Farzana Manzoor is our winner of CakeFlix Feature member of the month for the following reasons: her amazing creativity, her great sense of humour, but most notably her determination to succeed in what has been a very difficult and challenging couple of years.
Farzana’s story is inspirational and motivational for anyone facing challenges.
Farzana’s story by Farzana,
Creating a cake requires patience, skill, creativity and of course the correct ingredients. Over the last two decades I have worked hard to acquire amazing ingredients and develop my skills but, I constantly questioned whether I had ‘IT’ or not?
My love for all things cake began over twenty years ago when I attended one of Paul Bradford’s evening classes. I was hooked! He inspired me so much and although I didn’t have a great deal of patience or in my opinion skill and creativity, Paul and I became friends. This is one of my most valued friendships and he still laughs when I refer to myself as his Asian Invasion. Paul’s career took a huge leap to cake decorating fame as he and his partner, David moved to Spain where they established a platform supporting all things cake related. The name, CAKEFLIX has become an international and influential platform for cake decorating tutorials and courses honing the skills of many.
As a Home Economics teacher in Scotland, I spend my days encouraging youngsters by teaching them how to cook, eat healthily and I incorporate baking and cake decorating skills where the curriculum allows. But, my own baking seemed limited to celebration cakes for friends and family and I was feeling low. A fatal car crash in 2018 left me grieving one of the most devastating losses of my life. Michelle was one of my lifelong closest friends, one minute she was with me and the next she was gone. Michelle always wanted me to aim high and take chances in life. She was one of the most bubbly and enthusiastic people I have ever had the pleasure to have known.
Whilst I was in a state of devastation, I made a spur of the moment decision and sent Paul a message asking him about cake decorating and a potential career that I could pursue. Paul had no idea whatsoever about the devastating loss of Michelle. Being the superstar kind-hearted soul he is, he offered not just advice but an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t say no to. This opportunity was to attend a CakeFlix teacher training course at his Sugarcraft School in Malaga so I could learn how to run my own cake-decorating classes. Now, teaching was a skill I knew I had and here was Paul offering me the chance to fine tune my cake skills and develop my teaching and experience. I couldn’t say no! I reached out to Carolyn, a local cake decorator who has a successful established business ‘Ca’s Buttercream Dream’ (she is also Paul Bradford trained) therefore, she encouraged me and repeatedly advised me to ‘Believe’ and don’t think just do it!
So off I flew to Spain! And this was daunting. I may be an independent woman who lives alone and of what I like to call “Asian persuasion” but that does not mean I am a confident flyer nor do I like the sun. Armed with meditation and breathing strategies for the plane and enough sun cream to cover probably all of Spain, I set off! And what a trip it was! Wow! Not only did I get to see Paul and his partner David again, learn new and amazing cake skills but, I also met some fantastic people. The whole week gave me such a buzz, Paul was so encouraging and I felt like I’d got my creativity back or maybe I’d just finally found my “mojo”. Either way, Sparkles Cake Academy was born from that week and I came home armed with plans, pals and purpose!
Sparkles Cake Academy launched in February 2020 and with my future laid before me I was excited and enthusiastic. With the praise I’d received from Paul and David ringing in my ears and the fantastic friendships I’d formed, especially with Nichola Meaney, known as Auntie Nichola and Sarah Brown, also known as the big sister. They have both been an amazing support and have encouraged me to take life by the spatula and whisk and go for it, I was ready and raring to go. I was prepared to “shake what my mama gave me” as I always said in the classes to make the others laugh – this was my new venture; nothing was going to stop me now!
Oh, what’s that now, a worldwide pandemic, yep that’ll stop a girl in her tracks. The only thing I was shaking was my head in disbelief, how could this happen?
I had literally only run two classes before Covid-19 swept through the world and everyone went into lockdown. And, to add insult to an already seriously damaging pandemic, as an ethnic minority with some medical complications, I was instructed to shield. Yes, I was in double lockdown, with a new company and all this enthusiasm ready to melt away like a cake left in the heat. What would I do? Was my dream over before it had even begun? Well, I really had to dig deep into my positivity and purpose again AND I had wonderful cake friends who inspired me, encouraged me, and made me feel a little less lonely during the isolation. I simply had to change tack. Ok, so I couldn’t teach a class physically in a room, but I could do video tutorials and live demonstrations on CakeFlix, which boosted my confidence and allowed me to still cling onto my dream! Albeit by my fingernails! I would not let this pandemic nor my Long Covid diagnosis (as in spite of isolation it got me) destroy me! I’d worked too hard!
One of the video demonstrations I did for CakeFlix was a Halloween “shoe-stopper,” inspired by the late Jennifer Lofthouse, a fellow cake and shoe lover and another victim of Covid. She and I loved shoes, she was so inspiring and encouraging with my latest venture into edible shoes that she made me rethink my decorating and this is where a new branch of my business really took off. Receiving great feedback for my chocolate shoe designs, the orders started piling in and I was even asked to create a window display for a vacant shop in my local town. Suddenly I could see that my skills were developing, my patience had paid off and my creativity was taking me into yet another direction – Sparkles Cake Academy was still alive! I used my cake skills to enhance the shoes, which is why I think they are so popular and I am able to make the designs so intricate. And, let’s not forget ingredients!
I was taken by surprise when I was invited to become a Brand Ambassador for Smartflex, a European sugarpaste company owned by Richard Papp. I have a genuine love for this sugarpaste, it has made my life so much easier as a teacher, lecturer and cake artist. Suddenly, Sparkles Cake Academy was becoming synonymous with my bespoke chocolate shoe and cake designs, I could see my dreams on the horizon once again.
Despite being in lockdown I’d found a way to keep baking, keep inspiring and most importantly keep dreaming. I often think of Michelle and Jennifer, lives cut short too soon and it just makes me more and more determined each day to fulfil my dream. I was invited to take part in a collaboration with Cake Collective, Tribal Cultures by Aaisha Sumbal. I instantly formed a bond with Aaisha, a soul sister all the way from India. The collaboration featured 97 cake artists worldwide. I represented Scotland creating not one but four different tribal-inspired shoes. Little old me, in a world competition! I couldn’t believe it! When my designs were officially revealed, Paul was beaming with pride.
As Covid began to ease its grip on the world and things slowly returned to a new normal, Instantaneously Sparkles had bookings for wedding and celebration cakes, not something I had planned for, but it was so exciting to see my business branching out in all these different directions. I received government funding for a website which was an opportunity to incorporate all aspects of the business; the cake academy, the chocolate shoes, chocolate creations, celebration cakes and wedding cakes. Sparkles Cake Academy has now become Sparkles Cake Company and is very much alive and kicking!
My creative skills have been challenged in a number of different ways. In particular, one of the wedding cake designs was an intricate Indian Henna design which took me sixteen hours to paint just one tier! I was also asked to design a stage cake which was displayed at an Awakening Festival – another great opportunity and such a huge honour. Classes have also resumed at Sparkles Cake Academy, at times I feel a little overwhelmed trying to juggle celebration cakes, wedding cakes, chocolate shoes, cake classes as well as, working in my day-job as a Home Economics teacher and lecturing one evening a week at West Lothian College in Edinburgh.
As if this isn’t enough, I have also enrolled in the CakeFlix Master accredited qualification. I recently attended the new CakeFlix headquarters based in the highlands in Scotland called Strathardle Lodge. A fabulous residential cake school with accommodation. Once again I was back with CakeFlix being an Asain invasion. The one week course assignment was to create a bespoke and creative wedding cake design. I certainly challenged myself by designing and creating a ‘Boll…y…..wood’ cake design consisting of four spherical, structured tiers. Each ball was elegantly decorated with wafer paper designs, edible mediums, sugarpaste, lights and of course sparkle! I literally had a ball….once again I made friends with cake artists from around the world. They were an inspiring, friendly, helpful and confidence building experience group of ladies. It was a full on week, but we got through it with fun, laughs, night shifts, and caffeine and as my newly found cake friends referred to me as having a wacky sense of humour which kept them laughing all week. .
Out of all the chaos of Covid over the past few years, I have embraced each and every opportunity and my business has taken some twists and turns that I could never have envisaged. I try to incorporate my fun and wacky personality into my designs, and I have made so many good friends within the cake industry who have all been so supportive. I love belonging to a community of like-minded people who are passionate about cakes and I try to pass this feeling of community onto my customers. Do I regret any of it I hear you ask? Not one ounce!
As my dear departed friend Michelle has taught me, life is for living and after all these years that’s what Sparkles Cake Company is doing for me, keeping me alive, happy and sparkling; the most important ingredient of all.
Sparkles Cake Company is based in Alva, Clackmannanshire