Making confections is a piece of cake for decorator


John Tlumacki/Globe Staff Photo

Confectionery designer Michelle Ryan decorates cake at her Lexington shop.

Everybody loves Elmo, right? Not when you’re icing the furry red monster onto a child’s birthday cake “for the nine thousandth time,” said confectionery designer Michelle Ryan of Cake, a Lexington custom bakery shop. And Mickey? “If I never saw Mickey Mouse again, it wouldn’t be too soon,” said Ryan. “But what are you going to do – he’s had a resurgence.”

But though there are certain characters and themes that give Ryan a certain decorating fatigue, she prides herself, in the end, of always delivering a lovely cake. “A beautiful cake is universal; everyone knows it when they see it,” said Ryan, 55, who has worked for over a decade and a half as a cake decorator for top specialty cake shops in the Boston area before finally opening up Cake last year.


It’s slow season now for Cake, with Ryan and her staff of three decorators fielding 35-40 cakes orders a week, but come June – and wedding and graduation time – and the pace will double to 80 or more cakes a week. Just last week, she was intently creating a Mickey Mouse sculpture for a birthday party; a high-heel shoe cake with 50 matching cupcakes; a three-tier sweet sixteen cake in bright colors and fun designs, and a groom cake featuring a zombie chasing a bride.

“The larger the cake, the more time it takes to make,” said Ryan, who will spend almost 10 hours decorating the zombie cake, which will include molding 9-inch characters out of chocolate to stand on top of the cake, and two to three hours to make the base of the cake.


“I’ll work on it front start to finish, since I don’t like to have 12 different things going on at once – there’s too much possibility of forgetting about something.”

Q: You made the cake for the movies The Pink Panther 2 and Ghost of Girlfriends Past. How did this come about?


A: I was working at another shop at the time when the prop master for Pink Panther 2 happened to be having coffee next door and came by and saw me working on a cake. She asked for five Eiffel tower cakes, six feet tall, without saying who she was. I looked at her like she was crazy. “This woman has no clue what she’s asking for.” They ended up using a different kind of cake, but I was up a good many nights, all night long, making them. My name got passed along and I also made the giant five-tier wedding cake for Ghost of Girlfriends Past. We made that one seven times; every time the actor fell into it, we had to make another one.


Q: What are the latest trends in cake decorating?

A: Nut, gluten, and dairy free are all a sign of the times. But we haven’t been able to create a good sugar free cake, especially the icing, and I refuse to send out a cake that doesn’t taste good. Cupcakes are huge now; one out of every four wedding cakes that we make now are cupcake wedding cakes, where the entire cake is made of stacked cupcakes.

Q: What do you think of the cake competitions on the Food Network shows, which include mechanical and rotating cakes, among other things?


A: I’m not capable of making anything rotate or move. We do get into structural things, such as a five-foot giraffe head that I recently made. That was a pain to try to move. But there’s a lot going on out there that’s less cake and more structure. You can eat every bit of the cake that I make. But rotating is fun.

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