But there it is, sitting on the table, a multi-colored confection that will make you re-think your policy on interlocking building block munching. Created for a 6-year-old’s birthday, the cake has individual Lego-like blocks surrounding a smiling character head made popular in video games, movies and children’s imaginations world-wide.
Welcome to Batter Up Cake Shop, where cake artist and Collin College student Sylvia Wilson makes people’s celebratory ideas come to life … delicious, sugar-coma-inducing life. From custom-shaped creations for marking specific life events to artfully-decorated traditional cakes, Wilson has provided edible works of art for hundreds of occasions.
Want Sponge Bob Squarepants with a crabby patty? Looking for a multi-colored dragon in a castle keep? How about a Louis Vuitton handbag? Wilson has designed cakes to look like each.
One look through the Batter Up Cake Shop photo gallery and it’s easy to see why Wilson’s cakes have earned her wins at cake competitions in three states, magazine covers and an appearance on Food Network, where she and her teammate won a Star Wars-themed cake decorating competition. The talent scouts for the Food Network appearance found her after Wilson won a cake competition in Oklahoma.
The network contacted her and asked her to submit a video about the shop where she worked – Wilson hadn’t started Batter Up at the time – and some of the creations she had made. The submission and the strong recommendation of a cake decorating competitor led to her appearance on an episode of Food Network Challenge in 2011.
“I wasn’t a big Star Wars fan, but I learned really quickly what we needed to do,” Wilson said. “We did a whole movie marathon to catch ourselves up on it.”
Wilson said the Food Network Challenge was a great experience that ranks as one of the highlights of her cake making career.
“You are afraid you are going to be camera-shy or stressed, but everything is happening so fast that you don’t really think about it,” she said. “You are just trying to finish your cake.”
After the win, Disney flew the team out to Walt Disney World to recreate the cake – which featured C3PO and a vehicle from the movies – at the opening of its Star Tours 3D theme ride.
Wilson credits the television appearance with helping kick start her full-time baking career, a journey that had begun a few years earlier with a car accident which broke both of her wrists. Part of her physical therapy was working with modeling clay, which she took to well despite having no prior experience with sculpting. Then inspiration struck.
“One day I was at home working with the clay, flipping through the channels and came across Food Network. I saw them working with fondant, which is like an edible clay,” Wilson said. “I switched over to that and made my best friend a birthday cake the next week. I fell in love with it and everything started from there.”
Wilson said that while fondant can be temperamental, working with the popular modeling agent becomes second nature after a while. She started creating fondant figures shortly after discovering the medium and has never looked back.
Wilson opened Batter Up Cake Shop four years ago and her specialty cakes have continued to grow in popularity. She said he likes to challenge herself and enjoys when her customers bring in new ideas.
She is also challenging herself away from the cake shop by working toward a culinary degree at Collin College.
“I’m looking forward to branching out,” Wilson said about the skills and techniques she is learning in her classes. “You should never stop learning.”
Karen Musa, the director of Collin College’s Institute of Hospitality and Culinary Education, said she is glad to have a student like Wilson in her program.
“I think that Sylvia is a great example of someone who comes to us with some great experience but who has the attitude that she can always learn something new,” Musa said. “She has always been humble and open about what she is learning in class. She has no ego or anything like that.”
Musa said that even established professionals can benefit from classes at Collin College, because they formalize a student’s training and reinforce the skills that he or she may have learned elsewhere. In addition to the technical skills that students learn, they are expected to demonstrate discipline, teamwork and effective time management, all of which are important facets of working in the culinary and hospitality industries. In Wilson’s case, the fact that she will be learning from peers is an added benefit.
“Across the board, between hospitality and food service management, culinary and pastry, I think what we have to offer is a very realistic program,” Musa said. “All of the instructors at Collin have worked in the industry. They aren’t just well-versed in the textbooks and research. We have actually lived it.”
The classrooms at Collin College will be a bit of a role reversal for Wilson, who has taught cake modeling and other demonstration classes to interested customers for a while. Wilson said she has a passion for learning and for sharing what she knows with others.
Wilson said the classes she’s taken at Collin College so far have been done well and were very detailed, with access to a great kitchen.
“It’s not lacking for anything. That’s for sure,” she said.
Wilson hopes that the skills she learns will allow her to continue growing in her career. For a woman who turned physical rehab with modeling clay into her own bakery, that’s almost a given.
“Just like with cakes, you never know where something is going to take you,” she said.