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A Lunch with… Nez Beresford

Something of a whizz with a whisk, Nez Beresford is fast becoming known for her splendidly iced sponges, with their romantic ruffles and 1970s swags, which have been commissioned by the likes of Gucci and Jo Malone, as well as us too. Hoping to pick up some tips and tricks, Inigo stops by for a slice of the action

Photography
Ellen Hancock
A Lunch with… Nez Beresford

“You should see my first cakes!” Nez Beresford is laughing while slicing a homemade apricot Danish. “My boyfriend and I thought they were so amazing.” She cringes at the thought of her early attempts at decorating, five or so years ago. Looking at her output now, however – teetering tiered sponges smothered in buttercream and impeccably piped – one can hardly believe it, nor indeed that Nez is entirely self-taught.

Her first decorated bakes came when she was a teenager working in a deli in Barnes, a villagey south-western suburb of London. “I didn’t mean to become the cake person, but it just happened,” she says. “That said, I had always been interested in baking and I’d grown up with chef parents, so perhaps it was inevitable.”

University and nine-to-five jobs followed, however, and Nez’s baking took a back seat, though she would always make cakes for friends’ birthdays. Noticing the success of the likes of April’s Bakes and Lily Vanilli, she began watching YouTube videos, trying to learn the basic skills of making and decorating – among them, keeping a steady hand. As anyone who’s watched Bake Off through their fingers will know, “it’s the hardest thing to master,” says Nez. “But it’s muscle memory, so once you’ve learned it, you shouldn’t lose it.”

In March 2021 Nez, buoyed by a steady stream of orders during the pandemic and at the encouragement of her boyfriend, quit her job and set up Made by Nez. As well as cakes for weddings and birthdays, she has also been asked to bake for major brands –  she’s iced for Lulu Guinness, Romeo Beckham and Gucci, which she says was the cherry on top. She even made a gateau for Inigo’s first birthday. All share certain characteristics: the soft sheen of Nez’s Swiss meringue buttercream squeezed into romantic ruffles, a retro colour scheme and an exquisite attention to detail.

Inspiration comes, Nez says, “from everywhere”, though she’s particularly drawn to the piping skills of the cakes of the 1970s and 1980s: “the ultimate fantasy”. (The album cover for the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed, with a froufrou cake made by a little-known chef named Delia Smith, springs to mind.) Nez is aware, however, that those nostalgic-looking bakes – most often in shades of lavender, shell pink and avocado green – are very much of the moment. “I try to look back at cakes of the past, rather than at what others are doing,” she says, “as I think otherwise one can be too trend-led. I don’t want that. What I want is to learn new skills, to try new things, to keep busy.”

And busy she is, with orders stretching out well into winter. “I feel so lucky that business is hotting up,” says Nez – though on hearing her horror stories of mass orders, tight deadlines and heatwaves (the cake decorator’s kryptonite), one gets the sense that hard work has something to do with her triumphs too. But whichever way you slice it, her success is sweet indeed.

Nez’s tips for cake decorating

Don’t rush

“When it comes to cakes, nothing can be hurried, especially when you first start out. Making decorative cakes is an incredibly layered process – and each layer takes as long as it takes. Often that’s because things need to be at the right temperature before you can do anything with them, so often there’s a lot of waiting involved.

“Cakes need to cool before you ice them. Most icing needs to be at room temperature. You need to do a crumb coat of icing before you do the top coat, as otherwise you won’t achieve a beautiful sheen, then you need to wait for that to set. All of these processes take time – and if you mess them up because you’re hurrying, it will take even more.

Materials matter

“Cake-making requires lots of equipment. It’s expensive buying the good stuff, but it’s worth it – you will be using it lots and, if you buy cheaply, it will break. It’s a false economy.

“On the subject of materials, think carefully about what you need. Proportions, for instance, are very important when it comes to things like cake boards. You don’t want a board that is much bigger than your cake, otherwise it just won’t look professional.”

Practice, practice, practice

“You wouldn’t believe how many hours I’ve spent practicing. It’s the only way to improve. Polystyrene cake dummies are brilliant for it – you ice them, scrape it off and go again. When I was learning to do lettering, I always used the outside of cake tins, as they’re so easy to wipe clean.

“As with any skillset, the more hours you put in and the better you know your tools, the more success you’ll have. When it comes to learning to pipe, buy a large range of tips – some small, some large. Play about with them and get a really good feel for how they work and what they result in. You’ll also soon learn about what consistencies work best for you; when I’m doing lines or writing, for instance, I like to put the filled piping bag in the fridge for three to five minutes. When the icing is a bit cooler, you have that little bit more control.”

Nez’s perfect Swiss meringue buttercream

“I use this for piping and to decorate all of my cakes. A few words of caution: be careful when separating your eggs, as even a trace of yolk in the whites will ruin the meringue. You can always keep the yolks for something else – mayonnaise, for instance. Another tip is to wipe your equipment with a little lemon juice or vinegar to make sure there is no grease or fat residue, as it can stop your meringue forming. And be patient! This recipe can take a while to perfect, but once you’ve nailed it you can do all sorts of decorating.

“You will need an electric stand mixer for this recipe.”

Ingredients
150g egg whites
200g caster sugar
400g unsalted butter, cubed and cool but soft
1tsp good-quality pure vanilla extract
A pinch or two of salt

Method
Put the egg whites in a heatproof bowl and whisk in the sugar, before placing the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water on a medium heat. Make sure the bottom of your bowl does not touch the water.

Whisk the mixture constantly. After about 4 minutes, check your mixture is ready by rubbing a little between your fingers; if you can’t feel any grains of sugar, it’s ready.

Transfer the warm mixture to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment beat until it has formed stiff peaks. This can take a while – often up to 15 minutes – so bear with it.

Once it’s ready, change the attachment to a paddle and let the meringue cool a little. Set the mixer to a low speed and start slowly adding the cubed butter.

Your buttercream might take some time to come together. Don’t panic if it curdles or goes soupy; if you leave it mixing long enough it will come to the desired texture: light, silky and fluffy with a gorgeous sheen.

Mix in the vanilla and salt. This buttercream is a great base for lots of different flavours, which you can add at this stage. Get creative with your choices; melted white chocolate, slightly cooled, is a favourite of mine.

Place in a piping bag and start icing!

Further reading

Made by Nez

Made by Nez on Instagram

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