Castle Hills is the perfect place to have a fantasy cake shop. The neighborhood streets are named for Camelot: Merlin Drive, Sir Lancelot Circle, Lady of the Lake Boulevard. But of all the tailors, luxury pet boutiques and restaurants clustered around Lake Avalon, nothing is quite as on the theme as The London Baker on King Arthur Boulevard.
You’ll know The London Baker by the lion statues outside, and the big “Come in! We’re awesome!” sign on the door. The London Baker is small and mostly kitchen, where the staff built custom cakes from flour up, and the ovens are always warm. The display cases are full of homey pastries. Scones range from classic English and lavender Earl Grey tea, to bacon and cheddar, or tomato and ricotta. Ooey Gooey Brownies and deep-dish S’mores cookies, elegant cake balls, cupcakes, blueberry cream cheese croissants—made with real French butter—apple pie cinnamon rolls. Sometimes there’s a newcomer in the shelves, something seasonal perhaps, but they rarely take any of their pastries permanently out of the running. Everything on the menu has its own devout following of regulars and is too beloved to be discontinued.
When Owner Elizabeth Rowe is there, which is almost always, she’s busy. Perhaps she’s crafting frosting scales with the help of a thimble, or hand-painting gelatin eyes. Maybe she’s brainstorming a custom cake with a customer in one of the high-backed gray booths, flavors for tasting set out before them. Maybe she’s dressed in a Hufflepuff sweater and passing around PG Tips at a Harry Potter-themed high tea.
There’s magic baking in the ovens and a sense of possibility radiating from the kitchen, because there, vanilla, sugar and eggs become French bulldogs, dragons and face-hugging aliens.
Elizabeth sits down with me on the day of one of her Harry Potter teas. (Held intermittently, her themed high teas are possibly the best loved, but least known teas in the metroplex.) Behind us, the staff scoop china tea pots, half-empty mason jars of Devonshire cream and strawberry jam with edible sparkles off the tables. The fondant mandrake cakes, planted in chocolate sponge cake and trifle flower pots, are all turned over on their sides, spilling “dirt” over what few bacon cheddar scone crumbs haven’t been devoured. It’s been everything a Potter fan could want: butterbeer cauldrons, salted caramel snitch macarons, a Sorting Hat cake and a huge cheese-cloth-duct-tape dementor wafting down from the ceiling. The decorations alone must have taken hours.
“We go all out, and we all have to work overtime, but people really enjoy [the teas],” Elizabeth says. Though it’s been about a decade since she moved to Texas, she still speaks with an English lilt.
Elizabeth was an artistic child. She entertained herself by drawing, or working with clay, and liked fantastical projects with mythical creatures. She especially enjoying losing herself in small scale projects full of finicky details. When she discovered baking, food simply became her new canvas.
It started with a brownie recipe she discovered one day and tinkered with until it became something all her own. “I just thought it could be more delicious,” she says. She introduced real melted chocolate, not cocoa powder, and white chocolate chips, and created the Ooey Gooey Brownie. Cut into thick hunks that remain fudge-soft for days, Ooey Gooey Brownies are as intense and rich as coffee. They are always in The London Baker’s display case.
“They were so popular,” she says, recalling the first time her friends and family tried them. “People were suggesting I have a business selling brownies. They wanted pans and pans of them.” After the brownies came scones—her mother’s recipe—deep dish cookies, croissants, muffins and, of course, cake.
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Her first cake wasn’t a “normal, round cake,” but a three-tiered mini Topsy Turvy cake with skewed, slanted layers, like a stack of teacups. She baked it for a good friend’s birthday and fabulously decorated it with bright Dr. Seuss colors. The cake took three days of trial and error to perfect, but the end result was stunning. It was a huge hit at the party and Elizabeth had baked her way into a career.
“Now a cake like that would take me three or four hours,” she muses. “I’m one of those people who tends to run before I can walk. But I don’t do too bad running, falling and picking myself back up.”
Ten years later, The London Baker isn’t a typical cake shop. Though she’s a dab hand at romantic rose gold lace, glittering rock candy geodes, pearl accents, marble tiers and real flowers, traditional cakes aren’t what she loves most.
Elizabeth is known for fantastical, highly detailed cakes: a three-foot-tall Tyrannosaurus Rex rearing its huge cake head in defiance of every rule of gravity, a towering blue dragon cake poised to uncurl its tail and fly off the platter, and an elegant, lonely rendition of Rapunzel’s tower.
“I like the nerdy stuff,” Elizabeth says. “Lots of details, lots of sculpting.” It’s not always pretty; Elizabeth is drawn to projects that resolutely aren’t. One of her most notorious creations was a lifesize zombie clown head cake, which got her on the 2018 run of Halloween Wars, a spooky four-part series on Food Network, where cake decorators and candy makers compete to make the scariest edible displays. When Elizabeth was invited to audition, she and the other potential contestants were told to whip up something scary, even gory. Go wild, the producers encouraged them.
Elizabeth shows me a picture of the original cake she created as her audition and it’s the unholy union of Stephen King’s Pennywise and The Walking Dead’s walking dead.
“When you’re working on a cake, you don’t get the overall effect until you walk away and come at it from a distance,” Elizabeth puts in. “I was fine when I was molding the teeth, the gumline, the blood, the pale blue eyes. It was only when I left the room and walked back in and saw it on my table that the full effect hit me.”
The cake was so terrifying and realistic that though Elizabeth got her spot on Halloween Wars, the producers requested that she tone it down. The clown would scare their viewers.
Her current projects are a little easier to stomach. At the time of our interview, she was excited about an elaborate wedding cake with real crystal and elaborate chocolate-covered strawberries. It will be paired with a groom’s cake in the form of a giant mirrored Rolex watch. No two cakes are alike; every design is unique. It’s all bespoke.
“Likely, I haven’t done it before,” she says. “I want to make it brilliant, to make someone gasp.” One of her most awe-inspiring wedding cakes was Harry Potter themed featuring textbooks, a suitcase, a sorting hat, and even a little Hogwarts castle and a tiny scarlet dragon on top. It incorporated the bride’s subtle tattoo, and a surprise from Elizabeth: the hollow castle was rigged to light up. The couple cried when they saw it.
Because she approaches baking with the eye of an artist, Elizabeth could so easily be producing all flash and no substance. But her strawberry cake is as tart and sweet as summer. The chocolate milk stout cake packs a powerful, malty-burned punch when paired with her Bailey’s buttercream. They’re among the best cakes in the metroplex.
Take into consideration the roasted pear and vanilla bean scone, with its oh-so-gently salted honey glaze. Or, the shiver-down-your-spine deep dish bourbon pecan cookies. Think about the new line of fancy desserts she’s introducing soon. It’ll have layer cakes, each with a chocolate London Baker logo, graceful tarts, and mirror glaze cakes. Consider the upcoming brunch line. It promises Italian sausage and cheddar bread puddings, buttermilk pancakes and blueberry croissant bakes with Devonshire cream and strawberries. Imagine the detail that goes into every single scale on a dragon’s back, and the difference in the texture of its leathery wings. Picture the upcoming Stranger Things high tea—because, yes, Elizabeth confirms that one’s in the works.
Nothing is typical or expected. Every confection is created with love and curiosity, the same curiosity that drove her to ask: exactly how delicious can a brownie be, anyway?
Visit The London Baker. Find out.