Friday 7 December 2012

Patchwork cutters and painting on cakes

I recently bought a Livingsocial deal for a cake decorating class that was described as "applique" and painting on cakes. I was hoping to learn a new technique as this is something I haven't tried before, and didn't really know how to go about it.

The class was at The Place of Excellence in south London.

We started off covering a small cake board in fondant - this meant we could keep our designs for ever if we wanted, and was a good idea, though I would have liked the chance to have a go at painting on a fondant-covered cake as well. The class catered for all levels, and some people had never used fondant or covered a cake or board before, so the tutor - who I think was called Shola, apologies if this isn't right but the course was a while ago now! - talked us through how to do this.

She then emptied a huge bag of patchwork cutters onto the table and allowed us to choose the one(s) we wanted to use. Even though it was only October, I thought it would be nice to make something I could potentially use as a Christmas decoration or give as a gift, so I chose this pair of bells and a sort of Celtic knot design.

The technique turned out to be very simple - we used the cutter to press down on the fondant gently enough to leave an outline.

Then we took some edible dusting powder and mixed it with a little liquid - you can use a clear alcoholic spirit such as vodka, or a flavour extract like vanilla or lemon extract. You can't use water, as it would be too runny and won't dry properly. Here you can see a small amount of gold lustre powder that I took out of the pot, before I mixed it with the spirit.

We were then told to simply dip a fine artist's paintbrush in the mixed colour, and paint onto the fondant, following the lines from the cutter.

We could also use the cutter again to cut out the same shape in flower paste, and then layer it onto the fondant to build up the picture in 3D. I started doing this but then changed my mind - the flower paste was so thin the picture was almost as flat as if I just painted straight onto the fondant, and we only had white flower paste so I would have then had to paint it in the same way I was painting the picture directly onto the fondant.

Here is the finished picture - very festive!

This beautiful one is the handiwork of Ros from The More Than Occasional Baker -
we took the class together. Ros did a particularly good job on the dove I think!

We were given a box to take our cake boards home, though as I had quite a long journey on the tube then bus, I found it impossible to keep this flat and it did get a little bashed around in the box, so I decided I couldn't really give it as a gift, though I will display it somewhere in my house for Christmas.

The class was advertised as lasting three hours, but doing all this only took two and a quarter hours - and I have to say I didn't feel it was particularly good value for money as the teacher explained the technique - which was basically "use a stencil to make an outline, mix the lustre dust with some liquid and paint on your outline" - and then we sat there for an hour painting. The sort of classes I prefer, and where I really feel like I've got my money's worth, is where there is a lot of interaction from the tutor - they show the class how to do something, then help each individual improve their technique and so on.

To fill the extra time we made roses by rolling long strips of fondant, and the tutor also showed us how to cover a round cake with fondant (though we watched rather than doing it ourselves). I'd done both of these things before so I think it would have been quite good for people who hadn't done it. The tutor also demonstrated "lace work" which was also done with a particularly delicate patchwork cutter. If you use flowerpaste it dries hard enough that you can stand the piece of 'lace' up around the sides of a cake, and make some really nice designs.

It was interesting to learn a new technique that I'd never thought to do before, and when I went to Cake International in Birmingham not long after, I bought some patchwork cutters (though I haven't used them yet). It would have been nicer for the class to be a bit more interactive, especially as it wasn't very cheap even after the discount, but for people who hadn't done any sort of cake decorating before I think it would have been particularly good.

The Place of Excellence also offers balloon modelling classes, which I thought looked really interesting, and quite an unusual combination with the cake decorating!


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