Being Faced With Cake Making Challenges

Around 6 months ago I received a call from Darren to say that he and his fiancé were off to South Africa in the new year to get married.  They were planning on a big wedding celebration party on their return at the end of February and he was looking for a cake.  I took the call in the usual way, making notes and flicking through my diary.  He then asked if he could come and see me as he had an idea but wanted to run it by me to see if it was possible and it involved shoes!  Being a lover of shoes myself (I’m female after all), I was intrigued as to what ideas a man could have involving cake and shoes.  Apparently, the cake had been left for Darren to organise and Anna knew nothing about the design.

Darren came over one morning and put a rather nice looking ‘Irregular Choice’ purple boot onto my kitchen island (don’t worry, I have anti bacterial spray practically on tap!).  I was instantly drawn towards the stunning rich purple colour and unique design.  My first words were ‘wow, I want a pair, no, I NEED a pair!!!’.  The significance behind the shoes  was Anna’s love for buying and wearing ‘Irregular Choice’ and Darren is known for his Adidas Gazelles.  He wanted a cake to feature the shoes so I suggested having shoe boxes stacked on top of one another with one of each shoe on top.  He loved the idea.  Then I Googled the shoe box and wondered how on earth was I going to replicate this, particularly as they no longer had the boxes.

We had a few days away in Dorset in February and knowing that on my return i’d have just one week to prepare for this challenging cake, I started to give it some thought.  I needed a break from baking and late nights but still found my mind doing cake overtime.  I lay awake one night with my phone, taking images of the shoe boxes to get the detail of every angle and pattern possible.  I then researched into making larger shoes for cakes as they couldn’t be too heavy and would need to hold.  Finally, by 1.30am, feeling exhausted I was confident that I could pull it off.

I started the cake on the Wednesday evening by making the shoes and gradually worked on them over the next couple of days.  Once the cakes were baked, I iced them and stacked them and then sat with my paint brushes, food colours, looked at the clock for the final time and with the TV on in the background, began to paint.  I finally finished the cake at 3am on the Saturday that it was due to be collected.  My adrenalin had kicked in and tiredness hadn’t even come into it, so I cleaned the kitchen!

Darren came to collect the cake ready to take to the venue on the Saturday morning.  His reaction, to me made all the hours of research, thinking and physically working worth while.  He was quite astounded to the point that he was almost speechless.  I felt the usual sense of relief but still found myself saying ‘so…. you like it then?!’.  We  then discovered that sports cars and large cake boxes don’t mix well, which is another story………….

Darren and Anna had a wonderful wedding and honeymoon in South Africa and party back here with all of their friends around them.  Knowing that their cake was so significant to them made me realise why the finer details are important.

A little baking tip for you:  Whilst in Dorset I visited Lyme Regis and a little deli on the high street where they sell passion fruit curd.  I bought some a couple of years ago but wasn’t too sure what I would do with it.  If you every have the opportunity to buy some, it makes a wonderful alternative jam filling to a Victoria sandwich, particularly with a lovely generous layer of vanilla butter cream.

a round green iced cake with a cricket player sat on top at the front holding a cricket bat, featuring stumps and a ball behind him and a green care bear sat beside him.

How Little Things Make All The Difference

I can honestly say that the run up to Christmas has probably been my busiest yet.  With chocolate pizza’s on the go, Christmas markets and fairs, numerous cake orders, preparing, buying presents and school performances, December was a busy one!

The cafe did a promotion on mince pies and companies chose to say thank you to their clients with cupcakes, most of which were quite last minute orders.  I had orders for the weekend before Christmas, collections on Christmas Eve for those Christmas Day Birthdays and even orders for the 27th and between Christmas and New Year.

So, being as organised as ever, I paced myself and worked solidly to make my customers happy.  One little customer in particular really stood out during such a busy time.  A lady had contacted me to place an order for her son’s Birthday on the 22nd as his Birthday is on Christmas Day and he was having a party to celebrate being 7.  Joshua is into cricket in a big way and I suggested having a figure of him sat on the cake holding his bat.  I have done several like this before and it was a good amount to fill the party bags.  As the diary kept filling up her last correspondence with me included a photo of him and in the photo he was clutching a green Care Bear under his arm – remember these??  I didn’t even know you could still get them!  She asked in the email that if I had time, but only if I could squeeze it in, could I include the Care Bear on the cake.  I quickly scribbled something that roughly resembled ‘Bear’ in my diary.

The day came, I had just finished putting everything on the cake and piping on the Birthday message when I glanced in my diary for her phone number to see ‘Bear’.  I stood for a moment and thought……………….. ‘Bear……Bear……Bear, why have I wri…. oh crikey! the BEAR!!!’  My heart sank as I was so relived to have been finished for the day.  ‘But she did only say if I had time………’ ‘but he is 7 and obviously the bear is significant’.  So I got everything out again, coloured up some green paste and started modelling.

A couple of hours later I opened the door to be greeted by the most adorable looking boy with the biggest brown eyes looking up at me in wonder and under his arm he was clutching…..yes, the green Care Bear!  I felt a massive sense of relief come over me.  I greeted him with ‘well you must be Joshua, have you come to collect something from me?’ He smiled and nodded and his Mum explained that she had put him in the car that day and told him that she had ordered him a Birthday cake and they were coming to collect it so he had no idea what to expect.  I opened the lid of the box.  The look on his face made me melt as he gasped and smiled and then tears came to his eyes as he said how amazing it looked.  I felt choked, relieved and happy at seeing his reaction.  I had tears in my eyes too (emotional wreck after working so many hours with little sleep and generally feeling rubbish with myself).  I spent some time chatting to Joshua and he was just adorable, quite a budding sportsman at that and he even got a hug and some free marshmallows when he left.  I later got a text from his Mum that read ‘Just wanted to say again thanks so much for the cake, it’s perfect and Josh absolutely loves it! He said you’re really kind and clever and he wants to come and live with you :)’  She then sent me the photo as I was in such a rush, I hadn’t taken a picture of it.  I’d have Josh come and live with me any day, he was such a delight.

I often wish I worked 9-5 and could switch off when I got home.  I often resent having to work until 2/3am to finish off cakes and there are days that I wish I could just give it all up.   But, it’s days like the day Joshua came to collect his cake that make it all worth while and I wouldn’t change it for the world….

My top tip for pastry which is kind of related to my mince pies:  Even if you’re buying pastry to make pies, try adding something to it to give it a little extra flavour, such as cinnamon for apple pies or lemon zest for lemon tarts.

a picutre of a counter top featuring 3 cakes placed in see through cake domes

From Creating To Baking

I received the call that I had been hoping for at the end of September to advised that I had been chosen to supply a new café in town with their baked cakes.  I was delighted.  This meant more baking, which I love (obviously!), creating more ideas and gaining more knowledge.  You can never have too much baking knowledge after all.

1898 Food & Drink opened in early October serving hot beverages and local produce, oh and they have a licence to sell alcohol too.  This means that when I can no longer face the site of cake, I can take time out and unwind with a glass of wine and a locally home made scotch egg – perfect!

Upon entering to make my first delivery, I could sense a warm, relaxing, friendly environment with the feel for really wanting to look after the customer.   The attention to detail, such as the wifi password on display and smart phone chargers ready available for customer use, neatly packed away in colourful bags make it all that little bit different.  There are even toys available for small children.  You feel instantly drawn towards the shiny new domes on the front counter containing sublime mouth watering temptations…………. and of course they contain my cakes!!!

I didn’t really anticipate how busy this would keep me.  All I seem to have done through October is bake and buy emergency supplies from the supermarket.  This is all good of course but I have been overwhelmed by the lovely feedback I have received about my cakes.  Twice I have been making deliveries when customers have been paying and said ‘whoever makes your cakes, they are lovely’ and ‘that was the best coffee walnut cake I have tasted’.  This has left me feeling both relieved and proud.  Relieved that I got it right and proud that I can continue to do so.

One post on Facebook left two of my likers arranging to meet up in there for coffee one Sunday morning and when I arrived with the cakes they cheered!  This was quite an amusing moment I have to say so I stuck around for a coffee and to see what they thought of the white chocolate and raspberry cake.  It went down well.

With every new venture it is all about learning and I am learning to be more adventurous and experiment with flavours.  I randomly turned up with a pear and ginger loaf one day and it was gone within a couple of days.

So, if you are thinking of holding an event, an afternoon tea, a meeting or even want to surprise a friend, don’t forget the cake!  Sometimes it is important to impress and cake usually impresses people.

A little baking tip I picked up when making my ginger cake – use Opies stem ginger in a jar.  When the cake is out of the oven, prick it all over with a fork and gently heat 3 tablespoons of the syrup with one tablespoon of water and pour over the cake.  The only problem is, if you’re going to end up using the whole jar just for cake making, you’re going to run out of syrup.   I am still thinking about that one………..

A photo of the bride and groom cutting their wedding cake

The Long Distance Wedding Cake Relationship

I think this last week has been a big blow to many of us weather wise. Floods, winds and genuine cold for the first time in what feels like a long time. My time to put away the summer clothes and reach out for the heating switch has sadly come which has made me reflect back to the summer months.

I can honestly say, I don’t think I have had such a busy summer in all of my cake business history. Of course wedding cakes take up a majority of my working time during the summer months but one cake in particular has stuck with me this year. This is mainly down to the challenge I was faced with and some recent feedback I received from that special day.

I received an email from Andrea earlier in the year telling me she lived in New York and was planning her wedding to take place in August – in the UK! Everything was being done via email and she had come across my website and liked the look of my designs.
I know I can be trusted to produce something that both tastes and looks exquisite but how do you convince someone of that over email, understanding full well how stressful this must already be for her?

I was given a brief, a colour scheme and an understanding of their special day. She wanted it country fayre, vintage, lacey but elegant at the same time with sugar flowers to match her bouquet.
I sketched out a design that I thought may fit, took a photo and emailed it over to her. Her response? ‘perfect! Exactly what I want!’. So I am thinking ‘but it’s a biro drawing of a wedding cake with a few scribbles of flowers!’. We then discussed flavours and she chose to have white chocolate raspberry, lemon and traditional fruit. Something summery and to please all tastes.

This is the feedback I received from Andrea a few weeks ago once things had settled and she was back to busy ‘married’ life in the Big Apple:

I must say a massive THANK YOU for baking such a beautiful and delicious cake!! It was absolutely stunning to look at and matched the decorations perfectly, and then the added bonus was that it tasted divine!! I honestly sometimes think about it and wish I could have another slice. David (my new husband!) also thought it was delicious, and all of our guests thoroughly enjoyed it!’

It is so rewarding to receive such positive feedback from my customers and as this came with a little story, I wanted to share it with you. I will also be sharing little business and baking tips with my future blogs and today’s tip came to me as I typed out ‘white chocolate and raspberry’.  Here is a little tip for this week:

Use up that old fruit. If you’ve got some shrivelled blueberries, a brown banana, a soggy mango sat in your fruit bowl, don’t throw them away as many people do – put them in a cake! By simply folding some cut fruit or whole berries (lightly coated in some flour to avoid them sinking in the cake mix), you are saving waste and making a plain sponge cake more exciting.  Get baking as the dark nights start to draw in and enjoy some real winter comforts!

Photograph supplied by: Martin Beddall Photography


A month of eating cake!

It has been a very busy month for me with sorting and naming school uniforms, fulfilling customer cake orders and most weekends spent judging.  From Horticultural Societies to the Great Horsham Bake off to my local village church fete this weekend.  Never have I been faced with so many delights and difficult decisions to make!   I have been so impressed with the number of local people that are baking for their families and clearly have a natural flare to do so.  I have seen many of my friends on social media sites proudly posting photo’s of their family bakes and my frustrated response to their posts is ‘Why oh why didn’t you enter??’.  All judging is done blind after all, it’s a bit of fun and gives us judges more to taste!

I have tasted some unusual cakes from Marmite and chocolate cheese, beetroot to ‘a number of traditional Victoria sponges, carrot cakes and chocolate delights, all of which worked incredibly well.

One particular event that I attended, I walked into the room and nearly passed out at the number of cakes on display.  Thinking ‘surely I am not expected to taste all of these??!!’ I quickly made a call to my Mum, who has also tasted a number of cakes over the years, only to be told ‘sorry, I am just on my way out, did you need me for something?’ ahhh!

At this particular event, I was amazed by the number of colourful home grown produce on display and remember thinking to myself ‘I can never seem to grow anything’.  This however has made me determined to have a go next year at maybe growing at least some raspberries as I seemed to have made a lot of white chocolate raspberry cake this summer.  Then maybe I could have a go at my own carrots and beetroot?  I cannot guarantee that any of my produce would with first place in a competition but it’s all about having a go.

I hear so many people say that they can’t bake and I used to just laugh but now I’d say, have a go, practice, make it fun and get your family involved and if it all goes wrong, make sure you have some custard in the cupboard!! Practice makes perfect after all.


Judging – Sweet Vs Savoury

I cannot believe that it has been a year since I was asked to judge at the first Great Horsham Bake Off.  As the second event is looming (this Sunday 7th September), I have been thinking about what categories I will be given to judge this year and how long it will be before I am starting to feel that my sugar levels can take no more.

A few weeks ago I was asked along to judge the Partridge Green Horticultural Society cake competition.  I didn’t give much thought to the number of entries so I was a little taken back when I saw the number of cakes on display from banana loaves, lemon drizzles and buns to traditional Victoria sandwiches oozing with jam.   My first thought was ‘I should have skipped breakfast!’

Being a cake maker and faced most days with grams and grams of sugar being poured into my mixer, I welcome a savoury break  every now and again so I was delighted that there was a scotch egg category.  Scotch eggs are one of my few guilty pleasures so I was quite happy to get stuck in after sampling so many lovely sweet delicious cakes.  The winning scotch egg was obvious to me from the intense flavours that came from what could only be quality sausage meat.  It was confirmed that the meat had come from the very well known butcher over the road, S K Hutchings, a family run Butcher.  After my judging had finished, I immediately paid the butcher a visit where people were queuing out of the door.  I had to buy some of his sausages and took them home (along with a couple of sausage rolls for my 2 hungry men of the house) and we had them that evening.  My 8 year old said ‘Mummy, can you buy these again, they are the best I have ever tasted’

I am all for supporting local businesses, particularly when it comes to quality.  Judging by the number of people in the shop that day, their reputation has built them a thriving business through hard work and supplying quality meats.  If you haven’t already, pay them a visit, but get there early if you’re going on a Saturday.  You can also pre-order for collection.