Q&A with Julie Smith

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Image from www.cel-cakes.com
We spoke to the owner of Darras Hall-based Celebration Cakes by Julie and second-generation cake maker Julie Smith
Q&A with Julie Smith

How did you get into baking?

I come from a bakery background because my mum had a bakery and I worked with her. Her bakery was called Harrison's and it was in the West End of Newcastle – it was a proper old-fashioned bakery that sold bread and birthday and wedding cakes. Then I went on a two-year bakery course at college in 1976 to become a qualified baker.

How did you set up your business?
I always wanted to set up my own business but I got experience first in other bakeries – I was at Campbell's bakers in the West End of Newcastle and I also worked for Mistletoe Bakery in Eldon Gardens for six years doing cake decorating in between getting married and having a family. When Mistletoe Bakery closed, I set up my own company in 1997. It was a big step but luckily I encountered no difficulties along the way because I had built up lots of contacts from my previous work. Now I make my cakes from home.

What is a typical working day like for you?
I spend my day talking to clients, baking and decorating cakes. We supply cakes for McKenna's café bar at Northern Stage in Newcastle as well as birthday cakes for Davidson of Darras Hall. I usually bake every other day and I have another member of staff called Tamsyn Varley who works with me.

What are you working on this week?
We're currently making and decorating a wedding cake in the style of a birdcage so it's a solid cake iced in a dome shape. We're doing lots of iced shortbread biscuits in the shape of bottles, bibs and prams for baby showers at the moment as well. Recently, we've been making a lot of wedding cakes for Indian families. They have such big weddings and huge families so we're talking cakes big enough to feed 400-500 people! They like bright colours so these cakes are typically decorated in oranges, reds and gold, and they can be very ornate with flower decorations.

What are the popular trends for cakes at the minute?
People often request iced figures of themselves and sometimes their pets – I've done dogs and hamsters before. Lots of people are going for white fudge icing, which is an American-style fudge icing that's applied straight to the cake and sets with a nice crunch. I think people like it because it gives a nice and relaxed finish. Trends change over the years though – a few years back, chocolate cake was very popular and we would easily do three chocolate cakes a week, then the trend changed to cupcakes, which are still popular now. 

What's your recipe for white fudge icing?
It's an old recipe... that I'm keeping to myself!

Do you get strange cake requests?
One trend I find hard to understand is red velvet cake. The amount of red food colouring that goes  into it is ridiculous! We also do wonky wedding cakes that look as if they are toppling, almost like the leaning tower of Pisa. About 15 years ago, a production company that were working on the Catherine Cookson TV adaptations would call up on the odd occasion and order cakes for the set so my job was to make an old-fashioned white wedding cake to go into the background of the set.

Have you ever made cakes for anyone famous?
I've done a wedding cake for Ryan Taylor, who used to play for Newcastle United. His cake was a big, white, five-tiered cake with lots of lace for decoration. I also made a wedding cake for the boxer Glenn McCrory, and he asked me to do a christening cake more recently. When the actor Anthony Newley was in Newcastle performing in Scrooge, I made a birthday cake for him – it was a cake in the shape of Scrooge's face, funnily enough.

www.cel-cakes.com

Published in: June 2015

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