Fancy That Cakes
The first thing that strikes you on entering Fancy That Cake Shop in Beaminster is the amazingly delicious warm sugary aroma. The second thing is the truly uncanny realistic gaze of the dog on one of Heather Upham’s bespoke 3-D cake creations.
Fancy That Cakes has been in Fleet Street, Beaminster for just over a year. Heather started making 3D bespoke cakes as a hobby while working part time and raising her children with husband Chris. She did this for around four years and was then made redundant from the jewellers she was working for. This gave her the push to go full time. After eighteen months working from home she moved into the shop in Beaminster, owned by her folks who live in the flat above, it was also where she grew up. So a real Dorset story. Heather’s Mum helps when she can but the business has now reached a point where Heather is taking on friend Julia in April.
Both Heather and Julia are members of the Guild of Sugar Craft. Heather is training to be a demonstrator with the Guild. She has one more assessment to go and then she will be credited and have the qualification. Heather already does demonstrations at other Guilds when she is paid a fee. She used to teach beauty therapy so is very comfortable doing demonstrations. They are also planning to run some classes from the shop in Beaminster. ‘But I’m not going to give away all my trade secrets!’
Heather’s favourite types of cakes are the novelty ones. This week she has two dogs and the front of a Jaguar with its ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ logo to do. She does a lot of research, gets pictures or models such as the very cute toy cars she shows me. For the Jaguar she will look at the blueprints and measure it out, how tall it is, where the windows start, how wide the windows and grill are. Similarly, for a breed of dog, it is knowing about the anatomy. Heather first trained in beauty therapy at Bournemouth College, where she learnt about the structure of the facial bones, which is invaluable in getting such realistic faces on all her animals.
Complementing Heather’s passion for the novelty, Julia has a flair for flowers and wedding cakes. Together they are hoping to expand the shop and business. Such as having regular fresh cup cakes ready for people who just want to pop in. That way they can show customers some of their novelty cakes while they are there. Heather is keen to keep her cake range unique in Beaminster and not compete with the local baker or French patisserie. She finds the best advertising is word of mouth, with many of her customers regularly coming for birthday and anniversaries, some over several years. As customers share their special day cakes the product speaks for itself. Nonetheless, Heather advertises via a Web page, Facebook, Wessex FM and local press. She also attends many local events and shows where she is able to come up with individual novelty ideas for new customers. At the Dorset Show, which she describes as brilliant for her, she sold a thousand cup cakes but the real benefit of the shows is getting orders. This is especially true on hot days when people want to eat ice cream not cakes.
I asked Heather what for her was the best part of running Fancy That Cakes. ‘I love finishing a cake, when I’m nearly there that’s good. Especially the novelty ones, I get to a point half way through and worry, and then it suddenly comes to life and I think that’s OK. A lot of my novelty ones are true to life –people look at them and think-‘hey that’s a cake-how do you do that?’ I next asked her what is the hardest part of the business. Not unusually, she finds the paperwork and costing challenging! ‘Taking someone else on is also a bit frightening as you have to keep enough money coming in to pay them’. Encouragingly though, the growth has exceeded her expectations. With TV programmes like the Great British Bake off cakes have gone up in people’s estimation, although that means there are more hobbyists out there now. Although she does 9-4 in the shop, when she gets home she regularly starts again. If someone has a birthday on a Monday and wants a cake, if she does it on a Saturday it would not be as fresh as she wants, so Sunday baking it is.
Heather explains how the market has surprised her: ‘because of the problems we’ve had people haven’t got as much disposable income as they had, and it’s a bit of a luxury thing. So if you’ve got x amount of money to spend on a birthday you’re not going to spend most of it on a cake are you? So I’ve juggled with the pricing a bit. But to be honest it has exceeded my expectations, January for example which is generally a poor month, I did thirty cakes in thirty one days. I can do one of my fish from having the cake made with butter icing in the middle, in around an hour and a half. Other cakes would take me five hours!’
One thing behind the development of 3D novelty cakes was the growing availability of Fondant icing. The traditional Royal icing is quite hard and ideal for more formal designs such as in wedding cakes, but rather limiting for more sculptured creations. So pliable Fondant icing has allowed a whole new opportunity for creation. Until around ten years ago Fondant icing was only available from very specialist suppliers and was much more expensive. The prevalence of TV baking programmes increased the demand and with it the availability.
What about the Dorset Food and Drink Group? ‘Dorset is quite staggering the amount of producers who are unique, I don’t believe there are many counties who have such diverse producers as Dorset. Once you’ve been to a show you get to know everybody which is great. But one of the problems is some of the shows are putting their prices up. I’m spending £1,500 a year on shows which is a lot. As I’ve only just set up it’s a lot of money to find. If Dorset Food and Drink could get us a discount it would be great’. Heather believes the promotion of the diversity of Dorset producers to both the home community and the visitors who are essential to our economy, to be invaluable.
The signs and banners Heather has on her show and event stand are done professionally – like everything about Fancy That Cakes it has to be just right!
Annie Taylor Feb 2014