“We’re going on up, to Oklahoma,
To the best sugar show, that’s no mistake,
Yes, we’re going on up, to Oklahoma,
Where we’ll finally get a piece of the cake.”
Floating down the stairs to revamped Broadway show tunes—courtesy of Martin Howard, aka Chocolatina—I enjoyed my first taste of the Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show. Run by the formidable Kerry Vincent, OSSAS, and its companion show, the Grand National Wedding Cake Competition, boast an impressive caliber of competitor: from enterprising teens like Angela Lewis, whose shimmering, sculpted entry “Zebra in a Field” won second prize, to uber-professionals like Vivian Pham, whose elaborate, hand-painted and piped “Empress of the East” won the grand prize of over $20,000 in cash.
While admiring a cheeky piñata cake, bedecked with all colors of rice paper fringe, I struck up a conversation with decorator Nancy Ferguson, who was competing in the semi-professional division with a tiered non-wedding cake. After less than two years in the cake world, Nancy’s entry, “Teddy Bear Gift Box,” was adorable, let alone technically impeccable, and deservedly took home a pretty blue ribbon. At my request, we went over to check out her handiwork: the fur is made from short strips of chocolate brown fondant, each hand cut—a labor of love if ever there was one. Nancy says she borrowed the technique from another decorator, with her express permission of course, a testament to the generosity of the cake community. For the lacy borders, she used paper punch cutters purchased at a local fabric store, a brilliant idea for repurposing craft supplies.
Nancy’s cake decorating career took off when she made a beautiful baby shower cake for her daughter-in-law. She had recently started her cake education with a couple of Wilton classes, and they only gave her a taste for more. Unable to find access to modern decorating skills, Nancy turned to the internet and found a thriving community eager to share its knowledge, an active network of decorators, newbies and professional alike. That online community includes places like Craftsy! Nancy has been with us since the beginning, having enrolled in Jacqueline Butler’s Handcrafted Sugar Flowers when it was hot off the presses. She’s since added Joshua John Russell’s Modern Piping to her library, and is excited to take more classes, as soon as she gets back to Springfield, MO.
An hour before the awards ceremony begins, the bleachers in front of the demo kitchens are packed. I’m sitting next to Kay Braswell, the proud owner of a brand new rolling pin from Caketrick. The other decorators around us ooh and ahh over this, the “Mercedes Benz of rolling pins,” an 8 lb, 18 inch wooden beauty with beveled edges, ball bearing handles,and a price tag of $139.99. Kay got her start in the cake business while making pies, actually. The restaurant where she worked needed a cake decorator so Kay stepped right up, taking classes, then eventually teaching them, finally opening her own bakery. Circumstances intervened, and Kay stopped making cake for ten years; when she came back, everything was different: forget buttercream roses, which Kay can make faster than anybody around. Modern decorating means fondant, gum paste, and modeling chocolate. So far, she’s been teaching herself, watching TLC’s "Amazing Cakes and Next Great Baker," but I’m hoping, after a couple hours of applauding in such close quarters, Kay’s become another Craftsy convert.
A fitting end to the largest cake decorating competition in the United States, I took a ride on the nation’s largest traveling roller coaster—business trips don’t get any better than this!