FARGO — Courtney Schur thinks you should be able to have your cake and hang it too.
Now you can, thanks to a line of whimsically decorated dummy cakes Schur has created for her side business, Ur So Fake Cakes. As the owner of the exuberantly kitschy Carmine & Hayworth Vintage on Main Avenue, Schur recently began concocting these vividly hued, look-but-don't-taste creations, then was pleasantly surprised upon discovering that people wanted to buy them.
Since then, they've been selling like NOT-cakes.
"I don't know why, but I've always loved fake food," says Schur, whose brilliantly red-dyed hair, ivory skin and rockabilly-red lipstick match her counterfeit cakes in celebrating a Technicolor aesthetic.
Now Schur's snazzy sweets are displayed throughout her store. Her Ambrosia Salad Cake features elaborately curlicued mint-green icing with shining red cherries atop it. Her Teenage Dream Cake is a heart enrobed in fluffy Pepto-Bismol pink frosting and topped with faux lime wedges atop little clouds of green icing. A Dreamsicle-inspired cake is iced in a bright sherbet-tinted "buttercream," then finished with fluffy white icing and orange sections.
All seem to pay homage to those garish, mid-century magazine ads, which claimed all you needed to impress the ladies at bridge was enough Miracle Whip, Jell-O and food coloring to fill Lake Superior. In fact, Schur says one of her inspirations was the iconic Jell-O Stained Glass Pudding Cake.
It wasn't until recently that Schur realized there's a whole vocation dedicated to creating realistic food props for home-staging, photo shoots and movies, but she isn't interested in that degree of commitment. Faux food artists have entire studios dedicated to their craft and have to work with every medium from air-dry clay and resin to acrylic and liquid nails. (Wow. When these bakers say they "Nailed It," they probably did.)
Schur decided it would be easier to simply make cake. This didn't require enrolling in Le Cordon Bleu; a little time studying at YouTube-iversity seemed to do the trick. It's through online videos that she learned a surprisingly credible frosting could be made by tinting lightweight spackle with acrylic craft paint. ("It's the perfect consistency," she says.)
From there, she uses real cake-decorating equipment — including cake-decorating tips and pastry bags — to turn papier-mâché cake forms into retro wonders.
Despite never having decorated a real cake, Schur picked up faux-cake-decorating quickly. "If I were to try to make this as an actual cake, I don't think it would work," she says, laughing. "But I like carpentry and I like fixing things, so using things like spackle, which I'm familiar with, is a lot less intimidating."
Nowadays, Schur cranks out artificial angel foods and sham chiffons with impressive speed. She says she finds it "surprisingly therapeutic."
The slowest part of her process is actually when the cake is done: The thick layer of spackle can take several days to dry, so she can't handle them lest they show fingerprints.
Although she's only been doing this for about a month, Schur has already learned a few lessons. One is that frosting her creations in regular spackle made them as heavy as an anvil. Now she sticks to lightweight spackling compound only.
Schur posted her first few efforts on Facebook and Instagram, just as a way to share her fun new hobby. She also gave a few away to friends and family. But she was a little surprised when people started asking to buy them.
"I don't do this to make money. I just think it's fun, and if people want one, great," she says.
Her cakes now sell for anywhere from $55 to $75.
So what do you do with a cake that looks pretty as a picture, but could shatter your molars if you tried to eat it? "Anything you darned well please," Schur says, adding that most people like to hang them in their kitchens or dining rooms. Another customer, a photographer, donned angel wings to pose with one of Schur's green heart-shaped, cherry-topped cakes in a parking garage. Yet another bought a Dreamsicle cake for another friend's birthday, so she wouldn't have to bake.
Although Schur could create a tasteful, Martha Stewart-sanctioned cake in five shades of ecru if she had to, she seems to enjoy gussying up gaudy gateaux most of all. She's already envisioning her store's window display for Halloween. It will include a nightmarish dinner party, complete with tiered wedding cake crawling with cockroaches and worms.
"If it's kitschy, it's good," she says.
Recently, Schur received the ultimate compliment when one of her cakes fooled her mother-in-law, who is actually an experienced baker. "She said, 'I didn't know you could bake,'" Schur recalls, grinning. "She had no idea. She didn't quite understand what it was so she kind of poked at it. She said, 'I didn't know you were that artistic."
There's only one problem, Schur says. "Now she challenges me to make a real one," she says, laughing.
Learn more about Ur So Fake Cakes at https://www.facebook.com/ursofakecakes