Auckland specialty cake queen Jordan Rondel, a.k.a. The Caker, tells us how she turned her passion for baking into a pretty sweet career.
How did you first get into baking and what made you decide to turn it into a career?
I have been into baking for as long as I can remember. It was my French grandparents who first triggered my love for it I think; I would help bake tarts and other delicious desserts at their knee. I never really thought I could make a career out of baking though, it just seemed like a hobby and passion that would fit nicely alongside a day job.
But I would bake a cake a week for my family while I was still at school and university, and then one day after baking a particularly successful one, my parents suggested I make a career out of it.
So I started a blog called ‘The Caker’, which was a little vehicle for selling cakes. I was lucky enough to have some quite high profile customers from the very beginning, so word of The Caker seemed to spread like wild fire and before I knew it I was making my first wedding cakes. Four years on and it’s my full time (seven days a week) job!
What are some of your most popular cakes?
My most popular cake by far is my gluten free flourless dark chocolate cake; it’s a chocoholic’s dream, incredibly rich and delectable. Behind this one, my fig and raspberry or plum, lime and coconut cakes are pretty big hits.
You use organic ingredients wherever possible, and many of your cakes are gluten or dairy free or vegan – why did you decide to go down this wholesome route with your cakes?
Mainly to be different. Four years ago when I started The Caker, I found a big gap in the market for this kind of thing, so I decided to make it my niche. I’ve noticed an enormous increase in demand for more wholesome and nutritious cakes since then. Also, there’s no denying that the better ingredients you use, the better the final product will be.
I really believe that you don’t need a tonne of refined white sugar and flour to make a cake taste delicious. Ground almonds are extremely nutritious, and I use these religiously to replace flour. I use a lot of honey and natural maple syrup to replace sugar, and coconut oil to replace butter. The only chocolate I use is very expensive, but I will never switch, because it’s just the best stuff.
You cater a lot of fashion events – is this an industry you’re interested in? Do you think fashion has a correlation with the food world?
I have been involved in the fashion industry forever, and it has become quite heavily ingrained in my career. Cakes have become really fashionable, and people love to eat (or at least look at) little sweet treats at a fashion show or an opening party. I think I have quite a particular style in the way I dress, as well as in the way I bake, so maybe this is what makes me and my cakes popular in the fashion scene.
A few years ago, cupcakes were all the rage and then it was macaroons. What are some big trends in baking right now?
Raw cheesecakes are all the rage, and it seems artisan donuts are still pretty fashionable (and one of my biggest weaknesses).
Your cakes are so deliciously rustic looking! Why do you think bakers are veering away from those perfect-looking cakes with fondant icing?
I think there’s more of an emphasis on how things taste over how things look these days, which I’m happy about. My style of baking is fairly humble; I think it’s much more important for a cake to taste incredible, rather than look inedible. There’s nothing worse than a cake which looks too perfect to cut into, but when you do, it tastes like sawdust. So I steer clear of any fondant or marzipan or rainbow sprinkles. Fondant is so sickly sweet and has no flavour, I really dislike the stuff.
What’s your favourite cake?
I love a good carrot cake packed with nuts, dried fruit and spices.
What are some memorable requests you’ve had from clients?
I was once challenged to make a chocolate and wasabi cake! I can’t say it was the most delicious cake I’ve ever made.
You use some pretty interesting flavours — where does your inspiration come from?
I’m always inspired by what’s in season. In winter, big beautiful juicy lemons inspire me to do all sorts of things with citrus. In summer I fall in love with fresh berries and try to incorporate them into my baking in every way possible. Blogs, cook books and fellow bakers inspire me, as well as traveling, particularly to New York.
You recently opened a new space – can you tell us about that?
My new space is on K’Rd, in a lovely, perfectly gritty block of shops. It was never meant to be a ‘cute’ place, so the location and starkness of the spot work well; it’s an ex-art gallery space, with white walls, wooden floors and super high ceilings. The kitchen is designed and built by my clever Dad. It’s ultra modern, made entirely out of steel, and highly functional as a commercial kitchen.
The main purpose of the space is for me to bake my cake orders from. But the front part of the space is run on a ‘by appointment’ arrangement, where small groups can book in for special afternoon teas in the weekends.
What’s the best thing about your job?
Having the freedom to be creative, set my own hours and do what I love everyday of the week.
Who are some foodies that you admire?
Nigel Slater, Eleanor Ozich, Amber Rose, Mimi Gilmour, Al Brown…there’s too many to list!
What would we find if we had a peek through your handbag?
MAC lipstick, Aesop hand cream, my iPhone of course…nothing too outrageous!
What are your workplace clothing staples?
When I’m baking for 8 or 9 hours a day I need to be super comfortable, so you’ll find me in my Nike Airs, baggy Levis 501s and Uniqlo sweaters.
What upcoming events are you looking forward to?
Wedding season will be in full swing in October, so that’s always an exciting time for me. It’s my busiest time of year by far.