ADA, Minn. — Art brush in hand, Han Dougan delicately brushes a coat of gold icing over a cupid on a cake she created for an upcoming 50th anniversary celebration.
The white layer cake is decorated with gold cupids atop columns, swirls and 16 red roses, handmade from frosting. It's one of more than 100 creations the Ada cake artist has made during the last several years.
Dougan began making cakes seven years ago after she and her husband, Bruce, moved to Ada from California. She was watching an episode of the television show "Cake Boss," when she thought to herself "I can do this," Dougan said.
And making cakes fit in with her plan to start a home-based business, she said.
Dougan taught herself the art by watching "Cake Boss," along with simple trial and error. When she was satisfied she had developed expertise, she began selling the cakes. She makes the cakes for a variety of celebrations, including anniversaries, weddings and birthdays.
"She’s done them for a 100-year-old and a 1-year-old," Bruce Dougan said.
Her cakes have featured intricately made flowers , carousels and life-like replicas of people.
"I like sculpting faces and people," Dougan said.
Customers typically give her a general idea and then she brainstorms ways to make them into cakes.
"The last cake was a carousel cake," she said. The cake, complete with horses attached to poles, was one of her favorite creations. Dougan doesn't make sheet cakes; she prefers layer cakes because they are more challenging.
She sketches each design on paper before she begins. Making a cake takes several hours, and she often works on them during the night when her husband and their two daughters are in bed.
For the past seven years, Dougan has won first prize for her cakes at the Norman County (Minn.) Fair. One year, she entered a flower cake in a planter box containing dirt — all edible — that was so realistic that someone moved it to the horticulture building, thinking it was meant for competition there.
"Someday we hope to move on to to the State Fair," Bruce Dougan said. Besides the county fair, Han Dougan has placed high in internet-based cake contests, including a top-three finish for a log cake featuring an owl peering out of it. Cupcakes she made were featured on a blog in England.
The cakes Han Dougan makes not only are works of art, but they're also delicious. She often makes her own icing for the designs, preferring it over fondant, which she believes does not taste as good as homemade.
"My cakes are usually covered with buttercream or chocolate ganache. It takes more time to make the buttercream smooth and straight, but it’s worth it," she said. "I want to make sure the cake not only looks good, but tastes good, also."
Her cakes are a variety of flavors, including French vanilla, marble and combinations of tastes.
Dougan makes her cakes solo, but her husband helps, critiquing them before they go out the door.
"I’m her critic. It’s better to have different sets of eyes on them," Bruce Dougan said. But his wife is an even harsher critic of her work.
"I’ve seen her break a cake down and redo it," he said.
Dougan thrives on the challenge of creating difficult-to-make cakes, she said.
"I want to do more hard cakes," she said. Those include anti-gravity, 3-D and sculpted cakes.
Whatever the cake, one of the most satisfying things about making them is the reaction she gets from customers.
"It is so rewarding to see the happy faces of the customers when they see their cake," Dougan said.