an evening with Fiona Cairns who was chosen to make the royal wedding cake for Prince William and Kate. The evening was hosted by the Peggy Porschen Academy at the Lime Tree Hotel in Belgravia, just around the corner from the Peggy Porschen Parlour.
a cup of tea and one of Peggy's cupcakes. I had the carrot cupcake which was lovely and moist and was decorated with a little carrot shaped cookie on top. We also received a copy of Fiona's first book 'Bake and Decorate' which she signed for us.
Fiona talked to us about her journey from home baker to the maker of the royal wedding cake and then answered any questions we had. She came across as a lovely genuine lady who encouraged us to follow our passion for baking and to take it forward into business if that's what we were aiming for but she also warned us that we'd have to work hard!
'The Birthday Cake Book' is one of my favourites and you can read my review here. It received five stars! She also has another book in the pipeline which is due to be published in the Autumn and is all about seasonal baking.
Fiona initially trained in graphic design and had no interest in food but she then undertook a cookery course when she got married and found that she was best at the decorative side of things and this soon led into cake decorating. From there she started making cakes on her kitchen table and her very first order came from the Conran Shop who ordered 72 small cakes. This quickly led to orders from other top names including Harrods. When Fiona outgrew her kitchen table she moved into a bakery in a set of stables in her garden. Here the business continued until 12 years ago when they moved into a new state of the art bakery with over 100 staff and they now supply many well known establishments as well as Waitrose! The business has been running for over 25 years.
we were lucky enough to look through a portfolio which documented the process through photos and sketches of the cake.
I asked why she thought that William and Kate had chosen her. This was evidently a question she'd been asked many times and the answer was that she didn't really know and we'd have to ask them. However, when pressed she said she thought it was because they weren't really a celebrity cake business, they're quite traditional and they also represent traditional British craftsmanship which Kate was keen to incorporate into the wedding.
Interestingly, the royal wedding was in April but the companies under consideration to make the cake only got the call in February which didn't give them long at all as the cake was still in drawing stage in March. Fiona went to Clarence House to meet Kate and was apparently so nervous that she walked straight past William!
After a lot of fruit cake samples and discussions, Fiona was chosen to create the cake. She was phoned just as they were wrapping up the photo shoot for 'The Birthday Cake Book' but they weren't allowed to tell anyone. Even when the team were working on the cake they couldn't tell anyone else at the bakery so they were locked away in a room and told everyone they were working on a top secret project for a supermarket.
Fiona was given a piece of lace but not told where it was from and also a list of 17 flowers which she had to include on the cake, these included Sweet Williams. The list of flowers also included the enblems of each of the home nations. On 27th March the news broke that Fiona was making the cake and there was a deluge of press interest from around the world. She was even invited to go on Piers Morgan's programme in New York.
Overall, there were about 960 flowers and leaves on the cake and the team also made spares of everything just in case. In addition to the cake, there were also 4000 mini cakes in tins which were sent out as gifts after the wedding. The cake was moved to the palace four days before the wedding but had to be finished by 1pm on the Thursday, with the wedding on Friday. Fiona said that she was keen to sleep next to the cake to make sure that it was ok but she wasn't allowed.
When the cake was just about finished the Queen visited to meet Fiona and the team and to see the finished product. However, Fiona's biggest concern was having sticky hands should the Queen wish to shake hands with her but luckily she didn't.
Fiona and her husband were also invited to the wedding but hadn't realised until quite late in proceedings that they were actually invited, so she panic bought an outfit which as it turned out, three other people were also wearing on the day!
When the cake was cut there was no time to slice it for all the guests at the reception, so 600 slices were pre-cut ready to serve. The cake was very well received and Kate and Wills described it as "beyond expectations". Kate also rang Fiona on the Monday after the wedding to thank her. Fiona did however mention that she had a piece of the lace from Kate's dress and then subsequently received a call to return it so that it didn't fall into the wrong hands.
There were 17 cakes in total and the top three tiers were kept for the future...and with the impending arrival of a future heir to the throne, at least one of those tiers will be needed soon. After the wedding, Fiona had to rebuild the cake as it went on display along with the wedding dress. The sword mark where the cake had been cut was however left for the display.
So all in all this was a very enjoyable evening and it was genuinely interesting to hear how Fiona has built up her business. And as previously mentioned she gave us the advice that you do genuinely have to have a passion for baking and you have to work hard...and whatever you imagine working hard to be, you have to double it. Around the year 2000 Fiona did consider giving up her business as she was no longer enjoying it but she has since been able to have more creative involvement again and is now really enjoying what she is doing. She also told us that she still likes to bake cakes in her kitchen on a Sunday afternoon. However, her son is turning 21 soon and has requested a cake from the bakery rather than one from her!