It’s a Thursday and Elinor Galapitage has been up since 5 a.m. baking cakes to bring to the Good Food Market in Battaramulla. Working together, she and her husband Yohan have also prepared quiches and crumbles; pies, tarts and little clay pots ready for takeaway, the creamy homemade yoghurt inside laced through with a swirl of passionfruit and strawberry coulis. They will be set up and open for business by midday. The market will close that same evening, but by then The English Cake Company will have done well for themselves – with every cake and cupcake devoured. They’ll even be forced to turn away hopeful customers, only to find the most determined come back next Thursday, just earlier this time.
Hands on: Ellie and Yohan at their stall at the Good Food Market.
They have their ‘promise’ to customers written on a large banner near the table: ‘Always fresh, always homemade, no artificial colours, flavours or additives, always real fruit or natural flavours, we refuse to compromise on quality and taste’. Under the table though, is the reason they returned home in the first place. Little Leo Galapitage simply loves coming to the market. After 15 years in England, Yohan and Ellie decided to raise their boys in Sri Lanka. Watching Leo treat the market as his own playground, Yohan says he wanted his children to grow up in a culture that valued community and allowed children to remain innocent for longer.
Ellie, who hails from the north of England, is the daughter of a professional baker. She says she and Yohan had always had a “pipe dream” of doing something with her cakes. The two met when they were teaching at Elizabeth Moir, the same school that Ellie works in now (Yohan is a radiotherapist but isn’t currently practising). On the encouragement of friends, they ended up renting a stall at the Good Food Market. “It’s been like a proper rocket,” says Yohan. On their first day they brought loads of cakes and were swamped with customers– it seems to have set the trend for every subsequent visit.
Among the many cakes on the table today are a Dorset apple and cinnamon cake, a lemon and blueberry cake, a crème brulee tart and two traditional Victoria sandwiches, with homemade lemon and passionfruit curd fillings. Some of the recipes Ellie bakes are her mother’s, but others are from friends or from books but all have one thing in common. “Everything we sell is what we like to eat,” says Ellie. “We don’t skimp on things, because if for some reason they don’t sell, I want to be happy to eat them myself.”
Every time the two set up their stall at The Good Market, they have something new – this week it’s the dark chocolate and strawberry gateaux and an orange drizzle cake. They’re generous as well. With a few exceptions, they allow customers to get a taste before buying. Whenever possible, they try to set themselves apart – seldom offering something other stalls have. Even their cupcakes are topped with outsized meringue hats, each perfectly gooey at the centre. (100% of the cupcakes profits go the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital.) They hand over a flyer with an impressive selection of cakes and goodies, but Ellie says this isn’t the definitive one. “Because we make something different every week, the list just keeps getting longer and longer.” They’re relatively inexpensive: prices for a slice tend to be in the Rs.150 – Rs.250 range and whole cakes cost around 1,100 to 2,500. Yohan says they’re determined to provide quality at an affordable price.
Ellie and Yohan do it all by themselves – from catering high teas to custom cakes – and you can tell from the presentation. “My cakes don’t look immaculate,” says Ellie hoping that it’s part of their charm. What she’s really focused on is taste. There is nothing artificial in them; it’s all real fruit, cream and butter, with not a synthetic flavour or colour to be found.
“We try to use everything local,” says Yohan, adding that only a few items like the blueberries are imported. Pointing to their clay pots, which they serve yoghurt and quiche in, Yohan says they also want to be as environmentally friendly as possible – they steer clear of plastic sheets and disposable packaging and tools. Surveying their little domain, her head full of plans for the future, Ellie is pleased to be running The English Cake Company with her family. “It feels like things have come a full circle,” she says. “We’re really happy with what we do.”
Published in The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka on 21 July, 2013. Words by Smriti Daniel. Pix by M.A Pushpa Kumara.