And so it came to pass that one day the telephone rang at Cakeadoodledo Towers: “Miss Cakehead here. I’m up to more mischief and need you to join in.” Quite frankly I jump at any chance to work with the wonderful creative lunatic that is Miss Cakehead so immediately starting crossing out days in my diary.
Tate and Lyle were launching a new range of sugars inspired different areas of the world: Mississippi, Guyana, Mayan, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Barbados, South Pacific and Great Britain. A stunning Georgian townhouse in Soho in London was being taken over and the Cakehead crew were bidden to transform the space into a “tasting house”.
Miss Cakehead entrusted me with a whole room and instructed me to fill it with deliciousness made from the brand new Golden Syrup Sugar. The brief was “Great Britain” and the sugar was ordered. The danger at this point in a project, especially when working with Miss C is that we egg each other on with crazy ideas that I then realise I have agreed to transform into cake. When I put the phone down, inevitably I put my head in my hands and have a moment before pulling myself together and cracking on.
The sugar arrived. Lots of it. And gallons on golden syrup as well.
Of course, as soon as it arrived I dived in to taste it. Oh. My. Word. Genuinely delicious. Really soft and moist, like a really superior soft brown sugar with a distinctive golden syrup flavour. Cooking with this stuff was going to be good.
So the baking commenced. I was going to make a huge lion out of golden syrup cake; a tower of fruit cakes with real sugared fruit, many, many buttery biscuits, Great Britain shaped treacle tarts, a chinese painted tureen which would hold a sugar floral arrangement, brandy snap bowls to hold the biscuits and a doughnut tower.
Soon my kitchen was taken over by cake.
As well as doing a lot of baking, there was the small matter of how to present the famous Tate and Lyle lion cake. Small interruption here: did you know that the lion is, in fact, dead? It is based on a biblical story of a lion’s carcass in which bees have set up a hive and a producing honey. So, I decided that my dead lion would be lying on an oval board mimicking the Tate and Lyle label. Off I trotted to our local builders’ merchants and caused much hilarity by asking them to make me a massive oval board. They, of course, wanted to know what I was up to. I explained. Colleagues were called over and other customers gathered round to look at the person who wanted a massive piece of MDF (with batons underneath to stop it flexing) to hold a cake in the shape of a dead lion.
I then had to cover the beast of a board in sugar paste. That was no mean feat.
I then painted the black and green borders straight on with food colouring.
I made the lion (he was named Stan) from the golden syrup cake which I carved into his shape and then covered him in sugar paste
before rather gingerly transferring him onto the base. There were several “stop-breathing” moments in the Stan journey, and this was one of them, let me tell you. However, he behaved impeccably and lay in state looking appropriately dead.
Eight cans of edible gold spray later…
The other massive “stop breathing moment” came when we tried to get Stan into the van to go from Devon to London. Quite brilliantly I had built him in the kitchen without realising that he was wider than the door frame… There had to be some tippage to get him through the door. Not a happy moment, I can tell you. I was on slide and catch duty, but in the end, he behaved impeccably. Lesson learnt.
One of the other main pieces for my room was the porcelain bowl made of cake. I knew exactly how I wanted it to look and I also knew that my sugar flower skills were not up to the job. Rosalind Miller, cake maker extraordinaire, stepped up to the mark and agreed to make me some of the most beautiful sugar flowers I have ever seen. Have a look at her work – she is amazing.
The bowl wasn’t that complicated to make. It was constructed from layers of golden syrup sponge and then carved into the bowl shape and covered in sugar paste. I then painted it. The solid sponge meant that I could stick Rosalind’s flowers into the arrangement quite easily.
Doughnuts were covered in a caramel made from the Golden Syrup sugar and stuck into a cone to mimic a French Croque en Bouche. Treacle tarts were made into Great Britain shapes and given a good old slick of gold, and the biscuits were smothered in the golden syrup sugar and baked.
And this was just one room in the whole house. In all 14 bakers and something ridiculous like 5,000 hours of baking and decorating went into the Tate and Lyle Tasting House. It was an incredible project to be part of. Thanks Miss Cakehead! You ROCK!