Q&A with Hayley McKee, Founder of Sticky Fingers Bakery

by | Cake Wisdom, Wisdom


Ms Zig Zag

Australia has some of the most talented cake artists in the world- it’s something we are being reminded of again and again as we work our way through all of our Australian cake designer’s amazing wisdom in Cake Month,

One such gem is Hayley McKee- she built her business, Sticky Fingers Bakery based on her curiosity and passion about bringing nature-based ingredients into delicious sweet treats and she’s sharing her knowledge in her brand new cookbook Sticky Fingers, Green Thumb. We sit down with the in-demand baker to find out more about her impressive cakes and what inspires her unique, au naturale style. 

Can you sum up what you do for us in a ew sentences?
I’m a cookbook author and self-taught baker specialising in baked desserts that taste of nature. I like to let real ingredients shine, instead of masking them with sugar or artificial flavourings. My speciality is wedding cakes, and I was recently ranked number 1 Melbourne wedding cake designer by GoodFood/Epicure. My cookbook ‘Sticky Fingers, Green Thumb’ was recently released worldwide.

Please describe your unique baking and cake decorating style.
I use herbs, vegetables and edible flowers in my baking, as well as native Australian bush ingredients. I’m known for my earthy, flavourful combinations, like Chocolate Wattleseed, Spiced Parsnip & Willow Blossom, Porcini Caramel Chestnut, Golden Saffron Pumpkin are all great examples of my style of baking. Wedding cakes are frosted with whipped buttercream and then scraped back, so nothing is overly sweet. I decorate each cake myself using edible flowers, native Australian flowers or rambling garden varieties of open bloom flowers.

Your desserts are inspired by and taste like nature. Do you get out amongst nature a lot yourself- hiking, swimming and/or foraging etc?
I grew up amongst nature in six acres of wild bush so I definitely gravitate towards open green spaces. I spend as much time as I can in nature, playing with my son and working on my community garden plot, growing edibles.

Where you do source your nature-inspired cake toppings and decorations- native blooms and seasonal fruits?
Most of the organic herbs and edible flowers I use in my cakes, I’ve grown myself. Other than relying on my home grown ingredients, I love my local fruit and veg market. I’ve been shopping for my ingredients there for so long now that I have some really cool friendships with my suppliers. Plus, visiting my growers markets always gives me ideas for creative, new cake flavours.

There are no artificial flavours and colours in your recipes (yay!) How do you achieve such vibrant colours without using artificial ingredients?
Beetroot, tumeric, pumpkin, spinach, blackberries, raspberries, basil and blueberries are my secret weapons for bold colours, without the junk 🙂

How do engaged couples get in touch with you to order their wedding cake?
A lot of my business comes through Instagram or the pop-up bakery events I hold in Melbourne. A simple email with details on the date of your wedding and the guest numbers are all it takes to start the conversation rolling. I encourage my couples to think about any special food memory (sweet or savoury) or special family sweet they have, so I can try to incorporate that into their cake design. I’ve had people ask for a cake to reflect their heritage (Sri Lankan and Japanese have been favourites of mine) and a couple even asked me to recreate their favourite doughnut that they shared on their first date!

How far in advance should engaged couples book in their Sticky Fingers Bakery wedding cake?
The sooner the better for the busy wedding months (Oct – March), as I usually book out a few months in advance, but it’s always best to just send an email and we can roll on from there.

Tell us about the process of writing your beautiful cookbook Sticky Fingers, Green Thumb?
I’d always dreamed of writing this book because it was the cookbook I’d always looked for! I wanted to explore the best under-utilised ingredients for baking – vegetables, herbs and edible flowers – and teach people about their beautiful flavours and how to weave them into cakes, brownies and cookies. There are just under 60 recipes in the book, some of them new for me but most of them old favourites that I’ve been dying to share with the world. Each one is big on flavour and surprises. If you’re interested in baking, I share my process of baking a cake from start to finish and all the equipment you need to survive as a killer home baker.

Do you have a favourite passage or paragraph from your book, you’d like to share with us?
The section where I began to realise that my baking could be transformed by turning to edible gardens and farmers markets for new flavour ideas, is really the core of my book:

“A breakthrough came when I realised that everything else I ate, and everything I believed in about good food, was based around real ingredients. I cared about where I shopped, the produce I bought and who I bought it from, but my cakes lacked this connection to local suppliers and natural ingredients. My baking shifted when I switched on to local growers’ and farmers’ markets and, most importantly, to edible gardens.

By tuning into the plant world I eventually arrived where I belonged: baking sweets that tasted of nature. Where the ingredients were familiar, the colourings genuine and the flavours unmasked. Vegetables, herbs and edible flowers gave me vivid flavours to explore and offered a savoury–sweet balance that satisfied with-out overwhelming. Soulful, earthy and seasonal baking became my true direction and, ultimately, my signature style.”

If there was one cake recipe you’d recommend from the book to make at home/serve at a wedding, what would it be and why?
The Beetroot Rose Truffle cake is a decadent hit! It’s a lush. brownie style cake flavoured with roasted beetroots and a dash of rose essence.

If it’s not too personal to ask, we are wondering if you are married and whether you can share a description and image of your own wedding cake.
It was a 40 degree day for my wedding so I had to think on my feet and bake a three tier cake with no icing (it was a rooftop wedding). I chose two different flavours: Persian Love cake made with cardamom, rose and pistachios, and the Solitude which is a yoghurt, dark chocolate and honey cake (my husband’s favourite). Both flavours were dense, gooey cakes so they worked well served as small portions to cover our guest numbers. We cut the cake with sparklers and fireworks streaming out the top (!) and served it with generous dollops of clotted cream.

Ms Zigzag says: Intrigued by Hayley and her to-die-for baking and recipes? So are we! Hayley’s new cookbook is a must read ‘Sticky Fingers, Green Thumb.’ Be sure to enter our competition to win one of three copies of her book- competition closes on 30th April at 5pm. 


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