My Life In Food: Lily Vanilli, baker

'I've got a bit of a savoury tooth – I snack on anything from crisps to calamari'

After periods spent working as a graphic designer and in photography production, Lily turned her sharp eye to her first love: baking. Returning from Australia in the early days of the recession, cakes became her way to make ends meet. She is now one of the premier cake designers in London with a bakery on Columbia Road and a second book, Sweet Tooth, out now.

What are your most and least used pieces of kitchen kit?

My most used would be my plastic scraper – it's like a baking app for your hand. I use it for everything: portioning, scooping, cleaning up, you name it. My least used is my mandolin, especially since I managed to use it to slice off the end of my finger. It's now sitting in the naughty corner.

If you had only £10 to spend on food, where would you spend it and on what?

I'd probably go down to Maltby Street and get a coffee from Coleman Coffee and a St John's doughnut.

What do you eat for comfort?

I've got a bit of a savoury tooth so I'd get myself hot salty snacks, which offset all the sweet stuff that I eat. Anything from crisps to calamari.

If you could only eat bread or potatoes for the rest of your life, which would you choose?

Bread. You'd definitely get bored with potatoes more quickly – and bread isn't without nutrition. I love potatoes (chips would be top of my list of desert island food), but I would get bored with them far sooner. Plus you can have loads of different kinds of breads.

What's your desert island recipe?

Absinthe hot chocolate. It's like a thin ganache you can drink, made of double cream, dark chocolate, sea salt and absinthe. You just heat the cream, pour in chocolate and salt, leave to melt and then add the absinthe over a low heat.

What's your favourite restaurant?

I really love St John in London. It's a fabulous restaurant. If I have a friend visiting from out of town I would take them there, as there's a great atmosphere and they are that rare thing: consistent. They were one of the first to really celebrate British cooking and I feel quite strongly about that, too.

What's your favourite cookbook?

Probably The Tartine Bakery Cookbook. I only discovered it a few months ago as I was finishing my own book. I think it's the first bakery book I've seen that I really use recipes from and learn something along the way. The tone of it is really nice.

Who taught you to cook?

The simple baking stuff was from my grandmother when I was a kid. But when I was in Australia with a friend, who is now a very successful chef in New York (Carlo Mirarchi), we were in a really bad accident together in which he was injured. While he was getting better he wasn't allowed alcohol or sunlight, so to pass the days he would give me lists of ingredients and I'd go out and get them on my bike. He'd lie on the sofa in his bandages and shout directions and I'd put together these crazy meals that had no place by the beach or at that time of year. That was the first time I was really inspired to experiment with cooking – and it just went from there.

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