A Tale of Two Cakes


I love American Idol. I think I have watched every season. One of the things they always tell singers is that it seemed like a karaoke performance, implying that it was less than a show performance. Similarly, consider the difference between high fashion runway models and catalog models. As I was watching Idol the other night, I started thinking that there is a similar comparison in the cake world. I know that I have judged cake shows and, at least once, written “this would make a lovely cake for a bridal show.” I am betting that people don’t all see the difference between a display/bridal show cake and a competition cake. My friend Barry Dickinson asked me to write this blog to help folks understand.

A competition cake is supposed to show off the best features of your design and decorating skills. It is supposed to take longer than a regular cake order for most people. It often shows off advanced skills that no one pays you to do. It isn’t necessarily something you would do for a real event because almost no one would pay you enough to do that design. These cakes are fantasies. They are your dreams, your visions, your secret artistic desires.

A display cake is one that you know you can and will replicate many times in a very quick fashion. It is more commercial. It is production oriented. The designs are “dumbed down” so that they can be created efficiently for a profit.

A bridal show cake is similarly designed…for immediate visual impact from a distance, which can be reproduced easily on busy wedding weekends. While the designs might be impressive and detailed to a customer, we know that piping large scrolls with a tip 3 can be pretty fast. They might take longer than a birthday cake, but they still must be a profitable design. This necessarily limits what you do.

I often think of display and bridal show cakes as something you look at from a distance, like a full page in a magazine. They look amazing and really catch your eye, but if you go closer, you don’t usually get a whole lot more detail. The competition cakes, however, when done right, draw you closer and you keep noticing more details. It takes numerous photos to do the cake justice. It may need to be viewed on all sides or from different angles to take in everything that is special about that cake.

The next time you design a cake for a competition, think to yourself, is it runway or catalog? Can one photo capture all the details? Have I unleashed my full decorating potential? If not, bring the cake anyway. As I discovered at the last show, once in a while a display cake just might be done well enough to be a winner.

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3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cakes

  1. I have recieved comments like that before. I am really pushing myself for the North Texas show. Trying things I have never done before only seen in pics or at other shows. Hope the comments from previous shows help me this time. Getting excited !!

  2. Thank you so much for clarifying the differences between competition cakes, display cakes, and wedding show cakes. I have always racked my brain on what are the best type of designs for each style of event. This will really help me in the future. Thank you so much.

  3. Hi Ruth. Being that I am really just a hobby decorator and have absolutely zero clue on the differences between a show cake and a competition cake, do you have examples of each? Are there specific details, instructions, decorations in each category that should be known? I wouldn’t mind seeing examples. 🙂

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