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A cake that Pat Straub, of Pittsburg, created in 2011 for competition is displayed in a case at her home in Pittsburg, Calif., on Monday, Sept. 30, 2013. Straub has won numerous awards for her cake-decorating skills. The Contra Costa Cake and Sugar Art Show will be held Oct. 5 at the Willow Pass Community Center in Concord. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

When Pat Straub was a child, a cake made a lifelong impression on her -- but it was no ordinary cake.

"I became enamored with cake decorating when I was 9 years old when my great-grandmother's neighbor came by with an Easter cake shaped like a lamb," Straub said.

That memory still vivid in the 1980s, Straub took cake decorating classes through adult education in Concord.

"I fell in love with cake decorating the first day of class," she said. "It's been a love affair ever since I learned how to level a cake and make smooth frosting. That hooked me."

Straub took classes wherever she could, including a class taught by the "Lady of Cakes" herself, Josefa Barloco, who was famous for her gum paste flowers that adorned wedding cakes.

"I felt lucky I took classes with her and she was already in her 70s back then," said Straub, a former Concord resident who now lives in Pittsburg. "I smelled the gum paste flowers as I was making them even though I knew they weren't real."

Then, Straub joined the Contra Costa Cake and Sugar Art Society, referred to as the "cake club," about five years ago and has been relishing her passion, attending cake camps and conventions.

Straub will enter her cake designs in "Icing with the Stars," the society's annual cake and sugar art show, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 5, at the Willow Pass Recreation Center in Concord. The event is open to the public and includes demonstrations, seminars and a chance to view the entries.


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A lot goes into preparing for a cake show, including advance planning and decorating. Real cakes and dummy cake entries are acceptable; entries using cake dummies must be reproduced in cake form. The use of Styrofoam cake dummies for cakes is encouraged as real cakes tend to disintegrate before judging time. Edible decorations are preferred.

Straub and fellow cake club members meet monthly to share decorating techniques they've learned and watch demonstrations from guest speakers. At cake camps presented by the California Cake Club, Straub joins other cake decorators and sugar artists for classes and discovering different products and utensils used for their craft.

For Straub, who taught cake decorating to her grandchildren, anything could inspire her to decorate a cake.

"I used to say that everything I saw, I could make a cake of," she said of a cameo pendant that inspired her. "Then you have to figure out, 'How can I do this with frosting?'"

Sandy Burns started decorating cakes when her children were very young and later as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer, took up her hobby again when she found out a child wasn't getting a birthday cake.

"So I said, 'I'm going to bake you a birthday cake," Burns said.

The Concord resident took cake decorating classes at Michael's arts and crafts store in Pleasant Hill taught by cake club founder Tracy Wirta. Burns started "Cakes for Kids" which gives her the opportunity to make birthday cakes for local CASA kids.

Burns said that you don't have to be a cake club member to enter the cake show, which receives as many as 100 entries from members and participants all over Contra Costa County and beyond.

Entries go through a "blind-judging" process where cakes are given a number and the identity of the cake creator isn't revealed during the judging process, she said.

There's also a category for cakes decorated and made by children, Burns said.

Linda Moreno, owner of a cake decorating supply store in Berkeley, said her sister and her youngest daughter have all been cake club charter members, joining in 2006 during the heyday of cake decorating when several TV programs featured the wonders of cake and sugar art.

Moreno, who began cake decorating in high school, said there aren't many local cake clubs which is why some members come from Solano and Alameda counties. Members want to keep abreast of the latest and innovative techniques and designs in their crafts, she said.

"It's a very specialized art form," Moreno said. "I like butter cream. We each have our own passion that makes us happy and we do it very well."

Members of the public are invited to the show.

"This show not only gives the public a chance to look at cakes but they also get to vote (for) the viewer's choice," Burns said.

"People will be blown away with what you can do with frosting," Straub said. "These are truly works of art. You don't have to be a cake decorator to appreciate this as a work of art."

Straub said that one benefit about her hobby is that, unlike making pottery, you don't accumulate so much stuff in your home.

"I have all the pleasure of creating, designing and decorating without keeping the cakes," she said. "Once it's done, I can give it away.

if you go
WHAT: "Icing with the Stars," Contra Costa Cake and Sugar Art Society annual Cake Show
WHEN: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5
WHERE: Willow Pass Recreation Center, 2748 E. Olivera Road, Concord
COST/INFORMATION: $10 admission for adults; $5 for kids. Visit contracostacakeclub.org