One Gwent woman's passion for baking is a truly continental affair - thanks to her mother and husband. KATH SKELLON reports.

BAKING has become a hot trend again - thanks to the likes of The Great British Bake Off and is a passion of Blackwood coffee shop owner, Esther Apoussidis.

Mrs Apoussidis, 49,who opened Coffee Continental four years ago, specialises in authentic homemade continental cakes, inspired by the German and Austrian Kaffeehaus.

Born to a Welsh father and German mother, Mrs Apoussidis inherited an appetite and talent for cooking and baking from her mother.

“My mother, Helga Clarke, worked as an au pair in France, Sweden and England and loved picking up local recipes. The Germans are renowned for their cakes and baking skills - she had a natural talent. I learned a lot from her and as one of seven used to help her with meals.”

“I’ve never been to catering college. It’s all a question of learning from others and experimenting. I own a lot of recipe books, but I also like the challenge of adapting a recipe to suit my taste and the ingredients in my cupboard.”

The mum-of-three, who won the 2011 Caerphilly Business forum Women in Business Award, says her entrepreneurial spirit comes from her dad who set up his own business, including properties to let and also a launderette, upon retiring early from the RAF.

After moving from London to Wales in her teens she studied German and Economics and Cardiff University, spending a year in Cologne, Germany where she volunteered to cook a course of a Christmas meal for 120 people.

“I started cooking and baking in earnest when I started university and the interest just grew and grew."

“I’ve always baked continental cakes at home and friends say they are too good not to share. They are now our speciality.”

“It was when I was on maternity leave from my job as a marketing manager for an IT company that my Greek husband, George and I forged and implemented a plan to open our own coffee shop."

“We researched many locations, but it seemed Blackwood beckoned because there was a café ready and waiting to be taken over at the precise time we were looking.”

Mrs Apoussidis met her George in Frankfurt, Germany when he was helping to run a Greek restaurant for his cousin so he had some experience in the catering industry.

“It took us two months, but 20-odd years in the dreaming, to transform a greasy spoon café into our dream coffee house.”

“The emphasis is on chic décor, freshly-baked continental-style cakes, great European coffee recipes and Mediterranean hospitality.”

The couple have plans to launch a breakfast artisan bread club-specifically for trying out breads from around the world and The Cake Lovers Club, which started in their family-run Cardiff coffee shop, and where indulging in the most delicious confections is the name of the game.

“Cakes are all the rage at the moment so the idea of starting a cake club seems perfect, giving people the opportunity to bake a cake and bring to the club, taste other members’ offerings, chat, socialise and swap tips.”

The club will select the favourite recipe of the month from the members’ contributions, to be published in the café.

“Programmes such as the Great British Bake Off have given us all a licence to enjoy cakes-they are no longer a guilty treat.”

“The club will allow people to mix with others who share their passion and will also help novice bakers learn new skills.”

Mrs Apoussidis believes baking is a hot trend that started with an influx of coffee shop chains and the American influence of cupcakes and muffins. When the British Bake Off hit our screens it gained a life force of its own.

One of her favourite cakes to bake is ‘Bienenstich’ or Bee Sting Cake.

The German dessert is topped with almond-honey clusters and filled with vanilla and cream.

“It’s is a popular dessert which intrigues my customers,” explained Mrs Apoussidis.

It dates back to the 14th century and, according to legend was named after German bakers lobbed beehives successfully at raiders from a neighbouring village and celebrated by baking a version of this cake which they named after their efforts.

“It’s straight-forward to make, uses a low-fat soft cheese and is an all-year round cake.”

When asked about tips for budding bakers she replied; “

“Don’t be afraid to have a go at baking.”

“Always learn the basic rudiments but let yourself experiment. For example basic rudiments to a light sponge would be to have equal portions of ingredients. Or for muffins half liquid to dry ingredients. If a recipe doesn’t work out, determine what is wrong with it- too dry? Too heavy?”

“Never abandon or give up-try it again, this time with more egg or more liquid (milk or rum) Eventually, you’ll hit on the right combination for you and your oven.”

Coffee Continental is located is the Market Place, Blackwood.

Bienenstich / Bee Sting Cake

Ingredients: Cake Base

• 400g flour

• 6 teaspoons baking powder

• 100g sugar

• 250g Quark (low fat soft cheese)

• 2 egg yolks

• 7-8 tablespoons milk

• 6 tablespoons oil

• ½ teaspoon of salt Ingredients: Filling

• pack of vanilla pudding powder

• 2 tablespoons sugar

• 1/4 litre milk

• 1/4 litre whipping cream

• Extract of 2 vanilla pods (or use 2-3 teaspoons of good quality vanilla essence or you can use vanilla syrup, adjust to taste)

• 200g butter or margarine

• 150g icing sugar

Ingredients: Topping

• 100g butter or margarine

• 140g sugar

• 140g flaked almonds

• 6 tablespoons whipping cream

• Optional: tablespoon runny honey

Directions for Base/Topping

1. Knead together the cake ingredients to a smooth mixture.

2. Place in a greased cake tin (either round tin dia 26cm or rectangular tin 17.5cm x 25cm).

3. For the topping, heat up the margarine or butter with the almonds in a pan, until this turns light brown (is caramelised).

4. Stir in the cream and leave to cool.

5. Once cool, spread this mixture evenly onto the cake base and bake in the oven at 175 °C for 30-35 minutes; if necessary cover with greaseproof/parchment paper.

6. Once baked and cooled, cut the cake in half (horizontally so the almond honey cluster forms the top layer of the cake).

Directions the Filling

1. Mix the pudding powder with the sugar and 6 tablespoons milk.

2. Heat remaining milk together with cream and vanilla pod extract, until it reaches boiling point.

3. Then stir in vanilla powder mixture and then let this re-heat to boiling and then remove from heat to cool.

4. Beat the butter/margarine until fluffy.

5. Then gradually add in the icing sugar (small amounts at a time).

6. Sir in vanilla pudding.

7. Spread the vanilla cream onto the cake base and then place the nut cake layer on top.

Alternative Quick-Fix Filling

A quick alternative to the above filling is whipping 500g of cream until stiff (you can use cream stabilisers to help thicken and also vanilla sugar to add sweetness). Then add a small pot of ready-made custard, followed by vanilla syrup or vanilla essence – quantity depending on individual taste. Add a little at a time. You may also colour the cream with some yellow colouring to give it the appearance in our photo above.