The Dish: Violet Bakery owner Claire Ptak's first love of baking

American Claire Ptak takes London by storm wi... 05:29

In a jewel box of a cake shop in East London, the morning menu at Violet Bakery offers prune oat and spelt scones, mini banana muffins and red velvet cupcakes. And in the open kitchen, owner Claire Ptak is laying out a sea of cinnamon and brown sugar for her irresistible cinnamon buns.

"It's like an American biscuit or scone kind of base," Ptak said.

Her recipes, made with whole grain flours, less refined sugars and the natural sweetness of seasonal fruit, have made her one of the rising stars of London's culinary scene, reports CBS News' Anthony Mason. Ptak works with Nigella Lawson, and Jamie Oliver calls her "one of my all time favorite cake makers."

Now she's out with a new book, "The Violet Bakery Cookbook."

"My first love was baking," Ptak said.

"How did that happen?" Mason asked her.

"Well, my mother's a great baker, my grandmother's a great baker. And where I grew up in Inverness, just north of San Francisco, it's rural, and we had wild blackberries and apple trees. And so there was a lot of emphasis on baking with fruit that was in season," Ptak said.

She was 26 when her huckleberry pie won her an internship at Alice Waters' legendary Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley. A year later, just as she was about to move to London, where her boyfriend was studying, she was offered a full-time job.

"I was like, 'OK! Slash, what am I going to tell my boyfriend who I'm supposed to be moving to London with?' So yeah," Ptak said.

She took the job.

"I couldn't not take the job, and luckily my boyfriend became my husband. And we made it work," Ptak said.

She'd spend three years as a pastry chef at Chez Panisse, meeting Damian Thomas somewhere between California and London whenever they could. In 2005, she finally made the leap across the pond, but Ptak wanted to keep baking.

"This was like, OK I just came from something really great. I've gotta make this really great. Otherwise I'm going to be totally depressed," she said.

So she set up a stall in a weekend market in East London's Hackney neighborhood, baking everything in her home kitchen.

"I thought, I'll make my favorite things that can withstand being outside for eight hours a day, so no cream puffs unfortunately, but things like cookies, and I started making cupcakes," Ptak said.

The cupcakes were a huge hit, but Ptak quickly found British tastes were different.

"Everybody keeps asking me for like treacle and raisin, and I'm like, 'Raisins? That's like the thing we pick out, you know,'" she said, laughing. "And everyone wants these rich dark flavors with molasses and raisin -- all these things I was really surprised about."

Over five years, word spread, and her business grew. Ptak said she realized it was taking over their home lives.

"What made you take that leap to open a bakery?" Mason asked.

"I think my husband was just like, 'Get out of the house! This is not OK,'" Ptak said.

Driving through Hackney one day, they passed a derelict building.

"Pretty awful, but it had this little 'For Rent' sign on the window. And so my husband like -- he literally put the brakes on and was like, 'Look! It's a place!' He was so desperate to get the business out of our home," Ptak said.

At first, Ptak only planned to use the building as her kitchen to sell her baked goods to markets and cafes.

"And then as we were doing it, my husband and I were fixing it up, people were like knocking on the door, and they were like, 'Oh my God, you're opening a bakery.' And we were like, 'No -- yeah, maybe we should,'" Ptak said.

"You're not exactly in the center of London here," Mason said.

"It was a risk. And it was a very affordable risk," Ptak said. "And we just hoped that people would find it. And they have."

Ptak will soon be delivering another satisfied customer as she's expecting her first child in late January.

A decade after leaving America, this California girl has found herself at home in the British Isles.

"Because there is this amazing meal in England, which is tea," Ptak said, laughing. "And they basically eat cake every day at like 4 o'clock. So it's incredible."

"You couldn't ask for a better market," Mason said.

"It's the coolest thing. Everybody's just like, 'I gotta have cake. It's cake time.' So it's cool. It's perfect for me. I couldn't be happier," Ptak said.