Last weekend, I decided to take a break from classes and take a cake decorating class at Boston’s famed Oakleaf Cakes Bake Shop, known for its delicious confections and the beautiful works of art they create! I hoped that I could pick up a few tips and tricks I didn’t already know in the three-hour class and figured it would be a fun way to fend off the Sunday afternoon scaries.
Details: Oakleaf Cakes offers a lot of different classes. The one I took was called “Buttercream Basics.” The class was 3 hours and all participants got the chance to decorate their own 5-inch cake (does that mean I have a 5-inch cake in my fridge all to myself right now? Yes. How much longer will it exist before I eat it? Unclear…). The class covered how to make an Italian meringue buttercream with a demo (we didn’t get to make our own buttercream), how to cut and stack layer cakes (again, through a demo, the cakes were pre-made and cooled) and the basics of piping buttercream trim.
Things I learned: I’m really glad I took the class. A lot of it was very basic, but the opportunity to see a real live cake decorator in action and get to try my hand at her methods right after she did was really helpful. Yes, I knew how to stack a cake pretty well already, but there’s something about the confidence of knowing that you didn’t get lucky and that you had someone who does this for a living confirm that this is the way to do things that is really confidence-building and exciting.
- I learned that when you want to level off a cake (cut off the domed top to make it flat), you shouldn’t try to take it off in one large cut. Rather, you should cut the knife through perpendicular to you and make large sawing motions.
- Seems obvious, but you cannot use too much frosting, pretty much ever. Be generous with your frosting at all steps. The artistry of beautifying frosting is in taking it away and leveling it out, which is easier to do when there is more on there!
- You don’t *need* a crumb coat. It’s not mandatory evidently. For this cake, our use of copious amounts of frosting is what protected us against crumbs. You use a lot and pack the crumbs into the cake with it. This could be a real time saver later on.
- Italian meringue buttercream is strong enough to pipe with and still maintains its beautiful silky texture.
- If you use a textured scoring tool around the outside (rather than a straight edged dough cutter), it’s easier to achieve a professional look. I am still partial to and aiming for a straight edged cake, but it was still helpful to learn that if I’m in a rush or have hopelessly messed up a cake, if I switch to a comb with texture I can probably salvage a pretty clean looking cake.
- We went over the basics of piping a buttercream rose which was a nice add-on even though it was a buttercream basics class. We didn’t go super in-depth and the teacher left it sort of as a “you’ll either get it or not because this isn’t the focus of the class so we’re not going to go in depth in this” so it was up to us, and I fared reasonably well, though many attempts only yielded one useable rose. I’m glad I got my hands wet in trying it though! That said, the inner most cone that you build when you make a buttercream rose is the most crucial piece. If the cone isn’t tight and perfect, your rose won’t look like a rose, even if every petal is done perfectly.
Like I said, I’m really happy I took this class. While it wasn’t on the whole full of novel things that were completely new to me, it was really helpful to see a real live person demo-ing the techniques in an environment where we could ask to see it again, see it slower, etc. When I watch videos on youtube, they’re often really great for getting a general idea but it just looks so flawless and goes so quickly. Overall the class was exactly what it said it was going to be: buttercream basics. My only complaint would be that we did not get to make our own frostings. I understand why on so many levels that would have been complicated, but working with a candy thermometer and drizzling hot syrup into a stand mixer would have been helpful to practice. Also a more up-close view of making it would have been helpful just to see more closely how everything comes together. Overall, though, the class was great. Oakleaf limits its classes to only 8 people which means there is plenty of counter space for each person, which I really like as in comparison to a few other cooking classes I’ve taken (mostly at larger, chain places like Sur La Table). It’s also great that Oakleaf pre-prepares for you enough cake for each person to take home a 3-layer 5-inch cake. I got to decorate my own entire cake. Everyone did. While that might seem like it’s just part of the deal, it was really nice to have my own product to take home and have complete control over. I didn’t have to share with anyone and let anyone else take turns doing the cutting. Everything my cake was is what I made it. And even though it was pretty simple, that’s honestly what I’m going for. These days, wedding cake trends are simple and elegant and this class certainly taught me how to achieve that.