Five minutes with...

The Scottish female-run bakery making every treat count

Jeni Iannetta is on a mission: to make sure you never eat a cake, bake or biscuit and feel disappointed ever again, says Hannah Twiggs

Thursday 30 September 2021 13:27
<p>Bad Girl Bakery is run by Jeni and her husband Douglas on an island in the Scottish Highlands </p>

Bad Girl Bakery is run by Jeni and her husband Douglas on an island in the Scottish Highlands

It might seem funny to name a bakery after that moment when you’re chastised for reaching for one too many treats, but that’s the whole point behind Bad Girl Bakery, its founder Jeni Iannetta tells me. The name is intended to “gently poke fun” and “acknowledge that cake is an occasional treat”.

With a chapter named “Cake for Breakfast”, her debut cookbook might beg to differ. Now I’m poking fun, but with recipes such as raspberry doughnut brioche buns and chocolate caramel fudge layer cake, I can see a future addiction beginning to form.

The bakery and cafe of the same name, run by Jeni and her husband Douglas on the Black Isle village of Muir of Ord in the Scottish Highlands, has a won a loyal following for its unapologetically generous and indulgent cakes, bakes and biscuits since it opened in 2017. It’s also won a number of awards, and now supplies the Caledonian Sleeper, National Trust for Scotland and cafes across the region.

Jeni’s baking career didn’t start with formal training, though – she’s a home baker turned professional. The book, out 2 November and available to preorder here, echoes that spirit: by home cooks, for home cooks. These aren’t recipes with hundreds of steps that require specialist kit – they are doable, fast, with simple instructions and tricks that yield the tastiest results and look great without hours and hours of work.

“This is a book for people who love cake and love to bake,” says Jeni. “People don’t tend to treat themselves as often as they used to, so when they do, it has to count.”

That’s an ethos that’s easy to get behind. I sat down with Jeni to talk about the book, everything from the best baking hacks to the biggest misconceptions, and why it’s just as important to plan for success as it is for failure.

Jeni had no formal training when she started – she just loved cakes

How did you get into baking?

It all started by accident really. My background is in arts marketing (working for the BBC, Scottish Opera and theatre companies) and I never considered a career in food when I was younger. I always enjoyed baking at home and it became something I dreamed about as an escape from a stressful career, but not a serious option until, on a whim, I replied to an advert for someone looking for a baker for a cafe in St Andrews and got the job. It all started from there.

What did you want to achieve with the book?

I never imagined I’d write a book. When Kitchen Press got in touch and suggested it we were blown away. She’s worked with so many of my food heroes (Gillian Veal at The Parlour, Mountain Cafe, The Seafood Shack in Ullapool). As a self-taught baker, it felt like pretty daunting company to be in.

Writing the book was such a positive experience (that saved my sanity during lockdown, I’m pretty sure) but the truth is, for a long time I couldn’t bring myself to think about people actually reading it! These recipes were written by home bakers for home bakers. What I’d love most of all is for people to enjoy using it, to see that it doesn’t have to be complicated or stressful. We still, even after all this time, get such a sense of achievement and pride with every bake and the idea that other people might feel that baking our recipes is incredibly exciting.

Where does the name ‘Bad Girl Bakery’ come from?

I think everyone knows someone who frowns upon treats. The person who is disapproving about indulgence, who says “oh you bad girl” when you reach for a treat. The name is about absolutely acknowledging that cake is an occasional treat and gently poking fun at that disapproval.

What’s your favourite baking hack?

I have a couple really. If you’re using zest in your recipe, add it at the stage where you are creaming butter and sugar as it helps to release the oils to bring out the flavour. Toast your cakes! If you have a sponge that is a few days old, toast it in a frying pan and serve it with cream, yoghurt or berries for a delicious pudding.

What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about baking?

I guess for me it’s the notion that the more complicated a recipe is, the better it is.

The book is out 2 November

Everything I know I learned from cookbooks, baking shows and blogs and by trial and error and if I’m honest I’m not particularly patient or interested in the science of baking. I love bakes that pack lots of flavour with minimal effort.

If you could go back to before this all began, what would you tell yourself then?

There’s so much I wish I’d known ha ha! I think the biggest thing is we didn’t give a single thought to success to enjoy it. When we opened the shop, as excited and committed as we were, we worried so much about people not coming, about not being busy and about failing that we were completely blindsided by how busy we were. We didn’t have enough staff, or space or time. I think I’d say caution is fine but it’s OK to plan for success too. That and you can never have too many aprons!

How did Covid adapt the business?

The last year and a half have been incredibly tough, but it gave us a much needed chance to stop and take a minute to think about the business, what was working, what wasn’t and think about what we needed to do to get through. That enforced break gave us space and time to develop out savoury options, to introduce a deli option of things made by and used by us, including make-at-home cake kits, scone and pancake mixes as well as rubs and spice mixes, and our granola, chutneys and jams.

We also introduced a retail section where we sell baking related things we love and use, from cake stands to dough scrapers and our Bad Girl branded aprons and bags. By far the most important thing to come out of lockdown was a reminder of how important work life balance is and remembering what gives you joy. I spend far more hands-on time in the bakery and less on paperwork than I did before lockdown and I’m happier and more fulfilled than ever.

What has been one of your favourite cakes to make?

That’s such a difficult question. My favourite is always the latest recipe we have come up with. We spend a lot of time on research, recipe development and seasonal menus. Right now, we’ve just introduced our autumn menu, which is my absolute favourite season to bake for. Everything gets darker, spicier, stickier and a little more indulgent and comforting and it’s a lovely contrast to the lighter, fruitier summer recipes. So today, my absolute favourite is a sticky spiced ginger cake with a ginger spiced brown sugar glaze. If you ask me again tomorrow, I’m pretty sure it will be something different.

One of my favourite moments in baking has been the same throughout my career. It’s nothing fancy but there’s a moment when making brownies when the chocolatey mixture looks a bit grainy and split and then it miraculously changes into this beautiful, smooth, chocolatey mixture. It’s just so satisfying and it never fails to make me smile.

What’s a good starting point in the new book?

Each of the chapters has a mix of simple, quick bakes and others that are a little more detailed, but none are particularly complicated. “Cakes for Breakfast” or “Every Day Bakes” both have quick, simple bakes that are great if you’re a new baker or in a hurry.

You’re stranded on a desert island (that has a fully equipped kitchen) – what cookbook are you taking with you?

Oh, that’s tough! I absolutely love cookbooks and tend to become obsessed with a new cookbook, reading it from cover to cover and making lots from it till I move onto the next one. My mother-in-law just gave me a book she’s had since the ’70’s called Lady Maclean’s Diplomatic Dishes, which is absolutely fascinating but probably no use on a desert island! The last book I bought was Dishoom, so I’d probably go with that. I’m a huge fan of their food but I know very little about Indian cooking so it would probably keep me occupied for a very long time.

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