It's a (five-story) piece of cake

Kitchen wizards show off their culinary ability and engineering skills at cake show


Kayla Passaro, an 8-year-old from Rosedale, watched with glee as a family admired her work of art -- a detailed Easter-themed gingerbread house accented with candy bunnies and frosted window frames.

The project took her three weeks of cutting, measuring, sculpting and arranging enough pastel-colored candy corns, Peeps, robin's eggs, jelly beans, Necco wafers and chocolate rocks to ruin the strongest teeth, but the finished product was worth it, according to the second-grader.

"Easter was coming up, and I wanted to make an Easter house," said Kayla, who entered the first Mid-Atlantic Cake Show and Wedding Cake Competition yesterday. "The hardest part was putting the roof on."

Several hundred people came to the Howard County Fairgrounds for the daylong event that highlighted the latest trends and tricks in the cake-decorating world.

In addition to the spectators, the competition attracted 85 decorators and four judges, including Kim Morrison, a master cake maker who has won national titles for her work and who has appeared on the Food Network.

"You do it, it looks great," said Morrison, who lives in Spring Mills, Pa. "It gets eaten and it goes away ... then you get to start over again. You also get to take part in someone's celebration."

Morrison started cake decorating as a way to stay at home and spend more time with her children 23 years ago. Now she teaches classes, caters and travels around the country, winning competitions and judging them.

Yesterday's competition featured 12 divisions and 111 cakes. Entries were judged on originality, cleanliness, precision and overall impression. In the wedding cake division, entries also were judged on taste.

The competition's theme was "Four Seasons." One wedding cake, "Winter Warmth," was wrapped in a Burberry-patterned, camel-colored scarf made of icing. A six-tier wedding cake, "Cherry Blossom, Beauty Pageant in the Moonlight," was covered in midnight-blue icing and draped in candy cherry blossom branches and light pink petals.

"They're gorgeous," said Ada Brown of Pasadena. "The details are excellent. My daughter is getting married and this is a great way to find out" what is out there.

An elaborate cake can take anywhere from 40 to 200 hours to complete, according to B. Keith Ryder, one of the event's coordinators.

"You do as much as you can in advance," said Ryder, of Falls Church, Va. "It's not the most romantic of lives."

Ryder spent 150 hours on his masterpiece, a five-tier wedding cake that was decorated with candy butterflies and topped with a flower pot with cookie crumb dirt and a sugary flowers.

"I tend to go a little overboard," Ryder said.

Jerry Barringer, a caterer and cake decorator in Silver Spring, estimates that he has decorated 3,000 wedding cakes during his 25 years in the business. Barringer calls himself "The Cake Man" and has designated a room in his home for cake decoration.

Barringer said designers of elaborate cakes often find it helpful to take construction classes. Some cakes require the use of support rods and tools like pruning shears.

"Many people don't [take the classes] and have cakes collapse," he said.

Barringer stressed that the most important aspect of the cake is the taste.

"Many times wedding cakes are [the] dessert," Barringer said. "Each tier will be a different taste with different fillings."

And judges like Morrison can tell if a cake is homemade or loaded with preservatives.

"I can taste it ... the citric acid," said Morrison, who added that taste accounted for 10 percent of the wedding cake score.

Kayla said she has aspirations of making wedding cakes in the future.

"She gets it from me," said Kayla's grandmother, Rosemary Wilson of Middle River. Wilson entered the adult division of the gingerbread house competition.

The baking gene "passed me by," said Kayla's mother, Kellie Passaro, while a small girl rushed over to the gingerbread house that Kayla made. "They probably don't know an 8-year-old made it. There are only good things to come."

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