Helen Peacocke meets trained cook and entrepreneur who can make a popular treat for any occasion

You may have already met Julia Atkinson, Oxford’s cupcake entrepreneur. She can be found in Bicester Village some days and in Oxford’s Cornmarket Street on Thursdays and Fridays, selling her wares from the giant yellow basket of her Happy Cakes bike. You will also find her at local food fairs or cycling through Summertown as she embarks on a delivery round.

Julia’s easily recognised by her infectious smile. She is a woman who not only loves what she is doing but is really happy to be self-employed and selling a product that people enjoy.

Selling from a bicycle rather than a shop suits her fine. It means she is not tied to one place.

Her bike is designed to carry 300 cupcakes, so she doesn’t have to worry about running out of stock, and if inclem-ent weather causes the footfall to diminish, she can just close her basket and go home.

Julia, who is mother to nine-year-old Hannah and seven-year-old Gemma, chose a career in cupcakes as it provides her with that flexibility all mothers need if they are to juggle the demands of family and work. She is a fully-trained caterer who has been cooking cakes since she was young.

She began her training at Blackpool Catering College, then went on to get a degree in Hospitality at Oxford Brookes University. Having met her husband here she then remained in Oxford, taking on a job as catering manager at St Cross College in St Giles.

“It was a wonderful job — I loved it, particularly as I was in charge of creating teas for the governing body. As cakes were, and still are, my thing, I was able to cook all sorts of exciting creations including all the classic fruit cakes and Madeira cakes, but Delia’s lime and coconut cake was my favourite.

“Those attending the tea loved it too,” she said, pointing out that, although she did use Delia Smith’s books, it was her grandmother’s recipe collection, particularly the fruit cake, that served her best.

Over the years The Dorchester Abbey Tea Rooms Cook Book has also proved inspirational, though sadly it is out of print now.

Moving on from St Cross to open her own business proved easier than she expected, particularly once she had established her own state-of-the-art kitchen in the family garage, where she now has facilities that enable her to cook 300 cupcakes a day... though if pushed she can cook more than 1,000 in one day. Being a trained cook, and a trained businesswoman, thanks to Brookes University, making cupcakes proved quite an easy step forward, especially as she had made many contacts in the University while at St Cross, many of whom are now regular customers. When Julia called at my cottage to talk cupcakes, she arrived bearing a box of cupcakes, but these were not ordinary cupcakes.

Each one was decorated with an edible picture made of rice paper of Barnaby, my Border collie (see recipe, left). Being able to create pictures like that gives Julia an edge on other cupcake makers, as she is able to personalise the cakes. Company logos are popular too.

Watford Observer:
Julia Atkinson

Cupcakes owe their name to the teacups in which they were first baked more than a century ago. Those early cakes were fairly plain and resembled what we know as fairy cakes. Chocolate cupcakes, shiny with chocolate glace icing in silver fluted paper cases, have been popular in Britain for generations. It was the arrival of the TV series Sex in the City in 1998 that brought luscious American-style cupcakes to prominence.

One of the attractions of those sugary, highly profitable confections is they can be bought individually as a kind of personal gratification, sometimes a reward for hard work or to counter unhappiness. Oxford food writer Geraldene Holt whose latest book West Country Cook & Assorted Fancies has just come out, poin-ted out the difference between traditional cakes such as a Victoria sponge or a Dundee cake and cupcakes. She says the large classic cakes are for slicing and sharing, which brings an altogether different kind of pleasure than eating a self-contained cake smothered with icing.

Julia promotes her wares with enthusiasm which is one reason her business is now so successful. If she learns that there is a film crew in the city, for example, she cooks up a batch of cupcakes to suit the theme they are working on, such as Lewis perhaps, and pedals over with cupcakes for Kevin Whately, Laurence Fox and their crew.

Ask Julia what kind of cupcakes she can make for you and she will break into one of her glorious smiles, shrug her shoulders and say: “Anything you want,” and the remark-able thing is — she can!

Visit www.happy-cakes.co.uk