Opening the door to Cakes by Debi, the sweet smell of sugar and cinnamon wafted out, meeting the brisk fall morning air outside.

Behind a counter, Debi Hanscom poured batter into a pan and slid it into an oven. The baking only intensified the delectable smell in the commercial kitchen of her Evergreen home-based business.

People come in and even if I haven’t been baking it smells like cake. It’s just in the walls, part of the air in here,” Hanscom said, waving a hand in the air.

“You can gain 5 pounds just by breathing the air,” she added with a laugh.

For Hanscom, this time of the year gives her reprieve from the hectic wedding-cake season, so she makes baked goods for a local coffee stand in addition to creating other special occasion cakes for birthdays or anniversaries. Her menu isn’t limited to cakes; she also makes cupcakes, cake pops, cheesecake, truffles and mints.

May to September is peak wedding cake season for Hanscom, whose time is packed with creating, baking and delivering tiered confections to venues.

She started baking cakes for friends and family in the mid-’80s. When she began getting more requests and customers, she found out about the requirements and regulations of operating a food-based business. Wanting to continue, she decided to convert her garage into a commercial kitchen.

Hanscom’s interest in baking cakes began in her mother’s kitchen.

“My mom was kind of my catalyst because she got interested in cake decorating and she bought a used Wilton kit of stuff from our neighbor and started playing around and everything,” Hanscom said. “She was completely self-taught except for the couple of classes we took.”

Through her mother’s experiences, Hanscom’s interest was not only piqued, but she learned some of the critical lessons such as tiered cakes need support, whether transported from the kitchen counter to the table or in a car traveling miles to a venue.

“There’s internal support. That’s what a lot of new cake decorators don’t understand,” Hanscom said. “When you stack tiers, cake is heavy.”

She typically uses a combination of dowels and bubble-tea straws, depending on the size and number of tiers.

Starting out in the cake business pre-internet, Hanscom turned to Wilton — a well-known brand of bakeware and cake decorating tools — as a source for decorating ideas, tips, techniques. She also took some professional wedding cake decorating classes.

“Your main go-to thing were Wilton yearbooks,” Hanscom said. “With the advent of the internet there are tons of pictures and tutorials.”

Wedding cake trends have changed over time.

“In the ’90s everything was big. Height was all the rage,” she said, with pillars separating tiers, staircases leading to side cakes and lit water fountain features.

“It’s more organic now. I very rarely use my pillars to separate tiers. They’re all stacked cakes,” she said and often decorates using fresh or silk flowers, succulents and berries, which can also be recreated using sugar paste.

When deciding how to design a cake for someone’s special day, Hanscom encourages people to submit a few pictures illustrating their ideas.

“It helps me,” Hanscom said when provided pictures for inspiration. “I feel more confident about – realizing this what they’re envisioning. I’ll be honest with them if this is a technique or something that I don’t know how to do.”

Bridal exposition displays are typically the time she’ll try out new techniques or styles.

“Last year, or the year before, I was pleased with two techniques I tried out. I created a burgundy suede effect on the bottom tier and the tier above it was a gold crackle and then I put big silk sunflowers on there,” she said.

Decorating is Hanscom’s favorite part of the process.

“I enjoy the decorating part. The challenges of a new technique, or putting a design together that’s going to, you know, help the personality of the bride and groom show through,” Hanscom said.

Cakes by Debi will be featured at the My Montana Wedding Inspiration Expo from 10 to 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, at the Red Lion, 20 North Main St. in Kalispell. Admission is free.

For more information call (406) 250-4129 or visit

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or

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