As part of cupcake week, I thought it would be interesting to interview the passionate cake baking supreme that is Melanie Constantinou, the lady behind Baked By Mel.
I first met Mel when we got together for tea so I could review some of her cakes and I found her passion and excitement for baking inspiring. So, a few weeks ago, we met for yet more tea and cake and this time I took my pad and pen. Here’s what she had to say.
How long have you been baking?
Along time for fun but a year ago last February, I went self-employed and started Baked By Mel.
What made you set up your cake business?
I have two young children and I wanted to work around them to avoid all the issues with childcare. I knew it had to be home based and I love cake! There are cakes everywhere at the moment and I was aware of the revival of grow your own and make your own so it seemed like a perfect fit.
What sparked your interest in baking?
My Mum is very enthusiastic about food. My Dad is Greek so the food we ate when I was young was really interesting and unusual. We’d have things like stuffed vine leaves, macaroni pie, all made from scratch. My Greek Nan used to make yogurt in the bathroom so I learnt a lot.
Food is really important in my background. My Grandad owned a butchers on Brick Lane in London and my Mum ran a small fruit and veg stall next door. When she met my Dad who is Greek, his Mum taught my Mum how to cook. My parents now run two cafes in Southend so food has always been an important part of my life.
What sets your cakes apart from others?
I’ve been wondering this. Apparently they look polished! They are simple but I like things to be symmetrical and made with care. I genuinely love my cakes! They look so lovely when I look through the oven door and see them all cooking together and when I ice them I get all excited! When I deliver them to people and they are pleased it’s so exciting and I get a really warm buzz, it’s great!
Call me strange but I think that love and passion can get into food. When I see my boys eating something I’ve made I get all maternal. I feel like I’m doing my job properly.
So I guess what I’m saying is, what sets my cakes apart is ‘me’. That’s how I feel anyway. I am the biggest secret ingredient! All my love and passion goes into everything I bake and I think that’s important. Oh, that and music. I always play music while I’m baking, it’s good for the cakes!
What is your greatest creation?
Last Christmas, I asked my partner what he wanted for desert on Christmas day. I thought he’d say cheesecake but no, he wanted Dutch apple pie, just like his Mum makes. Well this worried me, I would have to compete with fond memories!
I looked at some recipes and I needed a variety of apple that I couldn’t get over here so I used Granny Smith’s and the pastry was just so rich, I had no idea how I would roll it. I had a new oven that I had never used before so I wasn’t used to the settings but it turned out to be absolutely gorgeous!
The fluted edges were perfect, the apples were shiny with a brandy glaze, it looked like it should be in the window of a French Patisserie. He was delighted that I had cooked it for him and he even said it was better than his Mother’s but don’t tell her!
Where do you get your inspiration?
I look at a lot of recipes but I also base my cakes on flavours that inspire me. I might see an ingredient I like, like some nice fresh strawberries, then I think about what flavours might go with them. I look at turning large cakes into cupcakes and I like to experiment using flavours from cocktails. I’ll think of something and wonder how I’ll get it in a cake. For example, Pina Colada. I’d soak pineapple in the cake mix and I’d add coconut milk to the frosting.
Often I’ll see something like a cake wrapper or a gorgeous plate and think of flavours that would suit them. This often leads onto a whole range of things. A beautiful vintage plate might make me think of Earl Grey as a cake flavour which leads me to think of more tea related cakes I could create.
Aside from baking, what else do you like to cook?
I love baking! I love making soda bread but that’s still baking. Soup! I love making soup! It’s straight forward, nutritious and rewarding. I would NEVER have soup from a can. Once you have the basics I think it’s impossible to go wrong.
What is the best meal you’ve had recently?
It was at the Purple Poppadom in Cardiff. I had mussels to start in a coconut sauce with different naan breads. I love dipping bread in food, it reminds me of my time living in Sinai.
If you could only have one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
….long pause. This is so hard! Hmmmm, it would have to be my Dad’s kebabs. They are so good! I have never tasted anything like it. He cooks it on real charcoal and infuses the meat for hours. It has to come with pitta and salad. Perfect!
It was a pleasure to interview Mel. I totally agree, love and passion can get into food and you will definitely find them in Mel’s cakes. Have a look at her website to see what she can do.