The queen of cakes
Many people go to New York for the shops, but Charlotte Pearson meets one woman who learnt all about buttercream instead.
Before it became gentrified, Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen was a run-down neighbourhood best known for its history of gangs and mobs rather than its cupcakes.
But it was here, when Katja Seaton was visiting her brother in New York, that she not only came across the Cupcake Café but was inspired to start-up her own business.
“It was just magical,” she says of the café, which was established in 1988. “I loved it there, and thought ‘wow’, I just couldn’t believe the things you could do with buttercream.”
Inspired by what she tasted she stayed to learn more.
Three years later, after finishing her apprenticeship under the watchful eye of café owner Ann Warren and armed with the necessary knowledge and skills, Katja moved back to the UK.
She ended up living in Stockport for 16 years, but this changed when Katja and her husband Howard delivered a wedding order to the beautiful Wadhurst Castle in East Sussex and decided to visit Hastings.
“My husband and I had never been before so we came down,” reveals Katja. “We bought some fish and chips and sat on the beach and my husband just said ‘I can imagine living here’ – we moved down in March.”
Katja’s creations are a work of art – perhaps a nod to the visual arts degree she obtained from Camberwell College of Arts before she went to New York.
Using buttercream she creates beautiful and delicate flowers, made even more impressive when you learn that this type of buttercream is ‘more difficult’ than other types as it uses more than just icing sugar and butter.
“It is more like ice cream in texture and tastes like a creme du beurre,” Katja says. “It is really temperamental to work with and does its own thing a lot of the time.”
Her trademark is vanilla buttercream, although she does mix up the flavours depending on the cake.
Therefore for chocolate she will do a ganache while for carrot cake you can expect a cream cheese frosting.
Katja reveals she enjoys making celebration cakes, but says she has noticed some differences between what customers want down here compared to back up in Stockport.
“People here are still loving the cupcake tiers, with the top cake as a centrepiece in the south,” she reveals.
“Vanilla is always a popular flavour as it is a safe bet, but the most popular down here is coffee and walnut. Up north I was making a lot of lemon drizzle.”
So what is the most difficult cake she has ever made?
“A Battenburg,” she replies. “You have to make sure the squares are just so and then you are working with marzipan and the buttercream flowers.
“To be honest sometimes I create my own problems trying to do an idea I have had, but I always get there in the end.”
When she initially started Katja admits at first she didn’t make her own cakes as she didn’t feel confident enough.
“But then I did an apprenticeship with chef Duncan Poyser who just threw me into the kitchen and let me get on with it,” she explains.
“He kept an eye on me to make sure I wasn’t doing massive mistakes but I learnt a lot from that time.”
And she adds: “My carrot cake has won a Gold Star at the Great Taste Awards – it was just about confidence for me.”
With New York leading her down this path, what does she think she would be doing if she had never gone on that trip or visited the café in Hell’s Kitchen?
“My friend had a piece from my graduation show – a screen,” recalls Katja.
“She was on a programme where people go round your house called ‘Antiques of the Future’ and the expert told me to give up cupcakes and make furniture.” Thankfully for us Katja has decided to stick to creating delicious and beautiful cakes, bringing joy to all those who try them.
October 10, 2016 Food and Drink