In the past three months, Claire Ptak has gone from running a successful — if comparatively hidden — gem of a bakery on a quiet residential street in Hackney, east London, to the internationally known mastermind of the cake served at the royal wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, in Windsor last Saturday. One of the reasons Ptak’s bakery Violet was chosen was because Markle had interviewed her over email from New York, in the days when she ran a lifestyle blog called The Tig.
In the lead up to the event Ptak had been sworn to secrecy; no interviews were allowed, very few details were leaked. Only last Friday, on the day before the wedding, did the royal household reveal the ingredients list and an insight into how the cake may take shape. Today, in one of her first interviews since the big day — following the production of a cake that has changed her life — Ptak told Eater the story of how she was contacted, her first meeting with Markle, and how long it took to bake. (She would not, though, say if she received a fee for the cake.)
When were you first contacted and who got in touch?
“I got an email in January from the wedding planner, or “project manager,” as she was official known, who worked one-on-one with Meghan. It was very nice to get that email in January when it’s so shitty outside. They asked if I would be willing to meet with Ms Markle to talk about the possibility of making the wedding cake.”
What happened next?
“With everyone who orders a wedding cake with us, we do a meeting to discuss options and do a tasting. We offer a service where we can provide samples and miniature versions of anything we have on our menu.”
So, a meeting with Markle was arranged at Kensington Palace.
How did that meeting go?
“It was great. It was so exciting! [She had no entourage.] I created an entirely new and original selection — and took six sample flavours to the meeting. Markle and Prince Harry had no specific requests so it actually made it really really hard! I had no idea what they were looking for. They told me to think outside of the box, but I included one (traditional) fruitcake option.”
When did you know you were definitely getting the gig?
“Pretty much right away. We just needed to decide on exactly what the flavour was going to be and what it would look like, but we knew we were going to be doing it soon after that meeting.”
About that flavour.
“Meghan wanted to discuss it with Prince Harry after our meeting. So they did that and chose the Amalfi lemon and elderflower option. They went with my first choice, not that they knew that! I never thought they would go with that one.”
Thus came to being the “bright flavors of spring.”
What it did feel like to be asked?
“I really love making cakes. And I’ve created a business around my favourite past time. So to be involved in such a prestigious wedding, it was dreamy. Of course there were nerves, but we were excited and thought, ‘let’s smash this!’”
On Meghan Markle.
“She’s so stylish, so modern. She’s a role model to a lot of people. It was so exciting to work wth someone who has impeccable taste. And it ended up being a collaboration. She really knows what she wants. And I always knew we were going to do something together that was different, cool, modern and unique. We’re both from California and we both moved to England, so we have common ground.”
How long did it take to bake, and what happened on the day?
“It took five days in total and there were six of us involved. We left Violet at 5 in the morning and got to Windsor Castle around 6am. We were working on it while the ceremony was taking place and the fresh flowers were added right at the last moment. We finished about an hour before the guests arrived and we slipped out the back.”
Was there a second cake that the 650 guests actually ate?
The cake seen in the photos was so intricately assembled and displayed, that a second cake was made and served to the guests canapé-style, on napkins. Ptak insists nothing from either cake was wasted.
Did you get any feedback from the newly-weds or anyone else?
“Mark Flanangan (the personal chef of The Queen and head chef of the Royal Household) who had been so welcoming and accommodating, having invited us into the kitchen at Buckingham Palace, contacted me to say that people had said it was delicious. He’s such a lovely man who was so supportive to us.”
How has business been since?
“It’s been busy! But maybe it will taper off a little after the hype dies down.”
Ptak’s Violet Instagram account has gone from 60,000 (before the news was first announced) to 207,000 today. In the past week alone, the follower count has increased by 100,000. One follower has even created a miniature doll’s house version of the bakery.
“We’re excited to have a bigger audience and it means we can keep buying the ingredients we like to buy, which are not cheap and to continue to create a nice working environment at Violet.”
Who else famous has she baked a cake for?
“It’s funny, lots of people have been like ‘this is the first time you’ve done something so big,’ and I smile, because it’s just that people don’t necessarily know. We’ve done stuff before but we just don’t shout about it. We’ve always had that sort of ‘hidden gem’ reputation.
[She wouldn’t say who she has baked cakes for in the past]. But...
“Nigella [Lawson] has been a longtime customer. And always been supportive. When I got that seal of approval, it was like, ‘yes!’ Jamie [Oliver], too, is a big supporter and has publicly ‘endorsed’ us.”
How long have you been baking wedding cakes?
“I baked my first cake for a family friend’s wedding when I was about 17. The family friend was a bit older! She’d ripped a picture from a magazine so I just copied it. I taught myself initially and started to make all my friend’s wedding cakes before taking a job at a cake shop in San Fransisco. Cake Art, I think it was called. There I learnt the architecture of cake-making — how to make it not fall over. Then, as pastry chef at Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, I learnt about flavour. I always wanted them to look amazing but also taste great.”
“We’re having a big staff party this summer! And then I’m working on a new book, which doesn’t yet have a name and I’ve not chosen the publisher, but it should be out towards the end of next year.”