HomePeopleJulie Jones: Expressing Her Art Through Pastry

Julie Jones: Expressing Her Art Through Pastry

(This article appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)

A trained chef, Instagram influencer and cookbook author, Julie Jones has quietly become one of Britain’s most influential bakers. She specializes in tarts and pies, but not the kind grandma used to bake. Julie’s are elaborate designs, crafted with intricate layers of texture and color that entrance the eye. Her latest book, Expressions: Art in Pastry; Recipes and Ideas for Extraordinary Pies and Tarts (Kyle Books, 2022) is a collection of recipes and designs for sweet and savory pies and tarts, each of which is an edible work of art. In this interview, Julie talks about the life changes that influenced her career path, and how she has come to appreciate the beauty all around her, which, in turn, inspires her to new levels of creativity in the kitchen.

What sparked your interest in food?

I retrained as a chef at my local college at 30, after becoming frustrated and unmotivated with the office work I’d done for many years. In my spare time I would cook, and soon fell completely in love with feeding people and the joy my dishes and the menus I’d put together would bring.  I’d host dinner parties and devour cookbooks, and soon it became all I thought about. Ingredients, what I could create next, trying new things and planning the next get-together with friends. It seemed the obvious choice for a career change, and so I quit my job and enrolled in a three-year course.

What made you choose pastry as a specialty?

The course I was enrolled upon didn’t do the higher level of pastry, so I also enrolled in that course at a college about 50 miles away. I’d travel there once a week for a year. I wanted to know my way around all of the kitchen and widen my knowledge, not because I wanted to be a pastry chef, in particular. My love of pastry came later on.  Working with pastry became a therapy, the soothing hours spent creating beautiful dishes, and eventually pies becoming my signature.  I never did get into a professional kitchen (except stages), as my Mum became ill with dementia not long after I graduated.  I was newly married, pregnant, already had a 10-year-old, and now with a baby on the way and a Mum to look after. It wasn’t to be….but I didn’t stop. I just brought the restaurant to my home and hosted supper clubs every Friday for four years. Each week would be booked in advance for up to nine months at a time! The diners were excited to taste the dessert images I would post on Instagram.

Delving into my creative side has certainly guided me through some very challenging times, and has helped to open my eyes to what a beautiful world we live in.

Your new book, Expressions: Art in Pastry; Recipes and Ideas for Extraordinary Pies and Tarts, takes the art of making beautiful pies and tarts to a whole new level. You say in your introduction that this book isn’t a cookbook – rather, it’s a book of creativity through food. Your creations lean more towards works of art than baked goods – how do you find a balance between the look versus the taste of your work?

Firstly, taste, texture and balance of flavor are always most important. There’s no point if something has style but no substance – that has always been of highest importance to me.  I have written previous cookbooks that focus on getting the technical side right, so I felt I could focus on the creative and artistic side in this book.

Being creative has help me in so many ways, and I feel it’s an important part of our human nature.  Delving into my creative side has certainly guided me through some very challenging times, and has helped to open my eyes to what a beautiful world we live in. I appreciate beauty in most I see now – before I was blinkered with the stresses that life brings, and I realize I was just trying to get through each day as it came along. I now appreciate others’ creativity on a whole new level and that, in turn, inspires me to keep creating.

What’s your process for developing a new design and what are some of the sources that inspire your designs?

Most of the time it’s just having pastry in front of me and seeing what appears when I start to create – the more abstract and less structured pies and tarts, certainly. Other sources of inspiration come from nature, architecture, emotions and perhaps a piece of jewelry. Not all of the designs are inspired by what is translated, however. For example, the feathers were an expression of loss after my Mum died, as white feathers would appear in the house or float alongside me in the wind. The honesty seed heads were an expression of hurt after being lied to, and so on. The chakras were inspired by reiki I received during my healing process. The Dogwood Flower pie, although inspired by the beautiful tree in bloom near me, was actually an expression of being brought to life again, out of the darkness of difficult years.  Inspiration really is everywhere, and pastry is my way of (mostly) expressing my feelings.

Without Instagram, I would just be a girl cooking and baking in a village kitchen near Carlisle.

With over 180K followers, you’ve become an Instagram star. Was that a surprise? And how has that affected your career?

Yes, a total surprise, never intended.  It has been a total support in many ways, as a lot of my followers fell in love with my feed because it was an emotional journey through my Mum’s dementia. Many were inspired to bake with their parents or loved ones after I explained how those precious hours in the kitchen would soothe my Mum. My followers have seen me come out of the other end and find happiness, and they have been so wonderfully supportive throughout, especially on a recent solo trip to Italy. ‘Faffing’ (as I call it) and expressing myself with words and through my creativity with pastry, really has been key to finding peace – seeing all that is good around us and helping me find my happy place again.

Through Instagram came book deals, TV appearances, my teaching  (I do so around the country) and a recognition for having a unique style. Without Instagram, I would just be a girl cooking and baking in a village kitchen near Carlisle. I do cherish my supporters and believe they are a real part of my emotional healing through their loyal support and encouragement.

I see you offer a variety of classes on your website, from in-person Master classes to pre-recorded videos. How did you set that up, and which classes are most popular?

After The Pastry School was published in 2019, lockdown hit, and all my in-person classes had to be canceled. As they were my main income, I had to think of what to do, so I switched online. They were a huge success and many joined me via Zoom over the following year to 18 months.  I even had followers join me at 5 a.m. to bake pies in soaring heat – true dedication! The pre-recorded classes were created for those that prefer to work on a project in their own time.  They were also a great success, especially the decor bundles. There were a mixture of participants, from the home baker to the professional, but I’d say the majority were keen home bakers looking to up their decorative pie making game and flair.

What’s next for you, Julie?

I decided to take time out this year, it was very much needed to reset and settle into my new home.  My priority was being happy and healing from double parent loss, and making sure my children were happy too, after such a change of life with divorce.  But with the new book out soon, it’s time to wind back up again and get going, hopefully continuing to inspire others to be creative, sharing my skills. I love teaching face to face, so I have dates set up for that soon, and I want to record new online classes for the website, showing how to create some of the new designs within the new book, too.

I’ve spent many years working alone in my kitchen, writing books and such, now it’s time to interact face to face again…who knows, even a cookery school could be the dream.

Milk Tart

I’m all for a tart that allows for artistic faffing: a blank canvas on which you can lay all kinds of extra decoration, be that petals, dustings of cinnamon or pastry overlays. The only limit is your imagination. Custard tart, panna cotta tart and lemon tart are all perfect examples of a ‘blank canvas’ baking scenario, as is this traditional South African melktart. Not only is it perfect for decor, this sweet treat is also the ultimate comfort food for all ages. The thickened milk filling is made on the hob and requires no oven time, but it’s important to allow plenty of cooling time for the tart to set fully before decorating and slicing.

Yield: 1 large tart or 6 small tarts

Sweet Shortcrust Pastry:

  • 230 g all-purpose flour
  • 125 g unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2ʺ (1 cm) cubes
  • 50 g confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Egg wash
  1. Mix the flour and butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed until the butter is incorporated into the flour and the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the confectioners’ sugar and salt and mix for a few seconds before adding the egg yolk and milk. Continue to mix until a cohesive dough forms – this will only take 30-60 seconds, depending on the mixer. Turn the dough out onto the work surface (no need to dust with extra flour) and bring swiftly together with your hands, without overworking.
  1. Lay out a long sheet of plastic wrap and place the dough on the lower half. Flatten the dough well with the palms of your hands and then fold the other half of the plastic wrap over the top. Roll between the plastic wrap briefly, then place in the refrigerator to rest for at least 30 minutes.
  1. Line a square tart pan with the dough, leaving 1/2ʺ (1 cm) above the rim. Blind bake at 400˚F (200˚C) for 20 minutes. Remove weights and bake for another 5 minutes. Dock pastry with a fork, then brush with egg wash. Bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until deep golden. Trim off the overhanging dough edge using a vegetable peeler with a swivel blade. Brush away any crumbs from the pastry case.


  • 5 large egg yolks, beaten
  • 160 g superfine granulated sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon fine salt
  • 2 tablespoons (15 g) cornstarch
  • 1½ tablespoons (12.18 g) all-purpose flour
  • 450 ml milk
  • 150 ml double cream
  • 35 g cold unsalted butter, grated
  1. In a bowl, vigorously whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, salt, cornstarch and flour; set aside.
  1. Pour the milk and cream into a large saucepan and heat on low. As the mixture reaches boiling point, remove from the heat and add a little into the egg mixture in the bowl, mixing well. Pour in the remaining milk mixture and whisk well.
  1. Wash out the pan, then pour the custard mixture through a sieve back into the clean pan. Set over a low-medium heat and whisk continuously for 2-3 minutes until thickened. As the mixture heats up, the flours will cook out and thicken the liquid in the process. Add the grated butter and whisk to combine. The butter will add an extra richness, making the custard a little silkier.
  1. Sieve into a large jug for easy pouring, then pour it into the baked tart case, while still hot. Gently shake the tart tin so the mixture levels off well; you could use a palette knife to smooth off further, if you wish. Allow the tart to cool fully, then place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours to set before decorating and serving.

Decorating Notes:

I used lots of organic edible flower petals to make the floral waves, which look pretty against the milk filling. Mark out the waves first with the back of a knife and simply fill in the spaces with the petals.

Variations and Additions:

  • Add ground cinnamon to the pastry or dust the top of the tart with ground cinnamon or ground nutmeg.
  • Infuse the milk with aromatic spices – for example cardamom, star anise and cinnamon – by heating together for 30 minutes, before discarding the spices.

Excerpt from Expressions: Art in Pastry by Julie Jones (Kyle Books, 2022) Photography by Andrew Montgomery.

Tish Boyle
Tish Boyle
Tish Boyle is managing editor of Pastry Arts Magazine and an experienced food writer, cookbook author, pastry chef, and recipe developer. Her previous books include Chocolate Passion, Diner Desserts, The Good Cookie, and The Cake Book