Archive | August 2012

Here Comes The Judge

I am addicted to cake shows. Not the ones on tv that call to most people. Nope,
I love the local cake shows where hobbyists and professionals spend a few
sleepless nights working on cakes and then bring them in to be judged. I was
affectionately called. “Show Ho” by many of my friends. I would load my mini van
and go to any cake show that I could get to. I have driven over 22 hours to get
to shows more times than I can count. I recently tallied up how many shows I
have attended and was surprised that I had been to 25 different shows at least
once! I stopped keeping track of my ribbons and awards a long time ago. When I
was inducted in The Sweet Life Hall of Fame, Norm Davis introduced me as the
most award winning decorator on the circuit. Is that true? I have no idea. I
never won the biggest prizes, but I consistently did well at shows.

Ruth Rickey with some of her ribbons and awards, 2010

I now spend most of my time at cake shows serving as a judge. While I cannot
speak for every judge, I can tell you that there are certain universal dos and
don’ts. I have been sharing these tips at Days of Sharing and this year at the
ICES convention and want to share them with the rest of you now.

DO read the rules. If it says buttercream only, don’t put glitter or royal icing or
anything other than buttercream on it. If it says to show in process pictures,
make sure you provide them. If it says six cupcakes, don’t bring only five.
While this should seem ridiculously simple, failure to read the rules results in
the majority of problems at shows.

DO write good notes for the judges. I don’t care if the show gives you a form or not…write down what you used.
Don’t assume that they can tell that you used edible luster dust. Don’t assume
that they know what flower you made or that you intended it to be fantasy, not
botanical.

DO work with dummy cakes unless the rules require you to use
real cake. I have seen so many real cakes bulge and pucker. It isn’t cheating to
use dummies. It is allowing yourself the chance to show off your best work.

DO think about the board. It needs to be 2-4″ larger than the cake. It
should be covered in fondant and decorated in keeping with the cake design. It
should be finished with a ribbon around the edge of the board. Do use
accessories like fabric under the cake if allowed and if the enhance your
design. Do think about the shape. Sometimes putting a cake on a different shape
board can enhance the overall presentation.

Use of a different shape board to offer a place to display flowers.

DO start with a great work surface. The cake covering will make or break how you do. If it doesn’t look
good, don’t settle. Recover the cake. As many times as it takes. I personally
knead a little buttercream into my fondant, then roll between two pieces of
upholstery plastic. It makes a huge difference!

DO be neat and precise.
If you see the error, we see it. So fix it or hide it. Clean the edges of
cutouts. Don’t use huge globs of icing to attach things to the cake.

DO go beyond the mold. I see so many “lick and stick” cakes. If you are just
cutting things out or popping them out of a mold and putting them on a cake, you
are not showing your true skill as an artist. Do something with your hands!
Pipe. Paint. Model. Make a flower. Add something to take the cake to the next
level.

DON’T use silk flowers, plastic or real ribbon on the cake.
Judges have to ignore those like they aren’t even on the cake. Make sugar
flowers. Use fondant or gum paste ribbons.

DO think about the colors. It doesn’t matter if the colors are bright or pale, just make them appealing. Make
sure your color combinations work together. I have a friend who is a little
color blind. Her mother in law would always advise her on colors. If you can’t
see it, ask a friend.

DON’T let your cakes fade. Or get dusty. Use
powder colors to help keep colors from fading. Steam your flowers to set colors.
Keep the cakes boxed or covered when you aren’t working on them.

DON’T use straight pins to hold on decorations. Seriously. I will catch you.

DON’T use hot glue on your cake!

DON’T stick wires right into your cakes. Use a flower pick or a straw. Tell the judges in your notes that you
followed the correct procedure.

DON’T forget to put a board under your
cakes if the are separated. We always check. We should never see the cake
dummy! Remember, the dummy is a substitute for the real cake, but you have to
treat it like you would a real cake. Great decorators will even embellish under
the board, as a treat for the judges.

DON’T ever, ever, ever use tin foil to cover your cake board!

DON’T use inedibles like disco dust and
accent metallic dusts all over your cake. Those products are meant to be used on
items that can be removed from the cake prior to serving. (I have a whole blog
coming on disco dust…watch for it). Don’t spray the entire cake with super
pearl. Remember that it is a highlighter. Think about the focus and highlight
THAT.

DON’T copy something out of a book or magazine. Be original. Make
the cake your own. Be inspired by something and design your own
creation!

DO focus on what you are best at. Don’t worry about what you
think the judges want. If you are great at figure modeling, do that as your
focus. You always do a better job on techniques you enjoy.

DO think about the standards for your technique. For instance, if doing extension work,
the strings should be close enough that another cannot fit in between. Think
about the level you entered. We expect more difficult techniques and better
execution from a master than from a beginner.

My dear friend Kim Morrison says that the person that wins at cake shows is the one with the fewest
mistakes. In many respects, that is true. If you make a mistake, think of it as
a design opportunity and Find a way to hide the mistake that brings out the
design. My mentor, Eleanor Rielander once made gum paste fruit for a
competition. Her husband walked into the room and took a bite before she could
stop him. She took that sugar piece, added some shading and displayed that
mistake. She won because the fruit with the bite out of it looked so real!

I hope these tips help you out. This is just a very quick overview of
the speech I give, but hopefully it will give you a little guidance. Be sure to
read my earlier posts on why you should enter, the cardinal sin of cake shows
and why you should not take it personally if you don’t win.

Cake shows are meant to be fun! Challenge yourself to a new technique or flower. Push
yourself to be a neater, cleaner decorator. Grow as a cake designer. Celebrate
your art!

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Shortcuts & Cliff Notes

I was an English major in college and was a voracious reader. They could assign
mr a mountain of books and I would dive right in. I wanted to EXPERIENCE each
story, each plot line, each character. I quickly learned that my reaction was
not uniform. Some folks wanted a good grade, but didn’t want to read the book.
Some folks would buy Cliff Notes and use that to get by. And they mostly did.
Get by.

Recently, my friend Scott Russell posted a query on his Facebook
page asking whether anyone else was bothered by the newer decorators who want a
step by step tutorial on every single cake they attempt. The reactions were
strong. Before Facebook and YouTube became such prolific things, a decorator
trying to figure out how to do something had to take a class or open a book or –
can you imagine….experiment on their own! By and large, the decorators that
you see posting pictures of amazing work are able to create that because they
have experience.

Many jobs require experience before they will hire you.
Anyone can say “I am a cake decorator” and start taking orders. Some customers
might demand that you be experienced, but most probably just assume you know how
to make their cake.

I was at convention and overheard a young decorator
asking one of my friends how to build a structure for a dragon cake with open
wings. My friend had not created a cake like that before and said she would have
to think about it to work out the proper structure. The young decorator said she
would keep asking around because the order was due the next week. My question
is: what on earth was she doing taking an order like that when she had no clue
how to create it? What pushes us as decorators to say “sure, I can make that”
when we really don’t know how to do it? Are we afraid they will think less of
us?

I used to be guilty of this too. I would take orders that scared the dickens out of me. Sometimes I had mentors that I could ask for advice, but
mostly I spent time doing things the right way and the wrong way and gaining
experience. That experience gave me the confidence to turn down orders that I
did not think were realistic for me to do. It allowed me to tell the customer I
wanted to do some research first before committing. That experience also made me
a better decorator. I learned lots of ways NOT to do things. That saved me time
down the road, as I knew not to repeat those mistakes.

In this crazy, fast paced life, we all seem to be looking for a shortcut. We want to be famous
NOW. We want to do cakes like we see on tv NOW. We want to be the best, but we
don’t want to put in the work it takes to get there. You know who I respect?
The people who decide that they are going to keep at something until they master
it. I had a student in a modeling class who was unhappy with the eyes she drew
on her figure. The next day, she came into class and showed me the entire page
of eyes she had drawn working on the process. How cool is that?!!

One of the people on Scott’s page said that someone asked them what would happen if
the mixed two colors of candy melts. The person told the decorator that they
should mix one of each together and SEE what happens! Research and
experimentation are the keys to becoming a stronger, more skilled decorator.
While I strongly believe that we “older” decorators have an obligation to share
and teach, I do not think we help anyone out by handing everything over on a
silver platter. We can start them on the right path or give them some direction,
but we should not be writing step by step tutorials for other people on cake
orders they took. They must accept some responsibility and let go of the cliff
notes.

Get dirty. Get messy. Screw up. Fix the cake. Learn. Grow as a
decorator. Experience the learning process. Don’t settle for being a shortcut
decorator. Please note that I am not saying to never ask questions or to never
ask for help…but don’t be afraid to give something a try first before you ask
for help. Enjoy the journey.

Going Up

How many times do we fill up with gas in a month, watching the gas prices rise and fall? Milk might be one price one day, and a little higher the next. We get the menu at a restaurant and notice that the entree costs a bit more this time. In each instance, someone made the choice to change a price. In my pricing blog, I talked about the computations required to accurately price a cake. Let’s face it. Most of us, including me, are unwilling to be that precise. We know that we are not going to change our cake prices weekly or even monthly. So how do you know when to raise your prices and how frequently should that happen?

If you are constantly booked and are turning away orders, you can raise your prices. Demand exceeds supply and those that want your cakes will pay a little more to be one of the winners who get to have your cake that week. Even if orders go down for a week or two…hold on. The customers who love your cake will find that inferior cake simply will not do. They will return like the swallows to Capistrano.

Maybe you are just noticing that costs are going up in general on all of your supplies and you need to make an adjustment. These price increases may come whenever warranted. Honor any bookings at the lower price, but begin charging the new price for all new bookings.

In my retail shop, we knew that we would be doing our best business in October to December. My cookie business was ridiculous. The last few years, I would raise the prices of everything as of October first. This way, I received an extra $1 per dozen on all decorated cookies during my busiest times. We could never make cookies fast enough and I am sure I could have charged even more for them. Since people open up their budgets more at the holidays, no one would flinch at the price increase.

The second advantage to this was that most of my summer brides would come in to reserve dates during the end of the year. I would be able to book them in at a slightly higher rate, which was perfect for me. With weddings, they book so far out, that you almost have to anticipate what that cake will cost you 9 months from now. Since you are probably not psychic (else why would you still be reading?!!), you need to take your wedding price increases ahead of when you book the majority of your wedding season cakes.

When I first opened my bakery, I had initially set a lot of my prices the same as the grocery store bakery I managed. One day, a man came in and asked how much my coffee cake in the case was. I told him. He said “for the whole cake?”. You KNOW that I raised that price the next day! I knew then that I was not in the grocery store anymore -and I had to leave that bargain basement mentality behind. I had amazing gourmet brownies that would not sell. I doubled the price and suddenly could not keep them in the case. Sometimes you really need to know who is shopping in your store!

The biggest key I can tell you on this subject is to not apologize for raising the price. You are entitled to try to make a profit. If you are not earning a living doing this, you will not be doing this for long. Other businesses don’t apologize and we should not either. Now that you have read this, is anyone going up?

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Crooked Brook Apron Giveaway 5

Hi everyone!   I think this is the cutest apron style!  I love the combination of colors and the style of this one.  I hope you guys like it and try to win it, also!

 

 

  • Women’s Waist Apron Style W700

    Nutmeg and Maize colored 100% Cotton Denim Fabric

    Extras: Front hip tailor welt pockets
    Irregularities:  None

    (Regular Price: $ 50 including shipping)

Although all Crooked Brook aprons are made to order, they have various styles and sizes that were not made according to the customer’s specifications or have a slight imperfection. These are the men’s and women’s aprons I have partnered with Crooked Brook to offer as giveaways.

Since 1989 Crooked Brook has designed and manufactured aprons for the world’s most recognized chefs. Each one of their aprons is made to order in the USA, and can personalized with your choice of fabric, pockets, buttons, piping and embroidery.

For question regarding size, please refer to their size chart or contact them at 315-733-1992.

To enter, visit Crooked Brook and leave a comment here with the description of a chef coat that you would like to see offered as a giveaway in the future.

Terms & Conditions:

You must be 18 years or older to enter. Contest ends midnight (Eastern Standard Time) 09/04/12. Winner will be chosen by SugarZen and contacted by email. Winner will have 48 hours to reply or a new winner will be chosen. Crooked Brook will ship the prize to the winner within 30 days of contest end. Physical address required for shipping; no PO boxes, US recipients only residing in one of the 48 contiguous states.

Crooked Brook Chef Coat Giveaway 10

Hi everyone!  It is time to give away another coat!  There have been a bunch of you asking for purple…now is your chance!  This is a Size 14 coat, so make sure that works for you or that you have a friend it will fit!  I think this is gorgeous!

Although all Crooked Brook chef coats are made to order, they have various styles and sizes that were not made according to the customer’s specifications or have a slight imperfection. These are the men’s and women’s chef coats I have partnered with Crooked Brook to offer as giveaways.

Since 1989 Crooked Brook has designed and manufactured chef jackets for the world’s most recognized chefs. Each one of their chef coats is made to order in the USA, and can personalized with your choice of fabric, pockets, buttons, piping and embroidery.

For question regarding size, please refer to their size chart or contact them at 315-733-1992

 

 

Size-14  Women’s Chef Coat Style BSW104

Purple 100% Cotton Denim Fabric

Black pin shank buttons

Black piping: collar, front and cuffs.
Extras: Plumeria flowers embroidered on left chest
Irregularities:  None

(Regular Price: $155.00 including shipping)

 

To enter, visit Crooked Brook and leave a comment here with the description of a chef coat that you would like to see offered as a giveaway in the future.

Terms & Conditions:

You must be 18 years or older to enter. Contest ends midnight (Eastern Standard Time) 09/04/12. Winner will be chosen by SugarZen and contacted by email. Winner will have 48 hours to reply or a new winner will be chosen. Crooked Brook will ship the prize to the winner within 30 days of contest end. Physical address required for shipping; no PO boxes, US recipients only residing in one of the 48 contiguous states.

Mine. Mine. MINE!!!

One of my favorite scenes in Finding Nemo is when the seagulls all chime in “Mine. Mine. Mine!!”. It reminds me of toddlers fighting over a toy. I hold it, therefore it is mine. I want it, therefore it is mine. I saw it, therefore it is mine. I played with it yesterday, it is still mine.

There have been battles lately over credit on cake design and classes. Some of the battles have been public. Some private. In the end, some friendships have been strained or lost. Some business relationships have been severed. I have had a lot of decorators and teachers ask for a blog on this tricky subject. And I do think it is tricky. I don’t think there is a cut and dried answer that fits every situation. I am going to try to walk in to the minefield and hope that I will be able to walk out the other side. As with all my blogs, remember that this is just my opinion and experience. I am not saying I am right…only that I am explaining my thoughts on the subject.

If you design a cake and publish it on the world wide web, there is a possibility that you will find someone copy or reproduce your cake. We have all had customers bring in cakes from magazines or web pages asking us to make that cake for them. I have never heard Wendy Kromer, who designs many of the Martha Stewart cakes, freak out because decorators all over the country are doing her designs. Every week, someone brought me a picture from The Pink Cake Box to recreate. Again, I have never seen Anne Heap start complaining on Facebook that everyone is copying her expectant mom cake.

I think that if you put your cakes into the public forum, you should expect to be copied. If you don’t want anyone doing cakes like yours, have a photo album at your shop for your customers and make them come in to view your work. I think about the person that designed the first hamburger cake. Will we ever even know who that was?!! How many times have people done variations on that cake? Some subjects, especially food ones, seem to be done everywhere.

When I was a lawyer, we learned that one of the hardest things to prove was a non-event. In other words, to prove that you did not cheat. I remember working on cakes for the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show years ago. I would sketch a design, finish my cake, then get in my cake magazine from England only to see something very similar in the magazine! I worried everyone would think I copied my design, even though I had done my cake before I saw the magazine. How could I prove that? In the end, I just entered my cake and let people think whatever they were going to think.

A lot of artists say they just want credit if you copy or are inspired by their work. Fine. I think if we know who designed it, then we can do that. We need to remember that before Facebook, this wasn’t as large an issue. It was harder to go to hundreds of web pages to view photo galleries to see who has done cakes similar to yours. New etiquette rules seem to be called for in today’s digital age. If you are Facebook friends with the person who did the cake you copied or were inspired by, then please give credit to that person. If you are not Facebook friends, but know who did the cake, give the person credit.

At my shop, we had a line in our brochure that said we did not mind the customer bringing in a photo, but that we would adapt the cake to fit them…so that it was not a straight copy. Most of the time, we could talk the customer into putting a little of themselves or their personality into the cake.

If you copy PHOTOS from other decorators and put them on your Facebook or web page and act like you did those cakes, I believe that is stealing. You stole that photo. I had to fire an employee who set up a competing business with mine, while working for me, using pictures that I took with my camera of cakes done at my shop on her web page. She did not qualify for unemployment benefits because she had stolen from her employer. Cake designs might be tough to copyright and claim ownership on (this is outside my knowledge), but stealing your photograph is easier to prove. I saw one instance where the alleged thief had photoshopped a different color background to try to claim the photo as theirs. Craziness.

Why spend all that time taking photos from someone else instead of using that time to do your own piece? If people worked as hard at cake decorating as they do at building false profiles of their work, the world would be a much sweeter place.

If you take a class from someone, can you then teach that same subject? What if you attend a demo? Most teachers I know teach a class that was inspired by a cake they saw, demo they attended or class they took. Once again, there are no hard and fast rules, but I will share my approach. I am sure it is not perfect, but I can sleep at night.

First and foremost, no one owns the exclusive right to teach a certain technique or medium. I can think of at least three dozen gum paste teachers. Nearly all of them teach a peony. Who is copying whom? They each put their own spin on the creation of the flower. There are dozens of shoe classes out there now. No one has exclusive rights to teach royal icing work. Or sugar. Or sculptures. If you ask me not to teach on a certain subject that interests me, I will decline. This is a huge world and there is room for multiple teachers on the same techniques. Just like one bakery cannot do all the cakes, one teacher cannot teach all the classes. There is room for all of us. When I was asked to teach a shoe class, I contacted Wayne Steinkopf, since I had taken his class. He laughed and told me that he didn’t own the shoe class. It is true. While some teachers may be known for teaching certain things, they cannot keep anyone else from teaching that subject with their unique spin on the class.

If you take a demo from someone, you should not go teach that exact class. You should be INSPIRED by that demo to find your own variations. For example, I took a demo from the talented Dahlia Weinman at ICES one year. She did a demo on Zari Embroidery. I was fascinated by her approach and by all things Indian at the time. I started researching that field of embroidery. In doing so, I found a unique approach to that art form and designed a class based upon a cake entered at That Takes The Cake Show in Austin. If you have ever read my class description or handouts for the class, I tell everyone that Dahlia inspired the class. I made it my own, but paid homage to a very talented cake decorator.

Sometimes, decorators don’t teach a class anymore. Maybe they are too old to go on the road to teach it. Maybe they are bored silly by that class. Maybe they have passed away. Some things I teach stem from this category. I worry greatly about us losing the old techniques and instructions. I want the next generation to know about the amazing sugar artists who taught and inspired me. In each of these instances, I talk about the person who taught me…I want people to know these names…not just the techniques. I try to include those names in my class descriptions or handouts. Kathy Lange teaches Lambeth techniques, as taught to her by the late Betty Newman May. She tells every class about Betty, so that Betty’s legacy will live on. I think this is perfectly acceptable.

I know that many of my students use what I teach them to, in turn, teach people at culinary school, or teach teens, or teach senior citizens or whatever. I have not been bothered by this. They are good about telling people where they learned the techniques. I often see their students in my future classes because of their recommendations. In the end, I have to hope that my reputation as a teacher will speak for itself. I have not ever written anyone saying “That class is mine”. Someone has to teach the teachers.

I have heard of someone who took a class from a famous artist, then copied his entire handout and teaches the class exactly the same. This person did not change anything. This person teaches a total copy of the famous person’s class. I believe this to be wrong.

I heard of another person who attended a class with a dear friend of mine, surreptitiously video taped it, then went home and created a video tutorial for the technique -word for word matching my friend’s class. I believe this to be wrong.

I witnessed a Facebook battle after someone gave a free tutorial to a stranger. The stranger then designed a class based upon that tutorial. The cakes were virtually identical. The person who wanted to teach that class should have either asked permission to teach the class OR made the cake their own. There were numerous things the person could have changed to put their spin on the cake. I believe teaching an exact replica of someone’s tutorial is wrong.

I have seen people ask friends on Facebook to give them a copy of class notes from a certain class. Those notes belong to those who pay for them. If you give those notes out, it is the same as taking money from that teacher. I have a friend who thinks that the line should be based upon whether you paid for the notes. If you attended a demo, she feels it is ok to share. This really reminds me of the Napster controversy. People went online and shared their music library to everyone on the Internet. They thought no one was being hurt. But it turned out that it was harming the entire music industry, not just the wealthy musician. We must be careful to not put the cake industry into that situation. The teachers are just getting by financially and do it more for love than money. Please don’t give away their livelihood. If you continue to do so, one day the good teachers will all be unwilling or unable to continue teaching.

I think the real key to all of this is…don’t be fake. Don’t pretend to do cakes you didn’t do. Don’t teach an exact copy of someone else’s work; put your spin on it. Don’t give away someone’s livelihood. Follow the Golden Rule and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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Mount Olympus

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Rumbles have been going for years now and started to really rattle the skies this year at the ICES Convention. People look at the Certification program and seem to have a few thoughts and misconceptions. My earlier blog, Certifiable, answered questions for some, but did not touch on the things that I have now heard about. My favorite comment is that the Certified Master Sugar Artists (CMSAs) think that they are gods and that these elitist people are trying to keep others from joining their ranks. The belief is that we are making the test harder. There are a number of beliefs that are being whispered about. I am going to tackle as many of those beliefs as possible and will try to address whether they are myths or facts. As always, this is just my opinion and not a statement from the certification committee, adjudicators or program.

Belief: CMSAs think they are Gods and want to keep others out of their “club”.

Myth. In any group of artistic folks, there may be some who are arrogant and some who are insecure. There may be some who are confident and some who are unsure. I can state with no doubts in my heart or mind that those of us who adjudicate WANT people to pass. We want people to achieve their desired certification levels. This year, there were two people named Certified Sugar Artists and one named Certified Master Sugar Artist. I can tell you that every adjudicator I spoke with was heartbroken as we watched people struggle throughout the day. Many of us were exhausted and nearly in tears…it hurts so much to not be able to give people the marks they needed to reach CSA or CMSA. For me personally, it was one of my hardest days ever at convention.

Could we have just overlooked what happened that day and just given people awards based upon the level of work we knew they could produce? No. The integrity of the program depends on us not giving someone the certification just because we like them, or know they’ve done great work at cake shows. How fair would that be to the people we do not know? I remember an incredibly talented M. Anthony Pena taking the test last year. The majority of us had never heard of him and were not familiar with his work. He was on the same playing level as Chef Mark Seamon or B. Keith Ryder -who were well known, award winning decorators. All were judged on their work solely on test day. Anthony not only passed with flying colors, he became the youngest to ever achieve CMSA status. Mark and Keith were named CMSAs also…based upon what they did on test day. No one gets a free pass to certification.

Belief: The test gets harder every year.

Myth and Fact. The first two years of the test, there was very little information for the candidates. The Candidate Handbook was written the third year to try to answer all the questions people had about what met standards for each of the techniques. In spelling it out, the committee tried to define exactly how many inches of extension work (for example) was required. In some areas, the test now requires more than when I took it. Is it so much more that I feel I could not still pass the test? No. Very little changed from last year to this year in the handbook. The clarification of standards cannot explain how 8 people get CMSA one year and only one the next.

Belief: The adjudicators keep changing the test.

Myth and Fact. The test itself, and the base requirements have not changed to any great extent. As we use the handbook and answer questions from candidates, we find that we need to clarify parts of the book. Perhaps the rule said one thing and the frequently asked questions section said something different. In the end, the rule is the law and the inconsistent question response has to be discarded. We learned that the FAQ section did not help as much as we wanted, so we are simplifying that to only give the rule. Sometimes, as we see someone choose a technique and recreate it on test day, we find that we can require LESS on test day. Sometimes we find that we should see MORE, depending on the point level of the skill. In the end, we are tweaking what I think are minor things, to make the test better and clearer.

I spoke with one candidate who did not receive certification for her pieces. She said she found that everything was covered in the handbook. The information IS in there, but we keep finding that many people still don’t read it.

Belief: There was a bad crop of candidates.

Myth. I actually had people say this to me this year, including some folks who hold a certification of one type or another. I absolutely disagree with this. Of the five testing years, two have had a lower number of candidates achieve certification. Each of the years with lower certification rates, people experienced problems early in the day that just put them behind. It was part environment, part timing choices they made and part things that just seem to go wrong on any given day. How many of you have baked a cake the same way as every time before, only to have one fall…for seemingly no reason? How many times have you cooked sugar or melted chocolate, only to find that you overcooked it? Have you ever over beaten your icing? Accidents happen.

This year’s candidates were great. Many of them wrote exceptional, ambitious plans. Many of them decided to go well beyond the minimum requirements. Most of them practiced. A lot. They just had a bad day. They are not bad decorators. They are talented, and brave and should be respected for standing up to take the test.

Belief: If I take the test, I have to do sugar work. Or extension work. Or Lambeth.

Myth. There are several dozen techniques available for selection. You must choose 8. You must have at least one technique from each point (difficulty) level you pick. If you are strong in figure modeling or piping or sugar work, you can weight your test toward your strengths. In my Girlfriend’s Guide, I tell people to go through and mark the techniques they know how to do. I tell them next to mark what they know how to do Really Well. Choose your techniques from that list. If you choose techniques hoping to impress us that you have tackled a bunch of harder techniques, you may run out of time. No one is going to make you do something at which you do not excel. Remember, we want you to succeed. That is why YOU pick.

Belief: I need to know how to do every technique to take the test.

Myth. You must know at least 8 techniques very well. Very few decorators, if any, can excel at everything on the list. That being said, however, most who achieve CMSA status are probably more familiar with the bulk of the techniques than the average decorator.

Belief: If I can do 7 techniques really well, I can sign up for the test and learn one more technique before the test day.

Myth and Fact. You probably CAN do that, if you practice hard enough and study with someone who excels at that technique, but I do not recommend that. This probably isn’t the time to self teach yourself a technique -remember you are being held to the accepted standards. A teacher can help you identify those. Watching a YouTube video might give you pointers, but without an instructor there to tell you your hand is in the wrong position, you might not ever achieve the standard. If it is important enough to you to take the test, then it must be important enough to you to prepare properly.

Belief: Icing the cakes in buttercream or rolled fondant is the easy part of the test.

Myth. Sadly, this is a problem for people. If you have ever spent hours smoothing a buttercream cake for a bride who has no decorations on her cake, you know what I am talking about. Every time I have seen people struggle with icing a buttercream cake, I ask if they are using their usual icing. The vast majority say no. Why would you enter a race and wear your friend’s shoes? You wouldn’t. This is the time to work with things within your comfort zone. Some people made their buttercream at the various convention sites, only to discover that shortening they purchased in that state has no trans fat and their icing worked differently. Some people’s recipes were too loose. Some were too stiff. You have to adjust to the conditions of the city and room that you are in.

While covering in fondant goes better, I am still surprised at the troubles people experience. It reminds me of my experience in law school. I always studied really hard in the difficult classes and would get an A. I would blow off the easy classes and would not get the “Easy A” that everyone else would get. On certification day, everything matters. You can not blow off icing the cakes!

Belief: Some adjudicators are easier, or score higher, than others. Some adjudicators are the mean ones, or score harder.

Myth and Fact. I am sure that I am considered to be one who gives people higher scores. I have thought that some adjudicators scored low. As I have been rotated to work with different people, I have learned that we are all exceptionally consistent in our scoring. If one person considers an 8 to be a strong score, they will consistently give 8s for the same level of work from technique to technique, candidate to candidate. The scores actually come in pretty closely together between the three adjudicators. I would say that the comments written are really similar! Since we are judging against the same standards, we tend to notice the same problems. I firmly believe that passing work under one team is passing work under any team.

Belief: Everyone takes the test because they want to be a CMSA.

Myth. This surprised me. I have spoken to some candidates who say that they took the test just to see how they would do. Others take it to push themselves. I had assumed that everyone who signed up would be highly motivated to pass the test. It turns out that I should not assume. (Don’t we all know this?). My husband asked why we cannot be sure that the people who take the rest really want to pass it. I simply cannot think of how we would determine that. We have to believe that everyone is there because they want to try to pass.

Belief: ICES should stop giving the test until everything is nailed down.

Myth. This is a five year old program. Let’s compare it to any of the sports in the Olympics. Every year, the rules are evaluated for World Cup competition. Every four years, changes are made to the rules for the Olympics. It isn’t to make it harder or to lower scores; it is to keep up with the changes from the athletes. Degrees of difficulty change in diving and gymnastics as new techniques are developed. Likewise, people are always experimenting in the sugar arts. We want to stay current and be sure that our requirements reflect what is truly achievable. I believe that there will always be slight adjustments to the test, but that they are made for good reasons. I think that people who choose skills they are good at have a really good chance of achieving certification.

My conclusions after this year? These candidates did the best they could do on test day under the circumstances. Would some of them change their icing, technique or design? I think so. Will they take the test again? Most that I personally spoke with said they would be back. Do I believe certification is beyond any of this year’s candidates? Not at all – they each showed talent and tenacity and I think that on any given day, the results could have been different. I still believe they are all to be applauded and respected for testing themselves in such a difficult manner. They are my heroes.