AS viewers of TV’s The Great British Bake Off will know, cake decoration is a remarkable skill.

The spectacular showstoppers made by contestants often resemble gleaming sculptures so intricate it seems a shame the judges have to cut into them.

Sarah Horton credits such TV shows with inspiring her customers to push the boundaries. “People are more adventurous now - they want much more than just a cake,” she says.

Originally from Worcestershire, Sarah lived in Milan for 15 years. She went there after graduating from university in Kent with a degree in European Fashion, and initially her plan was to spend a year in the Italian fashion capital, at university and doing work experience. She ended up setting up a fashion business there; designing and making a women’s clothes line.

But she found her heart lay in cake design. “I started baking as a child, I’ve always enjoyed it. At home we never had shop bought cakes; I came home from school to the smell of freshly-baked cakes and biscuits,” says Sarah. “Living in Italy, I couldn’t find the cakes I wanted. Most of them are just made with foamy cream, there’s not much variety.

“I used to bake scones and biscuits, and have friends over for English tea, and one day a friend suggested starting a cupcake business together. Then she went back to the UK to sort some work visa issues and never came back, so I set up on my own.”

Sarah baked cupcakes and children’s birthday cakes for friends, while working as a designer for cake shops around Milan. Then she opened her own shop. “I was getting lots of requests. People loved what I was doing, there was nothing else like it over there,” she says.

Returning to the UK last year, Sarah settled in Bingley, where she runs Estrele Cakes from her home. When we chat, she’s busy baking Easter biscuits, and is surrounded in her kitchen by sugar chicks and rabbits.

As well as seasonal designs, she creates bespoke celebration cakes, with her colourful creations ranging from a drum kit to a gold stiletto. Her wedding cakes offer a twist on traditional designs - one has a fish bowl filled with petals sandwiched between tiers, another is a splendid rustic-themed cake with a white rose winding up each tier, part of it resembling the bark of a tree. Another cake takes the shape of a pile of books, with intricate Romeo and Juliet silhouettes perched on top.

For new arrivals and Christenings, she makes biscuits decorated with iced storks, letters and babies’ feet.

Each design reflects a vivid imagination and remarkable icing skills. Sarah’s novelty cakes wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery of sculptures: a sea lion in a top hat and waistcoat poses in what looks like a puddle of water; a cyclist rests on a haystack, his bike propped up against it; a carton of popcorn spills over film reels; a cheeky dog sprawls next to a half-eaten cupcake; and a pair of green wellies are filled with roses. Sarah's Italian influence is evident in a colourful Venetian mask.

“Some people have very specific designs in mind, others throw me an idea and I work with it,” says Sarah. “Wedding cakes have become more adventurous; people want more than the traditional three tiers. They want their cake to tell their story.”

Sarah’s background in fashion and eye for design has proved useful in her cake decoration career. “I trained in design, pattern-cutting and sewing. When it comes to cakes, some of the skills are very similar,” she says. “There’s a lot of information online now. I took a lesson in making sugar flowers, and as with anything else, I learned by making mistakes.

“I’m always coming up with new ideas. Even on holiday, I find myself looking at something, thinking: ‘How can I make that in a cake?’”

The attention to detail in her cakes is striking - colourful buttons and intricate lace designs adorn a batch of cupcakes, while others have lipsticks and make-up brushes iced onto them. All the figurines and decorations, right down to fairies’ wings, flower petals and Mini Mouse ears, are edible; made from sugar.

“I make the sugar figures and decorations first, as they need to set. The cake has to be fresh so that comes last,” says Sarah. “Cake decoration is an art, there are lots of materials to use. There’s a new product that looks like fabric, I find that very useful.

“Depending on the design, and how complicated it is, it can take a week to complete a cake. It’s lovely to create something that makes people happy. You know that when a cake is presented, it’s going to make someone smile.”

Sarah uses locally sourced, seasonal ingredients.

With much of her demand coming from overseas, her cakes are flown to countries such as Canada and Germany. “If I travel with a cake; depending on its size I book a seat for it on a ‘plane,” she says.

“I once took a cake made in the shape of a wine and cheese board through customs and I was stopped because it looked like a real bottle of wine. I was told to open it - I tried to explain I couldn’t because it was made of sugar! "

The customs officers kept picking it up by the neck, trying to open it. I was worried it would cause a hairline crack. Eventually they let me through.”

Sarah is a member of the Sugar Chronicles, an international network of cake bakers. Last year they created a Narnia scene in cake and sugar at the Manchester Cake and Bake Show. The snow, stones and water were all edible, along with life-size figures including Mr Tumnus, Aslan the lion (which took 100 hours to make and four people to lift), Prince Caspian and a Minator.

“Visitors entered Narnia through a wardrobe and at the end of the walk there were fundraising buckets for the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital,” says Sarah.

“We also made a cake for the hospital in the shape of a bee, in tribute to the city’s worker bee logo, following last year’s Manchester Arena bombing.”

* For more about Sarah's cakes go to and