Related Story: Hy-Vee's Designers Create Themed Confections
The result may be sweet, but the competition is fierce at Hy-Vee’s cake decorating competition. 150 of Hy-Vee’s designers entered the regional contest and only 18 made it to the finals in Des Moines, Iowa. There, the contestants have to design a dozen cookies, two dozen cupcakes, a feature cake, and two sheet cakes according to a theme of their choice in four hours.
When I spoke to this year’s winners by phone, it became clear that winning this contest takes more than just talent. The designers come to the finals with detailed plans.
Rhoda Schultz, the third place winner and winner of the Decorator’s choice award, talked to me about her winning cakes.
“The design I chose was harlequin. And that is kind of an older style of jester for the royalty, the kings and queens. And I decided to keep it pretty simple using just black and white, gold and the dark, deep red.”
“It didn’t really take a lot of come up with the theme itself. I’ve always been really interested in the Mardi Gras and masks in general. And so I really liked doing that style. Coming up with a lot of different ideas for the cakes, and cupcakes and such did challenge a little bit because you have all of these different cakes and cupcakes and cookies you have to do. You have to make each one of them different and intriguing and unique in and of themselves.”
Second place winner Janine Schwendinger got her theme idea from working on a cake for a customer.
“Most of my ideas start with a cake that I had done the year before. Like this year I’d done a really neat horsehead cake for a customer and I used that idea, thinking wouldn’t that make a great unicorn? And from that, really my idea blossomed from there.”
“I really wanted to do something fun for my tier cakes so I did kind of an enchanted tree that had something living in it and then had a dragon climbing on the top of it, which turned out really cool. And then yeah, of course I did my fairy on the half-sheet, which I loved because I really wanted to do some sugar work on it, so I did some sugar wings on it.”
“I think the real challenge for me is can I get my sugar work to work out. You have to make sure it’s the right temperature when you pour it. If it’s too hot, it’ll warp your mold, if it’s too cold it won’t pour. That was the one kind of variable that was tough for me not having worked a lot with sugar.”
First place winner Katie O’Connor won the contest with a meta approach. Her “I Love Cake Decorating” theme incorporated the tools of the decorating trade into her cakes. She turned broken eggs, pastry bags, and cups of sugar into works of art.
“I was making a groom’s cake last summer… and they asked for a combine [harvester], a 3-D combine because the guy was a farmer. And so I was making this combine cake and I was kind of thinking you know if I was on a combine for like 15-20 hours a day like I know they are, I don’t know if I’d want a combine cake. And so I started thinking what kind of cake would I want?”
“You know cake decorators always make cakes for everybody else and when we’re taking the order we always ask ‘What are they like? What are they into?’ But as a cake decorator, your whole life is cake decorating, that is what you love. If somebody asks you, ‘Oh her, the cake lady. Her.’ And so I wanted to make cakes for us, like if I was making a cake for a cake decorator. I thought that would be cool.”
The second, third, and decorator’s choice award winners walked away with a cash prize. Katie O’Connor won a trip for two to tour Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, the home of the Ace of Cakes Reality show with pastry chef Duff Goldman. She’s planning to take the trip in July.