Creativity and a lot of frosting take the cake

25 cake decorators competed in the Regional Hy-Vee Cake Designer Challenge on Tuesday

CEDAR RAPIDS – Cake was Kassie Mather’s focus at Tuesday’s Cedar Rapids Regional Hy-Vee Cake Designer Challenge, but she couldn’t leave her helpful smile behind.

“People stop to watch and I want to ask them if I can help with anything,” Mather, a cake decorator from the Edgewood Road Hy-Vee, said with a laugh.

The ways in which she could help were limited. She was working at a table in the middle of Lindale Mall – not a Hy-Vee bakery – and time was ticking.

The competition between the 25 cake decorators from Hy-Vee stores in northeast Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin started at 10 a.m. Each designer had three hours to decorate a half-sheet cake, a quarter-sheet cake, a 24 cupcake cake, a dozen cookies, and a tiered cake.

The contest is one of six regional competitions held among Hy-Vee cake designers. The top three winners of each event will compete at the finals in Des Moines on March 27.

This is the eighth year Hy-Vee has held a competition to highlight the talent of its cake decorators, but the first year Cedar Rapids hosted a regional contest.

“We wanted to have a way to recognize them, showcase their talent,” said Janette Payton, bakery supervisor for Hy-Vee’s northeast region. “A lot of the stuff they do in competition might not be what they do in the store.”

Such as the dragon Janine Schwendinger of Rochester, Minn., created for her Enchanted Forest theme or the three-tier brain cake Patty Hammond of the Edgewood Road Hy-Vee created to celebrate a zombie wedding.

“I can’t believe these are made by Hy-Vee,” said Megan Hunter of Marion. “It’s amazing.”

Payton said that’s another reason for the competitions, which are held in malls so that the general public can watch.

“Shows like ‘Ace of Cakes’ and ‘Cupcake Wars’ are huge, and we want to show people that our decorators are just as talented as the ones they see on TV,” she said.

Each designer arrived at the event with a theme, decorating their cakes to showcase their subject. Many of the designers also decorated their event space to reflect their idea.

A total of 1,400 pounds of frosting was available for the decorators. It was spooned into pastry bags, spread on cupcakes, and tinted to add depth and shine with the help of an air brush.

Mather’s creation – a carnival delight complete with a rotating carousel – won first place in the Cedar Rapids contest. She’ll be joined by the second and third place winners -- Donna Basener of Mason City and Schwendinger, respectively -- in Des Moines next month.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said Mather, who has been a cake decorator for four years. “I have two little boys and they love the carnival, so it was easy to come up with something bright that they’d like.”

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