STURGIS – Two students from Sturgis Brown High School earned a sweet victory at the 13th annual South Dakota ProStart Invitational.
Natasha Emeline and Angelina Hobbs’ tropical tiered dessert won first place in the state cake decorating division of the culinary competition held March 24 in Pierre.
The ProStart Invitational is an intense, fast-paced event where students demonstrate food preparation and safety procedures, hospitality management, public speaking, and other valuable job skills. The competitions included cooking, managing and decorating cakes.
The contest took a break in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but returned this year.
This was the first year that a team from Sturgis Brown High School entered the cake decorating contest. Students have competed in other divisions in the past.
“This year, the girls were interested so they chose a mango cake recipe and came up with a design. They had a tropical theme, so their cake had to relate to that,” explained instructor Coleen Keffeler.
Hobbs, an SBHS junior, said she loves to bake and has baked birthday cakes in the past, but nothing like the intricate tropical cake she and Emeline baked for the competition.
Emeline said she also baked cakes and cupcakes for family events.
The two said they wanted to pay homage to the tropical theme inside and out of the cake.
“I hadn’t even tried mango before. I’ve had mango flavored things, but never the real fruit and neither has Angelina,” Emeline said.
They found the Mango Cake recipe online which has its origins in India.
“India has a subtropical and tropical environment, and mangoes are native to India, so we thought it would be a really good fit for the tropical theme,” Emeline said.
Other contestants used pineapple and coconut as tropical flavors.
“Many were really fruity on the outside. Ours was probably the only one that was more environmental,” Emeline said.
Mica Sulzbach-Bataille, of Ohh-La-La-Cakes, served as a mentor to the SBHS team. She attended cooking and baking school and was a student of Keffeler in the high school culinary arts program in the 1990s.
“When they said they wanted to do some cake decorating, I told them I could help them with the cake and the icing, but after that I’d have to bring someone else in,” said Keffer.
Sulzbach-Bataille would come after school and work with Emeline and Hobbs guiding them through the intricacies of baking and cake decorating.
On their first attempt at a mango cake recipe, Emeline and Hobbs realized they needed a more intense mango flavor. Sulzbach-Bataille suggested buying a mango essence to boost the flavor. The girls found the aroma at an Asian market in Rapid City.
“They replaced that with some of the vanilla, which really helped bring out the flavor,” Keffeler said. “We also found that buying fresh mangoes at this time of year you can’t guarantee quality, so we ended up using frozen mangoes.”
Another modification was to use cake flour instead of all-purpose flour for a lighter, fluffier cake, Keffeler said.
And there was no shortage of taste testers, Keffeler said.
“He was the one passing through the classroom at the time. It smelled really good,” she said.
The girls practiced their presentation twice in front of culinary arts classmates before the contest at Pierre last week.
There were five other teams in the cake competition besides Team SBHS, which was West River’s only team. Part of the competition was to create a portfolio detailing things like how their cake matched the tropical theme and how much the cake cost per serving.
The cake featured waves of multicolored frosting, a sandy beach (made with graham crackers), white chocolate geckos, palm trees and tropical flowers.
The girls made the cakes, icing and decorations at school before the competition and then had to assemble and decorate the cake in 90 minutes on the day of the competition.
“We had practiced and finished with 30 minutes to go when we made it in school, but in the competition we only had five minutes left when we finished,” Hobbs said.
The judges said they enjoyed the flavor of the cake and appreciated the girls’ techniques on the cake, including many intricate details.
Keffeler said the girls also scored points for their attention to safety and hygiene during the competition.
“It was really nerve-wracking, but it was fun,” Hobbs said.
ProStart is a joint effort of the South Dakota Department of Education, the South Dakota Retailers Association, and the South Dakota ProStart Advisory Committee.
Participating schools included: Harrisburg, Huron, Madison Central, Mitchell CTE Academy, Mobridge-Pollock, Sturgis Brown, Sioux Falls CTE Academy and Vermillion.
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