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Questions from a newbie


armchairchef
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Hello, everyone: My name is Sandra and I am new to this board.

I wonder if I could get a bit of advice from you. I have wanted to learn to decorate cakes since I was a child (I am 42 now). I am not sure where to start. Our local Michael's craft store has cake decorating classes. If you buy the Wilton starter kit you get the class for free.

Is this something I can learn on my own, without lessons? I definitely do learn better if I see someone else do something first, but I understand a lot of this is practice, on one's own. Where should I start?

Second question: On buttercream: A couple of years ago my husband and I made a sheet cake for a local coffeehouse where we volunteer. We did a buttercream icing from The Joy of Cooking, which began to practically slide off the cake and had to be refrigerated. Plus it took hours to make! My question is, what do professional bakers use for what they call "buttercream" icing? It doesn't seem to need refrigeration. Also the stuff we made was not going to work for piping and decorating. Was that the royal icing I hear about?

Any advice you can give me would be helpful! Thanks!

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One of the sites that I've found helpful as an amatuer cake-decorator is Cake Central, although obviously eGullet is a great resource too.

Cake Central has several recipes for "buttercream", including Buttercream Dream, that are made with some or all shortening, which helps them set better at room temperature. When I made the Buttercream Dream, I found that it worked very well for decorating and didn't have too bad of a Crisco mouth-feel. Also, if you add a little bit of salt and some almond extract, it actually doesn't taste too bad.

As for classes, a lot of people seem to like the Wilton classes--you might also look to see if there's a local cake shop that offers classes (support local businesses!). I haven't taken any myself, but then my roses are a little lop-sided. :raz:

Good luck!

Feast then thy heart, for what the heart has had, the hand of no heir shall ever hold.
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Welcome to eGullet, armchairchef!

If you find it easier to learn something when you see it done, I would stringly suggest taking a course. It's true that your skills will improve with practice, but it's worth the expense to have someone there of whom you can ask questions as you go along. and that person can also watch you work and tell you what you are doing wrong.

Good luck!

Eileen

Eileen Talanian

HowThe Cookie Crumbles.com

HomemadeGourmetMarshmallows.com

As for butter versus margarine, I trust cows more than chemists. ~Joan Gussow

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Concerning piping techniques, a course is very valuable. I agree as someone mentioned above, support your local cake supply/decorating stores, they usually offer classes as well. Wilton/Michaels use strictly Wilton techniques and products. Sometimes this is fine, but on the other hand it is limiting.

This is where learning on your own comes into play. Grab some books written on the subject, author Toba Garrett's decorating books are a must have, imo. There are countless other sources out there. Oh, and the most important tip, again as mentioned, is practice, practice, practice. :biggrin:

Regarding buttercreams, it all is subjective. Find the type of buttercream that fits both your taste and works for the type of application you need. The meringue (egg-based) buttercreams are smoother, less sweet, and ok for general piping work, but not detailed work. The American buttercreams (my least favorites) are the powdered sugar and butter variety, usually very sweet, easier to make and great for piping work. Cake Central covers these types mostly. There are countless other frostings and buttercreams, but those are the two popular types.

Which ones do the professionals use? LOL.. again subjective. If there is a cost factor involved, businesses such as bakeries and the like may offer the meringues or powdered sugar types, but most likely they use a Rich's Bettercream (manufactured) or some other cost saving frosting. If it's more of an artesian cake maker, then you will probably find a European meringue buttercream of sorts, but not always.

The best way, again, is to just start making different kinds of buttercream and find one that works, and stick with it.

Good luck and have fun.

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Hello, everyone: My name is Sandra and I am new to this board.

I wonder if I could get a bit of advice from you. I have wanted to learn to decorate cakes since I was a child (I am 42 now). I am not sure where to start. Our local Michael's craft store has cake decorating classes. If you buy the Wilton starter kit you get the class for free.

The drawings and instructions in "The Cake Bible" (in the special section at the end of the book) are very user-friendly and a good place to start with basic piping techniques. There is also a good Wilton book available at Michael's crafts -- it's the one with the cake with all the pink roses on the cover -- which is very helpful with basic piping techniques.

I'd suggest that you play around with teaching yourself as much as you can, then filling in with a Wilton class. Some tasks, such as piping roses, just make a lot more sense when you see them in action, but will make even more sense to you if you have some basic piping skills first (which you can easily teach yourself).

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Another resource is Toba Garrett's new book Professional Cake Decorating. Can be found at ecookbooks.com for $39. New release, and it covers many aspects of cake decorating -- including so much stuff beyond what you would get from a Wilton course.

Another cake decorator's website, not as big as Cake Central, is SugarBuzz. Very friendly and welcoming, and I have learned soooooo much there about decorating. Not that there aren't superbly talented decorators here at eGullet -- thanks to BKeith, I can ice a square better than a round!

Cheryl, The Sweet Side
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