The Greatest Gift: Newfoundland baker’s cake-making prowess, decorated with family sentiments, catapults her to the national stage
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A baker from Newfoundland and Labrador has made it onto the national stage and has her sights set on tonight’s grand prize.
Indian Cove’s Catherine Sansome did a splendid job of representing the East Coast when she was named a finalist on CTV’s “Cross Country Cake Off” during the airing of the first of two bake-offs on Monday night.
Sansome’s excitement bubbled well before Monday’s show.
In order to advance to the national portion of the event, Sansome had to qualify for the East Coast region.
Eat a cake on the plane
When Sansome found out she’d made it to the first round of qualifying, she was also quickly told there was no one she could talk to about it. However, the only person she could tell was her husband Jamie as arrangements had to be made to look after their children.
“I was so excited,” she said. “Then my nerves rose when I realized I had to do this on my own.”
Part of the initial process was quite daunting as Sansome had to bake a cake at home and then figure out how to take it on the plane to Halifax where the qualifying round was being held. She bought a small cooler and filled it with frozen peas to transport her pie. She said airport security was amazing as she explained why she was carrying a cake onto a plane and that she was entering a baking competition.
A nod to Grandma
Sansome’s says the cake she baked for the qualifying round was a nod to her grandmother’s baking.
“It was a blueberry vanilla bean cake with salted caramel and candied walnuts,” she explained.
The symbolism didn’t stop there. Atop the cake was a sculpted fondant figure of Sansome, clearly showing off her dimples, as well as a piping bag tattoo on her right arm. The character also balanced a broom, folded laundry, and a cake, representing Sansome’s busy life of balancing business and family.
The flowers in front of Sansome’s character all had symbolism.
“The four flowers were for our four children, the blackberry bus for our son, two butterflies for our grandchildren, and a bee for our grandson,” she said.
Her cake was a hit, the judges thought, and Sansome was one of four East Coast bakers who were promoted to the next round.
The best present
In the next round, Sansome and her other three East Coast competitors each had to bake a celebratory cake themed “The Greatest Gift.” The cake was designed to tell a story from the heart and contestants were given four and a half hours to complete their cake.
For Sansome, her greatest Christmas present was the birth of her daughter Kiley at 9:31 a.m. on Christmas Day, saying, “It was the greatest gift any mother could ask for.”
Sansome decided to make a chocolate cake that her kids will love. She made three separate cake layers in the shape of a Christmas tree that appeared to be floating on a stump, which Sansome described as a “cartoonish Christmas tree look.”
During the competition, Sansome said she felt like the time had passed so quickly.
“I usually bake one day and decorate the next,” she said.
But she expressed confidence in her fondant work, which she said “would stand out for its crisp cleanliness.”
Her tree was adorned with many fondant tree decorations, including an angel tree topper, which Sansome said represented her mother-in-law, who had recently died of complications from cancer, and “is now looking down on us.”
When the time was up, Sansome’s cake creation was fully completed.
“It worked and I’m so happy.”
The judges – cookbook author and multiple Canadian Screen Award winner Mary Berg and acclaimed pastry chef Andrew Han – agreed. They commented that Sansome’s cake “was a really beautiful cake and was an example of what fondant work can look like”.
The judges described her cake as “quirky, playful and festive” and also praised her for the cake’s aroma and taste.
For her efforts, Sansome was awarded a silver cake stand, which propelled her to Tuesday’s finals.
“I have a silver cake stand and I’m so damn excited,” she said excitedly.
glaze on the cake
Speaking to Sansome before the show aired Monday night, she said it was all very exciting and nerve-wracking.
Sansome called meeting her fellow bakers and being on the show a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it was meeting Berg that Sansome says was “the icing on the cake.”
She also said it meant the world to her to represent Newfoundland and Labrador in the finals.”
“Everyone tunes in at home. I can barely wait for it!”
“Cross Country Cake Off”
Sansome isn’t new to televised baking contests. In April of that year, she competed with Amanda Mercer and Charlotte Gushue in The Big Bake, a Food Network pie competition program.
Sansome said the experience helped her with her time management and it’s nice to have teammates who support you.
Although both experiences were timed baking competitions, Sansome said the Cross Country Cake Off was a completely different experience because “you’re completely on your own and not sure how your expertise compares to the others participants will beat”.
As a child, Sansome would bake cookies with her mother, grandmother, and aunts at Christmas time, and it was these family gatherings that instilled her love for baking.
“My grandmother Hopkins was famous for her pies and pies,” said Sansome, who still uses her grandmother’s pie recipe to this day.”
But it wasn’t until 2009 that Sansome’s interest in cake decoration was awakened. She said it was shows like TLC’s Cake Boss and The Food Network’s Ace of Cakes that inspired her to try it, and she supplemented her learning with online tutorials.
By 2012, Sansome had decided to pursue pie as a career. She was a single mother of an infant and small child living in Gander and being able to bake at home while taking care of her family made it a good fit. Recently, Sansome has also taken care of her father-in-law, which makes working from home ideal.
Sansome is known for its specialization in fondant sculptures and decorations. She doesn’t have a physical store but instead makes her spectacular cakes in her home kitchen.
Within a year of starting that career, tragedy struck in 2013 that included a fire that resulted in Sansome and her family losing everything. But within months, with help from her parents and donations from the local community, Sansome was able to get her business back on track.
The Sansomes are in the process of adding a section to their home that will become a pastry shop.
Sansome has baked many cakes, cupcakes and, as she says, thousands of cake pops over the past few years. When asked what her favorite cakes are, she has two. The first is a rich chocolate fudge cake with ganache drops. The second? Her grandma’s carrot cake.