Katie O’Connor of Lincoln, Neb., won the 2011 Hy-Vee Cake Designer Challenge today at Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines.
O’Connor, who won the contest in 2009 and finished third last year, outfrosted 17 other finalists who had qualified in regional competitions around the Midwest over the past two months.
Her winning entry played on an Italian vineyard theme, replete with a three-tier cake composed of authentic looking wine casks, and a detailed cupcake cake that resembled a mouth-watering plate of ravioli. Her cookies featured tiny white mice and wedges of cheese.
“I’m really interested in that kind of stuff. I cook pasta at home and can my own spaghetti sauce, so it’s my kind of thing,” said O’Connor, who won a trip for two worth an estimated $1,700.
Runner-up was Anne Freeman of Ames, whose garden-themed creation was accurate down to the sugary dribble of “water” coming from a realistic garden hose. A large, sugary snail rested atop her tier cake, which was made to look like a flower pot.
Freeman is a perennial Iowa State Fair cake decorating champion. She wowed the Hy-Vee judges last year with a beach-inspired theme that included a main cake that looked amazingly like a sand castle.
“I try to do things that no one else is doing,” Freeman said. “I barely had time today to look up, and when I did….wow. There were some amazing cakes all around me.”
Each designer had four hours to complete a multi-tier cake, a half-sheet and quarter-sheet creation, one dozen cookies and a cupcake. All accompanied their iced and fondant-draped goods with colorful backdrops and props. Freeman won $750 for her second-place effort. Third place went to Heather Hansen of Omaha, who offered a sweet, yet complicated compilation built on the “girls are made of sugar and spice” childhood rhyme.
“For these designers to do all of this under these time constraints, with all this pressure, is absolutely amazing,” said Tom Hobt, Hy-Vee’s vice president of perishables.
The event drew a large crowd that spent the late morning and afternoon roaming among the designers’ work stations to monitor their progress, take photographs and ask questions.
“The competition is exhausting, but you’re so pumped up,” said Brenda Harwig of Mission, Kan. Her jungle-themed creation finished second in the Kansas City Regional.
“It’s kind of cool to hear the buzz that built in the mall and see the media that showed up to cover the event,” said Hy-Vee Bakery Supervisor Chris Arnold. “We couldn’t be more proud of our designers.”
O’Connor said this year’s competition was the toughest yet, but she plans to defend her title in 2012. Asked whether she will alter her artistic approach (she won in 2009 with a dragon/fantasy theme) she said dreaming up an idea is the easy part.
“I came up with this theme in one day,” she said. “But when you have three little boys like I do, you have to do everything fast.”
Cake Designer Challenge Slideshow