Emma Stewart – Truly Scrumptious Cakes by Design

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The mastermind behind Snow White: The Grim Obsession at this year’s Cake International, Emma Stewart of Truly Scrumptious Cakes by Design is best known for her flawlessly perfect wedding cakes. As a long-time admirer of the Northern Ireland-based sugar artist, I was thrilled to have the chance to sit down with her and talk all things cake.

It’s been a busy 12 months for you, Emma, what with winning Best Wedding Cake at the Getting Married in Northern Ireland awards this time last year; having your first published tutorial in Cake Masters Magazine in August AND making the cover; and, of course, your amazing collaboration exhibit at Cake International. I’m sure you’re still reeling from the fantastic response The Grimm received from the public. What was the highlight of the show for you?

I loved every minute of this year’s show. It took 12 months of planning so when all the pieces finally started to arrive at the exhibit, it was like Christmas! Lots of amazing presents to open! I think my absolute highlight of the show was the completion of our live build, the dwarves’ cottage that the whole team (plus a few extras) helped to create. The smoke coming out the chimney was just the icing on the cake! I actually cried with joy and couldn’t have been any more proud of what our team had achieved together.

Tell me about your inspiration for the collection.

Way back in November 2016, I was researching something online and happened to find an article about the original Disney film of Snow White. It mentioned that it would be the 80th anniversary of the film’s original premier in December 2017. I had the idea of doing a collaboration for it.

When we decided to try and take it to Cake International, we had to make a big change and move away from Disney as it is so hard to get permission to do their characters, due to copyright laws. We asked the team if they’d still join us if we chose to do the Brothers Grimm version of the fairytale, to which we got a unanimous YES! If anything, they were even more excited than before. From that point on The Grimm Obsession was created.

You managed to assemble an amazing array of talent, from all over the world. How did you even begin to go about reaching out to them all?

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When I had the first spark of an idea, I turned to my two of my favourite cake sisters to help me organise it: Tracy-Anne Hirst and Nathasja Flapper. Between the 3 of us, we decided we had to go for lower numbers and the best-of-the-best cake artists there are. We made our cake artist ‘hit list’ and then it fell to me, a barely-known wedding cake designer, to message all these amazing artists and ask if they’d like to join us. With the exception of two or three, all of our list said yes.

We chose some for specific characters such as those doing the life-size pieces and the others based on them being the best in their fields and what they could bring to The Grimm Obsession.

I loved that you managed to showcase so many up-and-coming talents, including personal favourites like Marc Suarez of Le Doux Collage and Ben Cullen of The BakeKing Cake Crafts. What was it like to work with such a broad array of personalities?

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As they’d say over here “the craic was mighty”! Honestly from the moment we created the team Facebook page, everyone got on so well. Some of us had never actually met in person until we got to the show, but when we finally met, it was like we had known each other forever. Having the demonstration station and the live build going on all weekend meant that most of the team were on or around the exhibit all weekend and they really loved having the opportunity to work together. I’ll admit we had some real characters; laughter and caking – definitely a recipe for a great time!

Were there any difficulties in pulling such a mammoth display together?

We had several setbacks but nothing that was going to stop us. Organising it all got tricky at times, especially with us being such an international team and trying to remember to allow for time zones.

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We had issues with backdrops coming and not being what we wanted and we struggled with getting sponsorship – again, because we were too international. We were lucky to have the support of Magic Colours and Dummies Direct and that the team were happy to use their own supplies to create their pieces.

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For the live build, we bought cake from Sweet Success; Nathasja supplied the icing/paste; and Tracy-Anne, the buckets of ganache that were needed. There was a small mix-up with our cakes, meaning we were left at the end of the show with quite a lot of extra cake, but we ended up giving it to your team on The Magical Dragon Machine to combine it with the cake you were donating to the charity.

Yes, thank you again for that! It was very gratefully received!

So these things happen sometimes, but there’s usually a positive that can be taken from every situation.

Do you have any plans for a follow-up collaboration?

The Grimm Obsession are far from done. We have our proposal submitted for an even more challenging exhibit for Cake International 2018. If we are lucky enough to get the chance to go, we really will be taking it the next level. Go big or go home, right? Don’t worry, if we get given the opportunity, we will let you know our plans then.

Can you let us in on any secrets about it?

Let’s just say, the team has a couple of new members, all bringing their own new skills to it. If we get the chance, it will be bigger, it’ll be more exciting and it’ll be even more interactive, on multiple levels.

Collaborations aside, what is next for Truly Scrumptious Cakes by Design?

Apart from collaboration work, wedding cakes, a few classes and hopefully some tutorials, the big thing currently in motion is The Cake Retreat: an all-inclusive, four-day cakers break in Northern Ireland. A long weekend of being wined, dined, massaged & CAKED! I’m busy organising this with Jill Condell from Caledonia Cake Studio, the learning hub for the cake part of the retreat.

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Over the course of the 4 days, guests will learn how to turn inspiration into creation with our fab team of experts, combining all of their new skills into their own wedding cake design. They will learn all about perfect sharp edges, lustre finishes, ruffles, sugar flowers, painting flowers on cakes, figure modelling and more.

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I will be helping guests master the perfect sharp edges and how to get that super shine from their lustres, ruffles and sugar flowers. Corinna Maguire of Lovin’ from the Oven by Corinna Maguire will have them all creating their own beautiful bespoke bride figures – without any moulds. Emily Hankins of Emily Hankins Cakes will give them the confidence to paint stunning flowers directly onto their cakes.

What can attendees expect from the four days?

Over the weekend, the guests will work towards creating a three-tier dummy wedding cake, which they’ll be able to take away and display afterwards. They’ll have tuition from our three top sugar experts, as well as two specialist workshops: one with Rebecca Nicholson from RHG Photography on how to capture that perfect picture of their cakes; and one from Tracy Caves of Willow & Twine, who will share how her floristry expertise can be applied to both fresh- and sugar-flower arrangements.

On arrival each guest will also receive their very own Cake Retreat Treat Box with lots of goodies inside.

Our guests will be staying in cottages located just five minutes from the studio in Caledon and, as it is an all-inclusive retreat, it will also include all of their meals, soft drinks and equipment.

On the Friday afternoon, we will be taking a well-deserved break from cakes to enjoy some relaxation in the spa at the Castle Leslie estate. That evening, we will also dine on the estate, tantalising our taste buds with their nine-course tasting menu.

Who would the Cake Retreat suit?

The retreat is aimed at the intermediate to advanced caker. It’s essential that guests have experience of covering cakes with sugarpaste, working with sugar flowers and the basics of figure-modelling.

How can I find out more about the Cake Retreat?

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We have a Facebook page where you can easily reach us or our email is thecakeretreat@hotmail.com

Tell us a bit more about you. When did your love of cake artistry and sugarcraft begin and who inspires you now?

I run Truly Scrumptious Cakes By Design, based in Omagh, Co. Tyrone in Northern Ireland – although I’m originally from Maidstone in Kent. My English accent often confuses people, if they don’t know where my hometown is. I started baking after I made my second son’s first birthday cake back in 2010 and a year later, I took the plunge to start my own business.

I’m a self-taught cake designer and I believe my love for cakes was inspired by my Grandpa, who specialised in cake decorating in his younger years. It is from him I gained my passion for cakes, wanting each one to taste as amazing as it looks.

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My speciality is wedding cakes and I love how much variety there is within this field now. I always struggle to name inspirations, as there are so many cake artists that I admire – and not just wedding cakes artists either. Scrolling through my Instagram, I always look forward to seeing the latest creations from the likes of Kek Couture, Caking It Up, Maggie Austin & Crummb Cakes. And that’s just a snippet of the wedding designers I like. I also love seeing other forms of sugar artistry, with personal favourites being Benny Rivera, Dorothy Klerk, Calli Hopper and Christine Craig.

What has been the most challenging project you have taken on, so far?

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Oh gosh, there’s been a few! Top of the list would be Snow White – The Grimm Obsession, not only for the organisation of the whole exhibit, but also my own my piece – a giant fairytale book. I had to work on it in three sections in order to fit it into my car for transporting to Cake International.

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I’d have to say a very close second would be a recent cake I did for the opening of a new furniture store in Londonderry. It was a two foot tall replica of the Walled City monument, spookified for Halloween. It was created from fruit cake, with edible spiders, cockroaches, skulls and pumpkins. It was way out of my comfort zone, but the challenge was good for me I think, though maybe not the 30mile drive with it!

What are your cake goals for 2018? What would you like to achieve in the next year?

Apart from the obvious, successfully running the Cake Retreat and hopefully another Grimm Obsession exhibit, I’d really like to produce some more tutorials and possibly some videos. I keep saying I want to start a blog, so maybe 2018 will be the year I do. I’d also love to produce my own book at some point, but I’ve not come up with a concept yet.

While I’m on my goals and dreams, I’d love to win a coveted Cake Masters Award. Dream big and fly high, right?!

I agree! I wish you luck with all of your planned endeavours. What would you say to anyone considering getting into cake artistry?

Don’t! Of course, I’m only joking, but seriously, if you have a love and passion for cake and all things sugar art, then follow your heart. But a word of caution, it’s an addictive passion and it’s certainly not a Monday to Friday, 9-5 job – well, not for most of us anyway. It will literally take over everything, although you will meet some of the most amazing people and create lifelong friendships on your cake journey.

Finally, what would be your top cake decorating tip for my readers?

For me, I couldn’t be without my flexible smoothers. All my cakes get their magic treatment to create my trademark sharp edges. They take a little practice to get used to using them though. It’s all about the correct pressure and not trying to get to that sharp edge too fast. Too much pressure on top will give a bubble-like ring around the top edge of the side and too much on the sides will create thinning that shows the ganache beneath.

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The Cake Retreat takes place from Thursday 19th – Sunday 22nd April 2018 at the Caledon Cake Studio, Northern Ireland. Included in your ticket price are:  4 days tuition from the three amazingly talented sugar artists; all your equipment and consumables; four night’s full board accommodation (Wednesday – Sunday); a spa experience and nine-course tasting menu at Castle Leslie; and your exclusive Cake Retreat treat box. Tickets cost £1250 and a payment plan is available. To find out more, visit the Cake Retreat Facebook page or email Emma directly at thecakeretreat@hotmail.com.

BLACK FRIDAY OFFER: 20% off with code CAKERETREAT, valid until midnight Sunday 26th November 2017.

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