Proof that you really can have your cake and eat it, Francesca McConchie started baking cakes as presents for friends as a creative outlet while working a dull desk job. Her creative streak, plus encouragement from friends who helped spread the word, meant it wasn’t long before her business - Cake of Dreams - took off with a steady flow of orders...
Having worked a 9-5 office job, when was the moment you decided to press the reset button on your career? And what motivated you to make the switch?
I spent my 20s wondering what to do with myself for a “career” - I had a dull desk job and envied all my friends passionate about their jobs, I just couldn’t work out what I wanted to do and the more I focussed on it the more I panicked. I’d always loved baking and began making birthday cakes as presents for friends, as a creative outlet more than anything. I wanted cakes to be a bit magical, taste really delicious, be a little bit customised - there didn’t seem to be anything out there ticking those boxes. I loved coming up with creative ways to decorate them - the glittery disco cherries were one of the first ideas I had, and I spent ages perfecting them. Nobody had made them before. People who had tried the cakes at parties started getting in touch wondering if they could order them, so I started to make a couple a month. When I begrudgingly went back to work after my second child was born I realised I was earning so little after childcare (& coffee!) costs that it really wasn’t that much of a plunge to try and do cakes full time. As soon as I put the word out that I was doing cakes full time the orders started flooding in.
After having the initial idea for Cake of Dreams, how long did it take to get it off the ground?
I feel like it really took itself off the ground, and swept me along with it. I was very lucky that my friends both encouraged me and spread the word, and I’ve rarely had a time when I’ve not been booked up since, with orders coming purely through word of mouth or Instagram so far. I was completely self taught and it was a very steep learning curve - there were constant cake emergencies in the early days, or suddenly not being able to source an ingredient, or inexplicable baking disasters. There have been lots of late nights and tears.
Starting your own business can be a scary prospect, what would you say to someone contemplating taking the plunge?
All the cliches about waving goodbye to your evenings and weekends are true, but it’s so worth it. Sometimes I miss booking off work for a holiday and just hitting the road without worrying about staying on top of emails and orders. My desk job was much “easier” money, but the payoff was feeling constantly unfulfilled and frustrated. Working for yourself is exhausting, but if you have an idea or skill you believe in then trust that people will support you, and that you will feel so much more vibrant making that contribution to the world.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned along the way?
The lesson I constantly come back to is to have faith that if you are putting your energy into something, a path will weave its way for you and take you on all the adventures you need. Be patient, be fair, be original and let things unfold.
Who or what inspires your cakes?
I can remember being a child and having a really clear idea of what a celebration cake should look like - all towering and dripping in berries and cherries and cream and questionably bright drizzling frosting. When I grew up I realised that cakes hardly ever lived up to it - it was really an image that had come from picture books and cartoons and stories. I wanted cakes to be like that again, something to make your feel totally special and magical. Something a bit over the top and sparkly and otherworldly, but absolutely delicious too. Nostalgia is my biggest inspiration - children’s books, rock n roll, beautiful old fashion photography, memories of holidays in the sun.
How do you achieve balance in your everyday life?
I’m not sure I’m great at achieving balance, I do too much of everything. I’m not very good at relaxing and tend to book myself up with work and fun and just keep rushing about until I collapse. But then I can use that as an excuse to book a lovely holiday once in a while…
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Everyone else is winging it too.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Don’t panic about what to be when you grow up and go and see the world instead.
What did you want to be growing up?
David Attenborough. Or Slash.
When are you happiest?
Lying in the sunshine or cooking with my kids.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My two beautiful sparkly children.
And what would you like to achieve next?
I would love to work more on recipes and perhaps get a book together.
When was the last time you laughed out loud?
My kids did an impromptu self-composed musical show of Cinderella last week, with my son as Cinderella in a very sparkly dress, and my 5 year daughter taking turns as the evil stepmother, the fairy godmother and the handsome prince.
Fantasy Dinner Party. You get to choose six guests – dead or alive – to spend the evening with. Who would you choose? And where would you go?
Goldie Hawn, Iggy Pop, Dolly Parton, Ella Fitzgerald, Judd Apatow, Marilyn Monroe for fish tacos and massive frozen margaritas by the sea.
At hush we value female friendships - what qualities do all your friends share?
I couldn’t get by without my female friends, their support is invaluable and they absolutely keep me going. Mine are all creative, inquisitive, passionate, kind and a little bit wild.
What’s the one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
I grew up in the USA and I’m longing to go back for a stint…
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?
Reading - my friend Catriona Ward’s terrifying book Rawblood for the second time…
Watching - The Handmaid’s Tale, through my hands. And Love.
Listening - Nick Cave
What’s your top tip to unwind?
Have four beers.
A mess because we just bought a tumbledown house and it’s going to take ages to do up!
Over or under dressed?
Summer or winter?
Word you over-use?
Favourite cake flavour?
Snickers raw vegan cheesecake.
Favourite Foodie Instagram account?
@talinegabriel is a total dreamboat.
Desert island beauty product (we’ll give you sunscreen)?
Can’t live without…