By Bruce Amaro
---- — Haverhill baker Erin Erler brought home bragging rights and $15,000 when she won the Food Network’s first “Sugar Dome’’ bake-off.
A self-taught baker who learned her craft at the kitchen table with her three children, Erler turned her craft into a business and now has won an award on national TV.
“My sister, Kelly, started this, when she contacted the casting people at the Food Network,” Erler said.
Sister Kelly Mackin made the application to the Food Network, and, in August, the network accepted Erler as a contestant. The sisters are co-owners of Cakes by Erin on Kenoza Avenue.
The program aired Jan. 14. The sisters held a viewing party that night at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston, where about 100 guests watched Erler’s team win the prize.
The program was filmed in October, but the sisters were under contract not to say anything until the Food Network announcement of the winners.
The network flew Erler to Los Angeles and put her up in a hotel with the other contestants for a week while they filmed the program, Erler said. The Food Network organized the contest as a competition between three teams with three people each — a sugar artist, a craftsman of non-edible items, and a baker.
The organizers gave each team a theme and six hours in which to make the product.
The winning design by Erler’s team used an 1980s theme of a cake shaped to look like a Rubik’s Cube with a break-dancer on the cake top and set in an alley surrounded by a brick wall covered in graffiti.
The entire cake was edible.
Erler, a mother of three, a native of Beverly and now a 14-year Haverhill resident, did not start out her professional life as a baker.
“I worked in the school system and started baking nut-free goods for my son,” Erler said. He has an allergy that makes it dangerous for him to eat baked goods containing nuts.
Her baking became a hit around the school, and then throughout the system. People asked Erler to make cakes for any number of occasions, as well as baked goods and sculpted cakes.
“My youngest daughter has shown an interest in the culinary side of the business and my oldest daughter is the artist,’’ Erler said. “She does the sculpting.
“My son — he eats them,” she said with a smile about how the whole bakery thing started.
Her orders kept her up nights. She worked her day job in the schools and spent late nights baking to meet her orders deadlines.
“I finally had to make a decision,’’ she said. “It was taking all my time and I was up some nights until 2 in the morning.’’
Erler then decided to take the business to the next step.
“I had to. It made the most sense, and I kept getting orders,” she said.
A single mother of three school children, she started the bakery business with her sister.
They found a location in October 2010 and opened their bakery, Cakes by Erin, at 58 Kenoza Ave.
They financed the business themselves.
The family got together and supported Erler’s decision.
They have been on the Food Network a few times and that exposure has made a familiar face in the business, she said.
“We have never advertised in the two years we’ve been on Kenoza Avenue,” Erler said.
In February, they will open their second location in the Beverly Farms secrtion of Beverly called the Half-Baked Cafe.
Erler said the bakery makes several hundred cakes a year, but she has not stopped to count.
Each cake order has so many variables that each order turns into a special order. How long it takes to complete an order depends on the complexity of the cake.
Every item she bakes is nut free.