Those of you who are regular visitors to the tombola times website may be aware that one of our Chat Moderators, Lara – or fizzyfish, as she’s known on the site – possesses cake-baking skills that would rival even the most talented of culinary wizards.
And her latest masterpiece? A life-sized cake resembling none other than Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones! The cake is set to be one of Lara’s two entries for this year’s Cake International Competition in Birmingham.
Bringing Game of Thrones to life
Creating an edible character from a series that has one of the biggest cult followings known to man certainly comes with a lot of pressure, so we were keen to know exactly how Lara managed to create such a masterwork.
We got the scoop from the lady herself…
The main thing to bear in mind when embarking on your first life-sized cake-crafting mission, is that it’s going to take an awful lot of preparation. Thankfully, Lara is the queen of preparation.
With her Game of Thrones cake, she started by taking to her computer and finding a picture of the character she wanted to create, exactly as she wanted to create them – the right pose, the right facial expression, everything. One of Lara’s favourite characters just happens to be Tyrion Lannister, a quirky former king with a characterful face. Perfect cake material!
“Fortunately, I can very easily find reference images off the internet.”
Once Lara found her perfect picture, she printed it out to the size that she wanted her cake to be, and stuck it to the wall of her workspace. That way, there was no need to keep zooming in and out of, and scrolling up and down a computer screen – Lara had a perfectly clear, perfectly accurate representation from which to work.
The next stage of Lara’s preparation involved figuring out her cakes supporting structure.After all, if you’re creating a life-sized television character out of something as heavy yet fragile as cake and icing, you’re going to need some way of keeping it all together!
Lara’s method of choice is to mark the points of the cake that will need the most support on her reference picture, taking care to ensure that any overhanging parts – like a crooked elbow or flowing cape – are really well supported. Gravity budges for no woman!
“Obviously when I make cakes for other people I do what they want me to do. This time, I got to choose what I wanted to do, so I wanted to do something that I really loved.”
Once Lara knew how her structure would sit, she visited her local DIY shop to pick up the materials needed to make it – a mixture of metal, wood, PVC pipes and PVC couplers. These materials are perhaps the one thing that stay the same for the majority of Lara’s cakes, while the actual structure crafted from them changes for every sweet treat.
Different shaped cakes with different overhangs and areas of fragility need their own individual frame, created from scratch.
Once Lara had gathered together all of the materials she needed to make a start on her masterpiece, she focused on bringing her design to life in as streamlined a way as possible. This meant not building the frame first, as we had thought, but making the cake mixture and getting it in the oven.
She does this for one simple reason – making the frame while the cake itself is baking saves both time, and sitting around in anticipation. There is nothing worse than having nothing to keep your mind off pacing around in front of the oven or taking a peek inside, which should be avoided at all costs, by the way. If even the slightest bit of heat escapes from the oven, the structure of your cake mixture could be affected!
“If you’ve ever tried to cut into freshly baked bread, it’s really difficult, because it’s so soft it’ll crumble.”
Once Tyrion’s frame was complete and the cake was baked to perfection, Lara took it out of the oven and, rather than leaving it to cool the traditional way, on a wire rack, stuck it snugly in the freezer for a good couple of hours. It might sound crazy, but this helps the cake to firm up and makes it easier to carve into your desired shape.
Next came the tricky part… stacking the cake up on the frame and carving it into the shape of Tyrion.
Once all of the cake was nicely slotted in around its internal structure, Lara filled it with buttercream and set about carving as carefully as she could. One false move and that’s it, she’d have had to start the entire cake again, so steady hands and patience were everything.
Carving out the cakes shape didn’t just mean Tyrion’s basic body shape either, it included any folds or creases in his clothes, the shape of his hair and even details like boot buckles. It just isn’t feasible to try and mould a cakes covering of fondant icing into elaborate shapes, so as much precise detail needs to be whittled out of the actual cake as possible.
“Tyrion’s quirky. He’s probably the funniest person on Game of Thrones, and I’m a big fan of comedy. I’m very drawn to that.”
Once the carving was complete, it was time to cover the cake in that deliciously simple mixture of chocolate and cream – ganache. Not only does it taste great, but soft and silky ganache turns firm once dry, fusing the cake below it together.
Using different types of icing as glue is a mainstay of any cake making endeavour, especially if you’re covering it with thick fondant icing, like Lara. She covered her Game of Thrones cake in conventional liquid icing before draping the fondant on top, and gently pressing it into place.
By now you’re probably dying to know just what Lara’s secret cake recipe is. Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s just a simple sponge recipe made with butter, eggs, sugar, milk, flour and vanilla flavouring. Why not try this similar recipe from the Mail Online?
Ingredients (large cake)
- 350g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 350g caster sugar
- 6 large eggs, beaten
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 350g plain flour
- 5tsp baking powder
- 4 – 5 tsp milk, at room temperature
- Preheat the oven to gas mark 4 (180 C).
- Cream the butter and caster sugar together in an electric mixer – or with a handheld electric whisk – until light and fluffy. This should take around two to three minutes.
- Gradually, add the eggs, mixing well between each addition and occasionally scraping down the bowl with a spatula.
- Stir in the vanilla extract.
- Sift together the flour and baking powder, and add to the cake mixture in two batches, mixing until smooth.
- Add the milk and mix until smooth, then pour the mixture into a cake tin and get it in the oven to bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
“When I’m making a cake for clients, I’ll soak it in sugar syrup so it’s nice and moist, because if you’re going to eat a cake you want it to taste good as well as look good.”
It isn’t just the cake itself that’s simple to make, either, the ganache and liquid icing are too. Just take a look at the recipes:
Ingredients (adjust as required for desired cake size)
- 200g good quality dark chocolate
- 284ml double cream
- Chop the chocolate into small, even pieces that will melt easily, and place them in a large bowl.
- Pour the double cream into a pan and heat until just before boiling point.
- Take the cream off the heat and pour it over the chocolate.
- Stir the mixture until all of the chocolate has melted, and the mixture has turned nice and smooth.
Ingredients (adjust as required for desired cake size)
- 200g icing sugar
- 5 tsp cold water
- Sift the icing sugar into a wide bowl.
- Gradually stir in the cold water, until a thick paste has formed.
See, we told you it was easy!
The finishing touches
To mere baking novices like the tombola team, ‘finishing touches’ mean things like a sprinkling of icing sugar, or if we’re feeling adventurous, some chocolate curls. For Lara, however, the finishing touches for her Tyrion cake needed a little more care and attention…
You see, Lara doesn’t cover her cakes in pre-coloured fondant icing. With the sheer number of different colours, and shades of different colours used in her gravity-defying creations, ready-coloured icing would only succeed in making the finished product look flat, artificial and lifeless. Instead, to achieve the realistic look that her cakes are renowned for, Lara buys normal white icing and colours it with special cake colours.
“The painting is powdered food colouring. You can either mix it with clear alcohol, or you can mix it with lemon juice – I use clear alcohol because you get a better finish, but if it’s a cake for a child, I’ll use lemon juice.”
These are created by mixing powdered food colouring and clear alcohol into a concentrated paste, which Lara then applies to the cake using normal paint brushes. It’s a great technique for painting on finer details like strands of hair and facial features, but when it came to the larger parts of the Game of Thrones cake, Lara turned to her trusty airbrush.
By putting food colouring into a normal airbrush machine instead of paint, Lara could just spray away with full control of the amount of colour she was applying to her cake. Soon enough the different textures and shading really started to stand out, and her cake began to look more and more like her favourite member of the Game of Thrones clan!
It’s no secret that a cake as ambitious as this doesn’t come without its challenges. Luckily for Lara, upon starting her Tyrion cake, she had created enough life-sized masterpieces to ensure that she didn’t actually come up against any real trials or tribulations! This doesn’t mean that there weren’t plenty of obstacles to overcome in the early days, however.
First of all, there is the persistent danger of slicing off too much cake during the carving process. You can’t just stick it back on and continue like nothing ever happened – trying to re-carve cake that’s only attached to the rest of the sponge by icing isn’t going to be easy. That piece won’t be as sturdy, and won’t have the advantage of being physically attached to the rest of the cake.
“I’ve kind of learned what not to do and learned what to do. It [Tyrion] went a lot smoother than the others.”
The only way Lara managed to overcome this challenge whilst making her Game of Thrones cake was by simple trial and error. After two years of never making the same cake twice, she has managed to fine-tune her carving technique and identify what to avoid doing at all costs!
Draping fondant icing over a cake as smoothly as possible is also something Lara has only perfected with experience. She refined her technique over time, trying out different methods and paying close attention to YouTube videos, television programmes like Cake Boss and other cake makers. Pretty soon, her cakes were free of any mountainous lumps and bumps.
“You kind of have to know what’s going to happen before it happens. You have to do a lot of forward planning.”
It might sound too good to be true, but while natural talent like Lara’s does help to create truly impressive cakes, the only real way to overcome sponge-related challenges is to practice, practice, practice.
There is one challenge, however, that stands in Lara’s way cake after cake – transportation.
There’s never going to be an easy way to get a life-sized cake to a venue in one piece, but Lara manages to do so in her own brilliant way. Not that it makes the journey any less nerve-shredding, of course!
Tyrion was lucky enough to get his very own privately-hired transport, courtesy of Lara. It wasn’t just a normal, run of the mill van either, it was a van with extra space and headroom, just in case!
This is especially useful since Lara’s cakes can never be transported in pieces (nobody wants the cake-illusion shattered by the sight of tell-tale seams!). Tyrion made his way to the Cake International Competition fully assembled, with Lara clinging onto him for dear life the entire way.
“Everything you worked for could go completely wrong in a half an hour van journey.”
Well, we say all of the way. The venue is actually only half an hour from Lara’s house, but to prevent any unexpected bumps, braking or swerving that could potentially dislodge the cake from Lara’s grip, her wonderful other half crawls the van as slowly as he is legally allowed to.
Every potential disaster and catastrophe is pre-empted: the couple even put a sign on the back of the slow-moving van to let drivers know there is a fragile cake on-board, and diffuse any animosity.
The finished product
Ladies and gentlemen, we are proud to present… Tyrion Lannister!
We think you’ll agree that all of Lara’s hard work, blood, sweat and tears were worth it; the finished product isn’t just a feat of engineering, but impressively realistic! And it isn’t just the tombola team who were captivated by Lara’s handiwork, everybody at the Cake International Competition was too!
Make sure you keep checking back to find out which prizes the judges awarded to Lara’s astounding creations.
Introducing the master baker herself!
Name: Lara Clarke
Location: Brownhills, Birmingham
Hobbies: Baking (obviously), playing rugby, watching loads of really rubbish TV
Likes: Christmas jumpers!
Dislikes: The dentist (shudder)
Baking experience: Three years
Favourite baked good: Chocolate fudge cake and cheesecake!
What you might not know about Lara is that she isn’t a formally trained baker! With such talent at her disposal we couldn’t help but be shocked, not to mention curious!
In order to find out more about Lara, we decided to conduct a little interview, to discover just how she manages to juggle her role as a tombola Chat Moderator with the running of her own business, Tasty Cakes.
tombola: Thanks for talking to us Lara.Tasty Cakes is so different to your role as a tombola Chat Moderator – how do you juggle this job with cake making? It sounds like you’re really busy at the moment!
Lara Clarke: Because they’re both done from home it makes it a lot easier. I can set down my icing bag and within five minutes I’m at my desk with my computer ready to sign in for work. It’s not like I’ve got to get out of my cake gear and into a suit or anything – I can literally take the apron off, go upstairs and get to work.
They work really, really well alongside each other. Plus, if you’re working on something that’s so detailed it takes all of your concentration, it’s nice to be able to have that break to go and just talk to people. You don’t have to be creative or anything. You can literally just sit down, chat and relax.
tombola: Do you find it’s a nice way to wind down then, as opposed to it just being a job?
Lara Clarke: Yeah, definitely. The players are really good, because they’ll ask me what I’ve been up to and I’ll be able to talk through what I’ve been doing. It’s nice to have a change of scenery.
“You don’t have to be creative or anything. You can literally just sit down, chat and relax.”
tombola: Do you wind down in any other ways when things start to get really busy or particularly stressful?
Lara Clarke: I really like to cook for me and my other half. We’ll have a night in where we just go to Tesco, buy a big load of ingredients and spend a night cooking. We like to just sit and chill out, watch a movie and eat whatever we’ve made.
I don’t play it at the minute, but I do also like to play rugby in my spare time.
tombola: Do you ever get time to bake for fun anymore, rather than simply for business?
Lara Clarke: I do. I’m not at the minute, because it’s so busy, but if I find that I’ve not baked in a little while, I’ll miss it. So I feel like I have to go and bake. For example, The Great British Bake Off just ended, and whenever I’d watch it I’d think, ‘I would love to make that’.
I’ll make it, but I’ll make it just for us to have in. I won’t make it for other people. It’s nice sometimes to just make something for yourself.
tombola: Is there anything in particular you like to make? We like to try our hand at cupcakes!
Lara Clarke: I like to make French pastries: éclairs and profiteroles and things like that.
tombola: They’re quite difficult, aren’t they, because of the choux pastry?
Lara Clarke: Yeah, but I love it. It’s so light. I think everything’s difficult, but once you’ve made it a few times it gets a lot easier, so it’s not so bad anymore. I do enjoy it. The best thing is that because I’ve got my cake cupboard, there’s always a supply of flour and sugar and butter. If I want to bake I don’t need to go to the shop – everything is already there.
tombola: People often say that once you turn something you love to do as a hobby, into a business, it can start to lose its charm. Is this something you’ve found after setting up Tasty Cakes, or has it just made you love baking even more?
Lara Clarke: I can definitely see where that comes from. I think that if I was doing a round cake every week with roses on, or the same stuff over and over, the same and the same and the same, I’d get fed up with it, but because every single week I’m doing something so different, it’s hard to get bored. I know sometimes it gets to nine o’clock at night and you’re sitting there, still putting icing on a cake and you’re thinking ‘Oh, I’d love to just sit and watch TV right now’. Then again, at the same time you can watch TV on your iPad and keep working.
It’s not losing its charm at the minute, because every challenge is completely different for me. I think I’ve only made the same cake, maybe… twice. Every time I make one it’s something new.
“I think everything’s difficult, but once you’ve made it a few times it gets a lot easier, so it’s not so bad anymore.”
tombola: Have you ever baked cakes for tombola players, or other Chat Moderators?
Lara Clarke: Well, because I’m down in Birmingham and most of the other CMs are up north, I’ve made a few cakes for some of them before, but because of the distance I don’t ever really get the chance to make them. Players are always asking for tips though. Like if they have a castle cake to make for their daughter this weekend: what should they do, should they add this, should they add that? It’s nice to be able to help them.
tombola: Who do you mainly bake cakes for outside of the competition? Who are your main clients?
Lara Clarke: They’re all sorts of people, really. There are people who are having birthday parties and people who are having weddings. I’m doing corporate cakes, too. I’m doing anyone who comes along and wants it. I’ve not got a specific sort of client yet.
tombola: I notice you’ve created cakes for people like Paul O’Grady, and Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. Do you have more famous clientele coming in now your cakes are being covered by the press quite a lot?
Lara Clarke: I’ve got a few other people who have come and asked for quotes, and some people that have come and asked for cakes. It’s cool to be recognised by people who you know could have something from anyone, and yet they choose to have it from me.
tombola: I’ve heard that you have a secret cake in the works at the moment as well…
Lara Clarke: Yes I have! In fact, it’s sitting right in front of me now.
“People are asking you to make cakes because of your talent, not because of your prices.”
tombola: Have you found it hard to keep this secret cake a secret? Are people pestering for details?
Lara Clarke: They are. I had to sign a confidentiality agreement and everything though. I literally can’t say anything – I can’t say who it’s for or what it is. It is hard, because you’re doing something so big that you want to shout it from the rooftops, but you can’t because it’s so secret. It’s being delivered soon though, so I’ll be able to tell everyone what it is shortly.
tombola: We can’t wait to find out! We’re also curious about how you started out in cake making. You’re not formally trained, are you?
Lara Clarke: No. I was watching a lot of the American TV shows. With working for tombola, you’ve always got the TV on in the background, and Cake Boss was always on.
Around that time it was my mother in law and father in law’s anniversary. They said that they were going to buy a cake, and I said that I’d been watching all of these cake shows and it didn’t look too difficult, so I’d give it a go to save them some money.
tombola: Did it turn out well first time, or was it quite a challenge?
Lara Clarke: When I made it I thought it was the best thing in the whole entire world! I thought that no one could ever make a better cake. Now that I look back I think, ‘Oh my God it was so rubbish!’ It was messy, it wasn’t really the right shape, it was small, it was the wrong colour.
The best thing about it was that was when I realised that it’s not just a cake anymore. I loved the fact that I could tell a story and see how it made people laugh. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
“When I made it I thought it was the best thing in the whole entire world! I thought that no one could ever make a better cake. Now that I look back I think, ‘Oh my God it was so rubbish!’”
tombola: Have you branched out into providing things like baking classes yet? I’m sure people would love to learn from your talents, especially since you started out as a novice.
Lara Clarke: It’s something that’s always been in the pipeline for the future, but at the minute I’m just so busy with orders and competitions that I haven’t even got time to think about it!
Then again, at the same time you think, do I really want to give away all of my secrets, because then there would be more people out there who can make these cakes. Is it better to keep your cards close to your chest so you can be the only one to make these big cakes, or is it better to share it with other people?
It’s a bit of a dilemma, really. How far do you go? How much do you tell them? At the minute, so few people are able to do this. Is it better to keep it that way so that it’s treasured, rather than all cakes looking the same? I have to make that decision.
tombola: We have one last burning question – you always go for quality in baking products. Which is the one ingredient you would never scrimp on in terms of quality, and why?
Lara Clarke: I think it would have to be the vanilla. Whenever I used to make cakes I would use the vanilla essence you can get for about £1 a bottle. It tasted really artificial, because it’s essence, not extract. It’s not actually from vanilla, it’s chemical.
Now I buy the proper vanilla paste. It’s such a tiny little £6 jar, but it’s so much better quality. You can really taste the vanilla. I wouldn’t go back to the cheap stuff.
It’s all well and good your cake looking great, but if it doesn’t taste nice then you may as well have made it out of clay.
Well said, Lara!
Have you met the other character Lara’s been working on?
Having wowed the crowd with her six foot Jack Sparrow cake last year, Lara wanted to smash her own personal best by entering two life-size cakes into this year’s Cake International Competition.
Her second cake, standing at an impressive six foot, is Katniss from The Hunger Games, and you can follow Lara’s journey through the baking process.
If you are anything like us, you’ll now be hankering after some cakey goodness from the master herself. If that’s the case, you’ll be pleased to know that you can order your very own cake from Lara! Visit one of the links below for more information, as well as examples of her previous culinary creations.