“There can be some serious late night cake baking”: Meet Holly Cowgill

Working in food might seem like the dream gig (mainly because it is) but for Holly Cowgill, food stylist and founder of The Floury, she gets to go one further. When she isn’t working full time as a stylist she’s the one-woman force behind the stunning cake creations you see below.

We meet Holly in her flat in Stoke Newington, her kitchen filled with beautiful trinkets, cookbooks and vintage tins and instantly know this shoot is going to be a dream come true. We talked to her all about her business and how she managed to land a life most would kill for if she wasn’t so lovely.

Tell us a little more about yourself and The Floury…
“I’m Holly, The Floury is my small bespoke cake making business that I run from my house in Stoke Newington. I’ve been making the cakes for about 3 years, it has taken many turns including market stalls, baking cakes for cafes, baking workshops. Now I make wedding and special occasion cakes and do this alongside food styling work, which is preparing and presenting food for camera.”

What made you start your own cake making business?
“A mix of wanting to leave my office job (which was actually not bad at all because I worked with such an amazing group of people, but just wasn’t my thing). A friend asked me to make her wedding cake…then I started an Instagram and making cakes for friends etc, and it kind of grew quite organically from there. I don’t know if I ever sat down and thought ‘I want to have my own business’, it just happened!”

What’s been the highlights and the challenges you’ve faced?
“Highlights are definitely happy customers. I love it even when people leave nice words on Instagram photos of their cakes. Sometimes I get cards from people who’s wedding cakes I’ve done and they are just so nice to receive, knowing that people have enjoyed what I’ve made.

“The biggest challenge probably comes from balancing running The Floury with my other job of food styling. It does mean there can be some serious late night cake baking.”

We drool over the cakes on your Instagram – what’s the inspiration behind the flavour combinations and flowers that you use?
“The flowers for the smaller cakes are simply the flowers and greenery that are looking lovely in the florist that day. For wedding cakes the florist who is doing the wedding flowers will leave me a little bunch to decorate with, I’m very lucky that I’ve had some really beautiful flowers presented to me to use.

“The flavours change regularly and often include seasonal fruits, and I especially love using any ground nuts- almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, coconut flour. I will always be looking at food magazines, cookbooks or Pinterest for interesting flavour ideas, and am very open to people asking for flavours or combinations that they want and coming up with something together.”

Where do you source your ingredients?
“The eggs are organic free range eggs from Stoke Newington Farmers market. The fruits and veg are local/ seasonal from local greengrocers. Edible flowers are from Greens of Devon who grow just down the road from where I’m from in Devon. I make my own vanilla extract by leaving loads of vanilla pods soaking in vodka.”

What do you love about your job?
“So much, but the creativity and it sounds cheesy but just being able call cooking all day my job.”

Tell us about a couple of really important collaborations in your work?
“I don’t know if it’s a collaboration as such but I made 1st birthday cakes for Clemmie (@mother_of_daughters) twins, she put it on her Instagram and I got such a huge rush of orders from that, so I have Clemmie to thank for sharing that and being so lovely! I did a cake for & Other Stories Covent Garden Store which was great. I’ve met so many lovely florists whose flowers I have used on the cakes, including Rebel Rebel, Petalon, The Allotment Florist and Ash Maye, which has been really nice.”

What gets you excited to get out of bed for work in the morning?

What keeps you motivated when things get tough?
“The fact that it’s pretty much just me on my own means when it gets tough there’s no choice but to keep motivated and working!”

I khoollect a few …
“I might say I collect kitchen containers (tins, jars, jugs etc.) as I now realise I have quite a lot, but I don’t know if that counts as everyone needs those?! I have rugs from my travels, and recently I’ve started collecting bird badges.”

What’s your favourite item in your collection?
“My beautiful black and white rug I got in India last year…I lugged it round in my backpack for 4 weeks and now it’s at the end of bed. Or the fieldfare bird badge my sister gave me that started that collection.”

Favourite song or album?
This is SO difficult and is changing all the time, and I listen to music all the time whilst I’m asking so sorry I might have to give a few. At the moment I’m listening to Future Islands constantly after seeing them at Glastonbury where they were utterly incredible. I have Khruangbin, The War on Drugs, Polica on a lot too….I love world music like Bombino, Tinariwen and Issa Bagayogo. Tracey Chapman’s Fast Car was one of the first albums I learnt word-for-word and still love it. Ben Howards I Forget Where We Where album has so many lovely memories for me.

Your go-to tip for a great bake?
“Make cakes interesting with crushed nuts, curds, poached fresh fruit or flavoured creams, they are all so easy to incorporate and take cakes from average to interesting and special.”

Where do you call home?
“London has definitely become my home over the last 8 years… I’m from Devon and that is always home too – my family are there and it’s just such a relaxing place to be. I love both of these places but also love to travel and can feel at home in new places pretty quickly.”

Your favourite place for coffee?
“Esters in Stoke Newington, especially on a weekday afternoon when it’s a bit quieter and I can sit there for hours.”

Favourite spots for eating out?
“Although I LOVE food I’m not really one to queue for hours for dinner, I love going to local places that are a bit more undiscovered but still delicious – Dom’s Place in Clapton for Turkish, really good dosa at Jai Khrishna in Finsbury Park, Gujarati Rasoi a new Indian place in Dalston with incredible veggie food. Sandwiches from Dusty Knuckle in Dalston are THE BEST. Lunch at Mildreds in Soho. Like every other Londoner I love Caravan, Dishoom, and I would never ever say no to a Homeslice pizza.”

Where do you pick up a bargain?
“Not in London!”

Best green space?
“I love any green space…The Sussex Downs are really beautiful and so easy to get to from London.”

How do you spend a lazy Sunday?
“Ideally it would be sunny, I’d probably drive to a beach, have a swim. My friends would all be there and we’d eat lobster + chips and drink g+t’s.

If not in London, where would you be?
“This is also soooo difficult because travelling makes me so happy and there are some many places I would love to be… my favourite place I have been is Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, so maybe there. Or do you mean living? That’s a bit tougher, anywhere where there is great food and sunshine.”

What’s one piece of advice you’d tell your younger self?
“I still don’t know if I know enough to be advising my younger self! But probably it would be- try and say yes to everything that comes your way. Oh and if you won’t be worrying about something in 5 years don’t spend more than 5 minutes worrying about it now (much easier said than done, but I try!)”

One piece of advice you’d give to other starting their own business or side-venture?
“Again I still feel like I’m learning so much as I go.. Probably it would be- DO IT.”

Check out Holly’s tips for floral cake decorating and her amazing recipe for lemon polenta cake too.

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