News From Terre Haute, Indiana

June 30, 2013

4-H spurs teen’s passion for cake decorating

By Susan Hayhurst
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Select mouth-watering recipes. Add hours of planning and constructing. Mix in handfuls of patience. Pour in streams of flavors. Bake gently. Decorate cautiously. Unveil proudly. Creative genius.

Nineteen-year-old Danika Miller, a former 10-year 4-H’er, applies all the elements of her creative outlet, cake decorating, into her baked masterpieces. Her artistry and love of the finished product is now not for 4-H competitions but for those who want a unique, imaginative cake for their special occasion.

“I did cake decorating all 10 years of 4-H because I love being creative,” Miller says. “I tried to outdo myself every year, and wanted my cakes to make it to the Indiana State Fair. I made several themed cakes for 4-H. My fairy tale cake included Peter Pan, the Three Little Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, and a spinning castle on the top with lights. I made a carousel cake with horses, and my last 4-H cake was a three-tier wedding cake with lights with individual cakes for the bride, groom and the bridesmaids.”

In all, Miller received four grand champion ribbons at the Vigo County Fair, two red and two blue ribbons at the state fair and an honorable mention, which meant her cake was in the running for the state fair grand champion.

Her ribbons are wonderful memories, but her sideline business efforts now are centered on growing her cake decorating enterprise. She learned the business side of such a venture from one of Terre Haute’s best cake decorators, Bette LaPlante of Tiers of Elegance.

“I worked for Bette for about six months during my senior year at Terre Haute South and was so happy to learn from her about what it takes to have this kind of business, how to market it, and the ins and outs of baking,” Miller says. “I always did cakes for fun, and my 4-H cakes always had to be dummy cakes made with Styrofoam as a base. It’s very different using real cakes, which are each completely different per order. And I learned you have to be very careful how intricate you make the cake compared to what people can afford and how you make a profit.”

Recent cakes friends have ordered from Danika’s Designs include graduation, little girl birthday cakes, and a baby shower cake made with a giraffe on top. “The giraffe was made out of Rice Krispie treats and fondant. It turned out really cute,” Miller says.

Miller’s love of cake decorating easily folds into her major at Purdue. A sophomore in food science, she hopes to combine her enjoyment of culinary projects into the biological and physiology side of her courses. “I grew up with swine projects all 10 years in 4-H, and I didn’t realize until I visited my dad’s office a few years ago that his master’s degree was in the meat science end of food science. I get my interest naturally. I like taking the science courses so I plan on pursuing food science and pre-vet because I want a background in both.”

Her family — father Lindy, mother Marilyn, brother Ben and Danika — are helping plan oldest brother Daren’s September wedding. While Danika is in the wedding party, she is still planning to make the desserts for the rehearsal dinner.

Miller credits her tenure in 4-H with developing her passion for cake decorating. “In 4-H you are presented with so many opportunities and people who are great resources for you. 4-H helps you discover and develop your talents and hobbies, even compete with them, but it’s the people, the extension educators, who are always resources for you. My 4-H friends are friends I have for the rest of my life, and the hobbies I’ve gained are things I’ll always enjoy.”

Miller can be contacted at mill1095@purdue.edu or at 812-236-2795.