From her workshop in Henley-on-Thames, Celia Smith and her team at Bluebell Biscuiterie create the most gorgeous handmade biscuits for special occasions and unique, edible gifts. From iced unicorns and fruit salads to wedding dresses, seasonal flowers and more, their sweet treats are the icing on the cake (or should we say biscuit!) for many a special event. As they embark on the busiest period of the year, the wedding season, we caught up with founder, Celia Smith, to talk all things biscuits, the royal wedding and the merits of Earl Grey tea.
Tell us about yourself, Celia; what sparked your passion for beautiful biscuits?
It was a complete accident. I had spent many years working in the food and drink industry, first for Sainsbury’s and then for Coca-Cola. I had taken a career break – to stop a long commute and to be a full-time mummy for a while. I really wanted to find a passion and a new project that I could get lost in. A friend sent me some iced biscuits for my birthday and I thought they were cute! I started messing around in my kitchen icing biscuits for friends and the business just grew from there.
I’d always been creative as a child. I used to create enormous, detailed murals out of scrap paper and, in my teens, I won a handful of cookery competitions. I think it was inevitable I would return to something involving art and baking!
What do you love the most about what you do?
I love getting a broad client brief. It means I can get really creative whilst still having the challenge of working out icing practicalities. Meeting other creative people is inspiring to, and the camaraderie, support and information sharing is great!
Walk us through a day in your life at Bluebell Biscuiterie…
I’m always the first up in the house. I check emails over breakfast. After the school run, it’s a quick trip to the Post Office to drop off orders, then to the gym. On a normal day I’m in the kitchen by 10.15. We try not to ‘make’ and ‘ice’ on the same day. If it’s a ‘making’ day we start making batches of biscuit dough (zesty lemon is still the most popular flavour) and find the biscuit cutters or make the stencils we need for that day. If it’s an ‘icing day’, it’s on with the ovens to bake the biscuits first and while they are cooling we make the royal icing.
I do all the icing myself. I often need to achieve a lot in one day with the same batch of icing and colour; Earl Grey tea and the radio keeps me going. I can usually be found in my favourite icing spot perched on a stool at our enormous kitchen island. Some days I ice for 10-12 hours which can be back-breaking – that’s where school pick up, after-school clubs and homework come in handy to give me a break – and then it’s back to it until often quite late.
Are there any designs that you especially love to create?
We do a lot of hand-iced biscuits for corporate events and kids’ parties but it’s the beautiful, unique and personal orders that I really love.
We noticed that you have a gorgeous selection of flower-inspired designs. Can you tell us more about them?
I love bright and beautiful things so vibrant botanicals are an obvious choice for iced biscuits. The opportunities for floral edible art are endless. Customers love them – especially the very detailed ones. I love hand painting, too – we make poppy iced biscuits with a touch of metallic hand painting – they are sooo pretty! We also sometimes use crystallised edible flowers on our biscuits. You need to crystallise them as soon as they are delivered as the flowers are so delicate and only last a few hours before they start deteriorating. I enjoy doing it, it’s very cathartic!
The clue is in the name, but we have to ask – are bluebells your favourite flower?
Yes, I adore them. My childhood home backed onto beautiful bluebell woods. I love their intense indigo colour and distinctive fresh smell. But I love all spring flowers, especially daffodils and tulips. I planted 400 ‘Ice Folly’ daffodil bulbs last year which were amazing when they all flowered together. I also adore parrot tulips and love how their stems twist and turn in a vase.
What’s your proudest achievement been?
Being nominated for awards is a big deal for us. We’ve only been going for a short time and it’s lovely to get the recognition.
What are you working on at the moment?
In the wake of royal-wedding themed biscuits (which were in high demand, as you can imagine!), we are now very much into summer wedding season. We get some wonderful wedding briefs and I love that creative process of providing something unique and memorable. We don’t just make wedding favours either. People are increasingly looking for an alternative to a traditional wedding cake or maybe they want a beautiful biscuity addition to a sweet table. We love coming up with designs which complement wedding stationery, flowers and even wedding dresses.
What’s in store for the future?
Well, we are working on two very exciting things – currently under wraps – but watch this space!