Crawling around Sydney

It’s Friday. End of a long, working week for me. I came home, plonked my workbag, and sat in front of my computer, recalling last weekend that went far too quickly but it was needed for my soul and my sanity. I signed myself to attend the ever-popular Sydney Cake Crawl, organised by Australian Cake Decorating Network, and what great fun it was.

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Amazing line-up!

In case you’re wondering what a “cake crawl” is, it’s a social/business event where cake decorators from all walks of life set out on a day’s trip to several locations, watching noted decorators and dessert gurus demonstrate techniques and tips, visiting places with always a sweet treat included, topped with lots of cake shopping. Cake supplies, I mean. You may remember an earlier blog of mine, writing about my experience in New York’s cake crawl last year. I still get excited about that one, but this one was such a treat and much closer to home!

I flew to Sydney on Friday afternoon, readying myself for a great day on Saturday. We started in Hurlstone Park, where we met two great talents – Sachiko Windbiel of Mimicafe Union, and Jacki Fanto of Blissfully Sweet.

The sun was out, and our next stop was at La Renaissance in Waterloo, where I had a much needed mocha fix, and some pastries and little entremets to sweeten the palate. We also had the pleasure of watching the man himself, Jean Michel Raynaud explain to us the use of setting agents like pectin in his kitchen, where the magic happens.

We moved on to Shangri-La Hotel, for what I thought was the highlight of the trip, an afternoon tea with the beautiful and amazing Anna Polyviou. Well known for her appearances on Masterchef and many public events with her sweet treats, we were treated to an afternoon high tea with desserts made by her team. We also get to watch her team demonstrate to us how to make Anna’s Mess, which was one of the highlights of this year’s Masterchef show. From tempering chocolate to making the chocolate moulds, there was music and lots of laughter.

 

This was basically what an Anna’s Mess is.

Of course, Anna organised a challenge where three ladies went to the front, and made the biggest smash out of Anna’s Mess. It was until she said we need a guy, and I knew “oh crap, that’ll be me!” (joys of being a singular male cake decorator amongst forty six other ladies). If you watch the Youtube video, I projected all my anger and frustration and smashed my dessert. It was a messy affair, but I was ecstatic that I won the challenge, and a brand spanking new Kenwood Chef Sense! I don’t really win competitions or lucky draws, and to win a new mixer was humbling and triumphant at the same time. Thank you so much to Kenwood and Anna for the amazing prize. I’m being impartial, but I love Anna so much more now not only because she awarded the mixer to me, but also her charm and charisma really warms the heart. It was a fantastic afternoon.

Thank you for my new Kenwood!

Usually with cake crawls, you tend to get sugared out after a while. We had too much sugar after the high tea, and I would have liked an afternoon nap. We headed back to Hurlstone Park with some long awaited shopping and a demo with Jessica Pedemont and Tommy Prosser at Celebration Cooking. Tommy provided us with a savoury treat that was so delicious, using bacon that was cured for two weeks. You could tell that we were very much in need of some salt. My camera’s battery went flat after Shangri-La hotel, so I missed out on some photos, but it was an informative session with Jess who showed us show to make ganache as filling, and as truffles. She has so much to offer at her cooking school, Celebration Cooking. Her demonstration ends the cake crawl, and I’m so happy to have been part of it. I met some familiar faces, and made new friends as you do at such social events. Thank you to Liz and everyone that made all of this happen, and I cannot wait for the next one. Bring on London!

 

Rubbing shoulders with cake “celebrities” – Part 3

I could not believe the show had come to an end so soon. I wished I could have been in forever and forever. Coming to this show, entering the competition, only sealed my passion for cake decorating, and reinvigorated my drive for Van Goh Cakes. Pharmacy has come a long way in my five years of being in the workforce, and it’s almost as though I found myself since I started cake decorating. I am glad that I have found my calling, and would love to hone on my skills and be one of the best out there!

After my brunch with Evelyn, I decided it was the best for me to go back to the show. My luggage was packed, and I didn’t really want to go anywhere else, so the show would be the best place to be before I pick up my entry and take it back home with me.

I had to admit that I didn’t purchase a lot of tools/kits/moulds/colours/fondant at this show than I would have expected of myself – not knowing if it was my subconscious reminding me that I do not have that much baggage allowance, or I just didn’t have anything more to buy. You know that feeling when you’ve fulfilled all your wants to the point that you don’t have anything left to buy? Uh huh, that was me.

One of my purchases was the acrylic cake scrapers from Janet of The Cupcake Lady, where she had a demo showing everyone just how these cake scrapers are used. I’ve used them since and I’ll show you how wonderful they are in the next blog post!

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Janet showing how to perfectly ganache a cake!

I was glad to meet Louise Vansleve, founder of Learn Cake Decorating Online and Start Your Cake Business again, after briefly chatting with her at the dinner gathering. Louise is another example of how having a good business/marketing sense really gets you places. Let me start by saying, if there was no Louise, Van Goh Cakes would not have existed. When I was first approached to start Van Goh Cakes, I remembered speaking to my housemate, WL, asking her how and what do I have to do in order to start up this business. It’s well and good that there are free webinar/courses out there, but nothing that was within the context of a home-based cake business that I was wanting to establish. That’s when Louise came along, with the aptly named “Start Your Cake Business” online course. Her course helped me build the core of the business, or any business actually – what are my visions for the business, what is the business plan, before we head on into the nitty gritty/technical part of setting up the business. So in all honesty, I am so glad to have achieved what I have achieved today if not for Louise who really untapped the inner courage to make me realize a dream of mine 🙂 So I could not thank her enough!

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Thank you for everything Louise!

And I guess that wraps up my little trip to Sydney, with big memories! As for my cake entry? Well that suffered more hardships when I flew back to Melbourne and drove home, it came to the point that it didn’t matter, just to be happy that entry was memorable to most folks 🙂

Rubbing shoulders with cake “celebrities” – part 2

After my high and excitement from my first day at the Cake Bake & Sweets show on Friday, I couldn’t wait for Saturday to come. I knew I couldn’t wait to get myself immersed in all the hype and be with all the “celebrities”.

As much as I loved to be in the show for my trip most days of my trip, I knew I wouldn’t have much opportunity to do some sightseeing in Sydney. First stop was to watch Margie Carter perform her magic with modeling and airbrushing her little hippo!

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The hippo is very cute – so is the leopard print!

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Margie modelling a hippo – how does she do it still amazes me, the details are so small!

 

 

Next up, was to meet up with my dear friend, Evelyn whom I had yet to catch up since her wedding last year. I was pleased to see her well and happy, but most of all to walk along the dreaded “Cake Walk” to see how bad my cake was! But from afar, it didn’t look bad. I’m glad my cake is amongst all the other amazing creations!

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Michelle Rea from Inspired by Michelle showing how to apply lace appliqué onto fondant

My other excitement was to see Michelle Rea, from Inspired by Michelle Cake Designs at the Sweet! Magazine stall. I will always remember that she was probably the first to teach me how to make chocolate ganache and how to apply ganache to a cake. Here was the YouTube video that I first watched during my early beginnings of cake decorating!

This link is very helpful for those who are still new to chocolate ganache and wanting to learn the basics of ganache.

Michelle shows you how to add ganache to the cake.

Michelle shows you in this video how to add fondant to a ganached cake and achieve straight, sharp edges. There are many other ways, but this was definitely my go-to video tutorial when I was learning last year.

 

Meeting her in person just reaffirmed my admiration for her work, and I can’t wait to learn more from her in the future.

The other person whom I can’t wait to see in person was Shawna McGreevy, from McGreevy Cakes (I briefly talked about her in the previous blog post). Not only do I find her YouTube videos very informative and helpful (though the background music a little tacky haha!), but her portfolio of work is to die for! She was at a demo on making sugar roses, and there was a crowd gathering in front of her whilst she made her rose. As I trying to find a spot to watch her, I was asked to stand behind her and watch her work her magic! I knew that I was feeling nervous, and then she asked if anyone had entered the ACDC, and I said “I did!”. She then looked at me and started a conversation – which one was my entry, how I had used her peony tutorial, and how I agreed that she was write for the peonies to have heaps more petals yadda yadda yadda. The rest was history – I was mesmerized that she was such a warm and kind person (the fact that I’ve never heard her talk nor speak to her in person, this was all uncharted territory), and the high for me was she asked for my business card (if you’re reading this Shawna, thank you for liking me on my Facebook page!). I wish her all the best in her future projects, and like everyone else, welcomes her back in Australia anytime to show us her amazing work!

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Notice my starstruck face?

 

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Shawna showing her gum paste rose, her way

 

The other cake “celebrity” I got to meet was Michelle Green, from the Biz of Baking. She not only has a little business called “Three Sweeties” based in Melbourne, but also has a blog called “The Business of Baking”. She talks about the business related side of the cake business, which sometimes for me, it takes away the fun part of decorating and having to go through the boring and dry monotony of managing a business. She had a mini session of learning how to price your cakes, and as much as it was very eye-opening, she pretty much summed up the whole session with the question that I still ask myself:

“If you ever fall sick and can’t make a cake for a customer, and if you had to ask another cake decorator to take on the order, how much will you pay him/her to do it?”

Michelle giving us some insight on pricing cakes

Michelle giving us some insight on pricing cakes

Which pretty much means you won’t pay someone $50 to make a three tier cake, really. And this will definitely remind me of the struggle that I must endure in the future to price my cakes appropriately, to go through the endless barrage of “that is far too expensive”; “it’s only cake!”; “can’t you give me mates’ rates?”. I put a lot of pride in my cakes, and I hope everyone can appreciate my work on and pay for what’s my worth and quality of my cakes.

Do pop by Michelle’s website at The Business of Baking to learn more about managing a cake business and pick up some tips along the way

Towards the end of the session, I had the pleasure of sitting in a demo with Lori Hutchinson, from The Caketress (how chic does that name sound?). I saw her a couple of times on Friday when she was conducting a workshop making her bejewelled couture cake (which by the way, looks very, very pretty) but I didn’t get a chance to say hi and get acquainted.

 

Isn't this such a haute couture cake?

Isn’t this such a haute couture cake?

She was soft-spoken, very sweet, and little did I know that not only she hails from Toronto, Canada, but also is based in Dubai. What a businesswoman behind the chic and stylish lady she is! Wafer paper was definitely new for me and I was glad to learn something about this – something to add to my collection of cakes I suppose. I went up to her after the session to have a photo with her, she said that I was smiling the whole time through the show. She noticed me! (Gosh I sound like a little crazed fan, but oh did I feel sheepish after that).

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The finished cake with wafer paper. Such a refreshing design to gum paste flowers

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Fooling around selfie! 🙂

 

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Happy!

 

Again, the Saturday show didn’t disappoint, as I walked out feeling so happy that I talked to these celebrities. You know the feeling when you see a media celebrity and you get excited that he or she spoke to you? Yeah that’s me. Starstruck. After the show, I was off for a dinner gathering with other members at the Australian Cake Decorating Network, it was a chance to meet everyone whom I’ve had numerous conversations with on the Facebook forum but never had a chance to meet them in person. The cake business is sometimes a very lonely and enclosed trade as a large majority of cake decorators are home-based and have a small family to manage as well, and hence having this network really brings us together who can understand each other’s concerns and emotional meltdowns (I have had some, and perhaps more to come as well). No pictures were taken that night, but it’ll be a night to remember. New friendships were forged for me, and I hope to keep in touch with them in real life in the future – not to mention that I knew a few people who were based around my area and I didn’t know we had that many cake decorators in the South East part of Melbourne. Thank you!

My competition cake at Cake Bake & Sweets Show!

Oh, I had such fond memories of the Cake Bake & Sweets show in Sydney that lasted from 21 to 23 March. But for me, it was largely an enormous and stressful affair as two months ago before the show, I decided to enter the Australian Cake Decorating Championships (ACDC)!

The ACDC had three categories: wedding cakes, novelty cakes, and sugar art. The theme for the wedding cake competition was spring; novelty cake was ‘mystical magic’; and sugar art was ‘nature’s best’. I never had any experience with a wedding cake, and so I was dying to show off whatever skills I know off on the best wedding cake I could produce.

My initial thought of the entry piece was to have lots of flowers, a tree bark, a gazebo with bride and groom – and that’s a game! Yet, as the weeks went by, I started to doubt my idea on the cake. Wouldn’t everyone have the same thought on that, given it’s a spring cake? Somehow, I decided to look East. I have been watching a Chinese drama, and I wondered what a Chinese-themed wedding cake would look like. I deliberated with friends on my new idea on the cake, and they agreed that I should go ahead with it. It would be the one entry that would stand out from the others. As Miss Housemate said, the best artists in the music industry don’t comply with the mainstream music but rather have original concepts on their songs. Which is what I aspire to be – an original cake designer!

To start my design, I needed some inspiration. I had an initial vision of the Chinese traditional wedding attire for both the bride and groom, but I didn’t think it would resonate well with people who would be looking at the cake. Hence I picked a more contemporary version, and what better than to reach out to my dear friend in Hong Kong. I visited Hong Kong in summer last year not only to enjoy the sights and sounds, but also to attend my friend’s wedding. Isabella has kindly offered me some pictures of her wedding gown, known as the “kua” in Cantonese.

Doesn't she look stunning?

Doesn’t she look stunning?

Observe the detail that goes onto the outfit :)

Observe the detail that goes onto the outfit 🙂

Using her “kua” as my source of inspiration, I started on the figurines first. As I was going to carry it to Sydney, I needed the figurines to be lighter in weight, and I chose to use styrofoam to build the foundation of the figurines. To enhance the effect of the clothing used on the figurines, I used an impression mat to create floral effects on both the bride and groom’s clothing. The next step is to add luster to the clothing – as you can see, my friend’s “kua” has a lot of intricate detail to it, and my aim is to achieve a similar look, if not identical to it.

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The bride’s outfit took me forever, especially with a fine paintbrush to accentuate the details of the impression mat and extra embellishments to it. Once both they were done, I made their heads, and added more details to their collars. Done!

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Next up was to make the peonies. After some research, I ended up following Shawna McGreevy’s tutorial on how to make peonies.

Her tutorial was so easy to follow, and here are my little lovelies!

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A more mellow and soft pink – love the colour!

Red peony – it’s a very striking colour!

Next up was the cherry blossoms, in which I used some with plunger cutters and some using a tutorial from Kaysie Lackey’s. My favourite part of making flowers generally is to be able to add colour or shimmer to enhance the look of the flowers. What a world of differece once it all comes together!

What would a Chinese wedding be without the double happiness symbol? o
I traced it out on some red gumpaste and painted a gold luster. It wasn’t how I wanted it to be represented but it didn’t work, and so the simple design of the symbol worked perfectly.

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It was my first time making modeling chocolate, and using a recipe from Craftsy, I was happy with how it turned out. Two days after, I started to work on it to create tree branches where my blossoms would be, and this is a mock up of how my cake will be.

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Sadly, logistics issues of bringing the cake to Sydney was a horrible ordeal. As I had tiers in two boxes, I had to check in one and I get to keep the second box in the cabin with me. The one that had to be checked in suffered extensive damage – the tree branches broke into pieces, some cherry blossoms broke, fondant was cracking at the bottom of the tiers. Could you imagine my face when I looked in the box in horror, and I had to rush it to the Sydney Showgrounds to submit my entry. My cake could be partially saved, and I had submitted the cake in for judging. I felt really awful about the entry, but in the three days of the show, I have received very glowing reviews about it. It may not have won the ACDC championship, but it made my trip to Sydney all the more memorable this time. 🙂

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