Colourful Canadian bear charms cake bosses at international confection competition

Stuffing a well-worn backpack into an airplane's crammed overhead compartment takes a certain level of skill, but putting a meticulously crafted confection consisting of hundreds of delicate chocolate pieces in the overhead bin for a transatlantic journey requires another skill level altogether.

And that's exactly what baker Kylie Mangles accomplished. 

Mangles, 33, was a competitor at the Cake International competition held Nov. 1 to 3, in Birmingham, U.K. Billing itself as the "world's largest cake competition," the contest attracts contestants from all over the world.

The Vancouver-based cake artist spent about five days creating her B.C.-inspired sugar bear, using hundreds of hand-cut tiles of modelling chocolate in 25 different colours.

Submitted by Kylie Mangles

Because the cake was decorative, its inner-base was made of styrofoam, reducing the chances the cake would be damaged on the long journey.

"Luckily in [my] category it didn't have to be actual cake. That made bringing it to the U.K. a lot easier," Mangles said. 

Submitted by Kylie Mangles

But getting her cake to the competition was almost as challenging as creating the cake in the first place.

Mangles planned the design of her cake so that it would fit into a plane's overhead compartment.

The bear held intact for three legs of the trip, including the flight from Vancouver to Toronto, a second flight from Toronto to London, and then a train from London to Birmingham. 

But once off the train, Mangles dropped the cake.

Submitted by Kylie Mangles

"We got off the train, and we were walking along this path, and the path was really rough, and I had the box sitting on top of my wheelie [suitcase] and ... the box went flying," Mangles said. 

"I swore a whole bunch. I picked it up and had to just keep on going."

The fall only displaced a few tiles, and her otherwise scrupulous planning paid off: her bear received a gold commendation in her category. 

Submitted by Kylie Mangles

The international recognition is sweet success for Mangles, who left a career as a web and graphic designer four years ago to focus full-time on cakes.

Mangles credits social media for helping push her in that direction. She entered an online cake decorating challenge a few years ago and her entry depicting The Simpsons' character Ralph Wiggum as an anatomical cutout went viral.

"My cake kind of blew up and went all over the Internet," she said. "That was kind of the thing that made me realize I could turn this into an actual business."

Submitted by Kylie Mangles

Today, Mangles is among the prominent members of a growing community of bakers and cake artists who share their designs, tips, and swap stories on social media. She says competitions like Cake International are a way for meeting those artists in real life and get inspired to try new techniques and styles.

"If it wasn't for a competition, I don't know if I would get pushed to do a cake like this."

As for the fate of her well-travelled bear, she says a cake-instructor from Ireland took it to display at her school. 

Don't worry, she says, "they had a van."