Whether you’re a fan of the classics, or an adventurous soul, I think we can all agree that nothing hits the spot quite like a deliciously decadent, moist, flavourful cupcake.
As such, there was no hesitation when got the opportunity to meet with Crumbs & Doilies owner Jemma Wilson (aka: CupcakeJemma on YouTube) at her newly opened cupcake shop in Soho, London, where we talked about her culinary experiences and journey that led to the opening of her very own store.
When did you realise your passion for baking and how did you get started in the industry?
I got interested in baking when I went to Australia; I ate a lot of cake while I was out there. At the end of my trip when I was leaving, I decided to host a baking tea party where I baked a bunch of stuff, but a lot of it didn’t work. I was a late comer to baking, but I really enjoyed it even though some of the things didn’t turn out right. I just really enjoyed the process and the reactions from people; It’s quite a magical thing when you bake something from scratch and then someone enjoys it.
When I came back I was still bartending and I was carrying on baking recreationally. One day I quit my job and went to work at Rose Bakery where I was able to bake. That really made me realise how much I wanted to do it for a living. I didn’t really know what I was going to do, but I quit (working at the bakery); I just wanted to move on and do something for myself because it was a small team and I felt I couldn’t really expand my repertoire anymore than I already have as it was owned by Rose Carririni , meaning I couldn't experiment as much. I just wanted to kind of break free from that, and so I started a market stall.
Has it always been a dream of yours to open up your own cupcake shop? Did you ever think it would turn into a reality?
Yes, and yes, but sometimes no. At the beginning, for sure, because my dream was to always have a shop. We kind of thought about it (the shop) a few years ago, but at the time everywhere you looked was just cupcakes, and didn't know how long it would last, so I didn’t really want to jump into a shop and follow the trend.
But the thing is with cupcakes, is that it was following a trend but it kind of carried on being the trend; even though people were sick of them, people were still buying them. They wanted to hate them, but people just kept on buying them, and things like cake-pops came along and then kind of went away, and then marshmallows kind of popped up a little bit but nothing has managed to really replace the cupcake, despite each season’s attempt. Over the last few years, all those places that kind of popped up and over saturated the market have kind of fallen away, so what we’re left with is a smaller amount of cupcake shops/companies that are doing it [most of the time] really well, and people are less bombarded with “cupcake this, and cupcake that”. Which is why we thought this was the right time to do it, and it was a bit of a fluke finding this shop because we certainly weren’t looking at all.
Who would you say had the most significant impact/influence on you during this culinary journey (good or bad) and why?
I’d say my team because initially I was doing everything myself for a long time, and I got really set in my ways and in the beginning, certainly, even when I had staff, I found it really hard to give them any kind of responsibility, and it wasn’t until I started letting go of that control that anyone I hired was really able to express themselves. Through building a really good team, we have managed to make a much more creative company and all the people who work for us, they all have a say in what we’re putting on a menu.
How did you get started on FoodTube with Jamie Oliver?
He had a TV show called Food Fight Club and one of the episodes was about desserts and sweets. I got a phone call from his production company asking if I’d be willing to come along to do this one bit of this TV show in England as part of an expert panel. He’d met me because I traded a street market outside one of his restaurants during the 10th birthday of one of his restaurants- Restaurant Fifteen, and I guess he remembered me. I thought that would be it but then they asked me back to contribute further which was really exciting and fun, I had such a great time. After that, I guess they liked my way on TV so they offered me a YouTube channel and a book as well.
How do you feel about sharing your recipes to the world? Have you ever been concerned about how doing so may affect your business?
Yes, very much so. Even hiring staff and then letting those staff members leave or letting them go, and I’m thinking “my recipes!!”- that has always been a massive deal for me. Not just the recipes, but also the secrets of this business, like our boxes and where we get them from, our sprinkles etc. Over the years, people have emailed us asking where we get our materials from, and I just feel that, you know, I’ve worked really hard to get those things and to make these recipes and to find those boxes and maybe you should do that too because I’m really satisfied and I feel really proud of myself, and I have a great business as a result, and you’re just coming along asking me for all of my secrets. And I had to get over that a bit with the recipe book, obviously, because there are 50 recipes in there, all of which are dear to me and the lynch pin to this business, but at the end of the day, it isn’t just about the recipe, its about the person and the ingredients, the environment, the machinery etc because all of this makes a difference in our cakes, especially.
How has this experience/partnership influenced you?
Even knowing how many subscribers I’ve accumulated over the short time I’ve been on YouTube was surprising. When I opened the shop and so many people coming here were coming to see me, that was just such a lovely surprise because I didn’t even think about it. Everyday that I’m here at the shop, I’ll be taking selfies or signing books with people who have made the trip and made the effort to come from all over the place to meet me, and I find that really odd and bizzar because a lot of people say they’re “star struck”, but I always think it’s strange because I’m just normal, I’m like you!
During the whole process from your initial dream to where you are right now, have you/did you come across any problems along the way?
Initially, my biggest problem was myself. For months, I got three hours of sleep a night because I was waking up at five o’clock in the morning, baking, and then going to sleep crazy times, and I did that for a long time and I nearly lost my marbles (this is when Sam, my business partner decided that he would come help me).
Hiring staff was a huge problem for me, too because I just didn’t trust anyone and wasn’t ready to let go of that control, so at this point, all the staff members just came and went because they were bored and frustrated that I wouldn’t let them do anything. So I definitely think that the biggest obstacle was me and my ego, but I feel like (and I hope) I’ve learned to let go.
Describe your journey in 5 words?
4) Love (I love what I do and I love everyone involved)
What are your future aspirations for the cupcake shop? Would you hope to expand the chain one day, perhaps internationally, or keep it modest and “home based”?
My preference is to keep it home-based and local because I’m a Londoner and I never wanted to commercialize it. We’ve had offers over the years for francizes… we’ve had a serious offer, actually, a few years ago, to francize in Qatar, and we seriously thought about it even though my heart was never feeling it. I just know that I don’t want that. For me, all the tiny minutia aspects of the cakes and process of making them make them so special, and if you francize in Qatar, you’re not going to be able to use the same butter or the same eggs etc. It wouldn’t taste the same, and you would have someone acting on your behalf but who didn’t really know the business.
You have got so many different cupcake flavours in the store. Where do you get your inspiration?
A lot of the flavours that I’ve personally brought to the table are things like the cinnamon toast cupcake, for example, or PB&J because I really like American desserts. What I like to do, and I think a lot of the girls back at HQ like to do, is to create a cupcake form of something they love, which is why a banoffee pie cupcake, blueberry cheesecake cupcake etc have been born. We’ll always think, “Would it work as a cake?” And for example cocktails: All the flavours are there, but “could we make the flavours work in cocktail form? Lets give it a go.”
Have you done a bunch of experiments where sometimes, the flavours just don’t work?
Loads. Usually anything with fresh fruit just doesn’t work for us because it changes the make up of the sponge and it’s just inconsistent. There has definitely been incidences where it’s either completely failed or just not quite there yet, as if something’s missing.
Are there times where you get “cupcake/creative block”? If so, what do you usually do to solve it?
In terms of creating stuff: I do, but not cupcakes though, just in general, sometimes with the YouTube channel. I’ve experienced serious creative blocks over the years. I get “baking block” all the time. Sam (business partner) will say “what are we making today” and I’ll have to scramble around for an idea in my brain all the time. I definitely think it’s a thing with me because I kind of close my mind sometimes to creativity even though I’m clearly creative.
Which cupcake flavour do you like to make the most and why?
I have three because I can never choose just one. So my three are:
1) Cinnamon Toast, 2) PB&J, and 3) Earl Grey English Breakfast
For me, I guess the best things are sparked by old memories and nostalgia.
We, here at Foodie, have a passion for uncovering/ discovering hidden gems, and of course, eating great food! Crumbs & Doilies’ cupcakes definitely bring an extraordinary level of passion, creativity and care to their delicious confections, so pay them a visit on their various social media platforms or even in person!
1 Kingly Court