Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

Although piping became the dominant cake-decorating method, molded and modeled ornaments, made by professionals from gum paste or marzipan, were highly desirable on sugar showpieces that required longer shelf lives. See marzipan and tragacanth. In the nineteenth century foods of all kinds, not just desserts, were subject to sculpting and molding. Sometimes the ingredients were artificial so that the finished item—while looking good enough to eat—could withstand the wear of display. Instead of being made exclusively for private parties, these showpieces began to appear in professional competitions, at trade shows and public exhibitions, and in shop windows. Despite the change of venue and audience, some continued to have classical shapes—temples, plinths, even a Venus de Milo carved in beet sugar—but their purpose was to promote bakers’ skills. Faux vases, baskets, and pillows became mainstays of shop-window showpieces, but wedding cakes remained the most effective vehicle for cake decoration. A 1923 article in Bakers’ Helper magazine, “Show Pieces That Attract Custom,” featured an enormous five-tier wedding cake that had “been used more than once in the Kunze (bakery) windows.” As time went on, professionals attracted wider attention to their showpieces. W. C. Baker, for example, created a heavily publicized cake for the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition, weighing 1,000 pounds and with tiny models of San Francisco landmarks. Today’s decorating professionals often find television shows the best way to feature their art.