Hall brings artistic flair to her specialty cakes

Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne

Judy Hall of Geneseo is excited about the new business she recently began. “Special Cakes by Judy” offers customers decorated cakes for all occasions. “I will do any kind of specialty, shaped cakes,” she said, adding she does half sheets that are about 11x17 inches or one-quarter sheets that are a 9x13 inch cake.

Judy said she started baking and decorating cakes when her son was a youngster. “I had all the decorating tubes, tips and colors, but then I quit doing it when he was older and I got rid of all the pans and decorating supplies I had collected,” she said. “So I’m really starting up all over again.”

Taking a two-week cake decorating course at Trevor True Value in Moline was a kind of refresher course for Judy. “I had done it before, but it was good to get some more instructions,” she said. “Now that I have grandkids, I decided it was time for me to start decorating cakes again.”

Judy has a son and daughter-in-law, Ron and Dawn Swanson of Geneseo and two grandchildren, Codi, 6, and Audri, 3. Her mother, Dorothy Rahn, also lives in Geneseo.

Growing up in Atkinson, Judy said she took home economics classes in high school and some of her favorite memories are when the class would cook for the teachers, “I loved that,” she recalls.

Judy said she has always loved to cook. “I never really had the time when I was working. I was a police dispatcher for several years and I worked different shifts. So I’m really enjoying it now when I have a little more time,” she said.

One of her favorite meals, Judy said, is pot roast baked in the oven. “I make a loose roux of flour and water and pour it over the roast with carrots, sliced onions, potatoes and some spices,” she said. “Then I seal the baking dish with foil and bake it in the oven for 2-1/2 hours. It just falls apart.” Judy warns not to peek at the roast for the entire baking time, however. “It makes it’s own gravy and it is really a whole meal. You can simply add a salad if you want.”

Admitting she probably favors baking to cooking, Judy said she has a recipe for a Rice Krispie and peanut butter combination that is frosted with melted chocolate chips and butterscotch chips and is a favorite of her family and friends. “I’ve tweaked the original recipe a little bit. I really don’t follow the recipe any more. I’ve made it so often I know it by heart,” she laughs.

She also likes to make homemade candy — fudge, anise and  homemade lollipops. “I do the candy more often for holidays,” she said. “But I like to make the homemade lollipops with a boiled syrup mixture and then pour it into molds for a hard candy lollipop. They are fun to do.”

Judy said she gets recipes from lots of places — friends, the internet, newspapers, magazines or old cookbooks. “I got a recipe for the anise that I made recently from an old 1958 cookbook,” she said. “Just the smell of the house when I was making the anise brought back good memories.”

Sharing recipes is something Judy says she likes to do. “Even if you give a recipe to someone exactly how you make it, it never seems to turn out the same. There’s always something a little different about it,” she said. “I like to look at a recipe and play around with it a little.”

Or she says she will look through magazines like Martha Stewart Living to find something interesting to make. “I love to try new things and I’m not scared to try something different,” she said.

Judy says she also gets ideas for recipes from watching the Food Network. “My favorite program is Ace of Cakes. I love that show,” she said. “Or Top Chef or The Next Food Network Star.”

As far as meal planning goes, Judy said she likes things that are easy and not time consuming. “Kind of like hamburger helper,” she laughs. “I love to use fresh vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, green beans and carrots — I sometimes crave cooked baby carrots.”

Judy said she likes to prepare fresh green beans by putting them in a big pot of water along with bacon and onions. “The flavor of the onion and bacon really gets into the green beans and it’s all in one pot,” she said. “I just cut off the ends of the green beans and put them in the pot of water.”

Admitting she sometimes decides at noon what she will prepare for dinner, Judy said she doesn’t plan very far ahead of time.

When baking a cake to be decorated, Judy said she uses Betty Crocker cake mix with pudding added. “It just seems to hold up better and it is easier to get out of the pan and holds together better for decorating,” she said. “I do a homemade butter cream frosting or a chocolate butter cream frosting from a Wilton recipe and it is really good.”

The butter cream frosting is made with shortening, butter, vanilla, powdered sugar and milk. And to make the chocolate butter cream frosting, Judy said she adds either cocoa or unsweetened chocolate squares. The butter cream frosting, according to Judy, can be thinned for piping or made thicker if you want. “I very seldom make it thicker, you would do that if you were going to make something like frosting roses to decorate with,” she said. “And I do any flavor cakes — spice, yellow, white or chocolate — whatever the customer wants.”

Judy said she sometimes doesn’t know what direction she will take as far as decorating a cake top until she gets into it. “If someone has an idea for a cake, I will be glad to work with them to make what they want, or if they’ve seen a cake somewhere that they like, I’d like to try to recreate that also,” she said.

Judy said she likes to look through Wilton Cake Decorating books to plan what her next project might be. “That is so much fun. Or get me in the Wilton cake decorating aisle at Trevor True Value and I could probably spend the day there,” she laughs.

Besides offering specialized cakes to customers, Judy  opened The Book Swap, a used book shop, at The Coffee Break in Geneseo, in July. “We offer used books or you can bring in your own used books and receive credit,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to have a book store. I love to read, especially James Patterson or Stephen King — I like horror books.”

Judy lists her hobbies as reading, spending time with her grandchildren, and playing video games. “I’m a video game nut,” she laughs.

Her daughter-in-law, Dawn, supplies Kat’s Coffees and specialty items also available at The Coffee Break. “Dawn can order any flavored coffee imaginable and she also has breakfast meal mixes, dips, muffin mixes, cake mixes in a single serving, coffee creamers and dessert mixes,” Judy said, adding as a stay-at-home mom her daughter-in-law was looking for something to do and found the business on the internet.

“I started about a year ago,” Dawn said. “When I order from the company it is very fresh. Coffee can be ordered whole or ground.” Some of her more popular flavored coffees, according to Dawn, are blueberry cobbler, bananas foster, butter rum, angel lace and holiday memories. “I like to keep it fresh and I try to order what the customers seem to like,” she said.

Judy said presentation is important to her as far as her decorated cakes are concerned. “I’ll make a cake and think it just doesn’t look right,” she said. “I’m pretty much a perfectionist about my cakes.”

Enjoying the challenge of cooking and baking, Judy said it’s fun for her to put things together and have them come out good. “I guess my favorite part of cooking is eating,” she laughs. “I like having someone say it looks good and tastes good. The outcome makes it worth the effort. I just like everything about cooking.”

Judy advises anyone interested in decorating cakes to practice, practice, practice. “With cake decorating, you’re probably not going to get a perfect cake the first time you try – like with anything else, it just takes lots of practice,” she said. “Don’t make your first project a big one. Make it for yourself and start with something simple.”

To order a specialized cake from Judy call (if no answer, leave message) (309) 502-9548 or (309) 944-6101. “This (cake decorating) is definitely what I want to be doing,” she said.

Judy Hall shares some of her favorite recipes.

Irene’s ice box cookies

Judy Hall

1-1/2 C. butter

2 C. sugar

4 C. flour  with 1 t. baking powder and 1 t. salt added

3 eggs, well beaten

1 t. vanilla

1 C. nuts, chopped

Mix all together. Roll into log, cut and bake at 375 degrees for 7-10 minutes.

Can be put in refrigerator for a few days before baking.

Vegetable cheese soup

Judy Hall

1 C. chopped onions

1 C. chopped celery

4 C. water

2 chicken or beef bouillon cubes

Combine and cook for 20 minutes.


1 C. sliced carrots

2-1/2 C. sliced or cubed potatoes

1 box frozen mixed vegetables or broccoli or 1 head cauliflower and 1 head broccoli, chopped

2 cans cream of chicken or cream of mushroom sop

Cook for 40 minutes.

Add 1 pound Velveeta cheese, cubed.

Stir until melted.

Note: Can add more Velveeta for extra creaminess. I use chicken bouillon and cream of mushroom soup. Can use cream of chicken if you do not like mushroom soup. Also the fresh cauliflower and broccoli add great flavor, but can use frozen for convenience.

Chinese rice soup

Judy Hall

3 cans condensed chicken broth

3 soup cans water

2 C. diced, cooked chicken

1/2 bunch Chinese cabbage, sliced thin

1 stalk celery, sliced thin

1 can tiny shrimp, drained (optional)

1/2 carrot, sliced thin

1 jar mushrooms, drained (optional)

1 can bamboo shoots, drained (optional)

1 can water chestnuts, drained (optional)

1/4 C. soy sauce

1/2 t. ground ginger or brown sugar

1 C. Minute Rice

Combine all ingredients except rice, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.

Bring to a boil. Add rice, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots.

Boil for five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Note: You can add or delete ingredients according to your taste.

Scalloped corn

Judy Hall

1 can creamed corn

1 can regular corn, undrained

1-8 oz. container of sour cream

1 stick margarine

1 box cornbread mix

Mix all ingredients. Put in casserole and bake at 400 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes.

Note: “I usually spray baking dish with cooking spray and mix everything in the dish. I also cut the stick of margarine into patties, rather than putting the whole stick into the corn mixture.”

Note to readers: The Republic would appreciate any nominations from readers for area cooks to be featured in the weekly “What’s Cooking” column. Nominations may be sent to Geneseo Republic, Attn: Jerilyn VanDeWoestyne, 108 W. First St., Geneseo, IL 61254; or phone (309) 944-2119.