The Icing Workshop

on Monday, 17 March 2014.

Have a break and ice a cake!



Cake through history has become a patriotic symbol to us Brits and since the eighteenth century we have been looking for excuses to eat it, developing many traditions along the way.  Birthday cakes, Wedding cakes, Christening cakes, you name it. 

The Icing Workshop, when muted, was a more than agreeable prospect. A fun couple of hours decorating cake sounded like my kind of place. I was invited by a friend ‘in the know’ whose friends invited their friends to form a small group of  ten or so.

First to arrive at the charming rural setting in Farnley, North Yorkshire, we received a warm welcome from the owner, Sarah Bates, and were offered drinks and homemade biscuits; a convivial start!

The open space in the converted cottage was uncluttered and calming.  A  few large photographs exhibiting Sarah’s creations sprang from the walls and imaginative examples sat prettily on the display cabinet to the rear.  A side bench hosted all manner of coloured fondant icing, fancy ribbons, glitters, edible pens and ingenious cake cutters.  Other than that there were a couple of large wooden tables set out with a few essential tools of the trade and a number dainty vanilla butter cakes awaiting our attention.


As the room filled, I caught a slight note of competitiveness in the air, or was it my imagination?!  Quiet murmurs of  “I’ve never done this sort of thing before”, “I haven’t got a creative bone in my body” and “I wouldn’t know where to start”.    I made a mental note not to sit at their table lest it should dent my confidence.

Getting Started   

Using a model, Sarah demonstrated how to apply the Madagascan vanilla buttercream to the sponge sandwich and then to the sides, working carefully from the bottom edges up.  She then draped evenly rolled fondant icing over the cake, allowing it drop naturally. ( patience is of essence at this point!)  Thereafter, creases can be gently coaxed to produce a smoother than smooth finish.  That was ‘the theory’ as they say!

The Practice

We were then invited to create our own blank canvas in readiness for that individual and creative touch! Having got to that proud point, my own effort sat forlornly on its silver board, anticipating adornment.


Sarah moseyed around the tables having a chat and giving advice here and there.  We turned out to be a mixed bunch of ‘seasoned cake decorators’  and those who ‘were not’.  The ‘were nots’, and I include myself  in this group, went for a simple ‘less is more’ routine and the ‘weres’, most of which occupied the ‘other table’,  were a little more adventurous and elaborate!   They were engrossed with fine detail long after my table had boxed up their cakes, ready for home.  We lavishly praised their unfinished works with concealed ‘cake décor’ envy.


The End Product

Regardless of skill and experience, at the end of the 2 hour session, each and every one of us had a presentable cake, worthy of being shown off to family and friends.  We had a lot of laughs in the process and  I for one would certainly feel confident about decorating a celebration cake at home with some degree of skill. It is however, unlikely to depict a scene from the Sistine Chapel.


Have Your Cake And Eat It!



Mine  was gone within hours of crossing the threshold.  Fortuitously, I had photographed my ‘simple’ effort for prosperity!


The Ice Queen



Unlike the ‘Ice Queen’, the gently mannered Sarah Bates did not begin life as a water nymph nor does she have special powers which originate from her tiara.  

Originally a chemist, the mother of four has been baking and decorating cakes for over 30 years.  A couple of years ago, she took a professional qualification at Leeds City College, perfecting traditional methods and techniques of icing.  Based in North Yorkshire, she makes ‘individually designed, detailed and personalised cakes for every occasion’.



Sarah has recently launched her new website in correlation with her latest venture, ‘The Icing Workshop’. There, you can learn or perfect the techniques of giving the finishing touches to a celebration cake.  I notice that she is planning a Dads and daughters/sons session where you can decorate a cake for your special mum on Mother’s day!  Sounds like a rather lovely idea which I personally believe would be appreciated more than a shop bought pressie.  So go on Dads, don’t leave it until the last minute, there are brownie points in it for you too!


For full information on booking, prices and packages and latest news visit Sarah’s new website.





The Icing Workshop, Farnley Park, Farnley, LS21 2QG










Oh, I almost forgot;- an example from one who was neither a 'seasoned cake decorator' nor a 'was not' but just happened to be an artist!