Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Wilton Portfolio – Chapter #1

Last week, I finished my final Wilton class.  Four Classes in three months.  Sounds exhausting, but I really had a great time and I’m sad it’s over.

Now I have to figure out what to do with my newly acquired skills.  Truth is, I’ve learned a lot, but I’m by no means an expert at decorating cakes, cupcakes and cookies.  I need practice!  So what I’ve decided to do is bake and decorate my way through the lesson books.

To keep from getting bored with one medium, I’m going to alternate between each of the four class books starting with the first one – Decorating Basics.

My first chapter of this undertaking is found on page 16 of the Decorating Basics book and called Party Partners.  (P.S. You can buy the lesson manuals from Joann's Fabrics without taking the class, so if you want to follow along, but don't want to take the class, jump on-line or head over to the nearest store)  Wilton has a lot of their designs on-line, but unfortunately, there’s no picture available for this one so I’ll give you the quick run-down of what the lesson entails.
  • Preparing Roll-Out Cookie and Chocolate Roll-Out Cookie Recipes and cut using a round cookie cutter.
  • Decorating the Chocolate Cookies with:
  • Snowflake Star
  • Spiral of Stars
  • Baby Carriage
  • Large Star
  • Daisy Flower
  • Decorating the Plain Roll-Out Cookies with:
  • Star Flower
  • Blue Star
  • Heart
  • Number 1
They recommended using Wilton’s Roll-Out Cookie recipe and Chocolate Roll-Out Cookie recipe.  Since I didn’t have any specific ones I wanted to try, I found them on Wilton’s Website and printed them out.  For more detail, see my posts here and here.

I made a batch of Wilton’s Buttercream Icing, covered it with a damp towel and started assembling the tools I need to decorate the cookies.  If you’re interested in my thoughts about the frosting, I talk about it in this post.

In addition, to the ingredients I needed for the cookies and frosting, I had to get these additional ingredients:
Then I got out my decorating tools.  Some of the items I got in my student kit from when I took Decorating Basics:
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Party Partners - decorating equipment
You’re only going to get (4) couplers in your student kit.  You can pick up a 3-pack for a couple of dollars.  Trust me, you’re going to use them pretty much every time you decorate a cake, cupcake or cookie, so it’s worth the investment.  If you don’t want to buy disposable bags or more couplers, you can use a single lightweight decorating bag and coupler for each color.  You’ll just have to wash them out and dry them between colors.  That’s going to add significant time to your decorating.

You’ll also notice that I have multiple tips of the same type.  That is because you need them for different colors.  Sure, you can use a single tip, but each time you go to switch it to a different color, you’re going to have to clean and dry the tip, and when you’re dealing with buttercream icing, that is easier said than done.  Most of the tips are under a dollar a piece.  I’d say buy at least a couple so you don’t have so much scrubbing to do between colors.

Some items that you didn’t get in your kit, but still need are the following:
I colored a small batch of the buttercream frosting with the color gels – 5 in total – filled my bags and was ready to start.

Snowflake Star – Chocolate Cookie

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Snowflake Star
This is a great one to get you started because you don’t have to worry about following a design.  Start with a cross and then create an “X” through it.  You have two goals: (1) to get the stars so close together that you don’t see cookie underneath and (2) to keep the stars the same size. 

Grade given to self: “C”
…and that’s being generous.  Points were deducted for some gaps, although not large ones, and clearly my stars are several different sizes.

What would I do differently?  I’d practice a little before getting started on my design.  These were actually the first ones I’ve piped since I decorated a cake for Easter.  Instead of getting used to the feel of the frosting and making some consistent shapes, I just started piping.  A big no-no in the decorating world.

Spiral of Stars – Chocolate Cookie

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Spiral of Stars
This design has a starting point at the center of the cookie.  You spin the cookie and pipe stars out in a circle that keeps expanding – you never close it.  You’ll end up with stars piped along 3/4ths of the border of the cookie.  Again, the goal is to get the stars together with no gaps and keeping them a consistent size.

Grade given to self: “B-”
You can tell that I have gotten the hang of piping the stars and they’re really close to being all the same size.  My issue is that there are some gaps and a couple of them are big ones. Still the design is consistent and my eye is drawn to the center of the cookie instead of the gaps along the border of the cookie.  I also didn’t complete the design correctly.  I closed the border around the edge of the cookie.  Oops.

What would I do differently?  I’d slow down a little while piping.  When I started this cookie, I was in the zone with piping these stars.  That accounted for some of the gaps because I wasn’t taking my time placing the tip to the cookie.  Also, I need to mark out the design so I know where to start, end and spiral a little better.   I’m actually impressed that I got a good circle coming out of the center with even spacing, but I did not have a correct end point so the design ended up incorrect.

Baby Carriage – Chocolate Cookie

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Baby Carriage
Three-fourths of this cookie is covered in stars with a pink dotted border and Life Saver wheels.  The goals are the same: (1) get the stars as close together as possible with no gaps, (2) keep the stars a uniform size, (3) pipe a border along the stars that is seamless and is part of the star pattern and (4) fill in the wheels of the baby carriage.

Grade given to self: “C”
I didn’t mark off the uncovered area and I clearly don’t have one-quarter of the cookie showing.  While I did “okay” with my sizing, there are plenty of gaps in between the stars.  My pink border and my filled in wheels have tips instead of being a flat round circle.  That’s a HUGE no-no when piping simple shapes.

What would I do differently?  First I would invest in a mutli-star tip.  One of the reasons I got so sloppy (you can definitely tell where I started and where I finished) was because my forearm and hand was burning.  I mean it was on fire.  We were warned that this could happen and our instructor even suggested this tip.  Although I didn’t take it as a sales pitch (she wasn’t a “buy more of our stuff” type of woman), I know now that she was really looking out for our poor arm muscles.  Second, I would take the time to mark off the design – with a ruler and everything.  Then, I’d slow down a little.  Make sure my stars are close together and the same size and now have any tips of my circles.  Finally, I would have used one my smaller cookies.  My carriage wheels are totally out of proportion with the size of my cookie, and it probably would have saved my forearms as well.

Large Star – Chocolate Cookie

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Large Star
I was really excited about this one because not only would I be piping a design on to the cookie, I would be using a different decorating medium with the sugars.  Again, the idea is to pipe a proportional star using the star tip where they stars are the same size and you can’t see cookie underneath.

Grade given to self: “B+”
I have little faith in myself to try to free-hand a star.  In fact, I tried it for my very first class and it ended up in disaster.  One looked pregnant and the other… I don’t know how to describe it.  So I decided to use piping gel and lay down a pattern.  My star is nicely place and proportional with the stars very close together and consistent in size.  So why the B+?  Because I was too freakin’ lazy to fill a bag with clear piping gel and used my pink.  No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t hide the pink color.


What would I do differently?  I’d use CLEAR PIPING GEL to lay down the design.

Daisy Flower – Chocolate Cookie

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Daisy Flower
The goal is to create a flower shape with stars (uniform in size and no gaps between) with a yellow piped circle in the center.

Grade given to self: “D”
I started my second cookie with a design a little cocky from my Large Star cookie.  “Who needs to lay down another pattern,” I said.  “I’m an expert free-hand decorator,” I said.

Yeah, I am an idiot.  Every once in a while, I forget that and then something like this reminds me.

And that’s why I graded myself so harshly.  Had I just found a daisy shape, traced it with piping gel and filled it in, I’m confident that it would have been centered and shaped perfectly.  But no, I had to get all free-handed fancy and ended up with a flower that is almost a circle.

And it’s not centered.

And I have no idea what I was thinking with my center dot.  It’s like I decided to do a swirl.  A swirl with a tip.  What was I thinking?

And I didn’t learn from my last mistake and used the pink piping gel.  Maybe I should change this to an “F”.

What would I do differently?  I think I outlined it pretty well above, but let me summarize without all of my moaning.  First, I’d find the shape I want to use and make it goes down centered on the cookie.  Next, I’d take a little more time and care with my yellow center.  Finally, I’d use clear piping gel.

Star Flower – Plain Cookie

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Star Flower
The design is simple – you use a larger star tip, also called a drop flower, and fill in the center with a colored dot.  They don’t have to be close together, the skill is in creating stars that are well defined with a well in the center for a dot without a tip.

Grade given to self: “C”
My “randomness” wasn’t well thought out and my stars look a little crowded to that of the original cookie.  Also, I started piping this star without practicing it at all and it really shows.  They are several different shapes and about half are malformed without a well in the center.  Most of my dots have tips on them as well – a result of me trying to pipe it too quickly.

You can see how droopy some of the stars are in this picture.

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Droopy Star Flowers

What would I do differently?  The obvious would be to slow down after practicing a little.  Also giving the pattern, no matter how random it seems a little thought.  It is almost like I tried doing too much in too structured of a manner.  Also, I’d use a smaller cookie.  There’s no reason to use a big one here.

Blue Star – Plain Cookie

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Blue Star
The design is random stars piped apart in a consistent size.

Grade given to self: “B”
I’ll give myself a pat on the back for having well-formed stars that are consistent in size.  However, my design is has way too much structure being too close in the middle and a weird amount of “white space” around the edges. 

What would I do differently?  I would rethink how to make my spacing a little more random and use a smaller cookie.  Since there’s no design that needs a lot of room, it’s silly to use one of the big ones.

Heart – Plain Cookie

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Using the star tip, you create a heart centered in the middle of the cookie that is completely filled in without any gaps and uniform size.  A border of large circles (around the same size as the stars) is piped around the edge and then the heart is sprinkled with pink sugar.

Grade given to self: “D”
The only thing redeeming about this decoration is that the stars are close together with very few gaps.  Even the pink piping gel (yes, my laziness continued) was hidden by how close they were and the pink sugar.  But I’m just avoiding the VERY obvious.  The heart is misshapen because I decided to free-hand it again like a dork.  It isn’t even close to being centered.  And the border?  Do I even have to discuss it?  The circles are too small and they all have tips like a nipple for a baby bottle.  I think this was the first one I ate so I didn’t have to look at it anymore.

What would I do differently?  I would get a pattern and place center it before trying to pipe it onto the cookie.  Then I’d slow down and get the doggone border the right size and smooth.

Number 1 – Plain Cookie

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Number 1
The star tip is used to pipe a number one into the center of the cookie.  The number should be proportionally correct with uniform stars that have no gaps in between them.  Then a colored dot border is placed around the edge of the cookie.  The dots have uniform spaces in between them, smooth on top, are different colors and are all the same size.

Grade given to self: “D”
The “one” didn’t end up half bad.  Luckily for me, it was a straight-edge shape with easy proportions.  I even managed to get it centered!  However, there are gaps between the stars including a HUGE one on the base of the number.  Now let’s talk about the dots.  For some reason, I read the instructions as saying different size tips should be used creating different size dots.  Now, a normal person would look at the picture and re-read the directions.  Not me, though.  I just pushed ahead.  So my border is several different shapes and all of them have tips.  Seriously, the easiest part of the entire design I managed to screw up very badly.

What would I do differently?  Although I don’t have to use a pattern, I definitely would mark the edges of the design to keep those gaps from happening.  Speaking of the gaps, part of it could definitely be that this was my last cookie to decorate, so I was going fast and not paying a lot of attention.  Okay, it most definitely is the reason.  Then I’d take more time with my circles and leave them smooth on top.

As I’m going over this post, I see a theme in my mistakes.  One thing is that I’d make extra frosting to make sure I could practice each piping technique before doing it on the cookie.  I would say that this was the reason I didn’t practice, but I’d just be lying to myself.  On that note, here are the repeating mistakes I made:
  • I need to make sure I practice each technique, even if just a little, before piping on to my cookie.  Once I get 5-10 in a row that are exactly what I’m looking for, it’s time to decorate.  Until then… practice!
  • I need to slow down!  Part of it is that I need to get comfortable… set myself up a decorating station that allows me to be near my husband and television so I can take a break.  Also I shouldn’t be on my feet the whole time.  The other part is that I have a very literal mind.  I have a starting point and a finish line.  For some reason, I always try to get to that finish line as quickly as possible.  I can still do it quickly, but I have to do it correctly as well.
  • I need to mark out pattern.  I have to face the fact that I can’t hand-draw designs.
  • I need to add an extra bag and Tip #1 with a coupler for some clear piping gel.  I know better than to use the colored stuff.
So I hope you enjoyed my first practice session.  I am going to try to fit in these designs again so I can keep practicing.  Maybe I won’t do it on a cookie, but I promise I’m going to do this until it looks right.

Until then… happy baking and decorating!

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