Baking Bonanza!

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This weekend has been full of baking, decorating and eating cupcakes! I made these Hummingbird Bakery vanilla cupcakes with chocolate frosting for my best friend’s birthday yesterday. They went down a treat! I can definitely recommend using Green and Black’s cocoa powder and the decorations were from Just Bake and I also received the other sugar flowers in my Christmas stocking. A few people have asked me where I get the boxes from – you can buy them online from Cakes, Cookies and Crafts.

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Since I had made a double quantity of chocolate frosting for 20 cupcakes (I doubled the sponge recipe) I still had some left so tonight I russled up some more vanilla cupcakes. This time they’re for Easter and I’ve used Smarties eggs. The one in the middle is for a colleague who has given up chocolate for Lent. I used caramel dipping sauce from Waitrose – it’s a bit like dulce de leche and tastes delicious. Last weekend I baked some shortbreads from the Great British Book of Baking and it tastes fab to add a dollop of caramel to those! If you’re wondering how I’m not the size of a house making these cupcakes, I made it to my first spin class tonight in eight years. I think the endorphin kick spurred me into baking again tonight!

Interview: Just Bake’s founder Jo Shaw reveals her business start-up tips


On a summer evening last year, Jo Shaw came up the idea for Just Bake over a glass of wine with friends. Six months later the website launched selling beautiful cake decorations and cupcake accessories. Mumpreneur Jo explains how Just Bake came to fruition and gives us her best business startup tips. 

CTTB: Why did you decide to start the Just Bake website? 

JS: I always wanted to have my own business but it wasn’t until last year that the idea came to me. I do lots of baking with my two young children and at the same time I couldn’t find the cake decorations I wanted off the high street. When I looked online I found a lot of poor quality websites were around. I realised what was missing was a simple, easy to navigate website which was appealing from the outset where people could buy pretty decorations.


Pretty flowers cupcake wrappers from Just Bake

CTTB: What advice can you give to someone else who is thinking about starting up their own cake business?

JS: Research the market properly, the product range you’re going to offer and who your target market is.

I did lots of anecdotal market research – speaking to various people about the products they like and the products they couldn’t find easily. I carried out lots of competitor research too like ordering from competitors to understand the customer journey. I also ensured I hired a good quality web agency. Finally, I checked that the cupcake boom wasn’t about to dive. However, I was still careful to give the business a more generic name ‘Just Bake’ so it was insulated from any cupcake trend changes.

CTTB: Have you any tips on how to secure funding, especially in these tough times? 

JS: I looked at the costs of borrowing from our bank and using our own investments – weighing up which was the best option with the lowest risk. The two big costs were the website and branding plus buying the products.

Just Bake cupcake cream wrappers

CTTB: What have you learnt whilst setting up Just Bake?

JS: One thing I did learn along the way is that until you can buy bigger quantities of product, the supplier firmly has the upper hand. I spent a lot of time trawling through supplier websites until I found the best deals and understanding the quantities of stock I needed. I also had to pass an environmental health assessment to ensure all the products were in a hygienic space and kept at the right temperature. It’s not easy setting yourself up as self-employed and learning about the tax regulations – I’m going on a course run by HMRC so I can make sure I’m compliant.

CTTB: Best piece of advice given to you that would help others?

JS: One of my friends said you don’t need to do and learn everything at once – work on one aspect of the business at a time and you’ll build it up from there. He was right and it really helped me to stop worrying and focus.

Union jack cupcake wrappers on Just Bake

CTTB: Are there any big trends you can foresee for 2012 based on what people are browsing for on Just Bake?

People are searching for daffodils and Easter decorations now that Valentines Day is over. I’ve also started noticing people buying Jubilee products already like white, blue and red sugar strands.

CTTB: And finally, cake or biscuit?

JS: Definitely cake.

Easter vanilla cupcakes recipe

with mini eggs in pink gingham cupcake boxHaving recently been to the Cakes4Fun cupcake course in Putney, I have continued to use their vanilla sponge and vanilla buttercream recipes. The sponge is light and the frosting is yummy! This time I made a mistake to use Lurpak spreadable butter as the icing wasn’t stiff enough. Next time I will definitely stick to the butter blocks as this tends to give a better result. I made these cupcakes for my friend’s birthday and she was over the moon with them. They make great pressies when you put them in a professional looking cupcake box. I bought this pink gingham one from Cakes Cookies and Crafts. See below for the Cakes4Fun vanilla cupcake recipe. Have a lovely Easter everyone!

Cupcake sponge (makes about 10)

  • 125g castor sugar
  • 125g margerine
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 2 eggs (large)
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • 2-3 tablespoons of milk as needed

Vanilla buttercream:

  • 125g soft butter (use salted)
  • 250g sifted icing sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • 1 tablespoon of water as required

Hummingbird Bakery Chocolate Easter cupcakes

Today I made the Hummingbird Bakery chocolate cupcakes and then added some Cadbury’s mini eggs to give them an Easter twist! I haven’t tried one yet as I’m saving them to give to my family tomorrow but they certainly look the part! I used Marks and Spencer muffin cases for the first time but they seemed to totally fall apart from the sponge.  I will have to try using them again to see if they needed more sponge mixture in each casing.  The Hummingbird Bakery recipe says it makes 12 but I struggled to make 10, 9 is probably more realistic.  Also, it says to use 300g of icing sugar but I found halving this quantity yielded more than enough icing.  So more experimentation to be had with different cases and quantities!

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