Is it cake? It’s art? Are both? For the third year in a row, the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin hosted its Great Blanton Bake-Off, and 16 bakers took on the challenge of recreating any of 21,000 works, from Italian Renaissance paintings to Latin American prints. , in the Blanton Collections, in cake form.
Lizabel Stella, the museum’s digital content and social media manager, had the idea for Bake-Off at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the museum had to temporarily close for three months. At the time, Stella, like many people in lockdown, found herself surfing social media more than usual and noticing how people were turning to baking as a therapeutic and fun activity.
“I was thinking that people can’t come to the museum and people love to bake. How can I combine them? Stella said earlier this month.
Stella, a baker and fan of the Great British Baking Show, came up with the idea of a virtual competition that would encourage the public to interact with the museum’s collections from home. To enter this year’s competition, bakers accessed the museum’s online catalog to select a work of art to reinvent and entered one of three categories: Under-18, Hobbyist, or Professional. Contestants then had to upload photos of their creations to Facebook or Instagram (or both) by May 15 and tag @blantonmuseum and #BlantonBakeOff. The museum shared the cakes with the public on World Baking Day (May 17) through social media stories, and the “virtual audience” had 24 hours to vote for their favorites. The winner of each category received gift cards to local bakeries, including La Patisserie and Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery, as well as Blanton membership packages.
“Art can be quite conceptual. And baking is tangible, so in a way, it’s a different way of consuming art,” said Stella. “Unlike baking, art doesn’t necessarily involve all of the senses: you can’t necessarily smell art, you can’t necessarily taste art, and you definitely can’t touch art. But when baking, you can do all of those things. And it’s a good way to bring it together, especially for those who may not be as familiar with the art or the museum.”
The first time this year’s amateur category winner Blythe Johnson baked a loaf of bread was in elementary school. Over time, she began making cookies, cupcakes, and cakes: “Her family are cake people.” But the 40-year-old Austinite, whose day job involves medical billing, decided to cut gluten and dairy from her diet a few years ago to combat chronic disease. She took a step back from baking, until watching baking competitions like the Great British Baking Show rekindled her interest. She was in awe of the contestants’ creations. However, it wasn’t until she heard about the Blanton Bake-Off that she decided to try baking a cake.
“When the Blanton Bake-Off came out in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic, I thought, I have some free time, why not spend it trying to compete? It was such a rewarding experience that I’ve continued to do it every year,” said Johnson, who won the amateur competition two years in a row.
For each Bake-Off, Johnson sets a goal or picks a skill he wants to learn to avoid becoming overly focused on winning or losing. This year, after seeing that the Great British Baking Show featured the “Joconde Imprime”, a decorative design baked into a light sponge cake, he knew what his next Bake-Off entry would be.
“I immediately became interested in an untitled piece by New York artist Mac Wells when I was looking through the museum’s catalog,” Johnson said. “The paint colors made me think of blueberries and almonds, and the rest just fell into place after that.”
The cake, which was layered with blueberry-almond pound cake, lemon curd and whipped cream, was a challenge for Johnson. He did the joconde five or six times to get the perfect colors to match the artwork and worked endless hours, spread out over a two-week period, to finish the cake.
“I love that anyone can participate in this challenge and I hope more people will be encouraged to participate in the future!” Johnson said.
Meanwhile, 15-year-old Georgia Chido, who won the U-18 division, was drawn to the bright and colorful nature of a textile work by Venezuelan artist Luis Montiel.
“The design itself required a lot of problem solving,” said Chido’s mom, Linda Chido, who is also an artist. “In interesting ways, Georgia used bottle caps to cut out fondant and make little circles.”
This was Chido’s second time participating in the competition and she entered determined to win.
“Georgia has hand differences and she has a little bit of difficulty with executive functioning, which is just that, like baking a cake,” Linda said. “For kids, and even adults, who struggle with executive function, this is a fun way to practice. And for her to win this year, we are happy. It’s just amazing.”
Since all of her family members are gluten-free, Chido made sure the cake was safe for everyone to eat. (Great British Baking Show contestants have also made gluten-free desserts; in fact, on the show’s 2020 series, Peter Sawkins, the competition’s youngest winner at 20, wowed the judges with his chocolate orange milkshake. gluten free.) Chido made the fondant herself and then did all the color matching to make sure the hues of the cake accurately mirrored those of the tapestry. “I have food coloring on all my fingers!” she said. Then she frosted the cake with chocolate.
“I made the cake in two days,” Chido said. “The cake and the fondant one day, because the fondant needs to sit in the fridge for a whole day, and then I decorated it the second day.”
Last year, Chido’s entry to the Bake-Off was inspired by Chilean artist Malu Stewart’s piece titled Map. “When I posted the Georgia cake online for the competition I tagged the artist and she sent Georgia such a sweet message via Instagram,” Linda said. “Like, how wonderful is that? The art world is an amazing place.”
Hannah Erwin, founder of HC Confections and a student of business administration and marketing at Texas A&M University, took home first prize among professional bakers with six-piece dessert impostors from the Blanton Collections, which include vibrant works of art pop, geometric and abstract.
At its core, Bake-Off is about having fun, Stella explained.
“We are going through a lot of difficult and political things right now. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to take a break, not to ignore the things that are happening, but to make time for the things that move you,” said Stella. “This moves me. I’m going to make a cake. It’s very simple.”