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The Icing on the Cake

My local bakery’s spring display of pastel, flower-decorated cakes inspired me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for years ... learn from a pro how to decorate a cake.

I signed up for the one-day Fill, Frost and Ice class at the Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionary, an 86-year-old private vocational school in Chicago’s southwest suburb of Darien ($125). Director Sandy Flosom welcomed us into a spacious workshop, with gleaming stainless-steel counters, shelves of elaborately decorated cakes and workstations equipped with spatulas, pastry tips, plastic cone-shape bags, mixers and bowls of icing.

I wondered if some day I could ever create the lifelike frosting floral bouquets and sculpted fondant figures surrounding me. After hearing another student talk about her in-home baking business, I thought maybe I should stick to frosting cupcakes with a butter knife.

But Sandy reassured us that by the end of the day all of us would be able to create basic, beautiful designs such as flowers and basket weave patterns. “You don’t have to be an artist or experienced baker to decorate a cake like a pro," she said. "Natural-looking images aren’t drawn on the cake, but created from the angle of your pastry bag and pressure on it as you glide across the surface."

Tilt the pastry bag. Press. Release. Repeat. I squeezed out rosette, vine, star, zigzag and basket weave designs on a plastic board. It was a fun, frosting version of Etch A Sketch. I scraped the board clean with a spatula, sneaked a lick of frosting and tried again.

But do-overs are harder on a double-layer cake. Spreading thick buttercream on curved cake sides requires turning a lazy Susan with one hand and exerting even spatula pressure with the other. I crushed the top.  Sandy pushed up the sleeves of her chef’s coat and smoothed out my crater like a master plasterer. “It just takes practice. The good news is we get to eat our mistakes,” she said. I filled in the cracks, creating a Caribbean-blue wave design with simple stars.

It wasn't quite what I imagined, but it wasn't a total cake-tastrophe either. While it hardly resembled the beauties in bakery windows, my family gobbled it up that night.

I'm tempted now to return for another class; the school offers a range of courses, including doughnut-making, bread-baking and cake pops sessions. Workshops run anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days and are geared to a variety of skill levels, from novices to experienced bakers.

As for my future as a cake decorator? Well, I got to keep the pastry tips. I think I'll practice on cupcakes and keep my butter knife handy.

Class photos courtesy of Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionary; cake photos by Kit Bernardi.

Read more of Kit’s travel adventures at www.KitTravels.com.

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