FARMINGTON — A few months ago, the International Cake Exploration Society approached a group of New Mexico sugar artists and challenged them to create a cake representing the state for its upcoming convention in August in Albuquerque.
The result is a hot-air balloon-shaped show cake that stands 7 feet and 8 inches tall.
The balloon's shape was chosen partially because of the convention's theme — "Around the World in 80 Cakes."
The artists assembled the cake using plastic foam and fondant — a type of icing used on decorative cakes — at Dianne Holgate's house in Farmington. Holgate is the chairwoman of the New Mexico International Cake Exploration Society chapter.
Seven other sugar artists, most of whom traveled to Farmington from elsewhere in the state, helped create the show cake.
"People would come up from Albuquerque, and they'd camp out in my house," Holgate said Thursday afternoon.
The cake took about one month to make. It will be on display during the upcoming convention as a model cake. Because it is just for show, the cake's interior is plastic foam and its exterior is fondant, which does not need to be refrigerated.
In addition to Holgate, one other Farmington resident, Tara Churchill, helped make the cake. Churchill designed the ristras — or strings of dried chile peppers — that hang on the basket of the balloon.
She said the biggest challenge was the size of the cake.
"It gets a little intimidating," she said.
Churchill learned the art from Holgate after getting inspired by sugar artists on TV.
"I kind of fell in love with cakes when we got Food Network," she said.
The balloon has colored panels with images on it. Churchill pointed out aliens to represent Roswell, the Shiprock pinnacle, the Los Alamos National Lab and Carlsbad Caverns.
One of the panels poses the question: "red or green?" When researching New Mexico, the sugar artists learned people are asked if they want red or green chiles almost 10,000 times a day in New Mexico, Holgate said.
At the cake's base, people can see a cow skull and a roadrunner bird. Once the artists take the cake to Albuquerque, they will add a fondant model of Chaco Canyon, as well as sugar granules representing White Sands National Monument.
One of the fun parts about sugar art is that it's edible, Holgate said.
"You can always eat your mistakes if you want to," she said.
After years of making cakes, Holgate said she is frequently thinking about what she could use for different cakes.
"When I walk down the candy aisle, I don't see candy," she said.