Ann Miller enters international cake decorating competition

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 3, 2011

By Joanie Morris
For the Salisbury Post
ROCKWELL — Ann Miller was a single mother in California in 1965 when she first discovered a love for cake decorating.
She’s always loved baking, and while working as a cashier in a grocery store, she saw some ladies buying a bunch of sugar.
“I said, ‘What are you going to do with all that sugar?’ ” Ann recalled. They then told her about a cake decorating class they were attending. Ann decided to attend, too, and after the 10-class course, she was hooked.
“The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn,” Ann said. Part of the class was “learning by doing,” which meant that Miller baked and decorated nine cakes for the course. She didn’t mind though, since baking was her passion.
“After I finished,” she said, “I realized I had just barely touched the subject of cake decorating.”
Eleven years, a move back to North Carolina and a wedding later, Ann heard about the International Cake Exploration Societe’ — a nonprofit organization founded in 1976 by Betty Jo Steinman in Monroe, Mich. The organization is dedicated to the promotion of cake decorating and sugar arts.
“Betty Jo Steinman said, ‘You know what? Cake decorating is an art,’ ” Ann said at her home in Rockwell as she worked on designs this week.
Now, Ann finds herself one of only a handful of charter members of the group left — a mother of three and grandmother of six, with three great-grandchildren and counting.
“They’re getting old, like me,” she jokes.
After 36 years, the International Cake Exploration Societe’ is hosting its first North Carolina-based convention this week. Cake makers and decorators from all over the world have converged on Charlotte to attend demonstrations and classes. The convention is open to members starting Thursday and to the public Saturday and Sunday.
Ann will enter two cakes and a panoramic egg in the International Sugar Art Collection Cake Gallery, which is open the public Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The cost is $10 per person, and a portion of the entry fee will go to charity.
Ann said the convention is being held in partnership with ICES members from South Carolina to make sure that it will meet everyone’s expectations. And even though she’s in her 80s, Betty Jo Steinman, who lives in Tennessee now, still attends conventions when she’s feeling able.
Ann figures Betty Jo is like her.
“I love doing this,” she said, gesturing to her dining room table covered with decorating supplies. “I’ll do this until the day I die.”
The two cakes Ann is taking — one square to be decorated with dogwoods and cardinal birds and one circular with a gum-paste-and-fondant tea cup on top — won’t be judged. It’s all about sharing your talent and technique and learning from each other, Ann said.
Her panoramic egg is made with 5 pounds of sugar and stands just under a foot tall on a base that looks like it’s made from a coffee filter. The inside is scooped out and decorations — all edible — are positioned for a cute Easter view inside.
“It’s just sugar and water,” Ann said, tapping on the outside shell of an egg she’s had sitting on a shelf in her dining room for almost 30 years. Ann makes the eggs in an egg-shaped form, a half at a time. She packs the sugar into the mold, then adds water one teaspoon at a time until it gets to the right consistency.
“It feels like damp sand,” she said. After that, she works it with her hands to make sure it’s all the way packed in to avoid air pockets or voids in the sugar mixture. “It’s like building a sand castle.”
After the sugar dries — which for large eggs takes up to three days — it’s hard as a rock. She takes the sugar egg out of the form and carefully scoops out the center to ensure the egg doesn’t fall apart.
“It’s simple to do,” Ann said. She’s confident anyone could learn the technique easily.
After the inside is scooped out and both sides look like an egg with a hole in the front for people to peer into, Ann starts decorating. Decorations for inside the egg are generally made with royal icing of her own recipe.
“When I took classes from one of the ladies in California, I laid out a piece of wax paper over the pattern,” explained Ann, talking about the little squirrels, ducks, rabbits, trees and flowers she makes for the eggs. Now, she hardly uses a pattern. Her hand knows the shapes.
Each decoration gets painted with a cake coloring with water added to thin it out. Once completed, she “glues” the two halves of the egg together with royal icing and decorates around the seam with icing and decorative, edible flowers. Each egg is unique, and a work of art.
“These are my fun things to do,” she said. She decided to start taking panoramic eggs to the conventions because the last several she had gone to, “I noticed there was not anything pertaining to Easter.” These large eggs take up to a week to complete, but despite the time spent waiting for sugar to dry, and the intricate decorating that goes into each one, Ann isn’t stressed.
“It’s relaxing,” she said. “I can stay up late at night and just do it.”
She credits ICES with her continued flair for decorating. Every time she goes, she learns new things. She even paid $200 for a class once.
“I just want people to know ICES is there,” she says. “Anybody can join. That’s what it’s all about. Learning new things.”
Visit for more information on the International Cake Exploration Societe’ and how to join.
Visit to learn more about the convention. One-day passes to the Cake Gallery are available for $10. A one-day shopper’s pass for Saturday or Sunday is available for $50 and gains admittance to the Vendor Hall and Cake Gallery. Adding a pass to attend the Cake Decorators Competition on Saturday is $10 extra. For registration information, contact Donna Holman at 803-648-7910.
Joanie Morris is a freelance reporter. She can be reached at 704-797-4248 or