BBC GOOD FOOD MAGAZINE ARTICLE MAY 2004
Words Natasha Goodfellow. Photographs Simon Wheeler
Saffron Denton left a nine-to-five job to have a baby, then set up her own cake-making business as well.
Two years ago, Saffron Denton, who's now 33, turned her long-held dreams of a dessert making business into reality. Based in Bedford, she works from the home (now has a shop in Stanley Street) she shares with her partner, Lee, and son, Sebastian.
WHAT MADE YOU GO IT ALONE?
"I'd been working with food at Unilever for 14 years, in different departments including product development. I enjoyed it, but felt like a change. I'd always had this idea of a cake business in my mind as I'm often disappointed with the quality of cakes and desserts on offer and was sure I could do better. So, when I fell pregnant and the option of voluntary redundancy was mentioned, I decided to accept a settlement."
HOW DID YOU START?
"My boyfriend, Lee Hall, is a kitchen designer and fitter. A new café was opening next door to his dad's kitchen shop and Lee's dad mentioned that I made cakes. They seemed interested, so I took some samples in and they asked me to start supplying them. That gave me the confidence to go on a desktop publishing course. I began printing leaflets showing my range of cakes and sent them to places I wanted to supply, but the response was disappointing. I think some people are wary of buying 'homemade' food, because they don't know what sort of environment it's been made in. It was much better when I went to see people face to face with samples, and they could see what sort of person I was, and that I'm organised and businesslike. I now supply a restaurant, a café, a delicatessen, a tourist attraction and a garden centre coffee shop as well as a growing number of private customers."
WHAT SORT OF CAKES DO YOU MAKE?
"I have roughly 40 cakes and desserts on my menu including chocolate brownies; strawberry, marsala and fresh cream gateau; sticky, fruity date cake; birthday cakes, and key lime pie, which has been enormously popular. I'm always developing new ideas, especially for my seasonal selections, but basically, I'll make anything anyone asks for. I've had requests for all sorts of children's cakes, a volcano cake and even one in the shape of a Eurostar train. On average I make about 30 cakes a week - although I have been known to bake 15 in a single day! I bake on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday and deliver and shop on the other days."
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?
"Some are my own, some are adaptations of other people's recipes and others are from cookbooks. I read cookbooks like other people read novels."
WHAT WERE YOUR SET-UP COSTS?
"I've always liked cooking so I already had a Smeg cooker with double oven, and most of the electrical gadgets too: my Magimix processor, KitchenAid mixer, Bosch hand mixer and a Braun multiwhisk none of which I could live without. I've spent around £3,000 in all - on a new fridge, to keep my cakes separate from the family's food; another freezer and extra cupboards for my ingredients and equipment. That said, my cake tins are slowly taking over the house - they're everywhere! I've more than 60 in all. Some cost nearly £30 each, but they're worth it. I like the Silverwood tins, which are anodised, and the Kaiser ones, which are enamelled; both are really hard wearing."
HOW DO YOU DECIDE ON CHARGES?
"I've set up a system on my computer where I have all the ingredients and their prices. When I'm costing a cake, I type in the quantities of each ingredient, and it works out the total cost. Then I decide how much to charge, based on how long it will take me. A sponge cake starts at £12.50 and fancy birthday cakes are around £30. I have to work fast to make it worth my while."
ARE YOU MAKING MONEY?
"Yes - but so far it's all gone back into the business. This is not a way of making fast cash. The difficulty is convincing people that, though more expensive, my cakes are better than those they can buy in the shops. I only use top quality ingredients: butter (never margarine), real vanilla extract and good quality dark chocolate. Also, I never freeze anything, so if someone orders a cake on Wednesday, I'll bake it on Thursday and deliver on Friday, so it is absolutely fresh."
IS THERE A DOWNSIDE?
"Getting the timing right can be nerveracking. Fruit cakes can be made well in advance, but a sponge cake has to be eaten within two days so there's no margin for error. With the Eurostar cake, I doubted whether I would be able to make it look right, but I managed it, and after that, I thought, 'I'll try anything.' "
WHAT ARE THE BEST THINGS ABOUT YOUR NEW WAY OF LIFE?
"I feel so free working for myself - I don't have to answer to anyone and I can work around my little boy which is great. And, of course, it's nice getting calls from satisfied customers and knowing there are people out there in restaurants eating my cakes."
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY?
"No, I'm really pleased with the way it's gone. I think that has a lot to do with the way I am and what I've put into it. My head is constantly filled with cakes - Lee comes home and says, 'Please can we not talk about cakes tonight?' I'm always looking at cakes, thinking about them - I even dream about them. I think for something like this to work, it has to be your passion."