MONSTERS, trains, a beer barrel, and even an operating table complete with surgeon, these are just some of the cake requests that Lynne Fitzpatrick has had.
The busy mother of three makes cakes and quiches for daughter Jenny’s shop/cafe/bistro - The Fine Food Store in St Mary’s Street, Stamford, and also runs her own Deliciously Different Cakes business.
Lynne, of Church Street, Easton-on-the-Hill, says she and her daughter engaged in a bit of role reversal in 2003 when Jenny graduated from Loughborough with a business degree and set up the shop while she went off to Nottingham Trent University to study psychology and educational development, graduating with a first class honours degree in 2006.
“At that time Jenny had someone making her cakes and when that person left she asked me to help out for just a couple of weeks. People began asking me to make cakes and I recognised a business opportunity. I didn’t intend to do it, I had thought I’d have a break and go travelling before deciding how to use my degree.”
Lynne, who was born and schooled in Nottingham, also supplies other coffee shops and a garden centre. Her business has grown by word of mouth and she would like to expand it by taking on another member of staff.
She moved to Easton with her former husband, a metallurgist, more than 20 years ago.
“We had lived all over the place but as soon as I saw Easton I loved it and the girls - Jenny, Sarah and Lucy - were of an age where they needed to stay at one school so we settled,” Lynne says.
“As a small girl I was always baking with my mum and later I carried on making birthday cakes for my children.”
Her earlier working life took her from a Nottingham knitwear company, to Notts County Football Club and then the charity wing of Ladbrokes Bookmakers.
“When Jenny decided to go for the shop it was a big success. She is passionate about food, about high quality and sourcing locally. We make everything ourselves, except the bread which comes from (Stamford bakery) Askers.”
The business opened as a delicatessen with just a few tables and chairs but it was the coffee shop side that took over through customer demand.
“I make all their big cakes and quiches. Courgette cakes are the most popular and we do gluten-free, Victoria sponges and cup cakes and I help out in the shop when needed.”
Lynne bakes every day and has three ovens going at once. She makes 50 large cakes, seven or eight celebration cakes and 36 quiches every week.
“It’s a full-time job. I work all day every day baking. Things like wedding cakes take a lot of time. What I love doing is the fiddly bits. People give me photos of a person so I can try and get a likeness of them.”
She keeps a portfolio of cake photos at the shop and there are always examples in the window. She has made several hundred different ones to date. Wedding cakes nowadays can incorporate both sponge and fruit cake and icing can be sculpted into just about anything. She gets lots of unusual requests.
One 18th birthday cake for a young man going off to medical school was of him as a surgeon operating on a bottle of beer. Fairy castles for little girls are popular as is a man in an armchair for men who are retiring.
Lynne is completely self-taught and her only help has come from books.
“I love making the little people - as soon as I put the eyes on they make me smile. Wallace and Gromit in particular are no end of fun.”
She does a weekly supermarket shop for her ingredients.
“I don’t have specialist suppliers, I just buy ordinary flour and everything a home baker would use.”
Her cakes often look too good to eat.
“Some people say they just can’t bear to cut them. I made a purple monster cake for a husband, but the couple kept it for three months until their daughter’s birthday.”
She has only ever had one disaster - dropping a fairy castle turret on the floor while assembling the cake.
“It smashed to smithereens. Normally I make spares but I hadn’t on that day so I just had to very quickly make another one.”
One panic-inducing request was for a wedding cake just three weeks before the event.
“The couple wanted their car and them in it. I had never made a car and was severely challenged, although it worked out fine. I always try to get the bride’s dress on the cake looking like the bride’s real dress and you have to be very careful with surprise cakes so as not to give the game away.”
Her only celebrity cake has been one for Fifth Gear television show presenter Jonny Smith who lives locally.
Holidays are not regular - she had her first break in six years last year.
And what about her own birthday?
“I don’t make myself a cake - I just don’t have one,” she says. And she doesn’t even eat cake!
“You get fed up with it - although I will try a bit of a new one we are piloting for the shop.”
She says cake-making is something anyone can do.
“It’s so much cheaper and so much nicer than mass-produced cake and it gives such a sense of satisfaction when people say they like what you’ve done.”
Lynne recently made a cake for her youngest daughter, Lucy Russell, who this week flew to the USA with her husband Nick for a charity walk that will take them six months. The cake is modelled on the pair, who aim to walk the 3,000 miles from Tybee Island on the coast of Georgia to San Diego in California.
Lucy and Nick are doing the walk to raise £15,000 for the Pamir Trust, which they set up to support remote communities in Tajikistan.
Lynne is now planning the ultimate wedding cake for daughter Jenny who is getting married on New Year’s Eve.
“It will be the largest to date and will be really special. The design hasn’t been finalised yet but it will be my greatest challenge,” she says.