Lily Vanilli is a self-taught British baker who first started out her business in 2008. Her cake designs are fun, elegant and instantly recognisable. As well as running her shop on Columbia Road, Lily and her team make wedding and birthday cakes to order and have worked on many collaborations with clients such as LuLu Guinness, Alexander McQueen, The Sunday Times, The V&A and most recently, she collaborated with fashion brand Shrimps on a cake to celebrate her shop’s 10th birthday.
We visited Lily on a cold December morning to discuss her favourite projects of the past year as well as what’s on her agenda for 2021, her favourite festive bakes and how she will be spending her Christmas this year.
Can you tell us a little about what lead you to starting out your baking empire back in 2008?
I was coming back from working in Australia to a recession in the UK and couldn’t find work. I started baking cakes just to make an extra £50 here and there at the weekend in a pop-up market I started with friends. The market was always pretty dead, but a writer from The Sunday Times Style wrote a piece about cupcakes being a new trend and used me as an example. It just grew totally unexpectedly from there.
You’ve worked on some amazing projects this year – do you have a favourite for 2020?
I loved working with Baileys as ever, and Browns Fashion to celebrate their 50 years. There have been so many exciting collaborations (and currently planning for many more in 2021) but my favourite cake has to be the one we made for my shop’s 10th birthday in collaboration with Shrimps. It was my dream cake and so much fun to make.
Your second café in Tbilisi, Georgia opened in 2018 – why did you choose this location for your second shop?
I just love Tbilisi. The city and the people, the food and the nightlife. I met someone with a shared vision for a modern, creative bakery in the city and it grew from there.
What do you love to bake at this time of year?
I love my winter carrot cake. I make it with lots of booze, spice and citrus and boil it like a fruit cake. There’s a lot of stirring required and the smell fills the bakery (or my flat) and it always reminds me of this time of year. It’s in my book, Sweet Tooth, and there’s a summer version of the recipe too.
Are you reading anything at the moment?
I’m reading Stefan Zweig’s book on Nietzsche. It’s a really considerate biography which focuses on the man rather than the work and Nietzsche’s tragic story and isolated world. Zweig is a really evocative writer (credited By Wes Anderson as inspiration for The Grand Budapest Hotel); he really brings people and situations to life. I studied philosophy and have always loved Nietzsche, and this has been gripping from the first page.
As 2020 draws to a close, do you have any exciting collaborations planned for 2021 that you’re able to share with us?
Everything is top secret for now but there is something very exciting in line for spring. Beyond that, I’m renovating the bakery and looking forward to reopening the Lily Vanilli School, teaching classes in pastry, cake and decorating.