If ever there was a cake with a back story its this one so let me take you back to 1999 when a whirlwind hit our family in the shape of the Alternative WI Calendar.
My husbands Aunty Trish was a member of her local Yorkshire Dales WI she has a great sense of humour and not always one to follow conventional rules! She had often joked that instead of their usual WI pictures of local scenery calendars that they should do a ‘naked’ one of the members instead, of course everyone laughed but no-one really took her seriously. She had a friend whose husband had very sadly died of Non Hodgkins Lymphoma in 1998 and he indeed also thought the project would never happen. However finally she managed to muster support, and persuade an artist friend to take the pictures and they were off. They thought they might sell a couple of hundred copies but before they knew it the media had got hold of the story and the rest is history. The original girls travelled the world talking about the calendar, the film Calendar Girls was a huge box office hit, the stage play of the same name ran in the West End and toured the country. Tricia still hosts talks extensively about the experience and they have continued to raise money for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research, raising over £3.5million in the first 10 years. You can read more about the whole story here
Every year we all think that perhaps the furor will die down but it seems not as now Gary Barlow has teamed up with the writer of the original film and play, Tim Firth, to put on a new Comedy musical based on the story called The Girls.
I have been lucky to see be at some fabulous Calendar Girls events with Aunty Trish over the years and as a close family we see each other quite a bit. So last time we were together we chatted about me possibly doing a cake for the opening night for us all to enjoy. I then saw on that the original girls were going to be serving tea and cake as part of the promotional events around the ticket sale launches at the Phoenix Theatre. So I asked if I could make her a cake for that as well, and there was born a creative idea!
It obviously had to have sunflowers on as these are a prominent part of the whole story, the promotional material for the musical all had a blue background, but how on earth could I recreate that logo and make it look good?
I immediately thought of Tom at Iced Rainbow he has made customer acrylic toppers for me in the past and is always really helpful. I was short on time but within just a few hours Tom had mocked up the design for me, with a few tweaks we managed to get it just right and two days later it arrived. So that was it blue cake, sunflowers, topper design done!
I then of course decided that it would be a fitting tribute without some form of boobs on it too! But how to do it? Initial ideas were very complex with a naked figure behind a table holding iced buns, or much simpler with just the odd pair of breast peeping out from behind a sunflower! Helpful comments from my kids like ‘I find your figures a bit creepy mum’ and voices in my own head saying ‘don’t make it too time consuming’ were definitely putting me off but I couldn’t shake that feeling that it needed more than just the sunflowers, even with Toms fabulous topper. I was also having a few other design misgivings – a blue cake? Mary Berry herself dismissed a blue cake on Bake Off recently – people just don’t like eating blue things, and I had thought it should be a smooth professional fondant finish, but I really don’t enjoy working with fondant much.
Finally I settled on my design, all in my head as I really really can’t draw! I took a wired modelling class earlier this year and reckoned I could use that knowledge to make a lying down naked lady! She was to lay amongst the sunflowers as if in a field, with them strategically placed to save her modesty. The cake would be buttercream with a band of green and yellow at the base and yet more sunflowers to finish the whole thing off.
The sunflowers were fairly easy to make based on a gerbera/daisy design I have done a few times before and I even got my daughter involved showing her how to make these with me.
The naked lady presented lots of challenges, not least that I made her on the hottest September day in the UK in over 100 years. The models are made using modelling chocolate and fondant mix which is very soft in the heat and because she was to lie down it made it tricky not to squish her! She was popped in and out of the freezer and whilst she wouldn’t win any figure making competitions I was pleased with how she turned out.
Once nestled in her sunflowers and a few pertinent details were added she was looking great! I can honestly say that I have never studied the female form in quite so much detail before – I am no artist and to get the positioning of limbs and proportions so they looked right was harder than I expected.
The final cake as always had to taste good too so I went for two layers of chocolate sandwiching a layer of brown sugar cake. The buttercream was just vanilla but there were a couple of layers of salted caramel in the between the layers!
My recent courses on ganache cakes and ombre buttercream had great transferrable skills in terms of getting a good straight edge to the buttercream finish and getting great striped layers in the colours.
The final flourish was that a friend Birgit Mons, who I will be working with on some upcoming projects, offered to come and take some fabulous professional pictures for me making a huge difference to how I was able to show the cake off.
Finally it was ready, in and out of the fridge to stop it all melting in the heat with the flowers on then off then on again. I had to travel to London by train and of course now it was pouring with rain, stations across London were flooded and public transport was generally in chaos!. Spurred on by seeing Aunty Trish on the Lorraine show before I left….
I made sure the cake had its own seat on the train – we weren’t going to fall at the final hurdle!
Eventually with the help of a London cabbie I made it to the theatre with the cake in one piece!
There were some amazing fans there enjoying the tea and cake, dressed to the nines with sunflowers on leggings, shoes and in their hair!
I got there before Aunty Trish and her fellow original girls, Angie and Christine, but still managed to get a big ‘woo’ from the waiting fans when I was introduced not just as the cake maker, but also as Tricia’s niece which was all highly amusing!
The ladies posed for lots of pictures with the fans and I became official photographer for Aunty Trish!
They were delighted with the cake!
Before I knew it I was whisked off for a champagne lunch with everyone. Sadly Gary Barlow didn’t make an appearance but I did have lunch with Tim Firth, and the producer David Pugh who were both really lovely. Tim even took a photo of my cake.
We cut it at the restaurant and it also got the thumbs up flavour-wise which is always a relief.
Thank you Aunty Trish for letting me play a little part in your exciting adventures and I can’t wait to see the musical next year.