In the heart of Belgravia sits Peggy Porschen’s Elizabeth Street patisserie, pretty in pink and adorned with flowers, standing out amid the sweeping rows of terrace houses. Recently celebrating its tenth birthday, the Belgravia flagship represents Porschen’s extraordinary success. The entrepreneur and award-winning cake designer has taken London by storm, with a second opening in Chelsea, a Peggy Porschen Academy, and legions in Instagram followers.
“The funny thing is that we weren’t really allowed to paint it pink at the time as Grosvenor had strict guidelines about everything being painted in that shade of cream,” says Porschen, “but pink won in the end” – and so set in place the brand’s identity. “We originally had the pink façade with brown awnings because I envisaged it as chocolate, strawberries and cream. I was looking for something more elegant, and pink makes me happy, it’s warm and friendly, so we just embraced it and people like us for it.”
The clever use of pink has turned Porschen’s parlours into beacons for Instagram photographers, all keen to snap Porschen’s latest seasonal floral garlands and frosted swirl cupcakes. A simple marketing strategy, but never part of the plan, says Porschen. It was a happy coincidence in 2015 where Porschen realised the power the platform could have. “We decorated our shop for the first time for Chelsea Flower Show and the difference it made instantly was enormous. We had lots of locals coming in thinking we were new.” Porschen’s cafés become a London landmark and the shop became a thing to do on toursits’ to-do-lists. “The moment it really hit us was when my husband and I hailed a taxi. The driver told us that our shop was in The Knowledge. ‘You know you’ve made it when you’re in The Knowledge,’ he said.”
Instagram has certainly been the catalyst for Porschen and her cupcakes, but the skill involved in the craft is something Porschen hasn’t compromised on. “Something I’ve really learned through the pandemic is that now that the tourists aren’t here, we depend on the locals, who actually care less about Instagram and more about the food so it’s really important that we haven’t lost that essence and quality.”
Quality is the result of years of hard work at the prestigious culinary school, Le Corden Bleu, where the Cologne-born Porschen excelled. “I found it quite hard coming from overseas. I had school English and a little French but I realised that I’ve got to work hard, and that if I try I can succeed. It taught me to be resilient, thrive for consistency and to never give up.”
Porschen’s breakthrough moment came while working in luxury events, when she had the chance to create a commission for Sir Elton John. “I was asked to create 500 Fabergé eggs for his tiara ball. At that moment I felt that when you get an opportunity like that you’ve got to grab it.” Other landmark commissions included the afternoon tea collaboration with The Lanesborough Hotel. “It was a really proud moment for me to be approached.”
Even further back, and Porschen attributes her deep-rooted love of patisserie to her early years in Germany. “I fondly remember growing up with the smell of marzipan, nuts and chocolate,” she says. “Around Christmas we’d do cinnamon stars and Spritzgebäck – a piped butter cookie dipped in chocolate – and deliver them to friends. I think I was 14 years old when I baked my first cake and I remember this feeling of achievement. It really instilled in me that baking creates happiness and it’s something to share.”
The last year has proved incredibly successful for Porschen and her team, with customers ordering cakes for loved ones in lockdown online. “We’ve noticed the online business thrive. We are a go-to place if it has to be something special. You give love with cakes.”
Porschen has been encouraged by people taking to the kitchen. “I think baking has given people at home a lot of therapy and peace and it gives you a sense of achievement doing something with your own hands. It’s definitely an emotive thing for me. Even now, it’s a business, it can be very busy and hectic at times, but I always go back into baking. Even if the to-do list is long and I feel like I’m never going to finish, the moment I’m icing a cake, it really relaxes me.”
Porschen has been working on recipes for her book, which encourages amateur bakers to reach her level of perfection.
“My main tips for those wanting to dabble in patisserie is simple, always read the recipe first and pre-measure everything because there is nothing worse than when you have to go back and scoop something into a baking tin. Take time and don’t rush. Just enjoy it. Baking is about escapism and happiness.”
Peggy Porschen: A Year in Cake (Quadrille, £22)
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