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Family Portrait | An Interview With Claire Ptak

For the latest in our regular series of interviews, connecting with families around the world, we head to east London's Hackney, home to Californian baker and food writer Claire Ptak and her seven-year-old daughter Frances.

Any foodies out there may well have heard Ptak’s name. Her recipes regularly feature in newspapers and magazines and she is the author of several cookbooks - including the just-published Love is a Pink Cake - but perhaps she is best known for baking the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s sumptuous wedding cake.


The cake went down so well with Harry and Meghan that Claire was later commissioned to make Princess Lilibet’s first birthday cake and if that isn’t a royal seal of approval, we don’t know what is.

We caught up with the pair at Claire's cult bakery Violet, to discuss inspiring grandparents, dressing up, how sales from their Childrensalon edit will benefit girl-empowering charity GFS and of course, how magical it is to grow up with cake on tap… 



21 Mar 2023

A Slice of Heaven

“It’s amazing!” is Frances’ immediate response when we ask her how she feels to have one of the world’s best bakers as a mum, who also happens to have a café stocked full of yummy treats. 


Perched on bistro chairs outside the Violet Bakery and café, bathed in bright afternoon sunshine, Childrensalon sits with Claire and her daughter Frances or Franny as she is affectionately known, watching all of life pass by. Pastry chefs, cake lovers, a royal super fan and a very handsome Bull Terrier called Basil are just some of the characters we meet during our animated chat with these two peas in a pod. Twin rivers of blonde hair and smiling brown eyes are instant proof of this duo’s shared DNA, while the copious kisses Franny plants on her mother’s cheek, as she scrambles across onto her lap, leave no doubt of their extremely close bond. Surrounded by artfully decorated coffees, a square of slab cake covered in hundreds and thousands and one of Claire’s classic cupcakes enrobed in silky buttercream icing, we can’t help wishing that we were born into a baking empire too.


Any idea that Frances lives on a diet of non-stop cakes, however, is quickly dispelled by Claire who tells us that they’re pretty good at keeping sweet treats to a minimum at home. “Otherwise, it just gets too overwhelming,” She explains. “We do bake lots of chocolate-chip cookies and I tend to make banana bread at home. Those are Franny’s favourites.” 


Birthday cakes are definitely an exception when it comes to pushing the boat out and this year Frances had a rather unusual request. “She asked me to make her rhubarb crumble for her birthday and I was like, I can't!” Claire laughs, “We can't serve rhubarb crumble at the owner of Violet Cakes’ kid’s birthday party! So, we ended up making a rhubarb crumble cake with a sponge base, which was really good and everybody loved it.”


Franny's Favourites

Who could resist this luxurious co-ord set finished off with a hit of leopard?

A Fashionable Inheritance

Frances’ favourite outfit of the day has to be the striking Dolce & Gabbana co-ord suit and Claire is also a big fan. “Oh, it's so cool. It has vegetables all over it like bell peppers, and chicories and carrots. We really liked that one because we love going to the farmer’s market and it reminded us of that.” She tells us. 


The gauzy, flower-strewn Junona dress that Frances teams with gold Mama Luma boots looks absolutely stunning but it’s clear that this little girl is happiest in trousers. “Oh definitely trousers.”, agrees Claire, “She's always said that she wants to wear clothes that she can go on the monkey bars in. When she was a little baby I noticed that I got given so many cute dresses but actually she couldn’t really move in them. She kept getting caught up in them when she tried to crawl and that really made me think.”


Confidence and freedom of expression for girls is very important to Claire who has chosen to partner with 175-year-old girl-empowering charity, GFS for this interview. As with all our Family Portrait profiles, Childrensalon donates 10% of sales from our guests' edits to their chosen charity. "I love the work that GFS does to help reinforce the confidence and self-esteem girls have before they start to question their worth and value in society," Claire tells us, "Having a daughter brings back so many memories and it can be really challenging for girls growing up. Social media and this fast-paced world have only exacerbated that."


Looking at Frances' beautiful Childrensalon picks, not to mention Claire's mesmerising Alaïa mary-janes, there’s no doubt that this family has an instinct for self-expression, something that may well have been inherited from Claire’s mother who once ran her own children's clothing label, sweetly named Claire de Lune. “My mum made really beautiful clothes, which she sewed herself for a while and then she had a manufacturer making things for her. She did that for a quite a few years and she kept samples of all the clothes to pass on if I had a daughter. There are a couple of dresses that still fit Frances but seven is the last age," she smiles ruefully, "They’re all from the 70s and 80s and they’re made from really beautiful fabrics with a Laura Ashley/Liberty feel to them. We have such great photographs of us both wearing the clothes at the same age."

Flowers On Everything

This Midsummer Night's Dream of a dress would be perfect for a birthday party...

Junona - Girls Pink Floral Hairband | ChildrensalonJunona
Junona - Pink & Gold Embroidered Floral Tulle Dress | ChildrensalonJunona
Mama Luma - Girls Gold Metallic Boots | ChildrensalonMama Luma
La Perla - Girls Pink Logo Tights | ChildrensalonLa Perla

A Tale of Two Cakes

The mini cake that Frances and Claire have fun decorating together for our shoot is called a smash cake. It's essentially a mini version of a big birthday cake that toddlers can smash with their fists and dig their fingers into. ‘Kind of like baby-led weaning." Claire laughs. 


Smash cakes are definitely trending, especially since a certain Princess Lilibet had one at her first birthday party, courtesy of the Violet bakery. "That was so nice to be able to do that actually. I think for them it was a stressful time with a lot going on, so it was really nice to be asked to come down and bring the cake to them.” she tells us, adding, "We made a smash cake and a birthday cake for the same party. The smash cake was for Lilibet and the other cake was for the party guests." 


These baby-size cakes are now a firm fixture on the Violet menu. "It’s really funny because we didn’t make them before then but when Meghan was like, 'Can we get a smash cake? We think it would be so nice for Lilibet to have one.' I thought,' we need to have these on the menu'."


Across the Pond

Cool, rough around the edges Hackney couldn’t be further removed from the ocean edged beauty of Point Reyes, California where Claire grew up and yet both mother and daughter seem so utterly connected to their surroundings. Nevertheless, regular trips home to the States are a must, where Frances gets to spend time with her grandparents. “I call my grandpa Cheeseburger!”, Frances giggles, with a sense of hilarity that only a seven-year-old can possess. We don’t get to the bottom of why but suffice to say that Grandpa Cheeseburger is a lot of fun.


While downtime in London is all about farmers' markets and trips to the theatre – the pair have recently discovered a mutual love of musicals - the family’s activities in California are mostly based in nature. “We do a lot of foraging there, so we will go and pick wild blackberries and huckleberries and we’ll go to the beach and go swimming in the bay.” Claire tells us. Their last trip back to California was at Christmas and rain didn’t stop trips to the beach. “We saw loads of jellyfish washed up on the beach on that really rainy day and they were orange,” remembers a wide-eyed Frances.


As well as field trips, Frances gets to enjoy lots of culture with her creative grandparents. “I think sometimes when you’re a parent you tend to stick with activities that are very age appropriate, but my parents do really cool things with her." Claire smiles, "My mum took Frances with her to her adult art classes, which was amazing and my dad was getting her to write poetry. It’s magical.”


Gothic Princess

Ethereal with a dash of drama. We love this mix of cream tulle with black accents and those gold boots...

Elsy - Girls Beige Long Tulle Dress | ChildrensalonElsy
Angel's Face - Girls Black Long Socks | ChildrensalonAngel's Face
Mama Luma - Girls Gold Metallic Boots | ChildrensalonMama Luma

Chambray Classics

These inky blue cotton separates covered in subtle florals are the perfect mix of pared back and pretty...

Junona - Girls Blue Floral Chambray Trousers | ChildrensalonJunona
Junona - Girls Blue Floral Chambray Jacket | ChildrensalonJunona
Junona - Girls Blue Cotton Chambray Floral Hairband | ChildrensalonJunona
Bonpoint - Girls White Leather Clogs | ChildrensalonBonpoint

A Mother's Wish...

While Claire's bakery feels like it runs on vanilla essence and happiness, it's clear that this joyful business and all the fabulous cakes it produces are the product of passion and a lot of hard work. " ​​​​It’s such an amazing thing to me to be able to do what I love and then to have other people recognise what I do is so awesome - it’s rewarding and it’s gratifying," Claire tells us. 

"I started working when I was really young and I'm not afraid of working hard. I really feel like it makes me feel better as a person to have something that needs to get done. And sure, it's hard and it feels like a lot sometimes but then when I finish, I always feel so gratified. If Frances can have that when she grows up with something that she's equally passionate about, I'll be very happy."


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