My Morning With Maxine’s Cakes – Wedding Cakes, Luxury Show Stoppers, Macarons And Unicorns
Who wants a story about cake? If you rode the Overground from Willesden Junction a few Thursdays back, you may have seen a suspicious looking package on one seat. A simple cake box labelled ‘Den Bake Shop’.
Next to it sat an even more suspicious looking lady, leering longingly at the box. She was wrestling with the temptation to delay the luxury-banana-cake-face-stuffing until home. With semi success. On loop in my – I mean ‘her’ – mind, every cake cliché is playing: Marjorie Doors “oooh, we like a bit of cake though, dun’t we?” Marie-Antionette… you understand the scene (“GIVE ME CAKE!”) etc.
But there’s nothing cliché about this cake. It’s made by Maxine Monu. And what am I supposed to do? I’ve got to sample the product, right?
So, who is Maxine, and what does she bake? Maxine is a woman who cares about decent cake (and good quality food, full-stop). A woman who made a pledge. A New Year’s Resolution, if you will. Only unlike the resolutions you or I might keep until 15th January, Maxine took hers darn seriously. After winning an office bake-off with a heavenly honey cake, she promised to learn to become an excellent, creative baker.
It started with binge-watching youtube tutorials during early morning feeds of her second child. It grew into experimentation. It became attendance at The Cookery School at Little Portland Street and a dedication to developing her skills: piping beautifully, practicing for the perfect texture, and testing on some lucky friends.
And then comes the part of Maxine’s story that really adds credit to what she’s producing: She would have gone on designing, creating and posting beautiful cakes on Instagram, maybe one day in the future selling these. In the future, though, when she was ready, when she knew that she was unequivocally, really good enough. BUT: Demand came a-knocking.
Dina - an ex-colleague with an eye for a good bake - announced she’d like to buy 12 of those scrumptious looking macarons, pronto, thanks. I imagine the call going something like this: “hi, is that Maxine? Good, listen, I need some macarons and only yours will do, I’ll collect them in 45 minutes, thanks, bye!”1
Soon after this, Maxine arrived at a friend’s birthday with a rather beautiful, rather delicious show stopper. Other guests were all at once impressed, stuffed, and put-out: ‘urm, excuse me Maxine, I don’t remember this confectionary heaven at my birthday’. And the orders began arriving.
It’s sounds like a beautifully natural start, but the truth is that behind the butter-creamed snapshots, Maxine works industriously to address every possible challenge that might stand between her and the high quality and beautiful aesthetic she seeks. Good quality produce (I was there when her food order arrived and the word ‘organic was labelled in every direction I looked). A finely tuned creative process, and a perfected balance of flavours. Flavours which are currently quite traditional but which in future could expand into more exotic territory2. She's already begun drenching her Christmas cakes in Jamaican Rum and she has a good coconut punch cake going on.
Need product testing? Fear not, Maxine’s NCT group were on hand to tell her exactly what they thought. She describes the directness of the exhausted new mothers and how it helped refine her process, early on. I smile, imagining cries of ‘nope, too sweet, try again next week’ coming from delighted cheeks, filled with delicious cake, while Maxine diligently takes everything on board. Though Maxine assured me it was a constructive process.
And so to the bespoke cakes, unicorn cakes, macaron-adorned cakes, and most recently, the wedding cakes. Again, surprisingly, Maxine’s first wedding orders took her by surprise. She began carefully crafting, using the process she’s perfected as she’s learned and grown. If you were her customer, it would start by working out your vision and how to make it work. She knows how to keep your naked cake moist. How to make your show stopper beautiful. Then, as she always has, she draws an intricate, labelled, sketch3, giving you the right to reply before she sets to creating beauties like this…
Looking at the wedding cakes, I felt a little like Maxine’s friends at that first party: ‘urm, where was all this skill when I got married?’ It’s too late for me, but if you’re getting married (exciting!) then you wouldn’t need to look far to find cake refuge among Maxine’s creations.
Even if you’re not in the mood for cake right this minute (really?), it’s great fun perusing her website or Instagram. You’ll get a sense of her charisma, dedication to good cake, and the multiple ways she can get creative with buttercream, macarons, and much more. I showed it to my nieces (aged 14 and 10). The 14-year-old thought it was terribly clever that she’d made these cakes in equal measure ‘cool and beautiful’. The 10-year-old reflected that she wanted to eat everything, and feels certain that Grandma needs a unicorn for her upcoming 60th Birthday (for clarity, that’s Grandma’s needs and tastes we’re considering here).
What you can’t see on her website, is her industrious pragmatism. Never mind lessons on baking, what I got when I spoke to her was a lesson in learning to do something well. Casually mentioning work experience in a local café. Or working in a pub and quizzing the chef on food hygiene laws for home baking before arranging a council inspection (she passed with flying colours, of course).
And what does it all mean when it gets to you? Well, this brings us back to the story of our Overground journey, me loaded up with cake (thanks, Maxine!). It means that very little of the light, fluffy, moist, delicately flavoured cake lasted the journey home. It means, the small amount dutifully saved for my husband, generated quite a joyous audible response, it means that by the next morning it was all gone and I swear I know nothing about it(!). It means – look how pretty…
For more cake, see https://www.denbakeshop.com/ or follow @denbakeshop on instagram, and @DenBakeShop on facebook.
1 Note: I know Dina, she’s lovely, this is basically defamation for comic effect, sorry Dina.
2 The experimentation continues, and Maxine looks forward to a time when she can bring some Jamaican influences into her baking
3 She showed me some, they’re rather lovely. And they made my tummy rumble.
Written by Bethan Ashmead-Latham