Friday, March 23, 2012

What Wilton's Warrents

Here is my most recent cake which shows some ability:
However, don't think that this is what I've learned in my 3 classes in Wilton's Course 1: Basics class. I've been working at a store bakery for a year decorating cakes and am mostly self-taught. But I do want to share some of the things I've been learning:

Store bought icing is of "thin" consistency - good only for writing, icing, leaves, and little else. Now, I knew roses were really hard to do with store bought icing, but I never really thought of how to fix it. Since taking this class, I know how to fix it if I'm in a pinch and have to use it because I can't find confectioner's sugar, crisco and vanilla. Borders, drop flowers, etc. are made with medium icing. Roses and a few others are made with stiff icing. I never thought about the consistency of icing changing on purpose! I thought it was either warm and melty because I've used it too long, or too stiff because it came out of the cooler, but never thought about purposefully changing the stiffness for what I need.

Meringue powder stiffens your icing. That's what they say in class and this icing is pretty stiff. I might make two batches though next time just to see the real difference. The point of it is so your decorations dry and maintain their shape instead of melting. The cover on the cake above accidentally ran into the roses on top but luckily enough it didn't do much real damage.

If you are going to transfer flowers that hardened on wax paper, use a spatula. At the store I sometimes make a bunch of roses and put them in the freezer until I'm ready for them. Then I pick them up with my hand - gloved, of course, in case any CDC personnel are reading - and place them on the cake. That works pretty well, but they're always sort of smashed. By pulling back the wax paper half way and using a sliding motion with the spatula, they come off a lot better.

Use wax paper on base-icing that has set in order to get out streaks and make it shine. Now for this cake, I used  store-bought buttercream just for the base icing to save me a little time at 4:30 in the morning. It's from a can (or plastic jar? plastic can? cylindrical container?) that's been on a shelf and meant to be workable for as long as the shelf life holds, and that's a really long time. So it didn't really set well and smoothing it out was only half-successful. I will definitely try again though - I'm really excited about using this technique!

Buy piping gel. You can use it for "tracing" pictures on to your paper. I can officially create Scooby Doo, princesses, or anything else you want on a cake now. Probably not a picture of your face - it's not that kind of a trace. Wouldn't that be something neat to try though?? You also mix piping gel with your icing for writing, that way when you cut the cake you don't tear all the writing down into the slices. Apparently it keeps the writing in cake and you can have the top half of "hap" on one slice and the top half of "py bir" on another. I am excited to try it next week!

The class is what I thought it would be. Some people are really impressed with my creativity and and how consistently I can decorate. Some things we do I've done for years. On the other hand I am learning a whole lot to help me with my baking from home where I have to make everything myself. So excited to keep learning! Next week is our final day where we learn ribbon roses - I bet if they're easy and I show my manager maybe she'll start helping me with cakes at the store!

I have two choices for classes next month: flowers course or fondant course. In flowers we learn a royal icing recipe which would be helpful, and I could definitely use technique for flowers, but I know very little about fondant and have only tried it a couple times. I think fondant is where you'll find me in April. We'll wait for the May Flowers.

Happy 50th Birthday friends!

At school a couple of great teachers were turning 50. Two months ago I had this awesome surprise party idea, the whole staff involved, and cakes involving black fondant strips and sparklers. Then stuff happened. That's what I call working two jobs, being a DI coach, math remediation, volunteering to help with the choir show and trying to cook dinner at least a couple of times a week. So it sat in the back of my mind but never really came to. Plus I was making small cakes for my Wilton class so that has been a lot of baking this month. But yesterday around 6:30 another teacher asked if we were doing anything for them so I said I'd make something simple, she got flowers and chips and dip (which I originally wrote as "flowers and dip" but that sounds gross) and we had someone else get some soda. On a side note I try really hard not to call soda "pop" but it's really hard down here and a lot of times I think the word soda just doesn't fit in with the atmosphere of our Appalachian (app-uh-LAY-shun) school.

Okay, something simple? Riiiiiiight.

Now, remember we decided to do this at 6:30 - pm! I had just begun my 45 minutes drive home from school and had not really prepared for this. Good thing I always have plenty of cake ingredients and am no longer worried about rushing out to buy boxed mix! So late last night I made the two paisley-shaped cake tiers. I was so excited to buy these 4 months ago and doubly excited to finally stack some! (I had used the smaller one in a Christmas cake - but this was the first time I used them two together. I have three but the bottom one is waaay big.) So, late last night night I was baking these cakes. It's been a long week and I was tired, so I went to bed as soon as they were cool enough to store. That was around 10:30. I got up at 4:30 this morning ready to decorate! I did cheat a little and base iced it using some Pillsbury buttercream I had in the cabinet. It was on closeout and I like to keep some on hand for cake emergencies. I did make my own icing though for the roses and shell border. Luckily purple is the favorite color of BOTH birthday-ees, so that made it super easy. Here's a few views of what it looked like at 6 am:

From the front
From the top
A bit closer up
So of course I wasn't exactly done when I went to school. I originally planned to have sparklers and whatnot, right? So I needed something a bit ridiculous. I decided to make a large 5-0 out of melted white chocolate - a trick I learned from the Hello Cupcake books. Then I had an even better idea - I also covered two small candles with white chocolate and attached them. Edible 5-0 birthday candles! Awesome!! All the time spent was so worth it for our cute little party. 
 Happy Friday!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Presenting at the VCTM Conference

** Update 4/10/12** We just received an email from someone how attended our presentation. She is giving an in-service presentation about The Best Thing [She] Learned From VCTM. She is presenting our manipulative! How sweet is that??

I just completed my second professional presentation as a teacher. Back in August of 2011, I presented a session called Smartboard Basics for my colleagues in Wythe County. Now yesterday I presented at the Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference in Roanoke.

Here are the videos that Valerie and I made in college which explain how the pieces work and describes  how they fit together (shape and color both play an intricate role in helping students understand simplifying and verifying trig functions).

The 20 or so people who came to our presentation (it was at 8:15 Friday morning so we weren't offended by the light crowd) were completely amazed by this idea and loved that they got the pieces to keep and play with. In fact, throughout the rest of the conference people kept coming up asking "Are you the sine and cosine people?" so much that Valerie had to hand out some business cards she had on hand so people could email us to get copies of our presentation.

It was so very exciting to present and then to be known during the rest of the conference. Word of mouth was definitely spreading that we had something new and exciting to share. I really hope this takes off.

If you are interested in watching how this progresses, I have created a separate blog called Miss Cody's Math World. My first post will be linked from the presentation and I am hoping that as teachers use this over the next few months they will share their experiences. Because we created this in college, and because I teach Algebra I and she teaches Algebra II and Pre-Calc (technically math classes don't have to be capitalized but I find them to be very important) we haven't had the opportunity to use these with students. I am really excited to see how this turns out!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wilton's Class, Day 1

So I finally started taking a Wilton's cake decorating class at Micheal's.

I started by talking to the woman who does it and we went back and forth for a while deciding whether or not I should skip Course 1 - Decorating Basics. We decided there were a few things I should know that we learn in Course 1, so I would start there instead of skipping to Course 2. For the first one we were told to bring plain, flat cookies so we could practice stars. Well, if you scroll all the way down on my Cake Page, you'll see some Valentine's cookies I made last year. (Or you can look below, I decided to add them in anyway but not remove the previous sentence. Do you feel okay about that?) I already decorate 9" and 12" cookies all the time, so practicing some stars on some sugar cookies was a bit beneath my current skill level. But, as with a lot of this, I knew I would have to have a positive attitude and wait for the things I don't know. Okay, no bid deal.

So I would love to show you a picture of the cookies I made - I had thought of a bunch of cute designs ahead of time and things I could do on it. Instead, we spent the entire 2 hours listening to the instructor talk about the class. At the end she showed us how to make the icing. That part I was excited about because I already learned something new - using Meringue Powder to make a stiffer icing that sets up. Cool. But other than that 2 hours of just talking was a little disappointing.

L was happy, though - now he has plenty of plain sugar cookies to eat (he doesn't like a lot of icing). Next week we are making a two layer cake from one layer and learning to transfer pictures. I am pretty excited for that! I promise to have pictures after next week.