Lesley is English, but has lived in California for two years. She has been baking ‘full-time’ for less than a year, and counts herself as very lucky that she doesn’t have to do a proper job as well! She is also self-taught, and spends a lot of time online researching decorating methods and techniques. She creates tutorials for most of the cakes she makes on her Facebook page – www.facebook.com/theroyalbakery – and spends the rest of the time thinking, talking or writing about cake. Although she’d rather eat a bag of potato chips than a slice of cake, she’s a big fan of chocolate ganache and is often to be seen eating leftovers with a spoon.
1. How did you first get started with cake decorating?
Before last May, I had made six cakes, total! I made the first six years ago for my son’s birthday. He was having a spy party and I wanted his cake to look like a bomb, with sticks of dynamite, colored wires and bits of electronics. I knew I wouldn’t be able to order something like that from my local supermarket so I made it. It was an unholy mess, but fabulous fun.
2. Why did you decide to decorate cakes?
It was actually a bit of an accident. Last year, I made a cake for a PTA event at my son’s school and posted photos on Facebook. My friend showed them to her mother-in-law who asked me to make a three-tiered graduation cake for her granddaughter! At no point during my meeting with her did I think to say, ‘but I’ve got no idea what I’m doing! Are you SURE?’ She gave me a copy of the university logo and said she’d like that on top of a graduation cap. I’d just nodded blindly and thought, ‘how on earth am I going to do that?’ Unbelievably, the cake turned out well, and I’ve made three more cakes for her since!
3. What are some things you do differently now than when you first started decorating?
There is actually very little that I do differently now apart from banning all boxes of cake mix from the house! I eat less cake scraps than I used to, and now tie my apron strings in a big bow at the front (I’ll leave readers to work that one out)! I’ve also learned not to start a project too early. I used to get very excited and want to start baking on Monday for a cake that wasn’t due until Saturday. I still make a lot of my fondant decorations in advance, but I’m scheduling a bit better these days.
4. What has been your greatest challenge?
Baking from scratch. I used to say I was a terrible baker and now I realize it’s because baking from scratch is hard! It’s not something you can master overnight and one man’s perfect vanilla cake recipe might not be another’s. I’ve learned that I just had to bake and bake and bake until I found the right cake for my oven, my climate, my ingredients and my taste buds. The other challenge is being an English girl in the US – learning the US equivalent of ingredients, measurements and temperatures, while working out what white, yellow and butter cakes are!
5. What is the most rewarding part of cake decorating?
It has to be the community of people that I’ve ‘met,’ through Facebook and cake websites. What would I do without Peggy in my life?! It’s really amazing how much people are willing to share and help, and I try to be one of those people too. I love the support we give each other and getting a ‘nice job!’ comment on CakesDecor.com from a decorator I admire is almost as good as seeing the faces of friends I deliver cakes to.
6. What are your favorite cake decorating tools?
My bench scraper for smoothing ganache, my huge Silpat mat (thanks to my husband, Neil!), my plaque cutters (thanks, Mummy!) and my Tappits. I used to be a graphic designer and I love fonts. I have to stop myself buying every set of letter cutters I see!
7. Which one of your cakes is your favorite?
This is a really tough question! I was asked the other day and found it impossible to decide! That was before the Hello Kitty castle though, so I think that’s my favorite now. Before that it was the four-tier black, white and orange damask cake I think, because I’d only been baking two months when I made that.
8. Could you give some tips to people who have just started decorating cakes or would love to start?
I have two bits of advice. The first is to buy the best equipment you can afford. I have had to replace nearly all the cheap stuff I bought because it either didn’t really do the job or it broke. Buy good quality pans once and they’ll last you for years and years. The second bit of advice is my own personal mantra: ‘Never say “that’ll do.”’ If you find yourself saying, ‘that’ll do’ more than once on a cake, it’ll show. If you have time, do it over. If you don’t have time, make that the back, or stick a bow on it!
9. How did you find CakesDecor.com and what is it that keeps you coming back?
I got a comment from Michal on Facebook complimenting a cake and asking me to post it on the site. I was hooked! CakesDecor.com has much more of a close-knit feel than some other sites and the layout is so appealing. We feel like more of a community here.
10. What’s been the biggest surprise in all of this for you?
It’s definitely finding out that I could do it. I really had no idea I had it in me!
Thank you Lesley for your time and great interview.