In the Kitchen with Ashton Winkler Hughes
I met Ashton’s cakes before I met Ashton. Beautiful, floral-filled and delicious, they were unlike anything I’d ever seen or tasted in my life. I sent her this editorial spread of Kate Moss shot by Tim Walker for Vogue US in April 2012 and asked her to use it as inspiration. The result was magnificent and I ate a quarter of the cake for breakfast, a quarter for lunch and a quarter for dinner… I shared the last quarter with some very close friends. Shortly after photographer and magician Nicola Lemmon dropped by Ashton’s beautiful home to capture her baking for a large floral-themed party. The result is what you see below and it is pretty extraordinary.
This hostess with the mostess recently moved from Hong Kong to London where she’s whipping up tiers of glory and decadent spreads with her copper KitchenAid mixer, ever so stylishly with aplomb. Her company Ashton Baked (check out the beautiful branding by artist Pirate here) does catering on a variety of different levels including savoury spreads for 50 or more and sweet treats for tiny tots’ birthdays. Follow her cooking adventures on Instagram and find out more about her in the interview below. And if you need a feast that Valentino would be proud to present at his Emperor’s Table or a cake to celebrate a loved-one’s birthday simply get in touch with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and your love for entertaining baking, how did it all begin?
I grew up in Mexico in a family of foodies, with parents who loved to entertain. I used to help my mother set the table and arrange her flowers. It comes second nature to her, which in turn rubbed off on me! She taught me how to make cupcakes that I would then sell at my lemonade stand outside our house on the weekends (ever the entrepreneur!). I then went to Les Roches in Switzerland, where I learned all the ins and outs of front of house and kitchen.
I didn’t really get into baking again until I finally moved into a flat with an oven! I took every opportunity to use it and started baking cupcakes for all my girlfriends’ birthdays. I saw how much they enjoyed them, and it all went from there. With entertaining, you either love it or hate it; but I get a thrill out of every detail, from inviting a perfect mix of guests, to what type of salt I will put on the table.
What are your top 5 biggest tips for aspiring bakers out there?
1. Start with something simple, and then build up. Choose an easy cake with a complicated frosting or vice versa… Don’t take on a huge project at the get go. Once you master one thing, move on to the next!
2. Invest in good tools, especially a stand mixer! They make a world of difference, especially when making frostings like my favourite Swiss meringue... I am obsessed with my copper kitchen aid mixer!
3. Make sure your eggs and butter are at room temperature before you start.
4 Read a recipe from start to finish and make sure you have all your ingredients measured up, a hot oven and a clean surface before you even begin. There are so many moving parts to baking, and you want your mise en place to be done so you can concentrate on what you’re doing!
5. Baking can be the best therapy! Put some good tunes on, pour yourself a glass of wine and bake. my favourite time in the kitchen is late at night when everyone is asleep, and I can just do my thing
What equipment can you not live without?
As mentioned above, my KitchenAid mixer! I also have a red silicone spatula with a metal handle which I’ve had forever. I love it and fits perfectly into my hand! If frosting a cake, I love a little offset spatula
What are some of your favourite local and online stores to stock up on supplies?
I love www.spicemountain.co.uk for natural powders such as the beetroot one I use for hot pink icing. To be honest, I am super tactile and rather cruise the streets than shop online! Now I’m in London, I realise I need to get tech savvy! Its hard rolling around the city with a curious toddler!
What chefs inspire you?
Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa! She’s my hero!! Everything she bakes is wonderful. I also love Amanda Hesser and Meryll Stubbs from Food52. The Magnolia Bakery in NYC made me fall in love with cupcakes years ago! Of course Alice Waters needs a mention, but if only for her vibe, as I’m not too sure she ever makes layer cakes…
What cookbooks are on your shelf?
I love cookbooks! Some of my favourites are: Genius Recipes and Baking from Food52, all of the Ottolenghi books, Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, of course… Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking and Alice Water's The Simple Art of Food…. Barefoot Contessa Parties, and I just got the Gjelina cookbook which is awesome.
London is a food haven, what are your favourite places for breakfast, lunch, dinner and cocktails with friends?
There’s a really cool place that just opened up around the corner called No.197 Chiswick Fire Station that is great for brunch. I love Serpentine Bar and Kitchen for late afternoon sunset drinks, and the High Road Brasserie for rose and aranccini balls. Their avocado toast is on point too! Selfridges has opened a pop up Forest restaurant on the roof and I had the best meal there last week. I will be back for more! I think my cocktail bar days stayed in HK! I’ve still not been out for cocktails in London, but I can’t say I’ve missed it either!! Its all about the in-house entertaining at the moment! I can make a mean margarita ;)
Any insider secrets for those of us who want to host a fab party at home?
It's all about planning. My favourite part is figuring out what the table will look like. Go to the flower market three days before to allow the flowers to look their best, press your napkins and buy some tea lights. Light a scented candle in the bathroom at least, (and make sure you have extra loo roll!) I like Dyptique Ambre the best! Make sure you know what you’re making, what you’re drinking and who’s coming. Only serve one thing you need to cook last minute. Choose simple over elegant, nobody likes to see you stressed. Mix a few things you can buy at a gourmet shop you love with something homemade. Nobody will know, and if they do they won’t care! Make sure you buy more wine than you think you will need and there’s always room for dessert! Outsource this to me : ) (email me at email@example.com) and just relax with your guests.
Fashion illustrator Tanya Bennett aka Pirate just created a beautiful logo for your company 'Ashton Baked' what are some things planned in the pipeline that cake-lovers can get excited about?
I am excited to be in London with such incredible produce at my doorstep. At the moment, I am really inspired with the beautiful flowers, and the cakes I'm producing are making me smile. Bespoke cakes and other baked goods are available now for order with four days’ notice. I love hearing what my client wants and creating something beautiful. I’ve been very lucky to have clients with excellent taste! I have a super fun project in the pipeline that I am very excited about but am only in the initial stages of planning, so that will come early 2017. I don’t want to talk about it too much yet, but will include all the things I enjoy! Delicious food, beautiful tableware and flowers! I love what Pirate did for me!! She nailed it with just a 6 word WhatsApp message I sent her!
Cooking for little ones can be fussy and cooking with them can be tricky. How do you manage both as a mum to a toddler?
Oh gosh this is the hardest question here! My son has yet to acquire a foodie appetite! Its been a big learning curve for me as a person to accept that not everyone likes my cooking, haha! I am still figuring it out to be honest, and every day I have a small victory! Today’s it was ratatouille! Toddlers change their mind all the time, it keeps me on my toes to make sure I’m creating new and fun recipes for the little guy. Some days I feel like the ultimate Jewish grandmother, and the next I literally have someone throwing tomatoes at me. The interesting one is he is like a ninja when it comes to my spatulas! I turn around for one second…. And he’s covered in icing! Of course he loves that!!
When using edible flowers in baking what are the most important things to remember?
Make sure they are edible!! I like to keep flowers in the fridge in cold water to make sure they are super fresh when I use them.
What's been your biggest baking disaster and how have you overcome it?
I made a huge 40’th cake for a good friend of mine. I had envisioned exactly what it was going to look like, but I didn’t count on it being a billion degrees that day in Hong Kong…. (I was also cooking for thanksgiving at the same time). The icing was melting before it even left my house, and had to scrape it and start again. By this point we were 2 hours late for the party, and I got the crazy… and the face sweats. I don’t even know how I fixed it in the end, but I think he enjoyed it!
Finally, describe in detail your perfect cake?
Sky high, beetroot chocolate cake, with thick and creamy mascarpone frosting, and a huge array of flowers poking out the top in a super dreamy rustic cascade down!
All images by superstar photographer Nicola Lemmon - follow her on Instagram for a daily feed of life through her lens