Friday, August 21, 2009

top 5 skills + lessons learned

so it has almost been a week since I worked at the shop and I'm definitely missing both the decorating and writing routine. Still as a recap, here are what I feel to be my most valuable lessons that I took from this summer [and will appear in my future cake endeavors]:

[5] How to do a real wedding cake. Or any stacked cake really. The biggest lesson here was seeing the structure involved in making the whole thing relatively stable. Also, making the base [triple or quadruple up on cake boards] as sturdy as possible because you forget how heavy these cakes end up [think of the weight of the shopping bags when you buy your ingredients - cake mix, eggs, oil, water, powdered sugar, etc]. Plus fondant [if applicable] adds another few pounds. And you need a cakeboard under each tier [each tier usually has 2-3 cakes in it] that sits on dowels that sit on the lower levels. And you probably need the big dowel running all the way down through the center if it's 3 tiers or more.
Once it's all assembled, decorate as normal and that's when the real fun begins.

[4] The art of carving and sculpting cakes. The idea here is that cut cake becomes very crumbly and messy [though not impossible] to work with so you want to be strategic and make as few cuts as possible.
This is where it helps to have a lot of cake pans to work with - you choose the ones that will get you as close to the desired shape as possible. But I guess the biggest eye-opener was seeing what can become of a simple sheet cake. Like I said, it's all a big puzzle in visualizing how you can use certain pieces and sometimes you're forced to be creative with the restrictions. And as I also learned, when it's business and there's money and materials in mind, you use every piece and nothing goes to waste.

[3] Hot-knifing icing. I learned this on my third day when Joan put a pot of water on the burner to boil as I drew out the figures for the Dora cake. As a quick recap, you outline and fill in sections of the cake with icing, then you dip your spatula in the hot water, wipe it off so it's hot but not wet, and use this to smooth the icing patch so that it appears as a solid block of color and not squirts from a tube.
It's such a simple concept but I had never heard of it before and still don't really seem to find much about it in relation to cake decorating. It takes some time and skill to figure out how to best hold the spatula, what direction to smooth, etc. and it's all things that just develop with time. Luckily I had the whole summer to perfect this, and I even got more into it with shading and marbling where the icing colors mix together like paints.
With a technique like this that makes icing look really good, who needs fondant? and yet ...

[2] Fondant, in all sizes, shapes, and forms. ... and yet this summer was a good way to see everything that fondant can do. Whether it is rolling it out huge and thin to cover entire cakes [a skill I'm still working on] or cookie-cutting out shapes like stars and hearts or slicing stripes or - my favorite - making recognizable objects like babies, pens, pills, and eyeballs. While everyone has their own stance on fondant regarding its taste and appearance, I used it more at the cake shop this summer than I ever would have on my own, using small packs from Michael's or AC Moore. I've seen what it can do, what it's good for, and may start to use it more in my own cakes if it suits the purpose.

and numero uno skill of the summer...

[1] Airbrushing. Not because it's the most handy skill and I really only used it on a few occasions, but it is completely awesome and this is one thing that I never would have been able to learn and try if I hadn't been at the shop. I might be slightly tempted to buy one of my own, in the not-near future, but in the meantime, here were some of the results:

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