IT WAS impossible to resist the smiling face proffering a taster of delicious cakes as I went into Blackrock Market on a cold blustery Saturday. I greedily grabbed a piece of lovely rich, honey golden polenta cake, which was as good as it looked.
Looking around me at a range of cakes, tarts, quiches and scones, beautifully boxed and displayed on tiered glass units, I wondered how Veny Higgins, from Mauritius, had got into baking home-style Irish apple tarts and cakes.
Veny came to Ireland in 2006 and three years later met her future husband, Wesley Higgins, whom she married a couple of months ago. "I studied food and nutrition back home in Mauritius and I have always had a passion for cooking. I thought why not try to get into the food market."
Veny went through all the formalities in meeting the standards required in setting up her cake business.
"I rang the HSE and they came out and inspected my kitchen. I am in the Blackrock Market nearly three months now and it is going very well. I love the traditional apple tart, and I always have a lemongrass coconut cake which is very, very beautiful."
Just imagine the aroma – it would transport you straight to sunnier climes. On my visit she had delicious apple tarts, mouthwatering apple, cinnamon and walnut cakes, chocolate cakes, carrot cakes, scones, pinwheel cakes, and lovely soda bread with pesto, feta cheese and sundried tomatoes.
Prices depend obviously on the type and size of cake. Three slices of chocolate cake are €5, or €15 for the cake. Apple tarts are €5 and quiches, which apparently are very popular, are €4.
"I bake Friday nights and Saturday mornings. I am up since 3.30am," she says. Veny makes cakes for special occasions, birthdays, anniversaries and so on. You will find Veny every Saturday and Sunday at Blackrock Market, Co Dublin.
Tel: 086 195-4551
WHEN I was a schoolgirl, domestic science was part of the curriculum. We learned to bake bread, scones and cook other basic dishes, not to mention sewing (which I hated). I have to confess, though, that the best cake maker in my house is my better half Brendan, who has passed the skills on to our boys.
Baking, however, has had a big revival, from Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry on The Great British Bake Off to Rachel Allen's Bake. In the early part of Noughties, none of the TV companies was interested in 'baking' shows. It seems it is since the recession and the return to the homely interests of our grandmothers – such as knitting, sewing and upscaling – that there is a new passion to learn how to bake granny's favourite cakes. Before that it seemed every upwardly mobile bod was trying to learn how to outdo one another with Michelin-style food and skills at their dinner parties.
That's all gone and it is back to easy-peasy comfort food. It has certainly brought legendary British Queen of Cakes, Mary Berry, back to the fore at 77 years of age. If she doesn't approve of your Victoria sponge, you can forget it. So no sinking middles, please!
French master pastry chef, Eric Lanlard, on Channel 4's Baking Mad, conjures up amazing confections that you feel you can do yourself, which in itself is a gift! The French and the Belgians seem to have this down to a fine art.
Iseult Janssens, who has Belgian ancestry, went to Paris to train as a pastry chef. A dairy farmer's daughter from Newcastle, Co Dublin, she came back in 2009 after a stint abroad, built a commercial kitchen at the back of her parents' house and started The Cake Stand, specialising in top notch cakes, desserts, cupcakes, macarons, and knockout wedding cakes.
She trained in French pastry and bakery in Paris, graduating with honours from Ecole Superieure de Cuisine Francaise (ESCF) Ecole Gregoire-Ferrandi. After this she went to work at the Grand Epicerie de Paris, the food hall of the Bon Marche, as a member of the pastry team under chef Benoit Castel.
Here she gained what she describes as invaluable experience in creating fine French pastries such as the traditional classic Croquembouche (the high-piled cone of chocolate and cream-filled profiteroles) served on special occasions, and which have now become a popular alternative to the traditional wedding fruit cake.
Whilst in Paris, Iseult also worked in the Michelin-starred restaurant Helene Darroze. Darroze is one of the top chefs in the world and is also at the Connaught Hotel in London (two Michelin stars) and has just opened in Moscow.
A lot has changed since Iseult started The Cake Stand. "I fell in love with a dairy farmer," she says. The lucky man is Matthew Leonard and the pair now live in Stamullen, Co Meath. "I am commuting every day to Newcastle. Matthew works with his brother on the farm but we are hoping to get our own farm and then I will move the commercial kitchen there."
Macarons have proved a huge success for Iseult. "They are gluten free. I am dairy intolerant so I understand these problems." She got a Gold Medal for them at the Blas na hEireann Awards last year and she supplies Avoca in Rathcoole, Malahide and Belfast with them, as well as Caviston's in Glasthule.
"I am still a one-woman band," Iseult explains. "I do everything. I am dealing with delicate pastries and cakes, and transportation is a problem. It is very difficult to find a small distributor who won't absorb a huge amount of the profit. The cakes also have to be handled carefully. This I know is a huge problem with small artisan producers. If we could all only get together."
WE ALL know how difficult it is to get a bite to eat on the M8 to Cork. You fill up the car, and spend a penny, buy a roll and a bottle of water, before you embark on the drive as if you were crossing the Sahara desert! However, I have discovered a fantastic coffee shop at the Horse & Jockey Hotel, 14km north of Cashel where pastry chef Jacqueline Lanigan Ryan has been enchanting those with a sweet tooth for the past six years.
I love her flourless deep rich chocolate cake and her superb lemon Madeira cake with homemade lemon curd. You can either enjoy these on site or buy them and take them away. She does beautiful wedding cakes and cakes for other special occasions.
Last September, Jacqueline went to Manchester to complete a chocolatier course under the watchful eye of master chocolatier John Slattery, who has over 40 years' experience in baking, confectionery and chocolate work
"His passion is infectious," says Jacqueline. "I came back full of knowledge and ideas and got to work making all sorts of chocolate products, including shoes.
"Chocolate is a difficult product to work with as tempering the chocolate properly dictates whether the finished result both looks and tastes as it should, shiny with a crack when broken."
Previous baking demonstrations in the hotel were a sell-out. Another demonstration is planned before Easter to include making and decorating Easter eggs, cakes and cookies to hang on your Easter tree. Check www.horse andjockeyhotel.com for dates.
"More and more people are getting involved in home baking and want to learn some of the tricks from a professional, or just want to explore their own creative side," says Jacqueline.
"Get your kids involved, they really want to be included and enjoy the process as well as the end result. Homemade treats in moderation are so much better as you know what is in them compared to processed confectionery."
Jacqueline Lanigan Ryan,