Hana Rawlings is a pastry chef and cake designer who picked up her skills after moving to Australia. Today she is settled back in Prague and her one-time hobby has become her livelihood, she has a food blog, teaches cake-decorating at workshops and writes for leading Czech food magazines. In this edition of Marketplace she talks about her passion and her plans.
“I always used to decorate when I was little with my mum and grandmother, we used to decorate gingerbread for Christmas and for Easter and bake very traditional Czech cakes for birthdays and parties. But the first time I actually discovered fondant was in Australia when I was planning my own wedding…”
So that is where you studied cake design, presumably?
“Yes, it was actually a funny story because when we were planning our wedding we had a fantastic cake decorator who was so beautiful and creative and humble about her talent, and the first thing she said to me was - Hana you can bring any picture, whatever you like and I will make it for you or I will teach you and you can make your own wedding cake. And at that time I just laughed and I thought there is absolutely no way I would be able to make something this beautiful. But I thought about it and then everything else followed.”
So what happened – you made your own wedding cake?
“No, no, I just couldn’t imagine doing that. We were busy trying to settle down, getting a drivers license and finding a new job and looking for a flat…so for some time I was just busy doing a lot of other things but then everything settled down and I started thinking …why not…-maybe I could learn cake decorating. That was around my birthday and one of the most beautiful presents I got from my husband was my first cake decorating course. So that was my first step towards becoming a cake decorator.”
“We created a life-size bride, wearing a life-size wedding dress from edible materials.”
You do absolutely amazing things, was it hard to learn?
“Well, I guess everything is just so exciting in cake decorating, there are so many intricate and delicate techniques, piping and modelling and sugar flowers. I would say that everything is difficult if you are not patient, you need a lot of patience and you need to be a perfectionist and you really need to love working with detail and if you have all that then I all kind of comes together, I guess.”
Cakes in the Czech Republic are not very elaborate though, are they? Cake decoration I mean…so this is something completely new that you learnt…
“That’s right. In the past we used to have a lot of simple one-tier cakes, mostly with butter cream and simple sugar roses. Nowadays, thanks to the media and Internet and globalization there is a lot more influence coming from America, Australia and England and you can see a lot more fondant covered cakes and novelty cakes, sculptures, figurines, sugar flowers …there’s definitely so much more on the market at the moment that is really beautiful and not as simple as in the past.”
You are now back in the Czech Republic and doing a great many things around this – was it hard to establish yourself in Prague?
“I started writing a little blog, just recording what I did, what I’d baked for my family, little cookies, cupcakes and simple cakes and I started getting lovely emails from people around the country saying, not so much bake this or that for me but, can you please teach me how to do this or that? And that’s when I started getting in touch with all these lovely creative people and started organizing cake-decorating workshops.”
You have also written a book called “Sweet Design”, the first of its kind on the market. Can you tell us about that and how it was received?
“When the offer to write the book came I was just absolutely thrilled. I wanted to write something that would be suitable for beginners, for people who are unsure how to approach cake decorating or where to start so I wrote about basic techniques and tools, basic recipes and work with fondant in general, so that was my main aim and I hope and believe that it was received really well, because, yes, it was the first book written in Czech on this topic and I still receive beautiful emails from people who feel that I inspired them, so that’s a big honour for me.”
There is also a cake of the year competition in the Czech Republic now isn’t there?
“The look in people’s eyes in the split-second when they see it for the first time is very special …it is why I would spend hours and hours or even days on a cake like that.”
“Yes, the Cake of the Year competition, or to be precise Wedding Cake of the Year, took place last weekend and I happened to be one of the judges. It was an absolute honour and privilege to be one of the main judges.”
What are your impressions – has the Czech wedding cake scene, or cake scene in general moved on and improved?
“Definitely, this was the fourth year of the competition. I witnessed three of them and this last was definitely one of the best with absolutely amazing cakes, much more elaborate designs, so many more intricate techniques, international high standard in terms of modelling, airbrushing, sculpting, painting and so on… So absolutely beautiful and congratulations to all the winners.”
I assume it was for professionals only?
“Yes, this particular competition was for professionals but only in the main category. Amateurs were invited to compete in side categories like Novice of the Year and Cup Cakes, I believe. But the main category Wedding Cake of the Year was for professionals only.”
You also helped to make a very special dress?
“Yes, when we were discussing with the director of the competition Sona Solařová possibilities for the judges to participate in a creative way we came up with the idea of the judges collaborating on something and we decided to recreate a wedding dress from edible material. So we created a life-size bride wearing a life-size wedding dress from edible materials such as fondant, edible lace, piping, edible shimmer and glitter, sugar pearls and many more.”
I saw a picture of it and it looked amazing. How long did it take to make and how hard is it to produce something like that?
“Thank you. It was actually quite challenging. We sculpted the bride out of Styrofoam –we couldn’t use cake because of the time consuming process which was in total about 300 hours. The whole model weighs about 90 kg although the bride is extremely petite – she is only size 34 to 36 – and it was challenging not just because it was time consuming but because of all the techniques that we had to use. But it was a privilege and an amazing experience working with the other two ladies -Pavlína Loučková and Stáňa Motlová –on this whole process and we were privileged to have some other cake decorators who created a beautiful edible sugar wedding bouquet and a beautiful fascinator and shoes and jewellery –all from edible materials.”
“Really well. We have been receiving some amazing comments from people and we are really touched by all the support. We were very nervous about the whole process, because we really wanted to get the bride there in one piece and because of humidity or dry air the chances were that she might not make it for the actual day of the unveiling at the Wedding Cake of the Year. But she made it and we were really very excited and what was more the bride made it into the Czech Book of Records and is now on display in the Museum of Czech records and Curiosities in Pelhrimov.”
And how long may she last?
“Well, because she is displayed in a very special glass cabinet and will be protected from humidity and dust as long as possible – hopefully months and months.”
Hana you are clearly doing something you love. Do you have any unfulfilled dreams? What are your plans for the future – anything like opening a cake shop or pastry shop?
“I am just so thrilled with everything that is going on. I love teaching workshops because I get to meet so many amazing people, that’s a big passion of mine and if I can inspire anyone and they can pursue their dreams then that is the most special thing for me. I do not think opening my own cake shop is something in front of me, waiting to happen, teaching workshops and baking for family and friends is absolutely beautiful and, if in the future, I get to write another book that would be sensational.”
What do you like most about making cakes?
“I guess it is not just the whole beautiful, creative process of sketching up the design and making it come to life –but what I love is the special moment when you get to pass on the cake and the person who receives it sees it for the first time and the look in their eyes in the split-second when they see it for the first time is just priceless for me. That is a special kind of moment why I would spend hours and hours or even days on a cake like that.”
Can you really make almost anything people ask for?
That’s what’s beautiful about cake decorating. Anything, absolutely anything is possible. I have seen life-size versions of Avatar characters, we have just made a life-size wedding dress –so anything is possible, but for me I love simplicity. A always say: less is more. A pure simple design that is perfectly finished down to the last detail is just most beautiful. That is what is beautiful about cake design –there is something in it for everybody –if you like Baroque-style cakes with edible gold you can have that, if you like flowers on a simple art deco cake you can have that and if you like novelty cakes in the shape of your favourite cartoon hero you can have that too – that’s what really beautiful about this industry.”
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