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Upon meeting Sarah, one of the things that first hits you is just how charming and engaging she is. Perhaps it’s something about people who really enjoy food that just seems to make them so easy going and jovial.
Now, first we’ll be meeting Sarah and finding out the story behind the Chocolate Strawberry.
However, for all you real cake-heads, do stay tuned, because we’ll follow this with a blow-by-blow account, with full colour pics and no detail missed out!
Sarah’s Kitchen: the inner sanctum
Inside the inner sanctum – the kitchen – is where the real action takes place. It is as you’d imagine – modern, clean and elegantly designed, and a perfect venue for her classes.
Sarah has always been passionate about making and decorating cakes and her original plan was to supply the area with high quality celebration cakes. Nevertheless, have you ever tried making one your own? If so, you’ll realise that it’s extremely time consuming and that all of those ingredients soon add up to a small fortune. As Sarah told us, “You’re lucky to make a £20 profit on such a cake”.
However, after consulting other local entrepreneurs and business coaches, she decided that cake decorating lessons were the way forward. In fact, this has been the absolute making of Sarah’s business, the Chocolate Strawberry, with her Facebook page being a resounding success. People flock from far and wide to learn how to make gorgeous looking and originally designed cakes.
Exciting developments for Sarah!
An extremely prominent figure in the world of cake decorating has recognised Sarah’s talents. (In fact, one might even go as far as calling him a real tour de force in the cake decorating world.) We can’t give a way too much at this stage, but Sarah says, “I’m excited about working with a well-known cake designer later in the year…” So, we shall keep you informed!
So, what’s Sarah’s formal training?
Well, Sarah excelled in art as a teenager – so no surprise there. She obviously has some innate talent. However, any formal artistic training ended there, but fortunately she has oodles of talent. When asked how she’d describe her style, she answered “very graphic”. Although anyone can instantly recognise her creative talents, Sarah is rather more modest and admits that “my lack of formal training does make me feel slightly less confident”. However, we’d argue that there’s no need for her to feel that way and that she’s more than capable of holding her own with the very best.
The many incarnations of Sarah Jones!
In fact, Sarah has led a very interested and varied life over the years when it comes to employment:
- She’s been an admin officer in a prison – “I met all kind of very interesting people.”
- A hotel manager
- She’s worked in Italy for NATO. “My partner and I spent a lot of time in embassies. It was a different life.”
- She then returned to the UK, working for a chartered yacht company, Sunsail Yacht Charters, as Customer Relations Manager.
Now, that’s eclectic by anyone’s standards! However, as many of these were customer facing roles, Sarah feels it has set her up with the skills she needs for running her classes, so everyone has a great time and feels at ease in her company. After all, you meet extremes of people in all situations and it’s essential to know how to deal with them!
Sarah’s cake style
With Sarah’s very graphic style, she finds that it doesn’t lend itself well to the traditional frilly white wedding cakes – and they don’t actually do much for her personally. She doesn’t spend time scouring Pinterest and magazines for the latest must-have designs, and this is probably one of the secrets to her success. Rather than following the crowd, she pursues her own sensibilities and, like all good designers, takes inspiration from unlikely places, such as the fabrics she spies on the high street!
So, we applaud her efforts to break away from the hum-drum! One of the fab things about her more graphic designs is that they aren’t too girly. Kath Kidston is undoubtedly popular and has its place, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
Sarah’s eclectic style
She showed off some of her photos of Steampunk cakes, her Xmas sweater design cake and other funky creations! The sweater cake was a genius idea – “I kept seeing the jumpers in stores during the run up to Christmas, so why not replicate the design on a cake?”
Magazines have snapped up her original ideas. “When I follow my gut instincts, I always seem to do better,” says Sarah. However, the highlight of the day was Sarah giving up her time to let us have a go at sugar painting our own cakes.
I asked Sarah what the most unusual cake she’s ever had to make was, and it was a jungle cake, complete with a baby elephant! These kinds of endeavours are more for exhibitions, as it’s not so much for the money, but it can be great publicity!
We asked Sarah if there were any artistic blocks she had when it came to commissions. Oddly enough portraiture was the only one. “We tend to draw our own faces, so that makes it extremely difficult.”
Wedding cake stuff
Sarah isn’t necessarily chasing wedding cakes these days. However, if it tickles her fancy she may be tempted and will set up a consultation. She doesn’t copy other’s designs, but enjoys creating bespoke cakes! Check out her fab idea for her tattoo inspired cake!
Sarah, has recently started offering workshops to hobby bakers, who’d like to make their own and she is on hand to advise them on the practicalities and logistics – as there are a surprising amount to consider with wedding cakes! After trying her hand at catering cupcakes and kiddies parties, she realised that the cupcakes were the winners and the Chocolate Strawberry took off from there!
Sarah admits she was rather naive about business, but fortunately she had a lucky break when she contacted Brides magazine – they’re one of the top titles in the field. She emailed the editor with a photo of her cake and the next day, their team put it up on their Facebook page and also asked her to stay in touch. In fact, Sarah has only been making cakes for about three years. So her story is remarkable indeed!
Sarah’s selling points…
Compared to classes running similar days, her class sizes tend to be smaller and more intimate. There’s a glass of wine on hand, tea and coffee flow freely and you don’t have to bring your own lunch! All this makes for a truly unique experience, with Sarah’s natural warmth and charm being the selling point; arguably as much as her cake decorating skills!
This means her repeat business is very healthy and the word of mouth recommendations are always have more impact.
And, now for the cake-lover’s paradise as promised!
Painting with sugar 101
People find her cake decorating days extremely relaxing – “We’ve had some amazing days.” In fact, I can certainly vouch for the therapeutic and soothing qualities of sugar painting.
Sarah was kind enough to lay on some fondant iced cupcakes ready for decorating. The base of the paint is mixed with food grade coco butter and she has a dizzying array of powdered edible pigments to mix into the molten coco butter to create all the colours you could possibly ever need.
Now, cakes can be decorated with a vodka base (don’t worry, the alcohol evaporates off), but this makes them rather shiny and difficult to rework. So, sugar painting for us was the order of the day! You can keep reworking it and paint over it if necessary.
What’s your style? Water colours, gouache or oils?
The sugar painting can be built up in layers, and reminded me of gouache. Naturally, it’s completely edible and can be used in thin washes like water colours, or thickly, like oil paintings. Sarah likes to start people off on a small scale to build their confidence and then gets them to go bigger and bolder.
She loves seeing their confidence grows and the stresses of their days unwind.
So first of all: Kath Kidston style roses
First of all, we took a dainty, white iced cupcake and started with a simple Kath Kidston style using pretty roses. This style is fairly popular at the moment and is a relatively simple style to reproduce.
Sugar/cake painting methodology
- The coco butter is placed on some plates above boiled water to melt the little buttons of butter.
- There are some jars filled with a very weak solution of washing up liquid to clean the coco butter off brushes – please note, only the finest sable brushes are used!
- The powered pigment is then sprinkled onto the plate with the molten coco butter, so it can be mixed with the pigment to the desired consistency.
- So, to get my confidence up, she started me off with a delicate size 1 sable brush, which I washed and dried. I then took a little of the oil onto the brush and mixed in some white pigment. I then mixed in a small amount of muted purple.
- Then I went around drawing little circles onto the cake. The beauty of this style is that you don’t have to be obsessively neat! I then drew a few more for good measure.
One of the huge advantages of using this method is that if you were to make a massive mistake or a huge blob across you cake, you could simply wipe away all traces with some vodka and leave no taste behind.
- We then swapped to a dainty 000 sable brush and mixed in some darker crimson. Sarah said this is all part of getting used to your style, and working out whether you like a water colour or more oils based approach.
- We painted some fine shadows onto the roses, which added some depth to the flowers. In fact, it was actually quite reminiscent of a factory line when they made the old style china.
- We then mixed in some dark burgundy and added some fine lines to just give the merest suggestions of shadows, bearing in mind that the light should be coming from one side.
- Next pure white was added as highlights, the overall effect being very Victorian!
Next came the leaves…
- The process was repeated with the coco butter and pigment, but this time just with greens, using pure white first and then mixing in the colour. Sarah suggested having confidence with colour and to use something strong to make it pop! So, use dark green to emphasise leaves, or even use an echo of the mauve on the ends of the leaves.
- Sarah says it’s fine for people not to copy her style unwaveringly – there’s no one right way. She provides the starting point and technical know-how, so use it as a guide by all means, but it’s about having fun and expressing yourself!
Bex’s verdict was that it was extremely relaxing and Zen like. It was a real in-the-moment all-consuming experience. If you enjoy cake making and you enjoy anything of an artfy farty nature, this is the perfect treat or gift for such a person. Not only do you get to create a work of art, but you also get to eat the fruits of their creations – and the sponge cakes are light and fluffy and the fondant icing is to die for!
Sarah also has a rather funky way of bolstering people who aren’t confident with their roses. She simply cuts them into bunting and sticks them round the cake, creating a mini masterpiece!
Next stop – the strawberry…
And, now for something completely different!
- This time we were to recreate a strawberry design on a cake – something nice and cheerful! So, this time we used a range of different pigments – including red obviously!
- We painted in a basic kind of strawberry/heart shape strawberry shape in poppy red, adding a slight tinge of navy blue to deepen the red for the shading. Then a pale green was added for the leaves (using plenty of white pigment), with some obscuring the front of the strawberry. A deeper green was then used for shading.
- The final touches were little yellow dots for the seeds – and Bob’s yer uncle! Two fantastic sugar crafted cakes.
“The strawberries are less abstract than the roses and it’s a pretty motif, which children also love.” However, Sarah has found that pink and purple are the most popular cakes she posts on Facebook – as clichéd as it sounds. Grey has also been fashionable of late, as have more muted colours, which Sarah naturally favours.
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