view counter

Mr. Tuttle Moonlights

Award-winning cakes are this third-grade teacher’s sideline

When Terry Tuttle went back to school, his third-graders at Shady Side Elementary had to settle for map studies instead of cake frosting.
    Tuttle’s cake work begins after the kids run free at 3:40pm. Then, after his own children are settled into their after-school routine in his Churchton home, he creates masterpieces out of batter and frosting.
    Today’s creation is a four-layer Italian buttercream with amaretto and almond flavoring.
    “People like to rush through this part,” he says about halfway through piping the border. Tuttle is not one of those people. He takes his time, drawing on classical strengths to create a simple and elegant stream of buttercream along the cake’s base.
    As he pipes flowers, he stands back to consider. Like jazz or painting, decorating demands artistic improvisation.

Practice Makes Perfect
    Tuttle has been baking and decorating cakes since his teens, when he made his first cake for his youth pastor’s birthday. The hobby remained just that as he went to college, married, got a job and began a family.
    In 2009, after a couple years of taking decorating classes, Tuttle felt that he knew enough to enter his first cake show. He came in third in the wedding cakes division, a feat almost unheard of for a newcomer.
    Soon opportunities seemed to pour in, from national cake shows to television appearances and competitions.
    The very next year, he was recruited to join a team that would create a life-sized Nascar cake to be presented to Joe Gibbs, former coach of the Washington Redskins. The project took three days and three nights, with the unveiling premiering on TLC’s popular show, Cake Boss.
    The pressure rose with his appearance in the episode LEGO Cakes Challenge, where he worked alongside Jason Reeves for the Food Network Challenge. Tuttle was outside his comfort zone, with the playful LEGO World theme threatening to crush his classic decorating style. Despite the eight-hour challenge and the obstacles that the show threw their way, like the two-hour mini challenge twist, the duo won the show — and the $10,000 prize.
    To push his talents, Tuttle took a job at a bakery. After a long day of teaching, he began a long night of making and decorating cakes. Over one weekend, he managed eight cakes, but the exhausting work diminished his passion. Nowadays, he makes cakes mostly for friends, family and the occasional competition.
    “Can you have your cake and eat it too? It depends,” says Tuttle. “At what cost does it affect you physically, emotionally and socially? In the long run, I learned to keep life and responsibilities in balance. God has given me a gift that I like to cultivate when the time is right.”

Finishing Touches
    Next Tuttle moves onto his string work, a technique that draws out the thinnest slivers of icing to create a depth of small curves along the sides of the cake.
    Instead of using royal icing, which hardens quickly, he chooses buttercream, a soft and yielding icing that challenges its decorator. While he drapes the buttercream onto the top edge of the cake, the strand of icing holds suspended until he connects, creating small dips of icing, each semicircle an inch away from the other.
    Amid flourishes are smaller details, like the drops of periwinkle blue in the white border or the sparse dots beneath the delicate joints of the string work border.
    Each yellow rose is a creation. First, he pipes each on his flower nail, a three-inch tool resembling a big thumbtack that he’s used for 35 years. Then he transfers the rose onto the face of the cake.
    After planting the yellow roses and rosebuds and small periwinkle roses, he says, “It’s the leaves that really make the cake.” The dark green leaves are added quickly, highlighting the bright yellows and blues of the bouquet.
    The cake is decorated in about 30 minutes. As it rests, he gathers up his tools.
    Tuttle is efficient. Cake work must fit between his two full-time jobs. Family comes first, and the school year is underway.