Let’s talk about all the other excellent people who do food well. I’d like to introduce you to Georgina, my friends. She’s a remarkable person I’ve known since school. She is, like anyone else, complex, with many facets and identities, achievements and secret histories. One of her identities is Queen Baker.
Cake In A Jar, Georgina’s newest venture, combines practical storage with adorable and delicious cakes. I was very kindly sent some cakes (in jars!) and I can tell you, having sampled 3 of them, that they all have the most divine, plush, light-yet-buttery crumb and excellent cake-to-icing ratio, and the varieties I had (cookies & cream, Victoria sponge, red velvet) run fairly sweet, but moreishly so.
I began with cookies & cream. Seeing as I try to maintain only a modest sweet tooth, I thought I’d only eat half and return to it later. The jar would make it easy to keep fresh in the fridge. But I just couldn’t stop. I mean, why should I? I needed to finish the cake and scrape the jar completely clean of every crumb.
Afterwards, I sat very quietly before flinging questions at the Queen Baker.
Baking cakes for a living seems like a sweetly-scented dream, but pros know it’s hard work: you’ve got to have a steady hand, a good eye and keen tastebuds to turn out hundreds of perfect cakes on time, as well as sharp business sense to keep everything running. Georgina Webb, sole proprietor and baker, tells us her story, from the first baking disaster to rising, sweet success…
What follows is a chat conducted during summer 2014 via IM.
A: Cakes and Such! Shortly after I had my son Tyler in 2009, my funds wouldn’t allow for any kind of traditional gift for my fiance’s sister’s birthday so I decided to bake her a birthday cake instead. It was a disaster. I had to start again over three times–I just couldn’t get the blasted thing to rise! Eventually, after my first midnight baking sesh and a few recipe improvisations I ended up with something barely edible. I was surprised when it went down a treat, everyone loved it!
I’ve always been one to value something homemade and with a lot of thought put into it over a gift from whatever’s on offer in Lush or The Perfume Factory. So this kind of just continued: every birthday I’d bake a cake and each time I’d get slightly better. Eventually word spread and soon friends of family started to request cakes for their events so I thought I may as well give this whole cake thing a go.
… every birthday I’d bake a cake and each time I’d get slightly better …
I made a Facebook page called ‘Cakes and Such’ and everyone was kind enough to share it and get in a few extra likes. Word of mouth was always my best friend, nothing goes down better than a hearty recommendation from a loved one. I watched a lot of YouTube clips and tutorials about how to make cakes and various decorations. Cake Boss and Ace of Cake, the TV shows, also helped me tremendously. It’s important to understand the technicality of making cakes as it seriously is not as easy as you think.
Apart from an adult learning Wired Sugar Flower course I took for the purpose of getting into wedding cakes I’m entirely self taught. Sometimes I felt like this was really obvious to everyone but looking back now I was always my own worst critic. The vision, design and composition is something that has always come naturally to me.
After coasting along the cake game for a couple of years I took the plunge and booked myself a table at London’s MCM Expo Comic Con. I’ve attended the event a few times as a guest and felt confident that being a geek through and through I’d be able to identify the kinds of things people want to see. We prepared hundreds of hand-made decorations along with cookies and sweety cups and they were all a major hit! Our themes revolved around classic games and icons such as The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Totoro, Hello Kitty and Adventure Time.
… The vision, design and composition is something that has always come naturally to me …
The big guys, Nintendo themselves, had a huge exhibition close to my table. Shortly after the Expo was finished I was contacted by one of their staff asking me to do over 1,000 corporate cupcakes to celebrate the launch of their new console the Wii U! I actually thought it was someone playing a cruel trick on me but crazily enough it was a serious request.
I knuckled down and got stuff done. A full 24 hours of non-stop baking, frosting, decorating and packaging later we were done! Feeling very accomplished I soon noticed a rise in the popularity of the page and the pace at which I was getting requests. Enquiries were coming in from all over the country but as cake is so delicate it doesn’t travel very well. In Nintendo’s case I had to organise same-day couriers to collect the parcels from my house and deliver them straight to their recipient.
The rate at which I had to turn people down due to the distance was crushing my heart and soul, I had to come up with something that would be able to overcome this. Thus, Cake in a Jar was born!
Q: Where did you get the inspiration for Cake in a Jar?
A: I first saw the idea in raw form on either Tumblr or Pinterest (I can’t remember which), just a cake baked in the jar and topped with a layer of frosting. This concept was primarily used by army wives who wished to send their husbands lovely homemade cakes while being stationed all over the world. The whole ideal of this is just so amazing, I’m only too aware of the effect a homemade cake can have on people. The time and love invested really comes through once you take that first bite.
Q: Who does what at Cake in a Jar?
A: Me, myself and I. Unfortunately the bags under my eyes could speak for themselves – I’m the baker, assembly line, dispatch, admin, customer service and anything else you can think of! Sometimes I rope in help from my family with the smaller jobs like boxing up and writing labels, but I try to do it all myself.
Q: So how’s a cake in a jar different to a free-standing cake?
A: I have one solid recipe that I use for most cakes – a foundation, if you like – which I usually adapt it to incorporate different flavours, e.g. chocolate, lemon, caramel. My recipes could be used for cakes, cupcakes or cake in a jar, but must be treated slightly differently during baking. A lower oven temperature and shorter cooking time give that perfect crumb.
Q: Can you tell us how you get the cake into the jar or is that a secret?
A: Dwarven technology, so Adamantine mixers with Mythril-lined piping bags. No, really, I’m keeping it a trade secret for now; there are a few other cake in a jar companies in the UK, and the multiple layers of cake, filling and frosting is something that took me quite a while to innovate and develop. Maybe one day I’ll write a book!
Q: Could you tell us about the bespoke cakes in jars that customers have requested? Have there been any interesting orders?
A: Unfortunately I haven’t had too many crazy requests yet. The only thing that springs to mind was colouring one corporate order bright pink to complement their logo. It’s a shame, because the weird stuff is what I really thrive on – I do like a challenge.
Q: Do customers ever ask for things which aren’t sponge cakes in jars, like brownies or cheesecake?
A: One person suggested doing microwavable options like cake and custard or jam roly poly, that sort of thing. That would go down a treat on a frosty winter’s evening, so I’m most definitely going to be working on that during autumn. Cheesecake and brownies sound amazing though! What’s absolutely to die for is making the Hummingbird Bakery’s brownies as a base for cheesecake and raspberry mousse topping. I’d love to create something like that again… but in jar form.
Q: What’s your favourite cake in a jar?
A: My personal favourite is actually the least popular flavour in my line-up, Spiced Gingerbread. As I know how complex this recipe is I think I can appreciate it a bit more – it takes me by far the longest to make. For the cake batter I use three different spices, nutmeg, cinnamon and (of course) ginger. Cocoa powder, golden syrup and treacle make it particularly decadent. To top it all off, I mix fresh, finely grated lemon zest into the cream cheese icing and frost the gingerbread. If you know about ginger and lemon together then I’m sure you’re already salivating, as am I!
Q: What’s your favourite cake, not necessarily confined in a jar?
A: My favourite cake is probably Red Velvet, there’s just something about it. If you’ve had it you’ll know what I mean, but if you’re still an RV virgin it’s something I can’t really do justice with words – you just have to try it! It’s a little bit chocolatey and a little bit vanilla-y with an entirely distinct texture, not to mention GORGEOUS COLOUR!
Q: What’s your bestselling cake?
A: Surprise surprise: Red Velvet. Guess there are a lot of people popping their cherries! It’s closely followed by Chocolate, then Cookies and Cream.
Q: Cakes in Jars is a thriving company and it isn’t even a year old. What plans do you have for the future?
A: I’m trying to keep my options as open as possible. I’ve got a few weddings coming up in the summer months which I’m very much looking forward to and I’m in talks with becoming a supplier for a mobile 1950’s ice cream catering van. The van usually attends Derby and Epsom race days and provides gourmet cakes and teas. Right now I’m heading out to a launch party for a cool Oxford street boutique who want me to supply some cakes, so cross your fingers for me! And, of course, it would be nice to supply Harrods one day…
But honestly, I’m very happy just making good homemade cake for anyone who wants it. Supermarket cake is something I really detest, it’s wrong on so many levels – just take a look at the ingredients, and I don’t even want to start ranting about the sell-by date! Really, it’s homemade cake that should be available for people to enjoy.
Q: What do you like doing when you’re not baking amazing cakes?
A: When I’m not doing the school runs, catching up with housework or something else mundane, I love playing games. Because I grew up with a much older brother and spent all my spare time on consoles, I still try to squeeze in a couple of cheeky gaming hours in the evening. Currently I’m playing League of Legends, the biggest MOBA on the internet right now (summoner name: SugarWren – add me, babes ;)).
Disclosure: Georgina very kindly sent me some cakes and in exchange I reviewed them. The very cakes you see here are the ones I ate, and I loved every minute of it.