BY KIRK DOUGAL

Times Bulletin Editor

kdougal@timesbulletin.com

The basic building block is the same as you have been eating since your first birthday party - eggs, flour, water, flavoring - but in the hands of a master decorator, a wedding cake masterpiece will stand out in the minds of brides and grooms forever.

Carolyn Pruden, owner of Elegant Cakes by Carolyn of Grover Hill, has been decorating cakes for 30 years. The venture all started innocently enough when a friend who lived nearby was getting married. Carolyn had been decorating birthday cakes and other items but mainly for her family. But her friend asked her to make the wedding cake, partly because she was so close.

"That was the first one," says Pruden now. "It just kind of took off. A lot of word-of-mouth helped."

At first Pruden tried to take some classes but she quickly found out that what they were teaching, she had already done. So over the years there was a lot of trial and error but the success is easy to see. She feels she is lucky because if she can see a picture in a book or a drawing, she is able to figure out how the cake needs to be built.

Her reputation as a designer and decorator has spread wide over the years. Pruden rarely has a weekend where she does not have a wedding and she usually is making cakes for two or three. That can mean a lot of late nights as the big days approach. A mosaic cake she made previously took 20 hours of just decoration time. It is no wonder that Pruden's daughter, Kimberly, learned to help out over the years and still comes to lend a hand when mother gets in a pinch.

The cakes have become more elaborate and difficult to make as the years have gone by as well. Some of the photos the brides bring in involve producing very detailed creations. Now with the growing popularity of grooms' cakes, a whole new dimension has been added. These tend to be themed to his tastes and interests and can be as varied as "The Horseshoe" at Ohio State University or a stealth bomber. These usually take a lot more time to make because of the complexity of the decorations.

But when it all comes together just right, the results can be stunning. At the same wedding as the stealth bomber for the groom, the bride asked for a cake in the shape of a rose. Pruden created what she asked for and then had bits of icing in the shapes of petals scattered around it as if they had fallen off a real flower.

"The videographer came up to me while I was standing there and asked where the wedding cake was at. He said he had found the groom's cake but he had been all over the reception hall and couldn't find it," Pruden said with a laugh. "I just said 'You're standing right beside it.' He couldn't figure out that it was a cake."

Another time Pruden made a cake for a bride in Washington D.C. The young woman had seen a photograph of one of her works and decided she had to have an Elegant Cakes by Carolyn creation. Pruden said the bride's father called three times before she believed that it was not somebody's idea of a joke. But in the end, she made the cake and drove it all the way to Washington D.C. for the wedding. Now she says the whole thing was "very exciting."

And something else very exciting has just happened as well. The country music cable channel CMT has a show on it called "My Big Redneck Wedding." A Van Wert County couple was a featured wedding in the current season's series and Carolyn made the cake for the reception. It was about 4'x3' with a mountain in the middle and very elaborate scenes depicting everything that was going to happen at the reception - mudbogging, a pig roast, 4-wheelers, the honeymoon "camper," mud wrestling and a greased pig all surrounded by trees and grass. The episode aired on Saturday, January 17 but will run again on CMT throughout this week. Pruden said people interested in seeing the cake and the wedding can go to the CMT website and check when the show will be on again.

Pruden is also busy this time of year with bridal shows where she takes sample cakes and everything is set up for prospective clients to see. She usually starts by booking an appointment with the bride. Most of the time the meeting involves the bride, a couple of friends and the mothers but more and more often the groom also comes along. But Pruden pointed out she has also had as many as 10 or 11 people help decide what cake to use. Pruden uses nine different flavors and textures of cake so the fun part of the process for the wedding party is the taste testing, usually cupcakes.

Then the group either goes through Pruden's books or photos if they have not brought a design of their own. Sometimes the decision may come down to choosing between three or four styles while other times the bride may ask for an element of this one with the base of that one. Then it is just down to the amount of servings and the cost. The economy has had an affect on the choices recently, too, as Pruden says she is seeing smaller wedding receptions, especially when it is being held at a country club or private hall.

Lots of changes have occurred int the business over the years. The use of fondant has probably been the biggest change in wedding cakes over the years and adds a real look of elegance. But one thing has not changed in the three decades Pruden has been making weddings cakes and that is the reason why she enjoys doing it so much.

"Oh, that is easy," answered Pruden immediately. "I get to meet a lot of new people and they are always so nice. It's just fun to meet new people and be with them during what is a happy time for them. It is very rewarding."