Cake Show Hints
by Earlene Moore
Most cake shows are held in the spring and fall of each year. The summer months are so hectic for many of us (with the wedding cake season) that summer shows simply aren’t practical.

Why have cake shows?
Cake shows give cake decorators an opportunity to stretch their skills, try new ideas, share ideas with other decorators and educate the public on what can be done with the ever enlarging world of sugar skills. Many people have only seen what can be done by a local bakery and when they see a cake show and all the possibilities for things that can be made from sugar it blows their minds. You won’t get orders for wonderful sugar creations unless the public is educated to know that these things are possible. It is greatly to our advantage as cake decorators to educate Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public.

Who sponsors cake shows and where are they held?
Local cake clubs, local cake shops, state and international cake clubs, organize and sponsor cake shows. The local cake shows are normally sponsored by cake clubs or a local cake shop with the assistance of some local cake decorators. Cake shows are lots of work behind the scenes just to get them organized and jobs delegated. State and international shows are normally sponsored by and manned by a large group of decorators who form committees and organize the larger shows. Most of these are totally volunteer operated and will welcome those who are willing to help do all the numerous tasks that must be done to run a show. i.e registration, draping tables, marking categories and divisions on the tables, organizing the prizes and ribbons, soliciting the prizes in advance of the show. Lots of work goes into the organization before the show even starts.

Who can enter the cake shows?
Anyone (child to senior adult) who wishes to share an idea, and enter a sugar piece or cake after carefully reading all of the show guidelines can enter the cake shows. Most shows have different divisions and categories for different levels of expertise. There are usually many levels of expertise as well as several categories such as Birthday cakes, novelty cakes, wedding cakes, and etc. Beginners will not be classed with Master decorators. Wedding cakes are not usually judged against novelty cakes until final rounds of judging are begun. Then the best of every category is considered in choosing a best of division and best of show cakes in most shows.

Why enter the cake shows?
Entering a cake show is a way to test your personal skill abilities and your creativity. I love to see the wonderful creative ideas that come from all levels in a cake show. Even when the skill level is low on a cake it can still give all of us a new idea to go home and try. The ribbons and prizes are nice but personally I love talking to the public and new decorators about the possibilities of things that can be imagined in sugar. The sharing of ideas and meeting your fellow cake decorators should be incentive enough for all of us to enter the cake shows.

What do the judges at the cake shows look for?
Creativity - Copying a cake from a book, magazine or yearbook will not gain you many points if the cake judges are aware of that original cake design. 
Overall design - The overall cake design should be well coordinated. Flowers, leaves, graphic design or sugar additions such as butterflies or fairies should all be coordinated in color and design. Group things together that complement one another. Such as this fun hamburger cake grouping with a (cake & icing) dill pickle and gumpaste potato chips. The board covering should also be complimentary to the cake design like this red and white checked covered board.
This small cake is just full of tiny little details. Can you find the families of skunks, rabbits, mice, and snakes all checking out these two small children. This is a 9 X 13 cake so you can see all the figures and flowers are miniature in size. They are all hand molded with out the assistance of molds, except for the two children’s faces. This was lots of fun to create. Entries such as this one are just plain fun to create. None of my customers would be willing to pay me for the time it took to make all these little pieces. But, a cake show is a good place to try out those ideas that no one wants to pay you to do. Have a little fun and get real creative.
Precision and neatness -

Shells or balls should all be the same size and shape, borders uniform in size, this Lambeth cake is one of the designs that must have precision in the decorating design to be considered for an award. Borders should be very even and any top or side designs should be done very neatly. Creativity and precision are very important in show work. This lambeth technique is not usually attempted with buttercream icing but it can be done in buttercream as this one was. When you have a buttercream only category try something that isn't usually done with buttercream. Just for fun.

lambeth ring cake image
This Nirvana style cake is another example of a cake design that requires very precise work to make the overall look of the cake fit together. Gumpaste pansies and leaves in small arrangements compliment the lattice and butterfly designs
Nirvana pansy cake image

Color - When creating a cake for a cake show, try to keep all your colors as natural as possible. Pink roses in real life are not one shade of pink from the outside into the center. Shading, color accents, painting little details, adding soft blending of colors. All those little details can make the difference. A royal icing one color pink rose will not have the life that a three shades of pink royal icing rose will have. Learn to use color and texture to your advantage to make your design outstanding.

Size - Bigger is not necessarily better. Size of the cake only counts when it is extremely well done and beautifully displayed. Sometimes very small cakes take the best of show ribbons because of the beautiful precision work, exquisite detail and overall beauty in the design and color.

Boards - In most cases the board under the show cake should be very sturdy and approximately 4 inches larger than the displayed cake. Of course there are exceptions when the board is part of the design in an unusual novelty cakes. Care should be taken to be sure all boards are very neatly covered and compliment the cake design. Icing covered boards score higher than foil covered boards.

Degree of Difficulty -Some techniques are much harder to do than others. Such as doing realistic gumpaste flowers, floating collars or very detailed figures. As a decorator advances through the divisions in a cake show it builds your skill levels. But, each of us have the possibilities of learning very advanced techniques at any level. When techniques that take higher skill levels are done well by persons in lower division levels then the judges take that into consideration. Do the very best work you are capable of when entering a cake show. Get creative, be very neat and precise and stretch your imagination to build your skill level no matter what division you are in.

Plastic Figures, Silk Flowers and Etc. - Plastics, silks, porcelains, and even cold porcelain items used on a cake in a cake show are basically ignored. They don’t count for you or against you. When you take away those decorations from the design then what is left is what is considered in the judging. Most of the time the only type of plastics that are considered in the judging are the separators used in the Wedding cake set ups. Even purchased cake tops are basically ignored as far as the judging is concerned. Read the rules for the idividual show. Some of the shows ban this type of decorations.

Please, Please enter the cake shows to be a learning experience. Enter to build your skills - not to show off what you already know. I know many decorators who have gotten discouraged at cake shows because they went in expecting their work to be thought of as wonderful, perfect, the best in their area. It is a real ego breaker to find that there are others who are as equally talented or maybe even better. Celebrate the creativity and the wonderful work no matter who wins the ribbons. I love seeing a beautiful cake win over anything I have done. Congratulate the winner and learn from what that person has executed.

The ribbons and awards are not the important things in the long run. The important things for each of us is learning from and about our fellow decorators. When you leave a cake show with a new friend and new knowledge about sugar techniques then you have gone away from that show the better for having been there.

A HUGE Thank You - should be given to the many Vendors and individuals who furnish merchandise and cash to the prize listings at the cake shows. Their donations encourage us all to do amazing sugar creations that Mrs. John Q Public would not want to pay for. All for the art of Sugar. Thank You again for all your contributions to the wonderful world of Sugar Art.

Enjoy - Learn - Share with others.