Perhaps it’s because my mother didn’t bake, scorned baking, but allowed me to bake. Or maybe it has nothing to do with her and I just love to bake. Maybe (o, probably) it’s because I love to eat baked goods: good bread, rolls, brioche, croissants, pie, cake. When my husband discovered that I could make apple pie from scratch, he was awed: his mother isn’t a baker either. And last year when he asked what I wanted for my birthday, I said “get me a gift certificate for a cake decorating class.”
What could be more frivolous? I mean, really: cake decorating? Flowers and shell borders and pretty stuff? Cause anyone who knows me knows: I’m so all about the shell pink roses and sequinned goo… But cake decorating is just another excuse to play with my food.
So I wound up taking beginning, then intermediate, then advanced, and then fondant classes. (My instructor is an old-style buttercream sort of cake decorator, and regards the prevalent mania for fondant as abberant.) And once I had basic skills in place (it will probably take me years to get beyond basic competence, and I don’t expect to ever rival Charm City Cakes) I started taking orders now and again: the cake above was a birthday cake. Basket weave frosting is one of the coolest things to do, because it looks difficult (but isn’t) and makes everyone go “Wow!” And you can pile flowers or something on the top and it looks spiffy.
The allure of cake decorating (for me) is in securing the skills and trying to do something weird with them. Pretty is nice; I’m generally pro-pretty. But weird is even better. And there’s something deeply satisfying about being able to work with frosting and fondant in much the same way I did clay and paints when I was in grade school. My hand’s a touch steadier, and the final process is somewhat more polished, but the fun is still in the making.
Soon I started branching out. A friend wanted a birthday cake for her adolescent son, who loves Hellboy:
That’s buttercream, with a fondant “plaque” of Hellboy. I’m told the birthday boy was pleased.
For a New Year’s party I made two cakes, one buttercream, the other (right) covered in fondant. The color was meant to put the lie to the contention that people don’t eat green frosting. It seemed to work: the cake went fast enough!
When my daughter turned 19 earlier this month, she wanted a “Helium” cake–Helium is a character from a web cartoon series (he’s August Strindberg’s sidekick, and yes, I know it’s weird. That’s why she likes it). This required that I make a tiny cupcake for Helium’s head, since Helium is always trying to cheer Strindberg with cupcakes…
I made a sheet cake for the Teacher Appreciation Day luncheon at the younger daughter’s school, with (at their request) a line-drawing of the school itself. I made a big, gluten-free cake for my gluten-intolerant sister-in-law’s big Obama party last fall. I made a birthday cake for me with a replica of a speed-limit sign on it (I turned 55 and decided there should be a limit somewhere…).
Last month a friend of mine with a soft spot for the romantic asked for a swashbuckling cake with fondant (with marzipan under it) and crossed swords and as much lace as I could manage. So I made up some gum paste (which is more structural than fondant and good for shapes that must dry firm) and homemade fondant, some royal icing for lace, and got out my edible gold dust.
This, which includes a sword, a jewelled and laced fencing gauntlet, crossed swords around the side, and a blue pimpernel (because scarlet would not have worked well with the pink fondant) merged my fondness for swordplay with my fondness for cake. Total win, with frosting!
The nice thing about cake is, as every small child knows, that in the final analysis it’s a frosting delivery system, meant to be eaten. It’s ephemeral. If the design is imperfect, well, as long as it tastes good, no harm, no foul.
I’m making something cake-related to bring to Wiscon next week. I’ll let you know how that goes.