A Recipe for Love

Baker Lily Vanilli Shares Her Most Romantic Cake With Us

Love is in the air this February, especially for baker and flower-enthusiast Lily Jones. The name of her baking persona denotes the fun and flair she brings to her craft, this can be seen in her opulent Persian love cake, made in honour of Valentine’s Day. She tells us “the story goes that it was baked by a lady to win the love of a prince in Persia.” It certainly is a romantic cake, heavily perfumed and full of rich spices and floral tones.

Lily’s East London through and through – getting her flowers from Columbia Road and produce from the local shops. Her bakery is near the flower market, so she’s never far away if inspiration hits and supplies are needed. Lily tells us how for her flowers and baking go hand in hand because “I want to use things that look beautiful but aren’t too artificial, so with the decorating I always feel like a cake looks good if it looks like it is going to taste good.”


Baking wasn’t Lily’s career path from an early age – she has previously been a graphic designer (which is clear in her aesthetics), before moving into the world of baked goods. Nor is it the only thing on her agenda – she has written two books (A Zombie Ate My Cupcake and Lily Vanilli’s Sweet Tooth), co-founded the annual Young British Foodie Awards, as well as consulting for various brands. Fans of her work range from Elton John to Number Ten Downing Street, and we can see why with her tasty treats that are always immaculately presented.


We caught up with Lily after the shooting, and she told us more:

The Plus: What is it that attracts you to flowers?
Lily Vanilli:
I think just overall my philosophy of baking, along with my aesthetic, is always fresh and natural.

TP: What do you like to do when you’re not baking?
I really like pool, I play a lot of pool and I kind of like shooting – we just got a gun for the house, so we made a shooting range in the back garden and we do a lot of shooting. I read a lot – as much as I can. That is mostly it – I do a lot of baking.


TP: Do you tend to eat all of your cakes after you’ve baked them?
Not all of them, but I definitely eat more than my fair share of cake. I am waiting for the day when I get over that and it’s too much, but as it is I still really crave and love cake. You don’t really need to try them unless it’s like a recipe that is really new. You can tell a lot from the smell and the touch and you know instantly if something has gone wrong. I think because I am surrounded by it all day, if I feel hungry then I just snack so I end up eating a lot of cake as I go.


TP: Tell us about your books.
The two books are very different. The first one A Zombie Ate My Cupcake is zombie themed, cake decorating book – fully illustrated. Kind of for kids but also really popular with adults – it is very gory, there is a bleeding heart cake which is very realistic and zombie hands and bones and lots of mixed berry coulis blood. It’s very fun. The second book Lily Vanilli’s Sweet Tooth is much more grown-up, it’s a collection of my recipes but with a really thorough breakdown of the method and the science behind all of the basic steps of baking. It is very instructional – especially for a first-time baker or someone who is new to baking.


TP: What does the year hold for you?
I am very excited about this year, because for the last few years I have been working a lot overseas and have been consulting for other businesses, but now for 2016 I am going to be really focused in London and all my attention can finally be focused on this bakery. I plan for it to be a big period of growth. We want to start an online shop, we have redesigned our website and made it a lot easier to order cakes from us. and I want to continue making lots of beautiful wedding cakes and cakes to order.


TP: What are your memorable moments during your bakery career?
I think probably the week when I opened the bakery, we renovated it ourselves after finding it on Gumtree and it was the first place we looked at. We also had a wedding order in Herefordshire, and at the same time was running a project with Ormond Street Hospital where we baked 1000 gingerbread for and decorated them with the children, and worked with an architect firm to build a walk-in gingerbread house. So it was this crazy week where we really didn’t sleep and myself and two others just worked in the shop – now I have seven staff in here on a Sunday – but at the time we made all the coffees, served everybody and we sold out and it was the most exhilarating, exhausting week but a really memorable and exciting part of my life.


TP: Any advice for people learning to bake?
Once you learn where you need to be strict with a recipe. then you can enjoy its freedom. There are cakes, even the one I made today, where you can just chuck in some different ingredients – like nuts or spices – and you know where you can adapt it to suit how you feel that day. I think that freedom comes with knowing what you absolutely have to be in charge of and be careful about. I always train my staff in the style of Karate Kid like Mister Miyagi, you do the same thing over and over and over again and once you’re a master of that, then you can develop your own style.

Persian Love Cake
Makes – 8 minis
200g butter, cubed
150g white choc
160g light brown sugar
¾ cup water
pinch salt
pinch vanilla
pinch grated tonka
pinch cinnamon
pinch rose petals
eggs x 2
150g Self raising flour
150g toasted ground almonds
handful coconut
handful pistachios
handful pecans (toasted)

Melt butter, chocolate, sugar, water & spices & rose in a medium pan – cool
Add the eggs & beat gently to combine
Add the almonds and flour and fold into the mixture, add nuts & coconut and fold to combine. Transfer into greased or lined tins and bake 15 mins or until done!