Friday, March 9, 2012

My First Cake Decorating Class

If you ever have checked out my “About This Blog and Me” page, you know that I’ve pretty much taught myself how to cook.  Experimentation has been my friend… as is the number to the closest and fastest pizza joint.

The only "training" I've had was when I took a 2 hour class on Knife Skills from Sur la Table.  During this class, I cut myself three times.   

I’m not kidding.  My mother-in-law is my witness. 

That being said, my chopping and slicing skills have greatly improved and the number of times I have cut myself since I can be counted on one hand.  One of those times I cut myself intentionally when I looked at the serrated knife I bought and said, “This doesn’t look very sharp.  Is it?” and then pulled the blade over my index finger.

I never said I was smart.

Yet, I’ve become a pretty decent and adventurous cook.  Something else that has come a long way has been my baking.  Just a short 10 years ago, I burned at least one batch of cookies out of every recipe.  My cakes would be hard and my cupcakes were misshapen.  I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m not afraid to bake for people.  However, I still have one last challenge… decorating.

I struggle like no one’s business and usually mutilate half of every cupcake batch, get crumbs in my cake frosting and forget cookie decorating.  It is simply pathetic.

I’ve had a rough 9 months and my husband felt it would be a good idea for me to get out of the house instead of becoming a hermit.  He found on-line at Michael’s Stores, a series of Wilton Cake Decorating classes.  The class was very reasonably priced so, I signed up for the first one with plans for eventually taking the other three in the series if I liked it.
The kit for the single class was also reasonable.  The box is about the size of a book and it cost around $32.  However, I thought I’d go for the Ultimate Decorating Set Tool Caddy which has all of the items needed for all four classes.  My kit was slightly larger…

I threw in a book for reference.
I may have to buy a wheelie cart to lug it around!

(c) Good Housekeeping
The nerd in me got my kit and other listed supplies (pens, paper, scissors, etc…) all packed up in my favorite bag.  Then I had to bake some cookies to decorate.  I wanted to make a sugar cookie since it is flat and meant for shaped and decorated cookies – even if that shape is a large circle.  I dug through lists of recipes and found a one for Lemon Sugar Cookies from Good Housekeeping, April 2008.

Can you tell I’m slightly back-logged on recipes?

I should mention I also had an assistant for this recipe.  Please welcome, The Hulk.

Hello everyone!
Me Hulk!  Me go smash... but no smash cookies.

for more details about what my ratings mean, go to Gretchen’s Rating System

MessSIGH – Honestly, the mess isn’t in making the cookie dough.  It is rolling it out and then getting crumbs all over when you are putting them on the cooling rack.

Start-to-Finish Time: AROUND TWO AND A HALF HOURS – An hour of this time is chill time the rest of the time is making dough, rolling it and baking it.  Honestly, it took me longer but not because there was extra work.  It was because I left my dough in the fridge extra long – which was a mistake, by the way. 

Prep Work: ALL FINGERS STILL HERE – It’s only measuring out the ingredients and cleaning the lemon.

Ease of Recipe: MORE THAN I BARGAINED FOR – Is making cookie dough, rolling it out and cutting out shapes difficult?  For most people, no.  For me, yes.

OverallSORRY HONEY, NO LEFTOVERS – At first, I didn’t think they tasted all that great, but it may have been because I was a little grumpy after struggling to make them.  I also didn’t make the ornamental frosting because I was going to be frosting them in class.  They definitely tasted better with frosting.

Recipe Information:
I am not a doctor or dietician.  I make my nutritional assessments with the aid of Spark Recipes.  I run the original recipe and my altered recipe through their calorie counter and then compute the differences I find.  My numbers are to be used as a guideline.  Anyone who is under dietary medical supervision should follow the advice of their medical professional if their opinion differs from mine.  PLEASE!

Servings: 84 cookies
Prep/Total Time: none listed

I can’t figure out how they got 84 cookies out of this batch of dough.  I guess you could… maybe if you… yeah, there’s no way.  I got five 6” cookies and about a eighteen 3” cookies.

In terms of timing:
  • Prep: 4 minutes
  • Make Dough: 28 minutes
  • Chill Dough: 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Roll Dough and Cut Cookies: 8 minutes
  • Bake Cookies: 12 minutes / 5 batches
  • Total Time: 3 hours 38 minutes
A couple things: (1) You could cut fifty minutes out of the total time because I left the dough in the fridge while I made dinner, and (2) I shouldn’t have left it in as long as I did.  I didn’t think it was going to make a difference, but it did.

Nutritional Information:
  • Calories:  50
  • Total fat: 2 g
  • Saturated fat: 2 g
  • Cholesterol:  9 mg
  • Sodium: 40 mg
  • Carbohydrate: 6 g
  • Protein: 1 g
Not bad for a cookie.  Of course my six-inchers aren’t 50 calories, but I’m not going to admit that fully to myself.  As George told Jerry, “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

Changes denoted by red text
(c) You Want Me to Cook?
Lemon Sugar Cookies - ingredients
1 lemon
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 cup butter (no substitutions), softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
Fit Wash


Ingredient Notes:
Butter – The original recipe doesn’t specify, so I used unsalted butter.

Fit Wash – Since you are using the lemon’s peel, you are going to want to wash it well.  I like using a citrus based wash to help get the waxy film off of the fruit.  You can clean it well with a vegetable brush too.

Equipment Needed:

(c) You Want Me to Cook?
Lemon Sugar Cookies - equipment
Spoon – mixing 
Butter knife
Small cutting board
Sharp knife
Parchment paper / Waxed paper
Stand mixer / Large Bowl and Hand Mixer
Rubber spatula
Plastic wrap
Rolling pin
Cookie Cutters / Glasses / Plates
Large Cookie Sheet
Wide Metal Spatula
Wire Racks

Equipment Notes:
Spoon and Butter Knife – Used to measure and level flour into the measuring cup.  Also use the spoon to mix the dry mixture.

Parchment Paper / Waxed Paper – You can use parchment paper as a substitute for waxed paper.  I also rolled out my cookie dough on parchment paper instead of the counter for quick clean-up.

Stand Mixer – The original recipe calls for a large bowl and hand mixer, but I can guarantee you that you will burn out a hand mixer’s motor.  Stick with a stand mixer.

Cookie Sheets – Try to find light colored baking sheets.  They reflect heat instead of absorbing it which helps minimize browning of your cookies.

Wire Racks – These are relatively inexpensive to purchase and will help your cookies cool evenly.  Leaving them on the hot cookie sheet can cause them to continue cooking and/or make them stick.

(1)   From lemon, grate 1 tablespoon peel and squeeze 1 tablespoon juice.  Set peel and juice aside.
I had a medium-large lemon.  I grated the entire peel and got a tablespoon from only a half of the lemon.
(2)  On parchment paper, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. 

(3)  In stand mixer on low speed, beat sugar and butter until blended.  Increase speed to medium-high; beat 3 minutes or until light and creamy, frequently scraping bowl with rubber spatula.

(4)   Reduce speed to low; beat in egg, vanilla, and lemon peel and juice until mixed.

(5)   Beat in flour mixture, just until mixed, occasionally scraping bowl.

(6)   Divide dough into 4 equal pieces; flatten each into disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 hour or overnight, until firm enough to roll. (Or place dough in freezer 30 minutes.)
Honestly, I think I let my dough chill too much.  When I tried to roll it, the dough kept cracking.  It may also have had too much flour, but I noticed as the dough warmed up a little bit (through kneading and rolling) it didn’t crack as easily.
(7)   Preheat oven to 350 degrees F prior to taking the dough out of the refrigerator/freezer.

Don't they look kind of sad in their raw state?
(8)   Lay down a piece of parchment paper on the counter and lightly flour it.  With a floured rolling pin, roll 1 disk of dough to scant 1/4-inch thickness. With floured cookie cutters / glasses / or small plates, cut dough into as many cookies as possible; wrap and refrigerate trimmings to reroll later.  Place cookies, about 1 inch apart, on ungreased large cookie sheet.

(9)   Bake cookies 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned. With wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire racks to cool, about 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough and trimmings.

For the most part, my cookies didn’t brown too much, although a couple of my thinner cookies ended up browner than the rest.  Here is basically what my cookies looked like (this one is a 6-incher):

I need some decorating - STAT!!!
One thing I learned is I had to remove them immediately or they would stick, but the cookie was still slightly flexible.  I had to use a very thin and flexible spatula to get them off the cookie sheet… The Hulk didn’t help me much.  However, the bigger cookies needed more support once I got them off of the sheet.  That’s where The Hulk came in handy.

Now that my cookies were done and cooled, I packed them up, got my school bag ready and had a sleepless night with visions of decorated cookies dancing in my head.

My instructor’s name is Loretta and while she let me take pictures of my decorated cookies, she wouldn’t let me take any pictures of her.  I will wear her down… I promise this.  She was delightful, energetic and a lot of fun.  She also has a lot of experience as a baker and gave us a lot of insight with common mistakes and how to fix them.

The first hour of the class, she went over baking basics that were also outlined in our lovely class manual which was written in color with a lot of pictures and helpful suggestions on tools for you to use:
  • Types of cake pans
  • How to prepare the cake pans
  • Mixing the batter and filling the cake pans
  • Testing the cakes for doneness and removing them from the pan
  • Basic icing recipe and different consistencies
She elaborated on tricks of the trade that weren’t in the book yet so helpful.  Then we cracked open our kit.  Talk about excitement!  Of course, I had already opened mine, but I had no idea what any of it was used for.  We went over all the tools in the basic kit (needless to say I have a lot more stuff in mine, but I will learn how to use it in the other classes).  Then we started with the hands-on portion:
  • How to assemble and fill our decorating bag
  • How to level and fill a cake
  • How to ice a cake
We filled our decorating bags and it was time to decorate.

We only used the basic star tip, which is one of the most common decorating techniques.  We learned the angle to hold the bag, how to control the pressure and how to place the stars so they were consistent and without a string of frosting coming off the top.  We practiced on a practice mat first and then were given several patterns to replicate on our cookies.

I started with a basic snowflake shape.

Pretty good… at least that’s what Loretta said.  I chose to believe her instead of beat myself up over the fact that not all the stars were the same shape, close enough together (you aren’t supposed to see cookie in between) and some had frosting tails.

Then I decided to get all fancy-like and do a star.  This is where my complete lack of perspective and planning come into play.

I’m not sure what you’d call this design, but it certainly isn’t a star.  And I’ve got mutant star shapes growing out of the inside of the pointy blob.  Lots of spaces between the stars too.  Yikes, I did a terrible job.

I decided to use my tip and draw a star in the traditional sense and then fill it in with stars.

Yeah, that didn’t work out too well either.

*sigh… I can see I’m going to need a lot of practice.

I’ll keep you all posted on my practicing over the next week.  Hopefully by the next class, I’ll have perfected the stars.


No comments:

Post a Comment