Bring an appetite, read the mail from Lily Vanilli, a baker from London. I skipped lunch in riposte and met her for tea. Lily has crafted a line of artisan confectionery for Bloomsbury’s, a boutique café to open shortly at Lulu Mall. She is a food consultant and works together with Shafeena Yusufali of the group.
At the café, work is still on but in the kitchen the pastry trials for the day are over. Trays full of enticing tarts, pastries and cakes have just rolled out, artistically designed by Lily. Red and pink rose petals stick out from luscious ganache sprinkled with golden walnuts, cubes of tropical fruits—kiwi, dragon fruit, pineapple and melon—sit in a colourful mix over meringue and cream inspired from the famous, “Ëton Mess” dessert, swirls of daintily cut apple curl up to form a rose, arranged expertly on vanilla infused custard, coconut and pineapple dress the lemon curd ….these are just some of the signature offerings from Lily at Bloomsbury’s.
A cake sculpturist, Lily had earlier this year been invited by the V&A Museum in London to do a cake for the royal wedding. “It’s is more about craftsmanship,” says the charming 29- year-old who calls herself a “YouTube Baker”. A graphic designer, Lily let her passion take over, after trying her hand at different professions, and opened her eponymous bakery in London. Since then she has been known for her designer confectionaries, each bespoke and uniquely stunning in appearance and taste.
The two things that are special to her food line are the use of seasonal and local produce in bakery and of the parity between appearance and taste. She seems to pull all stops when it comes to taste, design and craft. “Here the idea is to take Kerala tradition and western pastry and make a celebration of flavours,” she says about her challenge at indigenising patisserie which is essentially a western cooking style. “The exciting part of coming here was the challenge of working with new seasonal flowers, fruits and spices,” says Lily who has delicately infused local flavours in her recipes. Her approach to introduction of local essences into the food is through infusion. So rose, jasmine or cinnamon is boiled with sugar to allow for gentle but concentrated seepage. It is rested till flavours settle and then used in pastry.
Lily talks like a poet about spices, finding their burst on the palate as magical rainbows and attempts to recreate the magic in her sweetmeats.
Her experiments with spices, local fruits and flowers began this summer when she came and met suppliers. She then worked on indigenising recipes and crafted a menu. Her kitchen, rightly termed a laboratory, became a hot house of flavours and essences. She formed a team of bakers from here and began training them.
“I was nervous initially especially over language barrier, but I quickly realised that they were a talented lot.” She began by re-teaching the basics, from folding in egg whites and went on to share with them the art of fine dining and high tea. Her apprehensions about the rawness of her team were soon rested when she found the “passion and pride” they have in their work. With a team of eight including two freshers, Lily’s laboratory began rolling out her style of confectionaries.
If the whole process was a challenge, it was also magical, she says, particularly about the fact that everything that makes the dessert look pretty makes it taste good too. “So it just does not remain an attraction.”
Among her innovative fusion creations are the paan chip cookie -where gooey paan bits are mixed with choc chips and come as lightly baked crumbly biscuit. Tea infusions with local fruit and flower flavourings have been used skilfully to introduce the local taste. She is also working with wark, the silver foil garnish common in North Indian sweets, adding more lustre to an already gilded signature line.
And as the sampling and tasting carry on at Bloomsbury’s, Lily looks forward eagerly to presenting her creations to a city whose foodscape is asking for more.