Karissa Pytlak landed her dream job as an architect just about a year ago.
She never expected there’d be so much sugar, flour and frosting involved.
No one told her she’d be mixing it up with clients over sweets and pastries.
But that’s exactly what has been happening the past few weeks.
She’s on one of five teams of architects and bakers who have been beating eggs and whisking batter, hoping to win what the Heinz Architectural Center is calling CAKEitecture.
The pastry competition will help the center mark its 20th anniversary this year. A winner will be crowned Saturday.
“All I knew was we’d want a cake to celebrate. It’s a birthday, after all,” says Tracy Myers, the center’s curator of architecture.
The idea grew from there. And so have the cakes.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater never looked so delicious, with its buttery poundcake walls and white buttercream icing fountains.
It took untold hours for Annette Mich and her team of bakers from Prantl’s Bakery, the Shadyside pastry shop she has run for six years, to re-create the iconic home into a cake that requires three or four people to lift.
They used sketches, blueprints and digital photos from the architectural firm Loysen + Kreuthmeier for guidance.
Frosting filled in where Styrofoam or cardboard normally would go, and edible fondant gum paste held things together instead of super glue.
“It’s the same process we’d go through designing a wedding cake or a Sweet 16 or a Bat Mitzvah,” Mich says. “Architects are no different than moms and dads.”
Looking good isn’t enough in this competition. Artwork also has to tantalize the taste buds.
There’s only two major rules — entries can’t measure more than 30-by-30 inches (though, there’s no height restriction), and they have to be edible.
Pytlak chairs the Young Architects Forum, which was paired with Megan Hart, the cake decorator at Dozen Bake Shop in Lawrenceville. They each estimate having spent more than 60 hours in phone calls, video conferences and face-to-face meetings planning their entry — a chocolate-based cake featuring Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make Believe, surrounded by various Pittsburgh landmarks, including PPG Place, the U.S. Steel Building and the Point.
It’s orbited by a working trolley that also is edible.
“We wanted to push the envelope,” says Hart, who was featured in Season 2 of TLC’s reality show “Next Great Baker.”
She was aided by 3-D sketches and blueprints from the architects’ forum.
Peter Humphrey’s architecture firm, The Design Alliance Architects, designed a recently completed energy-efficient addition to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It partnered with pastry chef Jessica Lehman, the general manager at Gluuteny, a Squirrel Hill bakery that specializes in gluten-free dishes. They wouldn’t give away what their final cake would include.
Before this, the most challenging pastry Lehman ever tackled was a three-tier wedding cake.
“This is very out of the ordinary,” she says. “Usually, I’m just completely on my own. The collaborating has been so awesome. I wish they could help me with every cake I do.”
Part of the talk centered on the limitations of some of her material.
Gluten-free ingredients, like rice and amaranth, many times are dense, and, sometimes, have to be treated with other moist materials to make them easier to shape.
“It was a learning experience,” Humphrey says. “They had to teach us what kind of things cakes can and can’t do.”
A panel of judges will chose the winner Saturday night. The public also will select a people’s choice.
Grand prize is a guided tour of the museum by a curator.
Pytlak says the competition gave her added respect for chefs.
“Every project has this kind of process, but this one was a lot more whimsical,” she says. “The fact we get to eat it when we’re done is just awesome.”
Chris Ramirez is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 412-380-5682.