I come from a family of bakers. Brought up in a kitchen of flour and icing sugar dust, chocolate melting, apples bubbling and delicious aromas of bread and cakes, pies and scones. Spending Saturday mornings baking in my Nan’s kitchen in Liverpool followed by lunches on the longest table you could ever imagine piled high with sweet treats; enough to feed so many people and all just for us. My nan made the best chocolate cake ever with icing I have never tasted anywhere else – rich and slightly crunchy it was my favourite food for many, many years. Sadly (and lets all learn a lesson from this!) despite her living to a grand old age no one in the family thought to ask her how to make this magical icing; maybe we all thought someone else knew but when we realised she had passed it on to nobody it was much too late to ask her and her delicious chocolate icing sadly disappeared with our childhoods. Despite living through two world wars, losing her father in the first and then bringing up a young family with food rationing and, being from Liverpool, bombings every night, she worked full time as a teacher, ran her local Sunday school and still managed to bake every weekend. Her apple pies with icing sugar dusted on the top served hot with home made custard bring back so many memories I can almost smell and taste them now.
And my Mum. A baker like no other. There are no scales in her kitchen. Everything measured by sight and experience. She makes faultless scones and kept my children in cupcakes throughout their childhood – always vanilla for Lucy and chocolate for Adam. Birthday cake forts surrounded by chocolate fingers, shortbread, lemon cakes, apple crumbles and apple and mincemeat pies. No meal without a home-made pudding. No cake tin ever empty. Baking with me and my sister, baking with her grandchildren; floury kitchens, cocoa dusted aprons…
And this love of baking has passed through generations – our children could bake from an early age; Sunday afternoons were spent together in the kitchen all four of us creating cakes to share with friends and family (and getting in each other’s way). A new tin of cakes for Grandpa Joe each week; Christmas and birthday fruit cakes for our family, everyone stirring the cake mix as it got thicker and thicker with the fruit, and occasionally, a cake showstopper from Chris! (my cakes taste delicious – icing looks appalling!). We’re careful measurers but never afraid to swop ingredients – whisky cupcakes surprisingly good and treacle toffee was the perfect addition! Delicious rich, chocolate brownies from Lucy who also makes a perfect light, fluffy, yellow and pink angel cake and let's not forget Adam's chilli! (he prefers to cook!).
But what do we do when it’s a special occasion? When we need a cake to impress? Better ring cake artist Debbie Binder, who not only bakes delicious cakes but has the most impressive decorating skills particularly for her figures.
Many a cake of hers has graced a celebration of ours; graduation cakes, wedding anniversaries, big birthdays. Seeing yourself immortalised in icing is a very strange experience and eating your own head! Well…
So how did Debbie become so skilled at what began as just a hobby?
“My birthday cakes as a child were always made by my mum, surprising me every time by how creative she was with the equipment she had to hand.
When I had my son, I wanted to make his birthday cake and decided to model an Iggle Piggle figure for the top. I hadn’t picked the easiest subject for my first cake, but I was thrilled with it when I had finished. I enjoyed it so much that I got the bug for cake decorating from then. I bought some instruction books, researched online and started doing cakes for all the family, with each one I got a little bit better. It’s nice to look back now on the first ones I made and see the progression.
I shopped at the Cake Boutique in Ashton for my supplies and found out they would soon be needing a cake decorator due to a partner’s retirement. They saw my work and offered me a trial. My current employer was offering voluntary redundancies, so I left and took the trial at the Cake Boutique. Within a short time, I had a permanent job there.
Ideas can come from the customer; some have a very clear idea of what they want down to the finest detail. Some bring a photo of another cake and we adapt it; Sometimes they leave it in our hands completely and we get creative -it’s nice to surprise them!
There have been many different requests for cake creations but probably the most unusual cakes I have ever been asked to create was a tray of sausage themed cupcakes. They were fun!
Getting the brief right for the customer probably gives me the most pleasure. When someone trusts you to do a good job and you fulfil their requirements perfectly - It’s nice to get a good reaction. Strangely sometimes the simplest cakes get the best reaction whilst the ones you have spent hours on may not.
Once someone books us, we discuss their ideas and everything gets written down, but the planning only starts the week the cake is due, unless we need specific materials we need to order.
Figures on cakes can take as little as ten minutes for something like a Peppa Pig, but a couple of hours if they are an intricate design. Over the years I have lots of favourite cakes I have decorated, but I think one of my favourites would be a cake I made for my niece; a Bing Bunny themed cake with models galore!
I love baking. I like to eat what I have baked and share my baking with family and friends! Raspberry buns are the most baked thing in my house, the recipe came from a home economics at high school and we all love them! I like to experiment with fudge recipes too particularly at Christmas. White chocolate and cherry fudge is my favourite, but I have made chocolate orange fudge, Oreo fudge, mars bar fudge. The list goes on…”
So when you sit watching Bake Off marvelling at each creation, remembering cakes from your childhood; maybe you baked with your family? Maybe someone baked for you. Don’t rush to the supermarket for a shop bought cake have a go yourself. A basic sponge cake is surprisingly easy – just four ingredients, ten minutes to mix, twenty in the oven; twenty minutes when your house will be filled with the aroma of a baking cake and the best part of making your own cakes? You can put as much icing on top as you want. Just don’t ask me for my Nan’s chocolate recipe…
We may not all be as talented as Debbie, but baking is fun and what other family activity gives you something to eat at the end!