Hands up….who’s broken down with a 7ft cake soldier in the vehicle?
Well that would be just me then!
Yup, as if transporting a 7ft cake sculpture wasn’t stressful enough…..I had to go and have an all out engine failure after 5 hours of travelling and with only 5 miles left to go.
You can’t make this stuff up!
So here’s where I get to illustrate to you that cake really isn’t ‘JUST CAKE!
The logistics, planning, structure and management are as important as the flour, eggs and sugar!
And no – I’m not even just talking about my super-silly mega-cakes. The birthday cake the wedding cake….EVERY cake!
They need to be constructed – they need to be made within time constraints – they need to be transported.
So imagine the task ahead of me when I had just 2 weeks to create a life-sized Grenadier Guard cake.
(No….you didn’t miss-read that….TWO WEEKS….from the initial commission to delivery! I know…..a little bit NUTS!) Commissioned by Cake Masters Magazine and made to be displayed at the BBC Bakes and Cakes Show in London, we aimed to raise money in aid of the Royal British Legion – so it was an opportunity I was not going to miss.
For those who don’t live in the UK, Remembrance Day (or Armistice Day) commemorates the end of World War One and we all observe a 2 minute silence to remember those who gave their lives in conflicts. We also wear poppies which is our symbol of remembrance and this project was in aid of the Poppy Appeal which raises funds for the Royal British Legion.
So I really wanted to say yes. But this is a seriously big job…..in a seriously short timescale! I tried very hard to keep calm and ….yes….it did need some good old fashioned military planning.
From day 1….I was drawing sketches and trying to design a suitable structure. I was also planning ingredients, arranging transportation and making contact with the Ministry of Defence (MOD). If you know a little of my background you will know that I served as an Officer in the Army for 10 years so my contacts were really helpful and very soon we had the assistance of the MOD press office and the Grenadier Guards at Wellington Barracks next to Buckingham Palace. They sent us original buttons and embellishments so that we could make our design as realistic as possible and arrangements were made for us to deliver our cake to them after the BBC show.
So that’s it…we’re really doing this! Thunderbirds are GO!
I’m drawing…drawing constantly – and working out proportions! I’m measuring men! Lots of men (I know – tough job, but someone’s got to do it!)
But seriously…you start to appreciate why artists draw nudes. You have to understand how the body fits together.
I’m measuring real people…but none of the men in my house are tall enough – so I’m googling men! Lots of them. I’m taking photos. I’m even taking pictures of the postman (because he happens to be the right size!) If you KNOW me, you’ll know that’s absolutely true! (Well – needs must!) 😉
So I am now in full flow and I am working with a carpenter and welder to create a suitable structure. A sanitised structure that will travel in 3 parts and that we can lift. Remember….our cake is made of CAKE….and it’s heavy. We can’t just get a good grip and heave! We had to think that part out very carefully.
I came up with ‘T-bar’ solution. A bar that would screw into the ‘neck’ and allow two men to lift the body without touching the cake. In our test laboratory (my kitchen!) it worked well – so we’re now thinking that we’ve cracked it.
But WAIT….we’re still eons away from handling any ingredients. YES – I KNOW…a lot of prep work and not a cake in sight!
And I already know that this job is going to need a team to achieve the standard I want in the time that we have…so I make a few calls. I assemble a team of people who I know and trust and ask if they want to be involved. They all say yes. (NUTTERS!) So now I’m in full military planning mode and I am doling out tasks that will enhance our cake and be manageable from various locations.
Clearly the main body has to be in one place so I can’t escape that job, and there’s the mixing the buttercream, the chocolate ganache, kneading fondant (Oh hell….HOW MUCH KNEADING?) So I recruited Becca and Lee (AKA Pendle Cake Co.) The start of a beautiful relationship might I add!
Whilst they are busy preparing ingredients, I’m making templates for each shelf which have to be cut to size and shape. I won’t lie. It was hard. My brain hurt! There is no template for the cross section of the human body. (Trust me….I HAVE SEARCHED!) I guess you would need a CAT scan…and I cannot under-exaggerate just HOW much I would have loved that facility. But it ain’t there! So each shelf shape came down to brain power and measurements and a little bit of guesswork.
I know that’s a bit of an admission….but it’s true. I know that the ganache and fondant are going to add to my measurements, so at some point I have to estimate not only the size of the body – but also how much to subtract to allow for the covering. Proportion is so important and if I blow this there is no way I can cut the shelves down once the cake has gone in. I’m finding it hard to be certain that I’ve got it right!
So once the frame is constructed and sanitised a good week has gone by. I know I have summed it up in a few paragraphs but that belies the amazing amount of work and late nights that have got us this far.
And my team is on course. Annabel at Conjurer’s Kitchen is giving Gus (Yeah….we named our Grenadier Gus!) his beautiful features. She is 100 miles away but has the neck and head frame that we have made so there’s at least some cohesion and continuity. Beth from Cakes by Beth in Manchester has researched the British Army SA80 rifle and is putting that together in her workshop.
Vicki from Incredible Edible’s has been sent moulds of the embellishments and is perfecting all the details and Molly from Molly’s Creative Cakes is creating a widdling Corgi! (Well….when a dog’s got to go!!!!).
And as a beautiful finishing touch….Calli from Callicious Cakes is working on some stunning hand-crafted Poppies, the British symbol of Remembrance.
So you have already worked out that I could not have done this in two weeks on my own. Not a chance.
Lee and Becca were with me day and night preparing the sheer quantity of ingredients. The cake was sponsored by Cake Bases in Bury but the remaining ingredients still required an awful lot of man hours.
I lost count of how much Rice Krispie Treat Becca mixed….but needless to say we are now sick of the stuff. We aim to pack this into the small spaces where it isn’t worth putting cake and in the lower areas which will be nearest to the floor and we won’t want to eat.
Cake is getting loaded into the main figure and I decide to use a covering of white chocolate ganache around the whole body to sit beneath the fondant. Buttercream just wasn’t firm enough and with such a vertical cake we would run the risk of the fondant slipping. I had been warned that this once actually happened on an episode of ‘Ace of Cakes’ and it was a situation I was determined to avoid. But ganache meant a lot of chocolate….and a lot of cream….and a whole lot of mixing….again.
And just to make life EVEN more difficult…I decided to use a mix of fondant and modelling chocolate for the outer covering. It’s a mix that I like to work with and especially for covering large areas, the mix blends really well and allows you to work on it for longer than pure fondant does. Great in principle….but yet again…hard work for the poor souls lumbered with making it. (Sorry Lee and Becca!)
I know….I know….it sounds like we’re doing it the hard way…..but BOY….was it a good decision. We really reaped the benefits later on and laying on the fondant mix was a dream. All the planning and preparation definitely paid off. We used a sugar syrup to adhere it ….a tactic I would highly recommend …and that I use for most of my cakes.
So we battled on mixing…rolling…and all hands on deck for laying on the fondant. Lee seems to perpetually be in the crotch area. This amuses us. It amuses us a lot…..primarily because we are childish…but in no small part because we are now giddy with tiredness. Sad….I know!
But as time is ticking we are starting to see some progress. Beth has brought her weapon over….it looks AMAZING!
She then has to TOTALLY cut it into pieces so that she can re-assemble it into the crook of the soldier’s arm. Demoralising to see it in pieces? It really was! BUT it worked so well, and was worth the heart palpitations we all experienced whilst it was happening!
Annabel’s head was perfect…but my maths wasn’t. Luckily I was ALWAYS distrustful of my maths and had Lee checking my figures…so by the time he had made adjustments the neck was spot on. And at the bitter end…..Vicki….on her birthday….was battling away with all the buttons and badges til the wee hours of the morning.
So, yes…it’s D-DAY…it’s 2am – and we’ve MADE IT! WE’VE MADE IT!
WE CAN’T BLOODY LIFT IT!
Straight up….not a joke! It’s 2am…we need to load and go – and the body is too heavy!
It won’t budge.
I have 2 men with muscles, a T-bar and a torso…which just won’t shift.
So if you have bothered to read this far in the blog post, hopefully you will have a little sympathy for our situation. We’ve got this far, worked day and night for 2 weeks, it’s the final push and suddenly…..we think it’s game over!
That torso had 50 kilos of fondant which just added to the already weighty body and frame. It was HEAVY!
To cut a long story short, with a carpenter’s work bench, some pushing and pulling and 2 hours later… (yes its 4am) the torso is finally loaded. We’re not worried about our destination. We have extra help there, so HALLELUJAH! To all intents and purposes – WE’VE MADE IT! I’m en route with a 7ft Grenadier Cake on board! YIPPEE!
Remember back to the beginning of this marathon blog post?
Yes…..that’s right…..after 5 hours of driving down to London.
We break down!
Properly…..BANG….in the middle of a roundabout in central London! With a body in the back!
I TOLD YOU! YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!!!
So we wait for recovery and an hour later the recovery vehicle arrives. The mechanic takes one look in the vehicle and (after a few swear words) determines that his truck won’t do it. The recovery vehicle tips the car to 45 degrees! I SHUDDER! It would KILL Gus. That really would be GAME OVER!
So we wait another 2 hours for a different recovery vehicle. A little better, but still precarious and we are all on edge as we head towards the BBC Bakes and Cakes Show where the team were waiting nervously for us.
But Gus was fine. The vehicle jerked and rocked and Gus was pushed and pulled…but he was fine! What a trouper. And thumbs up for all those decisions we made about the structure and ingredients. He was solid. I told you that ganache and that fondant mix would pay off in the end!
So the team cheers us in and it’s a rush job to get Gus in position. But we don’t care – we’ve made it.
Calli’s poppys are doing the rounds….even Mary Berry is wearing one. We’re raising money for the Poppy appeal and Gus is doing his job!
And after a weekend of crowds and celebrities, Gus is moved to his final resting place, Wellington Barracks next to Buckingham Palace.
Well….if you’ve got a cake that’s big enough to feed an army…..you might as well…….well……FEED AN ARMY! 😉
And how lucky were we? The Grenadier Guards, under Major Neil Strachan, turned out to greet us and the 4 soldiers on parade with Gus were the same Guards who were to guard Her Majesty the Queen during the 2 minute silence on Armistice day. How poignant?
And the proof of the cake?……
Is in the eating! 🙂
Want to see more silly-structure cakes? Click here: Kimmy the Elephant Cake