The first time I really tried to bake and decorate a cake was for my roommate’s birthday during my senior year of college. I had baked cookies and brownies before but never really tried to master a cake. I picked up a box of cake mix, two 9-inch round pans and a tub of chocolate icing and got to work in our tiny apartment kitchen.
I didn’t know the first thing about decorating a cake back then.
My cakes rose in the middle. They top layer broke apart as I set it on top of the second uneven layer. I didn’t know how to bake a cake evenly and I certainly didn’t realize that you can – and usually should! – tort a cake to make it more level. I just assumed that I had no baking skills and slathered chocolate icing all over the broken cake. It was sloppy and it looked horrible, but it tasted great and that was really all that mattered at the time.
If someone told me back then that I’d be working for a cake decorating company one day, I would have thought they were crazy. If they told me that I would also take a two-week cake decorating class and complete a 3-tiered display wedding cake, then I’d be certain they were crazy!
However, that’s just what I did a couple of weeks ago when I had the incredible opportunity to participate in The Wilton Master Course. This two-week professional course is designed to prepare students for a career in cake decorating, but is an excellent course for anyone interested in creating incredibly decorated treats.
While I don’t have plans to open my own bakery or start designing wedding cakes, the course was important to my Wilton career for a number of reasons, including a better understanding of key decorating techniques, improving my own decorating skills and learning more about The Wilton Method® of Cake Decorating.
I knew the course would be challenging and even a bit intense at times. I had moments of excitement, pride, frustration and self-doubt – a whole range of emotions! I learned a lot over those two weeks and am very proud of my final cake.
We spent the first two and a half days learning a variety of borders. Some were easier than others, and success really varied from one person to the next. One of the most impressive techniques we learned was string work. This came easily for some, but not for me. Rather than “draw” these shapes, you actually connect one point to another and let gravity pull the icing into this shape. Thankfully, my work started looking better by the second day.
If there was anything I felt I was the “master” of in this course, it was the basket weave. I’ve always admired the look of it but had not yet tried it myself. It’s pretty easy and very striking.
Halfway through Week 1, we moved on to flowers. Just as with the borders, everyone seemed to have their favorites as the days went on. One of my favorites was the Swirl Drop Flower. It’s one of the easiest flowers to create, and I find them cute, on-trend and impressive. You can also make them in a variety of sizes.
I also enjoyed learning how to make the pansy. This is where we were introduced to bag striping and adding color in different ways. I flip-flopped where my colors were supposed to be – purple on the outside of the flower, yellow on the inside – but still thought the flowers came out great.
We also learned how to make the Wilton Rose. Ah, the Wilton Rose. I must admit I am still not a master of this flower, but there’s been a definite improvement. See Day 1 on the left and Day 2 on the right:
Preparing for our Final Cakes
The second week is when a lot of what we learned started coming together and we could begin focusing on our final cake design. I thought about what colors, flowers and borders I wanted to incorporate into my cake. Of course I only wanted to include the ones I felt comfortable with at this point in time. I’ve always loved deep purple paired with a more muted orange (dream wedding colors someday…) and knew I would be using those colors with my cake. I also created a red color that paired quite nicely with the orange and purple. We had two hours each morning to create flowers for our final cake and let them dry overnight. I made more flowers than I needed, just in case.
The day before our final project, we learned how to perfectly ice an 8-inch round cake. This was a vast improvement from the cake I made in college! It really is about having the right tools. A cake leveler, turntable and large icing tip made the job much, much easier. We then decorated this cake as our “sampler” cake – we learned how to divide and mark sections of the cake and practiced a number of the different techniques we’d learned. It’s quite different to do some of them on a real cake instead of a practice board! I really enjoyed learning how to make the floral cascades and loved the different designs we practiced on the scalloped sections of the cake:
The Big Reveal
Our final day of class before graduation was devoted to finishing our display cakes. These cakes are made of Styrofoam and are covered in royal icing. I thought my string work or Cornelli lace would be the most difficult part, but to my surprise, the floral design and arrangement took the longest. I kept rearranging my flowers and changing the design. In the end, my cake turned out just as I’d envisioned.
I learned so much in this class and was surprised at what I was able to accomplish. Beyond the flowers and borders, I also felt inspired in a few different ways that I didn’t expect. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to participate in the Master Course and can’t wait to work on my next cake.