Baker Zoe MacDonald tells Lucy Richardson how she rose to the challenge of producing a medal-winning cake

AS a primary school teacher, mum of five boys and baker, Zoe MacDonald has a lot on her place, but a commission to make a surprise homecoming cake for Olympic medal winning gymnast Amy Tinkler was an order she couldn’t resist.

As the youngest member of Team GB for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Amy produced a stunning floor routine to claim bronze, becoming the first British gymnast to medal in the event and propelling the 16-year-old from schoolgirl to national hero.

The Northern Echo: Zoepop's Cakes

A cake by Zoepop’s Cakes for Amy Tinkler as part of her homecoming celebrations

While Amy was competing in Rio, one of her neighbours contacted Zoe to make a special cake to welcome the teenager home for the party of all parties thrown by her proud community. And Zoe says that despite being busy with other orders, she couldn't resist taking on such a special order, which she was given free rein to design.

"I love making cakes, especially when I can let my imagination go wild,” she says. “I initially thought about doing the vanilla sponge cake in yellow and green as in the Brazilian colours, but watching the coverage of the Olympics and the beautiful shots over Rio, I just had to add the skyline in there and the stunning sunset too.”

When Amy completed her amazing floor routine and won the bronze medal, that pretty much set the design. “I really wanted to have the medal as a focus so left the middle tier plain,” says Zoe. “Thinking about Amy on the top, I really was a bit stumped for a while about what pose to put her in, but as I looked online for images of her medal winning performance, I kept coming to photographs of her in her final pose with that big smile and it just had to be."

Zoe had watched the Floor final with her family. “It was so exciting. Her routine was amazing. We were all so impressed and it was a very tense wait to see if she could stay in the medal position. For a 16-year-old to achieve that is just phenomenal and I'm so proud that I could help congratulate her. I got a message from Rachel who had ordered the cake just seconds after her medal was confirmed, saying: "She's amazing, put a medal on the cake!"

Amy, from Bishop Auckland, now joins Beth Tweddle as the only British female gymnast to win an individual medal at an Olympic Games, an awe-inspiring achievement. A member of South Durham Gymnastics Club, she first became interested in the sport at the age of two and now trains more than 30 hours each week on top of homework.

So how much pressure did Zoe feel under to produce a medal-winning performance when she was baking the cake? "It wasn't really more pressure. I always strive to make my cakes perfect, so if it's for a birthday or a wedding, Olympian or anyone else, I always put my heart into it and try my utmost to give the client exactly what they want, even if they don't always know what that is,” she laughs.

"It was lovely to know that it was the community that had all pulled together to pay for the cake, so I put a lot more time into it that the budget allowed, but I really wanted to make sure it was a great cake for them all."

Zoe, from Darlington, got into cake making accidentally. As the mother of five boys, she was experienced at making birthday cakes and when she was asked to make them for friends too, it snowballed.

"I'm a primary school teacher by profession, but as my boys are still young – the eldest is 12, the youngest turning two in September – I work part-time,” says the 38-year-old. “I always tell people I'm a full- time mum, part-time teacher, and I bake cakes for fun. To be honest, with five boys and a husband, it's my only girly thing! Because of the boys, I do try to limit myself to two cakes a week but I normally end up doing more as I hate saying no to people, and when customers come up with an idea for a really unusual cake, I can't resist a challenge."

Zoe’s creative sideline has been named Zoepop's Cakes, after the nickname given to Zoe by her mum. "I've done all sorts of cakes, from a huge lump of broccoli to a full-sized peregrine falcon, to sofas, bedrooms, Bagpuss or a family pet. I love sculpted cakes and the little details. I love really personal cakes and probably drive my clients a bit mad asking questions to make sure I have all of the info I need."

So is she a Great British Bake-Off fan? “I do love it, but to be honest I'm usually too busy to watch it,” she says. “I've had loads of people tell me I should apply, but I really don't know how I would fit it in."

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