My mom has a theory that pretty cakes don’t taste good and ugly cakes taste the best. The theory holds true in some instances. For example, most wedding cakes I’ve ever tasted. I think most home bakers place more priority on taste than aesthetics. After all, you’re not trying to sell anything, you just want people to enjoy what you’ve made. But when I first started baking I didn’t care about taste. I wanted my cakes to look like the cakes I’d see in the bakery section of the grocery store. This was well before TV shows like Cake Boss and Amazing Wedding Cakes. I didn’t have that much to aspire to.
My first concerted effort to make a pretty cake was when I made a yellow layer cake from a box mix in high school. I frosted it with canned chocolate frosting, using a butter knife as best I could to smooth the surface. I didn’t know offset spatulas existed. On top of the chocolate, I used canned vanilla frosting and a piping tool with a star tip to make designs. What I had neglected to do was allow the cake layers to cool completely before I assembled everything. The frosting eventually slid off the cake completely.I didn’t know you’re supposed to flatten the domed sides of the layers so they lay flat against one another. The entire top layer cracked down the middle a few hours later. It tasted funny too. But for a few minutes in time, that cake looked fabulous.
When I was compiling ideas for cakes I wanted to make this year, I was interested in creating unique recipes, but since the website is a visual medium, I realized my concoctions ought to look good too. So for my birthday Chocolate Bacon Cake, I had researched a technique that achieved a swirled rosette look with buttercream. I watched videos, looked at photos, and read descriptions. But despite my best efforts, my version of the technique did not look okay. A friend remarked my attempt resembled pink macaroni. And she was right. To cope, I just smoothed the whole thing over and threw silver sprinkles on top.
When baking my friend Talia’s Lemon Buttercream birthday cake, I tried a piped swirl pattern I had been eyeing. I filled a special electronic frosting pen a friend got me for my birthday, but I felt like the frosting was gushing out too quickly. So I prepped a piping bag and attempted to control the flow of icing manually. But still, it just didn’t look as good as I hoped. So, again, I smoothed the surface and used a jagged edge tool to make a design on the top and lemon slices to decorate the sides.
And this is why I decided to dive headfirst into cake decorating by taking an intensive 5-day cake decorating course at the Institute of Culinary Education. At the end of the course, I’ll have 25 hours of learning under my belt. I’m sure it will be more instruction than I can properly digest in that time span, but I’m really hoping to come out of it with some amazing decorating ideas that I can demonstrate here. In the meantime, I’m planning to muster the energy to share some of my class notes and experiences throughout the week. Stay tuned and wish me luck.