FLUFFY CHICKS hatching from delicious brown eggs, a protective mother hen nearby – it”s a scene that looks good enough to eat but too pretty to spoil on the Easter cake Gill Bendall has created for one of her clients.
Fortunately it doesn”t have to be, for the chicks have been painted onto an icing plaque that can be lifted off the cake before it is cut. “It is all edible,” explains Gill, “but the plaque is made of a special icing that goes very hard. The plaque will keep well as long as it is kept dry.
“The other decorations I make, such as the fun figures and wired sugar-paste flowers, keep well too and people love to have them as mementoes of a happy occasion.”
Gill was brought up on a family farm in Carmarthenshire, now run by her brother. “As a child, I loved to sit in the woods on the farm and paint birds and wildlife,” she explains. “I also loved to cook. My mother encouraged me to bake and didn”t mind tidying up after me.
“I have always had a passion for food and love the idea of everyone celebrating eating at a table laden with good food.”
Gill”s earliest memorable decorated cake was for her brother”s engagement party and this started other relatives and friends asking her to make cakes.
Gill took her interest in baking on to a career, trained as a pastry chef and worked in hotels and restaurants in the south of England. But it was a holiday romance in Gran Canaria with a British farmer that resulted in her marrying Trevor and moving to Overton, Hants where she now lives.
Trevor is no longer in farming but the couple, who have two daughters aged nine and 11, did get to buy their tied cottage and it is from there that Gill runs her enterprise – Splendid Cakes.
“I had been temping as a chef, working hours that fitted round caring for the children, when I thought I should use my creative skills to run my own business. So, I started Splendid Cakes about 18 months ago,” she says. Since then, she has been making flapjacks and chocolate cakes for a local delicatessen, selling a range of cakes at her local country market at Whitchurch, and creating wedding and celebration cakes to order.
Beneath the icing of her decorated confections are cakes made to a range of recipes including traditional rich fruit with brandy, light fruit with cherries, rich chocolate, delicious lemon or coffee.
“People today, especially youngsters, say they don”t do” fruit cake. Some want a fruit bottom tier, with the other tiers sponge cake.
“Decorated cup cakes are also popular and are easy to serve to guests. One client asked me to make individual square marbled coffee cakes, iced and topped with a gold drage. These were presented to guests in shiny gold boxes.”
Gill has fashioned seashells and ropes, butterflies and flowers, sailors and sportsmen, trampolinists and tractors, ballet shoes and more to adorn her cakes. “It”s amazing what you can do with sugar,” she says.
All these have charm and originality but perhaps her animal plaques are the most unusual. Working with powder or paste, edible paints and using a fine brush she creates sheepdogs, crowing cockerels, perfect ponies, happy hares, their coats and feathers given depth and definition by the use of a scribe that lets the light icing underneath show through.
Should she need to check the detail for her poultry or horses, Gill only has to look out to her back garden and the field beyond to see them in the flesh.
“A plaque such as the one on the Easter cake will take three or four hours to paint,” Gill explains.
A celebration cake may cost from 35 to 120. A three-tier wedding cake decorated in sugar paste icing costs about 320, while one made in Royal icing costs about 700. “With the wedding cakes, I work closely with the client to produce exactly what they want. I set the cake up on the wedding day and it is lovely to see the reaction of the family when they come in to the reception.”