I have always been fascinated by people who have the ability to make cakes look beautiful. My mother had that skill. I have no idea where she learned it, but by age 20, she was the envy of Northern Ontario.
She showed me the Dr. Oetker cookbook which was her inspiration. Not only was it written in "ye olde German" script, but the faded colour photos gave no instruction as to how one creates these masterpieces. She just did it. People flocked to our house for a slice of torte and I always had the best attended birthday parties.
Over the years, I have tried. I have created some nice enough cakes and cupcakes. I've even managed a few black forest cakes. I've molded and painted tiny marzipan fruits to highlight the top of a chocolate shell. I was particularly proud of a Father's Day effort which was covered in Smarties to resemble a shirt and tie. That was easy, anyone could do it. I followed a pattern. When I attempted my son's "Ninja Turtle" cake (blog Aug. 27, 2011), I realized that icing and fondant were a huge mystery.
I recently enrolled in a cake decorating class. Yesterday, was my first day. The instructor announced her impressive credentials and proceeded to ask why each of us was there. My answer was simple. "I'm retired and I have the time now." She then said that this would be the first four weeks of a seventeen week course. Uh oh. I don't think I have the time.
We were told that we would all proceed at our own skill level and that we would develop our own "style". There are no such things as poor efforts, bad decorating or ugly cakes. Really? Then she mentioned that she would very quickly be able to evaluate our ability. Our first task was to decorate cookies. Lesson #1 in the instruction book contained some examples.
The first class went quickly. By the time I was finished, I was able to successfully make rosettes on cookies. They looked exactly like the photo above...well, almost. The instructor praised several people's efforts. She seemed disinterested in mine and made no comment. She was clearly so dazzled by my natural talent and creativity that it rendered her speechless.
I garnered some important information which seems obvious, but I didn't know before.
1. When slicing a cake to fill, cut through the middle but put a toothpick at the top and bottom half before taking the layers apart. That way you can replace it in the exact same place to keep the cake level. No need for extra filling to level the cake? No trying to make it fit and ending up with a slanted cake? Why didn't anyone ever tell me?
2. Make a buttercream icing dam between two layers of cake. In other words, cut the cake in half, make a ring around the edge with icing, then put whatever choice of filling in the middle. Then it won't ooze out. Clever. Also, do not press down on the top of the cake when the layer is replaced...same reason. By not pushing down, the cake also becomes taller.
3. Use more icing than you need. It's easier to remove than to add icing. This also avoids getting crumbs in the icing, so no more crummy cakes.
4. Some parchment paper, smoothed over rough portions of the cake, then removed, help give it that all over even look.
For next week's class, we need to bring an 8 inch cake to decorate. I'm looking forward to it and have already packed most of my required materials. Hopefully, I'll be able to share photos and instructor comments about my effort.