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Feature: The sweet industry of baking is no piece of cake!

Tiger tiger: Hannah Glennerster won a gold award for this confection design at Cake International

Tiger tiger: Hannah Glennerster won a gold award for this confection design at Cake International

Despite the many incredible advances in technology that have taken place over the last few years, it seems to be one of the more rudimentary industries that is currently making the biggest revival.

Cakes date back to ancient times, with the word itself reportedly traced as far into the past as the 13th century – and even the Egyptians are credited with creating a form of cake baked with dates and sweetened with honey.

Even those of us who can’t cook or won’t cook have probably attempted the classic Victoria sponge or fairy cakes at some point in our lives, but four years ago a new phenomenon entered mainstream consciousness which changed our relationship with baking forever.

Fronted by a woman who almost everyone would want as their grandma and a man who simply can’t bear a soggy bottom, The Great British Bake-Off has turned even fast food-dependent kitchen-phobes into mini Mary Berrys and Paul Hollywood hopefuls.

Before the Bake-Off burst onto our screens in 2010, you’d never hear mums in the playground boasting of their mille feuilles or competing over who can make the tallest croquembouche – yet now almost everyone is a master baker... or so they think.

The cake revolution has been aided immensely by the growth of social media, and as two Hemel Hempstead cakemakers know all too well, it doesn’t take much for the photos of your homemade birthday cake to snowball into a full-time baking business.

Angie Laing, 55, first started making cakes when her children were young, after being inspired by her grandfather who was a chef in both the RAF and, later, the Savoy Hotel.

But it was two years ago when she and daughter Becky Hollick baked an ambitious tractor-shaped cake for husband and dad Paul that the idea to turn cakes into a money-making scheme tantalised her tastebuds.

Angie, of Runcorn Crescent, said: “We had great fun and giggles making it, and put it on Facebook. It got so many comments and requests, it all just started from there.”

Less than six months on, Angie had left her job to go into the cake business she named Mother and Me, with Becky, 31, joining her full-time later. Angie said: “It has become more of an art form. Cake-making is an incredible medium to use your crafting talents, but it is sellable.”

The baking businesswoman cites programmes including the Bake-Off and shows from the US as part of the reason the frenzy for intricate ornate cakes has grown.

In fact, Mother and Me’s designs are so elaborate that many people never cut them – despite Angie’s age-old recipe for a delicious sponge which she, of course, keeps a guarded secret.

In friendly competition is the Cake Illusionist – a woman known by day as 32-year-old Hannah Glennerster of Sempill Road, or to her two little ones, ‘mum’.

Hannah was made redundant from her job as a photographer when her second son was months old, and decided to take her incredible cake-making talent to new heights. She, like Angie and Becky, now makes spectacular confections as a full-time job.

Both cake companies have gone on to win gold at the prestigious Cake International awards in London, and if you want them to bake you a sponge creation which even Ms Berry would take her hat off to, you’ll have to book months in advance.

Hannah, who describes her work as ‘edible art’, said: “There’s an incredible Facebook community of cakemakers all over the world – there’s a lot of one-upmanship, and before you know it you’ve got motorised cakes that move or have lights and sound effects.”

But Cake Illusionist Hannah is keen to point out that there are many amateur cake-makers who don’t play by the rules in terms of food hygiene regulations and formal accreditation, and says those at the very top of their game like she, Angie and Becky are on a whole new level of baking.

Single creations can take as long as 48 hours to make and cost hundreds of pounds, but the manpower and costs involved in the designs means to these businesses – and their many satisfied customers – the cakes are worth every penny. After all, the proof is in the pudding!

Visit www.motherandme.co.uk or www.thecakeillusionist.co.uk to see more of the bakers’ majestic cake designs.

Series 5 of the Great British Bake-Off started on Wednesday, and continues every week on BBC One from 8pm.

 

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