Well, my second cake decorating class was last night. I believe I told you how the first class was mostly demo time by the instructor. Well, this week it was all us. She would demo a particular technique, and then give us a few minutes to practice it ourselves. But I'll get to that.
The book that we were given had a long list of things to bring with us. Some made sense, such as plastic bags to carry home tools covered in icing, because we didn't really have a way to clean things there. Some seemed to make less sense, such as a bath-sized towel. What use could we have for a bath towel at a cake class? When I arrived, the instructor asked me if I'd brought a towel, giving me a look that said she hoped I had, but wasn't really expecting it. I told her that I don't know why, but I did bring a towel. Heck, if it's good for Ford Prefect I reasoned, it must be good for me. As it turns out, the towel was to keep our workspace clean. Apparently, most people see it on the list, decide it sounds silly, and don't bring it. In this particular class, I was the only one that brought one. But that was because I was also apparently the only one that looked in to book to see what to bring.
The book said to bring a cake, iced with medium consistency icing. It also said to bring various amounts of stiff, medium and thin consistency icing. It was time to make my own icing. I decided to go with the recipe in the book because it's actually formulated physically for this type of thing. The consistency is governed entirely by the amount of water added. I decided it was best to make a double batch, in order to have enough. The teacher told me that I couldn't make a double batch with a hand mixer, that I would have to use a stand mixer. Too bad I don't have a stand mixer. As it turns out, you can use a hand mixer to make a double batch, you just need a big enough bowl. When I had made all of my icing, I took a taste. The book claims that not only is this the only icing designed for piping (not true), but it's also the best tasting.
I should point out a couple more things about the icing. The book calls it "buttercream icing", even though there is neither butter nor cream. In fact, it's little more than vegetable shortening and powdered sugar. As I took a taste, I was reminded of something Alton Brown said in the Good Eats episode, The Icing Man Cometh: "heck, these things could all be filled with sawdust, and I'd still want to eat every single one of them." Wilton apparently took this to heart. Their recipe for "buttercream icing" is just about the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted. I immediately deemed it unfit for human consumption. This stuff is only good for practicing. If you attempt to actually serve it, you should be ashamed of yourself. In fact, I feel bad for using it on a real cake for practice, because the real cake that I baked actually tasted good before I applied this death paste. I immediately decided that I would go out and buy a styrofoam cake round to use and reuse for all future classes. For a buttercream recipe that actually tastes good, refer to Alton Brown's.
Back to the class. We practiced a few things with the star tip, which is actually not that uncommon a tool outside of the bakery too. In fact, we used to use it at the restaurant in school to pipe compound butters into ramekins for the bread course. In cake decorating, it apparently gets frequent use in decorating those silly character cakes that you see a lot at kids' birthday parties. We also practiced writing, and did step one of The Wilton Rose (TM). Towards the end, we did an interesting technique with piping gel, which is a clear gel used for things like adjusting icing consistency. In our case, we put a piece of parchment over a line art design, trace it with thin lines of piping gel, and then flip it over onto the cake, apply soft pressure with a brush, and then pull it away to reveal a template to use as a guide for piping.
Unfortunately, I was the only one that knew to bring piping gel. I also had a decent supply of parchment paper, which I always have on hand at home. So I was the only one that got to try this step out. Now, apparently coloring books are a great place to find simple line art to use. I didn't have a coloring book, I only had the class book. The design in the class book was a very simple four-color rainbow. I figured, what the heck, it's just for class right? And I could use the tracing practice, especially with a piping bag. What I should have done was traced it out, and then given it to one of the girls that actually wanted a rainbow on her cake. But no, I put it on my cake, everyone was happy to see the technique presented, and then the teacher gave us the rest of the time to practice decorating our cakes.
So there I am, with a rainbow template on my cake, wondering how the heck I'm going to decorate it. I look at the other cakes in the room, and most of them already have the beginnings of "Happy Birthday" written on them. What am I supposed to write underneath my rainbow? "Celebrate Diversity"? I suddenly realized that I had the gayest cake in the room. Even worse, it turns out it's near impossible to get enough red color into your own icing to make it anything other than pink. I was not going to have a manly cake. My only option was to shoot for comedy. I wrote, "'sup, yo" under my rainbow, and then continued to practice piping techniques learned in class. The teacher was impressed that I was using all of the techniques taught that day, and some of the girls told me they liked my rainbow. Well, you girls can have my rainbow, I don't want it anymore. And then I heard one of the girls across from me tell the girl next to me that she liked her cake. I glanced at it and did a double-take. Hers was good! I mean, really good! Like, "what the heck are you doing in this class?" good! So, rather than ending with a photo of what I am convinced is currently the gayest cake in the world, I will end with a photo of hers.