A slice of royal bakes

Her passion for baking began more than 30 years ago, but the icing on the cake for bespoke cake-maker Dawn Blunden has undoubtedly been her royal commissions – the latest of which was a 70th birthday cake for HRH the Prince of Wales.
Dawn, who owns Sophisticake, in Woodhall Spa, was first invited to Clarence House for a special meeting in 2005, when she was appointed to make the wedding cake for the Prince and Mrs Parker Bowles, as well as 2,500 extra slices to be given to their guests.

Since then Dawn has made several other cakes by royal appointment, including a spray of sugar flowers for HM The Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006, while the following year she was tasked with making a 60th birthday cake for the HRH The Duchess of Cornwall.

Others have included christening cakes for the Duchess’s granddaughters and a 60th birthday cake for Prince Charles – a beautiful replica of the Walled Garden at Highgrove.

“For me baking is such an absolute joy, I’m so passionate about it,” says Dawn, who has also baked celebratory cakes for Rowan Atkinson, Björn Borg and Steve Winwood.

“It’s a huge responsibility to make a cake for someone, whether they’re royalty or not, but it’s also lovely to be a part of their special occasion. I love what I do, and for me it really doesn’t feel like work at all.”

Dawn’s love affair with baking began when she was a child, spending hours making sweet and savoury treats with her mother and grandmother.

She grew up in Poole, Dorset, before moving to Lincolnshire in 2003, and it was then that she indulged her hobby further by signing up to lessons with Mary Ford, in Bournemouth, where she learnt more about baking as well as the decorative arts of piping and icing.

“I can still remember that first two-hour lesson – it was like falling in love, an addiction, but without the drugs,” recalls Dawn.

“At first it was just a hobby; I think most people start with that in mind, and then when I had children I started making birthday cakes, the hedgehog and the ladybird as we all do, and then I did a few for friends and that’s how it really started.

“It ended up that I was working full-time and would then come home and start on the cakes – it was like having two full-time jobs, but I loved it and besides, I’m like Margaret Thatcher, I only need about four hours’ sleep a night!”

Dawn worked for cosmetic company Lush, combining the ingredients for its lip balms and other products – a role she likens to baking as it involved similar skills of mixing recipes together.

In 2003 she and her husband decided to relocate to Lincolnshire to be closer to family and Dawn opened her shop in the Broadway Centre, in partnership with her sister-in-law Mary Robinson, who has since retired.

“It’s in a lovely little place, tucked away and means that I can just go and get on with things,” said Dawn, “I absolutely love Woodhall; it has such a great history with its connections to the RAF and the Dambusters and the whole place is very welcoming, and unlike some other villages and towns, I find the people so friendly.”

Her first royal assignment came about after her son Darren, a freelance royal chef who used to cook for Prince Charles, put her name forward when the couple were seeking a cake maker.

“I got this call from Clarence House, completely out of the blue and I thought it was a joke to start with,” laughs Dawn, “I was asked to send some rich fruit cake for HRH The Prince to taste and from there we were asked to supply three different types of cake for sale at his Highgrove gift shop.

“Several months later we were asked to attend a meeting at Clarence House to discuss the wedding cake. There were a lot of big names in the frame to make it and I had to prove that I could do it.

“They wanted a cake that could be cut into 800 to 1,000 slices and then another 2,500 which could be given out in little commemorative tins to the guests, as there just wouldn’t be time to slice the actual cake on the day.

“The design was all planned out; it had to be a shape that had not been used before, it had to be all one colour, featuring four royal crests including thistles, leeks and daffodils as well as the Prince’s coronet and it all had to look aesthetically beautiful.

“It was a huge amount of work and although I was nervous it was a huge privilege to make it.”

After securing the commission Dawn was given four weeks to design and bake the huge cake in secret – the octagonal tin for the top layer had to be specially made while the cake and the extra slices contained 1,080 eggs, 20 bottles of brandy plus 100kg of marzipan and sugar paste.

The end result weighed 17 stone and took 130 hours to coat and decorate.

Once finished, Dawn sought permission from the palace to make a replica, which now takes pride of place in her shop.

Since then she’s made more royal celebration cakes and in 2011 was commissioned by Visit London to make a huge 4ft 6in tall, 2ft wide cake replicating the steeple and spire of St Bride’s, a famous medieval church in London’s Fleet Street, to celebrate weddings in general and the marriage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton on 29th April that year.

Last November The Sun newspaper commissioned her to make a cake for Prince Charles’s 70th birthday, which was shared at an afternoon tea attended by seventy other people who were also born in 1948.

All of Dawn’s creations are bespoke, using the finest ingredients, which by her own admission means her cakes are not cheap, while her recipes remain a closely guarded secret.

“I always say in this life that you get what you pay for, and it’s very true. It applies to my baking too; I know what goes into the cakes I make, and because of my reputation I only use the very best ingredients, such as Belgian chocolate as it all comes out in the taste.

“I do everything, the design, the baking the decorating – people come to me with the most wonderfully outrageous ideas, it certainly keeps me on my toes, and I never say no. I just go off and see how we can make it happen.

“When it comes to making some of them, there’s a certain amount of engineering involved with putting dowels in the tiered layers, working out the weights, making sure they are straight. I think people would be surprised by all the tools in my kitchen – the hacksaw and the spirit level! It’s more like the garden shed!

“I am so lucky though – I’ve always said if you have a job you enjoy, you’ll never work a day in your life and that’s been true for me.”

As well as making her wonderfully delicious creations Dawn also gives talks about her work and is handing on her passion for baking by teaching her skills during one-to-one lessons.

To find out more about Dawn’s work visit www.sophisticake.co.uk

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