Three leading female wedding cake designers reveal why they ditched their day jobs to pursue a life of baking
The first of my friends to get married has set the organisational bar astronomically high. Spreadsheets have been created, scrapbooks designed and budgets strategically planned right down to the final penny. With nearly a year still to go before the big day, the dress, shoes and jewellery have been bought, a make-up artist has been booked, and the groomsmen and bridesmaid outfits planned. In fact, only one area has caused somewhat of a hiccup: the cake. For the bride-to-be, a traditional affair with classic white icing was the obvious choice, but her Lego-obsessed groom was hoping for a rather more colourful creation. The result is expected to be a half-and-half concoction, with miniature Lego blocks spilling down one side and a clean, ornate design featuring on the other.
I imagine such an effortless compromise is the stuff of dreams for Rosalind Miller, Elizabeth Solaru and Victoria Watkin-Jones, three wedding cake designers whose extravagant creations can take months of planning. Each specialises in high-end baking with exquisite designs that have captured the attention of royalty, Olympians and celebrities alike, and, as such, their clientele can often be rather demanding. From the baking disasters they’d rather forget to the memorable moments that have elevated them to wedding cake stardom, here they share their experiences crafting sugary treats into edible artwork.
Rosalind Miller Cakes
Former arts lecturer Rosalind Miller sells her award-winning creations in Harrods and supplies some of London’s most prestigious wedding venues
I trained as a textiles designer and then worked as a lecturer at Central Saint Martins for 10 years. I had been to New York and visited Magnolia Bakery when my hours got cut. I decided to take a stall out at Greenwich Market and started selling cupcakes with little sugar flowers on them. I believed cupcakes would be a passing trend so I started making wedding cakes instead, and they took off.
Baking is something I’ve always done and enjoyed. I always knew I could bake a good cake, but I’ve never had any training.
’ve always been a designer so I look at what sort of trends are in and try to adapt that to a cake. I look at couture dresses from brands such as Ralph & Russo, because they have beautiful detailing, and I look at interior design, or I might just base a cake on a section of my garden. I keep my eyes open to see what’s around.
We’ve done a few very extravagant cakes for royal families in the Middle East. For one couple in Doha, we made a whole dessert table that was 15 metres long and had hundreds of mini cakes, meringues, macarons and three wedding cakes, all decorated with sugar flowers. To see it all come together is very rewarding. We also did a life-sized gingerbread house for the Harrods Christmas window in 2015, which took a long time to do. We had to deliver it in three sections because it wouldn’t fit otherwise.
Working with my daughter Yasmine is great. It was difficult to start with, going from a purely mother-daughter relationship to working together professionally and it took a few months, but I think now we get on very well. It’s lovely to have someone that you can completely put your faith in.
We’re working on our 2017 collection at the moment. The new cakes are probably going to be a lot less formal. There seems to be a swing away from the very formal stuff. There will be quite a lot of texture and probably some metallics – we’re still coming up with ideas.
We will be releasing another website called Confections by Rosalind Miller Cakes, which is going to have a range of non-bespoke, more affordable cakes. They will have a similar aesthetic to the bespoke designs, but they’ll come in a certain size and colour and they’ll mostly be celebratory. We’ve also done a beautiful range of afternoon teacakes that are covered with butter cream. It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a while.
A love of Japanese arts and a desire for a more creative life saw Victoria Watkin-Jones leave the fitness industry for a career in cake design
I’d always had a knack for baking. I used to bake a lot with my Nan when I was younger and my first job was as a catering manager. I moved away from that and ended up in the fitness industry for about eight years and then when the baking craze kicked off again a few years ago, it drew me back. There were a lot of cupcake businesses at the time and I wanted to do something a bit more niche and creative; wedding cakes just seemed like the perfect thing.
A lot of clients do like my designs as seen. If not, we have a chat about what the venue’s going to be like, whether they have any themes, colours or floral decorations in mind, and then what flavours they want as well. I go away with all of the information, create a few options for them and then we go from there; it can be quite a short process or quite a long one, depending on the couple’s request.
I love Japanese art and a lot of my cakes have an oriental feel to them. My ideas come from anywhere and everywhere, really; art, fashion, but definitely not other cakes.
Timing is all very dependent on the decoration. Something covered in sugar flowers can take a couple of weeks. Baking tends to take three days depending on the size of the cake, but it’s the decoration that takes the most time. I try to limit myself to one cake per week as it keeps it nice and personal. Working as a lone artist, I don’t want to spread myself too thin – no pun intended.
I was commissioned to fly out to Abu Dhabi to create a cake for the Sheikh’s daughter in 2014, which was pretty crazy. I also did a homecoming cake for Jessica Ennis when the Olympics were on.
I made my sculptural cake [above] for a trade show that was looking for something futuristic. There wasn’t much research behind it – I just played around and it grew; it was all quite fluid. I haven’t done a lot of sculptural-style cakes for a while so I’ll probably go back to that this year.
Elizabeth's Cake Emporium
Ex-City dweller Elizabeth Solaru swapped the boardroom for the ballroom when she set up her wedding cake business in 2006
I fell into baking by accident. I was originally a scientist and then became a headhunter in the City, but I’d baked since I was a child. After I left my job, I went into cakes full-time. I love the prettiness of weddings and the romance; I find the whole lead-up very exciting.
There’s a joke among cake makers that we don’t see objects for what they are; we see cake design in everything. Pantone colours are a massive source of inspiration for me. I adore jewellery and love high fashion houses such as Dolce & Gabbana and Victor & Rolf, as well as bridal designers like Vera Wang and Jenny Packham. Another thing I’ve started looking at is painted watercolour effects, which looks lovely on a cake.
The wedding cake we did at the Shangri-La in Paris was the most extravagant I’ve done. The wedding was only for 60 people, but they wanted a massive eight-tier cake, and they also had a 12-foot long dessert table.
As a baker, I want to see crumbs. I want the whole thing demolished because if it’s not then you think they hated it. For me, the challenge of making it and the memories are enough and, if I’m lucky, I’ll have an image that will last forever. Every cake we do is different so – believe it or not – by the time we get to the end of one cake, we’re thinking about the next challenge.
I once had a bride call me up a month before her wedding in a really bad mood. We’d chosen a regal cake design, we’d signed a contract and everything was locked – and then she told me she wanted a fairytale cake instead. She went into full bridezilla mode. I agreed to do the cake that she wanted and it ended up going in The Huffington Post, which was really weird because it is still such a bad memory – but it happened to be the cake that went viral.
Anyone who tells you they haven’t had any baking disasters is lying. Very early on I had a cake collapse, but luckily it was a birthday party and the celebrant didn’t realise. One time one of my suppliers added an anti-caking agent to the icing sugar and everybody had problems. That’s why you’ve got to buy premium stuff.
To celebrate my business’ 10-year anniversary, I wrote a book called Opulencia to showcase some of my favourite cake designs over the years. It was a little bit of a vanity project, but it was something I’ve always wanted to do; I just never had the opportunity. To my utter shock, the book was really well received, so I was very pleased with that.
We had a foodie couple who had a Japanese-themed wedding, and they wanted a wasabi and white chocolate cake with a plum jam filling. It actually ended up being really nice, despite how it sounds! Because it’s a wedding, most people don’t tend to go that crazy, but you will find that one out of 100 brides is not afraid to go against the grain. As long as the cake ends up looking beautiful then they’re happy.