Nearly 20 years after cupcakes crossed the Atlantic, Magnolia Bakery-style – through programmes such as Sex And The City – the sugary confection remains one of our most popular treats. On Instagram the #cupcakes hashtag currently boasts 16.9 million posts, while #cakes has nine million. We sent Julia to meet Kirstie Taylor, Owner of Flour Patisserie.
Just as American greys wiped out native red squirrels across most of Britain, cupcakes have done the same for traditional buns and fairy cakes. The rise of the cupcake seemed unstoppable. Mothers baking for school fetes had to up their game. Weddings were not worthy without a tray of colour-coordinated cakelets. And woe betide any business that dared send clients a card instead of an iced greeting!
And then what? Did we all worry about getting fat, eating too much sugar, or simply get fed up of prettiness? No. We just became more selective. We upgraded to gourmet cupcakes, offsetting the calorie hit with social media love.
Spotting the change in the market, Kirstie Taylor set up Flour Patisserie, offering cakes people can buy as much for the Instagram experience as the taste.
“A few years ago people bought cakes and ate them,” Kirstie explained over breakfast in Cargo. “But now, photographing the cake and sharing that photo is a big part of the experience. People go out to dinner and don’t mind if their food goes cold in order to get a good picture first. Food photos are among the most liked photos on social media, so if you’re buying cake, it has to look amazing for people to want it.”
Making cakes look good comes quite easily for Kirstie. She began baking as a child, ‘helping’ her mother in the kitchen, and she continued making cakes while studying photography at the London College of Fashion. When she decided she preferred a career in cakes to a career in fashion, she did a nine-month Patisserie diploma at the Cordon Bleu in London.
“I really enjoyed it. One of the girls on the course was selling her cakes so I thought I’d have a go. I needed to find something to do with the cakes I made for practice, so setting up a business was a natural way forward. When I finished the course I moved back to Jersey with the aim of starting a business here – I was considering a café but after looking into the financing, thought it would be better to start something with lower overheads.”
After building her customer base, Kirstie moved Flour Patisserie out of her kitchen, to new premises in St Helier’s central market. As the business grew – selling both cupcakes and full sized cakes – she was able to take on a full-time member of staff.
“It’s always manic but I love being busy. I worked in an office for a few months in London and hated it. Running by own business is definitely the right thing for me.”
Kirstie’s degree in photography is still useful – her pictures of cakes on Instagram regularly get over 100 likes and the Flour Patisserie Instagram account has over 2,600 followers – not bad for a business that is less than three years old.
“Phone cameras have moved on so much you can get the same effect you could only previously achieve with a professional camera and proper editing. I hardly use a camera to take pictures of the cakes these days if the photos are for social media.”
For someone who can make up to 1000 cupcakes a day, Kirstie eats remarkably little cake.
“I’m not going to lie,” Kirstie said, tucking into her bacon sandwich and stirring several mini-spoonfuls of sugar into her tea, “I do occasionally eat cake. My favourite is chocolate and blueberry cheesecake. But I much prefer ice cream, or chocolate, or sweets.
“The most popular flavours are salted caramel, strawberry cheesecake, lemon meringue, and mango and passionfruit. I make a range of flavours for everyone, but there are a few I don’t personally like, such as peanut butter, or coconut, so I have to get other people to taste them. A lot of people buy cakes by colour rather than flavour though, so they all have to look pretty.”
As people get more health conscious, Kirstie is aware of the need for alternatives. She has developed gluten-free and vegan cupcakes, and makes her buttercream with less sugar than many recipes suggest. There are no plans to go organic though.
“I would love to be able to offer organic cakes but the cost of using all-organic ingredients would be too high. Instead we focus on using high quality ingredients, with local fruit when it’s in season.”
Organic growth is another matter. With plans for the café Kirstie dreamed of several years’ ago, back on the table, Flour could just be the start of a whole new food empire.
Julia interviewed Kirstie at Cargo Coffee, Esplanade, St Helier. Definitely worth a visit! They have a licence for drinks and tapas after work too!