Pipe dreams

She's the cupcake star; Elton, Stella and the Beckhams are fans; but Peggy Porschen's still hungry for more success, finds Clare Longrigg
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It's hard to feel grown up when you walk into Peggy Porschen's cake studio: her kitchen envelopes you in the comforting smells of childhood, warm clouds of vanilla and sponge cake. She works in a converted school in London's Battersea, and in the run-up to Christmas, she tells me, people would wander in from the courtyard, following the aroma of gingerbread like sweet-toothed Bisto kids. The cakes on display are the stuff of little girls' fantasies: sugar daisies and pansies in marzipan flower pots and layers of cupcakes with old-fashioned sugar roses.

It's hard to feel grown up when you walk into Peggy Porschen's cake studio: her kitchen envelopes you in the comforting smells of childhood, warm clouds of vanilla and sponge cake. She works in a converted school in London's Battersea, and in the run-up to Christmas, she tells me, people would wander in from the courtyard, following the aroma of gingerbread like sweet-toothed Bisto kids. The cakes on display are the stuff of little girls' fantasies: sugar daisies and pansies in marzipan flower pots and layers of cupcakes with old-fashioned sugar roses.

Porschen is 28, petite and pretty, with blue eyes, as you'd expect from the creator of these fairytale treats. She is also probably London's most sought-after maker of spectacular cakes for celebrity events and weddings. "I'm really girly," she admits. "I love polka dots and flowers and butterflies. As a child I always wanted really pink and girly wallpaper in my bedroom, but my parents wouldn't let me have it."

Growing up near Cologne, Germany, she loved to cook, but she always felt that there was more to cakes than lashings of cream and chocolate. As a teenager, she made cakes for special occasions, but her father was reluctant to indulge her cake-decorating fantasies - he had something more serious in mind, like hotel management, or banking.

She chose a career plan that would cut out all of the boring bits and go straight to the fancy stuff: in Germany, aspiring chefs have to do a three-year apprenticeship, then a masters; Porschen discovered that in London she could undertake culinary training that would involve a little bit of baking, and a whole lot of icing.

"My father is very business-minded," she says. "He always thought I could have gone to university to study something decent. I had to convince him. He said, 'OK, you go to London, but I expect you to be one of the best.'" After a Cordon Bleu course, she worked as a pastry chef at the Lanesborough hotel, then she got a job as a cake decorator at celebrated bakers Konditor & Cook.

"I always bought the wedding magazines, because they featured great cake makers," she says. "The newsagent must have thought 'My God, she must be desperate to get married. She buys all these magazines and she still hasn't got the ring on her finger...'" It was a wedding cake pictured in one of these magazines in 2003 that convinced her she had found her calling. The cake was made for Lucy Gemmell, who is director of Rhubarb Food Design, a company that caters for film premieres and celebrity weddings. "The cake was beautiful," says Porschen. "It was decorated with fresh flowers, and it was so amazing. I just thought, I have to work for this company. So I did."

Not long after, Rhubarb was hired to cater for Elton John's White Tie and Tiara charity ball. Gemmell showed Porschen one of the invitations, featuring a Fabergé egg, and asked her, "Can we do a dessert like this?" For days, Porschen experimented, painting chocolate eggs, creating little sugar blossoms and gold stands. Finally, she had eight people making 14,000 miniature blossoms to decorate 550 eggs, in pink and blue. The result was a stunning, edible Fabergé egg that was presented to each guest on a stand, and every egg was topped with a gold crown: you took the lid off and inside was the pudding. David and Victoria Beckham had six of the eggs wrapped to take home for their children. Pictures of the event in OK! magazine launched Peggy Porschen as the hottest icer in town. Stella McCartney came to her for her wedding cake.

The wedding was held on the Isle of Bute, so Porschen and her co-director and romantic partner, Bryn Morrow, 30, drove the cake all the way to Scotland. "I had to finish it there," she recalls. "There were a couple of hundred flowers on it. The colour shade wasn't quite right so I had to start painting again when I got there."

Porschen's brand of girliness is much in demand. Ever since Nigella Lawson paid homage to the cupcake, baking teatime treats has become part of the domestic goddess's repertoire. There is currently a vogue for stylishly decorated biscuits and cupcakes, and Porschen recently made 1,000 cookies iced with little handbags for the fashion show of accessories-designer Anya Hindmarch.

She has now produced a book, Pretty Party Cakes, which shows how to bake and decorate her elaborate, colourful creations. It is fabulous that, in the age of Atkins, someone is writing recipes that require 3.5kg white-sugar paste, 500g royal icing, 2kg marzipan, or 120 marzipan roses. (Atkins Nutritionals UK are going into administration, which may be a result of the cupcake's comeback.) The designs range from outrageous cupcakes dusted with edible gold and pink lustre, to perfectly formed mini tea rose (thought to be the world's most perfect type of rose) wedding cakes.

Peggy Porschen's art is witty, unashamedly romantic, retro and frivolous. Her inspiration comes from the colourful patterns of Cath Kidston clothes and accessories, the floral Oilily outfits she wore as a girl, and Martha Stewart, whose artful creations have transformed the aspirations of American housewives. "She is my idol," says Porschen. "Hopefully one day I'll be the English Martha Stewart."

Most of her customers come to her for wedding cakes, which take a week to make (but must be ordered at least three months in advance), and cost between £650 and £1,200. She has found a natural home for her extravagant talent at Fortnum & Mason, which has thought nothing of charging £7 for one beautifully decorated Christmas cookie. Porschen wants to sell specialist equipment from her website (such as the little pots of pink blusher and glitter that she uses to add lustre to petals, daisy cutters and cake smoothers), but her dream is to open a beautiful shop one day, "with lots of colourful cakes in the window. My little cakes are like jewels, painted with gold. I'd be selling edible gems."

While we are talking, a man knocks on the door, asking for directions to a travel agent. When he sees the cakes he is entranced, and half an hour later he leaves, having ordered several boxes of Buddha-shaped cookies for a gala event.

Porschen goes through her work list for the coming day: decorate gingerbread for this year's Fortnum's Christmas sample. Decorate chocolate and mocha fancies with golf and bridge images for an 80th birthday cake. Decorate kaleidoscope cupcakes for a 30th birthday party. She'll be colouring and icing for the rest of the week.

"Finally," she says, "I can be as girly as I've always wanted to be."

'Pretty Party Cakes' is published by Quadrille, priced £18.99. To order a copy for £16.99 (including p&p) call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897. For more information on Peggy and her cakes, visit www.peggyporschen.com

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