Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wilton Decorating Basics - Lesson #1

I've wanted to improve my baking and pastry skills for a while, but wanted to start small before exploring real classes at local community colleges or culinary schools.  I felt like the Wilton classes offered at many craft stores (I'm taking mine at a Jo-Ann crafts) would be a good "toe dip" into the world of cake decoration at a relatively inexpensive price.  The class is made up of 4 sessions of 2 hours each and is the prerequisite for taking any of the other classes offered in the Wilton series (more about those next month!).

I paid about $25 for the class and another $30-40 in supplies.  Although one of the goals of the class is to push you towards buying a ton of Wilton products (their prerogative!), I found that a lot of the supplies have cheaper DIY alternatives and that my instructor hasn't required we bring in or use a lot of the supplies mentioned in the lesson book.  For example, she's letting us use her own icing color instead of having to buy our own (which is great, since I plan to buy Americolor instead of Wilton anyway because I've heard great things about that brand).  She's also let us bring in cookies to decorate instead of having to make a cake or cupcakes for each lesson.

My understanding about the class is that the instructors are supposed to follow a rigorous lesson plan so that classes are pretty much the same wherever you take them.  My instructor is a little disorganized and seems to follow it a bit more loosely.  For example, she liked the clown cupcakes that they no longer teach in the class, so she showed us how to do that in Lesson 2.

Here's what we did in Lesson 1:
  • Toured the Wilton aisle at the craft store.  A few people in the class had barely even baked a cake before, so this was more of a walk through of the real basics you need to make a cake.  
  • Discussed how to torte (cut in half to make multiple layers) a cake.  Wilton's "ultimate cake leveler" is hilarious - it looks like a hacksaw for cakes. 
  • Reviewed the recipe for making Wilton Buttercream Icing (instructor suggests sifting the confectioner's sugar and using more water).
  • Reviewed the different consistencies of icing (thin, medium, stiff) and what they are used for.  Practiced making icing of these consistencies.  Discussed how to color icing.
  • Practiced icing cakes and cookies.  Key is to use an offset spatula and to never not have icing under the spatula (if it touches the cake directly, you will get crumbs).
  • Prepared disposable piping bags using parchment paper
  • Prepared piping bags with couplers and decorating tips
  • Discussed how to fill bags (no more than half way) and how to close them up properly (fold the sides in and twist!)
  • Practiced making stars, shell border, and rosettes with the #18 star tip

We decorated cookies that we had to bring to class.  I used the roll-out sugar cookie recipe recommended in the lesson plan book, using small pyrex bowls as the cookie cutter so I had fairly large circles to play with.  I am not very good at working with roll-out dough, so I added way too much flour in the rolling process and ended up with tough and not very tasty cookies.  This was no problem because I'm not going to eat the cookies I decorate anyway.

Since I'm fairly experienced with baking cakes (although I do want to test out a DIY version of their "bake even" strips for making flat-topped cakes), I just practiced the star tip piping at home.  I cheated a bit and didn't use the recommended icing recipe, but rather the marshmallow icing recipe I had made for cupcakes.  I practiced decorating the cupcakes and also practiced a bit just on the counter top.  The practice made me a lot better at shell border and rosettes in particular.

Overall, I think I would appreciate a more serious structure and student body (like I imagine I would get in a community college class), but I think this is a great introduction at a good price.  The classes force me to practice, which I've never made myself do before.  I also find it a lot easier to do things after seeing the instructor do them -- I imagine this will get more important particularly when we get to icing roses.

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