Friday, April 15, 2011

Mastering Wilton Cake Decorating by Practicing on My Sister's Birthday Cake

The cake I made for my sister's birthday,
using skills I just learned in the Wilton workshop!

A few weeks ago I was invited to a Wilton cake decorating workshop. Wilton is the brand of cake decorating supplies and resources I grew up with. Every birthday cake of my childhood (and that of my sister and brother) was a cake my mom made, guided by the Wilton yearbook of decorating ideas. I used to watch my mom stay up really late the night before my birthday party, creating amazing, beautiful, glorious, creative cakes. It's one of my happiest memories.

Practicing my piping skills in the workshop

So getting the invite to this Wilton workshop was pretty thrilling. Of course I said yes. And I spent 6 hours learning from the absolute masters of the art. Sandy Folsom is the Director of The Wilton School and watching her pipe buttercream out of a pastry bag onto a practice board to demonstrate proper technique, upside down no less (!!!), was one of the most amazing things to witness. She made piping look effortless.

Director of the Wilton School Sandy Folsom
demonstrating piping skills upside down!

Let me tell you right now, it is not effortless! It's a lot of work, a steady hand, knowing which angle to hold the bag relative to the cake surface, how much pressure to squeeze around the pastry bag, consistency, and the list goes on. There are so many instructions. In piping a rosette, you start at the 9 o'clock mark and squeeze clock-wise until the 6 o'clock mark, then gradually release so it fades to nothing by the time you return to 9 o'clock. Whew! So much to think about!

I even learned how to make fondant flowers

Six hours is hardly enough time to master a skill. But getting an overview of the basic skills required to decorate a cake was a blast, and extremely helpful. Nancy Siler, the VP of Consumer Affairs, was there to introduce us to all the new Wilton products and work the room, helping attendees with proper hand position and technique.

I met really interesting people in the workshop, mostly food stylists, a few bloggers, and even journalists. Shout-out to Hilary of Nosh With Me, a blog I've been following for years. How thrilling to meet the person behind the blog you read. Bloggers have offline lives, too, ya know! Hong of Ravenous Couple sat in front of me and I was constantly impressed with his handiwork. Food stylist Alice Hart sat behind me and kept tweezers/pincers in her pocket, because as a food stylist, you never know when you're going to need to adjust something without using your fingers. Right? So fascinating! Chef Jamie Gwen, who hosts a radio show on KFWB News Talk 980, was also in the class, and I worked with her (and Alice Hart) on a group decorating project.

Some of the group cake decorating projects during the workshop
(my team was the yellow cake in the center)

One of the neatest effects I learned at this workshop was the basketweave, a technique that makes your cake look like a basket. It's very impressive-looking, but the way you create it is not all that difficult, just tedious. I was very excited to try this at home, and with my sister's birthday coming up just days later, I decided to go for it!

I made my grandmother's chocolate birthday cake and frosted it with homemade buttercream. I then covered the entire perimeter with my first ever on-my-own, no-hand-holding-from-master-Wilton-cake-decorators basketweave! I piped roses and other flowers on the top and hanging off the edge onto the basket, and wrote a birthday message to my sister in the center.

The cake took two days. I baked the layers on a Monday, froze them so they'd be easier to frost, and then spent all of that Wednesday evening making buttercream frosting from scratch and decorating the cake. I'm really pleased with how it turned out. I'm proud of my first effort doing basketweave. And most rewarding of all, my sister loved it.

Presenting the cake to my sister (who's 5 months pregnant!)

Thanks to Wilton for giving me happy memories as a kid and still today. The workshop was incredible. I think I'd make a great postergirl for Wilton. Heck, between my mom and me, we own so many Wilton products we could open up a shop! As for my skills, I have a lot of practice to do before I reach mastery level. Maybe this will be the Year of the Cake. More roses, rosettes, and basketweaves until I drop! I'll name my autobiography From Basketweave to Basketcase. Ha! Could be a bestseller.

More Photos of the Birthday Cake I Made For My Sister


Nami @ Just One Cookbook said...

Whoa! Marni this is so beautiful!!! I've been this workshop from someone's blog before and I actualy remember the yellow cake! I didn't know you made that cake with the group! Your sister is so lucky to have a baker sister!

Unknown said...

I loved the cake and the blog post. Thank you!

Marni said...

Nami - You are so sweet! I'm looking forward to seeing your first baking projects on your blog!

Beth - I'm so glad you liked it! A labor of love! :)

Mom said...

I have really happy memories making cakes for all of your birthdays and seeing your faces light up at the end results! (My mom did the same for my sister, brother, dad, and me!) It makes me even happier to see that you not only learned how but you generously devoted your time to making Beth's birthday (cake) special, customized to her taste (artistic and gustatory)! :-)

Carolyn Jung said...

What a gorgeous cake! That looks like such a fun and worthwhile workshop. I don't pipe frosting too often, but when I do, I so realize just what an art it is. Too much pressure or too little and you are done for. Looks like you are a pro now, my dear! ;)

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