I finally signed up for the Wilton cake decorating course 1 at my local Michael's Craft store, and my first class was last night. I have been wanting to do this for such a long time, but I just never got around to it. So now my future matron-of-honor and I are signed up.
For those of you who don't know, each course has a specific "class kit" which goes along with it. Instead, I opted to get the Wilton 50-piece tool caddy, because I read that it has everything for all the courses. I have since realized that this isn't entirely correct, and that I will need to supplement it with a few odds and ends, but I'm not really fussed about this. I bought it with a 50% off coupon (AC Moore "Super Tuesdays"!!), so it came to only $30, which is just a few dollars more than the Course 1 kit. It definitely has everything for Course 1, plus a lot for Courses 2 and 3, so I'm pretty sure I still made out. It has the added bonus of providing a convenient way to carry everything, plus extra space for a lot of the misc. decorating tips and icing gels that I have accumulated over time.
We didn't get to do much in the first class, we learned about the 3 different consistencies of icing, and how thick=stiff flowers, medium=borders and some other flowers, and thin=icing and writing. I've definitely attempted to decorate cakes before using purely icing, in a very rudimentary way, but I've never bothered with different icing consistencies, so I obviously have a lot to learn.
We were also given a recipe for "Class Buttercream" as follows:
1 C solid white veg. shortening
4 C confectioner's sugar
1 tbs powdered merengue
2 tbs water or milk
1 tsp extract (vanilla, almond or butter)
I've made homemade icing a lot -- I firmly believe that nothing jazzes up a cake like homemade icing, and I've tried many recipes for buttercream, but I've never made a buttercream with vegetable shortening in it before. I went on the Wilton site, and there is another recipe for "Snow White buttercream" which is slightly more complicated but has gotten better reviews on taste. I am going to stick with Class Buttercream for now, I'll make a batch over the weekend and see how it tastes. I bought the "butter" flavored extract, but I am slightly suspicious of synthetic butter flavoring. What I really want is a bakery quality buttercream (i.e. the recipe for Mendoker's buttercream icing -- if you're from central NJ, you'll understand). Taste is really still the most important thing to me, it is the soul of all baked goods -- I already know how to make a yummy cake, I just want to make it pretty. But the last thing I want to do is sacrifice taste for appearance. I figure that once I get used to working with the icing, and become comfortable judging the three different consistencies, then I can substitute another (tastier) buttercream in its place.
Luckily, my instructor informs me that the class buttercream is very hardy, and can be made a week or so in advance. This is happy news, because it means I can bake the cake and make the buttercream on the weekend when I have free time, and then bring them to class Wed night for assembly. For next class, our homework is to make icing, and bake a cake -- either from a character cake pan or a round cake. I am opting for the round cake, which means that I will be making the "Rainbow Cake" next Wednesday.