HAVERHILL — For her tenth Food Network competition appearance, master cake decorator Erin Erler competes against her assistant pastry chef and friend Christine Barton in “Holiday Wars,” hosted by Jeff Mauro.
Erler, who operates Cakes by Erin in Haverhill, brought Barton with her as a teammate in three previous Food Network cake decorating competitions, but this time the show’s producers put Barton on their own team.
Barton has worked alongside Erler for the past seven years and currently works at her bakery part-time as she is a full-time nurse.
“We’ve always been on the same team, but this time she’s on one team and I’m on another,” Erler said. “The crazy thing is that she developed her skills in my shop and we are very similar in our thinking when it comes to our designs.”
Erler said knowing how the other thinks can be challenging.
“You know what they are bringing to the table,” he said. “Christine and I know the structure and the design and what works and what doesn’t work for these shows.”
Barton says it was a great experience competing against her friend Erin Erler, as well as a chance to show off her own decorating skills, while still being a good friend to Erler.
“There was a lot of pressure as I have never been the lead decorator in one of these competitions,” Barton said. “I was able to apply all the tools that Erin gave me over the years.”
Cakes By Erin, located at 800 Broadway, is known for its “over the top” and “outside the box” cake sculptures that you won’t find in a typical bakery. Most of the cakes that are made are custom orders.
Examples include cakes that look like guitars, characters, and more recently, foods like a cake that emulates a bowl of ramen.
“Each cake is so unique that it can be very challenging since it’s not something that happens all the time,” Erler said. “We’ve made cakes for Adam Sandler, Kenny Chesney, the Zac Brown Band, and every sports team in Boston, to name just a few.”
Erler was in her first Food Network competition in 2010, with all cake decorating-related events based around one theme.
“Some shows are one episode, while others, like the most recent one, are an eight-episode series, with deletions every week,” Erler said.
“Holiday Wars” aired its sixth episode on November 27. The series began with nine teams. Erler’s team (Rebels Without a Claus) and Barton’s team (Yule-Igans) are through the sixth round and heading to the seventh round, which will air on Sunday, December 4 at 9 p.m.
“In Holiday Wars, the focus is on the cakes, as well as the poured and scooped sugar decorations for our cakes,” Erler said.
The theme of November 27 was “Santa Claus who travels in time”. Erler’s team was assigned the Victorian era, while Barton’s team was assigned the Stone Age era. Each team has three members who specialize in one aspect of cake decorating: a baker, a sugar artist, and a cake decorating artist, a role in which Erler and Barton excel.
“Our Victorian-era cake featured Santa Claus in a blue fur-lined coat, standing on skis with a bag of toys and standing in front of a stone wall and a lamppost with a candle to light his way.” Erler said.
Barton said her cake featured a muscular caveman Santa climbing a rock while carrying a bag of bones and rocks made from sugar and a slingshot made from fondant.
“Even though Santa didn’t exist during the stone age, we got very creative in choosing a non-traditional Santa,” Barton said. “We actually had a bit of fun with it.”
Other recent episode designs followed the “Ugly Sweater Party” theme with woodland animals.
“She had an owl in a tree wearing an ugly sweater and Christine had beavers decorating their dam while wearing ugly sweaters,” Erler said.
Another topic was “The new hobby of the reindeer”.
“My design was a reindeer doing meditation in a rock tower with crystals and a zen garden and Christine’s design was a reindeer doing mixology; mixing drinks,” Erler said.
So far, Barton’s team has been the winner in two episodes, while Erler’s team has won three times.
In the end, the winning team will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to Iceland. Filming took place this past January and February in Park City, Utah.
“Haverhill has a chance to have two competitors in the final, or one of us could go home, so to find out, watch episode seven (A Very Peanuts Christmas Tree) on Sunday night,” Erler said.