Eden Hall Upper Elementary student has budding career as cake decorator

| Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

When it came time for Ashley Benson, 23, to choose a cake decorator to create the wedding cake of her dreams, the choice was obvious — an 11-year-old fifth-grader from Gibsonia.

“My mother-in-law lives next door to Hailey Rihn,” said Benson, a resident of Valencia. “I'd seen the cakes she has done, and I was just amazed.”

Hailey Rihn is a student at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School in the Pine-Richland School District who loves swimming and chatting with friends on her iPad tablet.

She literally stumbled upon her talent for decorating cakes when she was 9.

“She fell and broke her wrist,” explained her mother, Aimee Rihn, 39.

To help Hailey rehabilitate, Aimee Rihn enrolled her daughter in a cake-decorating class. “I thought the repetitive squeezing of an icing bag would help strengthen her wrist.”

It did. And Hailey's wrist healed just fine.

But the real icing on the cake was, well, the icing on the cake.

Angela Angiolieri, an International Culinary Academy graduate, taught the class.

“I noticed right away that Hailey's skill level was far above the other students,” said the 45-year-old Ross Township resident. “She never ceases to amaze me with her original designs.”

When Hailey created a dozen Angry Birds cupcakes for her 5-year-old cousin's birthday party, she replicated the comical characters in vibrant butter cream icing.

She used sprinkles for feathers, crumbled cookies for the tails and hand-sculpted taffy confectionery for the beaks.

“Her cousin loved them so much that he stashed them in the refrigerator for three weeks so nobody would eat them,” Aimee Rihn said.

For Hailey's grandfather's 65th birthday, she concocted a pasta-lover's cake by piping “spaghetti” strands that looped, overlapped and intertwined. For the meatballs, she rolled Rice Krispies Treats into orbs and dipped them in chocolate.

And that wedding cake?

“She was able to take our dream and make it a reality with handmade flowers, simple decorations and just pure perfection,” said Benson, who requested an elegant but understated “Funfetti”-style cake.

What does Hailey like most about cake decorating?

“The taste testing,” exclaimed the petite 66-pounder.

And her favorite cake to decorate?

“Anything that's two-tiered because there's more to decorate.”

While Hailey has become skilled in decorating cakes, she never has actually baked one. She is allergic to raw eggs.

“She comes up with the ideas, and we sit down and figure out how we're going to do it,” her mother said.

“Then I bake, and she decorates.”

To date, Hailey has designed more than 65 cakes for birthdays, baptisms and graduations. Requests come from family, friends, neighbors and teachers.

“Just this past summer, she had to decorate cakes for two graduation parties on the same day,” Aimee said. “She did a full sheet cake, two half-sheet cakes and five dozen cupcakes.”

A portion of the receipts pays for her supplies, and she is allowed to keep a small percentage for herself.

“We told her she has to donate the rest to a children's charity of her choice,” her mother said.

Hailey's dream is to someday run her own bakery ... and to take a cake-decorating class from Carlo's Bake Shop in Hoboken, N.J. — ground zero for TLC's reality-TV series “Cake Boss.”

Hailey met the show's star, Buddy Valastro, last summer when he made a promotional appearance in Market Square downtown.

“I showed him a photo album of my cakes,” Hailey said. “He thumbed through every page, autographed it and told me my cakes are ‘Buddy-Approved.'”

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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