Pam McNeal was probably the only person in the Cabela’s in Hamburg hunting for confectionary inspiration.
McNeal, a cake decorating supervisor at Shady Maple Farm Market in East Earl, had a wedding cake in her sights.
She needed measurements from one of the store’s life-sized model deer. It was easier than heading out into the woods to find one.
On Oct. 5, McNeal and her crew squeezed the finished cake — a full-sized antlered buck in a resting pose —into a van and delivered it to the wedding venue just in time. It took four people to carry it into the reception hall where it fed 250 guests.
Earlier this week, a photograph of this massive cake went viral on the internet. Commenters on social media and Reddit, the news aggregation site, went wild for its realistic look.
“I’m confused,” wrote one poster. “All I see is a deer kneeling. Where is the cake?”
And another wrote: “Only in PA. Love it.”
But a big buck isn’t bagged by chance alone. The process for making this cake started nearly a year ago when a couple stopped into Shady Maple for a cake consultation. They came armed with a credit card and plastic antlers. Could the bakery make a life-sized deer cake for their wedding?
McNeal enthusiastically agreed to decorate it. Over-the-top cake designs had become an item she loved to do. She’d previously created fawns, a turtle, a chimpanzee, an alligator, a lion and other animals — likely enough to fill a zoo.
“I did a Labrador at Christmastime,” McNeal said. “There’s a couple that comes in at Christmastime every year and they like to challenge me.”
The deer cake, however, would be her biggest. A trip to Cabela’s was just part of the design process.
“The thing I like about cake decorating is all the mediums you can use,” McNeal said. “You can draw on a cake, you can paint on a cake with butter cream and you can sculpt.”
Over the course of the last year, McNeal plotted and planned the cake'’ look. In the days just before the wedding, she began to bring the deer to life.
First, she sculpted the head and neck of the deer out of Styrofoam and then used layers of fondant— a kind of “sugar clay” as McNeal calls it — to shape its features. Then, she stabilized the body with a skewer and attached its antlers.
Five sheet pans of cake were used to create the body of the deer. On the day before the wedding, McNeal shaped the deer’s legs from the marble cake, too.
This was all while keeping the market’s shelves filled with baked goods and completing five other wedding cakes at the same time.
“I've got good girls here,” she said with a nod to Shady Maple’s decorating team. “They all chipped in.”
And while it's customary to save the top tier of a wedding cake to eat on the first anniversary, McNeal wondered what these newlyweds might do.
“They could probably mount the head,” she said.