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Fine-tuning the fondant on the Shark Cake on Cake Boss. (TLC/Carlin Cwik/TLC/Carlin Cwik)
Fine-tuning the fondant on the Shark Cake on Cake Boss. (TLC/Carlin Cwik/TLC/Carlin Cwik)

When it comes to cake design, let them eat art Add to ...

Theresa Lanziner might never have become a cake designer if it hadn't been for food television.

The Vancouver owner of the custom cake business Cake Tease says she was enthralled by the whimsical, over-the-top creations featured on the Food Network show Ace of Cakes. Watching host Duff Goldman and his team build cakes in the shapes of animals, automobiles and just about anything one might think of, Ms. Lanziner realized cake making was anything but rigid and conventional.

"It was ... knowing you could create something unique, fabulous, do it with your hands and have fun," she says.

Ms. Lanziner quit her job at an event planning company about two years ago and started her business. She now bakes and decorates zany, colourful cakes in the form of everything from Gucci purses and teddy bears to entire dioramas populated with sugary figurines.

Television shows, like Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss, Last Cake Standing and Cupcake Wars, have revolutionized the craft of cake making, prompting an army of enthusiasts to take up baking and decorating classes and sparking demand for creative, highly personalized desserts. No longer content with generic cakes, many customers now want edible pieces of art.

"The Food Network, Cake Boss, Ace of Cakes ... all of that has really made people aware of what can be done in the world of cake and sugar," says Klara Johnson, who runs a confectionery and pastry arts school in Cambridge, Ont, and teaches pastry arts at Toronto's George Brown College. "It's certainly not the traditional types of designs [that are popular]any more. People are willing to go outside the box."

Tiered and sculpted cakes, which used to be reserved for weddings, are now being served at a variety of other events such as milestone birthdays, anniversaries and corporate events, according to Alexandria Pellegrino and Jessica Smith of Toronto's Cake Opera Co.

Ms. Pellegrino and Ms. Smith, who produced the cake for the celebrity wedding of Nicole Richie and Joel Madden in December, say they often create cakes inspired by architecture. They sculpt sugar into neo-classical capitals, friezes and crown mouldings to make even a small cake look statuesque.

"It's an elegant, clean and contemporary look that still recalls old-world charm," they wrote in a joint e-mail.

While their style evokes grandeur, Ms. Lanziner's more closely resembles pop art.

"A cake doesn't have to look like a cake," Ms. Lanziner says. "I think the best complement is when the [recipient]doesn't realize it's a cake."

If there's one thing that ties the various camps of cake makers together, it's customization.

"Because each design is handcrafted to a client's exact specifications, it seems that everybody wants a piece of themselves embodied in a cake," Ms. Pellegrino and Ms. Smith said.

That can be a mixed blessing for the cake industry, however, says Ms. Turner of Cakes Galore.

Until recently, she resented the popularity of cake shows because even though they piqued people's appetites for hand-crafted creations, they also gave them a false impression of how much work is involved.

"I'd get this woman saying, 'I want to do something for my baby's first birthday. Can you make me a standing Cat in the Hat?' " Ms. Turner says. She'd then have to explain that such a project would require 16 hours of work and cost around $400. "Then they go, 'Oh. I thought it would be about $60.' Um, sorry."

Lately, though, these kinds of misconceptions are starting to dissipate, she says.

"It's finally turned over to where people kind of get it now. And they all want it. They all want really fun and wacky and unusual. It's a lot more fun."

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