Yael Shohat of Yael's Cakes

Over the years we've been spoilt by Yael- friend of Jim & Jane and Annandale local- dropping in delicious homemade cakes to Jim & Jane on her way home from work. We're thrilled to announce that she's recently expanded her wholesale business of 30 years to offer her baked goods direct to the public through a home delivery service (no small feat in these challenging times!). Thankfully for us, this means delicious pies for dinner each week and no more cutting the burnt edges off that chocolate cake for iso birthdays.

We were lucky enough to sit down with Yael to chat about this change in direction, her many past lives, and what makes her tick.

What does your Monday to Friday typically look like?

No two days at Yael’s are the same – every time I step into the bakery with a plan for the day, it just doesn't happen. My role is a macro one, I'm the recipe girl. I work with the head pastry chef to create and improve our menu – this involves a lot of tasting which is one explanation for my backside.

What did you do before Yael’s?

Previously I had a very eclectic work record – I went to school and uni in Canberra and landed in Parliament House working for various ministers for a while. I then lived in Vienna for a bit where I worked at the UN Atomic Energy Agency by day and a baisl (bar) by night. This is where my love of cakes blossomed. I spent a ski season in a hotel in Salzburg, cleaning toilets in the morning & skiing all afternoon. I also hopelessly worked for a PR firm back in Sydney – definitely wasn't cut out for that profession.

Yael's Lemon Meringue Tarts (a staff favourite at Jim & Jane)

One of our favourite cakes is your Apricot Hazelnut Meringue Cake, devoured straight out of the box or with a cup of espresso as a mid afternoon pick me up. What’s your favourite Yael’s product? What is the best way to enjoy it?

I have no favourites – they're all my babies! But the best way to enjoy any baked product is at room temperature or warm – everything is made with butter which needs to relax before being devoured. As for add-ons, can't go past double cream – my total weakness!

Yael’s has grown a lot since it first opened. Are you still very much involved in the day-to-day cooking? How do you strike a balance between the culinary side of things and the business side of things?

I'm very involved in the day to day creating – then hand the creation over to the head pastry chef to upscale. As for the business side of things, I don't think I'm very good at it and I certainly don't want to sit in front of a computer all day. No, the best bit has always been getting my hands in the mix. Our General Manager does a great job at handling the business side. 

Where does your love of food stem from?

I'm a diplomat brat, so we lived in quite a few countries and I'm an only child so it was easy for my parents to cart me around, which meant I was often in restaurants with them and learned to appreciate good food quite early. My mother was also a fantastic cook – she could create deliciousness with whatever she found in the fridge.

Can you share a favourite food memory with us?

We were in a French restaurant in the French Sector of West Berlin where my father was posted, and he ordered steak tartar – I'd never heard of such a thing – eating raw meat! I was hooked after my first bite – I'm quite fussy where I have it though – I've had some quite disgusting experiences with that too.

We love Yael’s. What in your opinion makes it special?

Ingredients and flavour – we try so hard to use the best ingredients & to not compromise on flavour – it's what you come back for, isn't it?

And consistency. We attempt to serve the same experience every day – which is hard, let me tell you – but that's what folks order and that's what they expect and deserve. However, we're in the business of live products – things can go wrong ...

Two Jim & Jane favourites- Yael's Velvet Mudcake and Apricot and Hazelnut Meringue Cake

Yael’s has been in business for more than thirty years now. How has the food industry in Sydney changed during this time? How has Yael’s evolved since it first opened?

Yael’s has to evolve and respond to market trends. Thirty years ago, large gooey creamy cakes were the go and people didn't question their options. Today it's simpler fare – smaller, nuttier, less icing, gluten free. You name any variation; folks will ask for it – but we can't be everything to everyone so within these parameters I have to use my own compass to lead the way.

As a business owner, what have you discovered about yourself lately and what do you do to remain inspired?

When I and my partner started our business, we were lucky enough to have Joan Campbell, then editor of Vogue Entertaining, invite us into her home library – Lord, I'd never seen so many cookbooks in one spot! Joan was so generous with her time and resources and we totally indulged. Unfortunately, I also inherited her addiction to acquiring cookbooks. I have them everywhere, literally, all the bedrooms, dining room, kitchen have shelves alive with my cookbooks and the older they are the more I love them – everything old is recycled and I have the originals!

What’s something about your job that you think would surprise people?

The end result of our daily toil is such a good looking, yummy creation that it's hard to imagine its ingredients come in 25kg blocks of butter, 25kg bags of sugar, flour & chocolate – it's heavy hard work!

Favourite Australian travel destination?

Is it too parochial to say the South Coast?!

I was supposed to be travelling around Australia next year for a year – yup, I was all set to take the year off after my last boy finished the HSC this year – sadly, I think COVID's taken care of that

Favourite book?

The Magus by John Fowles – totally weird psychological mind game of a book set on the island of Spetses. I read it when I was living in Vienna and that summer I hopped on a train to the island it was set on – gorgeous island with no cars, just donkeys doing all the schlepping.

What was the last movie you saw? Are you watching anything at the moment?

Like everyone else there have been no movie outings for me – I have however devoured Homeland and I mean devoured – I did not stop until I couldn't keep my eyes open – so, so sad it's over & highly recommended.

Are there any culinary figures that you look up to or take inspiration from?

I started out when Anders Ousback and Serge Dansereau were the stars of the Sydney food scene, credited with being the fathers of modern Australian cuisine. They set a standard for many of today's chefs. It was about using fresh local ingredients and allowing the individual flavours to shine. It's a philosophy I cling to and hope comes through in our products – real food & real flavour. 

You’re having people over for dinner. What do you cook?

Oh, I keep that as simple as possible – usually one pot – I'm known to use dinner guests as guinea pigs – depending on their response, I either send it to the head pastry chef for upscaling or ditch the idea. Many a dinner has ended up in a Yael’s pie!

What three items from Jim & Jane do you currently have, or are currently on your Wishlist?

I love the shop – I buy all my gifts there. I've bought every colour I could of the American Vintage t shirts and long sleeve t-shirts, I've taken my god daughter there to be outfitted by Harriet to celebrate the end of year 12. I've taken my son there to buy gifts for his girlfriends cos he's useless at it. Over the years I've collected many pieces for the house sourced by Amber... and I bought my prized possession there – my pink pig! And even my husband has learnt the best Yael present is a gift certificate from Jim & Jane. . . 

Order cakes and savouries from Yael's online here

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