Pop-Up Cakes

I had my first pop-up shop on Saturday – it was a lot of hard work, but terrific fun!

Hopefully, within the long and rambling record that follows, there will be something of use to someone else wishing to do something similar.

Come on in!
One of the first challenges you face with a pop-up shop is that they tend not to be in the best of areas.  There are plenty of exceptions aimed at big name companies doing promotions, but on the whole, for small start ups like mine, what’s available will be premises that other people are not snapping up.

This obviously means you’re going to have to work hard to drive business to, and through, your doors…people are not just going to discover you all by themselves.  Cue social networking.

Did you notice me shudder then?!  ‘Social networking’ is so beyond my comfort zone it might almost be categorised as torture.  Almost.

This means I don’t have a personal Facebook page, nor do I do Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter.  Despite having Googled ‘what the hell is Twitter all about?’ and variations thereof, on numerous occasions, I just don’t get Twitter; I’m going to have to find a patient and non-condescending niece or nephew to help with it I think 😉

Little treats
Anyhoo, I did my best to overcome both reluctance and the lack of avenues I actually have through which  to socially network, pushing everyone I could possibly think of to publicise my business Facebook page through their social networking channels.  It will come as no surprise to you that it definitely helped raise my profile.

I’ve discovered that my desire to have my business be a reality is enough to at least partially overcome my social networking aversion; I still don’t want to get out there as an individual, but as a business…I’m up for it!  I shall be working on working out Twitter et al. over the coming weeks.

Here we are!
So, here we are, at my shop 😉

As I observed to Big Bro, this is not a location from which I’m likely to make my fortune; however, it’s a foot into the arena and is a fantastic, low risk way for me to try out ideas, start getting my name known, and to learn.

It’s also a great opportunity to try to put something into a community and area that has struggled historically, and to support residents of the area who are striving to improve their neighbourhood.  I believe wholeheartedly in the power of a strong community and the importance of contributing to it.

Stocks and supplies
The shop was clean, tidy and pretty empty, with just two small tables and a few plastic chairs.

In the back there was a small kitchen and storage area, complete with hot water urn, fridge, freezer and basic kitchen utensils.


In the windows were these cute paper lanterns, decorated by children using the art club, which also takes place in the pop-up shop (I think during holiday times).

Making tables
We used the existing chairs and tables for customer seating (we were also serving tea and coffee) and got creative for the display tables.

I wanted the overall look to be pretty and welcoming, and to look reasonably professional – not the ‘school bake sale’ look that tends to come with cakes displayed on folding tables 😉

So, using drawers taken from furniture at home, an old pine table top, woodworking clamps (provided by the ever helpful Medieval), and some fabrics, we made lovely, vintage looking benches.  These stood either side of a folding table that we also brought with us.

The drawers doubled up as packing crates when transporting things to and from the shop, so they more than earned their travel expenses 😀

A family affair
Then we all set to, putting out cakes, writing signs (after cleaning off previous notices!), stringing bunting all over the place and generally making the place our own.

This needs saying loud and clear  – I couldn’t possibly have pulled this off without the help of my wonderful friends and family…the morning ‘setting up’ helpers seen here, the daytime, ‘serving’ helpers, and the evening, ‘pack up and go home’ helpers.

In particular, thanks must go to Barn, Petit Man, Mme. E, Super L, Medieval, Queen Ay and Thange – THANK YOU so, so much – you rock my world!!

Time to sit and stare...
On the point of needing help with a venture of this nature, and at the risk of coming across as making some kind of passive aggressive jibe, I learned a valuable lesson, worth noting and passing on:

When people say, “Let me know if you need any help”, they don’t necessarily mean they’re going to give the help!

The thing is, your business is (one would hope) extremely important to you, probably your number one priority, particularly when you’re taking on your first public retail space, be that pop-up shop, market stall or whatever.

Not so for the majority of the people around you – they have other priorities.

And that’s fine, and natural and understandable, but you need to bear it in mind when making your plans – does “sure, I’ll help” mean someone’s really committed, or should you be careful about relying on that person?

On the flip side, don’t be afraid to go down all potential avenues of help and support…it often comes from the most surprising sources.

Cupcake Table
There were six choices on the cupcake menu:

  • Peach melba: sponge cake made with fresh peaches, filled with fresh raspberry purée, topped with a double swirl of buttercream – one flavoured with fresh peach purée, the other with fresh raspberry, finished with a natural peach jelly sweet.
  • Very Vanilla: Light sponge and silky Italian meringue buttercream, both flavoured with Madagascan vanilla.
  • Black Forest: Chocolate and black cherry cake, topped with light vanilla buttercream and a drizzle of black cherry compote, finished with dark chocolate shards.
  • Award winning Banoffee after Dark: Roasted banana cupcake topped with a puddle of caramel and a swirl of dark chocolate whipped ganache, finished with a banana chip.
  • Citrus Tang: Lemon and lime sponge cake topped with a double swirl (one lemon, one lime) of buttercream and finished with lemon and lime zest.
  • Choc on Choc: Fudgy chocolate cake topped with dark chocolate ganache and finished with a trio of chocolate buttons.

On the treats table we had:

  • Choc pops: Strawberry, Lemon & Lime or Apple
  • Hand made vanilla fudge
  • Cake loaves: Lemon Curd or Black Cherry & Vanilla (both yoghurt cake)
  • Chocolate Bark: Dark & Milk with Cranberries & Pistachios; Strawberry & Vanilla with Strawberry & Meringue; Milk & Peanut Butter with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

There was also a table for a couple of display cakes, to advertise the custom celebration cake service.

And there we were, all set up and ready to go.

Just time for a cup of tea before opening up 🙂


We flung open the door and…well, I can’t say we were exactly knocked over by the rush!  Nonetheless, a slow but steady trickle of people started to pop in…and buy 🙂

Of course...put the display cakes in the window!
Things were helped a great deal when Barn and I realised there’d been a collective, ‘Duh’ moment during setting up (blame tiredness and over excitement); having moved the display cakes to the window we began to attract a lot more attention from passers by.  Fancy that, eh?!  Honestly, for intelligent people we can sometimes be so stupid! 😀

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So apart from the obvious thing about putting your display where people can see it(!!!) what else did I learn over the course of the day that might be helpful next time?

  • Curiosity might have killed the cat but the human race is pretty safe!  If some new place opens up around where I live, I’ll be there, face pressed against the glass, seeing what’s gong on.  In fact, I’ll probably have chatted with the builders/shopfitters/delivery people beforehand 😉  Turns out most people are not as nosey as I am.
  • With due regard to the above, I need an A-frame and a large printed window sign in order to attract more attention.
  • Ditto…need to build online and social presence and really push the business name so that people know who we are and want  to come to where we are!
  • Allowing for waste, stock that will carry forward to next week, rent, insurance etc., my takings meant I finished the day on a small loss, just short of breaking even.  With less waste I might even have made a tiny profit…so next time, make and take less stock!
  • I need to invest in some polystyrene cake dummies for the display cakes.  I didn’t have time (or the resources right now!) to get any this time around, so they were made up of odd layers, baked from various leftover cake batters.  Not only was this an unnecessary cost, it also made the creation of the cakes more time consuming than needs be.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a business (although, in fairness, that could be filed under ‘Things I Already Knew’).

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What next?  Well, I’ll be at the same place this coming Saturday but then I’ll be taking a break from the pop-up for a while; there are some legal necessities that have to be dealt with and put in place before I go any deeper into this venture.

I definitely, most certainly, positively, for sure, want to keep going on this path.

One day I’m going to open up the cutest little cake and tea shop, with welcoming staff, comfy seating, delectable, top quality treats to eat, and a Cake Tailor on hand for when you’re ready to order your custom designed celebration cake…

Perhaps I’ll see you there? 🙂

x

Blackberry & Apple Upside Down Cake

When I was a child, living in the depths of Wales, the summer holidays brought many good things…dawn-to-dusk freedom, yomping through fields and barns, ‘helping’ with hay making, riding bikes and ponies (not simultaneously), paddling in the stream, chasing water boatmen across ponds and marvelling at the way they could walk on water, eating crab apples (and never getting belly ache, despite everyone’s assertions that we would), building dens, grubbing in mud…kid paradise.

BlackberriesThe other thing that summer brought was blackberries – in fields and gardens, along hedgerows, in a derelict chapel, filling the little island in the middle of the stream – simply acres of unpolluted, naturally growing, free to all, fat, purple, lip-and-finger-staining berries. Three of us could easily harvest two buckets each within a matter of hours (it would probably have taken less time if we’d not eaten so many along the way), and there would still be plenty more for the days and weeks to follow.  Mum made a lot of jam.

So you see, to me blackberries are something you forage for and pick yourself by the bucket load – they’re not something you buy at around £2-£4 for a teeny little 170g pack of not-quite-ripe, cultivated, inferior flavoured, supermarket berries (oops, I think my food snobbery’s showing 😉 ).

That price just seems insane to me, so I tend to go without unless I happen across some rare, relatively unpolluted, inner city scrub land that’s bearing fruit.Big fat berries

However, if someone else succumbs to said insanity, then gifts me the berries, I am not going to spurn the gesture – that would just be rude.

Which is why, when a friend recently tossed a pack of Mexican blackberries to me and said, “I bought you these – thought you’d be able to do something with them”, I did not respond with, “Are you mad?!”  I simply said “Thank you very much”, and started to plan what to make.

Baked apple and blackberry cakeThis was an experimental recipe so required tweaks revealed themselves in the review process.  What follows is a posting of what I actually did, with guidance on the things that should be done differently.

The ingredients list is accurate and will work for a 7″ or 8″ round cake tin.

Because I was experimenting, I split my mix and did a 5″ tin with apple and blackberry, and a 4″ tin with just blackberries.  This produced two very different cakes – the one with apple was more of a pudding really, and the other a tea/coffee cutting cake.  Both had their own merits.

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(Some of) The Cakes of 2011-2012

During the early years of gluten free baking experimentation I was frequently curtailed by lack of funding.  By choosing to go to university I’d cut our household income in half, and it seemed a bit like taking the piss to spend too large a proportion of the tiny amount left over on cake ingredients.  For cakes that might not even work out that well.

I was also curtailed by time.  I set myself the target of a First, and I’m proud to say I earned it.  However, that involved sacrificing just about everything else in my life in order to study.  When I signed up it was 22 years since I’d last been in the education system…I had to work for those marks!  So, that meant that most of the baking done during the study years was within the confines of the summer break.

All of this meant that progress was a bit stop/start but whenever I could I was being brave and getting stuck in – trying out new things, learning and improving techniques.

Black Forest GateauGetting chocolate cake right was high on the list of priorities.  This Black Forest Gateau was for Barn’s 2011 birthday.  Given that my husband’s such a fan of the 70s (I know!  Bizarre or what?!), I decided to do a 70s style menu…prawn cocktail, steak ‘n’ chips plus the gateau.

There’s some whacking great bubble holes in that beast, but I was really getting there with the general flavour and texture.

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Where have you come from?

While there will undoubtedly be ramblings about many things within this blog, primarily I want it to serve as a record of my progress with regard to cake making and party planning.  With that in mind, for this and the next however many posts, I’m going to go back to when it all began…

(…cue ‘back in time’ music…the picture goes wavy, then sharpens up again…)

We find ourselves in 2011 in my kitchen…

Having adopted a gluten free diet earlier in the year (and finally become free of pain when eating) I was becoming increasingly fed up with the extortionately priced, flavourless and heavy cakes available to buy.  I’d researched a lot and tried out several not-wildly-successful recipes but had not yet been able to satisfy the household cake cravings.  It seemed to me that the most obvious solution would be to create my own recipes.

This chocolate orange cake was the very first effort:

GF Chocolate Orange Cake

The sponge was too crumbly and the texture was too dense, however, it was good enough to encourage me onwards with my experimentation.

x