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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Bakers unite...same old song, different tune?




This is a cake I created for my granddaughter and would happily recreate it for anyone else who was willing to pay me it's worth.  So let me ask you...what do YOU think it's worth is?  The cake is made from a 9" and 7" round madeira (pound) cake, layered twice and filled with buttercream which was whipped into a frenzy with vanilla added to ensure the sweetest, creamiest texture.  The sugarpaste covering is ready made colours from Renshaw simply because this saved me a small amount of time and I also love the range they have.  So why not.  The characters on the cake and the crown are made from Satin Ice Gumpaste.  I used a circle cutter for the heads of Ben and Holly to get a grasp of the size and proportion I wanted.  The rest of the characters I cut freehand and left all to dry for an hour or so before dusting the faces and limbs (TINY limbs!....very footery! Good old Scottish word right there) and painted the details using Sugarflair colour paste mixed with clear alcohol.  I dusted and painted the clothing and added the little wand and crown, etc.  The leaves were cut using a cutter that I have in among all the other cutters that I bought over the years and have no idea what their actual use or purpose is originally...but I simply search for a shape that will do the job and 'tweak' as I go along.  So the grass was shortened, pinched, cut accordingly and painted over in parts to get the effect I wanted.  All of these little details were added individually and stuck in place...taking hours....and hours...and lots of coffee!  I used little blossom/daisy and star cutters for the little garden accents.  The sign for Michaela's Little Kingdom (changed to personalise for the birthday girl) was cut hand free using a template I drew and I painted the letters onto it...no room for error.  So....the cakes were baked the day before the cake was decorated.  Colouring, preparing, filling, covering and decorating all took place from 8 am and the cake was complete by 10 pm at night.
When I get enquiries for childrens cakes, I'm usually met with "we just want a sponge" which immediately flags up that they don't expect to pay more than £40 to £60 for the cake.  But if you come to me....or any other bespoke cake maker, it's not "just a cake" that you are going to walk away with.  There is no other job out there that you would work for less than the minimum wage so please don't expect cake makers to do it just because you can't see the work involved in the process and the outcome.  It's very frustrating, and soul destroying to say the least.  I will happily recreate the above cake for anyone who asks...if your budget is £90+ for an adaptation of the above (same size cakes as mentioned) then I consider you get a bargain!  
In the last couple of weeks I have taken enquiries for 3 different cakes and designs.  Each one I gave a price for and one by one they came back with thanks but no thanks.
Quality and personal time comes at a price.  I refuse to underestimate my standards just because you underestimate your budget for hand crafted goods.  
So I ask again...what would you expect to pay for a cake like this?

Monday, 6 July 2015

An IMPossible cake?



I had such a wonderful time creating this cake.  It was so easy and I felt as though I was skipping through Poppy fields every step of the way.  Hang on...that's not quite accurate.  The truth is....the absolute truth is....I over thunk it (WOW!  thunk really IS a word?  No little red rejecting squiggly underline appeared.  Well THAT just spoiled the line I had planned!)  To continue on, I procrastinated, (had to look that one up) and I swore enough to make a sailor proud.  As far as cake carving goes, I'm no expert.  I've said it many times....I can carve a decent mountain at best, but normally don't take on anything more challenging than that.  But to be fair, when I saw the image of this car I didn't get that "I can't do this" feeling....immediately!  So I decided it would be a good thing to take it on.  The fact that my customer is an absolute delight and considers me her personal cake maker, how could I possibly refuse?  It took four 9" x 12" sheet cakes (which sounds like I'm swearing in a phoney French accent.  How appropriate!) to create this car.  So how big was the car?  Well I'll tell you....it was approximately 11" long and 7 or 8" wide.  How good is your maths?  Height, width, volume and all that.  Adds up to all those cakes?  Of course not.  This baking frenzy before the event is what is commonly known in the cake decorating world as PANIC!  I had absolutely no plan, guide, template or feckin clue.  I don't mind admitting it.  I stocked up on Tenas to see me through this entire experience.  However...once I got started...layering...filling...crumb coating...refrigerating...carving/swearing.  It got better.  More crumb coating, more refrigerating...then a coating of ganaché to hold it all together before the final covering which was sugarpaste, the blue dying of which remaining ingrained down the sides of my fingernails for days afterwards.  I hung my head in my hands several times but the lure of Maltesers and coffee helped me lift it back up again and helped me to see the light.  This wasn't such a bad job after all.  Once I started putting all the decorative pieces together and finally gave myself a pat on the head for the detailing, I was glad that I had taken this on....despite my initial (as always) reservations regarding my own ability.  Now all I need to do is change my damn phone to get a few decent pictures in future.  My camera is shi....eh...not good.  My back drop is even more shi...eh...worse.  It's on my 'to-do' list to get these things sorted.  Thank you to my lovely and ever faithful customer who gave me this challenge.  She promises that the next one is going to be less challenging and that I will like it...but I sense it won't be a simple shape, that's for sure.  I told her to give me plenty of notice so that I can refill my valium prescription in time!
So...good readers...if you have reached the end of this post, let me be so bold as to let you know (again!  haha!) about my upcoming classes in Seattle and New Jersey .
Simply click the City and State for all the details and booking info.  Come join me...you know you want to!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Come join me in New Jersey for classes!




I'm thrilled to be returning to Secaucus in November for 3 days of class.  See the website for details and hopefully I'll see you there!  Fun and informative.  You can't afford to miss it.
Supply lists will be added to the website very soon.  A minimal of tools are required...trust me.  Nobody needs to lug around a huge container of 'stuff'.  I keep it is simple and clean as I possibly can.  Any questions simply contact me through the website and I'll get back to you.
Come on!!  It's going to be FUN!!!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

The most unlikely friendship...sweet!



Although I am a cake maker and work with a lot of sweet things regularly...these moments are truly the sweetest.  Totally non related to cake or anything edible (although I could eat my dog sometimes...if only to shut her up!) but I get such a thrill walking Poppy (little black furry one) down the lane near my house where the horses roam around in the vast fields.  As soon as they see us they walk over towards the fence.  Poppy almost takes flight as her tail spins around so fast...mine too!  I love the horses but don't ask me to SIT on one though.  Done that only once in my life and I'm still getting over the shock.  It would take a whole lot of Firemen and a copious amount of duct tape to keep me on a real live horse.  To me it's about as much joy as being kicked up the arse repeatedly.  I'm sure there is a knack to sitting on a saddle and maintaining your dignity but I just don't have it.  I'm happy to watch the beautiful creatures over a fence.
I don't know what's happening with our Summer here in Scotland.  I'm still waiting for it to kick in.  Last week I walked the dog in tee shirt and short jeans...ME that is, not the dog.  This week it's back to boots and puffer jacket!  It's ridiculous.  Oh well...whatever the weather, precious moments remain.  Have a good one whatever you are doing today!  I'm resting up before I contemplate my first car cake next week.  Yes...me...doing a transport cake.  Watch out for THOSE expletives.  Coming soon! 

Sunday, 7 June 2015

I got the figure for it!



It's been a long time since I taught any kind of class away from home.  Last year I was working to complete my book and also seeing an end to all the personal shi.....eh....stuff.  So it was in my mind to make this new year (which is almost halfway done already!) the new beginning and create some different classes and see where they lead.  I have messed around with Rice Krispie Treats for a long time and this hasn't always passed without challenge.  The biggest challenge was on my vocabulary as I struggled to find new expletives to describe my experience with any accuracy...but trust me, I found them in the end!  Most of you who know me will already have shared this experience with me on Facebook, my daily therapy where I run to while it's still free.  As I discovered better ways to deal with the mixing of these sticky (feckin) treats, I became more confident with their use and have created many a project incorporating them into my design.  (Yeah...I'm on my second coffee of the morning so look out for more elaborate and impressive big words!)  Where is this all going?  (I hear none of you ask)  Well...let me tell you anyway.  I decided (in my wisdom) to create some projects using the treats and promote them as classes.  This would mean I would provide the RKT's for the class (that's 10 or more....RKT shapes....prepared by me....just for you) or substitute these using polystyrene shapes instead.  This would mean using glue guns, bigger cake boards, more tools than you could shake a stick at and my valium prescription being renewed every two weeks.  After creating a couple of potential projects at home, taking photos of various steps and writing notes, I set them aside to think some more.
Then a couple of weeks ago I was asked to make the heartbreaking piece of work that features in my previous blog post....and I had an epiphany!  Although I may have a knack and some kind of knowledge on how to create things using RKT's and any other medium that I haven't yet become associated with, I don't think it makes me expert enough to teach my (new found) skills to anyone else.  FUN FIGURES is what I was born to do.  My characters come natural to me so I can teach anyone how to create them with the greatest of ease....and minimal tools!  A clean pair of hands and a supply list which would fit into your handbag/pocket book.  After I completed the piece for my client I reached for the RKT projects and threw them in the bin without a second thought.  
I am a woman of many talents, some of which I even get paid for!  (that's another blog post right there...but let's not)  I respect and admire so many sugar artists with varying skills, I wouldn't want or even try to match their ability in their specialist field.  I care not if I am not a jack of all trades in my Business.  I have to enjoy what I do to be able to make a class the fun and informative experience that I know it has always been in the past.  Sugar figurines can be used as cake toppers on their own or part of a larger project where all the bells and whistles have been used to put it together.  If I can teach you one aspect of your cake decorating preference then I will be extremely happy.
I will be organising classes for Seattle this August and the above projects are in the frame as possible subjects.  I will also have a two day class where two figures will be featured, but not a Bride and Groom.  As soon as dates and venue are settled then I will share the class details with you and HOPE that I can have enough sign ups to make this happen.  
The moral of this (war and peace) story?  Stick to what you know best and don't be tempted to tread new waters unless you are wearing a snorkel and wet suit.  
OR
Stepping out of your comfort zone can sometimes lead to falling on your arse!  (I intend to keep my arse intact)  See you in Seattle folks!  

Sunday, 24 May 2015

A fondant farewell...



I'm off on holiday tomorrow...lucky me.  All I could think about at the beginning of this week was the arrival of my granddaughter who was travelling from her home in Maidstone, Kent to celebrate her first birthday with me in Scotland.  (Accompanied of course by her mummy and daddy!)  I had her cake design on my mind and my time all planned out, but you never know what is around the corner.  I was never in the Brownies to the "be prepared" motto rarely applied when I'm involved.  I was on my way to do a demonstration for the British Sugarcraft Guild when I got a phone call asking if I would be able to make a cake for a very special occasion.  The date requested was the 2nd of June and I quickly realised that it was the date I was due to return from holiday...so there seemed little point in continuing the conversation.  However, the lady (who turned out to be a past student of mine) explained that this was a birthday cake that might not even be seen by the recipient, but the family want to celebrate what is going to be this man's final birthday...if he makes it.  What DO you buy for someone under these circumstances?  The family are going to gather around and celebrate under the most incredibly sad circumstances with the best intentions and with hope that the day will be a lasting memory for everyone and a final grand gesture for the gentleman concerned.  He will be 60 years old on the 2nd of June and his goal is to reach it. I hope he does.  What distresses him most is the fact he won't see his grandchildren grow into young adults, so the them of the piece was purely all about the grandchildren and their love for him.  He owns a timber company, hence the seating arrangement.  I couldn't offer a cake as it was too soon to be making a fruit cake which would last for the longest time but I personally had no time to fit this in at this point.  But if the whole idea was to keep the toppers for as long as possible, the best and only thing I could do was create a sugar topper.  A project more like but something that would remain intact and be able to view at any time....and remember.  I took some details from the lady who furnished me with photographs of everyone so I could work from those.  It was requested that Grumpy the Disney Character be incorporated in the piece somehow.  With time really against me, the only thing I could suggest was that he was added as a colouring/story book.  This was agreed...and so it was.  The log was created using Rice Krispie Treats (minus the 'F'....my Facebookers will understand the private joke with this one!) and the rest was purely sugarpaste and tylose powder added to create the figures.  I intended to make the figures a little simpler but I just couldn't stop myself from adding the little extra detail.  My intention was to show the love for this man and can only hope this was achieved.  I finished in enough time to take care of the creation of my granddaughter's first birthday cake.  When I told my daughter Vicky about the sadness surrounding this piece, she commented that it was quite a moment to be involved in the creation of the celebration of one's first birthday and another's last.  How sad.  Today, the lady who was my past student came to collect her piece.  I told her about Vicky's comment and she reminded me that when she took her 'class'....she was actually the only person to attend it!  It was held at my own little studio in West Calder some years ago and Vicky was still living at home at the time...so she came to join us and took the 'class' too.  So it was just us three.  This morning, Vicky left with her family to return to Maidstone and my lady arrived this afternoon to collect her piece.  How crazy is that?  I wish Vicky could have still been here and it would have completed this circle of events.  It's so bizarre, happy and sad at the same time.  A roller coaster of emotions and events.  Life is strange.  Which makes me wonder what is still around the corner.  Never give up.  Life is too, too short.  It has been a privilige to be part of this experience.  I'll hold it dear...always.  For more up close and personal views of this piece visit Lorraine McKay Facebook

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

How To Decorate Emoji Cookies With Royal Icing!





I am getting far too hooked on watching SweetAmbs cookie videos.  I think I need to make some and get this out of my system!  I know they make them look so easy and quick but I'm sure there is a lot of waiting time between steps....but this isn't going to phase me.  I see this stuff come up on my Facebook Home page all the time and could sit for....well....two cups of coffee time at least (with the occasional Malteser) just watching in awe!

Monday, 11 May 2015

Return of the Lost Blogger!

You may or may not have been aware of my frustration over the last few weeks.  If you follow me on Facebook then nothing I say here will be of great surprise.....BUT.....after all the confusion (my own doing) and touching of buttons that I know nothing about except for the "let's see what happens!" experience, I think I have learned my lesson...but don't quote me!  Somehow everything you have online relating to social circles (social media??) can be connected to each other and that's where I've fallen short of a brain cell or two.  I'm still trying to work out Google+ which is probably the equivalent of giving a baby a square peg to fit into a square hole.  It's not that difficult and they will get there in the end...probably a lot quicker than it will take me to get to grips with technology as it is today.  In my geniousness (it's in MY dictionary OKAY??) I managed to disable myself from my own blog.  Thankfully I have another Admin who many moons ago redesigned this blog for me so she will always have access to it.  So I have her to thank for reinstating me.  I own my crown once more and shall reign upon this blog with more care and attention than ever before!  Yes...it means that much.  I remember starting it after discovering how a computer worked (thanks to my kids who are all grown up now of course but who taught me everything...and I mean EVERY thing there was to know about plugging in a computer and how to Google!) and finding a whole new world (cue Disney song...) out there.  Over the years I've kind of abandoned the blog but I think it's time to keep on top of it once more and see what I can personally bring you.  So first of all, let me show you that I am still very much promoting my book which is called "Serugif Nuf" according to the photo I've uploaded!  This is of course the foreign version which should read "Fun Figures" in English.  I have been 'out of stock' personally on this item but will be taking delivery any day now.  It is still much cheaper to buy on Amazon of course but if you want to help a poor starving (dramatic effect necessary...no apologies offered) Author then buying from me direct puts more pennies in my pocket and instead of smiling at the Electricity man I can actually pay him too!  So there you have it.  Problems solved (I hope) and a new adventure with the BLOG.  I'll understand it all some day...and hopefully you'll stay with me while I get there!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

It's in the bag!



I feel like I haven't made a cake for a client in such a long time, so when this order came in I was more than happy to take it on.  I was given a picture of the cake laying down which to all cake decorators would be a breeze, so of course I thought the same.  A kind of rectangle cake laying flat, covered in stripes.  Bish, bash bosh....good to go.  But no.  This one had to stand up.  Now if you are the kind of cake decorator who is capable of building constructions and making things look like they are floating in mid air when they are actual cake (and polystyrene and Rice Krispie Treats) then this task would be like mental arithmetic using an abacus.  Easy.  Right?  But when you have a brain like mine which is possessed by procrastinating demons then the make up of this stand up cake becomes as big a deal as.....as.....a big deal, okay?  It may look simple enough to some but the cake itself is layered and separated by cake cards somewhere in the middle and covered in chocolate ganache to hold it all together smoothly.  The biggest task is measuring and cutting those fondant stripes and placing them neatly with some degree of accuracy...and therein lies the headache.  But, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing it all turn out in the end AND to have a satisfied customer who you know will come back for more.  The logo on the bag was freehand painted using white dust powder and a little alcohol.  Use a fine paintbrush, drink the alcohol and WAY-HAY!  Seriously had fun doing this piece of work.  Just need to get some new background materials and nice lighting to make sure the cake photos don't let me down in the future.  The perils of moving to a smaller house...only room for a small dog and Maltesers.  (To be stored separately!)

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Cake decorating...a blood sucking industry?

Well here's a little rant for the day...it's been a while. (A whole week at least!)  For those who frequent my Facebook on a regular basis, you will be no stranger to my occasional p*ss and moan, but today I choose to rant on my blog as I don't think my gripe (it might be looooong!) would fit into the status box provided without spilling over to another page.  This post is dedicated to all those who have had successful cake businesses and have sadly over the last few months...weeks even...decided to hang up their sticky aprons and concentrate on something a bit (lot) more appreciative of their time.
For the past year I have concentrated on sorting out personal stuff and with the sale of my little shop/house (long and boring story which is not entirely relevant but still makes me want to burst a gut...not that I am bitter or resentful in any way...at all...honest) I have relocated to a little piece of heaven in my opinion, out in the sticks and away from town/village mayhem.  Now that I am settling in to my new domain, I am finding it extremely difficult to get myself known as a cake maker without forking out shed loads of stupid cash on advertising.  The phone is ringing occasionally so the potential for new customers is certainly there....until that is, you give them a quote for the type of cake they have in mind for their special occasion.  When someone says to me in the first few minutes of conversation, "I don't want anything too fancy, just a plain sponge." then I know that I should just hang up there and then.  I can do a plain sponge for you, but what about the covering and the decoration?  Baking the cake isn't the biggest cost here, but shouldn't be dismissed either.  Ingredients...not forgetting the petrol used to shop for such....gas/electricity, storing, layering, filling, covering...it's just a cake, right?  Wrong!  The next step is to find out what type of decoration is required...and there you go.  People expect Cake Boss, Choccywoccydoodah, Ace of Cakes...in West Lothian/South Lanarkshire or any other collection of villages...for £50!  For £50, I will bake and cover a 7" cake for you, place it on a cake board and maybe even put a little bit of ribbon around it.  How does that sound?  The little Dracula pictured...how long did that take me?  You want me to add him to the 7" cake too?  I'll charge you a further £25.  (He's small....bigger models with more intricate detail will cost you more)  You want extras?  The cost continues to rise.  What do you realistically expect for £50 from a bespoke cake maker who does everything from scratch?  No moulds...no pre coloured pastes (unless to cover a large cake perhaps).  
Then there are cupcakes.  Not just a cupcake with a buttercream swirl on top.  Little hand made toppers to go on each one.  These can be more time consuming than making larger models and much more tedious, but we do it because it's what the customer wants...if the price is right.  But these days more and more, the price just isn't right at all.  Customers are blinded by the supermarket offerings and the TV shows which are obviously not educating the public by explaining in much detail, just what this means as a cake maker/decorator.  Not explained in terms of money OR the sacrifices made by many just so they can have a successful business.  I ranted about my lethargy in pushing myself too much in this industry that I love so much because of the responses...many of them just plain rude...when I quote a price on their expectations.  The number of friends...Facebook related, but nonetheless friends, who have supported and stuck by each other on this social media...who have given up or lost businesses because of the lack of respect and understanding they get through doing this job is overwhelming, and just plain sad.  
Am I giving up?  Nope.  I'm surely not.  But I'm not going to give in either.  If you want to have a special cake made by hand, designed and created for you to the standard you would expect for the money you are quoted then I will continue to provide such a service.  To those who want to start with a budget of £50 to serve a hundred guests, let me tell you this...the loaves and fishes story is in the Bible.  I don't possess such skills as the loin clothed icon who could turn out miracles at the flick of a wrist.  My Kitchen Aid can do some tricks, but churning out cheap cakes is not one of them.  If you are on a low budget, a personalised and skilled bespoke cake maker is not for you.  By all means, make your enquiries and see if there is something that fits your bill, but please....please....don't be rude about it if it doesn't.
Cake makers and decorators stay strong and respect this over indulgent industry.  Don't let the "I'll do anything you want for a tenner!" bakers put you off or shove you into a corner.  Just remember, good cakes aren't cheap and cheap cakes aren't good.  It's okay to say "NO!" once in a while too...politely of course.