Catching up with 'flour girl' Fiona Murphy
PUBLISHED: 13:15 10 October 2016 | UPDATED: 13:15 10 October 2016
Fiona Murphy, Best Newcomer in the 2016 EADT Suffolk Food and Drink Awards, has a simple ambition - to be the go-to foodie wedding cake-maker. She's well on the way, as Linda Duffin discovers
“Back in my pre-baby life I used to be known as The Feeder,” admits Fiona Murphy, of Moo Moo Cakes, with a grin. “I was an advertising manager for a portfolio of women’s magazines in London, like Grazia, Heat and Closer, and I was always the one who used to bake and bring in birthday cakes for my team.”
Just a month before she was due to return from maternity leave, her company underwent a major restructuring, so Fiona grabbed her redundancy package with both hands and began a new life. Her partner, Paul, embarked on a career change in Suffolk, the couple brought forward plans to have their second baby and they bought a house in the picture-postcard village of Cavendish. So far, so challenging, especially with two-year-old Milly, nicknamed Moo Moo, and six-month-old Elsie to care for. But Fiona had her sights set on a new career too.
“I decided to be really brave and go for it,” she says. She set up Moo Moo Cakes, named for her eldest daughter. “When you’re starting up your own business it’s all a bit overwhelming, a bit daunting. There are so many cake makers with amazing skills, and it’s all about me trying to stand out for what I do that’s different.” She began by making one cake a week for her local deli, Number One in neighbouring Clare, as well as offering a birthday and wedding cake service.
That was two years ago. Today, expanding the business entirely through word-of-mouth, she also supplies Paddy and Scott’s cafés in Bury St Edmunds and Hadleigh, and Sudbury’s AG Lifestyle. That’s something like 15 cakes a week, plus customised cookies for corporate clients, on top of the birthday and wedding cakes she makes for private customers. She makes everything herself in her gleaming white home kitchen.
“I do work a lot. I try to keep a balance, but there are some nights when I don’t sleep very much because I’m working late after the girls have gone to bed. The positive thing, though, is that it’s got to the point where Moo Moo Cakes is going to be expanding, and I’m looking to take on extra support, employing somebody to help keep up the quality but also to give me the opportunity to keep experimenting with the recipes.” And those recipes are proving to be hugely popular.
“If you’re going to eat cake, eat good cake,” says Fiona. “I’m such a cake snob and I’ve had really bad cake in the past. What you put into your cake is really important to me. When I was in my 20s I found out I had polycystic ovaries and I was told if I didn’t do an overhaul of my diet then it would affect my fertility. So it really made me focus on nutrition and what I put into my body. I’m really careful about what I put into my cakes.”
That means no refined white sugars, but vegetables are on the ingredients list.
“One of my favourites at the moment is a chocolate beetroot cake, and my Suffolk Root Cake was my first big signature bake. It’s got carrots, parsnips and beetroot in it, and it’s made from wholegrain spelt flour, rapeseed oil and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. I layer it and wrap it with a lemon juice buttercream and then sprinkle pumpkin seeds on top. It was the first cake Paddy and Scott’s took on board and they still sell it all the time now.” Fiona’s wedding speciality is rustic buttercream-finished cakes, baked fresh and assembled at the venue about an hour before the cake is cut. She is at the forefront of a movement to banish hard, glossy icing and solid fruit cakes, in favour of lighter, fresher sponges. Winning the Best Newcomer category in the 2016 EADT Suffolk Food and Drink Awards was a tremendous boost.
“I was baking on the day I got the email to say that I’d made it as a finalist. I couldn’t believe it. I was literally clapping my hands, I just couldn’t stop bouncing around,” Fiona says. When she discovered the other finalists were The Queen at Brandeston and Lavenham Butchers, she thought she had little chance of winning.
“I thought we’ll just go the awards ceremony and have a nice time, and then when the awards were being announced and they did a little synopsis on each finalist I thought ‘what if they say my name?’ And then they did – and my breath stopped. I was so shocked. My partner had to give me a nudge to go and collect the award. It was overwhelming, so exciting and I was so in awe of everyone in that room.
“Everyone I work with has been spreading the good news and it’s nice to be able to have the award badge on my website. I started with some hope and some faith that I was going to do a good job, knowing I had to work hard and keep focused, and to get the award was such an amazing thing because it gave me such confidence in what I do.”
As for the future, that planned expansion beckons. “I’ve been really blessed so far and I’m incredibly grateful for where I am at the moment. I would love to be able to do more contracts across Suffolk – cafés, shops, things like that. But really importantly I would like to get myself established within the wedding scene as the go-to cake maker for rustic, buttercream-finished cakes using organic edible flowers and seasonal berries. I want to be known as the foodie wedding cake maker, the sort of cake people look at it and think ‘I want to eat the whole thing’.” No problem, Fi.
The Best Newcomer category was sponsored in 2016 by the KBB Centre. The 2017 EADT Suffolk Food and Drink Awards will be open for nominations in the autumn. Watch Suffolk Magazine and the East Anglian Daily Times for details.