When it comes to decorating, Grand Forks Hugo's employee takes the cake
Jen Kiefer enjoys a challenge.
She points to the cascading tail of an ivory peacock perched atop a four-tiered wedding cake she designed as evidence.
"I was just putting the final touches on the tail when it snapped in half and I had to start over," she said.
The pesky tail stayed put on the second try, and Kiefer's cake made the journey to the North Dakota Grocers Association Convention for its annual cake decorating contest.
Kiefer, the lead cake decorator of Hugo's Supermarket Cake Central, snagged first place in advanced wedding cake decorating. She also received third place in novelty cake decorating for a cake shaped like a snowy owl.
Her prize-winning confections were on display in the East Grand Forks Hugo's behind the customer service counter.
The two cakes are just a tiny sampling of the creativity Kiefer commands when decorating cakes -- a creativity that blossoms under pressure.
"I love a personal challenge," she said. "Most of us can do balloon and flower cakes in our sleep."
When customers bring her pictures of zany and intricate cakes they find on the Internet, Kiefer said she loves the difficulty of trying to recreate them.
"There hasn't been one yet -- knock on wood -- that I haven't been able to do," she said.
Tricks of the trade
In the eight years Kiefer has worked as a decorator, cake design has become more and more extreme. She flips through pictures on the Cake Central computer, showing cakes in shapes of anything imaginable -- such as an eviscerated human torso that popped up at the convention.
"And here I thought putting a (dead) mouse on my owl cake wouldn't have been appropriate," she said.
The key ingredient in creating an outrageous cake is fondant, an edible, clay-like substance that can be rolled out and used to cover cakes or sculpted into decorations.
Kiefer says it can taste like bubble gum or marshmallows.
The adornments on her winning wedding cake and the feathers of her owl are all crafted from the substance.
Fondant also can provide a protective covering for cakes, keeping the inside fresh for days and even weeks.
"A lot of the cakes you see on TV were made two or three weeks ahead of the event," Kiefer said.
Shows such as "Cake Boss" and "Ace of Cakes" have catapulted decorating into the limelight and inspire Kiefer's customers to think of crazy cakes they want her to design.
"It's important to show your customers what you can do," she said. "Anything you can think of we can probably do."
Being creative has been a lifelong passion for Kiefer.
"I've been into arts and crafts since I could hold a pencil," she said.
Kiefer found her first baking job in her hometown of Lacrosse, Wis., frying doughnuts for a local supermarket. The rest is history.
"I've done different things, but it always comes back to the bakery," she said.
It's a fact she's OK with, as Kiefer would rather be baking than sitting down at a desk. She said she enjoys the constant movement the job demands, only sitting to complete the job's necessary paperwork.
"I'm getting paid to do my passion," she said. "The only thing better would be getting paid to go hunting and fishing."
When she's not creating extravagant cakes for brides and grooms or cupcakes for kids' birthday parties, Kiefer bakes for family and friends -- especially for get-togethers during the holidays.
"They call me the Sweet Girl," she said. "I'm a sweet girl -- most days."
Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1108; or send email to email@example.com.