Bill Reddick: From Clay to Cake
The clay master’s pandemic transformation to master baker
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2021 print issue of Quench Magazine.
I’ve always been a ‘glass is half full, look on the bright side, manifest positivity’ kinda gal. Of course, we all wish the pandemic didn’t exist, but since it does the next best thing is to look for silver linings and opportunities to spread some good out into the world.
Enter Bill Reddick, a celebrated and renowned pottery artist made famous for designing Canada’s official dinner service ware; his ‘Maple Leaf Service’ plates can be seen at Rideau Hall, having graced the dinner table for the likes of Barack Obama and other visiting international dignitaries over the last few decades.
Reddick’s journey during these past two years was carved out of struggle and necessity. His pottery business, which relied mostly on in-person sales, dried up during the pandemic’s many lockdowns. Faced with the need for income he chose to take an uncharted path, and dove into an idea that had been on his back burner for several years – he hung up his potter’s apron (temporarily) and donned a chef’s hat to focus on baking cakes. Not only did Reddick trade porcelain for almond flour, he also pivoted to the world of online sales, and out of all of it grew a delicious new business.
Reddick’s cake journey can be traced back to an interest in baking from a young age. “My friend Mike from grade 1 boasted ‘I remember Bill was making cakes when he was six years old’… I really had a thing about baking cakes and cookies.” Recipes from his early life are used, such as the Belgian Chocolate icing found in the center layers of two of his delectable creations, a family recipe that dates back to “war times.”
The Peterborough, Ontario resident built the foundation for his cake business out of one recipe that he calls The 56, named as such for its weight and inspired by rich chocolate flavor memories from his childhood. “My intent at the beginning was that I only had one cake; what a beautiful business, a singular product, and the market is all of Canada.” Realizing there was demand for more and encouraged by repeat customers, he added on three more flavors. The Orange 42 came first followed by The Orange 56 and (my personal favorite) The Orange Spice 56. When asked if he will be adding other flavors, he isn’t rushing to do so, citing that most of his sales are far reaching.
“We make a beautiful classic white birthday cake,” he says, “but the problem with that is that the buttercream icing can’t be shipped. I have a feeling that I’m just going to let things sit for a while (with the four selections).”
Reddick is still evolving however, primarily through his truly unique baking method. Initially he had used a friend’s commercial kitchen, but after some experimentation with no-knead bread in his studio walk-in kiln, he tried kilning his cakes for the first time. It was a great success, albeit with some challenges. “Using the kiln is not like using a convection oven where you set your temperature and timer and walk away,” he notes “(With the kiln) I need to be engaged, and just like with pottery, become more intimately connected with the process, and you ultimately realize there are possibilities. This is something I’ve always enjoyed, this working with processes.”
He uses the kiln’s two burners, one set to flame and one as an air intake, thus creating a controlled convection style environment. One difference which adds an element he hadn’t experienced with a standard convection oven is the thermal shelving that is unique to a kiln. “Having the one inch thermal mass where I put…the tray directly on that, immediately heat is conducted up through the bottom of the cake so it’s not just air cooking the outside edges and the top, (the result is that) it really pushes the cake up; it’s remarkable.”
This move to kiln baking has allowed him to work entirely in his studio space; the result is both a timesaver and a benefit to work/life balance. The move will potentially see him returning sooner to pottery, though the aim is to maintain both pursuits. There is an elegance in how cake and pottery have intersected,
each supporting the other. With his self-proclaimed ‘baptism by fire’ entry into the world of online cake sales, he will now continue to apply these new tech skills to his pottery business so he “can get on with the plan, which is using the cake website to introduce pottery that is appropriate to the cakes, like plates and cappuccino cups, and ultimately have a parallel pottery website.”
He isn’t rushing to build up the businesses too quickly as the intimacy of personal correspondence with his coast-to-coast customers has been one of his favorite aspects, made possible by the current scale.
So, which cake to try? All of them would be the correct answer in my books. If you are a chocolate fanatic, The 56 is perfect; decadent fudgy icing and rich, comforting chocolate cake that is reminiscent of childhood dreams. I also loved the 42, a moist, dense orange flavoured flan style, though decidedly not a classic flan. But the ‘icing on the cake’ so to speak is my favourite, the Orange Spice 56, a marriage of the two with the addition of Belgian Chocolate icing and strata of spices woven throughout, adding a beautiful complexity.
As we return to in-person activities, look to see what materializes with visits to his studio… and pick up some cake and a piece of pottery art while you are at it. You won’t be disappointed, I’ll bet an Orange Spice 56 on it.
Reddick’s cake website is full of great information on service temperatures and additional tips to maximise enjoyment. There are several ways to snag a cake: if you live in the Peterborough area or are passing through there are two porch pickup locations or free delivery. Farther abroad, you may order delivery from his website billreddickcakes.com. He can also be found on Instagram @billreddickcakes. If all else fails, drop him an email on his contact page and he will happily get back to you.
Brie Dema has a career rooted in hospitality and has worked with several fantastic Canadian wine and culinary programs including Langdon Hall, Fogo Island Inn and the Elora Mill. She has studied with WSET and CMS, holding the Diploma and the Advanced Pin respectively. Brie played the part of a bumblebee in her dance studio’s production of Peter Pan when she was five. She has a lousy sense of direction but can always find her way to the bottom of a glass of wine. Brie’s favorite role and greatest accomplishment is being a mom to her wonderful daughter Una. She wishes she was a better cook, but is glad she married a chef.