Sweet arts 

They’re not cake decorators anymore. Sugar artists, if you don’t mind. Their medium is cake and frosting, and it’s gone way past roses piped on wedding cakes.

The International Cake Exploration Societé gathers at the Renaissance Center’s Marriott Hotel this weekend for its 25th annual convention, and metro Detroiters are welcome to ogle more than 1,500 spectacular cakes in the convention’s “Sugar Galaxy” exhibit hall.

Among the featured treats: A full-sized pink Cadillac filled with life-sized Motown stars. Built on the frame of an actual Cadillac, it’s otherwise created entirely of “bettercreme” (a variation of whipped cream) and Rice Krispies treats. There’s a five-tiered cake covered with the flowers of the rain forest, sculpted in gum paste and transported to Detroit from Peru, and a 7-foot edible construction worker named Chester T. Hardhat. Built on a wooden armature, this sculpture is made entirely of pound cake and buttercream frosting.

Kerry Vincent, a sugar artist from Australia who now lives in Oklahoma, makes her living decorating cakes, which she says start at $2,000. Vincent works in fondant and gum paste, a breakthrough in sugar art that has enabled the creation of highly realistic work. Vincent claims that when she mixes real flowers with her gum paste creations, “People are stunned. They can’t tell them apart.” Until they taste, of course.

Gum paste, which is a mixture of sugar and gum tragacanth, became available in 1984. Fondant is a thinner version that can be rolled out like dough and creates a porcelainlike surface.

I ask Vincent how it tastes, and she admits it can taste kind of flat. What most people don’t know, she says, is that it needs a layer of jam or buttercream underneath it to give it flavor.

In her view, the only shortcoming of life as a sugar artist is the ephemeral nature of her work. “You may spend your life making beautiful creations, but every Saturday night, they’re gone.”

In the world of sugar art, there are different factions. Vincent, whose medium is gum paste, says that she could not begin to create a cake-and-buttercream sculpture like Chester T. Hardhat, which is the work of Roland Winbeckler of Kent, Wash.

There are also the sugar pullers who turn sugar into a type of taffy that looks like blown glass. (At the show, a tableau of Detroit history will display the variations of pulled-sugar work.) And finally, there are chocolate people who do the same stuff, but in chocolate.

I asked Vincent what might be served for dessert at the Societé’s banquet. Vincent said she didn’t care, as long as she didn’t have to make it.

Admission to the show is $5, part of which goes to a local charity, Paws with a Cause. Nonmembers can also register for the conference, which runs Aug. 10-13 and features 120 workshops and demonstrations on every aspect of sugar art. Details can be found at the ICES Web site, www.ices.org.

TREATS

Let the world know you’re a vegetarian with a car sunshade from the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. The nonprofit organization sells the shades, which go in your car’s front window and read, “If you still eat meat, GET HELP!” for $11.95. Call 888-260-8458. … Chocolate beer? Taste some of the best in the world at Big Rock Chop and Brew House (245 S. Eton, Birmingham, 248-647-7774). That’s not just a claim, either. Brewmaster Dean Jones recently won a silver award at the World Beer Cup 2000, an international beer competition, for his British-style Double Chocolate Porter. Yum!

Elissa Karg writes about food for the Metro Times. Got a food tip? Tell us about

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