With the cupcake craze sweeping the land, it’s easy to forget that the tasty morsels are in fact American. Californian Clare Ptak has had a stall on Broadway Market since 2005, selling her own versions of American cake classics: cupcakes and whoopie pies. Since then she has opened the stylish Violet café on Wilton Way, a Hackney backstreet that’s becoming a foodie destination. I met Claire (plus her handsome whippet puppy) at her flat round the corner from the café, to hear all about her passion for baking.
Interview with Claire Ptak
Claire is a self-taught cook: she started baking aged just 14 doing vacation work behind the counter of a bakery, and begged them to let her into the kitchen. She cooked at summer dude ranches while studying film at college, learning her trade by trial and error, and then moved to Chez Panisse in Berkeley to work as a pastry chef.
She came to Hackney five years ago and started the stall, her knack with cupcakes coinciding with a trend for nostalgia, and for local, natural food. The delicate colours of her buttercream icings come from seasonal ingredients, with rhubarb and elderflower in the spring; cherries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries in summer; quince, fig and Italian fragolina grapes in autumn; and citrus fruits in winter. Claire sources everything with care, buying fruit from Leila’s Shop in Shoreditch; Leila finds the best of British produce at the New Covent Garden Market. Sponges and cookies are made with organic flour, eggs, milk and sugar.
Claire is an established cookery writer as well as being a chef and food stylist, and she has kindly shared two of her own whoopie pie recipes with Eat Hackney. If you want more, see Claire’s Whoopie Pie Book, described by Jamie Oliver as “an absolutely gorgeous book by my favourite cake maker in the whole world”. Crikey!
It comes as a surprise that frivolous sounding whoopie pies originate in the straightlaced Amish community. (Though who can forget Harrison Ford in his prime making Amish whoopie in the movie Witness? Anyway….) Both Maine and Pennsylvania lay claim to whoopie pie, which consists of two rounds of spongey cookie sandwiched together with cream filling. The original flavour is chocolate with a marshmallow filling (see below), but Claire has invented new variations such as the sumptuous rosewater and pistachio whoopie. Whether you opt for the large or mini-me version of these all-American goodies is up to you…