Pandemic? It won’t happen to me!

Well, this time last year I certainly didn’t expect to be here. Even a few months ago my only worry about the future was whether we could afford to go on holiday or not in 2020 – now that problem seems moot. I do not want to belittle this current crisis in any way. Many people are really anxious and worried and there are also those who actually have tested positive for COVID-19, and also those who have already lost someone dear to them to the virus. My daughter lives in London and has just self-isolated on NHS advice as she has developed a cough and, although not displaying any severe symptoms, most likely has the virus. The rest of my family and I (so far) have not really been touched apart from taking heed of the advice from the NHS on social distancing, working from home and trying not to panic at all of the empty supermarket shelves. Every sneeze and snuffle is now analysed and God forbid you cough in public! Yet, there are still people who seem to think that they are invincible.

It reminds me of the story about Muhammed Ali. The story goes that at the height of his fame and success, Ali boarded a plane. As the time came for take-off, the stewards did their usually safety demonstration, followed by their walk down the aisle to check that everyone had their luggage stowed correctly and their seatbelts on. When the steward came to Muhammed Ali’s seat, she politely requested that he put on his seatbelt. Ali looked up at her and said, in his typical style ‘Superman don’t wear no seatbelt!’, to which the steward promptly replied ‘Superman don’t need no aeroplane!’

I guess we all take risks at sometime in our lives. Just take that quick call whilst driving; go across the road on a red light; don’t wear a hard hat on a building site; climb up a wobbly ladder on our own; walk across the road whilst looking at our phone; and so on. There is this stubborn in-built nature that seems to say ‘it won’t happen to me’ – until it does.

I think we all need a reality check. Those that make the decision not to self-isolate, or decide to ‘carry on as normal’ – I would just say THIS IS NOT JUST ABOUT YOU! Your actions and decisions do not just affect you – they affect everyone around you. How would you feel if you became infected because you had taken the decision to ‘carry on as normal’ and then you somehow spread that infection to someone close to you and they became seriously ill, or even died? The risk is real. This is an invisible killer and unless we all take it seriously, and follow the NHS and Public Health England advice, it is going to get worse.

Be sensible, follow the advice, look out for each other and, eventually, THIS TOO WILL PASS.

Supermarket Cakes vs Bespoke Cakes

A common frustration in the caking world is when a potential customer questions your prices and comes back with something like “How much? I can buy a cake from the supermarket for £20!”

Pricing is an ongoing battle for me and others in this line of business. However, we are a supportive lot and in some of the forums that I belong to it leads to some very interesting discussions. I was reminded recently of the following:

Supermarket cakes, whilst being perfectly fine and dandy, are cheaper because they are mass produced using ingredients suitable for the factory production and made to last weeks on a shelf. Just check the list of ingredients on the box. They can also look a little tired and worn following their production and transportation, with decorations dropping off in transit.

When you go to a cake designer you are paying for a custom-made product, made with fresh ingredients and no preservatives. You are also paying for their skill, training and expertise in the interpretation of your ideas into a work of art. You are paying for their time as a skilled worker – do not expect them to be working at minimum-wage rates.

This is why a small business owner cannot and will not compete with supermarket prices.

So, when you request a 3-tier, chocolate drip, extravaganza with hand-made decorations (check out my galleries here) and a figure of Uncle Fred, in 3 different flavours and fillings, and you want it the day after next, please don’t be surprised when we cannot make it for £20!

What is the difference between Sugar Paste and Gum Paste and what can I use them for?

When I first started decorating cakes my daughter bought me Debbie Brown’s book “Hot Cakes” and then promptly chose which cake she wanted me to make for her 21st birthday. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears, I finally produced this cake for her (which she loved by the way). I couldn’t understand, however, why I couldn’t quite get it to look like the one in the book! I had made all of the “bottoms” out of sugarpaste which is the same thing that I covered the cake with and I just couldn’t replicate the topper to stand up straight, so had to improvise. Classes and experience have since shown me that using the right materials for your decorations make all the difference!

So, I thought I would share here some of what is out there to use for first time decorators:

Sugarpaste – sometimes referred to as “fondant” is the soft pliable icing use to cover cakes. It can also be used for simple models and decorations, especially if you want them to be edible. Fondant is actually a more liquid sweet icing which is poured over the cake, a la “Fondant Fancies”.

Flower/Gum Paste – this is a harder medium used for creating models and sugar flowers that you want to dry hard. The advantage of using this is that you can roll it really thin and it remains pliable to mould but firmly dries to create some really delicate and lifelike flowers.

Modelling Paste – this is used for creating figures and other smaller modelled items. It is flexible like sugarpaste but gives a smoother finish and will generally hold its shape better. It remains a little pliable and is more durable. As an alternative you can mix a little flower paste and sugarpaste together to create a similar effect.

Pastillage – is a fast-drying paste used for creating structures, such as bird houses, tables or boxes. As the paste dries extremely hard it will keep its shape.

You can buy sugarpaste and flower paste from most major supermarkets. Craft shops such as Hobbycraft also stock modelling paste and some may also stock powder you can make up into Pastillage. I get many of my supplies from Cake Stuff. There are recipes available to make your own – if you would like to try that, contact me and I will send you the details.

One day I would love to recreate the cake as it was originally meant to look – so if you would like a cake like this for a 21st birthday – get in touch! Tel: 07799 651542 or tracy@monumentalcakes.co.uk.

Take from Debbie Brown’s book – “Hot Cakes”

Let’s do this!

If you’ve read my “About” page you will have seen that I was made redundant in July 2019. I have worked full-time pretty much since I left college back in 1981, apart from a short break to be at home with my growing family. Having been with my employer for over 13 years it was a bit of a shock and something I did not see coming! So, I could do one of 3 things – get another full-time job; take early retirement; or finally get off my backside and start my own business!

As you may have guessed, I’m no spring chicken! Starting a new venture at my age was daunting, but also exciting! I could not have done any of it without the support of my husband, Paul, whose has also appointed himself as Accountant, Critic and Chief Taster! Mr. Monumental (as I like to call him) brings a certain amount of realism to my whacky ideas but also a lot of patience and understanding and he will no doubt feature in many of my future blogs!

The name of the business was coined by my Step-Son, Alex, sometime ago after having one too many slices of my death by chocolate cake! You see, my maiden name is Monument – so it couldn’t really be anything else!

I am looking forward to sharing with you here insights, tips and tricks and just anything really and not necessarily cake related!