Kicking it up a notch.

I like to bake. 
I bake cakes like that three layer chocolate on chocolate goodness pictured above on regular occasion for family and friend’s birthdays. They all encourage me to sell these creations and while I have here & there, I feel like my presentation skills are slightly lacking.
Remember this from a few weeks ago?  That’s me playing around with piping.
I prefer to think of it as modernist abstract.
So my answer to this small problem was to assist in a baking class at the Charlottesville Cooking School this past weekend.  I figured I might learn a trick or two about baking and I would hopefully learn a little something about how to make my cakes and cupcakes look better.
The baking class in question was taught by Rachel Willis. Click on her name and you will go to her website to see her cakes.  They are amazing.  She is an artist.  She is also a fantastic teacher. 
I can also tell you her cakes taste as good as they look.  Maybe better.
It was a two day class, with Day One being for the making of the cakes, frosting and some of the fillings with Day Two was set aside to put them all together.  While I learned a few new things Day One, what I learned primarily is that I know far more about baking than I realized or give myself credit for.  I have learned by just doing: by reading recipes and following them to the letter.  Even if they don’t always look good, they usually taste good. Because recipes don’t tell you the finer points of how to make icing pretty when you put it on. This is why I signed on for the class, to kick it up a notch, and make my cakes look as good as they taste.
So, Day One, was a bit of a cake walk.  (Slight pun intended.)
Day Two however, was a whole other ball game.

I learned how to slice a cake.
You can use this trick to make a cake’s top surface level and you can use it to turn one layer into two.

I learned how to structurally build a cake so that when I stacked layers, they would stay sturdy.
(Hint: Pipe some buttercream frosting around the edges to keep the filling in place.) 
I learned I held my piping bag the wrong way.  I learned I don’t let the air out when I first fill it, so when I go to decorate the cake in question, it looks like that cupcake up there.  (Like doo-doo.)
I learned so many things I was doing wrong and how easy it is to fix them.
I learned you can practice with the same frosting over and over, on an upside cake pan. 
I see that happening in my future.

I learned how to make my cakes look like that. 
Smooth.
It’s really not much more than a flick of the wrist and how you hold your tools.
I learned what a crumb coat is and why you do it.  I learned that I need to allow myself more time in assembling my cakes, that this is key in making them stay together better, as well as the final appearance. 
Two basic cake recipes, a classic vanilla butter cake and a dark chocolate sour cream cake, were given out, along with a buttercream recipe and two different fillings – a whipped triple cream and a chocolate ganache. We learned variations on those – like a mocha buttercream, a white chocolate ganache and so on. Everyone got to ‘design’ themselves a cake using those basic guidelines.

 

I think they did some fantastic looking cakes, didn’t they?

I learned my favorite chocolate buttercream frosting is actually a Swiss style buttercream.
I learned the differences in all the buttercream frosting styles actually, as well as flour and cocoa types.
Oh yeah, I learned there are different buttercream frosting styles.  Although this, I had a small clue about, having so many different frosting recipes in my little collection of cookbooks.

Everyone took home a four layer masterpiece they had spent the weekend creating.
It was such a fun class, with a great group of ladies.  I enjoyed spending my weekend with them.
  I got to enjoy a slice of Rachel’s that she shared with the class,  but as assistant, I didn’t make a cake and I didn’t take one home, which was more than fine with me.  Given all the cake we’ve been eating around here lately with all the birthdays coming just after the holidays, I’m developing a muffin top.  I am holding fast to my pledge to not bake a cake for at least a month, although I am dying to try out my new skills.  But, until I get serious about working out again, lose that muffin top and fit into my jeans, I’m not baking a cake.  It’s one thing to be my age, quite another to look it.
I just won’t have it. 
I’m proud to say I hit the gym hard today.
Nothing like cake to motivate.
I came home from this class completely jazzed Sunday night.  I had every intention of blogging about it yesterday, but then I stumbled upon that estate sale.  I’m still sort of floating on that little high – I spent last night reading some of my new cookbooks.  That Southern Living Heritage series is a treasure.  Today, in between cooking dinner & laundry & working out & running to the grocery store & doing the after school club pickup & blogging & uploading pictures from the class to the cooking school’s Facebook page, I managed to clear a spot for the series on my dining room hutch, while the rest found a home in my cabinet. Which, by the way, is officially chock full, until I figure out a new home for either the stand mixer or a few of those cookbooks.   Some creative problem solving is most certainly needed, whatever the answer is, because none of them are going anywhere for a while.

5 thoughts on “Kicking it up a notch.

  1. Michele says:

    Those cakes look amazing!! I am salavating. you've inspired me…I'm googling baking classes in my area. I want to learn how to do this!!! Happy Baking, Becky!

  2. meanderingthemaze says:

    I love baking and my creations almost always taste good, but they certainly don't look near that pretty. I think a cake decorating course is in my future. That one sounded like a lot of fun and the cakes are gorgeous!!!

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