It might surprise you to hear that Claire Ptak, baker extraordinaire, creator of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding cake and owner of Violet Cakes in east London, didn’t always have her sights set on a career in the kitchen. ‘I was cooking from a very young age, always baking and I loved it,’ says California-born Claire, ‘but I actually studied film in college, because I really wanted to be a filmmaker.’ A year at an LA studio, however, confirmed to Claire that her ‘heart wasn’t really in it’ and she pivoted to a career as a pastry chef, working under Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. In 2005, she moved to London and became a food stylist for celebrity chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi, Nigella Lawson and Jamie Oliver. ‘Food styling was better paid than restaurant work, but I wanted some sort of expression for myself,’ says Claire. She had the idea to set up a weekend stall at Broadway Market, selling her homemade bakes ‘to have my own point of view. I’d bring leftover cake to all my shoots during the week!’
Needless to say, the stall was a roaring success and, in 2010, Claire opened Violet Cakes in Hackney, which became known for its use of seasonal ingredients and unpretentious style. In 2018, Claire was catapulted to overnight stardom when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle asked her to make a lemon and elderflower cake for their upcoming wedding. Meghan was already a fan of Claire’s work, having read her book, The Violet Bakery Cookbook, and interviewed her for her lifestyle blog at the time, The Tig. ‘It was really intense and exciting,’ says Claire. ‘We were still just a small bakery! I’d been working really hard for years, so to have that kind of validation from Harry and Meghan – and then globally – felt really good.’
For The Sette, Claire has chosen to share her recipe for a summer fruit pavlova, served on a limited edition Polonsky & Friends x The Sette oval platter, which features a contemporary twist on traditional spring motifs by Paris-based artist Mary Clerté. All profits from the collection will benefit the World Central Kitchen, an international NGO channelling the power of food to heal communities through times of crisis. ‘I think a pavlova, inspired by the good weather we’ve been having in the UK, looks lovely on this plate,’ says Claire. ‘A pavlova is a really summery pudding and I like using all the seasonal berries. It’s a great vehicle for it – and I love cream! It’s pretty simple to make this in any kitchen.’ For your next summer dinner party, give Claire’s recipe a go. Who knows, you could end up whipping up a cake for the Royal Family next…
Puffy Pavlova with Geranium Strawberries and Currants
For the meringue:
- 4 egg whites
- 250g caster sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp white vinegar
- 2 tsp corn flour
For the cream:
- 300g mascarpone
- 300g double cream
- 2 tsp caster sugar
For the fruit topping:
- 300g white currants or red currants
- 10 geranium leaves
- 4 tbsp sugar
- Juice of half a lemon
- 300g strawberries, quartered
- Heat your oven to 100°C fan and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
- Place the egg whites in a squeaky-clean mixing bowl, and whisk into soft peaks. Add the caster sugar a tablespoon at a time with the whisk running, until all the sugar is incorporated and you have soft, glossy peaks.
- Fold in the vanilla extract, vinegar and corn flour.
- Transfer the meringue mixture to the prepared tray and make an oval shape with a rubber spatula and bake for one hour. Allow to cool.
- While the meringue is cooling, prepare the fruit. Combine the currants, geranium leaves, sugar and lemon juice in a pan and cook over a medium heat for 20 minutes. Once cooked, combine with the strawberries.
- Lightly whip the mascarpone and double cream in a large bowl with the sugar.
- To assemble, transfer the meringue from the tray onto your platter – the Polonsky & Friends x The Sette oval platters are perfect for this.
- Spread with the mascarpone cream, leaving a small border around the edge. Top with the berries and serve right away.