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Sometimes, a baker wants to make a beautiful looking cake that isn't going to be eaten. In this case, a cake dummy, an inedible form in the shape of a cake, is the perfect tool for the job. A baker or cake decorator might choose to use a fake cake instead of a real one for a variety of reasons.
A cake dummy is usually made of hard foam, although other materials such as cardboard or plastic may be used. Just like a real cake, it can be round, square, rectangular, or just about any shape the baker wants. The more strange the shape of the cake, the easier it is to use a dummy.
In cakes used for display or in some decorating competitions, a cake dummy can save the decorator time and money. Not all decorating competitions allow the use of a dummy, so bakers should make sure they check the rules before using one. If the cake will not be eaten because it is decorating a bakery window, or entered in a decorating contest, the decorator can frost the fake instead of buying all the ingredients and baking an actual cake. If the cake won't be eaten anyway, this prevents waste.
When a decorator needs to practice a frosting technique or wants to try out a new material, a cake dummy is perfect for the job. Unlike real cake, the fake is very sturdy and can easily be frosted again and again without doing any significant damage. It is also ready at a moment's notice because there's no need to wait an hour to mix the ingredients and cook the cake when all the decorator wants to do is practice writing with frosting or laying out flowers.
Bakers and decorators can buy specially made cake dummies in many craft or baking supply store, but they can also make one themselves. The most simple dummy for home use is an upside down cake pan. The pan makes an easy fake cake because it is already very close to the right size and shape. It is also easy to wash, so if a decorator wants to practice over and over, he or she can quickly clean up in between.
If the cake dummy will be used in a display or competition, a decorator will want a more professional version. Experts often buy large chunks of foam and cut them into the exact shapes and sizes that they need. Interesting and outrageous cakes can be designed this way much more easily than with real cake. Whether it's used to practice frosting a cake, as a display that will stand for a long time, or as the base for a decorating contest, a cake dummy can make a decorator's job much easier, and can make small mistakes simple to correct.
@Vincenzo -- ah, but turning a cake into a mere decoration rather than something one can eat is considered heresy in some circles. For that reason, there is still plenty of room for decorators who create honest-to-goodness cakes that taste great but are still considered very decorative.
The wide use of fondants -- essentially a stiff, edible material that can be molded in various shapes -- is used to provide the body necessary to hold up to some of the more radical designs some decorators use for traditional case.
The good news is that there is plenty of room in the market for both dummy cakes and "real" ones.
Dummy cakes have been spotted at some events -- such as weddings -- as actual alternatives to traditional cakes. The thing about a dummy cake is that it can be quite rigid, and as such, molded into radical shapes that a traditional cake just won't hold.
When they are used in that way, they are simply decorations. Ah, but people see them and still expect cake, right? Yep. For that reason, the same decorator that came up with the radical dummy cake will also whip up a sheet cake or cupcakes made for eating.
In a way, then, the dummy cake represents the best of both worlds. You can have your cake and eat it, too (so to speak).
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