Sunday 11 November 2012

Cake International 2012

I was very excited to attend Cake International at the Birmingham NEC yesterday (November 2012). Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker and I travelled there by train from London - I actually won a pair of tickets to the event, but they didn't turn up in time, so it was lucky that we had already bought our own tickets anyway!

There was an amazing range of things to see, from demonstrations to competition entries to products for sale including some things I'd never seen or heard of before.

We hadn't been able to book tickets for any of the official demonstrations but were hoping to catch some impromptu demonstrations on the stands as we walked round. Unfortunately I didn't realise it was going to be so busy - there were so many people it was hard to get close to some of the stands and see what people were doing! There were even some workshops where you could sit down and have a go at making something but each stand doing this only had a few seats, and there were already a lot of people waiting their turn. As there were so many other things we wanted to see (and buy!) we decided not to bother.

Luckily, the crowds thinned out a lot towards the end of the afternoon and by 4pm it seemed like a lot of people had left. It was a lot easier to see what was being offered on each stand and I also managed to get a prime spot for a demonstration where a very nice lady called Pilar Gonzalez Nugent, from Sunflower Sugar Art, showed me how to make some sugar flowers. They were amazingly realistic and so beautiful, that after the demonstration - which I watched for about 45 minutes - I went and bought all (well, most) of the things I needed to do it myself! Sugar flowers are one thing I've never tried to make before but I can definitely see them figuring in my future in a big way :-)

Pilar Gonzalez Nugent

The flowers she made

The main one Pilar demonstrated

I took lots of photos of the competition entries and I will include a few of them here. From what I understand about copyright, I can share photos as this was a public event; however if anyone thinks this isn't the case please let me know! Also, if any of the creations happen to be yours, please email me and I will add your name and a link to your website. Ros and I were very impressed by the standard of competition entries and how imaginative, realistic, detailed and just downright amazing some of them were!

It was very difficult to choose my favourites - I liked this as it was realistic
What can I say... I was an 80s child!

My boyfriend would love this!

What a great idea!
 One of the most stand-out creations at the show- really impressive
It's Paul and Mary!
Johnny Depp, made of cake... what more can a girl ask for?!
A lovely one from the cupcake category
A larger (and better!) version of the shoe I did on top of my birthday cake
These boots were amazingly realistic
There were also a lot of wedding cakes, which would be great if you were trying to get ideas for your own. And yes, I did find one I rather liked.... :-) Here are a few of my favourites:
I was hoping I wouldn't be tempted by buying too much (even though I did take a large rucksack....) as I have a lot of cake decorating equipment already (though not as much as some people I'm sure!) but I did still end up spending quite a lot! I tried to limit myself to things I could actually see myself using, in the not-too-distant future; if I just bought everything I liked the look of I would have spent hundreds of pounds!

So here's what I bought.... and no, I still haven't added up how much I spent!

This was probably my most interesting purchase as it was something I hadn't seen before - these are transfer sheets. They come in all sorts of patterns and colours and the idea is you place them on your cake or cookie (I think a cake covered in white fondant would work best) with the design face down, and pour hot, melted chocolate or candy melts over the top. The heat transfers the pattern onto the cake and you can reuse the chocolate or candy melts. These aren't cheap - £2.50 each - and I don't think one roll is quite big enough to do the top and sides of a whole cake, but it's definitely interesting. I bought zebra print (hello, Clare!) and a strawberry pattern. I probably won't use either of these until next year but I'm looking forward to trying them out!

A small oval cake tin which I bought as it was only £3.50 and it gave me the idea of an Easter egg-shaped cake; some pink lustre spray (I saw this being demonstrated on cupcake roses and it looked really good), and two types of pink ribbon to put around the bottom of cakes.

From top left, clockwise: snowflake cutter; 'embroidery' patchwork cutters - I took a class using ones similar to these which I haven't blogged about yet, and this set was used on a particular demonstration cake I liked; holly leaf cookie cutter; heart shaped piping nozzle (I bet that's harder to use than it looks!); ribbed basketweave nozzle.

And now for cupcakes... some cake cases as they were only 50p; a set of cardboard cupcake stands; some cupcake wrappers (lured in by the special show discount!) and a polystyrene hemisphere, again only 50p - you can use this to shape and set a piece of fondant to make perfectly domed cupcakes.

My flower set.. after watching Pilar's demonstration I really wanted to be able to make realistic sugar flowers! Top row, from left: florist wire; a shaper (to set petals at a curve); a simple rose cutter; a foam pad to use when moulding the edges of flowers. Bottom row: arum lily cutter (realised afterwards this may not have been the one I wanted; I'm hopeless at recognising flowers!); a different lily cutter; florist tape and stamens. I overheard someone after I bought this saying what a shame it was to use non-edible stamens when the rest of the flower is edible, and she definitely had a point, but Pilar used these and they made her flowers look so realistic.

Cake pan with mini Christmas stockings and snowmen

I bought three different brands of flower paste - each time I bought one I found some cheaper on the next stand, and it was definitely a lot cheaper than it is online. You can tell I'm planning to make some sugar flowers! There was a lot of fondant on sale in every colour imaginable but I didn't buy any, as I haven't got any particular projects in mind and so didn't know what colours I would need, and I find they don't tend to keep at their best for too many months even if the packets haven't been opened.

I also bought some polka dot cake boxes I forgot to take a photo of. When I asked the seller how much they cost, he initially quoted me the price per hundred... I only wanted five! I guess a lot of people at the show probably run businesses and do buy in bulk.

These were the only freebies I got at the show, both from the Dr Oetker stand - a calendar and a recipe leaflet. Not bad but it would have been nice if there were more leaflets featuring cake decorating ideas to pick up.

It's also difficult to know if you're getting a good price for something, and I didn't try to haggle but if I was buying multiple items from the same stand it may have been at least worth trying. I did occasionally see the same item on different stalls at different prices, and being at a show like this you haven't got the luxury of checking out prices on the internet. But since I don't have a local cake craft shop and always shop online, I liked the fact that I could actually see and touch what I was buying, and not have to pay postage; often the stall holders claimed they were offering a discount or special price for the show compared to what they normally charge on their websites as well. So if there are things you want, it might be worth stocking up!
I also realised that it would have been a good idea if I'd come with either a list of things I wanted (though really that was because I knew I didn't need anything) or at least particular projects or cakes I wanted to make. I found myself buying bits and pieces and realising afterwards that if I wanted to make that particular cake or sugar flower there were still other things I would need to buy over the internet. I actually went onto Ebay when I got home and made a couple of additional (small) purchases!

So my top tips for attending Cake International or a similar show in future are:
- Wear layers. It gets very hot inside.
- Wear comfortable shoes - you will do a lot of walking.
- Bring a packed lunch and bottle of water or drink; this will not only save you money but save you joining the long queues for food and drink.
- Having said that, I did check something in to the cloak room - my coat as it was too bulky to fit in my bag, and a bag because Ros gave me a (very) early Christmas present - and I was quite worried there would be a long queue when we went to collect our items, but even though it was almost the official end of the show, there was absolutely nobody waiting at the cloakroom. The queues for the ladies were never that bad either :-)
- If you do want particular items, bring a shopping list. Or at least think about what projects or cakes you want to make, or styles or techniques you want to learn - you may find other things you like the look of more, but it might stop you buying random bits then realising you don't have everything you need to do any one project
- Bring a camera or make sure your camera phone has space. I couldn't resist taking photos of the competition entries and it also helps if you see something on a stand you want to remember to maybe buy or look up later. I had taken a notebook and pen but given how busy it was, there just wasn't room to stop and scribble something down when I was at a particular stand, and I wouldn't have remembered later. So take a quick snap!
 - Ask questions. I'm not sure how many people on the stands worked for each cake decorating company or whether any of them were just hired for the event (one woman in particular gave such a bad explanation of a product that I was too confused and didn't buy it, then on another stand a man explained how to use it properly so I bought it!). Either way, you can probably get some good advice if you ask the sellers about their products.
- Take plenty of cash. The stalls do seem to take cards but if you only want to buy something costing a few pounds, cash is easier (and some had a minimum spend for cards) - and if you bring enough, it saves you queuing at a cashpoint - and also sets you a budget to stick to!
-Eavesdrop! Often when I was buying something I overheard other people talking about what they planned to make, or how to use a particular product, or whether they had seen it cheaper somewhere else. It gives you interesting ideas and may also save you some money!
- Have fun! It's quite easy to get stressed out by the sheer number of people, or the fact that you saw something on a stand earlier and want to go back and buy it and now can't find it... let it go and look on Ebay later! While some people who run their own businesses are probably there to buy in bulk and know exactly what they need, for me the whole point was to enjoy myself. Which I did :-)

Would I go back? Yes but hopefully not to the next one in April... I can't afford to spend that much again, and I definitely don't need to buy anything else!


  1. Sounds good, some lovely cakes

  2. Brilliant blog! I made the great British bake off cake :) I'm definately going again next year x

    1. I loved that cake and how well you captured Paul and Mary! I hope you don't mind me putting a photo of your cake on my blog and if you want your name or a link on it please let me know and I'd be happy to do it!

  3. In my experience with sugar flowers I've always used stamens like the ones you purchased. Typically, they're made with Gumpaste which isn't very tasty to begin with, and I always advise clients to remove before cutting the cake. They like to save them-you did good ;)
    Besides that they're made on floral wire with tape last I checked that's not edible lol. Love your blog, I'm dying to go to a trade show!


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