cake decorating 101

gorgeous, show-stopping cakes don't have to be stuck in the pages of a magazine, on pinterest or in the display case of the local bakery.  with a little practice and a whole lot of enthusiasm (and sprinkles) they are well within reach of any home baker!

ice cream cone-cupcakes for helena's birthday - so cute and easy!

ice cream cone-cupcakes for helena's birthday - so cute and easy!

i recently cashed in 5,000 hard-earned whole foods rewards points and took a private cake decorating class with my sister at our local market - and yes, it was just as fantastic as it sounds.    

as you can probably imagine - as anyone who has ever made a cake and attempted to decorate it definitely can imagine - we learned some super valuable tips.  oh we learned the basics for sure, like how to create that perfectly smooth base layer, pipe borders and shapes and which tips are perfect for each specific application and of course, how to create flowers! you know those gorgeous roses and peonies that grace the tops of so many cakes and cupcakes?  turns out they actually aren't all that difficult to make!  with the proper tools which are, as sarah (our super rad instructor) assured us, available on the cheap at any local craft store  (think jo-ann fabric or michaels), anyone with the desire to do so can have the equipment  to create homemade pastry masterpieces.  or something to that effect, anyway!  

a work in progress...

a work in progress...

some backstory...  a few months ago i volunteered to create the cake for our other sister's baby shower, and after hours and hours spend scouring pinterest for inspiration - and creating an impressive 'pretty cakes' board - i decided, rather optimistically as it turned out,  to make a 4-layer, pink ombre cake (plus 3 different flavors of french macarons). 

baby shower pastry display...

baby shower pastry display...

the experience of creating those treats, and having them on display for family and friends was surprisingly eye-opening.  that cake wasn't easy, and even though the time spent was completely, 100% worth it, at the end of the day i was completely burnt out.  the mere thought of cake-decorating was slightly panic-inducing. 

that was why this class came at the perfect time.  that and the fact that it was a few months after the baby shower, and my passion for pastry had thankfully returned!

those blobs of sprinkles on the side were intentional... right...

those blobs of sprinkles on the side were intentional... right...

because it turns out that the most valuable lesson i learned at that cake-decorating class wasn't how to achieve that perfectly smooth, flat frosting base, or form flawless flowers with the tip of a piping bag.  it was that all of those pictures of ridiculously gorgeous cakes on pinterest and in magazines are not nearly as simple or effortless as they seem.  that there are teams of people and really, really good photographers spending a whole lotta time behind the scenes creating those perfect images, and that the final product came after many, many fails.  that even professional bakers make mistakes that are easily concealed by extra sprinkles, chocolate curls or clouds of fluffy whipped cream.  

the finished product...

the finished product...

once you let go of the expectation that you have to create something perfect, the experience ceases to have even the slightest tinge of resentfulness or negativity and just becomes fun.  pure cake-decorating, buttercream coated fun, and that's what every experience - baking or otherwise - should be.

i think i could pass that off as a store-bought confection...

i think i could pass that off as a store-bought confection...

turns out that that cake-decorating class was infinitely valuable in more ways than one: not only can i create beautiful, effortless looking pastries, i can appreciate and acknowledge the work that went into them from first-hand experience. and i can't wait to wrack up 5,000 more points, and do it all over again.