29 June 2018 Baker St, Middlesbrough TS1, UK

The Southernist tells the tale of The Northernist's recipe for success, ahead of #CakeFest, Middlesbrough, a celebration of all things Boro through the medium of cake, to be held at Middlesbrough Town Hall on the 1 July.



It was early May and a clearly excited message came through from my friend Olivia McHale with news to tell me.

"You'll never guess what?"

I wouldn't have guessed for a million tries, but it was quickly followed by the news that she had been approached by the people at #Cake Fest, Middlesbrough to produce a cake map of iconic landmarks from the region.

This was not a complete surprise to me, given I had recently become acquainted with her delicious website 'The Northernist' - a lifestyle, baking and beauty blog, that features plentiful, taste bud teasing home baked goods, that you disappointingly know won't look half as good if you tried the recipes yourself (but don't let that put you off trying).

That said, as the details of what was required became clearer my pragmatic side, which some might otherwise describe as grumpy, started to enquire further;

"I'm going to bake Baker Street" (of Middlesbrough, not the 221b London version) Olivia stated confidently.

Now despite being a recently relocated Southerner, this happened to be a part of Middlesbrough I was well acquainted with, on account of my fondness of the literary association of the street, as well as homing my favourite haunt, The Twisted Lip.

This, and a borrowed knowledge of decorative cake making from watching my mother over the years made me instantly realise how tricky a task this could prove to be and led to the pointedly phrased questions;

"Oh right. How are you going to do that?"

"Are you sure you want to choose that particular Middlesbrough landmark?"

"Have you done anything like this before?"

"How big are your baking tins?"

"What specialist equipment do you have?"

As the responses came back, I felt like I was steeling Olivia’s rainbow and this was confirmed by her pointing out I was “being a killjoy” so accepting this was a fair point, I resolved the best course of action would be to shut-up… briefly, before suggesting we might enjoy a trip to Baker Street together, to photograph, plan and ponder how the cake form might take shape.

For those unacquainted with the North East version of Baker Street, it is a small stretch of road in the heart of Middlesbrough running between the main thoroughfares of Linthrope Road to the West and Albert Road to the East.

In recent times, Baker Street and its parallel neighbour Bedford Street have been rejuvenated and the former red brick homes of the industrial age have been transformed into chic micro pubs, boutiques and the like, with standout makeovers of the facades making the row quite the eye catcher. 


If the above news wasn't good enough, the additional news to follow was to add icing on the cake.

The #CakeFest organisers wanted Olivia to do an interview with local news agencies ahead of the contest!

There was, however, one catch with the request in that a cake was required to film as part of the interview and with this to be done weeks before the actual contest, it meant this would prove to be a practice cake; albeit, ever the perfectionist Olivia was determined that what would be made would be of a high standard.

This news meant combining diaries for a morning working date was essential and a quickly convened meeting was arranged at the recently refurbished Baker Street Kitchen to enjoy a spot brunch whilst sketching out ideas.

Olivia wanted to do two rows of cake for each side of the street, both orange Madeira cake to provide a subtle link to the Orange Pip Market, the delightful monthly food festival that takes place on the last Saturday of each month and runs through Baker Street.

Given representatives from Orange Pip would also be judging part of this cake contest, there was an added spot of genius to the idea, but a question was soon flung my way on whether combining the sponges with layers of chocolate orange would be too much?

Having learnt the lesson from previous misdemeanours the supportive "you can never have too much chocolate" was quickly offered meaning all important matters had been decided upon.

With pancakes and eggs Benedict enjoyed, and reconnaissance complete, it was then time to source the cake making supplies, via trips to HobbyCraft, ASDA and my tip to assist with the scenery detail, Peter's Spares, a model railway shop in the heart of Middlesbrough's industrial park next to Teessaurus Park.

Fortunately, this particular tip proved to be a valuable one, with the impressive range and customer service securing ourselves some miniature modelling kits and non-toxic glue to ensure there was no danger of cross contamination.

A set of miniature European style street stall stands, plus benches and tables were purchased so that the miniature Hornby figurines that had been donated by Olivia's Grandad would have something to sit on and generally interact with, meaning we came away pleasantly pleased with our mornings work.

That feeling of pleasure, however, was to be replaced with sticky fingers and pent up frustration as we, although truth be told mainly Olivia on account of my toe thumbs, attempted to put the minuscule kits together.

You wouldn’t believe how tiny and complicated putting together just one of the several decorative cabbages were, let alone the stalls themselves.

Perhaps those more used to this sort of thing, equipped with tweezers, magnifying glass and spot light would find this task a breeze, but us, with no specialist tools - just our hands, trying to cobble together titchy cauliflowers, this was quite the Krypton Factor style challenge.

Thankfully, perseverance proved profitable and appropriate scenery had finally been put together; now all was needed was a cake to go alongside them, so given this was an area of expertise for Olivia surely this would be the easier part?


Baking began two days before the interview, with the plan to make the mountain of cake required for the structure on the first day, followed by the decoration the following day, with the interview to be held on the morning after.

With both myself and Olivia also being journalistic media types, an additional plan was for me to film and photograph her whilst she made the cake, so that these could be put together into a montage and through the early morning we both attacked the task at hand with gusto.

There was even time for me to grate some orange zest between filming, which as those in the cake making business will know, is a very important part of making an orange Madeira cake.

Day one had concluded with some cake ready for decorating and a wealth of footage, which was later put together into the film below, accompanied by the delightful tune ‘Patty Cake’ by Kodak Black, found by chance from searching for the term ‘cake’ within SoundCloud.

But the success of the day before was to be a mixed blessing, as day two's detailed decorating of the cake, with around a million metres of rolled icing, brought with it much tension.

Of course tales of baking woe should be kept within the kitchen baker and Cook, but suffice to say there was tiredness, some tears and heated accusations as to who was to blame for leaving a thumb print in one particular wall of icing?

Day time turned into night time and self-belief embed away and was replaced by self-doubt, but through joint will, powering singular expertise (frustrating I was useless at this point and too afraid to put my thumbs anywhere) Olivia had finally created her masterpiece.

*I maintain, it was not my thumb that did the damage, that was later skilfully hidden by a window ‘feature’ made from icing!

The cake was transported bright and early the following morning to Dresser's Tea Room, the sumptuous venue for Olivia’s interview with Made in Teesside and what tiredness may she may have been feeling following the stresses and strains of the preceding two days. were well hidden by her delightful smile as she beamed to camera.

And if that smile was because she was proud of her efforts, she had every right to wear it, for as I watched on in the background as the interview progressed I couldn’t help but be filled with pride for her as well.

What she had created over those two days was a piece of cake art, a sculpture built out of flour, eggs, butter, icing and the rest, that would have gained Mary Berry’s very own seal of approval; there were no soggy bottoms here.

And yet, one nagging and troubling thought arose in my mind on the car journey home that I dared not mention, especially as Olivia continued to look all so pleased with herself - this was just a 'practice' cake; we would need to do this again soon!

#CakeFest is happening this Sunday outside Middlesbrough Town Hall.

Make sure you are there to see Olivia and fellow budding bakers as they combine to create a map of iconic Teesside landmarks - after all, there will be cake!

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