In August 2017, Leeds-based Zoe’s Fancy Cakes announced that they would be hosting one of my absolute favourite sugar artists for her first EVER classes in the UK and I was immediately torn! As you’d expect, top quality cake classes aren’t cheap and Leeds is SUCH a long way away from Fareham (which is just outside Portsmouth, in case you’re wondering), but this was Carla Puig!
I had become such a huge fan of her work, since stumbling across her first ever Cake International entry, the Occidental Geisha (which incidentally took the International Best in Show award) back in Spring 2016 and had said on numerous occasions that I would happily pay good money to just sit and watch her at work! The chance to not only do this, but also to learn from her?! Well…
I immediately got in touch with Carla and asked if she was planning any other UK dates or locations, but, at that point, she wasn’t, so after a bit of dithering, I bit the bullet and booked a place.
Well, at least, I tried to. In all my dithering, I had left it too long and the weekend course was full! Cue the crushing disappointment. Zoe kindly agreed to put me on the reserve list and, as fortune would have it, within a day she was back in touch to let me know that a place had become available! Hoorah! And at this point, I should probably also give a shout out to both Mummy Baker and my sister for their much-appreciated donations towards the cost of the class and accommodation, by way of my birthday present! I shall remain eternally grateful!
Unfortunately, after the initial excitement of the booking confirmation, then came the longest wait in recorded human history (or at least it seemed that way), while I waited for the following March to come around. It honestly felt like it would never arrive, but naturally it did eventually and the time came for my epic journey up to Leeds.
As did a severe weather warning!
Having never driven in snow – I was a little bit nervous looking at the weather reports in the days leading up to my class, but the day itself dawned bright, clear and, dare I say it, even a little mild. On the advice of various guides from the AA, the police force and anyone else who had cared to write one, I loaded up my very-impractical-for-cross-country-snowy-driving car with every conceivable provision one might need for such an expedition and, as soon as school was out on Friday afternoon, I hit the road…
Many people had warned me that leaving at 3:30pm was a foolish notion as I would hit traffic the entire way, but do you know, I had a pretty clear run. Oh, and before anyone says anything, I don’t USUALLY leave school at 3:30pm – this was definitely an exceptional circumstance!
On arrival in Leeds, the snow finally hit. And boy did it hit. Flakes the likes of which we never see on the South Coast. Luckily, I got to my hotel, which was conveniently close to the course location, before things got too bad and ensured I got to bed at a reasonable hour, ready for a weekend of intensive learning.
On Saturday morning, with the snow on the ground not too severe, I drove the short distance over to Zoe’s Fancy Cakes, just outside Leeds and found the free car park, just a short walk away from the shop.
Now people are always surprised to find out that I am actually quite shy on meeting new people and, as I only knew Zoe herself, was a little bit nervous about walking into a room full of strangers. Of course, I needn’t have worried though as Zoe was incredibly welcoming and immediately put me at ease, while she and Carla put the finishing touches to the day’s preparations. The little bit of time before the course was due to start was a great ice-breaker, as it gave all of the attendees a chance to mingle and chat before we got started. Not to mention explore all of Zoe’s amazing artwork scattered throughout both the shop and the teaching space.
When we were finally ready, it was time to get straight down to the nitty gritty of things – colouring the modelling chocolate that we would be using to sculpt the majority of our busts. Carla explained that we would be using Saracino’s Cioccolato Plastico Bianco, which we coloured based on our own preferences using a variety of Sugarflair gel colours.
I had only ever made one bust cake before, so in spite of feeling reasonably confident with the tools and materials we were using, I wasn’t sure of how well I would be able to recreate Carla’s masterpiece. Animals are a lot more forgiving than humans after all! However, something I learned fairly early on in my cake journey, after struggling to keep up at a class and ending up initially disappointed with my finished piece, is that when one attends a course, we aren’t there to produce a beautiful cake (although that is an added bonus), but rather to learn the skills and techniques to allow us to replicate one later at home – after a bit more practice! When you allow yourself to have that mindset and take the expectations and pressure off yourself, you are sure to have a much more enjoyable learning experience. And as I teach my pupils at school, mistakes are opportunities for learning – we only fail at something when we give up trying.
One of the best parts of the first day was the time we spent on the theory of facial analysis. By taking the time to understand the relative proportions of the human face, I felt much more confident with the prospect of trying to replicate one. I also took away plenty of tips that I know I will be able to use on other projects too. For example, how to work with chocolate with my ridiculously hot hands. With such a simple solution, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it myself: gloves! I actually found that with the addition of powder-free, vinyl gloves, my warm hands actually helped me to manipulate the chocolate – not to mention the fact that I was able to knead my modelling chocolate a lot more easily than most!
My favourite part of the day though was when we were all given a chance to work alongside Carla for some 1:1 time to troubleshoot our own sculptures. I mean, how often do you get to sit down with an expert in their field and benefit from their knowledge and experience? Although the prospect of trimming off some of my Nadine’s excess face when I had built it up a little too much was initially terrifying!
As we worked, after a morning of blazing sunshine, which had cleared away most of the snow, the heavens opened and we were treated to a positive deluge of the dreaded white stuff. I have to say though, if you are going to be somewhere in the snow, Yorkshire takes some beating – it was absolutely beautiful. However, as the first day drew to a close, the journey back to the hotel was positively terrifying and I was already making plans to move in with Zoe and her partner Richard if the snow got much worse.
Luckily, I had an issue of Something Sweet to keep me busy that night, so I was able to put the weather completely out of my mind until the morning.
Things weren’t looking much better weather-wise in the morning, but in daylight, the journey was a lot less eventful and I arrived back at Zoe’s Fancy Cakes excited to continue work on my bust.
After a whole day of learning some quite tricky skills together, the group had bonded really well and the atmosphere was even more jovial as we cracked on with the next stage of our projects. The start of the second day saw us adding shading, eyelashes and make up to them and I think I was at a real disadvantage there! Although I may have a little bit more experience with make-up than some men (think crazy stage make up in my teens and mad spritzer-infused evenings with friends, where letting me do their make-up seemed a good idea), I have certainly never had to dress a face in full make-up that actually had to look remotely ‘put together’. I’ve also tended to avoid colouring with dusts, because I’ve found it tricky in the past. I think it’s because I’m too impatient to wait for the colour to build up gradually, infinitely preferring the much faster results of my airbrush. On this occasion, I decided, most uncharacteristically, to adopt a less-in-more approach to this aspect of the decoration and it seemed to work. I can imagine it would be very easy to go overboard though – much like when airbrushing really!
Once our faces were catwalk ready, we were on to the body and hair – and back to my old faithful, Renshaw sugarpaste. While less forgiving than modelling chocolate, there is a lot to be said for sticking to what you know! Inevitably, as I became more mindful of the five-hour journey I had ahead of me after the course concluded, a certain degree of rushing did come into play – particularly when it came to the hair (don’t get me started on how much those ringlets misbehaved!). However, that was all on me and nothing to do with Carla’s tutorage. At no point in the course did I ever feel rushed, which is amazing when you consider what we had to get through during the two days.
I was genuinely so amazed with the standard of the busts that everyone on the course managed to produce – particularly when you realise that we were all at very different points in our caking ‘careers’, with very different areas of expertise. Naturally, we all experienced our fair share of dramas (I mentioned my panic attack over the make-up, right?), but Carla was on hand to support us through them, stepping in to help those who needed her, when required.
Of course, there is always that one naughty student who wants to go off plan (eh, Zoe?) and I wonder if you can guess which of the amazing array of finished pieces belongs to the maverick Mrs Fancy Cake herself? And while you’re at it, see if you can spot mine in amongst them too…
If you get the chance to attend a class with Carla Puig, I would not only highly recommend that you do it – I would pretty much insist on it! Her relaxed style of teaching, focusing on both theory AND artistry, was excellent and I genuinely felt like I came away from the weekend with the knowledge and skills I needed to be able to recreate the project again at home. I can also see oodles of ways in which I could adapt it for other future projects too – I don’t think you could ask for any more from a cake class really.
Additionally, Zoe’s gorgeous little shop and teaching space was the perfect setting for the class and I may have left with a couple of purchases too – including the essential Zoe’s Fancy Cakes souvenir, my very own Zoe’s Fancy Cakes t-shirt.
Thanks Carla (and Zoe and Richard) for a truly fantastic weekend and I hope to see you all soon!
After bursting onto the international cake scene only a few years ago, Carla Puig’s lifelike sculpting has ensured that she has become an instant global sensation. Her breath-taking work has been published in magazines all over the world and she has won numerous prizes and awards, including the much-coveted International Best in Show award at Cake International in 2016 and the Best Sculpted Cake Award at last year’s Cake Masters Magazine Awards.
Zoe Hopkinson of Zoe’s Fancy Cakes is also a fantastic teacher in her own right (check out my previous post regarding my cake classes with Zoe) and she teaches both at her own shop and teaching space, as well as further afield. To find out more about classes with Zoe or her guest tutors, visit her website.