FOR Alison Roberts, making cakes is not just about perfecting recipes or keeping up with the latest trends on The Great British Bake Off.

It represents family and has helped her at some of the hardest points of her life.

The 39-year-old, who runs Alison Loves To Bake at Warrington Market, became infatuated with cakes and baking thanks to her mum Sarah. Her mum died when she was 17 but Alison keeps those favourite family recipes going and hopes to pass them on to her three children Thomas, 12, Beth, 10, and Ben, seven.

She said: “My mum would bake every week. She actually hated baking so she passed it onto me as soon as she could.

“Supermarket cakes are so cheap now but back then it was all Mr Kipling’s and stuff like that which were quite expensive.

“We didn’t have a lot of money so my mum used to make a couple of cakes a week for the family. From a very young age she always got me and my brother Adrian involved.

“We’d stand on the stools in the kitchen and lick the beaters. She’d have a fruit cake and we’d have a little egg cup of the mixed fruit for us to eat on the side.”

As she grew up Alison had less time for baking but in 2005 she gave up her job as a WH Smith manager to raise her son Thomas. She then rediscovered her love of cakes finding it the perfect antidote to post natal depression.

“It gave me a focus as much as anything,” Alison added.

“Everything becomes about the baby. I was one of the managers at WH Smith at Manchester Arndale which is one of the biggest WH Smiths in the country.

“So a lot of what I was doing was working with head office and being on the ball with everything that was going on.

“You go from that to suddenly being at home all the time with a little screaming bundle.

“And if you don’t do something for yourself, you can kind of lose who you are. My husband Phil could come home from work and he never minded if I hadn’t achieved anything but it was nice for me to be able to say: ‘I’ve made us these cakes for tea’.

“The house might be a mess, I might have not got dressed that day and Thomas might have been screaming his head off but I felt like I’d done something rather than the day becoming one big blur.”

Alison’s kids have since grown up around baking, particularly since 2008 when she decided to turn her hobby into a business.

She said: “Baking is engrained into them now so whether they did it for a living or just for fun I know it’s a skill they’re going to have now. Like how I relate it to family time with my mum they’ll relate it to family time with us. Phil makes crumble with them and they always make a double batch because we know the children will eat half the mixture before it goes in.”

Alison Loves To Bake expanded in 2011 when Phil, who worked in the public sector, was made redundant and decided to join the business. They opened a stall in Warrington Market and their friend Clare Dickenson joined as a business partner in 2012. Their main work is wedding cakes.

Alison added: “We’ve got really elegant ones that people love but also over the years we’ve done crazy ones. A lot more people have wanted superhero ones over the last few years as well as unusual ones that reflect their personality.”

Alison has also noticed changing trends with traditional wedding cakes going out of fashion.

She said: “We only do five or six cakes a year that have fruit cake in. Quite a popular one at the moment is rocky road. A lot of brides and grooms have that for their top tier and they’ll take that home just for them to have with their champagne.”

“Because we bake from scratch we can pretty much make anything. We’ve done battenberg and banoffee tiers and we do red velvet a lot.”

More people are also simply stopping by for a slice of cake since the market’s new emphasis on food.

Alison added: “It’s creativity of making something from scratch that I love and I also find it relaxing. You feel you’re achieving something but in the same way it’s almost a meditative thing. Once you know what you’re doing you can change recipes and make them your own.

“Before I opened this, people used to say I’ve never seen you happier than when you’re feeding people cake.”

Alison even got the honour of making a cake to present in the Houses of Parliament in 2013.

She was chosen by ‘the voice of markets’ NABMA (National Association of British Market Authorities) to help launch the ‘Love Your Local Market’ scheme in London.

So Alison made a part model, part cake of Big Ben with market stalls set up in front of it. 

It took between 40 and 50 hours to make the main model and she started making the edible market traders two months in advance.

Alison said: “Clare and I got to set it up at the champagne reception so we got to see people enjoying it and their reaction.
“Because of the security at the Houses of Parliament we had to walk it through London. So many people stopped us to take a look at it. It was definitely an experience.”

The edible part of the model was designed to feed 200 and Alison took the polystyrene part home

She added: “About a year after that they had the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who so we changed it for our window display and made Doctor Who figures and a spaceship crashing into Big Ben.

“I love the challenging ones. One of the big things for me is designing the cakes. It’s nice to take someone’s idea and turn it into a reality for them.”

Alison will be hosting some Christmas evening workshops in December including how to make a Santa cake topper on December 7 and Christmas cupcake decoration tips on December 21.

Class places are limited. For more information visit Alison at Warrington Market