By: Jacqui Kelly
So a few years back, when I was still a newbie in the cake world, I entered a cupcake competition. The theme was jewelry, which was right up my street, and I thought I had it nailed with my “Nautical Charm Bracelet” cupcakes…
On reflection, of course, I had completely overworked each piece, spending hours and hours on a myriad of differing techniques, throwing in everything I knew, instead of a few techniques done really well—hindsight is a marvelous thing!
However, my biggest error was not overworking my decoration but underworking my packing plans, as in not packing my work correctly. So when I had a minor fender bender (bump in my car) on the way to the competition, my work fell from the passenger seat (yes, I know not to place it there now) and disintegrated inside the large hatbox, that they were not even secured in, and I was left with many, many bits of a competition piece.
There are perfectly good, in fact, ingeniously designed boxes, already premade to transport cupcakes in, so why I didn’t use one I will never know. My entry was going to be displayed on top of a themed hatbox, so I just put them on a cake card and lifted them in, popped the lid on the hatbox, and away I went.
I arrived at the competition venue, shaken due to the minor car accident, knowing I was in trouble but had not yet taken off the lid to see the damage. Luckily, I had brought my tool kit and emergency supplies with me and was ridiculously early as usual, but when I opened the box and saw the extent of the damage I was in tears, shaking and bitterly disappointed.
I was all for giving up, but the power of sugar took over. Other competitors in the room plus the competition officials urged me to try and repair them; I had never felt that camaraderie outside of team sport before, it was overwhelming. A competitor, a complete stranger (who I was actually competing against in the same category) and whom I am lucky enough to call a dear friend now, even went and got me a Diet Coke to calm my nerves and repeatedly returned to encourage me.
My entry was cobbled back together and formally placed on the table. It received a lot of technical criticism but my idea shone through (ha, nothing has changed there!) and I was lucky enough to be awarded second place.
It is so true that some of the best learning is realized through mistakes, but out of that one competition grew my love of sugar, my thirst for competition, and the stunning understanding that there were other people out there who held similar values and liked what I liked. What a welcome to the world of cake competitions! So, what is my takeaway for you? Plan your packing and delivery as much as you plan your competition piece—I certainly have done ever since!
Dedicated to Michelle Becker – Sugar Daze