An icon in the world of cake decorating and sugar craft - Debbie Brown transformed her hobby into an illustrious career with over 20 books published. Learn more about Debbie, the author and sugar sculptor in this exclusive interview!
Brief history of your business and how you got to where you are today?
I never intended being a cake designer. I was mostly into clay sculpture, but loved and still love all art forms. And at the time I was happily painting portraits of people, pets, houses and making small clay figures for craft fairs, or getting my hands properly into clay. I was into anything really that was creative, an art form, to keep me sane with three small children!
My children were getting to the age where they wanted birthday parties - meaning a special birthday cake. So my first cake was a train sculpture for my eldest son’s 7th birthday. It had a red engine and chocolate buttercream covered carriages filled with sweets. When it came time to blow the candles out, the children’s faces filled with admiration and wonder. The looks on their faces made me want to make more - make other peoples’ special occasions even more special. Then when it came time to think about going back to work, I decided to take the plunge and open my own little cake making business. The book writing came afterwards, after some of my designs were seen. Now I try to write one book a year.
How were you first introduced to Satin Ice?
I was introduced to Satin Ice through classes in the United States and it worked very well in comparison to what was available at the time here in the UK.
Is there one particular project that stands out as significant or that you are particularly proud of?
I like that I've made time to make sculptures for charities over the years. Nothing ever came of them afterwards; besides the self-satisfaction of knowing I'd helped in a small way.
Sculpture of course! I love carving something from a block of cake and seeing it come to life. Inspiration: My head! I think of a subject matter and then the images pop up. Perhaps from my memory of childhood stories or toys, books, cute things, I don't know - they are just there when I close my eyes. I try to capture what children want and like. Go into their imaginations or go way back to when I was a child, that helps.
I don't have a favorite cake at all. Like all creative people, I find faults in everything and things I would have changed if time had allowed.
My first ever cake was for my first son, Lewis. He wanted a train cake with carriages filled with sweets. I found it tricky with the ingredients and equipment available then, but it turned out fine and he was so happy.
What is your most difficult cake to date? Why?
Nothing is difficult, only challenging. I think deeply about the subject matter and which ways to reproduce it without causing too many problems - such as having to have internal supports and a board structure. I much prefer cakes that do not have these. Finding totally food-safe products can be tricky too, and most people don't bother, which is worrying.
What advice or tips can you offer to Satin Ice newcomers?
Don't try to save money on ingredients - use the best you can find, as it will make a difference. Take your time over every step and don’t be put off by something that may go wrong, it doesn't’t mean it will next time and we learn by our mistakes. Take it slowly and practice first on free cakes for friends and family. When you’re more confident, take some courses or master classes. Don’t overwork designs; cakes always look better without too much fuss. And remember, a strategically placed small item can hide a flaw well.
How do you transform your cakes from average to adorable?
With a deadline! I’m always very last minute and when writing and designing for books the deadline looms quickly. Then on top of word and page limits, I have to know when to stop on a particular design, which is good in the end as the design is often simple with visual impact.
Did you always want to be a cake decorator?
Definitely not! There was no appeal when I was young but then there were also no exciting novelty cakes. The most interesting cake I had ever seen, at that point, was a candy clown face! I became more interested when making cakes for my children’s birthdays and realized what could be achieved. Seeing their faces and the looks of wonder from their little party guests made it all worthwhile.
What is your greatest contribution to the industry?
Many people tell me I started them in cake decorating, through the easier books like "50 Easy Party Cakes" - which is my bestseller. I enjoy what I do and if I get recognition from that then it's a bonus, but I don't court that. I love writing books, creating the cakes and especially love to teach and travel. I am extremely fortunate to be able to see the world this way.
Who or what is inspiring you this very moment?
I try not to look at other peoples' work. I find that I have a photographic memory, and if I like something it stays with me - which is quite frustrating. It doesn't mean I never look at what people send me, that would be rude, but I'm careful not to seek out anything. I'm lucky that I find it easy to design new cakes; I have a good imagination, which helps immensely.
What is your favorite book you published and why?
My favorite book so far is, "Baby Cakes." I had decided to take a break from writing to concentrate on some online tutorials and travel a little more. But when I told one of my editor's that as a new Grandmother all I was seeing was baby cakes, she thought I meant a new title and wanted to sign me there and then! During the designing and writing of this title, the Cute Kittens design featured in "Baby Cakes" was initially made for my granddaughter's 1st birthday. I had planned to make her the Bear sculpture but my daughter-in-law called just before the special date to say Hannah was dragging around a black and white toy kitten - that went everywhere with her, so maybe I should make a kitten cake. I made a round pink cushion, with two pink kittens and one black and white one in the center - and everyone love it. I hadn't planned to include it in "Baby Cakes" but after the response I decided to change it slightly and include it after all. I'm so glad I did, people seem to really love the cuteness of it. So really this particular book is all down to Hannah and the inspiration of becoming a grandmother for the first time.
Finally what is next for Debbie Brown this year?
I have a new title due for release in October 2015 after a four-year break traveling and teaching. I now have over 20 published titles. You never know where life takes you - I don't dwell on that sort of thing. It's more exciting when it just happens. If the golden rule for cake decorating existed, one of them would be: Make every cut or shape as perfect as possible.
Name: Debbie Brown
Location: West London, UK
Education: Self-educated with sugar work. I have an art background: I painted, made craft models, sculpted from clay - anything really.
Business name & location: Debbie Brown Cakes, UK