World-record layer cake teeters but doesn’t topple in Winona celebration

WINONA, MINN. — An attempt at making the Guinness Book of World Records was nearly derailed Friday morning when the star went off script.

As scores of Watkins Co. employees held their breath and a Guinness adjudicator solemnly kept time, the 260-layer Lady Baltimore cake commissioned for the gourmet food company’s 150th anniversary celebration slowly listed to starboard.

To make the record book, it had to stand unsupported for one minute. But as onlookers grimaced and wrung their hands in dismay, it kept tilting.

And tilting … and tilting … and tilting.

“It’s never gonna make it!” moaned Doug Wuollet, owner of the Minneapolis bakery that created the prodigious pastry from 150 pounds of flour, 180 pounds of sugar, 900 eggs and 4 pounds of Watkins vanilla.

With 30 seconds to go to establish the record, Wuollet leapt into blocking position next to the cake, ready to hurl himself against the 1,250-pound confection to keep it from toppling.

“Don’t touch it!” his bakery colleagues screamed, as Wuollet’s hands, encased in plastic gloves, hovered anxiously inches from the cake.

Finally, the countdown came: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 — and screams broke out as the clock hit zero and the cake shattered the Guinness world record of 230 layers.

“That was the longest minute of my life,” a sweaty Wuollet said afterward, mopping his brow.

Wuollet Bakery employees pulled the record-breaking cake together in just eight days after the Winona bakery originally commissioned to create it pulled out, deciding the job was beyond its capabilities.

All the layers were baked in Minneapolis, then assembled into blocks that were frozen for the 120-mile trip to Winona. On Friday morning, bakery employees began assembling the blocks into a three-tiered cake more than 6 feet tall.

But even as they worked, the frozen cake started thawing and the foundation began to give way. Wuollet and several employees propped up the leaning tower until it was fully iced, then released their grips for the heart-stopping record attempt.

Watkins President J.R. Rigley said the company chose the cake stunt to highlight its expertise in flavoring products.

“This is a neat way to show how baking has been important in people’s lives for 150 years,” he said. “Baking is our foundation.”

Watkins manufactures all its ingredients in a Winona complex covering four city blocks. The cake was assembled in the 70-foot-high rotunda of the company’s administration building, built in 1912.

Christina Conlon, the Guinness adjudicator, called the layer-cake category “incredibly challenging.” Tiered cakes, even small ones, almost always have some kind of internal support to keep the layers straight, usually wooden skewers or plastic straws. But no such aids were allowed in the record attempt.

“Even the records you think won’t be suspenseful, wind up suspenseful,” said Conlon, who adjudicates 25 to 30 record attempts a year. A former corporate attorney, Conlon gave up her legal career three years ago for the Guinness job, calling it “the best decision I ever made.”

After the clock ticked down on the record attempt, bakery workers immediately began dismantling the cake, breaking it down into dozen of smaller cakes that were lavishly decorated and served to employees and community members.

Guinness requires all record-attempting food items to be edible and to be served. Record-seekers can’t create a giant food item and then throw it away. Watkins employees planned to deliver more than 4,000 servings of cake to local schools, community centers, senior homes and other locations where hungry mouths could be found.

As employees gathered around the cake to get their piece, they were still catching their breath from the exciting finish.

Said one: “I aged 10 years in a minute.”

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