Meet the Artisan – patissiere Henrietta Inman

Clean Cakes by Henrietta Inman

Clean Cakes by Henrietta Inman - Credit: Archant

It’s the latest thing, ‘clean eating’, but as Suffolk patissiere Henrietta Inman tells Tessa Allingham her wholesome cakes are simply real food

Clean Cakes by Henrietta Inman

Clean Cakes by Henrietta Inman - Credit: Archant

On the back cover of Henrietta Inman’s new book, Clean Cakes, is an image to make chocolate-lovers wobble at the knees. A small pan trickles a glossy, dark mirror glaze over a deep layer cake. Green flecks hint at pistachio in the base, there’s a smooth layer of orange ice cream, one of chocolate, and more orange. On the top, the chocolate puddles before spreading slowly to cover the cake and slide silkily down its sides. A scattering of crystallised salted pine nuts tops it off.

I want to say that this magnificent cake looks intoxicating, but that somehow doesn’t seem the right word in the context of Henrietta’s pure, wholesome cooking.

“It’s packed full of goodness,” she says, “there are no refined ingredients or processed sugars and it’s gluten- and dairy-free too.” The ice cream is made with a creamy mix of coconut milk and macadamia nuts, the base is an indulgent combination of dried figs, walnuts, ground almonds and pistachio. The same goes for the pink-purple blueberry extravaganza on the book’s front cover and every single cake, fruit pie, savoury tart, bar and dessert in the pages between. Henrietta, 28, is in full-on publicity mode for Clean Cakes. We meet at the characterful Suffolk farmhouse in Great Glemham that she grew up in and where she now lives with her parents, running her pâtisserie business from a converted laundry room. There’s a busy desk, and a toppling pile of cake boxes waiting to be filled with orders.

“Launching a book is exciting but frightening too,” Henrietta says. She has a busy time ahead – a launch at the Aldeburgh Book Shop on March 5, a demo at Sarah Raven’s Healthy and Delicious May weekend at Perch Hill, countless press interviews, and an appearance on Gaby Roslin’s Radio London show. The book has been a good year in the making, but as luck would have it, launches at a time when the notion of ‘clean’ or unprocessed food is enjoying the sort of momentum that only social media can bestow.

Clean Cakes by Henrietta Inman

Clean Cakes by Henrietta Inman - Credit: Archant

“Yes, there’s a fantastic buzz about healthy living and ‘clean’ eating, but I prefer to call my sort of baking ‘my new pâtisserie’ or just real food. I’m not a purist. My book is as much about the joy of baking from scratch and using pure, natural, locally-sourced ingredients to make delicious, beautiful cakes as it is about being gluten-free. The most important thing is that my cakes have great flavour and texture and look beautiful – it’s a bonus that they’re pretty good for you and free from gluten and dairy.

“I’ve always been interested in healthy eating, so when customers started saying “oh, I shouldn’t” when I offered them a piece of cake, I started to think there was a gap for a treat that you can eat without having that feeling, but that still looks and tastes fantastic.”

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Henrietta uses a combination of flours to compensate for the absence of gluten, maybe wholegrain brown rice flour and Ethiopian teff, or buckwheat and chestnut flour. Arrowroot helps with the texture and to bind ingredients.

“Yes, you do need to have some different ingredients in your cupboard, but they’re all available from health food shops and supermarkets and I explain where to buy them in the book.” Coconut features in the form of oil, yogurt, flour, ‘nectar’ – not as strong-tasting as honey and suitable for vegans – crystallised sugar, or in its raw slivered or grated state as decoration. In her kitchen she has me taste the caramel notes of coconut sugar and the rich toffee flavour of Palmyra nectar powder (jaggery) and a local honey.

“Refined ingredients can be very bland,” she says. “These all have a particular flavour to contribute, and, like many other ingredients I use, these sweeteners are organic, sustainably produced and ethically traded.” It goes without saying that Henrietta sources locally when possible – produce from her mother’s kitchen garden, rapeseed oil from Hillfarm Oils and bitter dark chocolate from Pump Street Bakery. A favourite recipe? She turns straight to her magnificent multi-layered courgette, basil, lime and pistachio cake with avocado lime cream and raspberry jam.

“I love it. It looks fantastic, tastes really fresh and is packed with healthy ingredients – avocado is a fantastic alternative to cream!” Complicated?

“Some of my recipes take a bit of time, but there are some simple, quick-mix and one-bowl recipes too. I hope people get pleasure in taking time over a bake, making it with care. I suppose there’s a bit of mindfulness in what I’m doing. And yes, you have to be willing to experiment a bit, but what’s wrong with that? Experimenting brings joy to cooking!”

Henrietta is clearly ambitious. A degree from Edinburgh University in French and Italian under her belt, she enrolled on the Professional Pâtisserie Scholarship at Westminster Kingsway College, a course which included a two-year apprenticeship in the pastry kitchen at the Lanesborough hotel. Once qualified (with distinction), she worked as a pastry chef in various London restaurants, including the Lanesborough’s Michelin-starred Apsleys, before heading back to Suffolk in September 2013. She needed headspace, she says, was tired of the relentless pressure of London kitchens, and anyway had her own business plan to develop. It was in the calm of her Suffolk home that she started to bake for private clients, creating anything from bespoke wedding cakes to individual tarts, prettily-tied bags of marshmallows and desserts for big parties. She sold macaroons to Café 1885 at Snape Maltings, had stalls at farmers’ markets, pop-ups and food festivals – Aldeburgh and the Alde Valley Spring Festival. More recently she has become part of Suffolk’s thriving Young Producers group. But she wants to go further.

“Maybe I shouldn’t say this in Suffolk Magazine, but I’d like to take my business to London because I think that’s where the demand is.” Quick. Sign up to keep Henrietta in Suffolk! You see, another of her ambitions is to open a little café selling healthy, nourishing, delicious cakes and I bet it would do rather well in these parts.

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