Some of Julie Rogerson’s award-winning cakes seem to defy gravity. Whether it is a ballerina on pointe or a mermaid sitting on a rock, her intricate creations are more like works of art than cakes. “I’ve always loved baking from being a child with my mum and I’ve always baked with my own children, but for their birthdays or anything special I’d go to a local cake maker. But then I thought one day that I could do that,” she says.
She started decorating cakes for birthdays and special occasions, teaching herself how to do it from books, including one by the actress Jane Asher. “I quickly realised that I loved the modelling side, making characters and little animals out of sugar paste. I’ve always been quite artistic but I really wanted to make the elaborate figures that go on the top of novelty cakes.”
Julie, from Beverley, started out juggling work as a nursery nurse with making her celebration cakes as a sideline. “I started about ten years ago doing it part-time – it was safer that way as I was still getting a guaranteed monthly income,” she says.
But her showstopping bakes and realistic sugar paste centrepieces caught the attention of so many people that she decided to turn Julie’s Cake in a Box into a full-time business. “I got my own FaceBook page and then it just got busier and busier. It became impossible to do both and so I decided to concentrate on the cake decorating business full-time.”
That was three years ago and now Julie has converted her garage into a workshop and studio space with a kitchen and teaching area which she opened in March 2020. But then Covid hit.
“I had planned to take classes of a maximum of six people but then Covid happened and when we restarted with social distancing I put that down to four, which actually works really well. It gives people a more personal experience.” She also moved her Cake Modelling with Confidence classes online, as many people did during the pandemic. Julie also demonstrates at the UK’s top cake decorating and baking shows and creates tutorials for some of the industry’s leading magazines, as well as being a design team member for cake-decorating mould company Katy Sue Designs. Most of her orders come via Facebook or her recently designed website, www.juliescakeinabox.co.uk.
Then two years ago, just before lockdown, she received a call from Alison Brown, of the Crowood Press, saying the publisher had seen her website and Facebook site and was looking to make a book about cake modelling.
“They saw that, as well as making cake models, I did tutorials and classes and had experience of teaching as they wanted someone who could write step-by-step guides. They then asked if I’d be interested in writing a book with them. It was a complete surprise, although it is something I’d had at the back of my mind for a while but never thought it would actually ever happen. I jumped at the chance straightaway. The cakes I make are very much for a local market but the publisher has a distributor in the United States and that means I will suddenly have a global market – it’s quite hard to get your head around.”
The result is Modelling Figures for Cake Toppers, which contains hundreds of photographs to show the steps required to create figures, from simpler, sitting characters, suitable for beginners or for people wanting to recreate figures that are easier to replicate commercially, to more complex models such as a ballet dancer en pointe.
“It is aimed at the beginner through to the experienced cake maker. A lot of people have problems with making figures. It is something they can keep dipping back into as their confidence and skills grow,” adds Julie, who would love to do a second, more advanced cake decorating book.
Her debut took the mother-of-three just over a year to do the creative side of things and then a bit longer to get it into production and onto the shelves. “In some ways lockdown was good as I could throw myself into it. Very few people were wanting cakes as all big celebrations had been called off due to the pandemic. ”
The book doesn’t tell people how to bake or cover cakes, it is purely about the intricate decorations that give that personal touch to a celebratory cake. It discusses the equipment and materials required; explains the fundamental facial and body proportions for both adult and child figures; and shows how to achieve the basic shapes required. Also included is information on obtaining realistic skin tones and step-by-step photographs demonstrate how to create sitting, standing and reclining figures.
“It did take a lot of hard work to put together but seeing it in print makes it all worth it. While I was doing it, it didn’t really feel real. In fact, I didn’t even tell my dad about it until I had a hard copy to show him. There were lots of proud tears.”
All Julie’s cakes are bespoke and there aren’t many things she can’t make in sugar. Prices start around £90 for a single-tier cakes and can go up to in excess of £200. “People see a photo and ask me if I can make it. Pets are still the most popular things that people ask for. I love making animals.”
Julie uses sugar modelling paste to make her figures, although the more complicated ones need to have dowel rods inside to keep them in place and stop the heads falling off. The intricacies of her figures also make shipping tricky but she does deliver locally. That said, one of the hardest cakes she has made was the figure 50 as the client wanted it to be upright rather than flat.
“Simple figures I can now make quite quickly, something more complex can take three to four hours. When I am decorating a competition cake it can take much longer as I do bits on it every day. Modelling is my passion and the thing I do best.”