We chat to Neetha Syam from Buttercream Petals about her journey into the cake decorating world...
When did you first start baking and decorating cakes?
All of my great childhood memories are linked to the delicious bakes that my mum used to make. We were in India then, and she used to bake all sorts of cakes and biscuits in her small portable oven. Even though I used to help her out in cake decorating, the first set of cakes that I independently decorated was for my office’s charity bake sale. I bought a box of cake mix, some readymade buttercream, sprinkles, and ta-dah! My cakes were the least sold item, but that was the year I got hooked onto baking and cake decorating.
How did you decide to make it your career?
‘Buttercream Petals Cake Art School’ is one of my two careers. I also do a bit of freelance writing for media. It all started when I left my full-time job as an accountant following the arrival of our baby. I didn't have a solid plan at that point, but I was so excited at the prospect of spending more time doing what I love – cakes and writing. I continue to experiment with buttercream and come up with different techniques that I teach in a variety of classes across the UK and India.
How would you sum up your style and why?
My style is floral plus all things cute like birds, butterflies and rainbows! Working with buttercream gives the opportunity to incorporate floral elements onto cakes, as flower piping and also as palette knife painting. I also love the watercolour ombre effect and the stained glass effect on cakes. I love it when my cake design conveys a message or kindles a spark in the viewer's mind. Like the cake I did for Women’s Day portraying women of different races coming together.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Inspiration can be a beautiful bouquet, a pretty fabric, or a cute greeting card! Also, nature is the biggest source of inspiration. If you look at a butterfly, a bird or even a flower, you will be amazed at the hue of colours that blend together so perfectly.
What’s your design process and how long does it take you?
I like to brew on ideas for a little while before doing the project. I love to sketch my ideas on a piece of paper, the same size and shape of the cake, then I colour it with some good old-fashioned crayons. It helps me decide on the colour combinations. However, once I start the project, I prefer to decorate the cake in one stretch.
Do you have a ‘typical’ day?
I do not have a typical day as I juggle time between two careers. I aim to write for at least four hours a day and the rest of the time I spend on designing a new cake, updating social media, editing pictures and videos, managing finances and other admin. I only do a couple of classes a month, which is mostly on the weekends in various locations across the UK. So planning the perfect courses for my students is also a significant part of my job.
What’s the most memorable cake you’ve ever created?
My floral hat cake is my most memorable cake. I spent a lot of time hand-piping the intricate details of the wicker hat. My son, who was three years old at the time, wanted me to wear the hat – the most heartwarming compliment I have ever got.
What top tips would you give to someone just starting to decorate cakes?
When I started experimenting with buttercream flower piping, there weren't many courses available locally. So I am entirely self-taught, but it took me years to perfect what I do, but now there are a lot of classes available covering a variety of skills. So I would recommend anyone starting to decorate to go for a course in your area of interest. Also, the online platform is an excellent place to learn new skills – whether it be YouTube or the paid online classes. You can also attend cake shows and demonstrations for inspiration.
What are your top three cake decorating essential tools?
My petal piping nozzles, a palette knife and a toothpick to correct any buttercream piping mishaps.
What do you think will be the next big trend in cake decorating?
Following the appearance of a simple yet elegant buttercream cake for the Royal wedding, the demand for buttercream cakes has definitely taken off. I feel like the quality of taste is getting as crucial as the looks, so we might well see more of naked cakes with simple buttercream florals, drip cakes, loaded cakes and other similar decorations.
What’s next for you?
I am in the process of launching my online classes covering a variety of buttercream cake decorating techniques. I also plan to conduct more variety of courses covering techniques such a flower piping, stained glass effect, buttercream palette knife painting and much more!