I first heard about the Depressed Cake Shop through Twitter. Once I knew there was one in the neighbouring town, in the village where I had lived for six months last year, I knew I wanted to get involved. Elisabeth Shrimpton, who runs the Lillyput Bakery, organised the Kent pop up shop after she heard about the intriguing idea to approach mental health awareness with a visual, edible representation of depression. My first reaction was: that sounds like a great idea for an artistic project, but no one’s going to want to buy grey cakes. They will look too gross to eat.
I was wrong. I looked at the Pinterest board for the Depressed Cake Shop and day by day more photos of trial grey cakes (and biscuits and sweets) appeared. They didn’t look gross. Most of them looked delicious. Some of them looked too beautiful to eat (see the incredible chocolate sculpture of an unhappy man’s head in his hand). So I joined in. I thought I would just make grey iced biscuits, but then I felt more inspired, and as the DCS seemed to rise in popularity and more cakes were needed, I decided to make grey and black jam tarts and grey fondant fancies as well.
I chose elephants because I have a tin full of random biscuit cutters that I have acquired over the years: a train, duck, elephant, man, rabbit, heart, and lots of Christmas shapes. Of all of these shapes, elephants are the things that are grey in real life, so I thought they would look quite appropriate! The butterfly shape I chose because they are usually pretty and colourful and are associated as a symbol for girls and women more than boys and men, so I liked the idea of making them grey and gender-neutral. I got a small dog cutter to represent the black dog (the symbol of depression), but as I only had grey ready-rolled icing, this didn’t entirely work! They looked more like the icon of a famous handbag company than a metaphor for depression. Oh well; the intention was there.
I used Peggy Porschen’s recipe for fondant fancies as inspiration, but changed them. I just made vanilla sponges in mini loaf tins, dyed in different colours, halved them and filled them with buttercream and strawberries from Hugh Lowe's farm in Kent. I did try to dip them in the pastel grey fondant icing, but I just ended up with lots of cake and jam in the icing and not much icing on the cake! So I put the cakes on a tray and poured the icing over. I did it three times, each time using darker icing. The end result still looked translucent, but when we put them out on the day they were sold out within an hour – so they must have looked ok! I attempted to make grey sweet shortcrust pastry for the rosewater jam tarts, but once baked they lost the grey colour and just looked a dirty beige. I made some with blackcurrant jam, and topped these with blackcurrants from Hewitt’s Farm (a pick-your-own farm on the edge of Bromley borough) and white chocolate that I had melted, dyed grey, squiggled onto baking paper and left to chill. I also made some grey pastry dog toppers and some strawberry tarts.
My mum made marshmallows with a white bottom layer, a pale grey top layer, and black sugar sprinkles. After two days of baking, I didn’t feel like eating any of the things I made, but I couldn’t have eaten the marshmallows as they have gelatine. I am hoping that one day she will make them with vegetarian fake gelatine so I can enjoy them too!
The event itself was a fantastic success. I was amazed by the kind donations we received of ingredients and sundries from the Co-op on DownhamWay, the Waitrose on Burnt Ash Lane, Baker and Maker and Cake Craft Shop. As all of the people making the cakes had volunteered their time and resources, and the money raised from the sale was all going to Bromley Mind, it was much appreciated. The bakers were great – they made colourful cupcakes topped with grey icing, black butterflies and a brain design, there were gluten-free family cakes, and the organiser Elisabeth made themed cake pops. I asked her how she made them; I assumed there was a special baking tray. She cuts and shapes hers by hand – what a painstaking job! There were also sweets and chocolates which were kindly donated by local chocolate company Cocoapod. Cinnamon Culture restaurant let us use their wonderful restaurant and lovely garden to set up the shop and an area with leaflets from Bromley Mind, and local company Plumbline Direct spent the morning blowing up 100 grey and black balloons.
People came because they had heard of the shop and were intrigued by the prospect of grey cakes. Since we were lucky enough to be in a restaurant with a garden (which we moved into once the rain had cleared up), many people got a cake from us and a drink from the restaurant and sat in outside, enjoying the sunshine and the scent of the lavender. A representative from Bromley Mind was on hand to speak to people, and gave us an insight into the amazing work that the charity does.
By the end of the afternoon, cakes were eaten, tea was drunk, conversations were had, smiles were exchanged, and £305 was raised for Bromley Mind. Not bad for a day that started with a thunderstorm. A huge thank you to the organiser, Elisabeth, and the many people who took part in the event, including our wonderful customers. It was a joy to work with you or serve you cake!