It's not often I want to rush home and write a blog post, but that's exactly what I'm sitting here doing on a Sunday night, because I had such a great time today, I just had to share it!!
As you all know, my baking abilities suck a little bit. There was the whole little sister's birthday cake that turned out sort of okish for an amateur first go, but really, this minor win falls among a lot more epic fails. This isn't to say that I'm not interested in making cakes, trust me, I am. In fact, I am a little obsessed with beautiful cakes. I have a folder on the comp where I save photos of any beautiful cakes that catch my eye. I'm not discriminatory- they can be any flavour and use any icing, just as long as they are beautiful. I guess I collect the cake photos because they are like works of art. Is it creepy that I keep all these photos- please someone else tell me you do weird things like this too?!
However beautiful I think they are, I didn't think I was capable of creating something so gorgeous. But.. this morning when I went to a cake decorating workshop at Cakes by Judy C, my cake making dreams came true!
Judy C is one of the baking icons in Brisbane. She has been in the business for 18 years and makes some fabulous creations. I have actually stalked her facebook page a number of times, so was really happy when I received an invitation to attend the Christmas cake decorating class.
I arrived a little early for the class, just in time to take a couple of photos of some of the cakes in the window display (above and below- you didn't actually think that I made something that beautiful, did you?!) For those of you who are wondering- the wedding cakes are usually dummies, but the gingerbread house is real. I always wonder if the cakes are real when I walk past cake shops!
The course started at 10:00 on a Sunday and ran for 3 and a half hours. Judy likes to have 6 or 7 people in each of her classes because she finds that she can spend quality time with each person, giving them a little help and direction as needed. I tend to agree- I have been in cooking classes with much larger groups and it tends to take away from the experience. I also think it's easy for 6 or 7 people to interact with each other, and we had a really great group.
Aside from myself, food blogger wise, Sassy Sarah from I ate Brisbane also attended the class. It was great that she could come too, because we had lots of fun and she captured lots of fab photos that I will link to once she posts.
Once everyone arrived, Judy gave us a demo of how she would decorate a Christmas cake. The Christmas cakes were already prepared (which Judy provides) so that gave a bit of a headstart. I think you would need to put aside the whole day if you wanted to make the cake and decorate it. Judy's super pro demo was over and done with within about 1/2 an hour. She had lots of great words of wisdom but you could tell her practised hands just were used to working with the medium, she made it look much easier than it actually was. Rather than being overwhelming, this was really good, because it gave us confidence to start off with!
After the demo, we split off and placed ourselves around her Ashgrove premises commercial kitchen. It was great to have lots of bench space and access to all sorts of fabulous tools in stark contrast to my tiny nook of a kitchen, that is not well equipped for decorating and the likes.
Judy told us that essentially, you need a cake with good structure. Something that has sunk in the middle or have other obvious flaws will be no good for decorating with fondant icing, because it will never look right. Of course, no cake is flawless so thats why she suggested filling the holes in, and blocking any gaps- not unlike what you would do with plastering before you paint. She also says it is important to work with products you trust, and Judy's pick of the icings is Pettinice, so that's what we were using for our cakes.
Just to let you know- some of the photos I have taken are when Judy was doing the demo. It was easier to take photos then, but not so much when I had sticky fingers, a black shirt that had turned white and needed to concentrate really really hard !
In my previous cake making experience, I had a little disaster with the icing sweating, so I asked Judy what the best ways to avoid this- she said make sure the cake isn't hot when you ice it, and make sure you don't put it into the fridge when you were finished.
First things first, my cake wasn't exactly even, so I rolled some of the icing in a snake and placed on the bottom of the cake to fill the gap.
If you have a cake with fruit in it- it is important to just press the sultanas (or whatever else) firmly to see they have plumped during cooking. Mine had, so judy suggested pressing the fruit back in and filling those gaps with icing too, we well as any other craters on the cake. The best way to make sure the icing is as flat as possible is to use a tiny bit of water on the back of a spoon, and spread as thinly as possible. Warning: don't use too much water, just enough to help spread the icing thingly.
Hmm... So as you can see in the photo below, I went a little crazy with 'puttying' up the holes in my cake. I made the mistake of doing the top rim where the cake was starting to crumble, but started off the crumbling process even more. Silly me! Luckily Judy and her practised hands came over and worked some magic, getting the situation under control in a few minutes. I just needed to keep smoothing out the icing, and use a little bit more force and water, both things I was afraid of doing!
One of the mistakes I made when I 'created' my first fondant iced cake was to use icing sugar on the table. This is also a big no no because it helps to stiffen the icing, and that is the last thing you want to do. Instead, Judy uses cornflour, and although it feels revolting (does anyone else get serious goosebumbs all over when touching the stuff?!) it's the best stuff for the job. Judy also uses gluten free corn flour, because corn flour was traditionally gluten free before it was tampered with, and she can ensure cakes are completely gluten free if that is the request. We spread just enough on the bench to stop the icing from sticking.
Once we had finished this step, we brushed our cake back with sherry. You can use any alcohol that is fortified, so over 17% - this is for preservation purposes.
Here is the point where Judy emphasised the importance of being fastidious and using a dry tea towel to make sure there was not a crumb in sight. If a crumb gets into the icing, it can turn up in the most unexpected and unwanted places, so the best way is to just get rid of them all together at every step to make sure they don't become a menace. Also, we used water to clean the surfaces but then made certain that they were wiped completely dry as we didn't want ANY water touching the top layer of icing, or disaster could seriously strike.
For those of you who haven't met me in real life, you may not know a personal fact that I am about to reveal. I will tell you as long as you promise not to tease me? ok... Promise? Pinky promise??? In C's words I am "quite small." Ha. Yep, vertically challenged, shortarse, midget etc etc. OK- so I'm not unnaturally small, but still on the scale of people, on the shorter end of normal. I am blaming my height issues for my kneading issues. I found kneading the icing until it was more pliable quite difficult. Sarah kindly suggested I needed a little step - Ha- thanks Sarah. I also think some extra muscles would help the situation, but whatever. We kneaded the dough until it was softer- but not too soft. You can feel the difference, between when you first start kneading and when you need to stop. The texture just changes without becoming floppy. My tip is, if you are a midget too, a step might be able to help you out a little- it's not such a silly idea!
Once the icing got to a workable texture, it's time to roll it out. We had to make sure there was enough corn flour on the table, sliding our hands under between the table and the icing occasionally to make sure it hadn't stuck.
I tried to be gentle so there would be no creases. When Judy demonstrated for us, I noticed that she picked the icing straight off the table and placed it onto the cake. I've often heard that rolling the icing around the rolling pin and then placing it on is easier, but Judy said she had never needed to use this method. As our cake was quite small, I didn't think I would need to use this method either, but if it was larger, I may have tried the rolling idea to stop the icing breaking mid air.
Once I was happy with the width, (you need it still quite thick), I grabbed the icing and placed it onto top of the cake, and smoothed around the edges with my hands. I cannot explain to you how this works, it is just something you have to do and try out for yourself! I can't believe that no folds occur, but somehow, they don't! Miraculous!!
We used a wooden tool for smoothing the surface which did a fab job. There are also plastic versions available that were on hand too, but the wooden ones were so smoothing and gentle on the icing. I know Judy had those made specifically to use and I can see why. The plastic ones did a good job of cutting the icing away from the cake when needed, but if I could only have one cake tool, it would definitely be a wooden smoother!
At this point, I must say I was pretty damn chuffed with myself- the cake was covered, quite well really and not a crumb or air bubble in sight. A couple of people had air bubbles which were taken care of by gently poking with a pin and then rubbing the smoother over the top- you really can't see it after this. Yay- time to start the decorations. As gorgeous as the holly around the edges look was, I decided to go with candles on top. Judy usually makes silver stars, but we didn't have that option as the silver colouring hadn't turned up on time. I'm all for traditional though, so candles it was!
We started by rolling some icing into a snake, much like you do when you are a kid playing with play dough. When my worm was around about a good width, I cut three candles, all different lengths. I used the yellow 'baller' tool above to make little dents in the top of the candles, just like a real candle. Then, with a very fine paint brush, I very lightly painted water on the bottom side of the candle and placed it onto the cake.
I must admit I was a little pedantic and placed the candles on, then when I was happy, stuck them on!
Woo- this cake decorating business is tiring business. We had a little break and sampled some of Judy's delights. Rum balls are one of my all time favourite Christmas treats, so predictably went for one of those first. Wow- super smooth and amazing. Maybe I will cheat this year and come to Judy's and purchase some rum balls to give as gifts?! Just kidding, I'll be a good little food blogger and make my own, although these were seriously some of the best rum balls I've ever had. I'm not sure mine could live up to this standard...
The fruit mince tarts were to die for, and Judy is going to give the class attendees the recipe sometime this week!
Once we were all refreshed, it was time for Sarah and I to mix our royal icing. We sieved the icing sugar through a ridiculously fine sieve, and it really made a difference. We then added tablespoons full of the icing mixture to an egg white and added and mixed until it was the right consistency- a medium firm peak.
Then we put the icing into a piping bag, and used it to pip on some detailing onto the candles- the wax dripping down the side, and draw on the flame. Boy did I have problems with this. I don't know why, but I just couldn't pipe the flame successfully. Even though I practised on the bench beside, I just couldn't get it to look normal.
I'm not a regular piper and it took a bit to get used to the pressure I needed to use, but after the first disaster I called Judy over for advice. She showed me how to draw it on the table just by using two simple movements, and then I was on my way. Ha, the first flame looks like a little rogue though, like it's about to catch light the Christmas table cloth I can imagine it sitting on. Ok, maybe my imagination is a little crazy.
Next, we used a little bit of illuminator stuff (ummmm - not sure what it was actually, but will have to get those deets for you) and a fine little paint brush and painted on the 'wax' dripping down the side, and the flame. The illuminator just made it sparkle, ever so slightly and added a real sheen to the candles! Argh--- Love all these cool little tricks that cake makers use. It's easy to see how cakes can add up in price when you purchase them comercially, because the effort that goes into making them, and the little details are so time consuming!
Next to create the holly leaves. We used some toothpicks dipped in a tiny amount of colouring to turn the icing green. Adding a tiny bit at a time works well, because then you need to make sure it is completely kneaded to ensure the colour is even, then if you want a darker colour, you can always add a little more.
I don't have photos, but we cut these out with holly leave shapped cutters, then lightly pressed the leaves onto a mould which had veins on it, to give them a realistic look.
I then placed the holly onto the icing and again, painted on the backs with a brush dipped in water to secure them to the cake. You could spend ages playing around with these, and by the time I had finished, I managed to make some of my leaves look like they had/have texture! This part was actually really fun, but I was nervous placing the leaves, because I didn't want them to end up looking like I was playing with play dough in year 2.
Luckily, they turned out quite well. Once again, I placed the leaves on and made sure I like their placement before I stuck them down.
You can't have a Christmas cake without holly balls! Judy bought these balls, which are of course, edible, from executive chef in Brisbane. They looked really good, and when we stuck them down(with royal icing this time) they didn't bleed any colour onto the cake.
For the finishing touch, we dusted some gold shimmer onto the cake, which you can sort of see in the photo below, but in the light, it really shines. Some of the others added some green painted leaves on, but I was happy with the way that mine worked out without. Plus I didn't trust myself with such a task, considering my cake looked pretty awesome to me, I knew, If I tried to do anything else, I would probably make a disaster of it!
Of course, we got to take our cakes home, and mine is sitting in the cardboard box waiting for Christmas. I know not to store it in the fridge, but I've read conflicting reports on whether you should store it in an airtight container, or whether it should be left in the cake box. Hmm, might have to drop Judy an email to ask. Do any of you guys know??
I may not have that problem for much longer anyway- unless I hide the cake, I fear C may just devour it. He has been eyeing it off, asking every night - 'would you like some cake for dessert- I know I would! Have we got any cake in the house?' Cheeky bugger! He was a bit shocked when I told him I knew how many holly balls were on the cake, I have no doubt he would try to pick a couple off. Let this serve as a warning!! Bad boyfriends get no cake! I have to say, C was pretty impressed with the cake, wondering if I had any help? I.e. did Judy make this cake and give it to me?! Hah. No. I actually managed to do this all by myself, with a little bit of help and advice from Judy. Somehow it turned out looking reasonably professional- I will definitely be proud to show my fam at Christmas time.
Speaking of proud, Sarah mentioned that she felt a little bit of a sense of pride re her cake too, which I might add turned out spectacularly as well. Can you imagine how awesome Judy feels when she creates a wedding masterpiece?
I have to say, this was a seriously fun class. I came home on a high. The whole day was filled with lots of laugh, and I learnt so much. Suddenly dreams of being a cake decorator start popping into my head. Ha- I wouldn't worry too much Judy, I just don't think I have it in me!!
Admittedly, it is much easier to create a good end product when you have all the right tools on hand, and Judy there on hand to ask any questions or handle any emergency situations like a crumbling cake, or a crazy lady gone putty mad. BUT......I would be confident in trying to recreate something similar at home. In fact, when I got home, I wanted to run out and grab some icing to make another cake but C stopped me, thinking I had gone mad! Maybe a trip to executive chef is in order......
So tell me readers, have you had any decorating disasters or triumphs?
G.G attended the Christmas cake decorating class courtesy of Cakes by Judy C. Thanks for the invitation to come along. I really enjoyed myself!
Cakes by Judy C
Shop 1/227 Waterworks Road
Ashgrove QLD 4060
Ashgrove QLD 4060
(07) 3366 9111