Have Your Cake And Eat It Too
By Kerri Regan
ROLAND WINBECKLER'S SERIOUSLY SWEET CAKES
Story: Kerri Regan
Photos: courtesty of Roland Winbeckler
Roland Winbeckler is a seriously sweet artist.
His show-stopping, life-sized cakes have earned him a spot on the Food Network’s “Food Challenge,” where he’ll have eight hours to create a replica of a Sesame Street celebrity out of cake.
He’s no stranger to the craft – Winbeckler has made cake sculptures of Cher, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana, Colonel Sanders and many others. His Wayne Gretzky cake (complete with hockey stick and ice rink) served 20,000 people, and he made a six-and-a-half-foot-long tiger for a circus trainer. He’s even been featured in a Ripley’s Believe it Or Not coffee table book.
That rich history earned him an invitation to the reality show, where chefs square off to craft jaw-dropping cakes while the world watches. The winner takes home $10,000.
He can’t reveal the Sesame Street character that he’ll be immortalizing in sugar and flour until the end of March, when the show is taped in Denver, but he’s completed his sketches and built the framework pieces that will hold the cake together. He’ll be assisted by his wife and fellow decorator, Marsha Winbeckler.
The couple will either fly into Denver a few days early to bake dozens of super-firm round and rectangle cakes in a kitchen there, or they will bake them at home and ship them over. Icing can also be pre-made and pre-colored, and their recipe isn’t made from anything that spoils so it can remain at room temperature. Though most competitors rely on already-smooth fondant, Winbeckler is a believer in the beauty of buttercream, which he painstakingly brushes to a flawless finish.
“It works great for sculpting,” he says.
When the contest begins, they’ll stack layers of cake and icing on a plywood stand. Dowels and cake boards help support the structure, which will end up weighing a few hundred pounds. Then they’ll use an arsenal of knives, spatulas and brushes to sculpt a lifelike scene. Piped-on icing, gum paste, wafer paper and air-brushed food coloring will be used for the finishing touches (think “ant tongues”).
Winbeckler’s biggest concern about the Sesame Street Cake Challenge is the time limit. A life-sized cake usually takes three or four days – he’ll have eight hours on this challenge. But he’s figured out his step-by-step timeline and hopes to finish early.
“I’d like to be completely done by an hour before it’s over,” he says.
The Winbecklers figure this challenge will be a fun memory to add to the collection they’ve amassed throughout the years. A cake decorator since 1971, Winbeckler taught at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and won two gold medals at the World Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany. He has taught or demonstrated his techniques all over the world, and he is in the International Cake Exploration Societé’s Cake Decorator’s Hall of Fame. Roland and Marsha Winbeckler have both written books about cake decorating.
The Winbecklers – who moved to Redding from Seattle in 2003 – had never seen the Food Network’s challenge when someone from the show called them after Googling “cake sculpture.” So they submitted an audition tape: “I rode up on my Harley (on the tape), showed some pictures of my cakes … I even played my guitar for half a second,” Winbeckler says.
“The network called within two or three days of receiving the DVD to say he’d been chosen,” his wife adds.
It’s been a while since they’ve created a life-sized cake (which cost about $2,000 to make and retail for $10,000). In recent years, their focus has been on their website (www.winbeckler.com), where they sell how-to books and supplies for cake and candy making. But they’re looking forward to tossing their spatulas into the ring.
“I’m planning on winning,” he says with a grin.