Frosted penquins, fondant elephants, a zombie wasteland and a cake "basket" full of frosting yarn were all part of the ninth annual Hy-Vee Cake Designer Challenge.
Representing 20 Hy-Vee stores as far away as DeKalb and Canton, Ill., 27 cake designers competed Thursday at NorthPark Mall for cash prizes and the chance to be among three who will vie for grand prize honors March 27 in West Des Moines March 27.
Decorators' displays included a nautical scene, the circus, a candy shop, the Taj Mahal, a swamp, a construction site and summer camp.
Hy-Vee provided undecorated cakes, cookies, cupcakes and tubs of frosting. Decorators supplied their own frosting tips, tools and props. Competitors had three hours to set up and decorate their displays; ideas had to be submitted before the contest, said Ellen Foster, of Macomb.
"Most of us sketch it up ahead of time, and no one is allowed to pre-decorate anything," said Ms. Foster who, inspired by her five children, created an intricate circus of marshmallow fondant animals, tubs of popcorn and circus performers.
Kelly Becht, of Moline, created a western scene featuring a three-tiered sheriff cake, a jailhouse cake, cookies and a "Wanted: Dead or Alive" cake with a photograph on edible rice paper.
In her second competition, Ms. Becht said she found inspiration on Pinterest and other websites. Her 23 years of experience showed as she finished with 40 minutes to spare, using the time to add minute details such as dots on a red and white bandana.
"Art has found maturity within cake decorating," said Chris Arnold, bakery supervisor for the eastern district of Hy-Vee.
"Customers have changed what they want," he said. "When I grew up, grandma was baking the cakes. Now people are walking in with photos from the Internet. The demand has caused us to step up our game."
People also are celebrating events other than birthdays, he said, such as success in a baseball game or losing a first tooth. Hy-Vee decorators receive on-going training to keep up with trends, he said.
Crystal Williamson, of Canton, created a zombie-themed display featuring a head coming out of a grave, anchored by a headstone. She said zombies are a popular theme.
Melissa Ring, of Burlington, won first place and $500 with a high school theme featuring cakes of pink and gray frosted pom-poms and stacks of books. She also will attend the companywide baker's meeting March 12 in West Des Moines where she will meet Duff Goldman of the TV show Ace of Cakes.
This was Ms. Ring's fifth year of competing; she won 2nd place two years ago. Ms. Ring said she grew up decorating cakes and used to spend time at the home of a family friend who owned a bakery and gave her lessons.
"The whole contest is fun. I like to see everyone's creations," said Ms. Ring. "It's nice to know you're good enough to win something."
Second place and $250 went to Michelle Juranko, a decorator from the Avenue of the Cities Hy-Vee in Moline. Her Oriental theme featured an intricate kimono cake. Third place and $125 was awarded to Emilie Davies of Sycamore for a gambling theme. Sarah Mozak of Iowa City was named runner-up for an arctic theme.
Today is Sunday, March 9, the 68th day of 2014. There are 297 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Much damage is being done to sidewalks, shade trees, fences and gardens by hogs that are running at large about town. 1889 -- 125 years ago: H.C. Cleveland was elected air knight captain of Rock Island Division Uniform Rank Knights of Pythias. 1914 -- 100 years ago: B.W. Wilson, authority on birds and their habits, spoke at the weekly luncheon at the Rock Island Club. 1939 -- 75 years ago: The famous Dionne quintuplets have been invited to visit King George and Queen Elizabeth in Toronto on May 22, but Papa Dionne thinks their majesties should include the Callander nursery in their tour. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Ever been smothered by funny stuff? Well more than 2,600 people were last night when two boys named Tom and Dick Smothers took a "rocky, twisting road to folk music" in Davenport Masonic Temple. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Moline residents soon may be asked to recycle part of their garbage and might even get paid for it.