I’ve spent the last 7 years wandering around the Cake International show at the Birmingham NEC in total awe of the competition cakes. Cake International the world’s largest cake competition with cake decorators (or ‘cake artists’ as they are more deservedly known) flying in from around the world to enter their cakes. The atmosphere is wonderful. When entrants walk up to their cake and see that have received an award for all their hard work it appears to be quite an emotional moment. There are a wide variety of categories in the competition, from sugarcraft flowers and wedding cakes to cupcakes and collaborative pieces. The amount of time that goes into them is immense, the level of creativity is astounding and the workmanship is often incredible.
A wonderful and incredibly talented lady that I have met along my cake travels, Rose Macefield of Rose Macefield School of Sugarcraft once said to me that “the only way you will improve is to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Enter Cake International.” This planted a seed in my mind, so, in a complete moment of madness one October morning I decided to enter. I had three weeks until the competition, I had no idea what I was going to make and I knew that I was going to really have to push my imagination and skills to have any chance of getting an award.
I grabbed my sketch book, started to hatch a plan and decided to indulge myself a little. I am a lifelong Wizard of Oz fan, so while I had the chance it seemed rude not to. After drawing up eight designs and deciding none of them were right, I woke a few nights later with a great idea. “How about a tornado?” I thought, “it could have all of the Wizard of Oz paraphernalia poking out as if they had been caught up in the storm.”
That morning I drew out my idea, I planned the structure and decided this was “the one.” This was to be my first gravity-defying cake and (I thought) while I was at it, why not airbrush it as well? I had said that the purpose of this whole idea was to push myself, after all. The whole point of entering the competition was to find out what it was all about, a chance to chat to the judges about my work and get invaluable feedback so that I’d have an idea of what they would be looking for next year. My airbrush has only been out of its box once but I’m chuffed to report that it is now my new favourite toy!
I planned my framework, ordered everything I needed the www.cakedecoratingcompany.co.uk and my journey began. The tornado I have dreamed of started to appear before my very eyes and I was really getting in the zone. Then, the telephone rang. It was the school office. My little boy had fallen, and although it didn’t justify a hospital trip, I needed to collect him ASAP. I raced up the hill to school and as this was the last day of term, the poor tornado sat in its box for the next 11 days.
Half term holidays over and I got back to it, I had 3 days left. The sugar paste had hardened which made the job of fixing things in place much harder. In hindsight, I wish I’d pulled an all-nighter and started from scratch but that just didn’t seem feasible at the time. I battled on. I then had a mini-meltdown on the Tuesday evening (three days before the competition). As far as I was concerned, the cake was not going to the NEC with me. My husband talked me into at least finishing the cake, before deciding whether or not to enter it.
So, almost completely disillusioned, I battled on, I finished and I stepped back. I wasn’t entirely happy with it and in my heart I knew that I could’ve done better. But, now that it was finished, what did I have to lose by entering?
The drive to the NEC that Friday morning was one of the slowest drives of my life. If you’ve ever driven a car with a cake on board then you’ll understand. The only thing I can liken it to is the way you drive the first time you have a new-born baby in your car, or if you are desperate for the loo and trying to avoid the bumps.
When we arrived at the NEC, we parked and I took my cake from the car, I looked around at all of the other competitors pieces and felt an over whelming feeling of embarrassment. I was a mortified at the thought of placing what I thought was my yukky, muddy looking cake next to these magnificent works of art. I unboxed it without looking at anyone and as I lifted the cake to carry it to the competition table, I broke the nozzle of the tin man’s oil can. Thankfully, I had a mini repair kit with me and with the shakiest hand ever, I managed to repair it. I then carried my cake on the longest walk through the NEC ever, avoiding eye contact with everyone, desperate to get this over with. I placed my cake in its position and I ran for the doors. As far as I was concerned I could now try to forget about the whole thing and enjoy my weekend by maintaining a minimum safe distance from my cake at all time.
The judging takes place all day on Friday and awards aren’t made public until Saturday. Friday was spent marvelling at all of the wonderful cake products on offer and sitting through a couple of workshops. Reflecting on the experience of entering a cake, I was resigned to the fact that I had given it a go and pushed myself to try some new things, but I was expecting that I wouldn’t be receiving the Certificate of Merit (the minimum positive award possible to receive) that I’d hoped for originally. At least the feedback from the judges would be valuable. On Saturday morning, we arrived back at the NEC and headed straight to look at the competition cakes. I was in awe of so many of them but as I began to see more and more of the cakes that had been awarded a Certificate of Merit, I began to wonder if my cake might possibly scrape it. Maybe the good night’s sleep provided me with the perspective I needed. I passed my own cake quickly. I could barely look. Almost all of the cakes now had cards in front of them detailing which award they had been graded. My cake had nothing. It’s what I expected and I was fine with that, if a little disappointed. However, an hour or so later, my cake did have its own little card. My friend saw it first and when she uttered the words, “You have a bronze!”, I thought I’d misheard her. She said it again and again and I think my response was “What did you say?”.
Then I saw it, Sarah Clark – Bronze Award. I’m not sure what I felt at that moment. I was overcome with emotion, I was delighted but at the same time (being completely honest), still a little embarrassed at my work. I spent the rest of the day very pleased but a little confused. In my heart, I know I could have done so much better. I spoke to one of the judges on Sunday and she gave me some great feedback. She also said that it’s not easy to get a Bronze Award at the first time of entering the competition, which made me feel even more bewildered!
On reflection, the overall experience of entering was fantastic. I loved dreaming up a design just for me. I loved making it and the thrill when I realised that the judges had given me an award. However, I still have a nagging feeling of cake shame and know that I could have done better but that’s driving me to improve with every cake I bake. I am already deciding what my next entry shall be and my aim for next time is to enter a cake that I am truly proud of. I’m planning to really “Rock the Bake.”