Saturday, November 17, 2012

Progress and success

 Has it really been only a month since I moved to Finland?  So many things have happened in such a short time that I'm quite out of breath just thinking about it all!  After my post-Hamburg euphoria, reality hit me like a slap in the face.  The moving men had left ALL my possessions piled to the ceiling in only one room of my new home.  It took me until midnight to find a set of sheets and blankets so that I could go to sleep!  I was already resigned to sleeping fully clothed on a bare mattress before I found a set of sheets and a blanket.

Despite needing to unpack all those boxes and get my home in some semblance of order,  I needed to get going with setting up the business and preparing for my final show of the year, Cake International at Birmingham.  So on the 29th of October I took the hygiene exam required by law for anyone working with food in any capacity in Finland.  Happily I passed with flying colours!

With only a few days left before my departure to Birmingham, I finally had time to start my competition piece.  This time I made a wedding cake, feeling that if I'm going to be in the cake business, I need to compete with more than just flowers.   I'd had the design in my head for a long time:  I had even commissioned a cake separator from Bianco Blu glassworks last summer to complement the cake.  My aim was to give the impression of splashing water and Tarmo Maaronen did a great job!
Unfortunately I had not left myself enough time to really perfect the details of the cake, failing to allow for things to go wrong.  And go wrong they did! I could not get my borders even and smooth to save my life, and the fondant refused to cooperate for the gilt "picture frames" around the paintings.  Even getting the panels for the paintings on the cake proved to be a nightmare!  Everything had to be perfectly even, perfectly in line and perfectly balanced.  Well, they stretched and warped and slid when I went to put them on the cake.  Fortunately I was able to trim the edges with a scalpel.  In the end the waterlilies themselves and the painting were the easiest part of the cake!  My only frustration with the flowers was making the flower to go inside the separator too big, meaning I had to stay up late the night before my departure to make another bud.

Let me tell you, flying with a wedding cake, even if it is made from styrofoam is unmitigated hell!  What on earth posessed me to decide to not only have a glass separator, but also a heavy glass cake stand?!  So I had the cake packed in individual boxes with each waterlily individually wrapped in another box, my big camera, my laptop (seriously dumb!) in hand baggage.  I managed to stuff my little handbag in my laptop bag, but even so, it all weighed a ton.  Then I had a big suitcase as I had packed all sorts of goodies for my daughters.  Still, going there was just about OK, although my poor arm with tennis elbow suffered quite a bit.

Having never been to Cake International before, I was in for a bit of a shock, as it were.  Glancing around at my fellow competitors as I was setting up my cake I suddenly felt completely out of my depth.  The standard was so very high!  it seemed each masterpiece was better than the last.  It was as if I had gone to see some decorated easter eggs, only to be surrounded by Faberge eggs, each and every one exquisite.  I was shaking so hard with nerves that one of the stewards took pity on me and helped me carry my cake to it's designated table.

Despite my nerves I ended up getting completely caught up in the moment.  So much to see!  So much to learn!  So many cakes celebs!  So much to buy!  I attended demonstrations by Alan Dunn, Debbie Brown and Tombi Peck.  I got to shake hands with Eddie Spence, the undisputed king of royal icing, Christine Flinn, the queen of royal icing, Carlos Litschetti, a wonderfully talented sugar artist from south America.  He will send me a signed copy of his new book!  There were so many talented faces there and I tried to have a word with as many as I could.  The consummate groupie!

Saturday was spent driving all the way up to Newcastle to see my daughters.  Mad in a way as I spent nearly 8 hours behind the wheel in order to spend 5 - 6 hours with them.  But of course it was worth it!!  We had a lovely time together.  Such a happy day!

On Sunday I was almost too nervous to check my cake to see how I had fared.  Honestly, I didn't expect anything at all, but after all that hard work and effort, I still wished for something.....  So I was ridiculously happy when I saw the certificate of Merit by my cake!  I cornered the judge for some constructive feedback and she was awesome.  She managed to point out all the places where I lost points while being incredibly kind and supportive at the same time.  She gave me valuable tips for improvement and praised my design.  So now I know what to do the next time......

Now I'm done with competitions for a while.  Time to focus on my business.  I'll save the news on my progress for the next post, but please check out my business page on facebook for more pics from Birmingham and news on the status of my business.  Just click on The Art of Cakes tab on the upper right side of this blog.

Thank you!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

New beginnings and my second successful sugarcraft show

As I write, I am sitting in a local internet cafe, simply because I have no internet in my new home.  Since I last wrote there have been some momentous changes in my life.  In a nutshell I have bought a house in Finland, moved and am in the process of starting up my own cake business!

Needless to say it has been a hectic few months.  My husband and I did the impossible and in only 6 weeks found and purchased our dream home in a sleepy, seaside town just outside the capital city of Finland.  The next step was rather unorthodox; instead of moving the whole family to Finland, we found a new, smaller home for my hubby in Germany and I moved here to Finland on my own.  The reasons for this are all very pragmatic.  Simply stated, somebody has to pay the bills while I start my new venture, so my hubby decided it was wiser for him not to quit his day job quite yet.  In time we will be reunited, but for now we are doing the long distance option.

On route to Finland I stopped off at Hamburg for the weekend to attend, and compete in the Hamburg Tortenshow.  I didn't really know what to expect as I had heard this show is very much smaller than the shows at Birmingham and Telford in England.  With all the hassle of moving I was left with only 3,5 days to prepare my competition piece.  The schedule stated that I had to prepare a floral arrangement with a minimum of 4 different kinds of flowers and a minimum of three of each.  This meant at least 12 flowers and foliage to boot!

Having set up my flowers at the competition site, I took a quick survey of the other flowers and figured I was around middle of the group in standard, so I'd be lucky to get silver.  Imagine my surprise when I won not only gold, but best in class!!!!!

So it was in high spirits that I continued my journey to Finland by ship.  Having rained steadily since I arrived last Wednesday I have effectively been brought back down to earth.  My days have been spent unpacking boxes, cleaning my new home and trying to make sense of all the chaos.

Then it is time to start cutting through all the red tape to start the cake business.  First step is to take....and pass the hygiene exam so that I can work legally with food.  Next step is to complete my business plan so that I can apply for a start up grant.  Then it's time to register the company and apply for a business loan.  Last, but not necessarily final step is to find premises from where I can bake, as it is not possible to bake from home commercially in this country.

Lots of things to consider, much to do, but it's all very exciting!  Watch this page for future developments!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

First Sugarcraft Competition!

 For the past month or so I have been extremely busy juggling cake orders, work and preparing my competition pieces for the BSG Sugarcraft Exhibition in Telford, UK.  This was to be my very first competition and actually, the first time attending a cake show of any kind!  Originally I had entered two classes: Novice Floral Arrangement and another novice class where I could do anything I wanted.  Also, I had planned to bring a cake to represent Finland on the international exhibition table.  This last was not a competition piece, so I really did have free rein on what I wanted to do.  In the end, I ran out of time to do the Finland theme cake and these peonies were the only thing I was able to enter.
Before these three blooms were created, I must have made a dozen or so other peonies, calla lilies, magnolias, you name it!  Most of them ended up in the bin, although a couple have been saved for non-competition use.  My Easter holidays were supposed to be spent making flowers etc, but as fate would have it I was ill for most of the two weeks.  When the fever subsided I did try and create some flowers, but they weren't good enough.  My hands were too shaky and I was too tired to pay attention to little details.  In the end I decided to stick to tried and tested, making the flowers I do best; tree peonies.
 These are Rock's peonies, a Japanese variety discovered in the 60's.  I loved the colour and their dramatic appearance that belied their simplicity.  My original plan was to make a Japanese style "ikebana" arrangement, so I also made a palm leaf commonly called the Good Luck Palm :) and to create interest,  some variagated ivy leaves.  I personally hate ivy, but there's no denying it looks good in floral arrangements!  I had a smoked glass boat-shaped vase to build the arrangement, lots of oasis, so I thought I was all set.  However, when I wired everything together at the hotel I realized to my horror that I needed a LOT more foliage to cover the oasis!!!!!!  What to do, what to do?!  There was no time to make any more foliage.  In desperation I borrowed a tom collin's glass from the bar and modified the arrangement to something more traditional.
Once at the competition venue, I covered the glass and board with some black satin I had brought with me and struggled for ages to make the whole thing look presentable.  I had some doubts about the palm leaf, but decided to leave it in anyway.  Stupid mistake, as I was later to discover:

Saturday was spent enjoying the show, attending demo's by well known sugar artists and shopping.  It was also spent awaiting the judges' decisions.  Finally, at 3:45pm, after a demo, I came back into the show hall to see my exhibit had been marked SILVER!!!!!!  Much, much better than I had expected, so I was over the moon!!!!  Later on in the weekend, I had an opportunity to speak to the judges, and they all said the palm leaf detracted from the arrangements and I lost valuable points because of it.  Well, you live and learn!
 Sadly my other competition piece suffered so much damage on the flight over that despite my best efforts to fix it, I had no choice but to withdraw.  There was extensive damage to the wings, tail, head and neck of the phoenix, despite my best efforts at careful packing.  I had packed the wings and tail feathers separately in individual boxes, but even so they got broken.  The altar, on which my phoenix was just landing was also damaged; the whole altar had been compressed from the top, causing the fondant on the sides to buckle violently and crack.

In the above picture you can get an idea of how he would have looked, despite having only one (damaged) wing and half the tail feathers.  The other wing was damaged beyond all repair and couldn't be attached at all.

In this picture you can see just about the only parts of the cake that WEREN'T damaged.  OK, I had forgottten the talons at home and had to remake them at the hotel.  The hotel proprietor was such an angel, allowing me to work all day in the breakfast room and providing me with free cups of tea.  Still, in the early hours of Saturday morning I had to admit that this project was not going to make it.  I had spent probably close to 60 hours all told on this exhibit, including three versions of the body and two versions of the wings, and of course two sets of talons.  I was very sad about it all, and it was gut-wrenching to throw the whole thing away on Sunday.  There didn't seem to be any point in taking back something so damaged.

Winning silver did make up for a lot of the disappointment, and there will be future shows where I can try again!

The show itself was a fabulous experience!  I met up with my teachers, Alan Dunn and Lorraine McKay and through Alan I met so many people that my head was reeling by the end of the weekend.  I met, and through strange fate, spent quite a bit of time with Tombi Peck, who really is the queen of floral sugarcraft.  She taught Alan Dunn and has done much to bring sugarcraft to where it is today.  I was truly honoured to be able to get to know her!  Other names include Tony Warren, an internationally known sugarcrafter and a future teacher for me; Pat Ashby, known for her fantasy flowers; Robert Haynes, a rising star in floral sugarcraft; and Christine Flynn, known for her royal icing skills. There were countless other people I spoke to and truly, I came back from the show with a wealth of knowledge I didn't have before.

Another highlight was finally meeting a cake lady I had befriended via Flickr and eventually Facebook.   Cakes aside we have sooo much in common that when we finally sat down for lunch together, it felt as if I had always known her!  Sarah Russell owns "Emily Had a Wish" and makes such incredibly imaginative and usually amusing cakes.  All her cakes tell a story and I am a big fan of her work!

In closing, BSG International was a wonderful experience with both highs and lows for me, and I am already planning for the next competition!!!  I made some valuable contacts, made new friends and learned so very much.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Topsy Turvy Teapot course

These past couple of months I have concentrated on honing my existing skills and learning as much as I can about anything related to cake decorating.  Over the Easter holidays I packed my bags and headed up to the Netherlands for a topsy turvy teapot course.  When I saw this course advertised I enthusiastically signed up at once, as I still have painful memories of having my daughter's topsy turvy cake collapse in front of all her friends.  I was determined to learn how to do this right!  Then to have the Kaysie Lackie of The People's Cake ( in Seattle teach this course really was the crowning glory of it all.

At this point a lot of you non-cake people are probably wondering, Kaysie who?  Well let me enlighten you:  Kaysie Lackey is a young, very talented cake artist who is probably best known for winning the Food Network Challenge not once, but three times!  She has also won several cake competitions and has been featured in several magazines. These days she tours the world giving cake courses while running her own cake business.  A very impressive young lady indeed.

On the first day of the course we concentrated on creating plates of various sizes out of gumpaste, and making the teapot spout, handle and the teacup handle.  Sounds like an easy day, but believe me, we worked hard all day.  We had to make everything in duplicate, or even triplicate (except the plates) to allow for breakages.  Thank goodness we did, because of some bizarre quirk the gumpaste was not behaving as it should and took much longer than usual to set firm.  This made them more fragile, too, so there were a fair number of breakages on the day we put things together.

We also spent a lot of time cutting and carving foam core of various thicknesses to form the base of the teapot and teacup.  I learned to dislike carving foamcore intensely!  Still, I do appreciate it's surprising strength and versatility.  The next step was stacking and carving our cakes.  Below is the bottom of my teapot in all it's naked glory.

Kaysie of course made carving look sooo easy and effortless, as you can see in the next picture!  What she did in just a few minutes took me forever!

Day two was spent covering the teapot with fondant, making the lid and carving the teacup.  We also hand-painted  all the components.  Being terminally indecisive, I had drawn and sketched my cake before the onset of the course.  I figured that I will have gone through a lot of trouble and money to take this course, so I'd better be pleased with my end results.  Ambitiously I also decided to try some folk art on my teapot; something I have literally never done before in any medium. So a couple of days before the start of the course I looked up some video tutorials and practised some strokes on my marble worktop.  Then I practiced some more on a teaplate in my hotel room.  The brushes that I have weren't great for the job, but when it came time to actually apply brush to my teapot, it seemed to go ok.

To my surprise I generated a lot of curiosity from my fellow course mates and there was that awkward moment when I was pressured into giving a quick demo in the middle of Kaysie's course.  I did say over and over that really, I've never done this before, but that seemed to fall on deaf ears.  Anyway, here's what I came up with.


Here is a picture of my naked teapot, just waiting to be painted. 

Having done so much on the first two day, I was naively expecting the last day to be nice and easy.  How wrong I was!  First task was to construct the armature for our cakes, so out came the screwdrivers and power tools. Once the flange was securely in place we covered out baseboard in black fondant and then proceeded to make  cobblestones. Kaysie showed us how to make realistic looking stone using three colours of fondant and three colours of dilute paint.  The finished result was surprisingly realistic.
Once that was done we covered the bottom tier (in our case a dummy cake) with white chocolate fondant for the tablecloth.  Then came the exciting part; stacking everything together!  In the midst of all this hullabaloo a reporter from the local newspaper came!!!  He took loads of pictures, interviewed  the organizer of this course and then filmed a sequence to be aired on the web news page!  So I got my 30 seconds of fame on this newsclip, haa haa!
The last thing we did was make a plate of sandwiches and pastries to hang precariously over the edge of the table.  We were again given free rein to do whatever we wanted.  In the end we all shared our little cakes.  So the little filled cookies and liquorice allsorts are from another course member.  In return she has some my swiss roll.

Once we had all completed our masterpieces, a great deal of time was spent taking pictures; pictures of our cakes individually all together, with Kaysie's cake, with us individually, group shots etc etc. 

All in all it was a very intense three days of tuition in which I believe we all learned so very much.  Kaysie was an excellent teacher who demonstrated with humour and patience throughout. 

By the way, I transported this cake home almost fully assembled (only the teacup and pastry plate were removed) and it survived a 4.5 hour drive at speeds well over 120km/hr and it survived intact!  Now it is gracing our coffee table at home until I can bring myself to dismantle it.  In time I will redo this cake entirely out of styrofoam so I can display it indefinitely.

Thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wedding cake practice

 The year has got off to a nice, slow start which after an incredibly hectic November and December I am actually relishing!  Best of all it has given me time to practice new and trendy techniques which can be used for wedding cakes and anything else really.
 I had been dying to try out this new technique called billowing for ages; I just haven't had the time or the opportunity until now.  It looks just like puffs of fabric and I loved how very easy and effective it was.

Then I bit the bullet and tried brush embroidery on the middle tier.  I admit I have tried this once before, but the results were so dismal that I never photographed it.  This time it came out better, but is clearly something I need to practice a lot more!  I liked the way the blossoms came out, but next time I will leave out the vines.  It made the whole thing look a bit clumsy in my mind.
 My original plan for the top tier had been to try some royal icing string work, but after several hours of trying I scraped the whole thing off and decided to try ruffles instead!  I do want to master stringwork, but it will be some time before I am confident enough to go public with it!  After a lot of headbanging with the royal icing, the ruffle technique was gratifyingly simple and pretty.

Then this cake had to sit patiently for a week until I found the time to make a peony for the top.  I have been doing quite a lot o roses lately, so I thought with spring just around the corner, it would be good to practice my peony.  I have a new set of peony cutters, so this looks rather different from the peony I learned to do with Alan Dunn last year.

Next on the list is something romantic for Valentine's Day.  Orders are picking up, so hopefully I will have time to create something:)

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Happy holidays, happy new year!

It never ceases to amaze me how fast time can fly; has it really been nearly 2 months since I last posted!  The end of the year has always been the busiest time of the year at my day job, and not surprisingly it has become the busiest time of the year in my cake world.  In addition to birthdays and Christmas, 'tis the season for TLS's "Dickens by Candlelight" production.  A lovely interpretation of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol".  For me it meant providing enough cupcakes and Christmas cake to keep 5 audiences happy during the intervals.  That translates to about 300 cupcakes and 150 portions of Christmas cake over a 4 day period.  More than once that meant baking after I finally got home at about 10pm.  Sleep became a coveted luxury!
In addition to all that I provided a cast party cake for the cast and crew.  I had all kinds of grand ideas as to what it would look like, but in the end time, or more precisely the lack thereof, dictated the outcome. I was so busy that I never even took pictures of the cake, let alone all the cupcakes and Christmas cake.
So instead I've posted pictures of this year's Christmas cakes.  The snowman is an Alan Dunn design and provided the theme for this year's Christmas orders.  Seven of these cakes were made this year, with slight variations to the theme.  The poinsettia cake was a labour of love and ambition for my parents.  I shipped this cake to Finland and hope to goodness it arrived in one piece!

Finally, the bauble cake was our family cake for this year.  It was a rush job done on Christmas eve morning but I love how it came out.  I took inspiration for the side design from my daughter's cardigan and the rest sort of evolved by itself.

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Cymbidium Orchid Cake

This cake was ordered days after I delivered the Hibiscus cake by another colleague for  her Mum's 75th birthday.  The brief was simply,"white Cymbidium orchids, make it look beautiful".  I didn't really have clear idea in my head how I wanted the cake to look, but I started out by making the orchids. I took my time, making lots more than I needed so that I could pick and choose the best ones for the cake.  Once the orchids were complete, everything sort of evolved by itself from there.  I decided that a very, very pale ruby colour should be used to cover the cake.  Then I realised I needed something in a soft, delicate green and the next thing I knew I was making eucalyptus leaves.  My next idea was to add some tiny filler flowers, such as jasmine or stephanotis, but as usual, I ran out of time.
It always amazes me just how much time making something as simple as leaves can take.  Each leaf needs to be individually wire, veined and dusted before they can be wired together to form a stem.  It also took ages for me to figure out how to wire the flowers and leaves together to make an attractive spray for the cake.  Alan Dunn makes it look so simple, but trust me, it isn't!!!
All in all I was extremely pleased with the way this cake came out.  Hard and time consuming as they are to make, I must say that flowers give me the most pleasure to make. There is something so unbelievably beautiful in even the simplest flowers.  For me it is such a thrill to be able to even vaguely reproduce that beauty.

In closing I can't resist adding that the recipient was so delighted with this cake that she refused to let anyone cut it!  She has put it on display for all to see and no amount of pleading can make her eat this one!  Luckily it is a sacher torte which keeps very well for longer periods.  Even so, perhaps I should have made it out of styrofoam........

Thanks for stopping by!