Thursday, 6 September 2012

Preston - a city in cake!

If you live in the north of England, you might have heard the expression "once every Preston Guild". If you haven't, it of course means very infrequently. This is because the Preston Guild, the only Guild merchant still celebrated in the UK, only happens every 20 years with the main festivities occurring in the first week of September. It's an ancient celebration, believed to date back to 1179.

This year's Guild - the first one in the twenty first century and the first since Preston was made a city in 2002 for the queen's Golden Jubilee - included a Vintage Guild, curated by Wayne Hemingway which included a food festival in Winckley Square. As part of that, bakers from around the region were invited to build Preston landmarks in cake for the Preston Cake City project.

When I first heard about it, I never thought I'd get involved. I don't consider myself an expert baker - I'm way more confident than I used to be and my cakes taste good but never look that fancy. I mean, I only first covered a cake with sugarpaste properly last Christmas!

But then I got collared by some of the ladies I know through Clandestine Cake Club. Some of them had thought of baking a cake and had chosen this building. It is the control building at Preston Docks from where the swingbridge is controlled at the entrance to the marina.

When I was first asked, I looked at it. A pyramid. What? So I said it wasn't anything I was any good at. I got told that they just needed people to bake cakes, make buttercream, etc, and found myself agreeing to do it.

Over the next few weeks, we had a number of meetings to work out a plan how we would do it and who would do what. Thankfully, Linzi who was organising us, got her hubby to draw a plan so we knew what size to make everything. The cake was based on 20cm square madeira cakes. I was allocated the job of doing the top part. Yes, the pyramid. What?

As the cakes were to be delivered on Sunday morning, the bottom half of the cake was built on Friday and on Saturday, I met Linzi and another lady, Hazel, at Linzi's house to finish it off. This is how the cake looked when I arrived.

There is another layer that is not visible underneath the grey already decorated with brick coloured sugarpaste, windows and doors. The blue strut was there for measuring and is actually Blackpool rock!

Our first task was to cut a small square and cover it with more brick coloured sugarpaste. Being the old hand that I was (!), I helped her cut the cake to size and explained how to cover it with the sugarpaste. That just left the pyramid to cut. First I had to cut another square to the proportion on the plan and actually cut it straight which is harder than it sounds! Then, Ian (Linzi's husband) suggest I cut two opposite side to make a Toblerone type shape then the other two. We had a pyramid - which to my eye, looked slightly wonky. Never mind, I was going to cover it with grey sugarpaste.  I did this by rolling out the paste to the required thickness, cutting it in half and laying the pieces along the edges of the pyramid over the apex. Then I blended the edges together. After pressing down with a nifty tool to make a tiled effect, this was the result.

Then we had to get the cakes on the top. The square cake had to have a hole put in the middle to get it in place then my masterpiece (ahem) went on top). As you can see, Hazel had added windows in blue sugarpaste and in the meantime, Ian had cut the big sticks of rock to size.

Phew, it looked OK! Now it was down to details. I cut some licorice to size and it was stuck to the grey sugarpaste with edible glue to make the roof windows. And my final job was to cut some cherry laces to size and stick that to the edge of my little pyramid. This proved to be the hardest task of all as the laces wanted to curl up and pinged off the cake. After holding it with as many hands as possible, we stuck it with cocktail sticks whilst the glue went off and eventually, it stuck down. With the addition of some sticks for the railings, we were done!

The finished cake was delivered to Preston the next morning and placed on an edible map. Over 40 cakes were brought in total. We arrived as a family to see the finished result, just as they were putting the last few cakes out and completing the cityscape.

Once the cakes were all laid out, all of the cakes were introduced to the crowd and the bakers asked to make themselves known. Each baker and team voted for their favourite cake and a Baker's Choice announced by the town crier once they had randomly had a fitness instructor do a routine with the assembled throng. For the last part, once the cakes that were being taken home were being removed, the rest of the cakes were cut up and given away to anyone that wanted it.

In the above photo, you can see the two winners - on the left, the Black Bull inn and next to it, St Walberge's  (with the grey spire) which came a close second and was baked by someone else from cake club, who did it all by herself. The detailing on it was fabulous - it was my favourite cake.

This was a great event and all the cakes were amazing - it just goes to show what you can do with cake. Our cake fared very well and I got lots of positive comments about it when talking to people at the event. If you would like to see a full set of photos from the event, you can see them here.

Finally, a huge thanks to DewlayArtisan Foodworks, Foodlink Lancashire  and the Egg Man Mick Brooks for donating various ingredients, to Linzi's husband Ian for drawing up the designs, the other bakers Sue, Carla, Jo, Hazel and last but not least Linzi who kept us all in line and organised us to such good effect. 

It was quite some effort! I'd definitely do one again, although I'm not quite ready to do one by myself just yet. 

(We were provided as a team with some ingredients by the above mentioned suppliers in return for a mention.)

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