Interview with Marilyn Bawol

Marilyn Bawol

When Marilyn Bawol and I first met four years ago in a cake decorating class, her jokes had us all in tears, making it difficult to keep up with the pace of the class. Since then, I have watched Marilyn’s inspirational cakes evolve, gain recognition and earn her first place in the Professional Sculpted Cake Division at the National Capital Area Cake Show last year. At this year’s show, both of Marilyn’s cakes were winners: the Girl with Firefly cake took first place in the Head to Toe Division and the swan cake placed 2nd in the Professional Sculpted Cake Division.

girl with firefly cake
Girl with Firefly Cake
swan cake
Swan Cake

Marilyn is naturally artistic and combines her love of baking, painting and sculpting to create realistic cakes for her Unique Cakes’ customers in the Bealeton, Virginia area. Marilyn enjoys creating three dimensional sculpted cakes and blown and pulled sugar pieces. She has made cakes for Governor Sarah Palin and numerous circuit court judges.

grizzly bear cake for Sarah Palin
Grizzly Bear Cake for Governor Sarah Palin

She received an art scholarship when she graduated high school and has continued to work in a variety of artistic mediums. Previously a hair stylist, Marilyn has transitioned from sculpting hairdos to sculpting cakes full time. Marilyn and her husband, Joe, work as a team making cakes; Joe builds the structures and armatures that support Marilyn’s enthusiastic creations.

Marilyn sculpted an amazing fish cake at the World Pastry Forum in 2012 that drew attention to her sculpting abilities. Since then, Marilyn’s cake business has grown tremendously; she’s contributed tutorials to a number of cake magazines and competed in last year’s Pastry Live competition.

swordfish cake
Swordfish Cake

Following this year’s NCACS show, Marilyn and I sat down to catch up on the latest events in her cake decorating endeavors.

How long have you been decorating cakes?

I’ve been decorating cakes for about 6 years professionally.  When we would go to parties I’d take cakes as a gift. People started telling me I should go into business making cakes. So that’s how it all started.  At first I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself. I got a little braver after doing Sarah Palin’s birthday cake.  But over the last year, I’ve really bolstered my self-confidence because I can’t stop the orders from coming in. I’ve had to start turning orders down.

As a result, I got the courage to compete and to win a show. I thought by having teachers tell me what to do, I’d gain more confidence but it really doesn’t work that way.  It has to come from inside and with a lot of hard work.  I have the time to concentrate on me now.

I have Joe helping me. He is big on doing security for ICES. We like being here because it’s so close to home. Joe and I are both on the show committee for the National Capital Area Cake Show [ICES Virginia Chapter].  We get so much love and support and it’s so nice to be around people who care.  It makes me feel good that people are actually appreciating my work.  Several people came up to me and said I should be teaching. This helps your confidence.  So I think I’m going to try to teach at next year’s show.  I know my clients recognize my work because they say no one in my area does cakes like I do and there are very few sources for sculpted cakes that taste good.  But, it’s different when people in the cake industry recognize you. 

I pick everything apart and always expect the best from  myself. People told me the Eagle was the greatest and they knew I’d win. But, it was my first competition and I didn’t expect it.

eagle cake
Eagle Cake
fondant eagle head gum paste eagle claws
Close-up of Eagle Head Close-up of Eagle Claws

What was the turning point that made the orders start coming in?

I’m doing more bridal shows and weddings as a featured vendor. We have a new winery near us and they request me all the time. Sometimes, I bring savory cakes. Instead of cake you make bread and dye it whatever color you want it to be. For Christmas, I made green and red bread and sliced them the long way and alternated green and red, green and red and then inside I put tuna salad and egg salad in between the layers and the outside was covered in cream cheese. It looked like a cake. We had a lot of fun doing that.  Besides, it went better with wine than sweets.

I’ve started incorporating some of the Amoretti flavors into my baking. We first became interested in uniting the cake and pastry world when we took the molding class with Michael Joy at the Chicago School of Mold Making. They were trying to unite pastry people and cake people. I went to the Pastry Live show and there were twenty-two of us, but my cake failed. You have to have a tasting cake and a sculpted cake. I had made Italian buttercream and the buttercream had curdled during the trip. The cooler I used didn’t work.  I would have done better if my icing worked out.

While I was there, I walked by Amoretti’s booth and started talking to Roland Cooper, who we had met at the World Pastry Forum the year before. He started telling us about all the flavors he had. I started thinking about how that could bring the cake community together. So we invited Amoretti to come to this Virginia show and came up with the idea to do the tasting competition with Amoretti’s products. It worked out really well.

We’re also trying to get them to come on the Cake Cruise. This year, Theresa Parkin is bringing vendors on board and we’re trying to convince Amoretti to come on board. They can demonstrate and introduce their line of products to all of the cake cruise participants.   

We are really good friends with Amoretti now.  Roland follows my work, Nick takes awesome pictures and Franziska is an absolute joy to be around.  And Ryan Stipp, with whom I demonstrated, is actually going to be on TV soon in the “King of Cones”.  We feel good about working with them to unite the pastry and cake worlds.

Marilyn demonstrated for Amoretti at this year’s show. Here is a video clip of her demonstration of Amoretti’s colors and flavors.

I really feel confident about Pastry Live this year. Last year was hard because I couldn’t wrap my head around the theme. It was art nouveau. This year, I feel confident with the theme because it’s “The Seas and the Skies." I already know what I’m going to do. I just have to be careful because most of them are pastry chefs and I’m a self-taught baker.

pastry live art nouveau cake
Marilyn's Pastry Live Cake Entry

I’ve always been artistic.  I’ve been a hair dresser, have created some interesting stained glass pieces and sculptures and I love to paint. I painted a 60” x 90” reproduction of the “Creation of Man” in oil which I have hanging in my foyer.  I put this artistic talent to use in my cake business.  People often request figures on their cakes to represent someone.  I’ve been asked to teach how to make figures but the problem with the way I create figures is that you have to make a gum paste base that has to dry ahead of time. You may have seen the cake with four drunk girls in a hot tub for a bridal party that I created.  If I get pictures of the wedding party I can carve the figures in their likeness.

creation of man
Marilyn's reproduction of "Creation of Man"
girls in hot tub cake
Girls in Hot Tub Cake

I’ve had people asking me to be in their magazines. It really makes me feel like I’m going in the right direction.

I’m doing really well now that I’m able to concentrate on my cakes.  Joe and I are closer than ever. Whatever I do, he supports me fully.

Rango Cake

Puss 'N' Boots Cake

Rango Cake Puss 'N' Boots Cake

Marilyn’s cakes have advanced at a rapid pace since I first perused the gallery on her website years ago. The amount of work that goes into accurately portraying each detail of the cake is astounding. Many cake decorators speak of “passion” when in fact passion in cake decorating is more accurately portrayed as self-criticism and perseverance past the point of exhaustion. Knowing Marilyn well, I can tell you that Marilyn judges herself by the end result of every cake and that as she achieves greater results with each cake, her confidence grows and her artistic wings are spread further.

If you’d like to see more of Marilyn’s work, visit UniqueCakes.biz.


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