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Getting my Bake Off on at The Thame Food Festival 2018

A couple of weeks ago, I had the very real pleasure of being invited along to the Thame Food Festival 2018 and I was delighted to accept. A fair few of my Twitter chums have headed over in the past and I have always enjoyed living vicariously through them, but I decided that this was the year that I checked it out for myself.

Since its inception in 2008, the festival has been based in the small market town of Thame, about 13 miles east of Oxford, and, over the years, it has attracted the fantastic support of scores of celebrity and local chefs, who come to the festival to demonstrate for absolutely NOTHING simply because they love what they do and are happy to be part of this glorious celebration of local British produce.

Run as a non-profit by a small group of local people, this is a business with primarily social objectives whose profits are reinvested back into the festival or into the local community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners – and that community feel flows through every individual element of the festival, including their ‘Local Artisan Producer Bursary’ and the free space provided to local charities, Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, Thomley and the WI at Denman College, enabling them to raise both money and awareness over the two days of the event.

When deciding which day of the two-day Festival I would head up for, I scoured the event programme, where I was captivated by the incredible line up of chefs and bakers who would be appearing on the Magimix Stage. The Saturday was to feature appearances from the youngest ever GBBO contestant and now successful author and Waitrose columnist, Martha Collison; 2016 MasterChef champion, Jane Devonshire; Raymond Blanc OBE; and Bake Off: The Professionals judge and Chef Patissier at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, Benoit Blin and it certainly seemed like an event not to be missed. However, I have to say that my inner GBBO fanboy squealed when I saw who would be demonstrating on the Sunday!

With a line up set to include Suzy Pelta, Lotte Duncan and a whole host of former GBBOers, such as series one’s Miranda Gore Browne, series four’s Howard Middleton, series seven’s Jane Beedle and Candice Brown (who would be accompanied by her Dancing on Ice partner, Matt Evers) and series eight’s Steven Carter-Bailey, the decision was made for me and so, on Sunday, I headed off up the A34 on my first ever visit to Thame.

In spite of travelling solo, I was warmly welcomed on arrival by members of the festival’s ‘Foodie Force’, an army of friendly and enthusiastic volunteers who immediately made me feel at ease – even after I tripped over a fence navigating my way through the huge (and FREE!) carpark! They quickly gave me directions to the show’s main feature, the Magimix Stage, where I planned to set up camp to ensure that I would have a prime view of all of the day’s incredible demonstrations.

First up was a demo by food blogger, author and fellow member of team #creamfirst, Suzy Pelta who would be acting as our host throughout the day’s events and it was great to have the chance to talk to her in person after being twitter chums for a fair old while now. In fact, if you’d indulge me jumping ahead briefly, that was one of my favourite aspects of the entire day. Thanks to the wonderfully intimate nature of the festival, I was able to grab a few minutes with every single one of the special guests. Having been Twitter  chums with many of them for some time, it was great to finally be able to have a proper chat.

Yes, I had trimmed my beard too short only that morning. No, I don’t want to talk about it… 😉

But back to the action…

After Suzy’s quick and tasty S’mores Cookie Squares, we were joined by one of The Great British Bake Off’s inaugural bakers, Miranda Gore Browne who wowed us all with an essential guide to the perfect royal-iced biscuit. Having wanted to turn my hand to this art form for a long while now, I picked up a lot of top tips that I hope to be able to put to good use sometime soon.

Of course, I couldn’t come all this way without checking out some of the other incredible sights and smells on show, so I dashed out after Miranda’s demo to have a wander around the festival ground taking in the headline sponsors Magimix’s marquee and show favourites, the Pop-up Pub and the Botanical Gin Garden, conveniently located either side of the festival’s newest feature, the live Music Stage, which featured a fabulous programme of musicians throughout the weekend.

I managed to show some real restraint in Humble Country – a marquee full of tempting hand-picked and unique homeware – but sadly (or not in actual fact) my restraint didn’t last quite so long in the Artisan Market or the Street Food Zone, where I was tempted to indulge in the wonderful selection of fabulous local ingredients and some hot and tasty dishes and bakes.

Yeah, I found some cake, because… cake.

After that, I headed back to the Magimix Stage to catch the end of Liam and Ryan Simpson-Trotman of Orwells’ fabulous cooking demonstration, before it was time for the biggest draw of the day, Dancing on Icing Sugar – with Candice Brown and Matt Evers, during which we howled with laughter. These was to become a theme for the rest of the day!

In fact, as I tweeted during the afternoon, my jaw actually hurt from laughing so much. The GBBO bakers really are an entertaining bunch!

Between Suzy, Candice, Matt, Steven, Howard and Jane, I would be hard-pressed to choose a favourite demonstration and that is without including some of the industry insider gossip shared by show director and patron, Lotte Duncan.

What repeatedly struck me, particularly as I stood back and watched the chefs and bakers engage with their fans, was how accessible they were. If you compare the Thame weekend with other, bigger events like last weekend’s The Cake and Bake Show (stay tuned for a special guest post all about that soon), you rarely have the chance to meet all of your baking heroes at such a big event, simply because they are so big. Yet, just one week earlier, many of the same faces were right there in Thame, happily chatting away, posing for photos and giving the public as much time as was needed to ensure that everyone got a look in – why are more of us not heading along to this incredible event?

And of course, in addition to the fantastic demonstrations, amazing local produce and dazzling array of cuisines on offer, the little ones are also well taken care of, with their very own Children’s Activity Area, with swings, rides and plenty of other activities to keep them busy. The festival is also ‘dog-friendly’, which means that even the smallest members of the family are welcome along – I loved meeting so many adorable bundles of fluff, including some of the pooches brought along by the Hearing Dogs for Deaf People charity, who were hosting a Fun Dog Show.

Add on to this the Vintage Tea Tent from Dottie about Cake and a fabulous demonstration schedule from members of The WI, courtesy of Denman College, WI HQ, there really was something new to see and do whichever way you turned!

A whole shack of crumble! Autumnal heaven!

In fact, the only thing missing from the whole weekend was a lil’ cake decorating demonstration from a humble little cake blogger – how’s about it, Lotte? 😉

In all seriousness, I had an absolutely fabulous time at the Thame Food Festival and I would heartily recommend it as a fun day out for anyone with a love of cooking, baking, eating or even just drinking (Make sure you bring a designated driver though people – safety first!). The fact that you can bring the dog, the kids and pretty much any of your friends (as there really was something for everyone) means that you are guaranteed a top day out, but don’t just take my word for it – The Thame Food Festival returns to the Thame Showground next year on 28-29 September 2019. Head on down and find out for yourself!

Thank you so much to Rachel and Lotte for having me along to the Thame Food Festival 2018 and for being such wonderful hosts both during the build up to the event and on the day. I will definitely be back for more next year!

Hopefully I’ll see you all there too!

x

To stay up to date with the latest news and information about the Thame Food Festival 2019, head to the official festival website here.

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Ideal Home Show 2018: Royal Wedding Cakes Competition`

As I may have mentioned a few times last week, on Sunday, I headed up to merry old London to attend the Ideal Home Show and to check out the Royal Wedding Cake competition.

Although we now know that the actual royal wedding cake is being created by Claire Ptak of Claire’s Violet Bakery in Hackney, east London, the Ideal Home Show set entrants the challenge of creating a stunning wedding cake inspired by the upcoming royal nuptials. I have to say that many of the results were rather fabulous!

What struck me the most was the many different ways the competitors had interpreted their brief – with traditional wedding cakes sitting alongside, sculpted churches, caricature-laden confections and even an actual whirlwind! And while some of the entries went for the more traditional route, opting for a white wedding cake with merely a subtle nod to the bride and groom, others made them quite literally front and centre on their cakes.

Although the show is running for seventeen days, I decided to head up on Sunday because that was the day that the judge’s decisions were to be announced and the winners would be crowned. I was also lucky enough to be able to monopolise one of the judges for a personal tour of the collection and her inside scoop on how the judging had gone.

As Rosie ‘Cake-Diva’ Dummer, explained, she and fellow judge, Leeanne Cooper, editor of Cake Decoration and Sugarcraft Magazine, found the judging really tough as many of the cakes had lots of stunning individual elements. Unfortunately, it was the case with many of the entries that when you put these together that the total effect didn’t always work. She gave the example of how some cakes had truly beautiful royal icing work, but then the sugar-floristry might be less precise.

To help them choose the overall winner, Rosie and Leeanne looked the entrants interpretation of the theme, the originality displayed, the skills shown, level of workmanship and the overall impression and impact of the complete piece.

 

After taking all this into account, they crowned Emma Matthews of Happiness Factor Cakes their first-place winner for her beautiful two-tone cake, featuring some wonderfully cute nods to the royal couple. Rosie explained that Emma had managed to produce a really ‘wow’ cake that told a beautiful story through the use of delicate clapperboards, a nod to Meghan Markle’s successful acting career, which managed to remain sympathetic to the overall design.

In spite of the fact that Emma had used both moulds and cutters, she had done so delicately and in a creative way and her sugar floristry was some of the best seen. Her use of just two colours ensured that the cake remained classy, rather than garish and they were particularly impressed by the consistency of Emma’s hand-modelling, questioning whether had actually used a mould, her guards were so… uniform (see what I did there?).

Emma was presented with her prize, a swanky new Smeg Stand Mixer, in a Live ceremony on the show’s main stage and I took a few minutes to speak to her afterwards:

“Honestly, I’m still in shock! There were some amazing entries by some very talented cake artists and I feel very honoured to have won. It has been lovely to just stand back and watch the public smiling at my cake and enjoying it.”

 

In other exciting news, I have also managed to convince Emma to put together a guest post – exclusively for Mr Baker’s Blog – about her ‘journey to success’. I am looking forward to sharing that with you later this week!

In second place, the judges chose this towering beauty by Keshini Illukkumbura, of Dlux Cakes. In spite of some damage at the hands of inquisitive show attendees, both Rosie and Leeanne were struck by Keshini’s beautiful piped royal work and floristry.

Made over a period of two weeks, with many a sleepless night in the mix, Keshini managed to represent each country of the U.K. as well as some beautiful hand piped plaques, including this stunning royal coat of arms.

In fact, it was a close-run thing between Keshini and Emma’s Cakes, and it was only because of the overall flawlessness of Emma’s piece that Keshini was pipped to the post.

Third place went to one of the few cakes that had decided to move away from the traditional wedding cake format, in favour of something altogether more sculptural. Julie Cain of Julie Anne Cake Design created a stunning piece to represent both the public and private face of the couple’s relationship.

The front of the design is St George’s Chapel at Windsor castle where Harry and Meghan will be married – the public face – while the inspiration for the sides and back of Julie’s creative piece tells their story away from the public eye – just a young couple in love, in a bas relief hidden garden behind a stone wall. Personally, I loved Julie’s hidden extra, due to the fact the couple got engaged over a roast chicken, she hid a tiny roast chicken in amongst the bas relief. the judges loved her delicate and clever use of moulds and that the design told a story.

One of the other cakes that almost certainly deserves a special mention, in spite of just being nudged out of a top three place, was this stunning wedding cake by Daisy Brydon Creations. In fact, Rosie explained that if there had been a fourth-place winner, then Daisy Brydon would have taken the title.

The overall impact of Daisy’s cake was absolutely breath-taking and, although the key elements were truly exquisite, it was felt that in some cases, they were not quite as perfect as those in the top three – I told you the judges had it hard! In fact, the main reason this beauty was edged out of a place was because the judges felt it didn’t make enough of the royal theme, with it appearing more of a wedding cake with a monogram than a themed royal wedding cake. I know Daisy’s cake was particularly popular with show attendees though, so I will be very interested to see how it does in the public vote, when the results are announced on Easter Monday.

Another cake that seemed very popular with the public, particularly the youngsters, while I was there was this fun and whimsical take on the theme by Cara Maiden of the Polkadot Teapot. I loved spotting all of the different characters that made up the overall display and particularly loved the cheeky corgi hiding in the royal carriage and the flag-waving seagull! Such fun!

I must offer my congratulations to all of the competitors though. It is such an honour to be chosen to compete at such a high profile event and they should all be very proud. I should also say a quick thank you to both Rosie Cake-Diva for taking me around the Royal Wedding Cakes display and to Emma for taking the time to chat with me. I had an absolutely fabulous day!

Have you made it along to the show yet? If so, which cake was your favourite? Don’t panic if you haven’t though! The Royal Wedding Cakes are being displayed throughout the 17 days of the Ideal Home Show, which runs until the 2nd April, so you still have time to go and see them for yourself. For more information and to book tickets, visit the official Ideal Home Show website.

And if you can’t make it along, check out the full collection in my handy slideshow.

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Don’t forget to keep an eye out for first-place winner, Emma Matthews’ guest blog coming soon!

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The Ideal Home Show 2018

As featured in Something Sweet Issue 2 and sponsored by Zoopla, the Ideal Home Show has returned to Olympia London from the 17th March to the 2nd April 2018. In their own words, ‘From kitchens and bathrooms, to bedrooms and basements, fixtures and fittings to fine food, gardens and the latest in home renovation, to fashion beauty and gifts, you’ll find it all under one roof at this award-winning show.’

‘But why are you mentioning this in your cake and baking blog?’, I hear you cry! Well, this year, to commemorate the upcoming royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on 19th May 2018, the Ideal Home Show has invited amateur and professional bakers to enter the Royal Wedding Cake Competition being held at this year’s show. Tasked with constructing a wedding cake fit for the royal wedding itself, entrants’ creations displayed are being displayed throughout the 17 days of the Ideal Home Show for visitors to see.

Although we now know who will be making the actual royal wedding cake, naturally, I still have to pop along to check out these wonderfully constructed masterpieces for myself and will be heading up to the big smoke this coming Sunday, the 25th March.

I’m told that the show is well worth a visit – not only to check out the cakes on display – but also to see some of the incredible displays, exhibits and panellists in attendance.

Oh, and the cake competition is also being judged by our very own Rosie Cake-Diva, so I’m looking forward to a jolly good catch up and gossip with the queen of Extreme Cakes herself.

If you fancy joining us, tickets for the show are available from seetickets.com and do let me know if you are heading down, so I know to look out for you on Sunday!