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2017: A Year in Review

It’s a total cliché, but without fail, I get to the end of each year and think to myself, ‘what a whirlwind’. Since I started this little hobby of mine, only three years ago, I have often had to pinch myself as I reflect on some of the amazing opportunities that it has afforded me. But this year? Well this year has been something else!

I made a little video earlier this week to post on my social media channels and it made me realise just how much has happened this year and it’s crazy! I don’t even know how I have managed to fit it all in.

If you’ll indulge me for a while, I thought I would take a look back over the year and share some of the highlights with you.

Starting in January, I had just started in a new school, after spending my entire teaching career in the same place and so everything was rather new. I took things easy cake-wise while I learned the ropes a bit and it wasn’t until February that my first project appeared.

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Designed for the Anya’s Stargazer’s collaboration, put together by my friend (and the collaboration queen) Vicki du Plessis of Tiki’s Bakehouse, I created Albert the Monkey, an homage to the first monkeys in space – quite literally the first stargazers. The collaboration was to support Anya Waugh, wheelchair racer. Anya was born with Spina Bifida and, after watching the Paralympics in 2012 (when she was aged just 6), she was inspired to take up wheelchair racing. At the end of 2016 Anya was the fastest u11 in the country and this year has been classified as a T54 wheelchair racer. Taking her inspiration from Stephen Hawking, Anya took his words as her motto: “Look at the stars, not at your feet”. We couldn’t help but be inspired by Anya’s determination and dedication to her sport and wanted to do our bit to help, by sharing Anya’s story and drawing attention to her cause. As a nod to her motto, we all included a gold star in our collaboration designs. You can find out more about Anya and follow her continuing journey here.

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February also saw Renshaw run their Renshaw Runway competition in celebration of London Fashion Week. I submitted my Singer sewing machine cake, created for my grandmother-in-law’s 80th birthday and I was thrilled to win (I never win anything!). They sent me an amazing hamper of Renshaw products, which I was able to put aside for the Victory Cake Off – more on that in a bit!

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In March, Cake International returned to the NEC Birmingham for the first of the spring shows and I teamed up with some of my best cake chums, Molly (pictured), Ben, Kay and Robert to bring the Blue Peter Pets exhibit to life. Working with the BBC, we recreated a selection of the most memorable Blue Peter pets in cake form, including Shep, Mabel, Petra, Kari, Oke, Shelley and Iggy the guide dog puppy. Researching the history of the various pets was a real blast from the past and it was amazing to be able to contribute to a little bit of Blue Peter history. I’d always wanted a Blue Peter badge of my very own too and now, finally I have one! Definitely one of my proudest possessions!

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At the end of the month, I had the genuine pleasure and privilege of being able to share my passion with the children I teach. Generously supported by Renshaw (not only with the hamper I had already been given but also an additional donation of supplies), Fabricake Ltd and my dear friend Nicola of Sweet Creation Ltd, I was able to take a group of 30 children to Nicola’s cake workshop for a whole week of baking celebration cakes, cupcakes, scones and biscuits. We also learned how to decorate our bakes and held a cake decorating competition, with gorgeous prizes donated by Hayley and Michael at Fabricake Ltd. It was an amazing week and I absolutely loved it.

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In April, Cake International was back at Alexandra Palace in London for the second spring show and with no exhibit to worry about, I was back competing. Unfortunately, the fates conspired to give me a nasty dose of the flu during the half term break leading up to the show, but I managed to pull my entry together in time – leaving it there whilst I returned to my sick bed. I was thrilled to receive another silver award and my entry, Spring joined the line-up of my ongoing Grumpy Pug Collection.

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May was a quieter month, but still saw the big rebrand of Mr Baker’s Cakes, with my new logo and colour scheme and was celebrated with a competition. I had planned to wait until the relaunch of my new website portfolio to reveal the rebrand, but as I’m still waiting for that to happen… (snarky look at my web guy) …it all worked out for the best!

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In June, I was proud to support the Beau Halo Trust by contributing a cake to the raffle at their first annual fundraiser ball. The design, adapted from an original piece by Cake’s by Timbo with his kind permission, was inspired by the theme of the ball: Through the Looking Glass and the ball was a huge success, raising almost £20,000 for the fledgling charity.

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June also saw the publication of another collaboration, this time coordinated by the effervescent Isabel Tamargo of Tartas Imposibles. The Cakeflix Collaboration was a celebration of all things film and television and I was happy to contribute two pieces: A Hairspray: the Musical diorama and a sculpted Bagpuss cake.

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In July, I had my first experience of teaching cake (well, that wasn’t to primary age children), when my friend Kelly came to me for some help with the wedding cake she was planning on making her cousin. In just a day, Kelly was able to master the wonder of ganache, covering a square cake with sugarpaste and those all-important square edges AND sugarcraft roses. We both really enjoyed our day together and she went on to create a beautiful cake for her cousin too.

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As the summer holidays loomed, my caking calendar exploded with numerous friend and family birthday cakes and the wedding of my friends, Demi and John. I love the freedom the holidays give me to really spend time on my bakes and cakes and I think my summer schedule always ends up producing some of my favourite pieces. I also get to help out at my friend’s bakery when I can and, of course, spend time with my various godchildren. It turns out Jacob is a natural with a piping bag!

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It was also a particularly exciting month, as it was during August that I launched Mr Baker’s Blog – to coincide with my appearance on The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice. I won’t bore you with repeats of the earlier posts, as most of the rest of the year is already recorded for prosperity in dedicated entries – rather, I will link them where appropriate.

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As the summer holidays came to an end, I again took part in my #bakealongwithGBBO and really enjoyed trying some new and interesting bakes (stroopwafels nothwithstanding) and also added a recipe and tutorial section to the blog. I also had another go at 121 teaching, when Hayley joined me in the Mr Baker’s Cakes kitchen to craft her daughter’s The Little Mermaid-themed birthday cake.

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It was in September that I was invited to submit a tutorial to Cake Masters Magazine for their November issue. I was given free reign over what to create and so decided to design the final instalment in the Grump Pug collection: Winter. It was a major learning curve, but one that I really enjoyed. You can read more about the whole experience here.

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Also in September, I headed off to Fabricake Ltd in Essex to attend courses with Zoe of Zoe’s Fancy Cakes (meeting the inimitable Kerry Brown of CDWM fame in the process – a personal highlight of the year) and I have enjoyed being able to incorporate some of the new skills I have learned into other projects over the rest of the year.

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Heading into October, the Cake and Bake Show returned to London’s Excel and I was there, with the Cake Diva herself Rosie Dummer, to look after her very special guest. Lying directly opposite the entrance, Rosie’s display featured a huge British Bulldog, dressed in his regal best and sat atop a beautiful handmade throne. The work Rosie had put in to bring her display to life was incredible: she had built the thrones; decorated them using a wide variety of plaster-of-paris details crafted using real sugar moulds; sewn the cushions for the empty throne and matched these out of cake on Ben’s throne; and of course created a huge bulldog made entirely out of real cake and RKT, so fully edible. As a result of Rosie’s hard work, her display was very popular and it was busy! Sooooo busy! I’ve manned exhibits before, but that usually just involves standing nearby and talking to visitors about the display, but throw in an interactive element and suddenly the job is a lot bigger! I literally did not stop talking to visitors and snapping their pics all day (other than a quick dash to the loo when Rosie was freed up to come and release me) and met thousands of people – many of whom were stunned to realise Rosie’s piece was made out of real cake. Read more here.

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October also saw me start working with the lovely Hayley and Michael Wisken of Fabricake Ltd to create a Halloween tutorial for their new-look website, which you can find here: https://www.fabricake.co.uk/blog/creepy-cauldron-cake/

As always, November is a big time of year in the cake world, seeing the flagship Cake International show at the NEC Birmingham. It also marked the grand reveal of The Magical Dragon Machine exhibit.

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Towering at over seven feet and stretching over 17 feet long, from riveted nose to scrap-metal tail, The Magical Dragon Machine Towering was certainly show-stopping. Surveying his scrapyard home and surrounded by a huge array of mystical clockwork creatures and futuristic florals, he was also joined by a cast of elaborately modelled tinker children made by an array of talented professionals. Originally the brainchild of The Cake Illusionist, Hannah Edwards, The Magical Dragon Machine brought together the skills of over 70 different talented individuals: The Dragonistas, including cake sculptors, sugar artists, projection specialists, sound engineers and even a mad inventor or two.

Almost a year ago to the day, Edwards envisioned the project as a fully immersive four-dimensional experience and it continued to grow and evolve as more specialist talents were added to the team and as more fantastically generous sponsors came on board. Mad inventors, Steph Parker and her genius Dad, formed the highly secretive internal structure to contain all sorts of wonderful surprises, including fully functioning wings and a rotating head, light up eyes, real smoke breath and a beautiful rotating sugar rose right at the very heart of the piece. Because it was of paramount importance for the team to ensure there was considerable amounts of real cake involved, the dragon was also chock full of it, thanks to Sweet Success. The scrapyard also featured innovative animations and a fantastical soundtrack seamlessly integrated by Motion Mapping. Finally, to ensure that a worthwhile home was found for the considerable amounts of real food that enabled the Dragonistas to play their arty games, we were fortunate to be able to find sponsors, Mr. Blister and Caterline, who donated enough sealed plastic containers and forks for every single serving of dragon cake. These were donated to Coffee4Craig, a wonderful homeless charity who run mobile kitchens and were able to distribute the cake to those who needed it most.

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The weekend also saw me compete again, with my Paddington cake, although originally with all of the other projects I had had on my plate, I had actually pretty much decided not to bother with an entry. Then some of my friends got wind of this and strongly encouraged me to ‘pull my finger out and get on with it’. So as a result, I had three days to get something together. I was thrilled with how he turned out, particularly within such a short timeframe and to win another silver – particularly in a new category for me.

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We also recognised some of our biggest and brightest stars at the Cake Masters Awards, the highlight of the cake social calendar. Rosie and her team at Cake Masters Magazine never fail to lay on a fantastic night and I think this year’s bash might just have been the best yet!

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Mr Baker’s Blog itself has seen some new additions recently, with a new interviews section, already featuring exclusive chats with Emma Stewart of Truly Scrumptious Cakes by Design and Laura Dodimead of Life in Sugar. Laura also invited me along to experience one of her new classes at the end of November, while Emma also kindly created an exclusive tutorial for us earlier this month too.

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Finally, as the year draws to a close, my focus has been my Christmas fundraising. Every year, I team up with some of my cake friends to take part in the For The Little Ones collaboration. As part of the collection, we all make a cake (or sometimes even two) and either donate, raffle or sell it to raise money for a children’s charity. This year, as you will have seen, I decided to raffle two cakes: one online in support of Wave 105’s Cash for Kids charity and one for my own school. Between them, the two cakes raised a huge £389.50, which is quite simply amazing! Thank you again for all of your support with them!

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The Fairy Cake Mother’s fabulous cake, inspired by my Winter the Grumpy Pug tutorial

Finally, ending the year on a real high, I was genuinely thrilled when I received a tag in a Facebook post from Jenny, the Fairy Cake Mother, a couple of weeks ago. She had made this awesome cake, inspired by my Cake Masters Magazine tutorial. It’s amazing to think that people out there are being inspired by what I do and I can think of no better way to have ended the year.

Looking ahead to next year, there are already some very exciting projects lined up and I can’t wait to share them with you all. But until then (and if you’ve managed to persevere through this entire post until the end – well done!), allow me to thank you for your ongoing support and wish you a very happy new year.

Have an amazing 2018!

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