Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the expert cake maker Lucy from Stable Cottage Cakes in Surrey. I asked her all about cake making and advice for brides and grooms to-be as part of my new "Ask the Expert" blog series...
Lucy makes beautiful live-looking sugar flowers and specialises in royal icing. Based in the countryside Lucy even has her own chickens to make sure the cakes are as tasty as they can be, made with fresh eggs from very happy chicken. Oh, and did I mention her cakes are absolutely delicious, too?!
How did you first get into cake baking?
When I was little my grandparents used to make us all sorts of amazing cakes. Each year we could choose what we wanted. One year my grandad sculpted a pirate ship, as I was really into Peter Pan. It was amazing! From then on I wanted to make my own cakes!
Although I have always loved baking, at first I thought it wasn’t really possible to have a career in it. So I sort of ruled that out for a while. Then, during my degree in primary school teaching, I met someone else who made cakes as a hobby - part time. I was really interested in it and asked them all about it. After a few months I thought to myself: “Well if she can do it, I can do it!” I started taking courses, baking and decorating at home in my spare time and really enjoyed it! So, I switched track and started my business. I love doing a job that I really enjoy.
So, who used to eat all the cakes?
My sisters (laughs). They also did all the cutting up of the finished product, I can’t do that bit! Once you spend hours making a cake, watching someone cut into it breaks my heart. I would rather let someone else do it.
Where are all your recipes from?
From my grandmother. I use all her old recipes, and if people request a certain flavour I go and have a rifle through her books and come up with ones that I used to have when I was younger. And obviously lots of Mary Berry recipes too! (laughs).
What cakes do you suggest and why?
Taste wise, I think it is best to stick with the traditional flavours. Lots of couples like to request a wedding cake that is their favourite but it might be something quite obscure. They tend to forget that it is the guests who will be eating the cake. That is why I want it to be recognisable flavours, like standard Victoria sponge or chocolate cake. Those are ones that everyone is going to go for.
There is always a cake board between each layer so the cakes never touch each other. Couples can have different flavours for each layer if they want to. The tradition of having a fruitcake as the top layer and saving it for the christening is fading; most people don’t tend to do that anymore.
Do you find couples are more concerned about the cake or the decorating?
It really varies. It is a question of finding out what is more important to them. Some people sit down and talk about flavours and what it looks like is kind of an afterthought. I am there to remind them of both, because when it comes to the day, all aspects of it have to be just right.
What was the most interesting cake you have made so far?
I made a Halloween wedding cake last year. The bride and groom wanted everything about zombies, including zombies climbing up the side of the cake.
After we sat down and talked about it a few times we decided to add some more stylish aspects, so I added some black lace and made silhouettes of zombies instead. They absolutely loved it when I delivered it! And I’ve had a lot of interest in the black lace effect since. It was a really fun one to do and took me by surprise. All wedding cakes are really different and I love that!
What information do you need from a bride and groom when they first contact you?
A lot more than they usually give. A common mistake is that couples send a brief description of what they want to various suppliers and then just simply choose the cheapest quote. You should try and meet the supplier in person, get to know them and talk in detail of what you want. Then you can talk about quotes.
Ask them questions! You are booking them for the experience rather than just the product you get at the end. You want everything to be as seamless and stress free as possible, and a pleasant person to liaise with for the next 9-12 months is very important. Chatting about things together and looking at photos helps me visualise exactly what the couple has in mind.
Whenever couples contact me for a cake I always check with them whether they have allocated a budget. This ensures I know what we have to work with, and helps them to avoid choosing something extravagant that is outside their price range. Though all designs can be adapted and simplified to match a budget, and I am happy design a unique cake that will reflect this.
What is your favourite thing about wedding cakes?
More than the baking, I love the designing part! I really like the traditional, classic, decorative detailed designs. I enjoy using older decorating skills such as royal icing. This is quite a unique element to have on your wedding cake nowadays, as it is an old-fashioned skill, which most bakers don’t bother to study. I also love using pillars and realistic looking sugar flowers.
I also love it when a couple comes up with their own ideas, (which may not always be practical!) but I enjoy working with them to design it in a way that is going to look really impressive as a cake. Making something new every time is the most exciting part of being a cake baker.
What advice do you have for couples to take away?
My one biggest part of advice would be not to follow the current trends. You don’t want your cake to be the same as all the other weddings you have been to that year. Your cake should be as unique as your relationship.
Ideally your cake should be a focal point of your wedding. You want guests to be drawn to your cake, walking up to it saying: Wow, that is amazing! Look at the details! Are those real flowers or sugar flowers?
Follow this link to view Lucy's website: https://www.stablecottagecakes.com/