MAKING SHOWSTOPPER CAKES
PUBLISHED: 13:48 18 August 2015 | UPDATED: 13:01 30 August 2017
Great British Bake Off Wedding Cakes
Mich Turner - luxury cake-maker to the biggest stars for 15 years and a judge on ITV's Britain's Best Bakery - tells SUSAN CLARK how to bake to really impress
Tell us more about how you started out?
I have always loved baking and at the age of four, would bake alongside my mum, Celia. I would pretend to be Delia Smith and make little shortbreads and biscuits. Then in 1985, at the age of 15, I won a Cookery Competition that was being run by the combined Devon Schools. I made my first wedding cake for my home economics teacher when I was 17 and I went on to study food science and nutrition at University with a place that was sponsored by United Biscuits. I think of myself as a food scientist and - ever since I launched the Little Venice Cake Company - a business woman.
The cake and baking industry is flourishing with the number of start-up cake-making businesses doubling over the last 12 months which means it is now very competitive too. What advice do you have for anyone just starting out?
I really would say don't venture into this market unless you are very sure that what you are delivering is very special. It's not that you can't do something that other people are doing but you need to do it better. So you will need to be able to make killer cakes that knock the spots off the competition.
Whether you're planning to make bread, bake cakes or cook pies, biscuits or pastries - whatever it is - you need to be exceptional so that you will stand out from the crowd. And how you market and package your products will need to be exceptional too.
My other key piece of advice is that you will need to build your business on profitability and not on creativity.
Who were you first clients and how did you attract them?
When I started out I wasn't catching the crest of a wave like now - there wasn't even a wave and so the market was much less competitive. I really was ahead of the game and by working with London's best five star hotels I built a reputation for being iconic, innovative and professional. I mostly baked celebration cakes for weddings and other high-profile events and soon the hotels were passing my name to the celebrities. One of my first clients was Madonna but I signed a non- disclosure clause which means I still can't say what I baked for her. Other clients since then have included Cheryl Cole, David Beckham, Ozzy Osbourne, Paul MacCartney and The Queen!
I made a six-tier Fairytale wedding cake for the Hollywood actor Piers Brosnan and sent samples out to Malibu for him and his bride-to-be to approve. It was an organic carrot cake with ginger and I remember making a replica to take to the castle in Ireland where they had their wedding reception just in case any of the tiers were damaged in transit.
How has your business changed since you launched in 1999?
The Internet is probably the thing that has changed the business the most. The baking market has exploded since I started out and with all the tv shows, magazines, competitions etc, there is now a very easy access to great ideas. The upshot of this is that our palettes have developed and become more sophisticated. I've noticed that my clients now are interested in the integrity of the ingredients that are used in the cakes; they want to know where they are from and they want ingredients that exude quality.
When I started out, it was just me baking cakes. Skip forward to now and I have written five books, I am a judge on Britain's Best Bakery series, I have an MBE, I teach around the world, giving people the tools to bake themselves and I have become an established and entrepreneurial business woman
TV baking shows like The Great British Bake Off are often all about extravagant showstopper BIG bakes, what do you think are the key ingredients to creating a cake masterpiece?
If you are going to bake for this show then you need to think about scale, size, first impressions and the wow factor that you want to aim for. However big your cake looks at home, it is going to look much, much smaller in a public venue with an audience looking at it so my first tip would be work out the size of the cake you plan to make and then double it.
For the wow factor you need height and that means tiers. Height is always much more important than girth but this also means your cake needs to be structurally sound. I know it sounds like common sense but when you make your showstopper tiered cake remember to put the lighter layers at the top of the structure and practice with the hidden supports you will need to keep the cake steady.
When it comes to decorating your cake, think big and bold. Again, something that looks dramatic on your kitchen table can get lost in the crowd of cakes at a show for go for big and don't be afraid to be dramatic.
Susan Clark is a Devon-based food writer and assistant editor at Devon Life magazine. You can follow her: @suzdevonfood