My dog Tilly, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, has her 8th birthday coming up and I want to make her something special - and a dog cake sounds perfect. Luckily, Kath Crawford, owner of Doggy Patisserie, offers to let me be her sous-chef for the day at her Yorkshire-based bakery.
Kath spends her day baking cupcakes, cookies and birthday cakes for dogs. Tilly is joining us along with Kath's Golden Retrievers Jack, who's five, and Murphy, four. Kath's in-house dog tasters take their role very seriously.
As we grease the baking tins, Kath tells me she worked in the marketing department of a bank for 25 years. "When I took voluntary redundancy I decided to set up my own business," explains Kath, 49. "But I wanted to do something that I enjoyed so I combined two things that I love, dogs and baking."
Kath customers are dog owners and posh shops from all over the UK. Her most popular item is her "Happy Birthday Cake", which has the dog's name piped in carob icing - chocolate is poisonous to dogs.
"I can pipe anything on the cakes," adds Kath. "I've just posted a birthday cake to a customer in York with 'Pug's Party' written on it. The owner owns a pug and all the dogs on the guest list are pugs too, I thought it was really sweet.
"If the dog is a small breed, though, owners often order the cupcakes," says Kath. "Just the other week I received a gorgeous photo of a Cavalier called Charlie celebrating his fourth birthday with a single vanilla and carob cupcake."
Kath says that dog birthday parties are popular these days because they're fun for the pets - and the adults and kids enjoy them too.
"I don't think it's odd that people throw birthday parties for their dogs," she says. "Dogs are regarded as a member of the family and these days often receive birthday presents and why not?"
Why not indeed. Tilly has her own Christmas stocking and so birthday presents don't seem that outlandish to me either. (Or am I turning into a mad dog woman?)
"I also bake 'Get Well Soon' cakes," adds Kath. "A customer from Manchester recently ordered one topped with white-flavoured carob chocolate for her Labrador who was poorly, he'd cut his foot, and it really cheered him up."
Batch of biscuits
Just then, the cooker bell goes off and it's time to take a batch of biscuits out of the oven. Once the cookies have cooled, Kath shows me how to coat them with icing.
By the last couple of biscuits I'm getting the hang of it and stand back to admire my handwork. I'm almost tempted to eat one.
Kath laughs and says, "Although I use human-grade ingredients, the texture is rougher and less sweeter than anything I would bake for myself. I don't use butter or sugar either so these treats are definitely for dogs."
Without hesitation, Kath reels off the ingredients for her birthday cakes: flour, free range eggs, honey, vegetable oil, vanilla flavouring, plus carob coating.
"I don't add preservatives or artificial colours, for example the pink icing is made with beetroot powder," explains Kath. "It's healthier to eat food that's natural. A lot of the mass-made dog treats are packed full of sugar, which is fattening for dogs, I use honey instead."
Next, we ice the cupcakes and it takes Kath just seconds to pipe on little paw prints and swirls. My attempts at decoration are terrible, the icing spurts out of my piping gun too quickly.
With this in mind, Kath finishes the batch for a posh dog shop in Scotland. With the biscuits and cupcakes finished it's time to bring in the dog tasters.
Paw of approval
Jack, Murphy and Tilly appear from the garden and sit politely as Kath gives them each a biscuit. In a blink of an eye all three treats disappear; the pooches have given their paw of approval.
Kath adds, "Dogs are there to be loved and spoiled occasionally, but just like humans if dogs eat 'cake' all the time they will get fat, even if it's made with healthy ingredients. My treats should be fed as part of a healthy diet."
Tilly's not concerned about calories, she's more interested in what Kath's doing with her birthday cake. I'm also mesmerised as Kath beautifully pipes 'Happy Birthday Tilly' on the top.
Two days later my pooch is eight-years-old, and when I feed Tilly a piece of her birthday cake she scoffs the slice quickly before flopping into her basket with a contended sigh. Her food-induced happiness is proof that fancy-pants patisseries aren't just for humans.
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