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Cake decorating brings out the artist in East Dundee’s Diane Ahrens

Diane Ahrens Piece-A-Cake Bakery East Dundee creates rose out frosting for her cake this week. | ErSauder for Sun-Times Media

Diane Ahrens of Piece-A-Cake Bakery in East Dundee creates a rose out of frosting for her cake this week. | Erin Sauder for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 5, 2014 6:03AM

EAST DUNDEE — Cake maker Diane Ahrens is no stranger to winning awards for her confections.

Among her bragging rights, she has twice appeared as part of a team in TLC network’s “Ultimate Cake-Off” and took second place in the Food Network’s cake competition in Chicago.

In the Chicago Area Retail Bakers Association’s annual cake decorating competition, she nabbed first place in 2003 for her sculptured cakes, and another first-place win in 2011 in the fondant (a type of smooth icing) cake category.

This year, Ahrens, of East Dundee’s Piece-A-Cake Bakery, hopes to take first place overall in CARBA’s 14th annual cake decorating competition.

“I keep trying,” Ahrens said. “That’s my goal is first overall.”

This year’s competition is set for March 23, in conjunction with the Chicago Flower & Garden Show at Navy Pier.

Decorators are required to bring a completed rolled fondant cake and then decorate a four-tier wedding cake and a sculpted cake during the competition, which lasts about six hours. The winner will represent CARBA at the National Retail Bakers of America Competition.

Ahrens — who with her husband and bakery co-owner Roger are U.S. Marine Corps veterans — said cake decorating is an art form. Her canvas is the cake itself, and her paint the buttercream frosting.

She likes the uniqueness of each sweet creation.

“You never do the same cake,” she said. “Even if it’s similar, it’s not the same twice. You’re always doing something different.”

For her, creating the gum paste flowers that often adorn her cakes is “like a therapy.”

“The store will be closed and I can just enjoy the process,” she said.

While Ahrens makes spreading frosting on her cake tiers look easy, she said the smooth, flawless finish to her icing “comes from years of practice.”

Entering competitions gives her a chance to take on a challenge and enjoy the camaraderie of other cake artists.

“I know a lot of the other decorators, so it’s a nice time to catch up with them, too,” she said.

She’s happy about this year’s color palette requirements for the CARBA competition.

“The last couple of years, the colors drove me crazy,” she said. “This year’s are purple and yellow, so I’m kind of excited about that.”

Next month, discounted tickets for the Chicago Flower and Garden Show will be available at Piece-A-Cake Bakery, 304 N. River St.

During the show, attendees can watch Ahrens and the other cake decorators work on their entries.

“There’s seating so people can sit, or they can wander around and come back and see how we’re progressing throughout the day,” she said.

More information about Piece-A-Cake Bakery is at, or follow it on Facebook.

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