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What’s Going on at Mr Baker’s Cakes HQ?

Hey cake chums!

I do hope you are all doing well out there.

It seems like a rather peculiar time in the world of cake at the moment. Some cakers seem to have decided to hang up their aprons entirely for the moment; some are using the current period of isolation to develop their skills in new and existing areas; many are spending their time creating tutorials and going live on Facebook or Instagram to share their knowledge and skills; and yet more still rediscovering their love of traditional baking – away from their usual weekly cake orders (I’ve never SEEN so much bread on my social media timelines!).

For my sins, I seem to have wound up busier than ever, thanks to a combination of continuing to go into school to provide care for the children of essential key workers, adapting my YouTube content to provide weekly children’s baking lessons and working on a whole host of projects that my buddies at Renshaw have sent my way over the last couple of weeks (I’m definitely NOT complaining though!).

With all that in mind, I thought I would pen a few words and update you on what’s going on at Mr Baker’s Cakes HQ…

First things first, while nervous about the potential risk of exposure, I feel incredibly honoured to be able to provide some stability for the children that are still coming into school and we are having lots of fun doing crafts, playing outdoors and… *whispers* … we might even be doing a bit of cookie decoration today!

And if you haven’t yet checked out the first episode of Mr Baker’s Cake School, I’ll embed it down below:

In last week’s episode, we were whipping up a batch of my deliciously light and fluffy vanilla cupcakes, before learning how to top them with some yummy vanilla buttercream and some of my favourite sprinkles. I’ve already received some fabulous photos of children joining in and having lots of fun with baking and I already can’t wait to see how they all get on with our next project.

What's going on at Mr Baker's Cakes HQ - Newspaper Clipping Image

Actually, speaking of our next project, I have a poll running on my YouTube community tab at the moment where you can vote for which baking project you would like us to tackle next: banana loaf or a batch of traditional scones. Head to this link to cast your vote and don’t forget to subscribe while you are there!

And if all that wasn’t enough, as I mentioned above, my buddies at Renshaw have also been keeping me busy with lots of fun projects, including a gorgeous Mother’s Day cake tutorial, inspired by my very own mummy. The cake sits on one of my stone tile effect cake boards (find the video tutorial at this link) and is decorated to look like a flower pot full of my simplified carnations – my mummy’s favourite flower!

What's going on at Mr Baker's Cakes HQ - Mother's Day Cake image

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to share the cake with mum in person (it’s still sat on the shelf, in fact), but I still loved how the dusky pink carnations looked alongside the stunning Sapphire Blue (Renshaw’s Colour of the Year 2020 dontcha know?!) plant pot. If you fancy having a go at a Pot of Flowers cake of your own, you can find the full tutorial over at the Renshaw website here. I’ve also been working on a couple of magazine tutorials for them this week as well, but I’m afraid I’ll be keeping those under wraps for now. Rest assured, you’ll be the first to know when they are out though.

Perhaps ill-advisedly, after the fun you all had with me during my Christmas LIVE decorate-along back in December, I have also agreed to go live on the Renshaw Baking Facebook page (find it here) on Friday at 2pm, where I will be decorating a cake while you tell me what to do! What HAVE I let myself in for?! I do hope you will be able to join me over there – it should be lots of fun… for you at least!

What's going on at Mr Baker's Cakes HQ - Renshaw Facebook Live Promo images

AND (yes, there’s more) if all this wasn’t enough, I’m told that later this week the lovely Zoe Hopkinson of Zoe’s Fancy Cakes will be uploading a fun collaboration video to her YouTube channel that we shot together back in January. In the video, Zoe’s fiancé, Richard challenged us both to create a cake from scratch in only ONE HOUR! I don’t know WHAT I was thinking, trying to take on the queen of cakes herself, but I’ll let you decide who you think was the overall winner. You will be able to watch the video over on the Zoe’s Fancy Cakes channel here!

So yes, that is what’s going on at Mr Baker’s Cakes HQ at the moment. I certainly know how to keep myself busy… eh?

Do head down to the comments and let me know how you are doing and how you are managing to keep yourselves busy. I am absolutely CRAVING adult conversation right now… 😉

And, as always, until next time… happy caking! xx

 

PS. I will get the details of this week’s Twitter #cakershour up on the blog in the morning, so if you have any suggestions for topics or focus questions, be sure to let me know ASAP!

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Mr Baker’s Blog on Tour: Day Five

Today it was the turn of my gorgeous friend and local Boltonian star, Kay Gajra of Kaykes to have me shadowing her (or basically following her around like a bad smell) as she delivered an incredible showpiece cake to the Bolton Food & Drink Festival, to celebrate James Martin’s tenth year of supporting the event.

Before we get into the events of the day, can we all just take a minute to appreciate the sheer amount of work that Kay has put into this cake?!

She explained that she wanted to make the cake as personal as possible, so lots of research was required to ensure that all those special details were spot on:

“When James first saw it, he was clearly a bit taken aback – possibly even a little overwhelmed and choked up – calling his mum and his sous chef to come and check it out!”

“He was even telling all the press about it during his interviews, saying I was ‘on another level’. I’m absolutely over the moon that he liked it – it clearly really meant something to him to have something that wasn’t just the norm.”

Kay had sent me a lil’ preview of the cake over the weekend and I have been in total awe ever since. However, the pictures couldn’t even begin to compare to seeing it in the flesh. It really was incredible! As Kay’s cakes always are!

Obviously, I had to stick around to catch one of James’ demonstrations too, during which he whipped up a Tomahawk Steak, with a lobster mac ‘n cheese, some delicious looking eggy mozzarella parcels, with a flavoursome tomato sauce and a Funnel Cake cake with a blueberry and gin compote.

And while he cooked, guests were treated to a slice of fresh strawberry cake – the recipe that James prepared during his first ever Bolton Food & Drink Festival demo, ten long years ago!

The other big event today, as far as us caking types were concerned, was the Official Bolton Food & Drink Festival Cake Competition. Whether a budding amateur or an experienced pro, entrants were invited to join in with the festival’s fabulous cake-making competition to design and make a show-stopping cake to represent the traditional festival theme – with a fun edge and a focus on entertainment!

 

The festival was looking for people with a love of baking who would like to be in with a chance of winning some wonderful prizes, including premium stand mixers, a hamper of goodies from the show’s headline sponsor Aldi and a complete airbrush system from Spectrum Flow.

The competition entries were judged by a panel of experts, including Kay Gajra, Greenhalgh’s bakery boss David Smart, Aldi Logistics Director Virgil Simpson, Leader of Bolton Council, Cllr Linda Thomas and Molly Robbins of Molly’s Creative Cakes.

The standard of the entries was really high and the judges certainly had their work cut out.

Despite some disagreements within the judging panel – nothing better than some lively debate – they ultimately chose these incredible entries as their winners.

Under 16 Winner – Emily Newcombe, Adult Hobby Winner – Becky Wareing and Adult Professional Winner – Lisa Elliott.

Special congratulations must go to Becky Wareing for also scooping the Best in Show prize!

Once the competition was over and our winners had been crowned, it was unfortunately time for me to say goodbye to Bolton, as I headed off on the next stage of my road trip adventures. With all the riotous fun of the last few days, you could be forgiven for forgetting that the main reason for my tour is to collect some of the amazing contributions to my secret collaboration project.

With that in mind, the next stop on my journey was to Beverley, in East Yorkshire to visit Julie Rogerson of Julie’s Cake in a Box. Julie has created some incredible pieces for our project and I can’t wait for you to see them next month! Thank you for having me Julie and thank you for all your hard work – I love them!

Then it was back to one of my favourite places in Cakedom, Zoe’s Fancy Cakes in Leeds!

Home of Zoe Hopkinson and partner Richard, Zoe’s beautiful store is where I took park in my wonderful class with Carla Puig earlier this year and it was wonderful to be back again. Zoe was just finishing off the tail end of her fabulous Horse Model Making Class (literally, they were on the tails) when I arrived and I have to say a massive well done to all of the course participants – all of the models looked amazing!

Then we were off out to dinner, where I allowed Zoe to take my Nando’s virginity. Did you know, they have FOUR different types of veggie burger?! I actually really enjoyed my meal, so thanks for the recommendation, Zoe – and the fabulous company of course!

Tomorrow is an incredibly busy day, as I’ll be scooting back to Manchester to judge a Charity Bake Off and THEN I’m heading up to Glasgow!

If you want to find out why, be sure to hit the subscribe button to the right (or at the bottom of the page if on mobile) and don’t forget to hit confirm in the email I send you.

See you then!

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Cake Class: Carla Puig – Nadine

Carla Puig

In August 2017, Leeds-based Zoe’s Fancy Cakes announced that they would be hosting one of my absolute favourite sugar artists for her first EVER classes in the UK and I was immediately torn! As you’d expect, top quality cake classes aren’t cheap and Leeds is SUCH a long way away from Fareham (which is just outside Portsmouth, in case you’re wondering), but this was Carla Puig!

I had become such a huge fan of her work, since stumbling across her first ever Cake International entry, the Occidental Geisha (which incidentally took the International Best in Show award) back in Spring 2016 and had said on numerous occasions that I would happily pay good money to just sit and watch her at work! The chance to not only do this, but also to learn from her?! Well…

Occidental Geisha

I immediately got in touch with Carla and asked if she was planning any other UK dates or locations, but, at that point, she wasn’t, so after a bit of dithering, I bit the bullet and booked a place.

Well, at least, I tried to. In all my dithering, I had left it too long and the weekend course was full! Cue the crushing disappointment. Zoe kindly agreed to put me on the reserve list and, as fortune would have it, within a day she was back in touch to let me know that a place had become available! Hoorah! And at this point, I should probably also give a shout out to both Mummy Baker and my sister for their much-appreciated donations towards the cost of the class and accommodation, by way of my birthday present! I shall remain eternally grateful!

Unfortunately, after the initial excitement of the booking confirmation, then came the longest wait in recorded human history (or at least it seemed that way), while I waited for the following March to come around. It honestly felt like it would never arrive, but naturally it did eventually and the time came for my epic journey up to Leeds.

As did a severe weather warning!

Having never driven in snow – I was a little bit nervous looking at the weather reports in the days leading up to my class, but the day itself dawned bright, clear and, dare I say it, even a little mild. On the advice of various guides from the AA, the police force and anyone else who had cared to write one, I loaded up my very-impractical-for-cross-country-snowy-driving car with every conceivable provision one might need for such an expedition and, as soon as school was out on Friday afternoon, I hit the road…

Many people had warned me that leaving at 3:30pm was a foolish notion as I would hit traffic the entire way, but do you know, I had a pretty clear run. Oh, and before anyone says anything, I don’t USUALLY leave school at 3:30pm – this was definitely an exceptional circumstance!

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On arrival in Leeds, the snow finally hit. And boy did it hit. Flakes the likes of which we never see on the South Coast. Luckily, I got to my hotel, which was conveniently close to the course location, before things got too bad and ensured I got to bed at a reasonable hour, ready for a weekend of intensive learning.

On Saturday morning, with the snow on the ground not too severe, I drove the short distance over to Zoe’s Fancy Cakes, just outside Leeds and found the free car park, just a short walk away from the shop.

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Now people are always surprised to find out that I am actually quite shy on meeting new people and, as I only knew Zoe herself, was a little bit nervous about walking into a room full of strangers. Of course, I needn’t have worried though as Zoe was incredibly welcoming and immediately put me at ease, while she and Carla put the finishing touches to the day’s preparations. The little bit of time before the course was due to start was a great ice-breaker, as it gave all of the attendees a chance to mingle and chat before we got started. Not to mention explore all of Zoe’s amazing artwork scattered throughout both the shop and the teaching space.

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When we were finally ready, it was time to get straight down to the nitty gritty of things – colouring the modelling chocolate that we would be using to sculpt the majority of our busts. Carla explained that we would be using Saracino’s Cioccolato Plastico Bianco, which we coloured based on our own preferences using a variety of Sugarflair gel colours.

I had only ever made one bust cake before, so in spite of feeling reasonably confident with the tools and materials we were using, I wasn’t sure of how well I would be able to recreate Carla’s masterpiece. Animals are a lot more forgiving than humans after all! However, something I learned fairly early on in my cake journey, after struggling to keep up at a class and ending up initially disappointed with my finished piece, is that when one attends a course, we aren’t there to produce a beautiful cake (although that is an added bonus), but rather to learn the skills and techniques to allow us to replicate one later at home – after a bit more practice! When you allow yourself to have that mindset and take the expectations and pressure off yourself, you are sure to have a much more enjoyable learning experience. And as I teach my pupils at school, mistakes are opportunities for learning – we only fail at something when we give up trying.

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One of the best parts of the first day was the time we spent on the theory of facial analysis. By taking the time to understand the relative proportions of the human face, I felt much more confident with the prospect of trying to replicate one. I also took away plenty of tips that I know I will be able to use on other projects too. For example, how to work with chocolate with my ridiculously hot hands. With such a simple solution, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it myself: gloves! I actually found that with the addition of powder-free, vinyl gloves, my warm hands actually helped me to manipulate the chocolate – not to mention the fact that I was able to knead my modelling chocolate a lot more easily than most!

My favourite part of the day though was when we were all given a chance to work alongside Carla for some 1:1 time to troubleshoot our own sculptures. I mean, how often do you get to sit down with an expert in their field and benefit from their knowledge and experience? Although the prospect of trimming off some of my Nadine’s excess face when I had built it up a little too much was initially terrifying!

As we worked, after a morning of blazing sunshine, which had cleared away most of the snow, the heavens opened and we were treated to a positive deluge of the dreaded white stuff. I have to say though, if you are going to be somewhere in the snow, Yorkshire takes some beating – it was absolutely beautiful. However, as the first day drew to a close, the journey back to the hotel was positively terrifying and I was already making plans to move in with Zoe and her partner Richard if the snow got much worse.

Luckily, I had an issue of Something Sweet to keep me busy that night, so I was able to put the weather completely out of my mind until the morning.

Things weren’t looking much better weather-wise in the morning, but in daylight, the journey was a lot less eventful and I arrived back at Zoe’s Fancy Cakes excited to continue work on my bust.

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After a whole day of learning some quite tricky skills together, the group had bonded really well and the atmosphere was even more jovial as we cracked on with the next stage of our projects. The start of the second day saw us adding shading, eyelashes and make up to them and I think I was at a real disadvantage there! Although I may have a little bit more experience with make-up than some men (think crazy stage make up in my teens and mad spritzer-infused evenings with friends, where letting me do their make-up seemed a good idea), I have certainly never had to dress a face in full make-up that actually had to look remotely ‘put together’. I’ve also tended to avoid colouring with dusts, because I’ve found it tricky in the past. I think it’s because I’m too impatient to wait for the colour to build up gradually, infinitely preferring the much faster results of my airbrush. On this occasion, I decided, most uncharacteristically, to adopt a less-in-more approach to this aspect of the decoration and it seemed to work. I can imagine it would be very easy to go overboard though – much like when airbrushing really!

Once our faces were catwalk ready, we were on to the body and hair – and back to my old faithful, Renshaw sugarpaste. While less forgiving than modelling chocolate, there is a lot to be said for sticking to what you know! Inevitably, as I became more mindful of the five-hour journey I had ahead of me after the course concluded, a certain degree of rushing did come into play – particularly when it came to the hair (don’t get me started on how much those ringlets misbehaved!). However, that was all on me and nothing to do with Carla’s tutorage. At no point in the course did I ever feel rushed, which is amazing when you consider what we had to get through during the two days.

I was genuinely so amazed with the standard of the busts that everyone on the course managed to produce – particularly when you realise that we were all at very different points in our caking ‘careers’, with very different areas of expertise. Naturally, we all experienced our fair share of dramas (I mentioned my panic attack over the make-up, right?), but Carla was on hand to support us through them, stepping in to help those who needed her, when required.

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Of course, there is always that one naughty student who wants to go off plan (eh, Zoe?) and I wonder if you can guess which of the amazing array of finished pieces belongs to the maverick Mrs Fancy Cake herself? And while you’re at it, see if you can spot mine in amongst them too…

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If you get the chance to attend a class with Carla Puig, I would not only highly recommend that you do it – I would pretty much insist on it! Her relaxed style of teaching, focusing on both theory AND artistry, was excellent and I genuinely felt like I came away from the weekend with the knowledge and skills I needed to be able to recreate the project again at home. I can also see oodles of ways in which I could adapt it for other future projects too – I don’t think you could ask for any more from a cake class really.

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Additionally, Zoe’s gorgeous little shop and teaching space was the perfect setting for the class and I may have left with a couple of purchases too – including the essential Zoe’s Fancy Cakes souvenir, my very own Zoe’s Fancy Cakes t-shirt.

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Thanks Carla (and Zoe and Richard) for a truly fantastic weekend and I hope to see you all soon!

x

After bursting onto the international cake scene only a few years ago, Carla Puig’s lifelike sculpting has ensured that she has become an instant global sensation. Her breath-taking work has been published in magazines all over the world and she has won numerous prizes and awards, including the much-coveted International Best in Show award at Cake International in 2016 and the Best Sculpted Cake Award at last year’s Cake Masters Magazine Awards.

She now travels all over the world teaching her classes and you can keep up to date with her upcoming class schedule via her website or over at her Facebook page, Carla Puig – Sugar Atelier.

 Zoe Hopkinson of Zoe’s Fancy Cakes is also a fantastic teacher in her own right (check out my previous post regarding my cake classes with Zoe) and she teaches both at her own shop and teaching space, as well as further afield. To find out more about classes with Zoe or her guest tutors, visit her website.