A baking business on the rise

Chartwell cake shop in full swing

DENISE IRVINE
Last updated 13:35 29/05/2014
Girl on a Swing
Chirs Hillock/Fairfax NZ

Anj Jones, left, and Laura Austin decorate the cupcakes that are one of the Girl on a Swing specialties.

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Anj Jones is living the dream - a colourful one inhabited by exquisitely decorated cupcakes and cakes, acres of creamy, divine fudge, lots of associated baking paraphernalia and every kitchen tool imaginable.

She's come a long way from the little kid who used to sit on a swing built by her dad and dream about what she might do with her life. And she couldn't possibly have imagined how darn busy this particular dream would be, running a baking business, getting up at impossible hours to make cakes, spending a large part of the day making fudge, working to her own high standards.

Anj Jones is a dynamo. She created her Chartwell shop, The Girl on a Swing, from scratch, like she does with her baking.

On this Tuesday morning, the store's cabinet is artfully arranged with cakes and cupcakes, there's a team in the decorating room at work, dipping into bowls of bright icing, more staff are in the baking room, and customers are pondering whether to buy the creme brulee fudge or the feijoa.

Anj's shop opened at Lynden Court, opposite Westfield Chartwell, in December; it does cakes, cupcakes and fudge, sells decorating supplies and partyware, and hires out tins. Anj had been running a cake- making and decorating business from home prior to that. It was growing rapidly, so it was time for a move to commercial premises.

It was a huge leap, a financial risk, says Anj. She's married with three kids; it didn't bear thinking about what would happen if it didn't work. She knew she had to take her sister (and best friend) Jinine Brindle with her as administrator. Over the years Anj had told Jinine about hundreds of business dreams and ideas she'd had. Jinine had always said "no, not a good idea". This time, she said "that's a brilliant idea".

So Jinine gave up her job to work with Anj, they had Laura Austin on board from the former Five Cross Roads Cake Kitchen (whose owners have provided Anj with good advice), more staff were employed, and they've been going gangbusters from the start.

The sisters use social media extensively and they're up to more than 11,000 likes on their Facebook page. Customer service is paramount, to the extent that they check with each customer who orders a cake to see whether they enjoyed it.

They have about 20 staff, nine of them fulltime, the others part-time or casual. Anj says they are clever, creative people. Staff member Verena Caton is a mate from when she and Anj worked together at fashion store Glassons at Chartwell Square, about 20 years ago.

Anj's first job was as a baker's assistant and she has worked in retail. "I've done everything." She has strict guidelines in her own business - everything's made from scratch, sold fresh. She never sells a one-day-old cupcake.

On a slow day they might sell 200 cupcakes, on a busy one such as Valentine's Day, they could do up to 2000. No two days are the same, orders arrive constantly. The cabinet cakes and fudge are also very popular.

People like the creme brulee fudge, and the Baileys, among others. Anj says the fudge is addictive, and she's not wrong there. They've captured flavours and texture perfectly.

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Favourite cakes are chocolate mud, hokey pokey and carrot. The shop also caters for gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan customers.

Cupcakes have special names and each name has a story. The Wally (rich chocolate) is the favourite of builder Craig Wallace, who did the renovations on Anj's shop. There's one called Glassons, another, The Lois, is named for Anj's granny, a lover of roses. It is decorated with cocoa red rose buttercream icing.

Anj says the key to good cupcakes is not to overcook them, but bring them out of the oven when the centre is a little bit undercooked - they'll keep cooking in the tin. Icing flavour is important. They don't skimp on anything, and staff taste everything they sell. 
Before she settles in for a lengthy session with the fudge-making machine, Anj returns to the subject of looking after her customers. "Without customers, there is no you [no business]. You treat them like they are gold."

VANILLA CUPCAKES

(Makes 24)

Ingredients 2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
150g butter, softened
Preheat oven to 180' C. Line cupcake tins with cupcake papers. Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Break eggs into small bowl and whisk. Pour milk and vanilla into the eggs, and combine. Add egg mixture to dry ingredients, consistently beating. Lastly add softened butter until well combined. Using an old-fashioned ice cream scoop, fill cupcake papers until three-quarters full. Place into preheated oven and bake for 12-15 minutes, depending on your oven. Cupcakes are ready when they bounce back when pressed on top with a finger. Cool for at least 30 minutes before decorating. BUTTERCREAM ICING
Ingredients 250g butter, softened but not melted
1 tsp vanilla essence
2-4 cups icing sugar (see below)
2 Tbsp milk (optional, see below)
Gel colour of your choice (optional, available at cake decorating stores)

Beat butter in an electric mixer until very pale, scraping down the sides. Add vanilla essence to butter mixture. With mixer still going, gradually add sifted icing sugar, quarter of a cup at a time. This is where you gauge the consistency of your icing. If you have melted the butter too much or if the weather is very humid, you will need more icing sugar. If you have put in too much icing sugar and the icing is stiff, you can soften it by adding 2 Tbsp milk. If you want to colour your buttercream, this is when you add the gel colour. Allow at least an hour for colour to develop. Make sure cake or cupcakes are cool before icing.

From The Girl on a Swing. Tweak these recipes with your own flavours.

- Waikato Times

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