Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lesson 4 - the Final Cake

Last Tuesday was the last session of the Decorating Basics class.  And it started out, well, disastrous.  I received a lot of cake stuff for Christmas (not the disastrous part).  My brother and sister-in-law gave me this cleverly wrapped present:

It was the round pan set, which contains 6", 8", 10" and 12" round pans.  I was very excited to use the 8" pan for my final cake.  Unfortunately, the cake batter got a little too excited also and bubbled over the side.  I made a fudge marble cake, which was probably my first mistake.  And then I put too much batter into the pan - hence the spillage.

I didn't lose it though. (And by it, I mean my mind/temper/sanity)

I calmly cut away the excess cake that looked like a volcano had erupted over the side of the pan.  But the problems didn't stop there.  When I took the cake out of the pan, only half of it wanted to come out.  The other half wanted to stay warm and cozy in the pan.  And yet, I still didn't panic.  I had class in a few hours so I didn't have time to make a new cake.  I sort of patched it all up and told myself - the frosting will hold it all together (cross fingers).  (I did get a frown from Mary when I confessed that I hadn't torted the cake.  Whoops.)

I knew we were learning flowers in class and the cake I had chosen had a lot of them.  So I iced my cake and started the piping before hand.  That way, I could use the entire class to perfect my flowers.

We learned the ribbon rose, which my teacher is really not fond of at all.  She thinks it looks unnatural.  This is the example Wilton Ribbon Rose:

Mary showed us how to make the ribbon rose look a little more realistic by ruffling it.  I preferred her method (because it hides imperfections and looks cooler).  Here are my roses:

I used a flower nail for the first time.  It was a little difficult to get used to turning the nail instead of moving your piping hand.  But I got the hang of it pretty quickly.  And so I started cranking out ruffled roses.

 Then I got to use a flower lifter for the first time.  Now this may seem like a completely useless tool.  I assure you, it is not.  Buttercream sticks to everything - which makes it difficult to remove it from the parchment paper you made it on.  This little scissor like tool is quite fun actually.  As long as you manage to balance your flower on it after removing it from the paper until it lands on your cake.  I am definitely going to be adding this to my cake supplies.

I never would have been able to fit all 12 roses on my cake without it.
(I told you there would be more leaves in my future)
And here is the finished cake, complete with border:

 The border is made of drop flowers.  I tried to twist them because they look better that way, but the angle was really bad and I was already running over class time, so I just did the basic drop flower.  You may also notice the white piping with little white balls on the top and sides.  Definitely getting better at that.

As previously mentioned, my family is a bit tired of eating all this cake.  So the Swabs generously offered to take it off my hands and serve it to their company.  Word is it tasted good.

So my first ever Wilton class is over.  I even have the official certificate!

Up next, I start Course 2: Flowers and Cake Design.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Free Cake

Well, I've decided to go ahead and take the second Wilton cake class, "Flowers and Cake Design."  This means that I will be making a cake every week.  My family is a little tired of eating so much cake (along with all the pie, cookies and cinnamon rolls we had during Christmas).  So I'm going to give away the cakes that I make during January.  If no one wants them, they will probably end up at church for Sunday treats.

So . . . who wants some cake?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lesson 3: Cupcakes

I have been eating and making cupcakes for my entire life.  I learned from the best - my mom.  My mother is a cupcake master.  She knows the secrets to making the perfect cupcake.  Homemade frosting is a must!

My mom has this way of swirling the frosting on the cupcake just perfectly.  I always wanted to be able to imitate such perfection.  She makes it look so easy, just a few swirls with the back of a spoon and voila!  We always had cupcakes for our birthdays, never cake.  I'm not really sure why, but that was our tradition.  (I was going to include a picture from my childhood here, but then I realized my photo album is packed away somewhere on my parents' patio - so you'll just have to use your imagination.)

So when it came time for this lesson, I wasn't sure I was going to learn all that much.  I mean - how could one improve on such a cupcake?  Most store-bought cupcakes have waaaaaaay too much frosting.  And it tastes like shortening.  Yummy.

But I did learn a number of valuable things.  The first was how to fill a cupcake.  Basically, you get an appropriate filling, stick it in a piping bag with tip number 230, (which is completely useless for anything else) stick it in the cupcake, and fill.  This is surprising difficult because it is nearly impossible to procure this tip.  Trust me.  I looked everywhere.  I ended up buying this lovely "cupcake decorating kit."  Which is basically just a really expensive way to wrap this special tip, a few piping bags and a couple other cheap tips and sell it for 9 dollars.  Fortunately I used a coupon and got 60% off.
12-Pieces???  That's cause 8 of them are piping bags, 
which you can buy in bulk.  Boo.

I didn't think I would ever use filling in a cupcake again - but it was surprisingly good.  I decided to do yellow cupcakes with a butterscotch filling.  My mom thought they were great but my dad wasn't a big fan of the filling.  I thought it added a nice sort of different texture that really added to the taste of the cupcake.  I'm not saying all my cupcakes will be filled from now on, but I am glad that I caved and bought the special tip.

 My little niece Elisa was helping me make the frosting for class. She kept looking in my book to see what was next.  
(If you don't understand why that's cute, she's 2 1/2, she can't read)

After filling the cupcakes, we frosted them with white frosting using a cupcake nail.  Still getting the hang of that.  Then first we made pompom flowers.  Here's the Wilton example:

And mine:

You start with a ball as a base (getting much better at those!).  Then you add the dark blue middle, followed by the layers of light blue.  Mary said mine were great!  The colors below look different, but they are the same as the picture above, it's just the lighting.

They sort of remind me of cacti - blue cacti.

Next, I learned why my leaves never turn out correctly.  I've been using the tip incorrectly!  One small change and poof - perfect leaves.

 Beautiful, unbroken leaves.

Now I'm a leaf making machine.  I predict there will be many more leaves in my cake future.  They are really fun to make.

After adding the leaves to the cupcakes, we piped the shaggy mums.  Using one of my favorite tips (the grass tip), you slowly add layer on layer to get this, um, shaggy look.  Hence the name.
This is the Wilton Example.

 And these are my shaggy mums.  Pretty good!

Look at that awesome leaf!
My family gave their stamp of approval on the cupcakes.  My mom even wanted me to decorate more!

Next week: the final cake! (for class that is.  Or this would be a very short-lived blog.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Fish Cake

I was running a little late for my class this week.  Our assignment was to make a cake and bring it to class.  There we would level it, torte it, frost it and decorate.  As I walked through the door, lugging my two bags and my cake carrier, a strange site met my eyes.  One of the women in my class was standing there scraping her blackened cake.

So she had decided to make an angel food cake for class.  Not the best kind of cake for decorating with frosting.  Her cake didn't rise and it burned pretty nicely.  I fear that if she ever does make wedding cakes for her franchise, she is destined to end up on Cake Wrecks.  (If you don't know what that is, click here  And say goodbye to about an hour of your time).

At the other end of the table was the culinary arts student.  She had brought one of those tutti frutti cakes which turned out fine.  The problem was that it was tiny!  At most it was 5", smaller than the design we were supposed to put on it.

I fear that I am in danger of becoming the teacher's pet.  We didn't even have to level my cake - due to my use of the ever helpful baking strips (thank you Bethany!!!).

When Bethany told me about the baking strips, I still didn't really believe they would work.
Look how almost completely flat that is!

Since I was the only one who remembered to bring my filling, we torted my cake.  Torting a cake basically means you cut it in half and add the filling.  Of course you have to make your dam to ensure that the filling doesn't leak out and ruin the look of your frosted cake.  I steered away from my usually chocolate or raspberry filling and used an apricot filling instead, just to vary it up a little.  (Side note - never use pie filling in a cake.  Pie filling has extra water that is meant to cook off so it will make your cake super soggy.  My favorite filling is raspberry jam mixed with whipped cream with a few fresh raspberries scattered about.)

Then we frosted the cake.  I had worked really hard to make my frosting the correct consistency and it turned out great.  I also discovered that I LOVE my turntable.

I had never used one before.  I always move myself around the table instead of moving the cake.  This usually ends up creating a huge mess and I take over the entire kitchen.  The turntable simply turns the cake where you want it (and it's easy to wash!).  I know that this seems obvious - but it really is going to make my life soooooooo much easier.  At least cakewise.

Then we learned how to transfer a design onto your cake using piping gel.  My friend Kiri had used this technique, but I had never done it before.  I had only used rice paper for designs.  It turns out this is fairly simple too.  I chose the fish design.  We also learned how to smooth out your frosted cake.  This has frustrated me numerous times.  My buttercream never ever looks smooth.  I was completely baffled as to how other people could make it look so lovely.  The secret?  Parchment paper and your hands.  Seriously.  The warmth of your hands smooths it out as you gently rub it under the parchment paper.  Genius.

I mean look at how smooth that looks!
(Just click on any of the pictures if you want a closer look)
Later at home I added the dots.  We worked on those in class - mine usually end up looking like Hershey's kisses.  But I'm improving.  Dots are a lot harder than they look.

By the time I added the dots on the border, my frosting had been melting and it was the wrong consistency. But I wanted to finish the cake, so I piped them anyway.

Here's the Wilton example:
They call it the Undersea Adventure.  I just called it the fish cake.
And yes, I know the fish is facing the other way.

Taste Verdict: Better than expected.  
          The frosting isn't as good as the recipe with butter in it, but it wasn't that bad.  I liked the apricot
          filling, but I still prefer the raspberry.  Most of the family enjoyed it.

Next Lesson: Cupcakes.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Very First Cake Class

How did you learn how to do this?

That's a question that is often posed to me when people see my cakes.  The answer?  Watching lots of Cake Boss. (Great show by the way).  And that is sort of true - I did learn a lot from watching that show.  But mostly it is just trial and error.  I find a picture of a cake I think is cool and then I try to figure out how to make it.  This can cause some interesting issues.

So this past week I did something I have never done before.  I went to my very first cake decorating class.

I got a really good deal on the Decorating Basics class at Michaels.  I would have liked to skip to class two - but you have to take the first one in order to take the other two.  Prerequisites - blah.  Anyhoo, I was very nervous about actually going to a class and having to decorate a cake with a professional watching me!  Scary! So last Tuesday morning I was scrambling around trying to make sure I had everything I needed.  I did NOT want to be caught unprepared.  When you signed up for the class, they gave you this lovely little list of things you would need for the first class. You can buy the student kit which has most of the stuff, but I opted to buy everything individually since I already had many of the items that came in the kit. Here's all the goodies that I needed for the class:
(So exciting - isn't it?) 

I arrived early and sat chatting with the instructor, Mary.  She was very friendly and nice and really loves cake decorating.  We waited for the other two members of the class to make their entrance.  Which they finally did.  This is what they brought:

Absolutely nothing!  I think Mary was as shocked as I was!  Who comes to class so unprepared?  I felt like I was back in high school.  My two classmates were both women.  One is in culinary school and the other is opening a chocolate franchise which will also make wedding cakes.

This lesson was mostly lecture.  But we did get to use our new practice boards to practice piping stars.  Then we put our new knowledge to the test on some cookies.  These are mine:

Of course I had been using this technique since my second cake.

But still - those are pretty excellent stars.

I did learn a lot about frosting consistency and the correct way to prepare your icing bags (whoops, haven't been doing that correctly).  And a couple of important tips on how to keep that cake top flat!

For the next lesson I have to make my own cake and bring it to class.  We'll be torting it, frosting it and decorating it.  So my next post should be a little more interesting, both with pictures and stories.

Monday, December 5, 2011

How I Started Decorating Cakes

It was really hard for me to figure out what to write for this first entry.  I didn’t really feel like I had anything to say that anyone would want to read.  So since a picture is worth a thousand words, let's start with that. 

This was my first attempt at cake decorating, back in 2008.  My officemate Lauren was leaving the firm and I wanted to make a special cake for her.  If I remember correctly, I was at the store buying stuff to make the cake and I saw a "do-it-yourself" cake decor kit.  I thought it might be a fun thing to try.  

My sister thought it was a bad idea.  Surely I would just get frustrated.  It would all end in disaster.

From this angle - it doesn't look so bad.  Check this one out:

It wasn't the first time I ever made a cake.  It was just the first time I tried to make it look cool.  The cake was lopsided, uneven, domed and it split in the middle (I cleverly tried to disguise that with the blue frosting "river").  My letters weren't great and the leaves were terrible.  Of course it tasted wonderful.  And Lauren was pleased with it (I think).  But something happened to me that day.

I had a new hobby.

Not that I needed another one.  But three years and a very large amount of cake decorating tools later, there is just something about decorating cake that I love.  It's hard, stressful and usually takes me a very long time.  Oftentimes it can be tedious work.  Especially since I usually don't really know what I'm doing.  Usually after every cake I make, I say - never again!  And then some event or other rolls around and I'm doing it all over again.

The problem with cake decorating is that once you've created this masterpiece, this great cake work of art - everyone just eats it.  

Hence, the blog.  Here I can share my triumphs and my failures in picture form.  I hope that there are more triumphs than failures.  And I hope you enjoy the pictures.

After all - a little cake makes the world a better place.