If Willy Wonka himself hosted a trade show, I imagine it would be something like the New York Cake Show. Earlier this month, in a big, bright room that smelled like sugar and perfectionism, master cake decorators gathered to swap war stories and show off their best work. Now in its fifth year, the show featured a Broadway-themed cake decorating competition as well as demonstrations, workshops and exhibits by purveyors of confectionary tools and supplies.
I’m no cake pro myself—I’m more of a cake fan—so I admit I wasn’t fully prepared for the scene at the Cake Show. I wandered around in a giddy daze, accepting ganache cake pops made with Guittard chocolate and samples of Flavor Right whipped topping. I learned about an ingenious apparatus called a Cake Safe and perused tools for shaping humanoid eyes out of fondant.
In the middle of all this, of course, were the cakes themselves. Not just cakes, but cookies, cupcakes, sugar flowers, sculptures and more. Competition entries were divided into item categories—wedding cake, sculpture, etc.—as well as skill level divisions. With their flawlessly smooth, bright surfaces and shiny details, many of the cakes in the show barely registered as food in my brain. Which is not far from the truth, it turns out. Most categories in the competition require “dummy cake” interiors. That is, a styrofoam base instead of real cake.
Still, the entries must feature a design that would be possible to replicate on a real cake. All decorations and adhesives must be made from edible materials, and the competition rules state that higher points are awarded for decorative objects that are made by hand rather than with commercially available molds and stencils. The results are so mind-bending that I assume they require some level of witchcraft.
Molly Jean Bennett is a writer and multimedia producer based in New York City. Her essays, poems, and strongly worded letters have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Atlas Obscura, VICE, and elsewhere.