Better known by her caking alter-ego the Cake Dutchess, Etty van Urk is instantly recognisable for her stunningly adorable modelling and for being the creator of the hugely popular Cake Dutchess Modelling Paste.
Originally from the Netherlands, Etty, who now lives in Scotland, started decorating cakes in 2009. However, after falling out of love with making cakes-to-order in 2012, she began to develop her love of modelling.
Since then, she has gone on create her own modelling paste; recorded an incredible number of free tutorials, which she shares on her Facebook page; recorded classes for both Pretty Witty Cakes and Craftsy; and is now in the final stages of developing her own line of tools AND writing her first book – all while being a full-time mum of two! Wowsers!
I felt like it was high time we all got to know this incredible lady a little bit better…
Welcome to Mr Baker’s Blog, Etty. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Thank you so much, it’s an honour to be interviewed for your blog!
Oh, you’re too kind! *blush*
Now Etty, I’m intrigued. How did you originally come up with the idea to create your own modelling paste and how does one even begin to turn an idea like that into a reality?
It all started when I moved to the United Kingdom for the first time – we’ve been back and forth a couple of times now, but that is a whole different story! What is important is that, before I moved to the UK, I had a small cake decorating business making bespoke cakes for customers and I also had my own workshop where I taught some classes.
Naturally, I therefore knew what is involved in running a cake business and that, from a business perspective, people just don’t have time for modelling. Not to mention that nobody wants to pay you an hourly rate for making all 8 paw patrol characters.
So with all that in mind and plenty of time on my hands after closing my business and settling into a new country, I started doing some modelling. At first, it was just to kill some time, but later, when I published my first tutorials, I realised there was a lot of interest in them – so I created more.
Gradually, people started to ask me what kind of paste I was using, but it was always hard to explain. I thought gumpaste dried too quick, fondant was too soft, a mix of gumpaste and fondant was too sticky and I’m not a fan of adding CMC powder to fondant – have you ever tasted a piece of fondant with added CMC? Yuck! The list went on…
Eventually, I thought it was time to change that, so I went looking for company to team up with. I had a long list of things I didn’t like and I asked if they could help me perfect the perfect modelling paste – they had a laboratory and I had the knowledge. After a long process, I was finally very happy with the outcome and we introduced it to the market.
Luckily, it was an instant hit and I think it’s safe to say that 99.9% of people like our paste the first time they try it. Now we are working on a covering paste, so that is definitely something to keep an eye out for!
Ooooh! I do love an exclusive! And now you are about to start shipping your new line of Cake Dutchess modelling tools too. I know the cake world is eagerly awaiting their official release. What has the journey been like to bring them to the market?
When I launched my modelling paste, I had been aiming it mostly at beginners because I wanted their first modelling experience to be the best ever. With the tools, however, I would also like to target the more experienced cake decorator. I wanted to design a very versatile tool set that doesn’t break over time, so naturally I thought of stainless steel, but, I have to say, in the very first stage of development, we also considered plastic.
I think we did well to bin that idea though and go with the stainless steel instead. It’s a heavy, but food-safe material and it’s heat proof too, so I’m kind of curious what, for example, isomalt artists will be able to create with them. Or even chocolate sculptors or flower artists. These tools are not designed for modelling only!
I’ve just had a look and the first email about the tools went out in August 2016, but even before that I had been busy looking for a good product designer, so it’s safe to say I’ve been working on them for a good 2 years now. It’s definitely not easy bringing something new to the market but I’m happy I found a product design company in the Netherlands who really helped me bringing this project to life.
What was that process like?
Well, first the tools had to be designed and then 3D-printed prototypes were made. Then they had to be tested and fine-tuned. If I look back now, the first designs looked nothing like they do now! But we worked together step-by-step until we got to a point where I was completely happy with the design.
By this stage, I was running a bit through my financial resources so I knew I would need an investor or a crowdfunding campaign to get them into production. I chose to try a crowdfunding campaign first, thinking that if that didn’t work, I could then look into other options.
The first month of the Kickstarter campaign was VERY exciting as we had a really good start, but then it slowed down a bit. Thankfully, with the help of the cake community, who really pushed the campaign in the final week, we managed to reach the goal! I could go into a lot more detail about the Kickstarter campaign and the production process, but it would probably just be easier for people to read all about it on the Kickstarter page itself.
Have you learnt anything along the way? Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
I have learned a lot! From how to deal with the finances, to making some tricky decisions, to marketing, to dealing with a lot of different companies and goodness knows what else!
I’m not sure if I would have done anything differently, but I think I would have been a lot more aware of potential production delays and would have taken these into account a bit more.
So how can I get my hands on your must-have tools?
We actually have a great pre-order deal running at the moment, with €10 off the planned sale price – but this is only for a limited amount of time. After the tools have been officially launched on to the market, the price won’t be this low again. You can pre-order them here at the special discounted price.
So, tell us a bit about you. Who is the Cake Dutchess?
Well, I’m the mum of two little boys and, funnily enough, bearing in mind my surname is van Urk, I was born and raised in a small fishing town called Urk, in the Netherlands.
Urk is a lovely little town on the coast with a lighthouse and a beach and my whole family still lives there. I had a great time growing up in Urk but then I found the love of my life. He happened to have a pilot licence and found a job in Scotland, so we moved here with our two children and now live happily in Glasgow – although I still can’t get used to the weather!
Wow! It must have been very strange uprooting your whole family to move to a new country! Is there much difference between Urk and Glasgow?
I think the Scottish people are very similar to the people in Urk actually, in that we both speak with an accent that no one else is able to understand! Scottish people and people from Urk are both very hospitable and kind too. When people in Urk talk about things, they always like to make things appear smaller, like a wee house, a wee car and a wee boy – the Scottish people have the perfect wee word for that!
How does cake art in the Netherlands compare to the UK?
It is very similar actually, although I don’t think the ‘home decorated cake’ is as integrated in the Netherlands as it is in the UK yet.
What do you think it is about your modelling that captures people’s attention so much?
To be honest, I never thought I would make it this far based on my modelling. I don’t consider myself an exceptionally skilled artist, but I do realise that I have a talent for breaking things down in to easy accessible shapes and steps. And I know how to make things look cute 😉
Also, I think that I started sharing my tutorials at the right time and in the right format – when Facebook algorithms allowed me to reach a much bigger audience.
When you hung up your apron on your cake business in 2012, did you ever imagine that you would end up where you are today?
Never, but maybe I hoped in the back of my mind?
I knew that, in order to stand out, I would need to have my own ‘style’, which was something that I couldn’t really consider when I was busy decorating cakes for clients. When I moved to the UK, I finally had time to develop myself and figure out what I wanted.
What would your advice be to anyone who thinks that they have a fantastic idea for a new cake product or tool?
Find someone that you know you can trust and who doesn’t have any financial or business interest in you and share your idea with them. It’s very easy to get blinded by your own idea so other people’s inputs are really valuable!
Also know that it’s never impossible – there are always ways and means. And if you decide to go with a crowd-funding campaign, make sure you take the time prepare it well and choose the right platform for you.
So, I know that in addition to your tools, you are currently also working on your first book. How is that going?
It’s speeding up, but there is still a lot of work to do!
My sister is coming over to help me take the main photographs soon though, because all of the the content needs to go off to the graphic designer by the end of May.
I’ve already seen some proofs for the layout though and it’s looking really promising!
What can we expect from it?
A lot of tips and breakdowns of adorable animals and examples of how to decorate your cakes with them in a really easy and time-efficient way.
It’s aimed at those who are new to modelling or anyone who would like to learn more about my process – or even people who would like to work more business-efficiently!
Where do you find your inspiration for your adorable models?
Obviously, animals are my favourite and I usually let the seasons of the year or specific themes like farmyards or jungles inspire me.
Reassure us though! Do you still have the occasional disaster?
Too many – especially baking disasters! It’s safe to say that I’m not the queen of the kitchen… 😉
And I know this is probably a tricky question to answer, but what would you say is your favourite creation you have ever made?
That would have to be my Cake International Competition piece in from 2016, which won a silver award. I dedicated so many hours to it and learned many new techniques. It was completely different to what I normally do, because I wanted to use the competition as chance to really challenge myself.
Book and tools aside, do you have any other goals for the year?
I’m hoping to go back to the US in June to film my second Craftsy class, which is going to be really fun (yes, it’s another big project I’m working on in secret!)
I’m also hoping to launch my new Covering Paste at some point this year, once we get the formula perfect.
What would you say to anyone considering getting into cake artistry?
I would say, be inspired – but not intimidated – by the extreme talents that show up in your news feed.
If I’m honest, there have been periods in my life when I thought ‘I’m not good enough’ – I know a lot of people struggle with these feelings and not just novice cake decorators either. The key is to focus on yourself and have fun with what you do – with a bit of hard work and dedication thrown into the mix too, of course.
What would be your top cake decorating tip for my readers?
Visit lots of cake shows, eat all your cake scraps and just have fun with it! Oh, and stay away from any negativity!
Thank you so much for your time, Etty and I’ll see you soon … 😉
Thank YOU and good luck with the blog!!
Cake Dutchess Premium Modelling Paste is available from a number of UK retailers, including Cake Stuff in the UK and Evil Cake Genius in the US. To find out where you can get your hands on some, visit the Retailers section of Etty’s website.
The Cake Dutchess Modelling Tools are currently in the final stages of development and are expected start shipping within the next month. You can pre-order them here for a special discounted price.