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Building a Big Cake for a Little Elephant

NMI Culinary Students WJ Bryant Elementary Ringling Bros. NORTH MIAMI, Fla. - January 18, 2011 - Even a little elephant deserves a big party. JWU culinary students recently teamed up with 15 WJ Bryan Elementary School students to design a birthday cake for the newest addition to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus: baby elephant Barack. (He turned two on January 19.)

Armed with paper and markers, JWU students went to WJ Bryan for an initial brainstorming session. The challenge: how do you design a birthday cake for an elephant? The answer: make it big and bold, with bright primary colors, lots of stars and fun accents like pretzels, candies and elephant-shaped cake toppers.

With the designs all sketched out, the elementary school students came to JWU to begin working in the bakeshop. For many, it was their first time in a professional kitchen. Judging by the photos, it all went smoothly and everyone had a blast — whether they were rolling out colorful dough, stamping out stars or engineering the complicated, often top-heavy cakes.

On Wednesday, everyone met at the American Airlines Arena, where the elementary students helped the JWU students put the finishing touches on their cakes.

img CUL NMI Ringling Bros. BirthdayThat afternoon, the birthday cakes were judged by chefs, bakers and circus performers, including Cristina Jimenez, owner of Cristina’s Cakes; Jason Morale, Four Seasons Palm Beach executive pastry chef; Michael Vaughn, head chef for Ringling Bros.; and three clowns from Clown Alley. (They took the job very seriously.)

And what did baby Barack think of the winning cake, a multi-tiered number (pictured at left), which was festooned with stars, diamonds, and a colorful airbrushed circus scene, topped off with a little baby elephant in a party hat? He wasn’t available for comment — he was too busy chowing down on his own cake, complete with vanilla cream icing and decorated with grapes, bananas and cookies. (Barack's proud mom, Bonnie, got some cake too.)

All five cakes remained on display at the American Airlines Arena in Miami through the remainder of the circus’ run.