In today’s Student Spotlight, we’re bringing you Jessica Smith from JessiCakes!
Jessica has always enjoyed baking (she picked it up from her mum and nan!), but considers herself a perfectionist, so she sticks to her marketing day job and remains a hobby Baker for close friends and family.
What’s your business?
Where are you from?
London, United Kingdom
What’s your background?
I am currently a marketing and bids coordinator in a construction and maintenance company, working mainly on tendering for new projects and opportunities. I love the creative aspect of this role, and always enjoy creating graphics and branded material from the marketing side.
I grew up adamant that I would never have a “desk job”, getting a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in Fire and Rescue and aspiring to join the fire and rescue service. Whilst that is still something I wished I had done, sometimes these dreams things do not work out and that is how I fell into what was meant to be a “buffer” job, 7 years ago!
What role does cake design play in your life?
Baking for me is just a hobby, one that allows me to challenge myself. I had moments in the past few years where I baked so often, testing new skills and techniques, that the people who I would often share those experimental bakes with would ask me if I could bake birthday cakes or event cakes for them. I did this for a while, only for close family and friends, but as a perfectionist the pressure became too much to achieve the “perfect bake” alongside whatever inspiration/photo that the person had sent me.
In the last few years, due to Covid, I have taken a step back from baking as often as I did – not having an office full of people to eat everything I make is a game-changer! This has taken a slight blow to my confidence as I do not spend every weekend practicing, so I am now back to hobby-baking only, with the rare exception if someone asks for something I know I can achieve!
Tell us your story! How did you get into cakes?
My mum and my nan were always baking cakes. Nan’s specialties were her chocolate cake, lemon cake and coffee and walnut cakes. You wouldn’t go to her house without being offered cake as you walked through the door! Mum would always make her signature cherry cake and I was desperate to get involved and help her create the finished piece.
There was a time where I was obsessed with baking the Betty Crocker Devils Chocolate cake mix. Soon enough, I realised I could create anything I liked and started testing bakes from scratch. For years, they didn’t look as good, didn’t taste as good, but I never gave up trying.
As a shy person, I figured out that bringing cake to any occasion (work, flatmates, family get-togethers) was the easiest way to break the ice and get to know people. And so, I made it my mission to always take baked goods with me wherever I went! When I would get compliments on those bakes, it only encouraged me to bake more, and with more practice, my baking improved.
How has your business evolved since Covid-19?
Baking is a hobby for me however, sadly I have hardly baked during Covid because I’ve not been surrounded by others that I can bake for. I only manage to bake when I know I get to see other people otherwise I’m forced to eat cake for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week!
Where do you see the future of your business (or cake-making)?
This would probably be stepping out of my comfort zone, travelling a few hours into London by myself, to take the concrete cake course amongst some absolutely fantastic bakers. This is not something I would usually do, however as a personal achievement, this probably trumps them all for me!
How do you find working with buttercream in your climate?
In the UK we are typically ok with climate and buttercream however, in the summer heatwaves I struggle. Thao does offer tips on this, knowing what consistency your buttercream should be for each stage of cake constructing, which is great!
Any cake disaster story?
I received a text saying “just checking we are still OK for the cake tomorrow”… WHAT CAKE?! I totally forgot to put it in my diary and I still had 5 hours left at work. Panic set in and I had no idea how I was going to bake a flippin’ Swan cake before 9am the next day! I rushed to the shops at lunch to get the ingredients, got home, baked the cake, had a nap whilst it cooled, prepped the decorations, worked all through the night to get it perfect (with some cake slipping and disasters on the way) and handed over one of my favourite cakes to date!
Another disaster involves fondant (don’t they all?!). I attempted covering the cake with fondant 3 times (each time having to go to a 24hr shop to buy more) before having a huge cry on the floor, getting my partner to do it and him managing to do it perfectly first try!
Do you have a favourite cake you've decorated?
I was recently asked to create a cake, similar to one they had seen posted online. This is my worst nightmare, as there is so much pressure to achieve the result that they are expecting to see. It had been a while since I baked a proper cake (other than banana bread and ginger loaf’s) but as it was a close friend I accepted the challenge and took it on. I used the DTC cake recipe, and the buttercream techniques and it turned out perfect!
How about a favourite cake decorating style?
For a time, let’s be honest, it was the drip cake. Everything I made had to have a chocolate drip. I am finally veering away from that style, and have fallen in love with sharp, clean edges, a DTC special! I did a lot of research on “how to achieve sharp edges on a cake”, not finding the results particularly helpful and not having the opportunity to ask questions. Que Thao coming to London to teach her renowned Concrete Cake course – I jumped at the chance and booked straight on – learning first-hand how to achieve this fantastic look.
Besides cakes, what other types of bakes do you enjoy creating/making & decorating?
My most commonly baked good would probably be cupcakes and cookies – only because they are more suitable for the places I take them (the office!!!!). I recently took a course on bread-baking and whilst I absolutely love the idea of a freshly baked loaf of bread sitting in my kitchen every Saturday, I can never commit to the time it takes (laziness!).
I did set myself a challenge of learning a new type of bake every month, and so far have tried new things like rolls, baguettes, doughnuts, tarts, and patisserie style cakes.
What made you decide to take an online course?
I took a 10-week basic course in cake decorating at my local college a number of years ago. Every lesson was based on a different style of decorating, from covering cakes with fondant, using ganache, stacking cakes, and creating decorations. Learning these things hands-on was a great help, as although I had learnt a number of these skills through the art of watching Youtube tutorials, it gave me the chance to actually practice something I wouldn’t otherwise try (fondant!!!). I also took a course in bread-making, as well as how to make macarons.
Why a course and not just self-taught or researched?
I always learn best by “doing”, and find whenever I have watched endless online tutorials, or read endless “here is how I make XYZ” blogs, I either never end up practicing the technique, or I do something wrong and never try it again.
I did a physical workshop a few years ago and learned some fantastic tips and recipes from Thao that I use in every bake I do. I knew she had spent a very long time perfecting her flavour option course and knew that if I wanted to experiment some more with some of the most popular flavours and flavour combinations. The work Thao puts into these recipes and courses is absolutely top tier (get it)!
The great thing about the DTC online courses (Vanilla Cake Bundle, Gingerbread Cake and the Guides), is that we also have the online community, where you can ask for help and advice from both Thao and the many other people who have tried and tested the courses.
What DTC course have you enrolled in and how have they helped you?
I attended the concrete cake physical course in London, which helped me with not only the amazing recipe for cake and DTC buttercream, but the tips to perfectly construct a cake, making the most of the quantities, and most importantly for me, the straight edges! Another key for me from this course, was meeting others with a passion for and even with incredible careers in baking!
Then I got both the gingerbread cake course at Christmas, and the vanilla flavour course – both of which have given me plenty more options for cake flavours and even the knowledge to switch it up myself!
Check out Jessica's work
What advice do you have for people starting out in their modern cake making journey?
Keep trying. Bake, bake, and bake some more. Feed everyone and anyone. The more you practice, the more you’ll improve. You don’t need the fancy equipment right away, get the essentials, learn the essentials, perfect the essentials and then go from there. That’s why the vanilla bundle is the best course!
If there is something in particular that you want to learn, take a course and meet other people who are in similar positions to you – the baking community is great!
Finally… take better photos! I took a look back through all my old photos of cakes and wow, the difference between taking a blurry photo with bowls and cutlery in the background, compared to using a backdrop and cake standard and better lighting (I am no pro!) – if you are trying to advertise your cake skills, better photos help!!!!