Well, Rachel and I love cake so much we just couldn't help ourselves. After we had booked into the first cupcake decorating course, the one that had originally piqued our interest in such courses came up for an absolute bargain on one of those online deals websites ($50 instead of the usual $125), so we enrolled in that, too!
The second course was run by Jennifer Graham of Crabapple Cupcakes, and was totally different to the first course. I'm not quite sure which of the two courses you would say was "better". They were just different.
I must admit when I first walked in I was fairly skeptical that the course was going to be of any use at all. It was held upstairs in a restaurant in the city (it was closed for the night and we had the place to ourselves), and the furniture had been rearranged so that there was a big, long table in the middle and chairs absolutely jammed down the sides of the room. Because the majority of bakers do not actually fit onto a smallish chair without oozing over the sides a little, it was a wee bit squeezy!
My first impression was not good. There was a row of buckets of buttercream frosting in different colours, as well as various sprinkles, cachous and pre-made royal icing flowers. I was quite seriously concerned that we would be doing something I could very easily do on my own.
Then Jennifer opened her mouth and my heart sank a little bit further. It seemed like she was going to waffle on in a sales pitch about cake like it was a religion, and if there are two things I hate it is sales pitches, and people trying to force religion on you. And then I realised that we were all there because, to most of us, cake IS a religion. Once I realised that I was good to go. Huzzah!
We didn't learn a great deal about decorating that I didn't already know, but there were a few really good take-home cupcake baking and decorating tips:
1) Bicarb soda is used instead of baking powder where there are acidic ingredients such as buttermilk or chocolate. It also tends to give a browner/more golden finish on the cake
2) Following recipes correctly is important. Details like how long you beat cake batter for, not to overbeat it, recognising what "light and fluffy" looks like etc are important
3) Repeatability is paramount in cupcake decorating. You want them all to be identical, and you need to know exactly how much icing you put on and exactly how many times you turned the cupcake as you applied the icing
4) Always decorate in circles or arcs, not squares. Squares need to be absolutely perfect, and not only do they need to be perfect, but the entire display of cupcakes then needs to be lined up, too, and if one is off just a little then it looks terrible. Curves = good; square = bad
5) Ingredients should be at room temperature when you add them to the mix
6) You should get an oven thermometer so you know what temperature you are actually baking at.
They're the key messages. And now for some pretty photos!
Jennifer also gave us a handy information booklet with a recipe for basic vanilla cupcakes and buttercream frosting, which I will share with you in another post. She also taught us quite quickly how to pipe a rose but either I wasn't paying attention or I'm just not very good with my hands. Basically I want to know how to make those sugar flowers because it will be a hell of a lot cheaper to make them myself than to buy them! In case you couldn't tell, I loved those red sugar roses.
Anyway, if you get a chance, the Crabapple Bakery cupcake decorating course is good fun. In some ways I preferred the one we did at Marg and Maree's - the class there was much smaller and there was more focus on learning each decorating technique then practising, then learning another technique and then practising; rather than the Crabapple one that was basically a two hour lecture followed by half an hour of decorating however you want with the techniques used, under guidance. Mind you, there were about forty people in the room as opposed to the twelve at the other course, so there was less guidance and some students got frustrated and slipped through the cracks a little. But I think it was worth doing the course nonetheless, just to pick up the tips listed above.
And hey, with either course, you get six free cupcakes!