Kyle Baker and Megan Bignell celebrate their victory as the grand champion in the Pillsbury Bakers' Plus Creative Decorating Competition.
The owners of newcomer Thirsty Whale Bakery in Minneapolis are on the cusp of opening their first retail storefront, and now they have a major honor in their corner.

They just won the 16th Annual Pillsbury Bakers’ Plus Grand Champion Creative Decorating Competition, one of the baking industry’s most prestigious competitions for professional bakers. This year’s finale, featuring five two–person teams, was held Oct.14-15 during The Americas Cake Fair at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando.

“We just took home first place in every category today. That means we’re opening the storefront with this trophy in the window, and we couldn’t be happier,” says Megan Bignell, co-owner of The Thirsty Whale Bakery, which is set to open its first retail store soon in north Minneapolis. “This is definitely one of the best days of our life.”

“I’m speechless,” adds her teammate Kyle Baker, co-owner of The Thirsty Whale Bakery. “It was a lot of fun.”

Daisy Janisch and Diane Ahrens of Piece-A-Cake Bakery
Second-place honors went to Diane Ahrens and Daisy Janisch from Piece-A-Cake Bakery in Chicago, Illinois.

Cynthia Velazquez and Belinda Martinez of The Cake Plate
Winning the third-place trophy were Belinda Martinez and Cynthia Velazquez from The Cake Plate in Austin, Texas.

General Mills Foodservice partnered with the Retail Bakers of America (RBA) to host the Pillsbury Bakers’ Plus Grand Champion Creative Decorating Competition, which calls on professional cake decorators and pastry chefs to showcase their creativity, imagination, artistry and skills in three categories: wedding cake, rolled fondant cake and sculpted cake. The 2017 finalists, chosen to compete by either winning a regional competition or via portfolio submission, brought their original designs to life over a two-day period from the floor of the Cake Fair.

“It is always fun and inspiring to see the extraordinary results that can be achieved with cake, icing and fondant,” said Mark Siracusa, sales manager from General Mills Foodservice, which supplied more than 600 pounds of Bakers’ Plus White Cake Mix used to make all the cakes in the contest.

“I really enjoy using a base of buttercream and using fondant as accents,” Bignell says. “Our wedding cake is 100 percent iced in buttercream. Just a couple of fondant accents. It’s a great way to use the topper. We also use wafer paper now. It’s fun to work with.”

The five teams taking center stage at The America’s Cake Fair to compete for the coveted Pillsbury Baker’s Plus Grand Champion Trophy and a variety of cash prizes included Alethea Hickman and Elena Vara from Passion for Pastry, Coral Springs, Florida; and John Natter and Lisa Smith from Ann's Cake Pan, Horsham, Pennsylvania.

General Mills Foodservice, which has sponsored the contest for the past 16 years, works with bakeries to supply flour, baking mixes and dough to help them fill their bakery cases each day. For instance, bakeries nationwide depend on Pillsbury Bakers’ Plus Cake Mixes to help them turn out high-quality, delicious, moist cakes that serve as a reliable foundation for elaborate decorating.

“We know Pillsbury products play an important role in helping bakeries achieve the quality, taste and consistent results their customers depend on,” said Siracusa, who also serves on the board for the RBA. “This competition gives us an opportunity to celebrate these bakers and showcase how their creativity and talent truly make a difference in their success."