As you know, I absolutely adore heading to Skittle Alley Coffee & Pantry on a Saturday morning when the Skittle Alley Slow Food market is set up in the courtyard outside the cafe. There are so many fabulous stalls (we get our cheese, veggies, bread and flowers from here), but my very favourite has to be Nicola Williams’ Nelipot Lane Cake Stall.
Nicola is a phenomenal baker, as well as the sweetest person imaginable, so it’s always a real treat to stop by her stall and pick up some cakes to enjoy later. Week after week, I’ve been so impressed by her delicious bakes, and I was dying to find out more behind the story of Nelipot Lane, so I was thrilled when Nicola kindly agreed to an interview for Miranda’s Notebook. Aside from the sweet treats Nicola produces for her market stall, she also takes orders for personalized artisan cakes, which are truly the prettiest cakes I’ve ever seen. To me, it’s the level of artistry that Nicola brings to her baking, along with her incredible flavours, that truly sets her apart from a prestigious crowd of London bakers.
I got to perch at Nicola’s stall for a chat on Saturday, and it was so fun to get to talk to her properly. There was a decidedly Christmassy feel to the air as I sipped my hot chocolate and admired Nicola’s festive displays, and I was thrilled to be collecting a christmas cake and gingerbread house I’d ordered from her. I don’t know anyone who decorates cakes with as much creativity and finesse: I’d told Nicola that I’d like a Chalet in the Alps theme for a Christmas Cake (harking back to my time in Switzerland!) and a traditional Gingerbread house, and this is what she created:
Aren’t they stunning? We’ve cut into the cake already, and I can tell you it tastes just as good as it looks, which is quite a feat! I was so pleased with the gingerbread house too that I even did a little video of it for instagram – you can view it here. I felt it perfectly encapsulated my feeling of cosy Christmas cheer.
But on with the interview! I was fascinated by what Nicola told me of the story behind Nelipot Lane and how she expresses her artistic side through baking, and I hope you all enjoy the interview too. Nicola also very kindly agreed to share her recipe for her jars of salted caramel, which have been selling madly at her stall (and make the perfect homemade stocking filler or hostess gift), so keep reading for the recipe at the bottom!
MN: What first sparked your interest in baking?
NW: I remember one time when I was little I made a Christmas Cake with my Mother, and I iced it and made my own toppings for it. It was pretty terrible, to be honest, but that was the first time I baked, and it’s the one memory I remember distinctly from my childhood. I just had so much fun doing it!
MN: Is there a tradition of baking in your family, or are you the first?
NW: I’m the first! No one bakes in my family at all. It’s all my gifts though to my family and friends, and they seem to enjoy that!
MN: I love the creative flair you bring to your cakes! Have you trained in patisserie work, or are you largely self-taught?
NW: Thank you! Well, I’ve always been drawn to art and I’ve always loved doing it, so I did an art course, but then I started baking for my fiancee and his friends 3 years ago, and he said to me ‘why not do a course?’ And so I did – I did a course in patisserie and confectionary, and I just never stopped baking! [side note: cannot believe Nicola’s only been baking properly for 3 years!! Incredible!] In terms of decorating cakes, though, I’m really self-taught.
MN: What kind of art do you do?
NW: I’m a drawer – I love drawing. I go along the river a lot – I love nature, drawing trees and flowers. I’m obsessed with architecture as well, especially older buildings, like old railway stations. I love drawing things or places that are often overlooked. I make sculptures too, out of rice. Again, I like creating my own little worlds.
MN: Who are your favourite artists?
NW: Cornelia Parker, I like her work. And Matisse. Also Zarina Bhimji who does incredible photography and video installations. Jose Agatep does beautiful terrariums; I guess I love it because they are almost magical little worlds! I love the way art transports you to another world – I remember seeing the Turner exhibition at Tate Britain and standing in front of one of the paintings for probably 20 minutes. I was just in another world.
MN: Something that impresses me so much about your cakes is how gorgeous they look, but also the incredible taste you bring to them. Do have a favourite part to the baking process? Is it getting the flavour just right, or do you love decorating the most?
NW: I love the decorating side because the possibilities are so endless. You can create these little worlds, and the fact that they’re so fleeting excites me. You can create this special moment of pleasure for someone when they have a cake. But I really like to eat as well, so the flavour has to be there – it can’t just be a great looking cake.
MN: What’s the process like behind designing your cakes? What inspires you?
NW: I get as much info as possible from the person who wants the cake – I may ask them for pictures or more about the person getting the cake. A few days before I start to pull together some ideas and make some initial sketches. My inspiration is quite organic though – suddenly everything just comes together and I know exactly what I want to do.
MN: Tell me about Skittle Alley – what’s the story behind your stall here?
NW: That was so random. I had been searching for so long, as I’d been doing a market in Streatham, but it was so far from where I live. There was a new market that opened up at Brook Lane, and they already had a cake lady there, but they told me about Skittle Alley, which I never would have found on the internet, as it’s a new market and quite small. It was purely by chance I was recommended this place, and it was just perfect!
MN: What’s your favourite part about being part of a growing community like this?
NW: The people! Everyone has been so warm and so inviting.
MN: Where does the name ‘Nelipot Lane’ come from?
NW: I have a board in my kitchen, and I write different things on it each month, so there might be a word of a week, or limerick or drawing of the week. I get people who come over to put something on the board. Once, it was a word of the week, and I found the word ‘nelipot,’ which in the urban dictionary means ‘someone who walks bare foot.’ Anytime I can, I’ll kick off my shoes and walk barefoot in the grass or sand. So when I was trying to choose a name, a friend said – ‘why don’t you use ‘Nelipot’? That sums you up.’ And it really does! So I created Nelipot Lane.
MN: What are your plans for the future? I’m hopeful you’ll do a cookbook!
NW: I don’t think I’d do a cookbook – I think there are plenty of people who do that so well [I still think there is most definitely room for a cookbook by Nicola though – I’ll just have to keep hoping!!]. I definitely want to be making more cakes. I love doing the market, and I want to have more of a presence in markets, but I definitely want to be making more of my artisan cakes because I have so much fun with them. Next year I’d like to finally enter a competition too. That’s my goal for next year – to finally pluck up the courage to do something like that. [Wishing you all the best of luck Nicola. You’re most definitely already a winner in my book, anyway!]
MN: Finally, as I love interviewing creative, interesting women, I also always like to ask which women in your life have particularly inspired you?
NW: Obviously my Mum! She’s a toughie! Beyond anyone I know she’s constantly working, whenever she gets an opportunity – she just never stops. I admire all the women in my life – my friends and my family. My fiancee’s Mum too – she’s worked so hard and given us so much. All the women I know are such tough, hard workers, and they’ve all done it themselves, without a man in the picture, which I think is brilliant! [I completely agree!]
If you’d like to find out more about Nicola, do check out her website.
And, of course, you can always head along to Skittle Alley Market on a Saturday to say hello to Nicola and try some of her amazing cakes yourself (I strongly recommend the lavender brownies!).
As promised, here’s the recipe for salted caramel that Nicola very kindly provided too. I’ve already whipped out to buy muscavado sugar and cream and will be whipping up pots of the stuff as last-minute Christmas gifts for friends and colleagues!
- 200g unrefined caster sugar (muscavado for a deep rich sauce)
- 200g water
- 100g butter
- 100g cream
- Sea salt (optional, but very lovely!)
- In a clean dry pan measure out the sugar and water (clean the sides of the pan around the water line of any bits of sugar with some clean water and pastry brush).
- Heat the sugar and water on high until it starts to have an even bubble. At this point you will see it start to caramel; you want to make sure the mix gets to a lovely dark golden colour (if it starts to brown in one spot gently tilt the pan to mix it, but don't stir the mix once it's on the heat!).
- Once it's reached the desired colour (this will happen quite quickly once bubbling evenly, so make sure you keep your eye on it) start pouring in the cream, and at this point you can mix and add the butter until it's all melted and caramel goodness is formed.
- Now add salt to taste. I love Maldon salt but any good sea salt will work (not table salt!)
- Pour into a glass jar and once cooled keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. You can gently melt chunks to make sauce for ice-cream or a piece of cake, add the cold chunks to recipes such as cookies or brownies or add to milk and hot chocolate for an extra sweet treat.
- They make great stocking fillers so once you've made it, pour into some cute mini sterilised jars and add a little ribbon and tag!
- Merry Christmas!
Thanks so much again to Nicola for her fabulous interview and recipe!