When the idea of a Wilton Cake of the Year was announced during a trend meeting, it set the room abuzz. This new competition allowed the Wilton cake decorators to create cake designs that she (or he) thought represented the trends for the year. But it couldn’t just be an over-the-top creation. It also had to be achievable for more than just expert decorators.
Once the competition was announced, everyone wondered: Who would judge? On what criteria? And, once we had a winner, how would we share the cake with the world?
The answers: A team of the most trend-aware team members at Wilton would judge the cakes on creativity, innovation and WOW factor. The designer would present his or her cake, explain their inspiration and also walk through the techniques used. Then, the challenge began for the judges. Narrowing the field from 16 entries to three semifinalists wasn’t easy, but choosing a winner from the three semifinalists was even more difficult. But the result, the 2014 Wilton Cake of the Year, it a testament to the creativity of the decorating team at Wilton.
As for how we would share the cake with the world? That turned out to be the easiest part — on wilton.com, here on our blog, on Facebook and Pinterest, at the 2014 Sweet-Up — everywhere! So it is with great pride that we unveil the Wilton 2014 Cake of the Year!
This year’s winning cake was created by Valerie Pradhan, a decorator who’s been with Wilton for 4 years. “I loved baking and I knew from an early age that that was going to be part of my career, but I wasn’t really into the cake decorating part,” Valerie shared. With both business and culinary degrees, she went on to explain, “With 10 years in the baking and pastry end of the business my experience with decorating really evolved when I worked at a specialty bakery in the city.” That experience led her to Wilton, where she started as a freelance decorator and soon joined the team.
Q: First, congratulations on winning cake of the year. It’s absolutely gorgeous! What was your inspiration for your cake?
A: As I was researching my idea, I tapped into so many areas.
Reviewing trends online, I came across a lot of blues and metallics that I really loved. The metallic influence became a driving influence for the color palette for my cake design. I love the industrial-looking, aged metal mixed with the soft, almost dainty, elegance of the blues.
Another trend I noticed emerging was mixing old and new. Recently, I made a cake for a Wilton Method Craftsy class that was all fondant mosaic tile. The mosaic tile technique was a cool way to do a cake that looked difficult, but when broken down step-by-step, it is actually very simple. So I was playing around, and I came up with the idea that I had for the bottom tiles. I wanted the juxtaposition of old-world design as represented by the tile mixed with modern aesthetics for the top.
I love Roman architecture and that played a part in my inspiration for this cake. I studied Roman architecture in college, and one thing that really stuck with me was the abundant use of Acanthus leaves as a design motif on Roman stone work. For this cake, I had those leaves in mind, but decided to give it a modern twist.
Also, we’re seeing tons of cakes featuring mismatched shapes. I wanted to make a three-tiered cake, but I wanted it to be a cake you could use for any occasion, not just for a wedding. I chose the hexagon because you don’t see it used often. Combining it with the rounds gave it a structural, almost architectural look, so I thought having the mosaic tiles on the sides would be cool since it looks like panels.
The second tier is 6 in. tall. We’ve been making taller cakes in the decorating room — another latest trend. I made the top tier shorter to contrast and further accentuate the height of the center tier. In the final cake, the hexagon is 12 in., the tall middle tier is 8 in. across, and the top tier is a 6 in. cake.
A: The color stories at the center top were the original inspiration. You can see two color palettes featuring top wedding colors, and I combined the two to create this color palette for this cake.
In the décor and fashion inspiration area, I was continually seeing that mix of the metallic bronze and gold tied to the blues. You see it a lot in Indian saris — the bright colors with gold or bronze metallic accents. The color/metallic combination has been a constant, especially in this turquoise–golden bronze combination.
Actually, I found the image of the dress on the far right after I had completed my cake. I had to put it on my inspiration board, though, because the way I painted the cake was almost identical to the dress, and I hadn’t ever seen it before!
Q: Tell me about your sketch (shown at left). Do you normally sketch out your designs?
A: I’m not a big sketch person, because I don’t really draw, so it’s just a little scribble. In this case, it helped a little. A sketch isn’t always enough for me; I need to do a little mock-up to visually see the play of the height and shapes.
Q: Were there changes from your original concept to the final cake?
A: In my mind’s eye, the tiles were going to be diamond shaped, but I didn’t like how those looked. Likewise, the center tier only had a 3 in. band going around it. The top tier originally was going to be covered in pearlized gold sugar, but that just didn’t really make sense.
I got a little frustrated in the first few days, because I had a basic idea of what I wanted, and it wasn’t looking like the concept I had in my head. But I kept playing around with it, and it finally started to make sense.
Also, the bronze is pretty dark, so the contrast with the light fondant was too severe. I added in gold to lighten it up a bit, and the design seemed to flow better.
Q: What are some of the techniques you used on your cake, and why did you use them?
A: I wanted it to be different than the typical piping and stringwork technique cake. It needed to be unique, but I had to be sure it wasn’t too difficult when the steps were broken down, so people at any skill level could do it.
For example, for the tiles, I used our new square double cut-outs set. Then, I piped royal icing on the fondant tiles, smooshed it around, and let it dry to give it the texture. Then I brushed them messily with a “paint” mixed from Color Dust edible accents and Pearl Dust edible accents and pure lemon extract. My goal was that anyone with basic skills in cake decorating would be able to make tiles like these.
Same with the painting of the top two tiers. It’s just taking a brush and swiping “paint” in an abstract pattern, so you really can’t be wrong. I’m not a fussy painter, so this was perfect for me.
I wanted the leaves to be easy to make as well. I used leaf double cut-outs set for them, then snipped the edges to fray them a bit and thinned them with a ball tool. None of the techniques used involve practicing techniques until you are proficient or having years of experience to master the skills. Again, I really wanted anyone to be able to do this.
A: I used bronze and gold metallics, but you could use anything, even two different colors, rather than metallic, and do the same basic technique with very different results. The same with the tiles — you could use any shape and any color. You could use either technique on its own as well.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the cake?
A: My favorite part is probably the texture and color of the mosaic tiles.
Congratulations again to Valerie Pradhan for winning the 2014 Wilton Cake of the Year content. Stay tuned and you might just see some of the other Cake of the Year designs featured on the wilton.com website. So, readers, what’s your favorite part of Valerie’s amazing cake? Let us know — leave a comment!