Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cake: At the Milwaukee County Zoo

This morning, I pretended I wasn't actually sick (which I am) and went to the Milwaukee County Zoo with the Boy-O and Sasa to check out a cake decorating event. A week ago, I was tipped off by another fellow Milwaukee food blogger, Julia, who happens to work for the zoo. I probably wouldn't have know about it otherwise - and I'm glad I ventured out to see what cake artists in our area are up to (and to obsessively collect business cards...).

This example by the O&H Bakery in Racine was not included in the competition. At first it looked a bit plain, but closer inspection confirms to me that it is indeed good design.

As this hippo's hat will tell you, the reason for the event was the 100th birthday of our zoological society. 13 different area bakeries were invited to participate in a zoo-themed cake decorating competition.

Full disclosure causes me to alert you that these types of cakes do not really appeal to me. I can appreciate them only as an art form. Overheard conversations were discussing the various cake decorating shows on Food TV, Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss, etc. I've seen a number of these shows on occasion and consider them more as food fantasy rather than things I'd actually like to consume. I'm sorry, maybe I'm wrong, but I can not imagine ever being fully cake-happy with a mouthful of fondant coating the roof of my mouth. I'd rather a lumpy homemade Nigella Lawson-esqe cupcake topped with a candied violet, than an artificially colored and adorned confection.

That said, look at what amazing creatures can be made of edibles! My favorite was this giraffe cake (below) made by Ashley Drew of Make Cake. I loved the nursery rhyme feel of the animals, and the beautiful yet unusual color palette.

And Shredded Wheat for the straw on what appears to be a coarse sugar covered ground? Brilliant!

The Boy-O and Sasa took a tour around the children's events and I watched the cake demonstration for only about 20 minutes. Interesting, but confirming all the more that I just do not want to eat an electric green cake...

I appreciate these artists, and their ability to sculpt in edible terms. The realism that can be had with a handful of food colorants is overwhelming. After I took the cake decorating class last spring, I figured I could count out wanting to have an exclusive cake shop. I can see being an assistant in a cake shop, the one to come in a 4 a.m. and bake up all the cake. I can even see me mixing up frostings and colored food gels. But I think I'd like to leave the decoration part to professionals.

I, however, will be very content to continue to be amazed by their creativity.


  1. Hi Rebecca,
    Thanks so much for coming out to the Zoo and blogging. Sorry to hear you were sick. :(

    You got some great photos and closeups! I took pix of all the cakes, but I didn't even notice some of the details, like the Shredded Wheat straw. Very clever! The giraffe cake won the contest, but the hippo cake was the runner-up and the people's choice winner. I'll post more cake photos to the Society's site,, next week. (Just a quick note--this was the Society's 100th. The Zoo had its centennial in the early 1990s, I believe.) Thanks again!

  2. Thanks, Julia! I thought the zoo was older...thanks for clarifying! I'll be sure to check out your photos next week, too.

  3. So you really DID go! Hope you had a great time. Wish I'd have known about this event, as it's totally up our alley!

    So, do you know if all the design elements had to be edible? I know that can be challenging, but it made me think twice when you mentioned the Shredded Wheat!

  4. Oh, and I do think everything had to be edible- but there was a huge giraffe cake with a very long neck, so maybe supports were okay?

  5. The pictures look great! I am amazed at all the detail in the giraffes. Noerah

  6. The baker who made the giraffe cake related that it WAS all edible. I understand that she formed the neck and head with a mixture made of Rice Krispies and white chocolate. Then it was frosted.

  7. That is quite a feat, since I'm sure that cake was transported! I'll be posting more cake pics on flickr sometime soon, including this winning giraffe!

  8. Incredible cakes... My favorite Food Network show is Ace of Cakes, because they can make the impossible look so real.

    I wonder how that hippo liked wearing the birthday hat? I for one hate that tight elastic strap under my chin.

    By the way ~ great photographs!


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