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Scotland's Larder: Jeni Iannetta from Bad Girl Bakery, Muir of Ord

We chat to Jeni Iannetta from Bad Girl Bakery, Muir of Ord about her obsession with cookery books, her life, loves and about how she ended up baking cakes for a living in the Highlands.

Published: August 10, 2021
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Jeni Iannetta from Bad Girl Bakery has a cookery book coming out in November, with Kitchen Press, she admits to being a cook book fan owning over two hundred, "I'm obsessed with them and the fact that I have my own is just astounding like a fantasy."

The process took longer than she thought but explains working on the project was a lifesaver during lockdown, "just to have something positive to look to the future for."

During the first lockdown the bakery, shut , "it was awful we didn't know what would happen, everything was completely outwith our control."

To keep her self focused she blogged some recipes, "I wanted to give something back to our incredible, loyal customers."

Bad Girl Bakery Jeni Iannetta
The interior of the Bad Girl Bakery Cafe. Picture: Matthias Kremer Photography

Dundee cake

Jeni originally comes from Kirkton area in Dundee, but with a surname name like Iannetta it's no surprise that she has Italian heritage, "we didn't get much Italian glamour, we are definitely Dundonian," she said.

Food was always a big deal in the family and she attributes her love of baking entirely to her big sister.

Vicky is an amazing savoury cook, "but she isn't a big fan of baking so at all the family gatherings I would be the one to bring cake."

As a student (English degree from Dundee University) she worked part time at Dundee Rep theatre in the box office, she said, "after my last exam, I started my job in the marketing department the next day."

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The Arts

She had accidentally fallen into a successful career in arts marketing at; Dundee Rep, Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal, BBC Scotland resources, before returning to her home city working at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

A high stress career and long hours took its toll and she became ill, and said, "I had this dawning realisation that I had mixed up being good at something with actually enjoying it.

"It was one of those moments when you think about your work life balance and I realised I could do something about it, so I gave it all up to bake cakes for a living"

Baking

At two o'clock one morning she applied for position with Fiona Pratt of Bibi's bakery in St Andrews, she'd see the advert while was searching online for cake stands.

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Bad Girl Bakery Jeni Iannetta
Vegan chocolate banana and coconut loaf. Picture: Matthias Kremer Photography


Jeni said, "she took a huge chance on me because I had never baked for a living before. She is amazing, everything I have learned about quality, not cutting corners and giving people a chance all came from her."

To improve her chances she brought cakes to the interview, she said, "looking back, it wasn't that good as my baking has got a whole lot better. It was a great job and if I hadn't met Douglas, I would still be working for her."

Romance

Mutual friends put Douglas (now her husband) in touch and they chatted online before agreeing to have coffee in Inverness, as Jeni was travelling to Skye for a catering job.

She had decided to back out because of time constraints, but there was no phone signal on the train, she said, "by the time I got reception it was too late to cancel but thank goodness I didn't.

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"I certainly didn't expect to meet my future husband that day."

Bad Girl Bakery Jeni Iannetta
Berries and custard brioche. Picture: Clair Irwin

Douglas was a single parent to Felix, and a year later Jeni upped sticks and moved to the Highlands, "I kind of fell in love with them both. I loved the idea of living somewhere more rural, and I was ready for a change.

"Felix is now thirteen and absolutely my boy, he is a lovely young man, cheery, funny and kind of sweet."

In the beginning

After she moved up north she began baking from home - where a busy week was baking around four cakes - and then she began selling at markets.

She explains the company ethos and jokes, "I'm going to start ranting about cake now.

"People don't treat themselves as often as they used to, and are more health conscious so when they choose a treat they absolutely want it to count, it is not something they have every day."

Bad Girl Bakery Jeni Iannetta
Chocolate chip cookie millionaire shortbread. Picture: Matthias Kremer Photography

"For me baking is about trying to exceed peoples expectations and making it taste as good as it looks.

"It's about generous fillings and hidden surprises, so it doesn't feel like a waste of calories or taste just of sugar. I still can't believe that I bake cakes for a living and people pay me for them."

Her recipe for success includse flavour combinations, textures, baking seasonally and prioritising local produce where she can.

She enjoys working with other local producers, they've developed a gin and tonic cake with Loch Ness Gin in mind, and their Beef and Ale pie, uses Black Isle Brewery beer.

Jeni said, "we try to make the most of the stuff that is right on our doorstep."

Black Isle Show

A pivotal moment for the business came with an unexpected call from a organisers of the Black Isle Show, they were offered a pitch as someone had pulled out.

Bad Girl Bakery Jeni Iannetta
Bad Girl Bakery Cafe display. Picture: Matthias Kremer Photography

She explains, "it is a huge agricultural show, and normally it is incredibly difficult to get a stall."

To begin with she turned the opportunity down, but changed her mind, she said, "I stayed up for three days straight baking and got about six hours sleep."

They won the best stall, and Jeni explains how she prepared, saying: "I'd baked more cake than she had ever baked, but sold out on the preview evening so I went home and baked all night for the next day.

"It was incredible we even borrowed ovens and mixers."

That one event proved to be a huge jumping point for the business, allowing her to open Bad Girl Bakery Cafe, Muir of Ord, and led her to supply cake to The National Trust for Scotland and the Caledonian Sleeper service.

Taking a chance

She adds, "if I hadn't have taken that chance, I wouldn't have had any of these opportunities. It gave me the confidence to produce on that sort of scale and it was just so exciting."

Everything is made by hand in small batches although she is no longer the only baker, she works with a small team.

She explains, Douglas is a major part of the business,"that man loves a spreadsheet, he kind of frees me up to do the things I really love."

Bad Girl Bakery Jeni Iannetta
Bad Girl Bakery Jeni Iannetta with husband and business partner Douglas. Picture: Matthias Kremer Photography

Jeni along with her team plan the day's cake display meticulously. The idea is to get a good range of cakes and bakes, she said, "we work really hard on creating a feeling of abundance, and something super indulgent and something a wee bit plainer."

Keeping it simple

She explains what she loves about baking is the immediacy, "you make it, serve it and people like it or they don't.

"You go in every morning with a blank canvas and a fresh start. There is something really simple about it.

"Cake in general tends to be square and brown mostly, so we design in a bit of colour.

"But we don't use any artificial colour or decorate our cakes with anything that isn't found in them," although she makes a concession for sprinkles imported from America at Christmas time.

Bad Girl Bakery Jeni Iannetta
Bad Girl Bakery Jeni Iannetta. Picture: Clair Irwin

On with the show

Jeni always has a showstopper, she said, "even if you are not going to eat it, it will bring you to the display and make you go, wow.

"A cake shop has to be a pretty happy experience, everything has to look nice."

The business has grown in a way the couple didn't anticipate and she said, "we have a lovely team of really talented bakers and chefs.

"I sound like I'm running a cult but I can't believe I get to go into work everyday and spend time with people I like, I have been incredibly lucky."

The cafe's interior has a retro look, she said, "our first cake counter was an old haberdashery unit and I wanted to make it look as good as I possibly could. The style may have grown up a bit but we have kept the fifties aesthetic."

Naming convention

She explains the idea behind the Bad Girl name, "in everyone's family there is someone who frowns upon indulgence saying, 'you've had cake. you're a bad girl,' it is about gently poking fun about that.

"These aren't healthy they are treats to be enjoyed once in a blue moon."

She is looking forward to the book launch in November which features over a hundred of her recipes, but she said, "I don't feel we are giving our secrets away, I've loved the process but I'm also petrified."

Her husband bought her a pen for book signings, but, "it has been in a drawer ever since, I won't look at because it makes me nervous."  

Bad Girl Bakery Jeni Iannetta
Bad Girl Bakery, £20 published in November by Kitchen Press is available to pre-order

She admits being inspired by other bakers including Mary Berry and Nigella, "I have a library of every cook book I've ever owned and some of them are dogeared and covered in butter because I've baked with them and some are pristine because I've read them like books."

Highland home

Being located in the Highlands is the cherry on the top for their business, "if you like something up here, people will travel so we have folk who make a hundred mile round trip to get cake and think nothing of it.

"I don't think our business would have flourished the way it did anywhere else."

Bad Girl Bakery Jeni with husband Douglas. Picture: Matthias Kremer Photography


The Bad Girl Bakery

Forbes Buildings
Great North Road
Muir of Ord
IV6 7TP

01463 872734

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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