Cake Decorating Class at Urban Farmer

Come Valentines Day, sweets are on the brain.  Chocolate to be more specific.  I was invited to Urban Farmer to attend a pastry class, conducted by their pastry chef.  I didn’t know what to expect…baking pies, kneading dough, etc.  When we arrived at the conference room turned classroom, we found three layers of decadent chocolate cakes, a pastry bag full of Italian butter cream, and another one nearby stuffed with chocolate mousse filling.  Jackpot.  This was a cake decorating class!

My friend Amanda and I inspected all the tools placed in front on us and thought…this will be equal parts fun and disastrous.  After all, neither of us claim to be bakers.  That’s the whole reason we were attending this class in the first place.  But we both fancy ourselves pretty savvy in the kitchen.  Adventurous, at least.  But we were still glad to see the tasks of actually baking the cakes and preparing the frosting and filling were left to the professionals. We were just left to do the fun creative stuff.

We were given instructions on how to best cut, stack and prep a layer cake  (along with the recipe for it), and let in on an industry secret…of brushing the layers of cake with flavored simple syrup, to add flavor and keep it moist.  For this cake we used a coffee flavored simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated until dissolved and 2 oz. brewed coffee to roughly 2 cups of syrup.  Game.  Changer.

We piped a “barrier layer” of frosting on the outer edge of each layer, then filled in the rest with the chocolate mousse filling. Ideally you’d throw the cake in the freezer after each step, but in this instance…no time.  Next came the crumb coat.  That luscious Italian butter cream.


We were also invited to to sample and taste the difference between store bought frosting (generic and organic), the grocery store variety used by bakeries like Giant Eagle and Costco, and the house Italian butter cream used by Urban Farmer in the restaurant and attached Westin Hotel.  To me the last was clearly the best. Rich, creamy, velvety.  The kind of frosting you do extra time on treadmill for.

The next part got a little tricky.  We frosted the top and the side, then were tasked with make the cakes smooth, real smooth…with the offset spatula and a painters tool.  I nearly broke my arm patting myself on the back after I conquered this step.  Ironically, all the time and attention I spent on it wasn’t totally necessary, as I covered most of the surfaces with decorative frosting, sprinkles and Oreo crumbs.  Yep…those came next.

When it was time to move on to the REALLY fun part (also the most challenging) we were like kids in a candy store.  We had cake pops, tubs of every color sprinkle in the rainbow, merengue “eyes,” swirls, and dots, pretzel and almond crumbs, Oreos, and gallons and gallons of frosting.  My trouble shooting takeaway? Frosting fixes everything. Recognizing my frosting shortfalls, I went wacky instead of precise…and went for a “Love Bug” theme for my little girls. Others made “monsters” or flowers with frosting.  It was cute to see everyone’s imagination run wild!

love-bug-cake

At the end of the fun afternoon, we were sent off with our cakes, and a gift bag with four recipes used by the Urban Farmer pastry chefs, and several baking tools.  Best part for me…is I’ll be back for more classes at Urban Farmer. They’ve scheduled a series of butcher classes from April to October.  You can sign up for one, or all of them.  I’ll see you there!

urban-farmer-butcher-classes

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Cake School: Colette Peters Fondant Class

Ever walk past a window display at a bakery and think…’how’d they do that?’  Or say, ‘I can do that’!  Elaborate cake decorating is one of the hottest trends in cooking these days.  Cake competition shows and decorating demos flood the Food Network.  For some, it’s a calling.  For others, a passion.  For me, it’s something I’ve never even attempted.  Too intimidated.  Some things are better left to others.  But when one of the best bakers in the world, Colette Peters, offers you some one on one time to talk about how she creates her incredible confections…you gotta take her up on it.

Famed cake decorator to the stars, reality show pioneer, and decorating school founder, Colette Peters, of Colette’s Cakes, paid a visit to Cuyahoga Community College’s Hospitality Management Center this weekend.  She offered her time and expertise to students and amateurs alike.

purple fondant

I sat in on a fondant class where novices and budding cake queens learned tips and tricks from the woman who has baked and decorated for the likes of Sting, The Rolling Stones, Whoopi Goldberg, Kanye West, Yoko Ono and even The White House.

Peters spent the beginning of the day trouble shooting and helping students answer questions about what they were doing wrong.  Most of the time, she told me, bakers don’t work fast enough and the fondant gets too dry, and often cracks.  The fix? Simple.  Rub it down and smooth it over with some shortening.  Who knew?!

Sisters Robin Wilson and Debbie Hartman were there looking for ways to be more efficient, and turn their weekend hobby into a legitimate business.  Right now, they’re picking away at every cake they make, in the spare time they can find.  But each cake takes about 10 hours for them.

sisters applying fondant

Nancy Bolzan works in the family business: Gentile’s Bakery, Catering and Deli.  She can knock out a fondant-topped cake in about two hours.  But she is looking to expand her repertoire, so she came to the class to pick up some new techniques.

Students at the Sunday class learned marbling techniques, and Peter’s own buttercream recipe.  They also tackled questions like when to frost, and at what temperature.

smoothing fondant

Peters comes to the table with two degrees in painting, and a background in design at Tiffany & Co. where she worked on things like stationary and china.   She was also a competitor, and winner, on Food Network’s original baking competition.  Peters even helped them write the rules for subsequent shows.

colette peters Food Network

To those like Robin and Debbie, looking to make some more of their baking hobby, she says…take classes!  There you can learn in a hands on manner, and ask practical questions.  Or, she says, take advantage of the resources of your state’s chapter, and conventions, of the International Cake Exploration Societe.

Colette Peters cakes

photo courtesy Facebook

What’s trending and on the horizon for this innovative baker?  Right now Peters tells me she is working on a collaboration inspired by Cirque de Soleil, and edible cages around her famous cakes.  Can’t wait to see how those turn out!

And incidentally, it was just her 65th Birthday, so to celebrate, the team at Tri-C launched an international sugar collaboration in her honor. Check it out:
www.happybirthdaycolette.com  Fans and students are leaving messages and sharing pictures of cakes made just for her!

Peters is doing a FREE “Painting on cake” demo for the public on Monday, February 1st, from noon-1:30pm at the Hospitality Management Center, 180 Euclid Ave.  Cleveland, Ohio.