Incredible edibles in cake competition at Southern Food and Beverage Museum

NEW ORLEANS –  An 18th-century ship sails on a blue-green ocean under an ornate crow’s nest perched precariously above the masts.

And every bit of it is edible.

The ship was this year’s winning entry in the Southern Food and Beverage Museum’s annual “Big Top Cake Competition.”

Putting the details on the ship — there are even cannon bays and cargo boxes — was the toughest part for pastry chef Shelby Bower.  She said it took her about a week to assemble the cake while she worried that the humidity (and gravity) might take a toll on the towering creation. To make the cake sturdier, she toasted it before frosting it and piecing it together.

Although no one will get a slice (it will remain on display at SOFAB ), it’s a shame you can’t taste it.  Bower’s ship is a spice cake made with Steen’s Cane Syrup —  the only ingredient that was required for all the cakes in the competition — and it’s filled with a cinnamon and coffee ganache.

The little boxes of “cargo” are made out of chocolate, bobbing beside the ship on the frosted sea. You could even eat the ship’s sails, which are made of a type of wafer that Bower calls “edible fabric.”  The piano keys that encircle the crow’s nest are made of black and white fondant.

Bower started baking in high school and went on to study art and fashion, before returning to specialty cakes.  Now she makes mostly wedding cakes at her own shop, “Shelby Elizabeth Cakes,” in Houston.

The “People’s Choice” award went to the second-place cake, made by local pastry chef Eliza Abeleda.  Abeleda’s creation was a tribute to New Orleans’ Tricentennial: a carrot cake with cream cheese filling, surrounded by local treats like “crawfish” sneaking out of a silver-frosted pot.

Abeleda is not a newbie to frosting and fondant.  One Christmas, when she was the pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton, she filled the hotel’s grand lobby with a gingerbread house that was equally grand.  For the cake competition, Abeleda said the summer humidity was a factor for her too, and she had to race to put the cake together, working just a few hours at time for less than a week.  The effort paid off in  precision.

Topping the cake is the French tricolor flag, shining from a gold border on a crisp white sheet of frosting.  Below, a gum paste “bottle” of Steen’s Cane Syrup has tipped over, pouring a stream of chocolate onto bite-sized “pecan pies.”

Then, there is Abeleda’s homage to Popeye’s fried chicken. The secret ?  She mixed rice cereal and fondant into “drumsticks”and then coated them with corn flakes.

Even Al Copeland would have been fooled.