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Everyone loves a good cuppa and a slice of cake, but you ain’t seen nothing like the ones from the BakeOrama kitchen. We chatted to Charlotte O’Toole, self-proclaimed ‘maker of ridiculous cakes’ and the woman behind BakeOrama, to find out about her northern cake journey. Expect chocolate grottos, political cupcakes and top tips for rising to the top of the baking world…
I’m originally from Liverpool, but moved to Manchester 6 years ago for my first proper, full-time baking job. I operate mainly in Manchester, but have been working more and more with companies in Liverpool lately – it’s great to get back to the city.
I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t baking. From a very young age, I would help my nan, Flo, bake for the family at Saturday gatherings. She taught me how to make traditional bakes like Victoria sponge, trifle, and coconut and glacé cherry loaf.
I vividly remember learning to make scones; rolling the dough with a milk bottle (still a good tip if you can’t find your rolling pin) and cutting out wonky scones with a plastic beaker, or my nan’s corrugated cutter, which I still have.
I dabbled making the odd cake at home for years, but never thought it was something I could do for a living. I made cakes for family and friends, then more people started asking. I carried on baking as a hobby during university and I became more and more interested in baking and cake design.
Years later, I was made redundant from a job and decided to use my redundancy pay to go back to catering college and learn how to do things properly. I studied patisserie and baking for 3 years, taking courses in chocolate work and cake design on the side. I loved every second of the courses and realised that baking was something that I wanted to do full-time. I moved to Manchester and got my first baking job at Sweet Tooth Cupcakery in Chorlton, which was one of only a handful of specialist cupcake shops in the UK at the time.
Whilst I was living in Manchester, a part-time job came up in the Northern Quarter. I took that on to help with finances, not thinking for a second it would develop into a full-time, full-on position. I built up my skills and baking style for a few years, but knew I wanted to have my own brand, so set up BakeOrama and decided to go it completely alone!
Back when I was a kid learning how to make a Christmas cake, probably. We’d start making it very early in the year, then my nan would water it with booze for months, before it was time to decorate it – marzipan, rolled icing and the same tin of decorations every year. I would always try to put ALL of the decorations on the cake; Flo would be shaking her head and trying get me to rein it in. Nothing changes, I’m still a ‘more is more’ decorator!
I do get a lot of weird and wonderful requests, which I wholeheartedly encourage as I like fun designs. I’m almost immune to how bizarre things are sometimes!
Recently, I made a Jeremy Corbyn-themed wedding cake that ended up on news channels, which was amusing! I also worked on a Christmas grotto made entirely of chocolate for Cadburys. I created 5 foot cakes, baubles and wreaths – all made from chocolate. The finished installation was amazing.
Hard question! Anything with coconut makes me happy. A good lemon meringue can be a thing of beauty and I’m partial to an Eccles cake. Raisins are controversial, but I like them.
I’m fond of red velvet and chocolate buttercream! I tend to make this one for home events as it’s a bit of a crowd pleaser.
I love anything fruity too, so the pie cakes are lovely. I bake pies or tarts inside cakes, like apple pie in the centre of a buttermilk sponge, with salted caramel and apple pie frosting. It’s like the best toffee apple combination. This one always sells out first at events.
There are so many places that make good quality, home-baked cakes. In Manchester, I try to get a doughnut from Manchester Doughnut Company when they trade at events. Anywhere that sells lushbrownies is always a winner. V Rev make great Vegan cakes and I recently had a great gluten-free dime bar cake at Quarter Cafe in Liverpool.
I’m currently building my own prep kitchen, so I have more space and freedom to expand. I spend my time either covered in buttercream or paint these days!
As well as taking bespoke cake orders, I can be found selling cakes and treats at GRUB food market. I’m also enjoying learning about vegan food; in December, I’ll be hosting a Vegan Christmas Banquet with Jackie Kearney from MasterChef.
Believe in your worth. Cakes are often seen as a luxury, not worthy of paying full price, so you’ll find that some people will ask for cakes for free in exchange for “exposure” or advertising. This is massively frustrating when a cake can take days and sometimes weeks to create.
Pick your battles of course. If it’s a genuine offer that is mutually beneficial, then that’s great. However, these requests often come from massive companies or celebrity reps trying to get something for nothing and it will never result in sales for you. If you have enough talent to make a living from baking, do just that!
I’m ashamed to say I have only watched the first episode since it moved channels. It has clashed with a heavy work schedule this time around, but I wish everyone luck!
Follow BakeOrama on Twitter and Instagram for more ridiculous cakes and treats.
(All images by BakeOrama)