Lili Vanilli x Beer52

Sweet as it oughta be


Lily ‘Vanilli’ Jones has long been at the vanguard of the UK’s baking resurgence, leading its transformation from a quaint pastime time to hip craft movement. From her bakery in East London, just off Columbia Road, she presides over a seasonal menu of cakes, pastries and other baked treats, as well as designing bespoke creations for weddings and other events.

Her style is distinctive and highly creative, making use of elements such as fresh flowers rather than sugar flowers, but always with an emphasis on flavour.

“I try to be creative with my flavours as much as the visual elements,” she says. “There’s always a consideration of flavour, even in the things we use for decoration. We always try to use things that we’ve made in-house, whether that’s chocolate-work or syrups. The quality of the cake and the fillings is paramount; we use really high quality ingredients for everything, and try and carry that on to the decoration itself.”

Lily broke the mould when she started up ten years ago, and says she’s been lucky with the amount of creative trust her customers put in her. “We never make the same cake twice – it’s always something bespoke and unique. I think we definitely have a modern approach and people expect something surprising in some way,” she says.

“Craft beer and what we do definitely feel like they’re part of the same broad movement… a rediscovery of traditional crafts in this country, with a long history. We’re more experimental, but still harnessing those traditional skills that have been somewhat lost in the last few generations. We’re definitely living through a period of revolution, but I think there’s always a long way to go, and that’s what’s exciting.”

Lily’s seen a lot of other new businesses approaching baking in a similar way, but modestly takes little credit, pointing out that it’s often hard to distinguish direct influence from the general zeitgeist. 

“Like craft beer, it’s the right thing at the right time and it’s not necessarily people emulating what you’re doing, even if it feels that way. And the way people share now is just so rapid and spreads way beyond your circle of experience. It’s hard to say exactly where the seed of ideas comes from.”

“I really like it when I see someone doing something new – I’m all for innovation. There’s just a few people who are always inspiring and always progressive, and I think we all benefit from them being around and sharing their creativity. It’s a great thing."

Creating the beer Chris J.J. Heaney

“We’ve seen a lot of gloopy pastry stouts this past year, but neither Lily nor I wanted this to be a cake in a glass. Instead, we’ve tried to take the complementary flavours of a Black Forest gateaux and bring those to something that’s still proudly a beer. So we’ve got lovely toasty malt and light acidity from the cherries balancing our rich fruit and residual sweetness, for a beer that’s luxurious without being cloying.”

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