Archive for the ‘Classes I’ve Taken’ Category

Squires Kitchen 5 Day School – Day 5: Flowers

Friday, July 16th, 2010
Me, Alan and my sugar peony!

Me, Alan and my sugar peony!

Today was the last day of the Squires Kitchen 5 Day School with Guest Tutors and the class was Sugar Flowers with Alan Dunn. I have one of Alan Dunn’s books on making sugar flowers, and in fact use his techniques to create many of my sugar flowers, so I was looking forward to picking up some hints and tips you don’t get in his books. We were all smarting a little after the blitz attack that was the modelling course, so I was a little apprehensive today, but it turned out to be a refreshing, fantastic class with an excellent, world class tutor.

For the sugar flower class we were going to be making a peony. Alan firstly demonstrated to us how to create the peony petals, then it was our turn. We started off by creating some formers out of paper towels. We then coloured some white sugar flower paste pale pink with a tiny bit of a very strong plum coloured craft dusting colour, then kneaded it to make sure it was nice and pliable. Alan had shown us his technique for rolling out the paste to achieve a tapered ridge in the middle. First you roll a bit of paste into a cone, then flatten it slightly before rolling out the top part quite flat. Then you roll at an angle on either side of the middle. It’s a great technique I will definitely use again. Then, using a peony petal cutter, we cut out petal shapes with the ridge in the middle, 10 large and 5 medium. Here’s one of the petals I cut out:

Cut out petal with ridge in the centre

Cut out petal with ridge in the centre

A hooked 26 gauge white wire with a little bit of sugar glue was then inserted into the ridge and the end pinched to secure it to the wire. Using a silk veining tool, we veined the petal on both sides, then frilled the edges. The bottom edges near the wire were softened with a ball tool. The petals were then draped over the formers. Here are some of my completed petals:

Some of my wired petals

Some of my wired petals

Next up we were shown how to dust both sides of the petals using the plum coloured dusting powder and a wide flat brush. The aim was to dust quite a strong colour at the base then lighten it as you moved towards the middle. Here are my petals after dusting:

My petals after dusting

My petals after dusting

After lunch we moved on to making the peony centres. Using green cold porcelain, we inserted small balls onto 26 gauge white wire and rolled them into cones, then pinched a ridge on one side and curled the top. These were then taped together with pale green florist tape:

Peony centre created from cold porcelain

Peony centre created from cold porcelain

We bunched together some double tipped white stamens and glued the bunches together in the middle using non toxic craft glue. These were cut in half then glued to the bottom of the cold porcelain centres. We dusted the bottom of the stamens the same plum colour like so:

Peony centre with stamens dusted with plum

Peony centre with stamens dusted with plum

And then dusted the tips with sunflower yellow and the tops of the green cold porcelain with lime green. Then it was time to tape together the petals. The medium sized petals were placed around the centre first and taped together with green florist tape. The larger petals were placed around these, taping a few at a time. Here is Alan showing us how to tape the petals to the centre:

Alan Dunn showing the class how to tape the flower together

Alan Dunn showing the class how to tape the flower together

The end result was quite stunning if I do say so myself! Here is my completed peony:

My completed sugar peony

My completed sugar peony

Alan also showed us how to cut out leaves, vein them, and stick them together with florist tape. He also showed us how to dust them using aubergine on the tips, overdusting with forest green, then overdusting again with lime green. It was just about time to go after that, and as I already have used Alan’s book to create leaves using these techniques, I decided against staying late to create them in class.

I really cannot praise Alan highly enough. Not only is he a great teacher but he is such a lovely person too! He correctly gauged the pace of the class and offered as little or as much help as each individual needed. He explained everything really well and had lots of tips and tricks for us. It was a relaxed and fun atmosphere. And he has such an amazing talent! It was a great way to end a fabulous (and exhausting) week at Squires Kitchen.

Squires Kitchen 5 Day School – Day 4: Modelling

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Today was the day of the Squires Kitchen 5 Day School that I was most looking forward to – Character Modelling with Jan Clement-May. I love character modelling and I was eager to learn some tricks of the trade from someone as experienced as Jan. She has written several cake decorating books and is a regular contributor to Cakes & Sugarcraft magazine.

When I saw the project we would be making, I was quite daunted. There were a LOT of elements to it! It was a scene set in a flower filled grass field of a mother, her little boy, her baby girl, and the family dog having a picnic complete with picnic rug, picnic basket, plates of sausages, sandwiches, fruit, a cake, a thermos, and a baby bottle, plus a family of ducks. All to be completed in one day! For someone like Jan, that would take her only 3 hours. We had just under 6 hours to learn how to do it and complete it. I had my doubts as to whether or not we would be able to finish the whole lot in that amount of time.

We started off by covering a 10 inch square board with green sugar dough. Then we mixed some dark blue sugar dough with white and created pale blue picnic blankets with hand drawn lines in a checkered pattern. We rolled out some white sugar paste and cut out tiny blossoms to be glued on later. So far so good. Next Jan showed us how to create legs out of a sausage shape. We created legs for the mother and the son and glued them to the board. Next were shoes – shoes are made by creating a pear shape and indenting them where it becomes thinner to create a heel. We glued the shoes to the legs on the board, and it was starting to kind of look like something (sort of):

Legs, shoes, and a picnic blanket

Legs, shoes, and a picnic blanket

It was time to create the bodies. Bodies were made from a cone shape which we smoothed down over a thumb to create a rounded and less flat look. To create a bust for the mother, we indented with our fingers at about the waist and smoothed down. The torsos were placed on top of the legs and wooden skewers gently rotated through the middle to secure them. A little bit was left sticking out the top to secure the head and neck later on. A small piece of flesh coloured sugar dough was placed on top of the torso to create a neck. My mother started off reasonably slim, as you will see in later photos, she somehow seemed to gain weight!

Mother's slimmer torso fitted

Making sure Mother's slimmer torso fits before skewering it

We created arms out of sausage shaped strips of flesh coloured sugar dough. To create hands, we slightly flattened the ends of the arms and cut a slit on one side and separated out the “thumb”.  We also created sleeves out of triangular pieces of sugar dough for the shoulders. The arms were attached to the torsos with sugar glue followed by the sleeves.

Next we created the baby. We mixed red and white sugar dough, rolled a bit into a ball, then smoothed down over a thumb again to create the nappy. A ball of flesh coloured dough was placed on top of the nappy with an indent for a belly button. Legs, arms and booties were created and attached, then the head and a little golden curl. Here is the baby I created:

The baby girl is added to the picnic

The baby girl is added to the picnic

We then made the plates, sandwiches and sausages for the picnic. Plates were round circles indented with the end of small rolling pins. Sandwiches were white triangles and we used red edible ink pens to colour in lines of “jam” around them. Sausages were made by rolling out brown sugar dough into a long thin sausage and cutting it into sections then rounding the ends gently with a finger. Then it was time for lunch.

After lunch, we created the heads for the mother and son. We were instructed to give them a more oval shape. These were attached to the torsos through the wooden skewers. Then we made the ducks by rolling balls of yellow sugar dough then pinching the ends up and outward. Little beaks were attached with sugar dough and eyes dotted on with black edible ink pens. Here are my little duckies:

My little sugar ducks

My little sugar ducks

We next made some fruit for the picnic. Round balls of sugar dough for apples and oranges and sausage shapes curved to form bananas. A little cake was made out of round circles of brown sugar dough with a red circle that had been frilled slightly in between to make jam, and a white circle on the top that was also frilled downwards for cream with some little red balls of fruit. Here is all the food I made:

Food for the picnic made from sugar dough

Food for the picnic made from sugar dough

We also made a dog out of sugar dough by rolling out cone shaped pieces for the legs and a big fatter cone for the body. We cut lines in the paws for “toes” then glued the torso onto the legs. The head was made from a pear shaped piece of dough with the small end flattened. Ears were cone shaped pieces flattened and the tail was a small sausage curled up. Dark brown spots were added to the torso.

Next up was a picnic basket made of dark brown sugar dough rolled into a ball then the end of a small rolling pin was pushed into it to create the basket cavity. We cut out a thin-ish piece of pink dough to make a blanket which we put inside, then a thick sausage shape of the dark brown dough was curved and attached to the basket as a handle.

We then glued the food onto the plates and glued the plates onto the picnic rug and around the scene. Some fruit and a plate was also added to the picnic basket. The ducks were glued into place and the blossoms as well. We were fast running out of time, so instead of creating the bottle and thermos, we asked if we could create the hair next for mother and son as they were still completely bald at this stage.

Jan showed us how to use a sugar gun for this. We were also instructed to add quite a bit of vegetable fat to the sugar dough to make it the consistency of chewing gum as this would be easier to push through the sugar gun. We created hair using the sugar gun and glued them to our models.

At this point it was the end of the day and we had to finish up. We didn’t have time to make the thermos and baby bottle. All in all it wasn’t a bad looking bit of sugar modelling though, but as you can see in the below pic, my mother seems to have gained some weight around the middle! Not sure what happened there, too much cake and sausage perhaps?

The finished product

The finished product

While I enjoyed the sugar modelling, I didn’t enjoy the break neck speed at which we were expected to complete everything. I felt under a lot of pressure and if you fell slightly behind it was incredibly hard to catch up.

Part of the problem was that we had so much to do that Jan kept moving us along too fast. Instead of going at the speed of the average person in the class, she was going at the speed of the fastest. Which meant the majority of us would still be in the middle of doing a step and she would show us how to do the next one. We either had to stop what we were doing, watch her instructions, then go back to what we were doing, finish it and try to remember what she said to do for the next step, or else we continued what we were doing while she was giving instructions in an attempt not to get left behind any further and completely miss quite a lot of the detail of what we were supposed to do next.

It would have been preferable to create half as many models and learn to do them properly rather than create a greater range of things where we missed so much of the instructions that we had to muddle through as best we could. It seemed like we were given the bare minimum on how to create each piece, which we could have gotten from a book. The point of going to the class is to get more than you would from a book, all the little tips and tricks, but we didn’t get any of that. Jan didn’t go into any detail about how to get a smooth finish for example. I was lucky as I have done some sugar modelling before, but for many people it was their first time and they had no idea how to achieve this so there were some lumpy models.

So while I liked the finished product I ended up with, I still would have preferred to have a less hectic and more information filled experience.

Squires Kitchen 5 Day School – Day 3: Royal Icing

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010
The great Eddie Spence showing us some piping

The great Eddie Spence showing us some piping

Day 3 of the Squires Kitchen 5 Day School with Guest Tutors was a day I was really looking forward to, despite the fact the class would be in my least favourite medium for cake decorating, Royal Icing. I really don’t like working with royal icing, royal icing and I don’t seem to get along. Piping is a skill I definitely need more practice in and that I have the most trouble with. BUT, the teacher of today’s class was going to be none other than Eddie Spence MBE, a veritable legend in the cake decorating world and widely considered to be THE master of royal icing. I have Eddie’s book, The Art of Royal Icing and the things the man can do with royal icing amazed me, so I couldn’t wait to see him piping in person and learn from him.

Eddie did not disappoint, he was extremely charming and personable, and watching him pipe calligraphy, flowers, doves, swans, storks and all manner of beautiful decorations with royal icing was awe inspiring. The man certainly knows his art! Here are some of the samples he showed us:

Samples of Eddie's piping work

Samples of Eddie's piping work

We started off the morning with a lesson in how to make royal icing. Afterwards, Eddie demonstrated how to create a piping bag from baking paper then showed us how to drop a line with royal icing. Then Eddie got us to fill small piping bags fitted with a 1.5 tube with some royal icing and asked us to do drop some lines, loops, double loops, and other swirly line patterns to see what we could do. Quite frankly, I couldn’t do much! Eddie showed me how to hold the piping bag really high above the board to get more control and a smoother line when it was dropped which really helped. He was very good about going round to each individual and helping them one on one.

Next up was some pressure piping. Eddie showed us how to create dots, ovals, tear drops, and some simple flowers. Then he showed us some more advanced pressure piping such as grapes, different kinds of flowers, love birds, doves, swans, and a stork carrying a baby. Watching him so quickly and easily pipe such beautiful creations was amazing!

Next it was our turn to try our hand at pressure piping. We started off with the simple shapes he first taught us then gave some of the more advanced piping a try. Here are my best attempts at flowers and a swan:

My piping attempts at flowers and a swan

My piping attempts at flowers and a swan

Eddie also shared with us some tips and tricks not involving royal icing, such as how to create a very quick rose from flower paste using 5 circles.

We covered a 10 inch cake board with sugarpaste then it was time for lunch. After lunch, we embossed the sugarpaste discs with a fuschia flower pattern, then after another demonstration from Eddie, we set about piping using petal, leaf, and 1 and 2 tubes. Here is my embossed disc before piping:

Embossed sugarpaste disc ready for piping

Embossed sugarpaste disc ready for piping

We used the number 1 tubes first to drop lines for the stamens, then the petal tubes to create the flowers, then the number 2 tubes to create the base of the flowers, and the leaf tubes to create the leaves under the flowers. The larger leaves were filled in with green royal icing and a petal tube. Number 1 tubes with green royal icing were also used to drop lines for the stems. Eddie had to help me a lot!

Next up Eddie showed us shells using a number 44 star tube, and some simple barrels, followed by overpiping on the shells and barrels with a number 1 tube. We then piped a barrel design with C scrolls at the base of our sugarpaste discs and shells around the border of the whole disc. Eddie then piped an inscription for us with white royal icing which we were supposed to overpipe in pink but we ran out of time. Eddie very quickly overpiped for us so we could take home a finished product. Speaking of which, here is mine (that’s my Mum’s name on it, this seemed like the kind of thing she’d like):

My finished hand piped decorated sugarpaste disc

My finished hand piped decorated sugarpaste disc

I have to confess that Eddie did a fair bit of the work on mine to show me how it was done, then I did the rest. I did do all the shells by myself though and was very proud when he told me my shells were “very good”. They ought to be as that was just about the only piping skill I had coming into the class!

I enjoyed watching such a world class artist at work, but I have to say, I’m still not a fan of piping or royal icing. Eddie says it’s a dying art and that it’s up to us to keep it going. Sadly, I don’t think I will be perpetuating his art. While his work is very beautiful, I don’t have a lot of demand for this kind of decoration, and I have to give my clients what they want.

On a side note, I also managed to sit on my board of practice piping and got royal icing all over the seat of my jeans! See, me and royal icing really don’t get along.

Squires Kitchen 5 Day School – Day 2: Sugarpaste

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010
Me and Paddi Clark with my finished cake

Me and Paddi Clark with my finished cake

Day 2 of the Squires Kitchen 5 Day School with Guest Tutors was Sugarpaste with Paddi Clark. Having my own cake business, I already know a fair bit about covering cakes with sugarpaste and sugar decorations, so most of the things taught in the class I already knew. I did pick up a few good hints and tips from Paddi though. Paddi is a senior tutor at Squires Kitchen and has been cake decorating for “thousands of years” (her words lol). She is the author of Sugar Flowers for Beginners and her work is featured regularly in magazines. I found Paddi to be a great teacher, extremely knowledgeable and a lot of fun! Now normally I wouldn’t say ‘sugarpaste’ but fondant or rolled fondant, but out of respect for Paddi I’ll refer to it as sugarpaste in this blog post.

For this class, we were given a cake decorating equipment box, turntable, mixing palette, trex, sugar glue, 4 inch dummy, rolling pin and rolling out board. The sugarpaste and flower paste were also provided. Anything else we needed we had to buy and we also shared some of Paddi’s equipment. There was some waiting around to use the shared equipment which was a little bit annoying, especially since I had all of the items at home but hadn’t known to bring them! It wasn’t really a huge deal though. Here is the equipment each of us was given for the class:

Equipment for our sugarpaste class

Equipment for our sugarpaste class

We started off with a demonstration of how to roll out sugarpaste using spacers and how to cover a cake with it. We all covered 6 inch dummies (which were secured to cake drums) with sugarpaste. Next we were shown how to cover the 4 inch dummies without the aid of a cake drum to hold it still. A bit trickier, but we managed it. Here’s Paddi showing us how to roll out sugarpaste:

Paddi showing us how to roll out sugarpaste

Paddi showing us how to roll out sugarpaste

One neat trick she showed us was to get some sugarpaste and wrap it in cling film and use it as a curved buffer for the top edge of the cake. Handy if you don’t have an edge smoother.

Paddi then showed us how to cover our cake boards and create thin sausages (called a connector) with a mix of flower paste and sugarpaste to hide the unsightly join between the bottom of the 6 inch cake and the cake board, and we all had a go at doing that.

We then moved on to making daisies and butterflies. After lunch, we finished up our daisies and butterflies, then cemented the 4 inch dummies on top of the 6 inch dummies with royal icing. Paddi showed us how to do a little bit of draping with sugar paste to hide the gap between the 2 cakes, but I opted to do the same sausage type connector as on the lower tier. I like the way it looks better, it seems more symmetrical and elegant to me and that is what I usually prefer to do, where as the drapery was intended to give a more rustic feel. Here is my covered cake, ready to decorate:

My cake covered and ready to decorate

My cake covered and ready to decorate

Next we were shown how to dust our daisy centres to give them more dimension and depth, and to paint detail on our butterflies using dusting powders mixed with water and a very fine paintbrush. Here are some of the daisies I made after they were dusted:

Sugar daisies I made

Sugar daisies I made

Paddi then showed us how to mix sugar glue with sugarpaste to secure our flowers and butterflies to the cakes. Once the demonstration was finished, we all went about adding our daisies and butterflies to our cakes. Here is my cake, all finished:

The daisy cake I made in the sugarpaste class

The daisy cake I made in the sugarpaste class

Everyone did their swag draping and arrangement of butterflies and daisies differently, and it was fun to see them all lined up together on display. Here is a pic of the finished products (mine is bottom right):

Everyone's daisy cakes

Everyone's daisy cakes

You can see in the back row in the picture that someone else in the class had the same idea I did and produced a very similar cake! Great minds hey 🙂

All in all, a really fun day even though the bulk of the things taught I already knew. It was nice to try out different techniques though, and I picked up some great tips and tricks. And it was such a delight to work with Paddi!

Squires Kitchen 5 Day School – Day 1: Chocolate

Monday, July 12th, 2010
Some of the treats I made in the chocolate class

Some of the treats I made in the chocolate class

I started the 5 Day School with Guest Tutors today at Squires Kitchen in Surrey, England. The school consists of 5 full days of classes with a different teacher each day, each famous for a different specialty. I will be blogging about each day of the course, starting with Day 1 – Chocolate with Mark Tilling. Mark is the British Chocolate Master (which basically means he is THE best chocolatier in the UK) and has been every year since 2006.

My course consisted of 10 people, all of us novices to chocolate. There were also 3 large vats of melted chocolate (one dark, one milk and one white) in the room, and the gorgeous scent of melted chocolate made our mouths water!

Mark started off  by telling us how chocolate is made and showing us samples of cocoa at it’s various stages to becoming chocolate. Then he explained to us why tempering chocolate is so important (to keep the “good crystals” that give it a high gloss and that snap when it’s broken and which allow it to set properly and give it a uniform, shiny appearance) and showed us how to temper chocolate in the microwave.

Next he demonstrated how to use moulds for properly melted, tempered chocolate by piping the chocolate into the moulds, and we then created several chocolate bars using moulds and tempered chocolate and different fillings like sultanas, nuts, and coconut. I made milk chocolate with shredded coconut (DELISH!), milk chocolate with almonds, and a special white chocolate bar with lots of dried fruit and nuts for my husband. Here are my chocolate bars after they were set in the fridge:

My handmade chocolate bars

My handmade chocolate bars

We then were shown how to use transfer sheets and had a go at thinly spreading chocolate over a transfer sheet then slicing it and wrapping it around a rolling pin to create beautiful spiral decorations. These were then refrigerated along with the bars, then the rolling pins removed and the acetate transfer sheets peeled off. Mine worked perfectly, but sadly most of the other people in the class had trouble with theirs. Happily, all mistakes were very tasty mistakes as everyone was able to eat any bad bits! Here is a piece of my spiral decorations:

Chocolate spiral decoration with transfer

Chocolate spiral decoration with transfer

After lunch, we were shown how to use cold granite slabs to create thin bands of chocolate that we could use to create fans and other decorations. This had to be done extremely quickly before the chocolate set, and I managed to only create one! It was pretty hard, but I think I also just wasn’t very good at it!

We then did some piping of chocolate onto cocoa powder and coloured sugar crystals to make more decorations, then we were shown how to pipe chocolate onto an acetate sheet over a stencil to create chocolate butterflies. That was pretty easy, it’s not so different to piping with royal icing or buttercream. Here is one of my butterflies, still on the acetate:

Piped chocolate butterfly

Piped chocolate butterfly

Lastly, we were shown how to create modelled roses from cocoform (a kind of modelling chocolate). This was the part I found the easiest as I’ve used the same technique before with sugar flower paste and marzipan. Here are my dark chocolate roses:

Dark chocolate roses

Dark chocolate roses

It was a very enjoyable class and Mark is so very talented, and a patient teacher! I did find working with so much melted chocolate to be VERY messy though, and to be honest, I don’t think I’m uber keen to take up chocolatier-ing. Oddly, I was actually kind of sick of chocolate by the end of the day!

Royal Icing Course at Squires Kitchen

Monday, June 28th, 2010
Royal iced cake

The cake I made on my royal icing course

A few weekends ago I went on a 2 day Royal Icing course at Squires Kitchen in Surrey. I had never royal iced a cake before, but my main reason for going was to learn some piping techniques in royal icing from Ceri Griffiths, who is such a marvellous cake decorator and an expert in royal icing. He is a fantastic teacher too, and a very talented singer!

Over the 2 days of the course we royal iced a 6 inch fruit cake, piped blossoms, created a run out, did cornelli scratch work on the sides of the cake, learned to pipe shells, ropes and barrels, then decorated the cake with these new techniques. Piping shells was fine, I’ve done that before, but the ropes and ‘S’ and ‘C’ barrels were pretty tricky. You can see in the picture above how wonky my efforts were!

Quite frankly I don’t see myself using that particular technique a lot. My clientele usually prefers more modern designs, the shells and barrels looked quite old fashioned. As one of the other women on the course remarked, the cakes we created looked like “cakes my gran would like”.

Having said that though, the course was excellent and well worth going on. But I have to say, one thing I did take away from it is that I am never going to coat a cake in royal icing again! It is a very hard medium to work with, and it was a lot harder to get a nice smooth finish compared to fondant. Ceri did point out that it was my first time and it is a skill that requires a lot of practice to get right, which is true. But it is such a time consuming process. For a wedding cake, 3 coats are required with an overnight drying period in between each coat! Plus it dries so damn hard! My husband nearly broke a kitchen knife trying to cut through the royal iced cake I brought home from the course.

To date, I have not had a request for a royal iced cake, hopefully I never will (lol). Fondant is much easier to work with (and to eat!). However if a client wants some nice piped flowers, shells, or cornelli scratch work, I’m happy to oblige!