Let Them Eat Cake



The first time cake decorator Terri Steely made a volcano cake the lava almost didn't erupt.

She had filled a cup on the inside of the cake with red gel for lava and attached a clear tube so the birthday boy could blow the lava out.


Terri Steely

"It was tough -- the kids blew until they were red in the face," Steely said.

Determined to make it work, she adjusted the gel.

Now, she said, "If you blow hard enough, you can get all the kids around the table with the lava. It's messy but fun."

Steely has been decorating cakes for 20 years.

"I love the reaction I get from people," she said.

She admitted to getting bored with cakes once in awhile, but then a customer will challenge her with a new theme.

"I don't limit myself to what I know I can do. I am open to other things."

She set a house on fire for a fireman's birthday -- not a real house, but one made of chocolate cake -- by placing the candles deep inside so when lit up, it looked like it was burning.

Roast pig is the main course at a luau. Steely makes a red velvet cake that looks like a roasted pig complete with a small apple in its mouth.

"No two cakes are ever the same," he said.

She has made torso cakes, sculpted vehicles, from Porsches to tractors, and made a cake look like an eight in hamburger with all the trimmings.

But her toughest commission was for a party of 200 celebrating a fisherman's 80th birthday.

"There were four separate sheet cakes," she said. "On the first, I sculpted a man's yacht in the water then painted him on it with frosting. I made a little fishing pole and strung line to three other cakes."

Using pictures she made a marlin and two other ocean fish.

"Tell me your idea, and I will put it in a cake," Steely said.

Mums, dahlias and iris flowers might adorn her cakes along with fully blooming roses.

"I have tried my hand at flower arranging," she said. "Actually, the combination of all the arts and crafts I have done I incorporate into my cakes."

Acrylic painting is another hobby.

"Cake decorating is basically an art form for me," Steely said.

She started out baking with her mom for family members, went to work in three California bakeries after high school, Hannah Kuchen Haus, Sunflower and The Cottage.

Halfway through her 20-year career, she became a stay-at-home mom.

"We don't eat cake around here at all," she laughed. "But I am teaching my two girls to decorate. They really are my helpers, especially around Thanksgiving when I make more than 100 turkey cakes."

The roasted turkey cakes were Steely's own idea.

Cubed cake pieces and dried fruit form the stuffing. Fresh leaf lettuce set around the sides "tricks the eye" as do the paper leg cuffs and her technique for giving the frosting a realistic "plucked feather look."

"One of my customers came back to me with a funny story," she said.

Apparently her grandmother saw the partially eaten turkey in the fridge, cut herself a slice and added gravy.

Needless to say, it did not taste the way the woman expected.

Steely likes to have a week's notice for larger cake orders, but can make one faster if need be.

Steely said she is also willing to donate cakes to organizations for fund-raisers.

She can be reached at (928) 474-4281.


Name: Terri Steely

Occupation: Homemaker, cake maker, artist

Employer: Self

Birthplace: Casa Grande, Ariz.

Family: Two daughters.

Inspiration: My children.

Greatest feat: My children.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Painting in acrylic.

Three words that describe me best: Determined, creative, hard-headed.

I don't want to brag, but ... I am really gifted at cake decorating. I have and eye for it.

Luxury defined: Being at peace wherever I am at.

Dream vacation spot: Hawaii.

Why Payson? I ended up in Payson from Tonto Basin because I needed a stop light and a drive through.

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