeds has a great spirit.”

AW: What do you think are people’s perceptions of chefs compared with bakers?
DB: “Chefs have a higher profile than bakers but I’ve got as much admiration for Dan Lepard and Eric Lanlard as I have for Marco Pierre White. Dan Lepard is a total legend and is one of the people I idolise. The chef thing is out of control. I didn’t sign up to it to be on TV and in magazines. I did it because I love baking.”

AW: Being crowned Britain’s Cupcake Champion 2010 will certainly raise your profile. How will it affect your business?
DB: “Massively. It will save it. We’re close to break even and this will push it over the edge. It’s like a vindication because I could have gone down that Magnolia Bakery buttercream route, but I thought no, I’m going to carve my own way here. Hopefully people will look at what I do and think, “well, buttercream is heavy”. Never dress your food up so it looks magnificent but tastes awful, because it’s a lie. The most fundamental thing is the taste. What it looks like comes second.”

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