Tag Archive | cake show

The Scoresheet

The Scoresheet

Cake show season is upon us. Maybe you are entering for the first time. Maybe you’ve been competing for years. Regardless, once you have that scoresheet in your hand, your eyes race to take in the notes from the judges. Did they like it? Did they catch the flaws you didn’t have time to fix? Did they understand your piece?  
Often, when I visit with a competitor after judging, they don’t understand what makes one cake score better than another. I’ve written before on what judges look for (Here Comes the Judge), but thought it might be helpful if I took a judging sheet and broke down all the categories for you. Jennifer Bartos from That Takes The Cake Show in Austin, Texas and B. Keith Ryder from the National Capital Area Cake Show in Annandale, Virginia were both kind enough to provide me with their show’s judging sheets. 
The Wedding or Showcase cakes are judged on a more strict basis, so I’ll tackle those after the regular divisional entries. Here are the divisional sheets:

  
  

PRECISION/NEATNESS

This category has us focus on the basics. And, quite frankly, this is where most people quickly lose points. The first thing every cake judge does is look at how well you covered your cake. A fondant cake should not have elephant skin, rips, tears, seams, pock marks or other distress. Fondant should be smooth. The entrants at Cake International in England do this very well. You must take the time to get this part as close to perfect as you can. It sets the stage for all the decorations to come. A rough cake covering will detract from the rest of your work, no matter how nice it might be. 
But this category is more than just the surface icing. How neatly did you apply your details? Can we see blobs of royal where you attached things? Are there rough edges on your cutouts or flower petals? If you have a design pattern, does it stay uniform? Do your borders stay uniform? To score well in this category, you need to be as neat as possible. 
ORIGINALITY/CREATIVITY

Did you recreate a famous cake? Is your piece from a class project? Have you seen this design before? If so, you will suffer on your originality and creativity scores. Most of the cake show judges are well versed in current trends. If you are doing a design that is popular at your bakery or with your brides, chances are that it isn’t very original anymore. 
To score well here, take an element you like from a cake design, but put your twist on it. Or combine it with unexpected elements. Let’s say you made something as simple as an orchid. If you plop it in a store bought vase, it isn’t very creative. If you put it with tropical items that you make out of sugar, it becomes more creative and original. I know people say that there is nothing new in cake decorating, and maybe that is true, but I still see refreshing spins on designs all the time. This is when you need to design from the heart. Don’t copy; be inspired. 
SKILL/ATTENTION TO DETAIL

For this category, we take into consideration your decorating level. If you are a Beginner, you do not have to meet as high a skill level as a Master. Why don’t we take that into consideration on the two prior categories? Because EVERYONE can be neat. EVERYONE can be creative. In this category, we start looking at the techniques you used to create your cake. Taking an orchid as the example again, we will want the shape to be right regardless of your level. A Beginner will often have thicker petals and will be less adept at dusting the flower. We cut them slack. If you are a Master making that same orchid, we will want to see something more botanically correct. 
And this applies to all techniques. For piping, Beginners get to use larger tip sizes than would be ok for a Master. As your skill increases, you can move to the smaller tips. In the end, this is a judgement call by the judges as to whether they think your decorating skills fit the level you entered. Sometimes the skills fall short. Sometimes they surpass a person’s level. The bottom rule here is: if you choose a technique, do it as well as you can on a competition piece. 
COLOR/USE OF COLOR

We aren’t here to tell you that your pink cake should have been purple. Although, I’ve heard that judges in England sometimes do make such comments. Our role as judges is not to redesign your cake, but to judge it based upon what you presented. If you choose a design for a college team, for example, and their colors are burnt orange and black, you need to use those colors. If you use a bright orange instead, we would mark you down on your use of color. You didn’t stay true to your design. 
More often, color issues are more tricky. The color faded as you worked on the cake and we can tell. You chose colors that clash instead of complimenting each other. You have one spot of color that doesn’t fit your design at all and almost looks like a mistake or an afterthought (or a leftover flower used in an emergency). I have a friend who has trouble with colors on the pink/red spectrum. She kept getting notes that her colors didn’t work. She finally figured out that she was a little color blind and got advice as she worked on the cake to make sure her colors looked right together. 
It is possible to use too many colors, also. I judged a beautiful piece of royal icing piping once…it was maybe 4″ in diameter, but had at least a dozen colors. Even that would not have been a problem, but the colors were randomly placed, so that it looked like they used up every bag they had to complete the piece. There wasn’t an art or design to the numerous colors. 
Some entrants feel that judges are biased for or against certain colors, but I’ve never found that to be true. If you are doing a dark or horror piece, dark colors and gore are appropriate. If you are doing a sweet baby shower cake, we will expect most of them to be in pastels, but that doesn’t preclude a brightly themed design for a baby shower. Let your design guide you and use the colors that enhance it the most. 
DIFFICULTY

Not all techniques are created equally. Some things are, quite frankly, harder to create. You don’t lose points for doing an easy design, but you sure don’t gain any, either. What are the harder techniques? I always tell folks to go to the ICES.ORG website and look up the rules for becoming an ICES Certified Master Sugar Artist. There, they outline the most recognized techniques and rank them from level one to level four. 
Level three and four techniques are the more time consuming and exacting ones. These take skill and practice to master. If there were two cakes that were equal on all other merits, but one used more difficult techniques, it would usually place higher than the one with the easier techniques. This does NOT mean you have to throw extension work or Lambeth on your cake in order to win. In fact, you should never use a difficult technique unless you can do it justice. Poorly piped Lambeth will not out score a cake with easier techniques if that cake is done at a higher skill level. 
Please also keep in mind that the higher your level, the more difficult we expect your techniques to be. A Master should be able to execute something more challenging. That doesn’t mean that a Master can’t do an easy technique, but they should probably do it nearly perfectly! Please don’t throw in a hard technique just to get more points. If you attempt extension work, and do it very poorly, the fact that it is difficult will not work to your benefit. The real key to cake show competitions is to do the most difficult techniques at which you excel. Show off your best. 
NUMBER OF TECHNIQUES

Oh, the problems this category has created. So many newer competitors read this as a challenge to throw everything they know onto a cake. Yes, we would love to see more than one technique, most times, but let your cake design be the guide! Do not throw things together that don’t go with the design. If you do that, your cake can start to look like a jumbled mess. 
Many times, we will run into two cakes that are pretty equal in terms of their decorating skill and execution. At this point, judges often consider the number of techniques as a tie breaker…or at least I do. If someone has done a great job and done three things, that should count for more than someone who did an equally great job, but only did one technique. Make sense? The one who did more techniques had to excel in three different categories. 
Is there a magic number for how many techniques you should include? Not at all. Again, the cake design should determine what is right. And let me be very clear: if you just do one technique and do it nearly perfectly, that will out score a cake with several techniques that is poorly executed. Do not throw the kitchen sink on your cake. This is not the time to show us everything you know how to do. It is the time to show us what you know how to do WELL. 
OVERALL APPEARANCE/EYE APPEAL

I’m sure you’ve been scrolling through your Facebook feed when a cake stops you in your tracks. It grabs your attention and makes you go in for a closer look. Some cakes truly have that magic. Those always score high in overall appearance. Sometimes you will see a cake that just seems “off” somehow. Maybe the background distracts. Maybe the sizes don’t work together or the colors clash. Those cakes will score lower on eye appeal. 
This is obviously a very subjective category, but if I put a group of ten decorators in a room, they almost always gravitate to the same eye pleasing cake. I wish I could explain it better, but here is my suggestion. See your cake as a full page in a magazine. Does your design and your work grab you so much that you would want to see close ups of the cake on the following pages? If so, you have probably got eye appeal in your favor. 
CONCLUSION

I read an article from a friend who said that every cake starts as a Gold in England. In the US, you could say you start with a perfect score. You only lose points if you don’t execute to the standards of your level as a decorator. Some judges think that everyone starts as average and get marked up or down for work that is above or below average. Whichever judge you encounter, remember that they judged every cake in the exact same manner. Remember that the judges are not trying to hurt your feelings! They have a job to do. Sometimes the money and prizes are of such value that they have to be extra strict. None of this is personal. You should take it as an indicator of where your skills are and a challenge to improve on those items that are lacking. Every time I worked on one of my weaknesses, I became a stronger, better decorator. 
Best of luck at your upcoming cake shows! Enjoy your design. Make the cake for yourself and to share your gift. Bring beauty to the world. 

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I’ll Be The Judge

Lately, I’ve read some complaints about judges at cake shows. It prompted me to ask my friends what made a good judge and what made a bad judge. I received some great comments and thought I would share these thoughts with all of you. 

I should preface by saying that I have judged at or competed at over two dozen cake shows. I have served as Head Judge for one of the largest shows in the U.S.  I am regularly asked to train new judges. I am also serving on a new ICES committee to establish guidelines for certifying judges. 

 
Here are my notes for those who judge or aspire to judge at a cake show:

Judges should know the rules

At a recent show, the cakes had a height restriction. A few of the competitors complied, but others noticeably did not. Surprisingly, the “too tall” cakes were the ones that placed, without mention of the height infraction. Good show directors will provide you with a copy of the rules when you judge. Good judges will read those rules!  

When you find a rule violation, the judge has to decide whether it is so egregious that you must disqualify the entry, or simply lower its placement/score. For me, this depends on the level of the competitor. I am frequently more strict on professionals and masters, but try to give the lower levels a break and just reduce their score. 

If a judge blatantly ignores the rules, it puts a black mark on the entire competition. It makes competitors doubt all the rules. Following the rules is paramount. 

Judges give constructive feedback

This is such a biggie!  “Good job!” gives the decorator no useful advice. Even worse is no comment at all!  As a judge, I try to tell the person something I like, then something they can improve, then end with a positive note. 

Helpful notes can include information on what judges look for:  covering your board, adding a ribbon around the board, evenly piped borders, smooth cake covering, using gumpaste instead of fondant. It is NOT helpful to redesign the person’s cake for them. You must be able to tell them how they could improve their work on their chosen design. 

Rude comments are unforgivable. Judges have not been invited back for comments they leave. Words can hurt and we judges have to be incredibly careful in HOW we say what we say. The last thing we want to do as judges is to discourage someone from playing with sugar. 

Put your preferences aside

This may be the hardest thing for many judges. When we see ourselves reflected in someone’s entry, we react favorably. The key is to not allow your personal preferences to make you score something higher than it might deserve. I can think of two instances when someone I was judging with saw a cake that could have been in their portfolio. Instantly, they both declared that cake first place. I had to work with them to see if it truly deserved first place. 

A judge may hate yellow cakes or gory cakes or whatever personally, but must judge those entries in the work presented, not on how they feel about the design choices. It isn’t always easy. Judges are human and I’m sure we all let our hearts into our evaluations. They key is to be conscious of that influence and to try to minimize it. 

Judges must know a wide variety of techniques 

I believe the best judges are well rounded decorators. If you only do buttercream cakes, it could be hard for you to judge proper royal icing techniques or gumpaste flowers or sculptures. You should keep up with current trends. You should know what a proper version of most techniques looks like. 

It is even better if you, as a judge, have actually worked with a variety of mediums. You will then be better able to troubleshoot and help guide the competitor to a better entry. 

Judges Should Not Be Overly Critical

Feedback is great, unless you become abusive in your words. I have seen judges mark every cake low and justify it because they treat everyone the same. Seriously?  If the judging scale goes to 10, you CANNOT limit the scores you give to a high of 6 or 7 or whatever. 10 does not mean perfect. It means that it is excellently crafted. 

We get that you are the best decorator in the world (in your mind), but you don’t build yourself up by tearing others down. If your judging sheet is a nitpicky list of errors, without also celebrating the things done right, you need to take a step back from judging. You are not helping the contestant with your hypercritical attack of their work. You must be able to find balance in how you both judge and in how you give comments. 

Judges Are Not Just Cheerleaders

Yes, we want to encourage the entrants, but not every cake warrants an 8 or above. This is the flip side of the overly critical judge. If you just tell some one it is beautiful and that they did great, what have they learned?  Even the most incredible pieces of art I have judged have had one or two areas where they could improve. 

Judges owe the contestants their honesty. You must be able to be realistic about the entry and be able to tell the person what is wrong as well as what is right. 

Judges Do Not Rush The Process

Judging is hard work and will kill your back and your feet by the end of the day. Some judges love being known as a judge, but don’t take the time to properly do the job. There is no prize for speed judging. If you are just going to gloss over the process, you should not be judging. 

Judges Do Not Dominate Other Judges

Every now and then, you’ll run into the judge who is loud, opinionated and dominating. They run roughshod over their fellow judges and their opinion is the only one that counts. This is really just another form of bullying. 

When I judge with someone for the first time, I start out asking their opinion for the first few categories, so we get a sense of each other and so that we each get input in the process (for consensus judging shows). Judges need to be willing to listen to their fellow judges and to respect their input. 

Judges Show Up For The Job

If you are tasked with judging, you need to show up on time and ready for the job. Most judges will wear their chef coats, to add an air of professionalism to the process. Judges should not cancel on a show unless their are legitimate reasons. When you agree to judge, you are agreeing to pay your way there, put yourself up at a hotel and to do a job. If you need to teach a class to cover expenses, that is fine…but when your class doesn’t fill, it does not relieve you of your commitment to the show. Finding qualified judges to take your place at the last minute places an unfair burden on the show. 

Judges Pay Attention to Details

Nothing frustrates a show director quite like having to track down a judge who left a score card incomplete. Judges have a duty to make sure that each score sheet is filled out properly. Competitors who find part of their sheet without a score are rightfully upset. Would they have placed higher?  We must always take the time to look over our sheets to make sure that we have filled everything out. 

Judges Help Promote the Show

Cake shows will die without support. As judges, we often have a social media following and can use that to help the show. We can put the information in our newsletters and on our web pages. We can share the event on Facebook. We can encourage people to enter. 

Judges Do Not Enter Categories They Are Judging

Some competitors do not think it is fair for a judge to compete. I personally have no problem with it and have done it many times. In that situation, the show director is notified that I entered and I am not assigned the Master division. Since judging is anonymous, my fellow judges who are assigned the Master category will not know who created what cakes. There is no unfairness to other competitors. 

Often, the judging panel is largely comprised of Masters. If some of them don’t enter, the Master division looks very empty. We need every possible entry for cake shows to thrive. 

Judges Are Available Afterwards To The Competitors 

Some shows have a designated time to meet with the judges. The judges will show up for this “kiss and cry” portion and help explain to a competitor why they received the score they did. Sometimes the competitors may contact the judge after the show. I feel just as strong a duty after the show to help them understand what they did right and how to fix what they did wrong. Numerous competitors have sent me pictures of their entries and asked for critiques, even when I did not judge the show they attended. I think that judges should always stand ready to offer advice in this manner. 

Judges Will Read The Information From The Competitors 

Many shows allow the competitors to write notes for the judges about what they did and how they did it. These notes are often crucial to a better understanding of the entry. I have seen judges dismiss a cake, until I point out the novel approach used by the competitor, as explained in their notes. Just as a competitor should not assume that the judge knows every flower variety, the judge should not assume that they know how something was done. 

So that’s it. Really, it boils down to being a good person. Play nice with the other judges. Be kind, but fair in your comments. Give comments. Do the job you accepted. If you do those things, you will find that you are a good judge. 

Like a Broken Record

With cake shows coming up hard and heavy, I keep feeling like I need to give advice to the entrants. I touch on this in an upcoming article for Edible Artists Magazine (I am a columnist for the next four issues). I wanted to really go into detail about why this is a significant issue in cake competitions.

If you come up with a great design for one tier, it does not become MORE great by doing that same pattern on three more tiers. Let’s look at it from a judging standpoint: on one tier, you have already showed me everything you can show me of that technique. Why add the other tiers? Are you showing the judges something more? (To me, this is a big difference between a cake for a real event and a competition…the customer only sees the pretty tall design, not the fact that one technique was done into the dirt). Simply put, for each new tier added, you should be considering what that tier adds to your competition package. Are you at least doing the same technique in a different pattern? Is there a style or design change that makes it more visually compelling?

I don’t mind when designs alternate on tiers. Even though two tiers repeat on a four tier cake, you are showing two different design and technique elements to your judges. If you plop the same exact mold on every single tier in exactly the same place, what do YOU think you have shown the judges?

The next part of this issue is trickier. Some people get stuck repeating a cake design over and over. Everyone who walks into the cake show knows instantly that it is their work. Perhaps you always do a single tier cake covered in stencil work using metallic colors. Perhaps you always do tall square cakes with hand painting. Perhaps you always do faces/busts. Perhaps you do plain cakes with the same flowers in the same three colors.

I can hear you now, screaming at your computer: “but that’s my signature style!” Yes, yes it is. And that is great for branding yourself for your classes or your bakery. But if you are trying to stretch yourself and challenge yourself as a decorator, you must leave your comfort zone behind. I forced myself to do this at cake shows. I often challenged judges, after they were done judging, to pick out my cake. I knew I had taken my art to a new level when they could not figure out which cake was mine.

Am I asking you to give up on what you do best? Not at all. If you love painting on cakes, change the oversized square into a shorter hexagon cake. How will that panel size challenge you? If you love sculpting faces, try an animal or try a torso this time. Take what you are good at, but push it to the next level. If you always work in a defined color palette, add one new shade or go lighter or bolder. Change it up and you may find yourself inspired in new ways!

I hope you will think about these words. Judging is supposed to be blind and I honestly love it when I have no idea who made a cake. I cannot wait to see what you guys make this year!

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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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The Invisible Win

My brother used to do Century rides. For those who don’t know what that is, he would ride 100 miles on his road bike with groups of other like minded folks at events like Hotter Than Hell. One day he had finished a ride and was meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time. Phoebe’s brother, Carey, started questioning Robb. “Did you win?” “No” said Robb. “How much money do you get for riding that far?” Robb explained that he, in fact, paid money to do the ride. Carey sat and tried to process why my brother would ride that far, for that long, with no hope of winning, and would pay to do that.

By now, people who do endurance events are laughing. We get it. Others just don’t. I realized that the reasons I do endurance events, the reason my brother rode Century rides, is identical to why I enter cake shows. I do it for myself. I do it for the journey…working on each cake teaches me a bit about myself, about my skills and about my vision for cakes today.

When I tell people not to worry about winning, to just enter, someone always says “why should I go through the time and expense if I won’t win?” Maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe they are like the runner who won’t do the marathon if they think they won’t win. I don’t know. I believe that each race, like each cake show, makes us better. So, why do I ride? Why do I run? Why do I enter cake shows?

Very often there are skills you want to try, but no one will pay you to practice those. Designing a show cake around them lets you practice. Sometimes you have a cake that you are just dying to make. Making it a show cake lets you fulfill that dream. Sometimes you just want to prove to yourself that you can put together a clean, attractive cake. Cake shows let you prove that. Sometimes you want an honest assessment of where you are as a decorator. Cake shows give you that. Sometimes you just want to be able to say that you compete – show the world that you are brave enough to put yourself out there. You become a winner, just by entering.

I may have many regrets in my life, but I have never regretted entering a cake into a show. And I have never regretted showing up on race day. Life, for me, begins just outside your comfort zone. I choose to live fully. I hope that some of you will take that next step and sign up for the National Capital Area Cake Show, the North Texas Cake Show, the MS Challenge in Florida, the Kentucky cake show, the Tennessee Cake Show or the Icing on the Cake Competition in Louisiana. Run the race, not to win, but to prove to yourself that you can. Claim your invisible win. Just do it!

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Are You My Mother?

I just got home from the Austin cake show (That Takes The Cake). One of the coolest parts of it for me were the sheer number of decorators who came up to me and said they entered because of my encouragement. They had read my blogs and realized that cake shows would die without people bringing cakes. One of the biggest questions I get is from people asking me what division they should enter. Are they Adult Advanced? Professional? Beginner?

Judging this weekend, I saw several instances of people entering below their skill level and/or below their professional level. Did they do it out of ignorance? Maybe. Did they do it out of fear that they weren’t really a “professional”? Maybe. Did they do it to win lots of awards? Makes me wonder….. I decided that maybe you guys needed help figuring out your divisions so that people don’t think you “entered down” in order to win.

Here are the divisions from the recent Austin show.

While the shows are similar, each show will have its own particular guidelines and you need to follow those. I want to walk you through reading these divisions so that you understand how to classify yourself.

Adult Beginner
In Austin, this means you have basic skills (think Wilton first class), have been decorating less than 2 years, have taken less than 30 hours of classes. If you exceed any of these three elements, you should probably move up. If you have only decorated six months, but are a natural and able to make cakes with very few flaws, you aren’t really a beginner in my eyes. I would not say that you had just basic decorating skills. For me, that is the most telling part of the qualifications. BASIC skills. If you know in your heart that your skills are beyond the entry level basics, you need to move up.

Adult Intermediate
In Austin, this was for people with developing skills, 2-4 years of experience and and 30-60 hours of instruction. I judged this division. I was surprised at the people who entered this category, even though their skills were clearly beyond the “developing” stage. This is not a category for anyone who owns a bakery business or who makes most of their income from cakes. It is unfair to the people who really do have developing skills if you walk in with your refined skills and sweep the awards. If a doctor entered the science fair against your child, you would be pissed. Well I am the surrogate mother of the new, developing decorators and want them to only compete against others of comparable skills. “But I’ve only been decorating two years” you say. I understand. But the length of time you’ve been a decorator is not the only guideline. You cannot pick just that to focus on.

Developing skills means that you have moved beyond the Wilton yearbooks and are trying your own designs. You might do a thing or two pretty well, but your skills across the board are still developing. You know that you have a lot to learn and are willing to admit it. You look at the cakes in higher categories and study them to figure out how they did things, because that knowledge is just beyond you for now. If you can look at the work in higher divisions and realize that your work is equal or better than that…then it is time to move up.

This is where my “Are you my mother” symbolism comes in. Just like the little bird, you have to walk up to each category and say “is this the type of decorator I truly am”? Pay particular attention to the skill level descriptions and less to the number of years or hours of classes. I know people who have taken boatloads of classes, but still have developing skills. I know someone whose first cake in her life won Best of Show. I know people who are entirely self taught, yet incredibly brilliant. Those of you holding your hand out to a customer for money for your cakes, would you feel good justifying your price by saying that you have basic skills? Or developing skills? You should not “enter down” just to win a prize.

Adult Advanced
In Austin, this was for people with more refined skills, 4-6 years of experience and 60-90 hours of classes. These are folks who are considered good decorators by everyone who sees their work. They still do it for friends and family, not for a paycheck. They have really gotten the hang of several different techniques. At the lower divisions, someone might be a one trick pony…be good at just one aspect of decorating…not these folks.

Let’s also talk about classes. What counts towards your hours? Wilton classes and other beginner level classes taught at supply stores do not count. Online classes like Craftsy do not count. You only need to count classes with recognized teachers. An easy way to figure that out is to look at the ICES Approved Teacher list. That will give you a good starting list.

Professional
In Austin, this was for decorators with a high level of skill, who have decorated more than six years, have taken more than 90 hours of classes or who work as a decorator. My very first cake show, I had only taken the three Wilton classes and been at the grocery store bakery for a couple of weeks, but had to enter this level at the Oklahoma Show. Was it fair to make me jump all the other levels? Yes. It truly was. I took money for decorating and that made me a professional. I know my skill level wasn’t that high at that time, but it forced me to work harder to do work befitting that division. If you took money once or twice, I probably wouldn’t move you here, but if you get most of your income from doing cakes, you need to enter this division. I personally think that if you have a Facebook or web page dedicated to the solicitation of cake orders, you are a professional.

Masters
In Austin, this was reserved for teachers, authors and people considered experts in the sugar art field. This includes people with more than 120 hours of classes. These decorators are known to have mastered several aspects of sugar art. If you take people’s money as a teacher, we should see you here. I do not include Wilton instructors in this statement, just those teaching advanced sugar art skills. I personally think that if you have a CMSA certification, you need to be in this division. If you have DVDs for sale, this is you. If you sell tutorials online or filmed a Craftsy class, this is you.

I was looking at the Divisions for the upcoming North Texas Show and have to say that I love how they described the divisions. I wish I had seen it before I was almost finished with this blog…but they are awesome. Check them out at http://www.northtexascakeshow.com. They are common sense wordings!

North Texas includes hints for entering. They say that if the category seems like it would be too easy, even though you technically could fit there, then enter the next higher category. If the category seems too hard that you should be in, then enter one lower. You are allowed to move yourself higher at any time. You cannot enter lower than you did prior years.

In the end, you have to do what is right for you. If you aren’t sure, ask the show organizers or someone who regularly judges cake shows. In the end, you have to go with your gut.

I want to end telling you about two seventeen year olds at the Austin show. Tyler Gary entered a spectacular wedding cake in the teen division. Could he have entered a higher category? Yes. With his skill level, he could easily have placed in Adult Advanced or Professional. But he was ALLOWED to enter as a teen and he did. Sidney Galpern, also 17, entered Masters. Why? Because she looked at the categories and knew that it was the right place for her. She teaches internationally. She has her own product lines. She sells DVDs. She is exactly who needs to compete at the master level. The point of this story is that you must look beyond the surface to see where someone really fits. Think about what is fair to you and about what is fair to your competitors.

Wherever you fit, I am glad that you are entering. I cannot begin to tell you how amazing it felt as so many of you came to me at Austin and said you entered because of my encouragement. Together, we are keeping cake shows and the future of sugar art alive!

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Now Boarding

now boarding

I am embarking on my long series of flights to England for the Cake International show as I write this. As always, I seem to find myself writing blogs during this time. Someone commented to me that I must be really good at flying to events with cake things and that I should share my tips. I know I did my tips on Traveling to Cake Shows, but that was really written for people who drive, so I am going to share what I have learned over the past year of constant plane flights.

1. Get the app for your airline.
If you have a smartphone, download the app for Delta, Southwest or whichever airline you fly. It is a quick way to see what gate you fly into and which one the next flight leaves from. You can check in on it, book flights on it and check your mileage balance. For instance, today four of us are flying to Birmingham from three different airports. We all meet up in Minneapolis. I was able to check the gates for everyone, since they have tight layovers. They got my text and were able to head to the right gate area as soon as they landed.

2. Pack intelligently
We have all learned the hard way what we can and cannot pack. Here is what my sugar teaching sisters and I would recommend. All fondant, gumpaste, modeling chocolate must go in the checked luggage. Know that you will be inspected by the TSA if you carry these. The glycerin will make them go through your luggage. If you carry airbrush or liquigel colors, glaze or piping gel/glucose, you should double bag the items. I promise. Those leaks are terrible! I always bag my tools in ziplocks. I tend to wrap my large rolling pin inside my FondX mat, to keep it from getting beat up.

3. Introduce yourself.
For some reason, all these cake tools look like weapons to the TSA. Since we know they are going to open our bags, the smart choice is to let them know who you are and why you have this stuff. I have a sheet that includes my logo, explains who I am and that these cake tools are for my classes and demos. I include my cell phone number so that they can reach me quickly if they have any questions. I put the sheet inside a page protector and put one in every piece of luggage I check. I have never had a problem since I started doing this.

tsa letter for luggage blog

4. Fire bad.
If you use torches on isomalt or sugar, you have to make sure that the torch is completely empty. This means not just pouring out the liquid, but actually turning your torch on and letting the fuel burn dry. You cannot carry any of the fuel in your luggage. You must buy it at the destination. The TSA will call you to security if you don’t do what I wrote. Just ask Peggy Tucker! She is the one that shared the information with me. The fuel is considered combustible and they aren’t going to look friendly upon it in your suitcase.

5. Protect fragile items.
When I pack, I always put the heaviest items at the bottom of the suitcase, closest to the wheels. I see people lay their cases out flat and they put a full layer of heavy down then put other things on top. When they tilt the suitcase up to roll, the heavy things all push down towards the wheels and settle. They can damage your fragile items if you do that. I always put the icing down by the wheels, veiners and molds above that, then cutters on top. I want to be sure my cutters do not get bent.

6. Carry on my wayward son.
If you are taking an entry or display on a plane, it is almost always best to carry that onto the plane. If possible, use a plexiglass box or clear container so that the TSA can see what it is and why it cannot be turned on its side. You can create a carry strap for your box like Susan Carberry did

susan carry on

or buy a commercial one like Kathy Lange did.

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Often, I have to put the Tupperware into a rolling duffle because of how much I need to carry on. In that case, I fill the box so full of tissue, foam or packing material that my pieces cannot move no matter how I turn that box. My friend Kim Denis actually packed a cake so well in his checked luggage that it made it from London to Vancouver without damage! If you put your item in a regular box, consider cutting a peek hole on one side and taping Saran over the hole so that the TSA can see inside without completely unpacking the box.

7. Tears for tiers.
Usually, single tier cakes are best for airline travel. Some folks have been brave and check the tiered cakes inside a large box. They mark what side is up and think it will be fine. Unfortunately, the guys moving your luggage around are usually in a hurry and may not handle your piece the way you ask. I have been at the Oklahoma show several years where people opened up their checked wedding cake entries only to find shattered messes. This might be a good time for the Cake Safe! Barb Evans flew to the Virginia show one year and put her cakes in photography (Pelican) cases, lined with industrial foam. She had ridiculous oriental string work safely fly to Virginia this way!

pelican case for blog

Mike McCarey ships real cakes across country. He advises a sturdy box with the peek hole. He says that choosing to ship cake orders or other supplies is an expensive proposition.  He is a “known shipper”, which means he has paid a fee and passed security tests.  He must ship a certain volume each year to maintain this status.  He can ship counter to counter, but it is only for those who know they will be doing this a LOT.  It is not cheap.

8. Southwest and Frontier are your friend.
Luggage costs money to check with most airlines. Southwest and Frontier are the real exceptions. If you are hauling a bunch of things to Cake Camp or a competition, you may cherish having up to 100 pounds of free luggage!

9. Bag in a bag.
When I go to convention or the NEC, I either take a larger suitcase than I need or I pack a smaller carryon inside my checked bag. You know you are going to buy things. You are. So plan ahead for it. At the NEC, they do not give out the awesome bags we get at convention, so I had to buy one last year. This year, I have two of the purple Choco Pan bags from ICES in my checked luggage. It will make it so much easier as I purchase items at the show. The plastic sacks just don’t hold up as well, especially if your purchases are heavy.

10. Cart it.
I never used to use the luggage carts. I was stubborn and certain that I could handle things. I remember pushing four bags and two carryons through the Orlando airport for Florida Mini Classes one year. What was I thinking?!!! It is worth the $4 or $5 to not kill yourself or damage a display.

11. If it fits, it ships.
Consider shipping item separately. If your hotel will allow it, it can make your life much easier! The day after convention, there is always a line of people shipping their purchases home.

I hope that some of these tips will help you.  I will see you on the road, or at an airport somewhere down the line!