Lovecrumbs: Cake It Away
Looking up from a ridiculously tasty chocolate and cherry brownie, it's apparent that Hollie is very, very excited. “Look at that. Wow. Now that's brilliant.” 'That' is a genuine silver jubilee souvenir saucer that has just arrived in the post, adorned with an image of Queen Liz “baring her teeth like a beast.” It will sit next to the other odd crockery in Lovecrumbs' new cafe in Edinburgh's West Port, alongside the stools borrowed from friends and acquaintances, and the mugs donated by their quickly-cultivated regulars.
“I asked the guy who brought it in how he'd feel if he saw someone else drinking from it”, Hollie says, letting out a cackle before plotting increasingly elaborate ways to get the mug into as many hands as possible. Rachel looks over, and valiantly fails to dodge another bout of the giggles. If anyone ever tells you that food can't make you happy, then that person needs to be sent to meet these two for cake and coffee.
Hollie met Rachel, the baker of the operation, when the two were in high school, bonding over “watching Jackass and drinking Jack Daniels... normal teenage girl stuff.” When she returned from travelling she found that Rachel was baking, and after a brief sojourn into the world of 'fine food retail' (to be spoken as one conjoined word), the two teamed up to start their own bakery.
Lovecrumbs was always going to be a twist on your typical cake shop, before Edinburgh's planning regulations and ventilation-based hassles got in the way. The foibles of the city's planning department forced the duo down the light industrial route towards the end of last year, as they decided to set up a wholesale operation on an industrial estate in Leith. As foodie origin stories go, it isn't exactly standard fare, but it was born of the pair's desire to do what they wanted and get on with it.
Rachel explains: “We'd talked about it for a while, then one day we did just say 'let's open a wholesale bakery in an old industrial garage in Leith. There's no plumbing or kitchen, and we've just bought a £3000 oven that will have to be craned in from Glasgow.' That's kind of how it happened.”
The duo bought some equipment, got the plumbing sorted, and just got down to business. “We started pretty much immediately, driving around in the van with cakes, going into cafes and asking them if they wanted to buy them.” The duo look off into the middle distance, before, in unison, saying that the tactic went “reasonably well.”
With shops like Coco and cafes such as Freemans lining up for their stuff, the pair eventually found their new Tollcross home and whizzed into it with their apparently-ceaseless abandon. “A lot of people spend a lot of time umming and awwing over things,” Rachel says, “but we were in a position to be able to do it so we thought that we should just get on with it.” Hollie chips in: “It got to the stage where one of us would say 'Shall we do this? Because if we're going to, I'll go to the bank'. Then you would say something like 'Fine, I'll get an accountant'. We were trying to one-up each other.
“Next thing you know we're standing in a shop, taking up old 1990's laminate flooring and working out where to put the wardrobe.”
Yes, the wardrobe, where the likes of the Rosewater madeleines and salted chocolate tarts live. That's across from the table made from an old piano, which in turn faces onto the plaster donkey head sitting on the counter. There's also a window seat that looks a bit like a grown-up version of a pillow fort. If the idea is to draw you into the hosts' mindset, then it bloody well works.
The whole cafe business hasn't been too stressful, they say in unison before looking at one another and barely stifling more laughter. Nothing too difficult, but just lots and lots of little things. Rachel says: “There have been moments when we've wondered whether this is genuinely happening.
“When we were down in the garage, it was a bit strange. We'd make some cakes, deliver them, then go home. Money would appear in the bank, which we'd spend on ingredients, and it would go on. With the cafe, people are coming in and eating our cakes right in front of us”, Hollie says. “With every mouthful there's a faint worry that they're going to turn around and shout 'You're a fraud who's opened a cake business entirely on a whim!' It hasn't happened yet,” says Hollie. Rachel points out that they're only in their first few weeks, and the laughter starts again.
So the moral of the story, reader, is to be spontaneous and do things as and when they come to you. Right? Well, no. “The biggest thing is to have the skills to do what you're planning”, says Hollie. “That's so much more important than just enthusiasm. Rachel has all the baking skills, so if she falls and breaks her ankle I could... I dunno, show someone else the recipe book... I could get them the ingredients. I'm not a baker, I like designing shops, I like accounts.”
Rachel backs her up: “It's not enough to just enjoy making cakes – you have to like the factory side of things. It sounds all twee and lovely, but most of the time you're covered in butter. And it's pretty cold in a garage in the middle of winter.
“A lot of people come in and say they love baking and they want to work with us, and if the word 'love' is involved then it won't work out, because we'll pound the love out of them by shouting 'MORE, MORE, MORE' and telling them not to whisk so much. The process can be a little... disgusting, but the results are amazing.”
“Watching it is really interesting,” adds Hollie. “Watching it,” replies Rachel, with a hint of a scowl. “Well... I make the tea,” Hollie says. “Then I do the dishes. And I bring dinner.” The laughter returns to Lovecrumbs, and conversation turns to the second new plate of the day. It's a Charles and Diana side plate. Soon, Hollie notices that the People's Princess' head “is scarily wide.” The Lovecrumbs girls burst into hysterics, and plot how best to deploy the latest weapon in their delicious and hilarious onslaught that is difficult to resist without gobbing coffee all over yourself.