When it comes to decorating cakes, I felt like I was doomed to fail from the start. For one thing, I’m not at all artistic. I don’t want to copy my cakes from pictures in books and youtube videos forever. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get what was in my head onto a cake without it looking like a complete mess. For another thing… up until this past Saturday, I had never baked a cake in my life. Yes, without any knowledge of baking or an artistic bone in my body, I decided to dive head-first into cake decorating.
At the beginning of my first class, the instructor asked how many of us have ever decorated a cake, just for fun. I was the only one who didn’t raise a hand. Later, she mentioned a common baking problem, saying we all knew what it was like to encounter it. The other ladies in the room all smiled nodded their heads knowingly while I only pretended to know what she was talking about. Everyone knew how to use a coupler, how to hold a pastry bag, how to make icing. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was seriously worried that I was never going to figure it out.
So, last weekend, I decided to practice a little. Afterall, the women in my class have apparently had years of practice. I lined my cake pan with parchment paper (incorrectly, of course, though I didn’t know at the time) and mixed up a chocolate cake (from a box). It came out nice and moist, but a little awkward because of the parchment paper. I cut it into two layers and spread chocolate pudding between them, because that’s what the instructor did when she fixed up a cake while we watched during the first class. I mixed up some chocolate buttercream (way too thick) to ice it with, and used piping gel to trace a picture of Stimpy from The Ren & Stimpy Show.
The piping gel looks ridiculous, and you can barely see it on the chocolate background. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before, but if I was going to do it again, I’d use clear piping gel and trace over the it with frosting. It’d be a lot cleaner-looking and much more visible that way. But for my first try, I felt pretty good about it, and I learned what not to do for my “official” first cake on Monday.
I spent Monday morning mixing up my frostings, baking a cake, and making a filling. The filling was optional, but I really wanted to try something different. I decided on a vanilla cake (well, it was actually funfetti, but that doesn’t change the flavor) and blood orange filling. It was difficult (for me – I imagine it’s actually quite simple for anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes in a kitchen) to make the filling, but it came out nicely. I checked online and found the best way to line a cake pan with parchment paper, and I’m glad I did because it worked perfectly. I got everything done and packed up just in time and headed off to my class.
The first thing we did was practice lines and zigzags on our practice boards. The instructor walked around the room testing the consistency of our frostings (we were told to bring one medium consistency and one thin) and checking our our lines and zigzags. I didn’t have to change my frosting consistencies or readjust the way I was holding the bag, and it made me feel more confident despite my inexperience. We moved on to our cakes, leveling and torting (aka layering) them as necessary. After frosting the cakes, we had to leave them alone for a while so the frosting would set and we could smooth it out. We got to work mixing our colors with dye and the medium frosting, which we were to use to decorate the cake. Unfortunately, we ran low on time, and most of us (including myself) were unable to smooth out the frosting on our cakes before getting started on the decorations. It was kind of a bummer, but definitely not a huge issue.
As for the decorating, the transfer was definitely the coolest part. This is how it works: you put a piece of parchment paper over the drawing and trace it. Now you have a drawing on some parchment paper. Turn the parchment paper over and trace the drawing with clear piping gel. Put the paper, piping-gel-side down, on the cake. Using a small paintbrush, retrace the drawing, applying slight pressure. Life the paper, and you’ll see that the piping gel is on the cake. Then, it’s time to fill the drawing with frosting. It’s like coloring in a coloring book. The transfer process is why I know I’ll be able to come up with my own designs. I can draw and re-draw something until it’s perfect, and then it’s just a matter of tracing it a few times. Awesome. We were told to choose between two drawings that came with the course kit; a cupcake, or a fish. I chose the fish. I ran out of time and was unable to finish in the classroom, but I didn’t let that stop me. I put my cake on the trunk of my car and finished decorating it right there in the parking lot. It was a little dark, but not too bad.
Of course, I forgot my cake carrier at home (I got it at Dollar Tree and it’s amazing). I was starving because I can’t eat before the class (I’m too nervous), so I stopped to get food and anxiously balanced the cake on a box in the back seat of the car while I ate. I got it home in one piece, but it didn’t stay that way for long. I had a piece and it was delicious. That blood orange filling I made? It’s amazing. The whole thing tasted like a creamsicle. Sooo good.
After this week, not only do I feel more confident that I’ll learn just as much as the experienced women in my class, but I feel more confident in my baking ability. After not ruining two cakes (and making that filling from scratch!), I feel like I could do it all along, like my identity as a baker was just lying dormant for 24 years, and now it’s erupted and it’s super stoked to be alive. I’m collecting recipes, coming up with ideas of my own, falling asleep thinking about cakes, and dreaming about cakes.
Even though it’s only been two weeks, and I have many more weeks to go, I feel like the most important thing I’ve learned is that sometimes you just have to jump in, even if you’re afraid you can’t swim. But, you know, you should probably be sure there’s like, a lifeguard around or something, because sometimes you don’t get it right the first time.