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A Curious Calling: Peggy Porschen, cake designer

Xanthi Barker finds the sweet spot

Written by . Published on October 3rd 2011.


A Curious Calling: Peggy Porschen, cake designer

SOME love affairs are brief and painful, involving smashed phones and mascara-stained pillows. Some are long and painful, with the smashing incorporating larger, more valuable objects. Some, however, are endless, sweet and undemanding. How does this happen? Who makes two creatures so delightfully resonant? For an answer, I suggest examining the archetype of all perfect love affairs – the one between a woman and cake. As I am myself a woman, and have still yet to become enlightened as to what that means, I shall instead examine the meaning of cake – what is it about cake that invokes such tirades of love?

Just thinking about the meaning of cake, my mind is filled with a piercing longing. Whispers come from the depths of my cake memory bank – mmmm...cake. Why are you typing when you could be eating cake? I’m afraid my analysis will never be objective. Peggy Porschen has a better idea – she spends her life creating immaculate decorative cakes and running a cake academy for those inspired by her cake-infested lifestyle. She has made cakes for Damien Hirst, Stella McCartney and Madonna. And anyone who can persuade the great un-aged herself to eat cake must be some kind of genius.`

German houses bake a lot in general and all the women’s magazines are full of cake recipes and baking ideas.

 

Dusky Vintage RoseDusky Vintage Rose

Where in Germany are you from?`
Near Cologne, quite close to the Dutch and Belgian border, so I’ve got cake influences from quite a few countries. It is an area where gingerbread is very famous. It’s very rustic, chunky gingerbread, lebkuchen, which has lots of chocolate and nuts.

 

Did you eat a lot of it when you were little?
Funnily enough it’s a bit like the English fruitcake – either you love it or you hate it. And I never really liked it. But I do love the decorative element of it and it always smells and looks lovely. The gingerbread I work with here is actually based on a Scandinavian recipe. It’s much smoother and finer, a little bit like biscuit rather than chunky, doughy bread.


Did you bake a lot of cakes?

My mum wasn’t much of a baker but she loves to cook. Making Christmas cookies was always a fond memory. What they did do, from my first birthday onwards, was order a lovely cake – all butter cream and marzipan. I really remember the smells and I was always fascinated with it. German houses bake a lot in general and all the women’s magazines are full of cake recipes and baking ideas. I decorated my first cake when I was fourteen and I got really hooked on it.

 

Butterfly Cookies In Birdcage 2Butterfly Cookies In Birdcage 2

What was the first cake you made?
It was a Valentine’s cake – very English actually. It was glazed with royal icing and piped sugar blossoms.

 

Was it for someone?
Oh yes. My boyfriend. I think he was pleased. It’s funny, I’ve always been baking for boyfriends. Girlfriends of mine would get together and bake for our boyfriends. I think giving cake to people you love is the nicest thing. You made it yourself, it comes from the heart; it’s just so much better than buying a gift. I have been given a few cakes – I think people always expect me to bake for them rather than the other way around, but I remember the few times when people did bake for me and it’s so nice.

How did you learn to make such immaculate cakes?
It started as a hobby in Germany. My skill wasn’t amazing, but I figured I had a hand for it. I came to the UK twelve years ago because there’s much more over here, training courses and so on. I first came over to study French patisserie to make sure that I knew about the interior before I specialised on the exterior. I did the City & Guilds Basic Sugar Craft course. I had a job at Konditor and Cook as a cake decorator. It’s quite a rustic, fun way of decorating. Then everything else was self-taught.

You must have made a lot of cakes...
You have to be hard on yourself. It took me probably four years to get to the level I am now. Two years at least to start feeling confident. It’s really tricky because sugar never behaves the same. It depends on weather conditions. If it’s a humid or rainy day sugar can get sticky or soft, or it won’t set very well. There’s such a wide spectrum of skills you need – flower making, piping, stacking the cakes and wired sugar flowers are all completely different things. My staff has all trained for years. You need to invest in your own time. Equipment is essential.

You’ve opened a cake academy as well...
I’ve been writing books which have been really popular so I’ve had requests from all over the world and started teaching about two or three years ago. It has really taken off. The demand for people who want to learn about cakes is huge. It’s such a trend at the moment so we hold classes on a weekly basis. We are also developing a professional diploma for people who want to change careers which is being launched in February. It’s small – eight students maximum – because it’s very intensive, very hands on. It will stretch over four weeks in total. It will be a selective program because we want to make sure people are serious about it and are at the same level.

Do you have to fight the urge to gorge on cake all the time?
Well, sometimes you have to taste and sometimes I get this craving. I try not to but it’s really difficult.

 

AmelieAmelie

Is it nerve-wracking sitting down with brides to talk about their wedding cakes?
This is how my company started and I’ve been doing it for over eight years so it comes really naturally now. Since I got married I can totally understand how they feel. Before I sometimes thought oh my gosh, that’s a bit full on. But I was such a bridezilla, I really understand now. I have a way of calming them down and focusing them.

 

Your husband works here as well – did you meet him through a shared love of cake?
We met at a catering company where we both worked as chefs, Rhubarb Food Design. The jobs and the parties we saw were amazing. It gave us a good background for when we arrive at venues and it’s not the way you expected. I remember arriving at a job once where we were told that they planned to roll this eight-tier cake up a steep ramp, which is absolutely impossible but nobody had a concept about it.

What’s the most over-the-top cake you’ve ever made?
We did recently which was absolutely amazing. An eight or ten tier Russian Fabergé egg cake. There were individual smaller egg shapes incorporated into the tiers and the side designs were encrusted jeweled eggs, all painted with gold. It was beautiful. It was very last minute and I worked a lot of over time on it. It was flown to St Petersburg to the famous Katerina Palace. It had to be an absolute statement centerpiece. The only regret I’ve got is that I never saw it assembled.

To read about more curious callings, please click here

www.PeggyPorschen.com

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