The SAIT 100th Birthday Cake

I realized long ago that in the hospitality industry we are not here just to deliver the cake, dessert, or food – we deliver happiness. It’s not about the cake, it’s about the experience. And in this case, the people which make the experience happen!

I’m aware it has been a long time since I have posted. The reason is I have been submerged in my dream job – teaching full time as a baking & pastry instructor at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), the same college which I graduated from over 10 years ago.

As we near the end of the year, I tend to self-reflect. Here I wish to share with you one of the most meaningful cakes I had the opportunity to be a part of last year – the SAIT Centennial 100th birthday cake.

This cake project involved:

  • 70+ volunteers; including students, instructors, and community & industry members
  • 14 tiers, with a total height of 7+ feet tall
  • Serving 2000+ people from this cake & side serving cakes
  • An estimated weight of 350+lb in the centre ‘tower’ of cake
  • An overall weight of approximately 640+ lbs including the front sheet and back mountain sections

Planning to Make a Big Cake

There have definitely been cakes I’ve made without planning. But when others are involved, I believe it really helps to have a tangible (a.k.a. written or visual) plan. To me, a plan is a way of communicating ideas and actions to others, instead of it all staying inside my head. For a cake, this is usually in the form of sketches, reference photos, schedules, and to-do lists.

For me, the process of planning for a large cake usually involves:

  1. Identifying the parameters
  2. Collecting all relevant ideas and references.
  3. Drawing the initial sketch, followed by refinements and design approval.
  4. Creating a to-scale diagram or in this case, cardboard model. I cannot emphasize the importance of this!

In regards to the parameters, I had to first determine the purpose of the project. I was torn between exclusiveness versus inclusiveness – was it better to work with a small group of highly skilled volunteers or a larger group of volunteers with varying skills levels? I tried to pinpoint the purpose and essence of this cake, all while battling my ego. In interacting with the SAIT party planning team, and learning about the views of SAIT, two themes started to stand out to me – friendliness & collaboration. I decided to allow anyone to help with the cake and started welcoming any volunteers who were interested.

Early in the year, we started collecting ideas for the cake. We sent out a message out to all the staff and faculty of SAIT asking for what they would like to see on their Centennial Cake, and got some great ideas representing the different trades and technologies at SAIT. I think one of my favourite ideas was a superhero in a cape called the Learning Man.

After, I held a planning session with interested past and present baking students. I’m not sure if was because of the method, or because of the people, but the ideas were very different from those collected from staff & faculty. They were immensely creative ideas, clearly from a student’s perspective, such as students enjoying treats such as Tim Horton’s coffee & lying in the grass eating chocolate bars, or students launching candles at the cake using a candle cannon.

I did notice many ideas, whether from staff or students, had one thing in common – they involved people. At first, I had difficulty welcoming this. People in the form of edible sugar figures are notoriously difficult and time consuming to make. But the number of volunteers interested in helping with the cake grew, and soon I realized this was perfect. The detail and number of figures could easily be adjusted to the number of volunteers and their skill level.

I believe if it can work on paper, it can work in person. The initial sketch is always a rough one for me, often happening late at night in a spontaneous and creative manner, with the main focus being the overall shape or “feel” of the cake. From there, refinement happens as specific ideas are incorporated and the sketch is shown to others for input and approval.

The very first sketch, in blue ink.

One of many refined sketches, after specific details are added.

I believe the more accurately the end goal can be visualized, the easier it is to work towards. Thus came the life-sized sketch, then cardboard model. This made many things easier to figure out, such as the:

  • size and number of figures needed
  • the height of the internal structure
  • the overall height of the cake
  • width and height of each cake board
  • width and height of each tier
  • how much cake to bake

It also made great visuals for everyone involved!

I like to challenge myself and wanted to make this the tallest cake I have ever made. In the initial brainstorming, I was confident I could make a cake upwards of 20 feet tall, and there was a very real conversation exploring the use of scaffolding and a bucket truck, which I soon realized was beyond the scope of the parameters. Shortly after I scaled things back after determining these limits, which was a good thing as I can be known to get carried away. 😊 One of my philosophies is to dream big – don’t just reach for the stars, reach for the galaxies; and if I land partway there, I’m happy.

Did you know 80″ doors and 10 foot PVC can fit in a Toyota Corolla?

Fellow instructors helping with the cake board. Here pieces of wood are added to the bottom of the board as a footing to make it easier to lift if there is weight on top.

My focus was still to create an emotional impact, a.k.a. wow factor. To me, a wow factor is about creating a memorable feeling of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I felt the cake needed to have enough presence to suit the large hall it would be displayed and decided to increase the size of the cake design at least twice. With the replica, I felt the wow factor was reached when it was tall enough to tilt my head back to view it.

Starting with Dry Decorations

I learned quickly to adapt to the availability and schedules of others – it was their time which determined what would get done each day. It was interesting to learn about how unpredictable and last-minute everyone’s lives were, with many not knowing where they had to be until the day of.

What also surprised me was my loss of creativity. This was due to my thoughts consumed by planning, coordination and time management. As a naturally creative person, this was hard. It felt like the creative part of my brain shut off. I had to focus on organizing work and rely on others to develop the creative ideas.

I had to accept it was not my job to be a technician, but to be the project manager. There was no other person better suited for this. Every minute I spent working on the details of the cake was a minute I could be coordinating the work to someone else. This was a challenge as I often felt in my life that I am a technician. My skill is what got me here, and skill is what I can always fall back on. I had to learn that my purpose was to pass on skills to the students and volunteers by allowing them to do the work. And the more work I delegated to others, and the more I stepped back, the more meaningful the project became.

An excellent idea contributed was to have a hundred figures because it was a hundredth birthday. Making the figures was probably the most time-consuming. For consistency, I created polymer clay figures which were then cast into a re-meltable mold making medium. Our team of volunteers would then use these molds to create the bodies, then dressing them as needed. And what really gave a sense of diversity were the hair different styles! By the end of the summer, we had well over a hundred dried sugar figures, tucked away safely in airtight storage.

My buddy. Made of polymer clay.

The first trial of the custom mold, made using a product called Composi-Mold.

Linnea Neels, figure making extraordinaire!

Amethyst Thompson & Nicole Padley, fellow members of the hair & accessory team among many other things!

Ekaterina creating a miniature version of the cake!

SAIT President, Dr. David Ross.

Kim Hambley creating figures.

Leading up to the Day of the Event

Most elements of this cake were built on previous experience from cakes I had done before, such as the globe, mountains, topsy-turvy shape, large sheets of cake, buildings, and figures. There were however definitely risks involved, such as the use of electronics and being the tallest & heaviest cake I had ever been a part of.

As we neared the day of the event and things began to build together, I had one frazzled weekend where the weight of the cake far exceeded what I had first planned, and I questioned the stability of the cake boards. We found ourselves stacking multiple bags of flour on top of the boards to observe if they would collapse. Luckily, they only compressed about 1mm, even with about 500lbs stacked on top overnight.

Sometimes there is too much cake in the cooler to get out & one has to compromise.

Rebekka and Vicky doing a dry run of the stacking. This is where we realized things were getting heavy.

After weighing the tiers we could, and estimating the rest, we realized the centre tower of tiers was over 350lbs, and the overall cake weighed over 640lbs!

Testing to see if our cake boards would compress or not.

Moving forward with the world.

The to-do list looking a little chaotic leading up to the event.

The night before, Rob Hambley, among many others, starting to place figures on the cake. This was a late night.

I was so happy on the day of the event – most of the planning paid off. Everything fit together like a streamlined puzzle. Asides from a few small decorations falling, nothing major fell down and nothing melted.

Madison Nussbaum, Amethyst & Rebekka helping to assemble the cake, among many others.

Surrounded by some incredible individuals here. This is only a fraction of those who helped with the cake.

(Photograph courtesy Rebekka Lenz)

(Photograph courtesy Rebekka Lenz)

The cake had a strong presence. It was a clear collaboration. There was the smell of buttercream and cake. It looked like a balancing act. There were small delightful details for the crowd to discover, such as miniature slices of cake enjoyed by the figures, or the school’s mascot. I was thrilled all the electronics worked, such as the light for the candle, switchboard, and the spotlight for the mayor. The Learning Man, and Learning Woman were there. And the cake was of a height where you had to tilt your head up to take it all in.

(The above four photographs are courtesy of Rebekka Lenz)

As always, my favourite part was to see the cake get dismantled, cut up, and served. Not only did people get to see the cake, they got to eat it. And many children enjoyed the 100+ sugary figures.

(Footage courtesy Nolan Moskaluk)


What were the proudest parts of this project for me? I estimate I worked on less than 5% of the actual cake and decorations. What I did on cake included:

  • modelling & baking the polymer clay figures used for casting the molds
  • creating the faces for the figures of the SAIT president, executive team and a few other special requests
  • smoothing the buttercream on the Heritage Hall and Aldred buildings,
  • assembling the internal structure for the top three tiers & touch ups for these tiers

I was also pleased that no styrofoam used in the making of this cake, however, some of the bottom tiers contained rice cereal treats – making it a truly heavy cake.

Most of all, my proudest part was my ability to trust a group of volunteers to make this cake from start to finish, ending with assembling the cake, final decorations and serving the cake. They had it handled, they knew what had to be done. I didn’t even have to be there, which is exactly what I wanted. I wanted it to be their experience, their day, not mine.

I am glad I to decided to welcome as many volunteers as possible. Not only did this disperse the workload (especially with so many unpredictable schedules), each person helped create more conversation about the cake, sharing their story of their involvement with others.

I learned deeply about myself and my weaknesses: I don’t always respect my own time, I doubt myself, and I often feel grossly unorganized. On the other hand, I learned about my strengths: I remember details about people, I adapt according to needs, and I consider myself compassionate.

I noticed some areas of improvement in planning, management, and communication on my behalf. This project taught me to be a better team lead and the importance of clearly communicating my expectations. There was no one to do quality control other than myself. On the day of the event I think I could have been more prepared for the publicity; managed the serving of the cake in a more streamlined way; and been more intuitive in delegating, especially as the energies of the team and myself became depleted later on in the evening.

This cake taught me to predict the unexpected. I didn’t know who would sign up, who would pull through, or that I would even have this task. Sometimes in my mind, I plan things to go one way, and then they take on a life of its own and evolve to become completely different. Many students surprised me with their drive and capacity, with often matched or exceeded my own.

I maintain my belief it is people who create meaning in this world. Being in the hospitality (and now, education) industry I am in essence, servicing people. This cake was representing the people of SAIT, made by the people of SAIT, to feed the people of SAIT.

After the cake was done I was often asked if I was happy it’s over. If anything, I was sad. Having a large project in my life has been my status quo. I missed the one-on-one interactions, the thrill of doing something different, and missed working collectively together to reach a common goal.

But I know from experience it’s necessary to take these breaks between projects to rejuvenate and step away and to miss them, yearn for them, so I remember why I love the things I love. What the next project will be, who knows, but I know it will be easier with the experience gained from this cake.

Here is a video which summarizes the process of the making of the SAIT Centennial cake:

(Footage by SAIT)

Feel free to check out my other writings as an educator at

Cool Cakes

Here are some cool cake projects as of recently! It is the season of celebrating the people we love & the things that they love about life!

Book Cake

Maria loves writing! In this cake, each line of the page is individually marked using a ruler and the back of a paring knife, then pages airbrushed. The letters on the pages are hand painted using food colouring and a fine-tipped paintbrush. The ink jar is sculpted from modelling chocolate, and the feather from gumpaste:

Book CakeGumpaste Feather

Open Book Cake

Edible FigureGumpaste Figure

iPad Cake

Elma loves her iPad! In this cake, the iPad is made from a hard chocolate interior, which was then covered in gumpaste. Scrabble is one of her favorite games, so they kindly sent an image with the message written as the Scrabble letters. The image was then printed onto edible photo paper, using food colouring. The cake is covered in lime green fondant, the same colour as Elma’s case:

Edible iPad
Chocolate iPadiPad Cake

First Birthday Cake

It’s Tristan’s first birthday! The ball is sculpted out of cake – layers of cake are stacked, then carved from all angles to form a ball. The number one is made using modelling chocolate and gumpaste. The “torn” pieces of fondant were attached after, and blended in:

First Birthday Cake
Ball Cake

Cowboy Boot Cake

And last but not least, Erin loves shoes! Here are photos of the original boot, used as a reference. The embroidery on the boot was created using piped royal icing and the brush embroidery technique, then hand-painted using various shades of royal blue.  The stitching along the seams was created using a quilting tool:

Cowboy Boot CakeShoe Cake

How to cut cakeCake Slice

Oreo 100th Birthday Cake

It’s not everyday that I have the chance to make a cake for a 100th birthday. And this was not for just any birthday, but for the 100th birthday of the Oreo cookie!

Rose Sen Oreo 100th Birthday Cake

I am honoured to have been chosen as one of the three bakers in Canada to create a special birthday cake for Oreo. This was one of the cakes, along with a number of events across Canada and the world, which helped kick off a year-long celebration of the 100th birthday celebration of the Oreo cookie. This cake was unveiled on March 6th, marking the day that the first Oreo was ever sold in 1912 in Hoboken, New Jersey.

This cake is not just about a cookie, but the millions of people all over the world that have enjoyed and supported Oreo. If you’ve ever had an Oreo, I believe that this cake is also about you.

As I was thinking of the cake design, and thinking about Oreo, I began to realize that one of the special characteristics of this cookie is that it is an animated cookie, meant to twist apart and share with others.

To me, this is a cookie that is about friendship. I really wanted to relay this in the design of the cake, to make it about Milk and Oreo’s lasting friendship, spanning the course of a hundred years.

Milk and Oreo were carefully hand-sculpted and brought to life:

In creating this cake, I grew to really admire many aspects of the cookie. I won’t lie, there were several Oreo cookies consumed in this creative process – I enjoyed the intense dark chocolate flavour combined contrasted with the creamy vanilla filling. I kept thinking – someone, or many people, at some time, decided to create this cookie to share with others around the world.

Here the cake is filled with crushed Oreo cookies and chocolate ganache:

In the design on the biscuits, I noticed that the 12 flowers are formed from triangles, and dots and lines and evenly placed as a pattern… while the mini Oreos have fewer flowers because of the smaller size. We recreated the mini Oreos out of fondant by making a mold from an actual real cookie.

In the packaging, I noticed the choice of royal blue, baby blue, and the hint of red, contrasted with white, and also the gold. pink, and confetti in the packaging of the limited birthday edition Oreo cookies. The gold was tied into the number 100s on the giftbox, and in the gold stripe of the candle. Pink was used in the smaller details, such as the miniature gifts. Our confetti was made of gumpaste, which was rolled thin, then cut into squares.

The cake was assembled in the last 24 hours before it was due. I am still in awe of it’s presence, and find it very surreal to have the idea come to life.

Oreo 100th Birthday Cake

After the cake’s tour, the cake was displayed at SAIT Polytechnic, in the window of the Market Place, in the John Ware building.

After the cake was set up, people would walk by and stop and take a moment – slowly their eyes would move up, and they would see Oreo and Milk splashing out of the cake, and then they would smile.

And in their moment of happiness, I found my own.

Oreo 100th Birthday Cake

Happy Birthday Oreo! May the next 100 years be just as amazing!

Champagne Bottle Cake

Happy New Year everyone!

Here are some photos I wanted to share with you of a champagne bottle cake for a champagne birthday! Did you know that a Champagne birthday is when you turn the same age as the day you were born? (Also known as a Golden or Grand birthday)

Bottle Cake

Champagne Bottle Cake

Gumpaste Bow

This champagne bottle cake itself measures over 18″ long and was carved out of white cake filled with chocolate buttercream. Even the cork and neck were made of cake on the inside. To make the neck look like it is sitting up, it actually rested on a cushion of cake.

The bow is made of gumpaste. Gumpaste is the secret to making realistic bows that look like fabric. Gumpaste rolls out much more thin, holds it shape better, and dries faster. However, gumpaste does tend to dry hard and brittle, making the edible art much more delicate… and thus intriguing.

The gold metallic look on the label and cap was created using edible lustre dust mixed with a small amount of alcohol, then painted on. The alcohol quickly evaporates – so no worries – no alcohol was consumed in eating the cake itself. 😉

Hamburger Cake!

I’m so excited, I’ve always wanted to make this – a hamburger cake! Not just any hamburger, but a realistic 3-D cheeseburger with fixings!

I love these cakes because it feels like I’m cooking and cake decorating at the same time. 🙂  This cake was for Pat – the perfect person for a “patty” cake!

Hamburger Cake

3D Hamburger Cake

Burger Cake

3D Hamburger Cake

Burger Cake

3D Hamburger Cake

A run down of the process:

  1. The cake board was masked into squares using tape then airbrushed with red food colouring. The tape was then removed to reveal the checkerboard pattern. This was allowed to dry beforehand.
  2. Lettuce was rolled out thinly, cut with serrated scissors to make a wavy edge, then veined. The lettuce was then painted with a combination of green and a bit of brown liquid food colouring to look more like green leaf lettuce instead of ice berg lettuce.
  3. Tomato slices were made by shaping red modelling chocolate into a curved wedge shape, then sliced using a sharp Chef’s knife.
  4. Onions were made by rolling out and cutting a strip of off white modelling chocolate, adding lines using a paring knife, then curved
  5. Cheese was rolled out of golden yellow modelling chocolate. Once the cheese was placed on the bun, some gentle “drips” were pulled down and shaped by hand
  6. Fries were made using off white modelling chocolate that was rolled out then placed in the freezer to firm up. Fries were cut out, then skins were painted on using brown food colouring and a paintbrush.
  7. The buns were carved out of cake, the covered in buttercream, then fondant. Textures, lines and indents were adding using sculpting tools, then the buns were airbrushed using brown.
  8. The patty was carved out of cake, covered in butter ream, then fondant. Texture was added using sculpting tools, then hand painted using a combination of brown and black.
  9. Sesame seeds were made using off-white fondant that was rolled into a very thin rope, cut into small segments, then squished down one by one.
  10. A little but of shine was brushed onto the surface of the patty and cheese using a thin layer of oil.

I even took a video!

On a side note – if anyone here is from Calgary, AB and if you like burgers: I suggest you check out one of my favourites places, Boogies Burgers. It’s a hip diner-styled place with HUGE burgers and the most delicious spicy fries. The burger itself is as big as the plate it’s served on, and is definitely a meal within itself. My current favorite is a single “Boog-Mac.” (The secret is to wrap the paper around the burger to eat one of these monsters.)

Tiffany Box Cake

This isn’t just a Tiffany Box cake, it’s actually much more than that.

Hiding inside this special cake was an actual Tiffany Box….

Tiffany Box Cake

Tiffany Box Cake

Tiffany Box Cake

And inside that Tiffany box, was a Tiffany Box charm!

You could say that this was part of my research; gift boxes on display at Tiffany & Co., located in Calgary’s Chinook Mall:

The cake took Carlos’  ingenious idea of a Matryoshka doll – turned into a cake!

Here is an sketch of the actual construction of the cake, ( if I could take a cross section):

Cake Construction Sketch

It was constructed out of two layers of cake. The top layer of cake acted as the “lid”, and was created on it’s own cake board of the exact same size. Cake was cut out from the center of the bottom layer, where the real Tiffany Box could fit. Dowels were inserted into the bottom layer of the cake. The Tiffany Box was placed inside, then the “lid” was placed ontop. It was finished off with the gumpaste sugar bow.

What a very cool birthday surprise!

Roast Pig Cake

So anyone that know me, knows that I love me some roast pig.

And I’m quite grateful to know that I’m not the only one! For Tara’s 30th birthday, I had the very fun opportunity to make her a roast pig for her Hawaiian Luau themed party.

Happy Birthday Tara!!! I hope you had an awesome time!

Roast Pig CakeRoast Pig CakeRoast Pig CakeRoast Pig CakeRoast Pig CakeRoast Pig CakeRoast Pig CakeRoast Pig Cake

And below was my inspiration – a roast pig cake originally done by the amazing Michelle Wibowo from Michelle Sugar Art. She is in my opinion, one of the finest cake decorators in Britain.

I give a lot of credit to Michelle for creating this fantastic video because it really helped me in making the above roast pig cake. (Although I must say, mine turned out a little wider than anticipated! :D)

“…There was a pig, and he was big. He liked to dig, and wear a wig. He did a jig, and ate a fig. He was a big, big pig!”

Michelle has even actually won gold at the International Culinary Olympics for her work! I highly suggest you check out her website to see more of her fantastic, and whimsical cakes.

Camera Cake – The Nikon D300 DSLR

I love surprises.

And I recently had the ultimate opportunity to partake in a cake surprise and make a 3-D camera cake!

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR
Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

I’ve always wanted to chance to make a camera cake, and I was very blessed when the cake stars aligned themselves to make this happen.

And this wasn’t going to be just any camera. My goal was to make it Tyler’s camera – the Nikon D300.

There were a lot of special personalized details in this cake – the teal retro camera strap, to the edible image on the back of the cake, to the figure of Tyler wearing one of his favorite Nixon watches.

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Recreating the shape of the lens was the most tricky part because of two reasons:

1) The bottom of a cake that has been carved into a cylinder will sink down and collapse on itself and

2) The shape of a cylinder likes to roll around

To combat this, I cut apart several fondant buckets and pieced them together to form a shallow, rigid, bowl-shaped support. The bottom 1/3 of the cake lens sat inside this support. This was then securely attached to the cake board to prevent movement while decorating and transportation.

The shine of the lens was recreated by painting a thin layer of piping jelly on, which was then hand painted with white food coloring to give it some depth.

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

The cake was filled with chocolate cake with chocolate chunk vanilla icing. It was then hand carved and sculpted. Because of the short time frame I have to work with the cake, this became and overnight project.

The finished camera cake was rather large – it measured 11″ high and was 14″ at it’s widest point, could serve up to 50 people, and weighed at least 20 lbs. All that butter cream, icing, and fondant sure gets heavy once it all gets put together!

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

And I was extremely lucky to witness his surprise and excitement when he saw the cake!  I just had to take a picture of him taking a picture. Note that the matching outfit was not a coincidence. 😉

Happy Birthday Tyler!!!

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

Camera Cake Nikon D300 DSLR

To see a wonderful glimpse into his vision and passion, check out Tyler Kergen Photography.

Carrot Cake that looks like a 3D Carrot

A carrot cake that looks like a 3-D sculpted carrot cake! ( Typical Rose humor going on here….)

Anne really loves carrot cake, so I was more than happy to have created this as part of her birthday celebrations.

Happy Birthday Anne!!!!

3D Carrot Cake

3D Carrot Cake

3D Carrot Cake

3D Carrot Cake

3D Carrot Cake

Golf Bag Cake

I recently had the chance to make a golf-themed retirement cake. For the design, I decided to go with a golf bag!

And after looking at numerous golf bags on Google, I decided to simplify the design of this particular bag –  the Pierotucci Canvas and Firm Grain Embossed Leather Golf Bag:

And this is how it turned out as a 3-D, fondant-covered, golf bag cake:

Golf Bag Cake

Golf Bag Cake

Golf Bag Cake

I remembered two questions about this cake, which I thought would be helpful to share the answers here:

Question #1: “How was the cake shaped?”

The cake was hand carved using a serrated knife. I baked rectangular sheets of cake and stacked them up. Next, I carved out the shape of the golf bag the same way one would carve an ice sculpture or clay sculpture – by cutting away pieces of cake and in some cases, adding some. With cake, tt’s definitely a time-sensitive process  – gotta get that icing on before it dries out!

Question #2: “How was the writing done?”

The writing was done using a food colouring marker. It’s like a regular marker, but it’s filled with food colouring instead. Really great for little dots and lines. The one I used here was the AmeriColor Gourmet Writer:

Americolor Food Coloring Pen

A few more photos of the cake for you to enjoy: