Susan Kelley (center) displays her winning gopher cake design from RBA's 2003 Creative Decorating Competition in Anaheim, Calif., this spring.
Create morning glories by using a snapping motion as you roll a 1/2-in. piece of gum paste.
Use tip No. 8 to pipe the body of a girl dancing the hula. Add a grass skirt with tip No. 133, and use a cut paper tube to pipe a red top.
Use tip No. 10 or 8 to pipe several large flowers on top of a 1/4 sheet cake. Create large flowers with six petals and smaller flowers with five petals.
Inspiration, unlike lightening, can strike the same place twice. A party invitation inspired Susan Kelley's initial sculpted cake design for RBAThe Retailer's Bakery Association's 2003 Creative Decorating Competition. But, on second glance, the future grand champion decided the gift box with a bear popping out was too simple. "Everyone can make a box," she says.
From her workstation as decorating manager for Strossner's bakery in Greenville, S.C., she has a good view of the flower shop area of the store. This spring, much of the display consisted of plants and flowers in clay pots. "I thought, I can do that, and a pot is harder than a box," Kelley says. The decision to switch designs paid off. Her gopher emerging from a clay pot won first place in the sculpted cake category of the competition.
This year in Anaheim, Kelley competed in her second RBA national competition. "I was floored at how well I did. I was having a good day. Really, anyone could have won," Kelley says.
During this year's competition, Kelley says she tried to be more creative in her designs. She also practiced and paid particular attention to the details of the designs. "I reworked the pot for my sculpted cake three times to find the way it needed to be. In the past, I had drawn the design on paper, but hadn't actually done it," Kelley adds. With the advanced preparation, Kelley was able to rework problems with her designs before the competition.
Kelley did not focus solely on decorating until she joined Strossner's in 1996. Until that time, she had worked in and then co-owned her family's bakery in Michigan. She attended a decorating school in Chicago, which taught her decorating basics, and she picked up the rest of her skills on the job. "Customers will teach you because you never want to tell them you can't do something. You just figure out a way to give them what they want," Kelley says.
Kelley and her staff of three decorators at Strossner's create 350 to 400 cakes per week, plus 600 or more decorated cupcakes and cookies. "It wasn't until I came to Strossner's that my skills as a decorator really grew. I started doing figure piping and I added more flowers," Kelley says.
One of her signature flowers is the morning glory, an exclusive flower to Strossner's in the Greenville area. She creates the flower using a gumpaste base. Add coloring to the paste, and knead it to the desired elasticity.
Exclusive morning glories
Sprinkle cornstarch on your hands and the workbench, so the gumpaste does not stick. Roll the paste into a tube, and cut it into about 1/2-in. pieces. Roll each piece between your fingers while using a snapping motion with the thumb and index finger of your other hand. This motion flares the top of the flower, creating petals, and creates the cylindrical base of the flower. Then, use a softer snapping motion to ruffle the edge of the petals. Use a toothpick to indent each petal, creating veins.
To use the flowers on a cake, base ice a round cake with white icing. Use tip No. 16 to pipe diagonal lines about 1/2 in. apart around the side of the cake. Then, starting at the base of one of the lines, pipe another layer of lines in the opposite direction of the first lines. Use tip No. 21 to pipe top and bottom shell borders. Place the morning glories on top of the cake and along the base. Create a small leaf tip by cutting the end of a paper tube in a 'v'. Hold the tube sideways to pipe pink buds on the top and sides of the cake.
Cut a straight tip off another paper tube, and use a squiggly motion to pipe green vines extending from the buds and flowers. Then, cut a leaf tip, and pipe leaves along the vines. Remember to leave an open space on top of the cake for your customer's greeting.
Create a beach scene
A popular summer design at Strossner's is the hula cake. To begin, base ice a 1/4-sheet cake with white icing. Along the bottom two-thirds of the cake top, add a thick layer of icing. This layer separates the sky (the top third of the cake) from the ocean and beach (the bottom twothirds). Above the additional icing layer, airbrush a strip of yellow with a sun in the middle. Then, add a strip of orange above the yellow. Airbrush a thicker strip of pink above the orange. And, add purple so it slightly overlaps the pink.
Use a palette knife to ripple the icing horizontally, about two-thirds of the way down the cake. The ripples represent the waves crashing on shore. Airbrush blue above the waves to create the ocean, and add blue to the underside of the waves. Also, accentuate the shape of the waves with the blue color. Airbrush the area below the ocean yellow to create the beach. Along the bottom edge, airbrush green for foliage.
Use tip No. 10 and a shell motion to pipe two brown palm tree trunks. Cut a leaf tip in a paper tube, and pipe fronds at the top of the trunks. The bottom layer should consist of about five to six fronds, and the top layer has about three to four fronds.
In the center of the cake, use a palette knife to mark the spot for the hula girl. Use tip No. 8 to pipe the legs. Above the legs, pipe a bubble, pulling the tip upward to form the torso. Add the arms to the elbow and the head. With small grass tip No. 133, pipe a green grass skirt on the body. Pipe several layers to make the skirt look full.
Cut a small tip in a paper tube, and pipe a red bikini top across the torso. Smooth the bikini top with a toothpick. Finish the arms by piping one forearm across the girl's body and another pointing away from her body. Cut a small tip off a paper tube to pipe the fingers and toes. Also, pipe a small nose on the face.
Use a toothpick to poke an indention in the lower torso for the belly button. Also, create indentions in the head for the eyes. Pipe the whites of the eyes, and add black irises and eyelashes. Pipe a red mouth. Use grass tip No. 133 to pipe brown hair. Create a lei around the girl's neck by piping yellow and pink flowers with a cut paper tube. Add a flower to the girl's hair. Cut a leaf tip in a paper tube, and add some green leaves in the lei and the flower in the hair.
At the base of the palm trees, place a few morning glories. Pipe a yellow throat in the flowers to make them look more exotic. Use a paper tube to add leaves around the flowers. Use grass tip No. 133 to add some tufts of grass along the bottom of the design.
Use large rose tip No. 124 to add a blue line border around the bottom edge of the cake. Use tip No. 21 to pipe white top and bottom shell borders. Sprinkle the water with edible glitter.
Greenville area girls love Strossner's "hippie" cake. "This design is different every time," Kelley says. Begin by base icing a 1/4-sheet cake with white icing. Airbrush a yellow swirl with curlicues on the top and sides of the cake. Outline the yellow with orange, pink and green. Use blue to fill in the white areas. Use tip No. 21 to pipe white top and bottom shell borders. Sprinkle candy sprinkles on the top border. Kelley likes to add the sprinkles before piping the design so she can shake the cake a bit to get the sprinkles to stay on the border and not roll onto the design.
Use tip No. 10 or 8 to pipe several large flowers. Create the large flowers by piping six petals in a circle. Pipe five petals for smaller flowers. Use tip No. 10 to pipe a yellow center in each flower.
Use a flower nail to mark circles on top of the cake to create peace signs. Use a paper tube with the end cut off to trace the circle with black icing. Draw a line inside the circle from the top to the bottom. Pipe an inverted 'v' through the line to create the peace symbol. Add some yin and yang symbols by using tip No. 10 to pipe a white bubble with a tip curling over the top. Pipe the opposite with black icing. Add a small black dot in the bubble of the white icing and a small white dot in the bubble of black icing. Use a paper tube with the end snipped off to pipe the words "groovy", and "peace" on top of the cake with red icing. Leave space to add a greeting.
These are just a few of the many designs Kelley creates for Strossner's. She often uses decorating books for ideas and clay modeling books to figure out how to create realistic piped figures.
"Be a sponge and look at everything. Keep challenging yourself and you'll be better for it," Kelley says.
Decorator profile: Susan Kelley