It’s all about cake, cake and more cake at The Baking Bird located on Old Bridge Street in Truro and boy do they do it well! Taking over the world one cake at a time, The Baking Bird is THE go to cafe for amazing cake and a great pot of tea. Tucked around the corner from Truro Cathedral, The Baking Bird is a hidden gem filled with delicious cakes, comfy surrounds and a relaxed atmosphere, boasting beautiful views.
With its bright pink double doors, The Baking Bird is a brilliant beam of colour amongst the greys and greens of its surroundings and the cheerful colour scheme continues within. Vibrant teal, purple and pink bring a splash of colour to every corner; from the furniture to the crockery! Large windows and high ceilings create a spacious feel that many cafes lack, while vintage-esque fabric sofas, armchairs and plump cushions provide a cosy place to sit back and relax.
With 17 different cupcake flavours to choose from – not to mention a wide range of cheesecakes, flapjacks and brownies – The Baking Bird quite literally has something for everyone. Scrumptious classics such as Coffee Walnut, Banoffee and Rocky Road sit side by side with the more exotic Apple Crumble Custard, Peanutter and Cherry Paradise. Gluten and dairy free options are also available as well as vegan muffins!
Behind the Scenes at The Baking Bird
With all the above in mind, needless to say I was very excited about spending the morning with the lovely Selena (co-owner) and her fabulous Baking Bird team!
When I turned up at 9am, Selena and Catherine were already busy in the kitchen with huge bowls filled to the brim with butter icing and cake mix. Six cheesecakes were in their tins and ready to go into the fridge, caramel slices and flapjacks were fresh out of the oven and cupcakes were being iced! The Baking Bird was a hive of activity preparing for the day’s onslaught of cake hungry customers.
Winner of Best Tearoom / Coffee Shop for the Cornwall Life Food & Drink Awards 2013 – the year it opened in its current premises – The Baking Bird has gone from strength to strength since its conception as a home baking service in 2011. So without further ado lets hear more about the ins and outs of The Baking Bird and what makes it so successful from the bird herself, Selena!
How did The Baking Bird start?
We originally started in August 2011 as a business from home and then February last year (2013) we got this premises. My mum was a baker so I’ve been brought up on baking, there was always baking at home. I had a piping bag shoved in my hand at an early age! But as always you decide to go off and do your own thing so I did a degree in broadcasting and did a few bits for TV and films after that, then I ended up in IT, then I was working for a HR company which moved to Holland at which point me and my husband thought right we’d give it [baking as a business] a go!
After we started up the orders just got more and more – the oven couldn’t cope with it and we thought we’d launch as a bigger business. Originally we were just going to get a bigger unit with dual ovens and all that but to be honest by the time we’d looked into it all we thought why not get a shop front with a café element as well.
Doing a bit of research we realised that on the whole coffee shops were small and cramped with hard back wooden chairs, not somewhere that you could go to be comfortable and relax. Especially if you’ve got a buggy it’s a nightmare so we thought, right, we’re going to get a big place. People thought we were crackers! What did we need all this space for? But it worked and now people know they can come here – families and mums and big groups who feel like they’re in the way in the smaller places.
Upstairs we decided to create living room areas so that people can come and relax and feel like they’re at home, because at the end of the day cake is a little treat, a luxury. You can’t afford to get that lovely pair of shoes or bag you’ve been looking at but you can afford to get a cake and a cup of tea – have something special without breaking the bank.
What’s the story behind your name and design?
I’ve always been a pink girl. I’ve always thought that pink and teal go well together. A friend that I went to uni with designed our logo and look for us. I’m originally from Wolverhampton (you can probably tell I’m not a Cornish girl!) and there you call each other bird and in Cornwall it’s the same. Everyone has always known me to say ‘alright bird’ so ‘The Baking Bird’ was the obvious choice!
When it came to coming up with all the flavours we (me and my husband) sat down and came up with a massive list of recipes that had been compiled over the years, scribbled down on bits of paper. We came up with 17 because that’s our number – we met on the 17th, we finished our house on the 17th, we got engaged on the 17th and married on the 17th so everything has been 17 for us. So when were thinking about how many flavours to do it had to be 17!
Was moving from just baking to running a coffee shop as well hard?
Yes – we didn’t know anything about that side of it before we started, it was a whole new world. The company we used – Cornico – was brilliant. They trained us up from scratch and gave us a smaller machine to get used to before we decided on a bigger one. No point giving us a big Formula 1 one thing and sticking a learner driver in it! It really is a whole new art.
From the start we knew that we wanted to have big proper pots of tea and big cups – none of this flimsy stuff that just dribbles tea out of the spout when you try to pour it! It was always going to be big portions – nothing we do is small! We wanted it to be homely and welcoming, the Willy Wonka of cake, for people to walk in and go ‘I want that and that and that’. Spot ten things that you want straight away.
Why did you choose Truro?
We live Falmouth way so we looked at Falmouth to start with but it all came down to money at the end of the day. The rents and rates were actually cheaper in Truro which surprised us, and as soon as we saw this place we thought ‘yup – looks like a bird house to us!’ People say that we’re off the beaten track so we won’t get the passing footfall but we do. This little area and New Bridge Street is getting to be quite known for being the place to come for food in Truro. We’ve got all the delis and independent food places – The Lemon Tree and the Curry House to name a few! We feel like we’re really well positioned.
What has been your favourite commission to date and what’s involved in the design process?
I love the design elements of cake decorating. Meeting somebody and talking to them about what they want, dragging the idea out of their head, because a lot of people have no idea what they want! One commission that I really enjoyed doing was for a couple’s wedding – they wanted three very distinct cakes, so not necessarily tiered. They wanted the bottom tier / cake to reflect all of their family history. Sarah’s family was from Australia and Poland, Nicky’s family was Cornish and America so we designed the bottom tier / cake as four quarters that reflected elements of each country. For the second tier / cake they sent us a picture of their travel bag which they had taken all around the world with them, so I created a 3D carve replica of that. The clay cake topper that they had was them sitting on top of the world – so with this and the rest of the cake I didn’t want to do too much with the top tier but they didn’t want it to be plain. Then we got the idea to use the polka dot design from her new shoes and that was the top tier done! It was really great to get to know them and develop the design from there.
Everyone is different. Some people are super organised and know exactly what they want; hand over a dulux colour watched of the exact colour that they want for their frosting and others have no idea!
You get people coming in and asking ‘how much is a birthday cake?’ and you think well ‘how long is a piece of string?’ Each cake is completely different from each other and all the different elements affect the overall cost.
We’re booked for months in advance so we’ve come up with the arrangement that you can pay £10 deposit to book your date and then sort out the details of the cake closer to the time. People don’t come to us until the last minute because they worry that they don’t know what they want, but that’s fine! Don’t worry if you don’t know what you want that can be sorted out later but make sure that you have your date booked!
Have you had any impossible requests?
It’s important to set people’s expectations a bit – let them know what can and can’t be done, but as a general rule now there are so many different techniques pretty much anything is possible. I’m really good at structures and the 3D carves. I did Buzz Lightyear’s head which was brilliant – I loved doing that. A lot of things are more possible now. I haven’t had anybody yet that has asked for something that I couldn’t do!
What has been your most difficult cake?
Probably one of the first ones, just because it was new and we were just starting out. It was for the chap that runs the House of Fabrics. It was his 60th and they wanted this massive cake with the gilded picture frame around the edge and an edible print of his book. I think it was just because it was so big (it had a custom made board) and it was one of the first orders that came through with us as this business but it was great fun! I’ve probably had more challenging cakes in terms of structure since but this is the one that sticks out in my mind – but it all worked out well in the end!
What big projects are you working on at the minute?
Well I just had Carpal Tunnel surgery, so I’m just getting back into work at the minute. We’re mainly doing weddings and bespoke cakes. We have bigger plans for the future, taking over the world one cake at a time but for now it’s spread the word of the bird and become THE place to come for cake. We’re doing a lot of advertising and promotion for Looe Food & Drink Festival which is always a fantastic festival to be at. Last year (2013) we won the best Tearoom & Coffee Shop in Cornwall Life Food & Drink Awards. This year we’re in the final four for Best Café Culture in Cornwall Today. It’s all voted for by the readers so we didn’t have a clue that we’d been nominated – it’s really great! From 19 June 2014 people can vote for us and then the winner is announced in September. We’re the resident baker Cornwall Living’s foody section – each time we have a recipe in there. Last time it was our brownie recipe and our next one is going to be our strawberry and pistachio cake!
Which is your favourite flavour?
Oh, it depends on the day and the weather! I love the flapjacks for breakfast. From the cupcake point of view I have a soft spot for the Apple Crumble Custard because that came from my Nan’s Dutch Apple Cake recipe, so that was one I developed from there – added the custard in the middle and the vanilla on the top. Then I think it would be the Raspberry and White Chocolate when I fancy a fruity one. It’s like asking you to pick a favourite child!
What are your top tips for eager bakers?
It’s well worth mixing your cakes by hand – not using a mixer – especially if you’re using a flour that contains gluten because the more you mix the cake it activates the gluten strands so you get a tighter and drier cake. So your cakes stay much more moist if you mix by hand and incorporate it all together rather than over-beating it. With a mixer you have the tendency to put it on and then go and do something else and forget about it! It’s hard work but it is definitely worth it!
Quality ingredients is the next thing. The quality of ingredients in Cornwall is fantastic and there is amazing food being produced down here from fruits, to butter, cream, milk and eggs. Everything is on your doorstep and you should really take advantage of that. Even if you don’t want to go out yourself then places like The Cornish Food Box collect it all together for you. Go and use local stuff because it’s bloody great! I love the fact that we can get all the ingredients we need locally. I love poking around the farm at Treliske – I could spend the whole day there. You’re only going to get out of your cake what you put into it!
Lastly a little bit of what you fancy does you good so enjoy it and eat what you make!
So there you have it, words of wisdom from one of Truro’s top bakers and cake decorators! After all that chatting we had to sit down with an extremely delicious cupcake (flavour of choice was Apple Crumble and Custard of course) with a large pot of tea, before I commenced getting my hands sticky and trying out some decorating techniques!
Having never used a piping bag before or having attempted any form of sugar art I was slightly apprehensive at being let loose decorating some of their usually exquisite looking cupcakes! However, I needn’t have been worried because it turns out that I’m a natural ;). Not only was it rather fun getting a bit messy and trying things out it was also surprisingly therapeutic.
After a few practice runs with the piping bag on the work top, I was let loose on the cupcakes themselves. Using the piping bag was surprisingly easy considering my only experience of icing includes a pallet knife and a plunger icing tube with changeable nozzles. The hardest part was squeezing the bag hard enough to push the icing out and I was warned that a common side effect of this is known in the baking world as ‘claw hand’ (see middle picture above). I was surprised to learn that just changing the position from which you start icing can be used to create a completely different decorative effect.
Slightly harder to get to grips with was the sugar craft – using small amounts of coloured fondant icing to create flowers and the like by pressing them into molds and then using edible glue to elaborate with other decorations. Trying to prise the delicate shapes out without completely squishing them is an art within itself. Most of my attempts were ruined in the last stages despite my best efforts at delicate fingers!
All of The Baking Bird’s cupcakes incorporate several different techniques: syringed fillings, piped butter cream, fondant icing and sugar craft to create wonderfully unique and completely edible cupcakes so beautiful you almost, almost don’t want to eat them!
If you want to have a look at more of The Baking Bird’s fantastic cake work then visit http://www.facebook.com/TheBakingBird for a full gallery!
Thank you very much to The Baking Bird for their hospitality, allowing us to take up one of their busy mornings asking questions and having a go at icing cakes! We had a fantastic time and anyone that hasn’t already sampled The Baking Bird’s delicious treats and indulgent servings – we urge you to do so NOW!
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