Regular readers may recall that last year I interviewed the very talented Emma Stewart of Truly Scrumptious Cakes by Design. During the exclusive interview, she told us all about a project she was working on called The Cake Retreat: an all-inclusive, four-day cakers’ break in Northern Ireland.
She explained that it was going to be a long weekend of being wined, dined, massaged & well and truly CAKED, which she was organising with Jill Condell from Caledonia Cake Studio.
The weekend before last, Emma’s plan finally came to fruition and the first ever Cake Retreat was held and, although I couldn’t make it along myself, I reached out to one of the attendees, Helen Ducker of Helen Ducker Cake Design to tell us all about it.
Welcome to Mr Baker’s Blog, Helen…
It was last year when my fabulously-talented friend, Emma Stewart told me about her idea for a cake retreat: ‘Imagine spending the weekend in beautiful Northern Ireland, surrounded by like-minded people, being wined, dined, massaged and caked!’ My immediate response was a resounding, ‘Erm… Hell yes! Sign me up!’ and that is how I found myself on a flight from Manchester to Belfast a fortnight ago, ready to make more new cake friends and learn new skills, whilst fitting in a spa treatment and a nine-course meal at a castle.
I’m always a little apprehensive before going to any new venue or class – particularly as I would be spending a whole four days with lots of people that I had never met before. Fortunately, there was a Meet & Greet planned for the Wednesday evening at the Caledon Cake Studio, the venue where all of our classes would take place and Emma and I headed into the studio.
I had cake shop/studio envy immediately!
The Caledon Cake Studio is light and airy, with an amazing teaching area set up and plenty of space for us all to spread out. We were also greeted with a lovely gift box, but, as I was the first one there, I had to wait until all the other guests arrived before I could open it – it was practically torture!
I was introduced to Jill, who owns Caledon Cake Studio and had helped to create the retreat with Emma, and also to Ann, who, it turns out, is the best cook and would be responsible for us all piling on the pounds in just a matter of days!
Slowly, as everyone started to arrive, introductions were made and any nervousness I had had was quickly put to bed. When everyone has the same passion – cakes and sugarcraft – then you already have something in common!
Once we were all assembled, we FINALLY got to open our gift boxes and… wow!
Inside, we found a stunning copper travel mug to keep our teas and coffees nice and hot, a Cake Retreat branded apron to keep us neat and tidy during our busy long weekend of classes, a Cake Retreat pencil and pad for any essential note-taking, a selection of dusts and brushes, which would be the ones used in our classes and a Cake Retreat branded bag to take it all home in.
Then it was time to head downstairs for dinner, where we were delighted to find the shop had been set up with tables and chairs so we could have our lunches each day – and even some of our dinners. All of our food across the four days was included in the price – even breakfast and snacks and the team even managed to cater for my coeliac disease.
After a lovely first meal together, we were off to our accommodation: some absolutely gorgeous cottages not far from the studio.
Thursday morning saw our first full day of learning and it was an action-packed day!
Emma Stewart was our tutor and taught us how to create stunning sugar flowers and leaves, using veining boards, cutters, veiners and wires. I’m fairly experienced with sugar floristry, but it was still fantastic to learn how to create a more-realistic look – and I also created my first ever Dahlias and Cosmos. Emma then went on to show us how to get some incredible sharp edges on our cakes, how to lustre them with ease and how to create and apply a stunning ruffle effect. I was definitely ready for my bed that night!
After a thoroughly well-deserved sleep, it was on to day two and we were joined by Louise Vincent of The Rose on the Cake.
Well-known for her stunning hand-painted cakes, Louise taught us how to paint on to our cakes using cocoa butter and Squires Kitchen powder colours. She was a fabulously patient and attentive teacher as she demonstrated how to slowly layer and build colours to create stunning flowers. I’d tried painting cakes before using vodka and powder colours, but I had never achieved the results that I managed under Louise’s expert tuition.
Although it was nerve-wracking making that initial mark onto the clean cake canvas, with Louise’s guidance, my confidence grew. It was such a relaxing and therapeutic class and the perfect way to lead us into the next part of the day – the spa visit! Life is usually pretty hectic back at home, so I had really been looking forward to this part of the retreat – and I wasn’t disappointed.
On arrival at the Castle Leslie estate, we were shown to the Victorian Treatment Rooms and, after changing into our swimming costumes and robes, we entered the relaxation area for our treatments. I had chosen a facial and, although I am no stranger to a facial (life in sunny Bolton can be harsh on the skin!), I can honestly say that this was one of the best I have ever had. It was unbelievably relaxing and I didn’t want it to end.
After my heavenly facial, we enjoyed mango shots and green tea, followed by a dip in the outdoor hot tub and, as we were in the midst of some particularly warm weather, it was a perfect opportunity to get to know some of the other Retreaters little better.
Later, it was time to get buffed and bronzed, ready to make our way to Castle Leslie’s Snaffles Restaurant for an incredible nine course tasting menu. The food was incredible and we all tottered off to our beds, completely stuffed with food and maybe a little wine too!
Day three dawned with a slightly fuzzy head, but we had the perfect antidote in the form of Corinna Maguire of Lovin From The Oven and her bridal figure class.
Again, although I do make models and figures back home, it was wonderful to have Corinna’s expertise on hand to share her hints and tips to make more realistic arms and facial figures. I usually only use Saracino Modelling Paste, so it was great to be able to try some other popular products, such as Cake Duchess Modelling Paste and Laped Modelling Paste.
Once we had finished with our bridal figures, we had a relaxing afternoon being taught how to create fresh flower arrangements suitable and safe for wedding cakes by a florist from Willow & Twine.
She talked us through which flowers are toxic and non-toxic, how to use oasis wet foam, how to create different arrangements using flowers and foliage and how to display them on our cakes. I have always stayed well away from fresh flowers in the past, as quite frankly, I have been scared of putting them anywhere near my cakes, so the hints and tips picked up in this class were invaluable.
As this was our last evening together, we headed off to the Ambleside Cottage – a quaint little restaurant on the grounds of Castle Leslie, where they specialise in pizzas. Yet again, my coeliac disease was totally catered for and I’m fairly confident that my garlic bread was even better than everyone else’s!
Sunday was the final day of the Cake Retreat and I think we were all feeling a bit tired after such an intense few days. Luckily, all that was left to do with our cakes was finish off our flowers.
It was back to Emma to show us how to dust and steam them, before taping them together to form a pretty arrangement. We then placed them on our cakes, stacking them ready for photographs…
Which is where our expert photographer, Catriona Corrigan of Divine Photography, stepped in for our final session.
This was honestly invaluable as, like many cake artists, photographing my cakes is somewhere I fail spectacularly – I have all the gear and no idea! Catriona showed us how to use lighting, different camera settings and backdrops effectively, whilst also demonstrating how to capture stunning photos even with a phone camera. We then had the chance to take final photographs of our cakes using all the tips she had shown us.
All too soon, it all came to an end and, after Emma had expertly packed our cakes and figures ready for our homeward journeys, it was quite sad saying goodbye to everyone. I really feel like I have made a whole new bunch of firm friends and I’m so pleased that I decided to ignore my nerves and give The Cake Retreat a go. I honestly can’t recommend the experience enough – when the dates for The Cake Retreat 2019 go live later this year, I will be insisting that everyone I know books a place!
Oh, and in case you were wondering, my cake, bride and flowers all made it home in one piece!
Thank you, Helen, for sharing your Cake Retreat experience with us all! It sounds like you had an amazing time and I only wish I had been there to share it with you all! I will definitely be looking out for The Cake Retreat 2019 announcement!