Monday, June 11, 2012

Cake Decorating Should Not Be Intimidating

I hear so often from students, friends, even my mother-in-law...
"I was intimidated by..." fondant, swiss meringue buttercream, ganache, making cake pops... "so I never tried it."

Don't be intimidated! I know, easy for me to say, I do this every week. (Definitely not every day.) But you have to try. Most of the time, you'll be surprised by how great things turn out.

Here's the truth:
- It always looks better to everyone else than you think it does!
- You have to mess it up in every way before you get it "just right."
- You'll never get it right if you never try!

I try to share some of my failures with you all. I mess things up ALL. OF. THE. TIME! The photo above was from when I was impatient, and my icing totally separated. I think it took me 40 minutes to clean off the mixer after my repair job from this one. Splashing sticky icing "juice" all over the poor Kitchen Aid!

And remember how I posted about what to do when your cake falls in the center? Well, that's because my cakes fall in the center. Probably more than they should. (Again, it's that impatience of mine!)

Sometimes, you can make it work. Like with the separated icing, or the fallen cake. (Yes, the cake should have been taller, or had more layers, but it was still tasty! And if I hadn't gone on and on about how I'd messed it up, no one would have known that!)

Sometimes... you scratch it. Like these "baseball bat" cake pops I tried to make a few weeks ago. After about two of them, I knew that these did not, indeed, resemble baseball bats. They had no business going to 5-year-old boys. These were the only 4 ever made. I don't intend to try them again.

I smooshed all of the bats down, and made the baseball players instead. MUCH better (and more appropriate)!

I know that sometimes it's hard to try something new. I had heard all the stories of how wonderful and life-changing Swiss Meringue Buttercream was. But I didn't want to mess it up. I didn't want to try it. Now I know... it is wonderful. I love it. LOVE it! (Especially the strawberry version.) And I've really only messed up the recipe two times... so far.

And when you're working with fondant... I always tell students to pick a design that helps to hide any mistakes. When I teach my fondant classes, they always involve a cake covered with cut-outs. That way if the fondant tears, cracks, puckers, etc... you can cover it up. No one will know.
My first ten fondant-covered cakes looked like mushrooms with wrinkles all over the bottom. I wish I had a photo so you would believe me.
(I lost my photo album of old cakes. I KNOW! Stupid old days of film cameras and no emailed pictures for backup.)

And talk about messing up... did you even see my picks for the NCAA Basketball Tournament? I spent DAYS... DAYS making all of those cookies. Writing all of those team names. Then my team - my alma mater- LOSES IN THE FIRST ROUND! I had such great plans for taking photos of the project all along. I was so disgusted that I never got the cookies back out again. I just sent the box to work with my husband.

So, what's the worst that happens?
 - You can't provide the dessert you promised. Yup. It happens. That's why there are grocery store bakeries and Dairy Queen cakes. Or... that's why you keep that "backup" box of brownie mix in the cupboard.

- You start the oven on fire. Check! Done this a few too many times. My five-year-olds only assume the smoke detector means that I messed something up in the oven... again.

- You waste your money and time. Half-check. Yes, sometimes you do waste your money. It's true. I've thrown way too much worth of butter, flour, sugar, cocoa down the drain or into the trash bin. But thankfully, unless you're trying something new in bulk (which I don't recommend), generally speaking, you're not spending more than $20 or so on your wasted supplies.

But you didn't waste your time! If you overcooked the egg whites while trying to make Swiss Meringue Buttercream... next time, you won't do that. Or if you ended up with clumpy Candy Melts because you didn't add the oil when making your cake pops... next time, you won't do that!

A quick story to wrap-up:
Many of my cake decorating classes are four lessons. In the first lesson, when I show students how to make the icing, I tell them that the second lesson they'll bring icing that's too runny... the third lesson they'll bring icing that's too thick... but on that last lesson, the fourth lesson... They've GOT IT! And you know what?! Most of the time, that's true. (Occasionally, they get it right before the fourth lesson, but by the last one... they're there.)

What are you most nervous about trying? What have you failed at so many times that you finally got right? Share your failures (and successes) in the comments below. I love your comments!

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