Are you looking for authentic Belgian heritage cakes? Lies Deneys, owner of the Pajot Flemish Bakery, creates delicious pastries with love from her home country. She chats to Cliffordene Norton about bringing a taste of Belgium to Cape Town.
What inspired you to open a Belgian bakery in Cape Town?
Nineteen years ago, I arrived in the Winelands. Although I was happy to explore another country, I missed home and its food. Out of this longing for home, I started to bake the tarts I had grown up with. I have always had a passion for baking and food, so it came as second nature. I have baked in Paarl, Wellington and now Cape Town. Let’s say I have a travelling bakery. Wherever I go, the bakery goes.
Tell us more about your hometown in Pajottenland.
The Pajottenland is a region in Belgium that lies between Brussels and the rivers Dender and Zenne. It is an area of green fields and small villages. I come from the little villages Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Lombeek/Borchtlombeek, which form part of the municipality of Roosdaal. It is quite unique, as my village is only 15 kilometres away from Brussels, and yet it is as rural as can be, and very green.
What is your favourite memory of Pajottenland?
One of my favourite summer memories is the freedom we had as children to cycle in the fields, stop at the Molen van Lombeek, sit in the shade of a tree and pick berries from farms along the way. Just plain happiness derived from being free and safe.
Tell us more about the Belgian pastries and “heritage cakes” you make.
The tarts I make have always existed in Belgium. My great-grandparents already ate these tarts and cakes. Whenever you visit a Belgian bakery, you will find a version of my tarts. Because these tarts are so imbedded in our culture, I like to call them heritage cakes. And these tarts have no intention to disappear.
What is your favourite Belgian pastry, and why?
My favourite one must be the sour cherry tart, as it is the ultimate combination of sweet and sour fruit, with a touch of vanilla and a freshness all around.
You offer clients homemade pastries; where did you learn to bake? Are the recipes you use family recipes?
My recipes are indeed family recipes, although I have changed them slightly. I like to think I have improved the original recipes. I learned to bake myself. I have always been fascinated by chemistry and the reaction of ingredients. I was one of those children always making the strangest concoctions, and, together with my passion for food, this led me to baking.
On your website, you state: “Tarts and cakes shouldn’t just be about the sugar. They can also be about originality and tradition.” How do you decide which pastries to experiment with and when to stick to the traditional recipe?
Before settling for a recipe, I always experiment. Sometimes the original is better, and other times I am surprised by the tweaked recipe. My cakes are, in essence, not overly sweet. You can still taste the different ingredients. For me, this is very important: people need to know what they are eating. A cake can’t just be one-dimensional. It should be a feast for the senses.
Are there any ingredients that you specifically have to import from Belgium?
Luckily, I don’t need to import them anymore, as there are good European food importers. I use the vanilla sugar, tart glaze, custard powder, dessert rice and sour cherries from Europe.
Has your baking changed/evolved over the 20 years that you’ve lived in South Africa?
Practice makes perfect, they say. So, I can only hope this is true. In the past, I also made breads and all different kinds of tarts. But now, I have specialised in just a couple of tarts. And I like it that way.
- All photos are provided.