I think after my last large-scale foray into baking for the pre-Christmas charity cake sale I was somewhat "baked out"; so what with that, the Christmas rush and having had laryngitis before Christmas which left me with a troublesome cough and chest infection, I haven't done any baking for quite a few weeks.
However I sprang out of bed with a renewed enthusiasm this morning, as I had booked myself and my friend Christine onto a Beginners' Cupcake Decorating Workshop at Windsor Cake Academy in Warrington. The course was taught by guest tutor Paula from Paula Cake Couture, whose website is full of amazing cake creations!
I was really excited because the pictures of what we were aiming for were so gorgeous .... our goal was to produce something looking like this!!
(picture by Paula Cake Couture)
Our class started at 10 am., and when we arrived we were shown into the cake studio which is set up really nicely with long benches divided into "workstations" comprising a seating space, long beech worktop, and shelving with various bits of equipment tucked underneath. We were invited to don our aprons and get ourselves a drink ... I felt like I was in the GBBO tent!! Every workstation was provided with a box of freshly made cupcakes, and some clingfilm-wrapped fondant icing in various colours.
The room soon filled up with the 15 class participants, and we gathered round for Paula to demonstrate the techniques for making some sugarpaste flowers, butterflies, ladybirds etc., which she explained we should make first so they would have some time to harden into shape before being placed on the iced cupcakes. We then all selected a few icing cutters, punches and/or moulds from the large selection at the front bench, and off we went to start getting creative, before moving on to piping techniques. For the frosting we used some industrial cartons of frosting in a variety of colours suited to the flowers and grass we were trying to create.
I had never done anything remotely like this before; but I was soon rolling and cutting using the dinky sugarcraft rolling pin and board provided, and putting my little decorations on a couple of rods to mould them and create dimension while the icing dried out and hardened a little. Before long I was also ladling various frosting colours into piping bags with my chosen nozzles!
Paula showed us various techniques for piping with buttercream frosting; including a rose, beehive, blossom, grass, sunflower (piped around an Oreo biscuit stuck to the top of the cupcake), and a dual-coloured swirl. She walked around the class helping the participants and answering questions so that we could gather hints and tips to get the most out of what we were trying to do.
Here's the result of my efforts (the deep pink rose is actually a much nice shade thatn the photograph suggests!!) ...
Whilst they are clearly not in the same league as the professional picture, I genuinely don't think they're too bad for a first attempt and I'm actually pretty pleased with them.
In more detail ...
I struggled initially to get the hang of piping grass; but by the time I had completed two cupcakes it was definitely getting better. The secret apparently is to hold the nozzle just above but not touching the cupcake; squeeze for a couple of seconds and then pull quickly upwards to release the blades of grass! I found it quite slow to pipe though hopefully this will improve with practice ... my friend had the great idea of making cupcakes for a man in future, with grass and a little foil-wrapped chocolate football on top!
(Nozzle used = No. 233 - Small Grass)
My second style attempt was a rose: this was actually pretty easy and I'm sure I could soon get this looking fairly good with a moderate amount of practice.
(Nozzle used = No. 2D - Drop Flower)
Thirdly I tried a beehive. Tbh this was my least favourite of the lot .. the piped frosting again was easy; but the bee was made using an icing mould rather than a cutter, which I found very difficult to shape and then release from the mould. I also tried to mark its stripes with my edible pen a little too soon while the fondant icing was still quite soft; so I ended up making a replacement bee which I had to mark when I got home. Hence my second cupcake in this style ended up with a flower perched on top!!
(didn't write down this nozzle number!!)
This on the other hand was my absolute favourite of the day .... original and so cute! An Oreo biscuit was anchored to the top of the cupcake with a blob of icing; then 3-4 layers of iced petals were created attached to the sides of the biscuit.
I think this is a really fabulous design despite being quite time-consuming to pipe; although in real life I think it would be quite difficult to eat as it would require fishing the biscuit off the top first!!
(Nozzle used = No. 352 - Leaf)
Paula said she thought we would probably find this one the most difficult; though strangely I didn't find that to be the case. The main difficulty I had with this was that the afternoon was wearing on by then, so the frosting was getting a little softened; also it involved holding onto the piping bag for a minute or two which softened it up even more! Indeed one of the main lessons of the day was that the consistency of your frosting is crucial ... I think I have always made my buttercream too soft at home in the past.
(Nozzle used = No. 104 - Petal)
Last but by no means least I had a couple of goes at a dual-coloured swirl. I tried this using 2 piping bags inside a third one fitted with a nozzle but I found them quite difficult to align (I also got me confused at first and put my second colour straight into the outer bag - oops!!). I love the effect though, so I might grab some dual-colour icing bags from Lakeland!!
(Nozzle used = No. 1M - Open Star)
The session was inevitably followed by a bit of a shopathon in the Windsor Cake Craft Shop - several nozzles + a nozzle cleaning brush (soooo cute!), plunge cutters, pots of Sugarflair colour pastes, a pack of icing, an edible writing pen and a dinky sugarcraft rolling board somehow fell into my basket; and that point we could go for a late lunch tired but satisfied!
All in all it was a really fun and informative session, and my friend also enjoyed it which was good to know as it was her Christmas present from me! I would definitely consider doing more workshops in future, and would recommend both Windsor Cake Academy ( an excellent studio space) and Paula Cake Couture (brilliant designs and tuition).
Time will tell whether you see any creations on here using my new found skills!