N.C. State Fair decorated-cakes contest a winner with the public

The N.C. State Fair’s decorated-cakes competition is a real crowd pleaser, drawing a line of visitors past the many entries on display in the Education Building. Professional and amateur decorators create ornate, multi-tiered cakes that look too pretty to eat.

Robin Bilodeau of Chapel Hill is a frequent entrant in the competition, and she attributes its popularity in part to people’s fascination with the complexity of the creations on display. Jacquelyn McClelland, a N.C. State University professor and the competition’s superintendent, agrees.

“I think the public likes the contest so much because the cakes are so creative and beautiful to see; they really defy the imagination,” McClelland said.

Bilodeau, who has been involved with the competition for more than five years, won a ribbon the first time she entered the competition. It was a three-dimensional cake with a dragon theme. She knows it takes a lot to set one cake apart from the competition.

“The cakes at the fairgrounds are not your average creations,” Bilodeau said. “Visitors will truly be amazed at how detailed they are and how much talent there is locally.”

The judges see a wide range of entries. Last year’s three Best in Show winners were a diverse mix, including a three-dimensional dress cake, a blue jeweled cake and a tropical-themed, bamboo-covered cake.

One of the Best of Show decorated cakes at the 2010 N.C. State Fair.

Lorie Murray of Raleigh, who owns her own cake shop and has been a judge for many years, looks forward to seeing what is entered every year. “You can really see the passion of the designers, especially the children’s cakes made without the help of the parents,” she said. “I look for creativity and imagination. Also, colors and textures that go with the theme are important.  And, designs that push the limits are so much fun to see.”

With the rise of popular television shows such as “Cake Boss” and “Ace of Cakes,” it’s no surprise the decorated-cakes competition draws so many visitors. But there’s more to these cakes than fairgoers might imagine.

For example, although the techniques used in all entries must be possible to make with real cake, organizers encourage entrants to use Styrofoam forms as the basis of their creations. This way, the design can last for the fair’s entire 11-day run.

“They can use real cake if they want,” McClelland said, “but real cake is heavier and can be harder to work with, can fall apart, and of course will not last as long.”

Visitors also might not realize how much time goes into producing each cake. Some of the cakes, especially those that make heavy use of fondant or gum paste, can take up to a week of full-time work to complete.

Entries for the competition are divided into professional, non-professional and junior categories. There are also subcategories based on the type of decorations used and the occasion for which the cake is designed. The junior competition is divided by age brackets instead of by cake types.

Cakes are judged first on their overall appearance. This includes a pleasing general look, originality and appropriateness for the occasion. They are then judged on techniques used, design and execution to evaluate the entrant’s decorating abilities and consistency. Appearance and technique are each weighted equally.

The first-, second- and third-place winners in each subcategory will take home $25, $15 and $10, respectively. Anyone can enter as long as he or she submits an entry form by Friday, Sept. 23, at 5 p.m. Entries can be done online at ncstafair.org or sent in by regular mail.

The cakes will be on display Oct. 13-23 in the Education Building.

Whether or not cakes are your thing, Bilodeau suggests that visitors check out the competitions in general. “When it comes to the N.C. State Fair competitions, there’s really something for everyone,” she said.

About Tilt-A-Whirl

Jeff Miles interned for the N.C. State Fair in 2011. This is his bio from that year: People usually call me Jeff Miles but when asked what my favorite part of Fair was, rides was the first thing that came to mind--so call me Tilt-A-Whirl from here on out. I've always been a big fan of the State Fair and I'm really excited to be working here this summer. I'll be bringing you weekly updates on the goings on at the fairgrounds and hopefully much more. I can't wait to see you all in October (and hopefully before)!

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