At most cake decorating competitions, the competition pieces are actually completed ahead of time. Typically, the competitors decorate "cake dummies" which are Styrofoam pieces in the shape of cake tiers. And then they decorate them using edible mediums like buttercream, royal icing, fondant, gum paste, modeling chocolate, etc. There are many places to buy cake dummies, but I buy mine from Dallas Foam. In fact, if you use another source, leave it in the comments!
Here are my 10 suggestions for how to successfully enter and WIN cake decorating competitions:
1. Know and Understand the Rules
- Competitions come in all shapes and sizes with very different rules. Read through the rules a few times, making notes in places that are unclear or raise questions in your mind. Don't be afraid to ask the show coordinators your questions! If something is unclear, I'm sure they'd be more than happy to help you understand.
- Don't be disqualified or lose points in the competition because of a simple rule misunderstanding!
- The judges make the ultimate decision of who wins and loses so please them with your entry. If you know one judge is particularly fond of stringwork, use it! If you know one judge absolutely hates "elephant skin" on cakes, be careful to avoid it at all costs.
- Most cake decorating competitions have a theme. Go above and beyond the theme with your entry! Make people think, "Wow, why didn't I think of that?!" Draw the eye to YOUR entry and impress both the public and the judges with your creativity.
- For example, the FL ICED Cake Competition theme is Romantic Wedding Dresses. Think crazy! Do a wedding dress from the Victorian Era, or one from the future, or one made entirely of peacock feathers!
- It is OK to draw inspiration from other cakes or works of art, but you need to change them to add your own twist. You cannot and will not win if you are merely copying what someone else has already done.
- Use appropriate color combinations. That's not to say you can use black and hot pink - as long as it looks nice and goes with the theme. But don't use colors like black, orange, and red if it's a Christmas-themed competition!
- This is a tricky thing to do correctly. In the long run, you're going for a design that has mass appeal. It's ok to go funky at times, but there has to be something in it that everyone will like. For example, if you go with the peacock feather wedding dress: Not everyone would like that kind of dress. But you'll appeal to the masses because they'll be impressed with your use of color and your talent in pulling off a difficult technique like that.
- You must use precision, uniformity, and (near) perfection on your competition entry. You have to demonstrate that this is NOT the first time you've attempted a technique (even though it may, in fact, be). You need to make the techniques look very cleanly executed and as if they were easy for you to complete.
- This is another tricky one. The judges will want to see that you are well-versed in many different cake decorating/sugar art techniques. Can you cover a cake with fondant? Can you make fondant figures? Can you do stringwork?
- However, there is a fine balance between demonstrating that you can do many techniques and overloading your cake with "over decoration" just to demonstrate the techniques. Choose your favorite techniques - ones that go with the theme, fit your cake design, and show the highest level of difficulty - and use those.
- A cake decorating competition is not typically where you want to try a new technique for the first time, unless you are confident that you can MASTER it (see #6).
- Make people stop at your entry and try to get closer to examine all the fine details on your cake. Give them the impression that they need to admire your cake for hours to get a full appreciation of everything on it.
- You want to impress the judges and the public with your overall design...draw them over for closer inspection...and blow them away with the little details!
- Things happen - bumps in the road, bad drivers, etc! Prepare an "oops" kit so that you can repair ANYTHING that gets damaged upon delivery to the competition. At this point, you've spent hours on your competition piece. If something breaks, take the time to repair it!
- Similarly, take advantage of the set-up time the competition organizers have allowed you. If they give you a 3-hour block to set up your piece, get there early! If you have time leftover, great! But you never want to run out of time setting up.
- At the end of the day, YOU are taking the cake home again. Are YOU happy with the design? Are YOU happy with the effort you put into it? If YOU aren't happy with your competition piece, how can you expect anyone else to like it?!
- Please yourself and learn something from your competition experience. Talk to other competitors about their experiences and techniques they used.
- AND HAVE FUN!