This meant big statements and weird ideas. Almost immediately we starting hearing, "I wanted to capture the true meaning of unsung heroes," and, "My cake's about the inspiration these men and women give us!"
The designs followed the same sort of vague, kitsch-overload themes. We didn't quite get Barbara's concept: The seasoned decorating pro decided to craft a life-size cake fireman, lounging against a wall with his arm around a not-to-scale burning building, with a dalmatian laying nearby.
When the other ladies taunted her with a few "eww, it looks like a corpse" comments, we had to agree -- although, we also agreed with Barbara when she said, "No, it's just life-like!" Maybe so, but we're not sure we want to eat utter human realism.
Aisha, to her credit, just went for architectural excess. Okay, so a giant cake firehouse makes sense, but topping that with a disproportionately large fire hydrant was a little... weird. And then the small helicopter sagging on top of the hydrant? It all added up to a cake that bucked under the weight of her admittedly cool marbled/airbrushed fondant.
But Aisha pulled out all the stops on flavor, coming up with a brown-sugar pound cake with banana "creme brulee" frosting. Not sure how you got those crunchy bits in there, but more power to you, Aisha. We also liked her spirit: When Barbara won a challenge and targeted another team as more worthy of sitting out for a half hour, Aisha was rightfully miffed: "OK, the old lady doesn't think I'm a threat!"
That left Dena, the plucky underdog to Barbara's pro. Her "apple-pie cake with a caramel, cream cheese, white chocolate frosting" was needlessly complex -- and sounded like an instant trip to the dentist if ever we heard one.
What's more, we couldn't decide if her concept was utterly cute or a Norman Rockwell nightmare: A little boy playing fireman with his dalmatian by his side and a fireplace behind him. That part was at least coherent; what didn't make sense was the miniature fire truck and burning flames under the cake base (huh?).
In any event, Dena's eye for detail won over the judges. And truth be told, in an evening of over-the-top, morbid concepts, rushed-together detailing and sugary-sweet cake, hers was a relative oasis of restraint.