While completing an apprenticeship to become a chef, pastry chef Emily Ditcham found she loved the science side behind baking.
“It’s a really exciting part for me. Before I did my apprenticeship I ended up doing a major in meteorology, and that real love for physics and chemistry comes through in cooking a lot.”
This scientific perspective, precise measuring, lots of practise and a willingness to be prepared for anything have since helped Ditcham hone in on her baking skills. Though not every cake turns out perfect, she says.
“It’s just full of variables, the pastry world, you’re not guaranteed in the same day to have every recipe work on you. There’s going to be a day where the temperature and the humidity may play a part in the way things bake or the way the glazes work out. It changes and you have to adapt. And I love that. I love watching things and making sure things are right each time.”
Keen to find her feet in the baking world, Ditcham opened her Ryrie Street bakery Cakesmith about two months ago. Cakesmith specialises in French baking techniques; customers can expect a lot of different glazes and mousses, Ditcham says: “Hopefully I can offer Geelong something that’s a little bit different.”
Ditcham is relishing the opportunity to explore her creativity at her own store, but admits she never thought it would be this much of a whirlwind.
“Walking into something that didn’t have any rules, had never been opened before… it’s immense, the amount of work. But I wouldn’t change anything for the world. I am now finally in a space where my creativity is my own and I can really express and play with it,” she says.
“I was always working for someone else and it was their vision. So finally I’m finding my own style and my own path. Obviously it’s always influenced by the people you work for because they are the people who shape you and the people who give you the experience that make you the chef that you are.”
While Cakesmith hasn’t been open long, Ditcham has been blown away by the reception from Geelong sweet tooths. “[It] has been amazing, I think everyone is super excited by cake. I didn’t really think it was going to be a thing where everyone was going to jump on board but I’m really excited” she says, and encourages those who haven’t yet had a chance to visit the Ryrie street store to give it a try.
“I completely understand that cake is a sometimes food, I’m not going to see people every single day or every single week, but even just to come and meet me and chat about cake; to take the time to open the conversation up about dessert and pushing the boundaries of dessert. Like, I love a good cold mud cake but it’s nice to have something where you feel like you have a restaurant quality dessert that you could take to someone’s house.”
Next month, Ditcham will get a chance to sit on the other side of the counter as a judge for the Tastes of Central Geelong bake off for Geelong’s best home cooks.
Contestants will go head to head in three categories: cakes and slices, biscuits and cupcakes and dessert. The winners of each category will win two tickets to the Tastes Afternoon Tea with Stephanie Alexander and a dinner for two at a VIP degustation by David Veal at the Davidson Restaurant. The overall winner will win a day at Cakesmith with Ditcham valued at $350, as well as bragging rights all over town.
The final showdown will be at The Pier on July 22 where winners of the heats will need to remake the item they entered with. Ditcham will decide the winner at the Tastes Afternoon Tea.
Ditcham says she was nervous when approached to judge the bake off (especially sitting across from Stephanie Alexander, one of her culinary heroes), but ultimately jumped at the chance. She offers her main tip for entrants and would-be-bakers: balance. Sweet and savoury, bitterness and creaminess, moist and dry… there’s a lot of fine lines to walk, she says.
“It’s so bizarre because I’m not actually a very big sweet tooth!” she explains. “I hate to admit it because it’s a little bit controversial, but it’s not really thing I go for! So I think that gives me the balance then – I’m not looking for a cake that’s going to smack you in the head with all the sugar, I’m looking for something that’s going to have a balance between the savoury and the sweet.”
But the most important tip?
“Keep calm! For some reason cakes seem to know that you’re freaking out and will tend to freak out with you. I don’t know why, it’s some sort of innate thing that it just knows you’re having a bit of a bad day, so keep as calm as possible and keep your confidence up.”
Tastes of Central Geelong runs from July 7 – 30 with events on day and night. Visit the website for more information and to purchase tickets.
Cakesmith is located at 2/124 Ryrie Street, Geelong and is open Thursday and Friday 10am-4pm and Saturday 9am-2pm.
Written by Lauren Muscat