A Sweet Artistry

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Conjuring designs almost too good to eat, a pair of talented, award-winning Hy-Vee cake decorators have earned recognition for their edible artwork.

As decorators at Hy-Vee bakeries, Katie O’Connor and Stephanie Dillon have won a collection of awards for their cake designs. Katie, who has been a decorator for nine years in Lincoln, Nebraska, has taken first place three times in the annual Hy-Vee Cake Decorating Contest. Other contestants have twice voted to give her the Decorator’s Choice Award. Stephanie worked at Hy-Vee in Belton, Missouri, and is now on staff at the Lee's Summit, Missouri, store. She won first place twice in the Hy-Vee Cake Decorating Contest and received a Decorator’s Choice Award. Last year, she represented Hy-Vee in a national decorating contest.

Q: Which has been the most memorable of your contest wins?

A: Katie: It was winning a Decorator’s Choice Award. The theme I chose was I Love Cake Decorating. In a way, it’s an obvious category because we’re cake decorators. But I searched on the web and found out there are not a lot of cakes out there covering that theme.

My challenge was to design a cake showing how a decorator eats, sleeps and breathes this work. But what does that look like?

What I wound up with was a half sheet on which I created a chef’s coat with the hands ripping the coat open to reveal a Superman symbol, but one that looked like a cupcake. It was awesome!

Stephanie: Last year, I was selected to appear on The Cake Show, a web series that was filmed in Kansas City. There were four decorators and I was the only one representing a grocery store. The three others were all owners of specialty cake shops. We had to work quickly because each of us had to make three cakes, and the work was timed and judged. So I asked one of the other contestants, “How many cakes do you do a week?” She says, “Oh, three to five a week, maybe.” Wow, I do 20 or 25 in a day and these are special orders. In a store environment, you have to work very fast. But you know what? I won the contest. So the Hy-Vee designer beat the specialty shops. That was pretty cool.

Q: How can customers help you when they place an order?

A: Katie: It’s really helpful to know how many people you are feeding at your event and the price point you are working with. Let me know what kind of a cake you want and the flavor. Then, don’t go into so much detail that I feel boxed in as I do the design. When people do that, I feel like I can only do exactly what they want, and I can’t really express myself and give them something that’s creative. Just tell me what your vision is and what the cake is for. Then let me run with it.

Stephanie: I usually ask my customers questions. What is the event? Who is it for? What are the interests and pastimes of the person who the event is for? Then I start sketching out ideas in front of people. This lets me show them what I’m thinking—like “the border can go like this” or “we can put ruffles down here,” then they get what I’m doing. When they pick it up later, it’s really fun. So often, they can’t believe how it turned out and how colorful or beautiful it is. Then I have a customer for life. Like I always say, “Trust the decorator.”

Q: do you have a memorable project?

A: Katie: When Governor Dave Heineman was sworn in, I got to make two inaugural cakes with my baking partner at work. Both cakes were edible replicas of our state capitol building. They were almost four feet high and we made each one on top of a four-by-four-foot sheet of plywood. It took four of us to move each one. Stephanie: I love when little kids come in with their ideas and drawings. Some sketch out what they want in exact detail so I have to figure out how to include a unicorn and other fantasy characters in one design. And, of course, a kid always wants a waterfall in it too.

Kids’ Summer Cupcakes

Decorating cupcakes can be a highlight of the summer for your kids with these simple recipes from Hy-Vee cake designers Katie O’Connor and Stephanie Dillon. Start by preparing the cupcakes. Use a partial packet of flavored gelatin dessert to add taste and color to the batter of a Hy-Vee cake mix. The yield is 24 cupcakes.

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes: Add about 1/3 package of lemon-flavor gelatin to white cake mix. Bake as directed; cool. Decorate the tops with purchased pink frosting. Garnish each cupcake with a maraschino cherry, if desired.

Watermelon Cupcakes: Add about 1/3 package of watermelon-flavor gelatin to white cake mix. Decorate the tops with purchased pink frosting. For seeds, place chocolate chips on top of the frosting.

Source: Hy-Vee Seasons Summer 2014.

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