While boozing and shmoozing at the launch of Electric Picnic 2014 at The Chocolate Factory last week, I (and many others) happened upon some seriously intriguing looking baked goods. After munching down on a 'Whiskey Business' to near orgasmic effect, (a mini cake infused with Jameson whiskey, nuts and roasted white chocolate), observing the 'ooh's and 'ahh's and aggressive 'omnomnomnom's of fellow discoverers around me, and then sneaking back to eat another one, I then made it my business to talk to the creative genius behind such gastronomic creations. If you're lucky enough to stumble upon these bad boys around town, and consider yourself a little more adventurous than most when it comes to flavour, you'll never look at a Madeira cake again. Kate Packwood of Wildflour Bakery shares her story below.
How did you wind up in this line of work?
My background is in the arts; I was intending on a career in academia when I was seduced by food. I swapped Shakespeare for cake. Academic training taught me rigour and attention to detail, an appreciation of the beautiful and the pursuit of originality. I think that informs my baking.
For the uninitiated, or those who'd be more likely to set their house on fire than achieve the perfect soufflé´, how would you describe what you do?
Baking is about making things more than they are, more edible, more beautiful, more meaningful. It is where art meets science - a kind of alchemy. I design cakes that capture people’s imaginations - that are exciting and extraordinary, in both taste and aesthetic.
When did Wildflour begin?
I set up Wildflour Bakery nearly two years ago, in order to offer cakes that have a distinct style, an eccentricity and a strong attention to detail. I wanted cake that was beautiful, elegant, playful and with an exciting flavour profile, so I set up Wildflour to offer just that – the anti-cupcake I suppose.
What separates your work from other baked goods?
Most cakes that you can buy are very sweet and don’t really taste of much else, not to mention the fact that they’re pumped full of preservatives, huge amounts of refined sugar and pasteurized liquid egg. Wildflour Bakery is the antidote to this. I started it because I wanted to make cakes that are full of exciting flavours; that are sophisticated and decadent rather than lurid and sugary. I am on a constant mission to create something extraordinary, I think that cake is one of those glorious little joys in life that everyone can enjoy, and that as a baker I have a responsibility to make it something really remarkable.
Did you notice a gap among the Dublin bakery scene for something really cool?
I don’t think I filled a gap so much as chiseled out a niche. The baking scene is a massively competitive and over-crowded market and Dublin people aren’t yet as discerning about their cake as they are about, say, their coffee or craft beers. Cake shouldn’t be a road to obesity and heart disease, but rather a moment of the sublime in the everyday. Wildflour cakes are a call-to-arms.
What's your best seller?
My best seller is my Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Caramel Brownie. I think they’re the least intimidating flavour-wise, so they’re a great entry product for those new to my style of baking. I find if I can hook people with those and win their trust, they’re willing to be a bit more adventurous the next time. The other most popular one is the Rhubarb, Rose and Hendrick’s gin cake. I take the botanicals in Hendrick’s gin – rose water, crushed juniper and roast them with Irish rhubarb and incorporate them into a really moist cake which I then top with icing made with Hendrick’s gin to pull all the flavours together. That one really seems to catch people’s imaginations.
The craziest thing you have baked?
I think my most unusual flavour creation has got to be the Gortnamona, Coffee and Honey macaron. Gortnamona is an Irish goats cheese, which would never normally be associated with brightly coloured macarons. By blending the goats’ cheese with Burren wildflower honey and then adding crushed coffee beans I create a perfect blend of sweet and savoury. It is hugely polarizing – people either love it or hate it, and that really excites me. I aim to design cakes which people really engage with, and feel strongly about, and that are never bland.
You do a cake infused with Dingle Gin, a drink which is becoming really popular from my favourite part of Ireland, how important is it to you to support local?
It’s really important to me to support local; we’ve some incredibly great ingredients being produced on this island and it’s a joy to work with them. For me, cake should reflect it’s terroir in the same way that cheese or wine does – Irish creamery butter and Irish free-roaming hens’ eggs form the basis of this, and then the fascinating and brilliant Irish ingredients add the flare, be it Dingle Gin, or Stonewell cider, heritage carrots or foraged hedgerow fare – these are what add the va-va-voom.
What is your own personal favourite cake to make?
I love making wedding cakes. I love working closely with the couple to design a cake - or in many cases cake table - that reflects them. I love the way cake is central to celebration. It should be fun and joyous and beautiful, and it’s always an honour to be able to provide that. I love that the guests are expecting boring old fruit cake, and that I get to really rock their expectations.
What do you look for in other bakeries?
I expect a high standard of cake. It doesn’t need to be the wild flavours like I make, but I expect top quality ingredients. Too many bakeries, not just in Ireland, cut a lot of corners to offer a cheap product. Cake is a luxury product, and when I have it I expect it to be just that, a luxury. I have no interest in a banal intake of empty calories, and neither do my customers.
How do you feel about Dublin right now, are things improving for creative people like you?
Honest answer? I think there are some big guns throwing some big money around and opening places that appear design-driven and exciting, but which cut a lot of corners when it comes to the food. The people who are really creative in Dublin are having to be so in spite of this and are often in danger of being drowned out by it. The constant refrain is that the food industry has weathered the best through the recession, and that it is the one sector where money is still being spent. There are a lot of cynical people cashing in on this fact. At the other end of the spectrum there are some really creative people fighting the good fight.
Future plans for the bakery, can we expect to see you at lots of festivals?
A lot of people have been asking me about festivals lately, and it’s an idea worth exploring, but my main plans for the future are to open somewhere of my own – small and perfectly formed.
Do you cater to those with dietary requirements like myself? (lactose intolerance unfortunately) or those wanting gluten free?
I cater for those who are lactose intolerant (our Carrot, Orange Blossom & Thyme cake is dairy-free for example) but you need a separate kitchen for gluten-free cakes so none of mine are suitable for coeliacs. Many of my cakes are naturally free of gluten though, and most are very low in it as I use a variety of flours, not just wheat flour.
I am passionate about working with ancient grains such as kamut flour which, unlike modern wheat, is far more digestible for those with a mild wheat intolerance and also has a lower glycaemic index.
What cake creations are you working on next, can you divulge?
I never divulge the next creation until it’s ready, I like to keep the element of surprise! But one creation I am very focused on at the moment is my new website. I’m working closely on something really exciting with the brilliant trio Unthink.
What's the best advice you've been given when it comes to setting up this business?
People try to give me advice about Wildflour all the time, and most of it isn’t that helpful. I think one of the reasons Wildflour is a success is because it does things differently and doesn’t follow the colour-by-numbers business models. It’s important to keep your passion and remember why you started your business in the first place, and for me it was about doing things right and not taking shortcuts.
What advice would you give to aspiring creative bakers like yourself?
Be passionate, work hard and stay excited.