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Cake Decorating Competition

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I work for the US Postal Service Remote Encoding Center, and this month we’ve officially been open for 15 years. They had no budget to throw a celebration, so they came up with some cute and, in this case, genius ideas to throw one on the cheap.

Today was their birthday cake decorating competition, which totally eliminated the need to buy a celebration cake (there were 5 cakes just for our shift & mine serves 150)! Isn’t that smart? All they had to do was round up some items they got for Christmas and didn’t want and put them in a basket for a prize! Genius.

I started working on my cake last Thursday, going with the idea that immediately came to mind of a three tier cake with a red, white and blue theme since those are the colors in the USPS logo. I started with the topper since it wouldn’t be perishable. I made 30 red, white and blue stars by outlining them with royal frosting on waxed paper & filling them in with color-flow icing. After they dried hard, I hot-glued them to cloth-covered floral wire and bent them into shape to make it look sort of like an explosion or fireworks.

I used 9 boxes of cake mix, 36 eggs, 3 cups oil, 8 lbs powdered sugar and 1 1/2 tubs of shortening to make this cake. It makes me shudder just to think about all that shortening.

Once all 6 cakes were baked (two per tier), I sandwiched each tier together with some of that artery-clogging white frosting and spent almost an entire day trying to get the frosting on the outside as smooth as possible. For me, the frosting is the hardest part. I choose simple decorations and they don’t take long, but it’s really hard for me to get perfectly smooth frosting. I eventually have to beat down my perfectionist tendencies into submission b/c I’ve discovered that the frosting will NEVER be perfectly smooth and even if it is, I will inevitably stick a finger (twenty times) into the frosting after it has been perfected. This time was no exception.

Bottom tier after first icing:

And after the last–as good as it gets:

Once the tiers were as smooth as they were going to get, I let them dry a little in the refrigerator and then brushed edible glitter over the surface. This proved useless b/c after adding the swirlies, you couldn’t even see the glitter. Oh well.

Next was the logo, which I was loathe to do. I am NOT an artist and I always cringe at the part of decorating when it’s time to put a picture on the cake. My usual trick (I trace the picture with clear piping gel onto waxed paper and press that onto the cake, leaving a clear impression which I can trace) didn’t work b/c the glitter created a non-stick surface, so I had to use a toothpick to draw the logo & writing onto the cake. I was NOT going to just go for it with that navy blue frosting bag–that would have been a disaster with nothing to trace! Well, even with my toothpick drawing I didn’t do much better and ended up with this:

After much lamenting and trying to convince myself you really could tell it was an eagle if you looked hard enough, I finally decided to use white to cover up the blue in the places it shouldn’t be–essentially “erasing” my mistakes with white frosting. And to my relief, it came out perfect:

I decided to insert the dowel rods before going any further. Large tier cakes need support, so you insert dowel rods that are even with the surface of the cake to support the cake above, so not all the weight is on the bottom cake. Oh, and I should mention that each tier of cake should be resting on a cardboard circle or the dowel rods won’t do any good–the cake will just sink into them and leaving you with a sort of cake-implosion. The cardboard rests on the dowel rods beneath and supports the cake above.

I measured the length needed by inserting a rod into the middle of the bottom two tiers and marking it with a pencil. Dennis cut them to size and after inserting them around the hole in the middle, I placed rounds of parchment paper over them, slightly smaller than the cake that would be placed on top. This keeps the cardboard from sticking to the cake below it–so the frosting isn’t ruined during serving.

Next I swirled & dotted red onto the bottom, white on the middle and blue on top. (Yes, we did have to empty our shelves to keep the cakes in the fridge–everything went into a cooler or thrown away. I’m so happy the cake’s gone so we can buy groceries!)

Phew! Time to stack them. I put hot glue onto the disposable base and quickly centered the bottom tier over it and let it fall into place. Then I repeated with the other two tiers, minus the hot glue part.

I sharpened a long dowel rod and forced it down through the middle of the entire cake to stabilize it during transport. I left it a little higher than I usually would b/c I intended to cover it so it really didn’t matter. I also covered the cardboard edges beneath the tiers by piping a star border in the corresponding colors.

Then I pushed a hollow plastic dowel rod over the wooden towel rod and let it go all the way down to the bottom of the first cake. This provided a place to stick the “stem” of my star topper.

Next came the tricky part. Transport! My wonderful husband agreed to wake up super early to drive so I could sit in the back seat with the cake. Since the car seat slants toward the back, I rolled up old (clean) towels to provide a flat surface for the cake.

I was barely able to carry it out, it was so heavy. But I did it b/c there’s no way I was going to let anyone else touch my cake.

As you can see, the surface wasn’t QUITE flat, so I had to shove my hand under the back and hold it in an awkward position during the drive.

All highways and roads that I usually take to work are under heavy construction and the thought of using them was enough to give me colonic spasms. Too many curves, too many potholes–and all one lane so that if Dennis went as slow as I wanted him to, our lives would actually be in jeopardy each time we came to a stop b/c surely at least one of those angry people trailing behind us would be willing to put a cap in him just to get him out of the way.

So we took a very convoluted route that was blessedly smooth and only left me screaming “SLOW DOWN!” about five times. Every little bump had my heart jumping into my throat as I watched the cake shudder and wobble and bob up and down–even with me holding it in place and my arm aching with the strain (my left was shoved under the cake and slightly lifting the whole time, while I held the topper in a vase in my right hand to keep it from jostling too much b/c the stars were fairly fragile).

What usually was a 15 minute drive was doubled by the longer route and my insistence that he go 5 mph at every turn. And even then, I was screaming, “DENNIS!” The poor man. I had him just as tense as I was. We were both ecstatic when we finally pulled into the REC parking lot.

Although we brought a flat dolly to bring it inside, once it was in my arms, I was unwilling to set it down–too afraid of what might happen after we’d got it this far–so I carried it all the way into the building and to the break room. My arms & hands were trembling with the effort and with relief once it was safely on the table. I messed up the frosting swirlies a little when I put in the birthday candles b/c I couldn’t stop shaking, but it wasn’t noticeable.

Still shaking, I admired and took pictures of the other cakes.

USPS Jeep Cake

Flip-Flop Cake

Candyland Cake (2nd place)

Computer Cake (3rd Place)–we work on computers all day so this one was really clever and appropriate.

Cake table

For all this effort and stress, I was awarded first place and got to choose from three gift baskets. Two were stuffed with candy and I went with the third labeled “Pamper Yourself” b/c it didn’t look quite as fattening as the others.

I got the book, What About The Big Stuff?, Dove Caramel Chocolates (with Christmas ornaments on the box–yeah, remember what I said about the leftover Christmas junk?), Avon foot lotion, chamomile tea, Warm Sugar Vanilla body lotion (which I believe is one of BBW’s holiday lotions) hot cocoa mixes (yeah, more Christmas leftovers–who drinks/buys cocoa in the summer?) some yummy votive candles, Burt’s Bees cuticle oil, Nifty Nuthouse (it’s a local place) mixed nuts, a luxury eye mask that I just might use b/c it’s sooooo soft, Garnier face-cleansing towelettes and (get this) a bar of soap from a hotel (the Hyatt). I’m not complaining–I love everything and am very grateful–but I just think it’s pretty hilarious how they didn’t try to hide the fact that they were regifting old Christmas rejects (and hotel soap!). I would have at least removed the chocolates from their box and put them in a nifty new container.

Anyway, the real prize–and the only reason I entered the competition–was to win…and I did! So I’m happy. I don’t think I’ll be putting myself through that again, though–I really feel like I’m done with cake decorating. I’m way too anal to bear it. But I like to contradict myself so be watching out for my State Fair cake come fall. ;)

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