Anyone who does not have a baking disaster story is not a baker! Probably the most stressful almost-disaster I have had was making a cake for my nana’s 80th birthday. I thought a hexagonal cake would be beautiful, but I did not count on how difficult it would be to unmould a chocolate biscuit cake that had so many corners. A great many stressful tears were shed before that cake finally decided to come out of the tin, and I resolved to think long and hard before making another hexagonal chocolate biscuit cake! There are definitely some nuances to hobbies – you cannot always enjoy every second of it. However, these only serve to bring out the good bits. Baking has pushed my boundaries while being an important constant in my life.
Hi, my name is Jennifer Keane, and I am a former software developer and current product owner. I am born and bred in Dublin, as the saying goes. I enjoy travelling and seeing other places, but at the end of the day I am a real home bird, and I love coming home.
I have always loved science and technology, even from a very young age. I had a VTech computer with a little two-line LCD display that I learned to program some Basic on, before graduating to the family PC. I broke that a lot! But it instilled in me a love of tinkering around with computers. When I was older, studying computer science in college seemed like the most logical thing in the world to do.
Alongside programming, baking has been an interest for most of my life. My nana’s family owned a well-known bakery in Dublin many years ago, so you could say that baking is in my blood! I remember making jam tarts with my nana using the scrap pastry from apple tarts she was making, something which my younger cousins still do to this day.
I started trying to improve my decoration about 3 years ago, and taught myself to work with fondant. I was doing a variety show at the time, and the director was a friend of mine. As it was her birthday during rehearsals, I wanted to surprise her with something pretty. She is a big dog lover, so I decided to bake a simple layer cake and dress it up with some fondant. I made my first little fondant model, a dog that took me half the night to finish. The response made it worth the hours of fiddling around with tiny bits of sugar! That was when the interest in decoration really took off, and I started moving beyond simple things like brownies and muffins, and into elaborate layer cakes and multi-tiered things.
I love baking as a creative outlet. I do not often get to flex my artistic muscles in my day job, so I love being able to express myself in a different way. I am lucky enough that many people trust me to come up with designs with only a little input, so I can really do whatever I like, and that is a lot of fun. Since my cakes are gone the day they are delivered, having good photographs of my work is essential, so I have developed an interest in photography through my cakes too.
Baking has changed the way I see a lot of things, and helped me to get a handle on my perfectionism. I have learned that an eye for detail is incredibly important, but that I can sometimes obsess over a detail that no one notices. Finding a balance in delivering beautiful cakes while not driving myself mad has been invaluable, and it is a skill I try to apply in other areas of my life too. I have learned to cut myself some slack every now and again!
I think it is really important to have interests beyond work, and I think my co-workers would certainly agree that my baking is a benefit to them, as they are frequent testers of my recipe experiments! Baking helps me to blow off steam and relax, and that is important in the often high-pressure world of technology. It has also helped me learn to step away sometimes – to take a break and regroup – that is very useful in work sometimes too.
It is difficult to choose a favourite design, as a lot of my cakes have been very important to me for different reasons. If I had to pick just one, it might be one of my Harry Potter themed designs, perhaps my Wicket Potter crossover! Wicket Potter was an interesting challenge, but I was very proud of the idea that I came up with and how I executed it. Plus, I have not seen anything else like him online yet, so I am pretty happy with that!
Sometimes, I will have a very clear idea as soon as someone mentions a theme – it will just pop into my head almost fully formed. Other times, I will need to think a little longer before inspiration hits. I used to sketch in a Filofax (which also held my calendar and other details), but I bought a Surface Pro a while ago and now that is where I do my cake-related scribbling. I also follow a number of cake makers on Facebook and Instagram, and while I do not like to copy other people’s designs, they can be a great source of inspiration and technique ideas.
Some cakes require only an hour or two for decoration, but others have had me working all evening and into the night, even spanning more than one evening’s work. Anything with fondant models always takes a long time, though thankfully they can usually be made a little bit in advance, so I plan extra time ahead for those. There is a lot of prep work before the cake even hits the decoration stage though! Stacking and filling a cake can take some time, and it is essential to get it right so that your decoration has a strong foundation, and once a cake is crumb coated, it will need time to firm up before the magic really starts.
I have been lucky enough to make some very special cakes, including wedding anniversary cakes in the style of the original wedding cakes, and cakes for very important birthdays too. The stories behind some of those cakes will always bring a smile to my face. I am always really touched that people choose me to be such an important part of a special day for them.
Unlike my (almost) failed hexagonal cake, I will be enjoying icing my gingerbread Christmas cookies! There is something really soothing and beautiful about the crisp white of royal icing against the crackly orange-brown of gingerbread, and I could spend hours just piping pretty little snowflakes on biscuits, or gluing sweets onto the roofs of gingerbread houses. It is very therapeutic to just lose yourself in the process for a few hours, and the result is 100% worth it.
See more or order one of Jen’s cakes here.