Let Them Eat Cake

Yeah, so baking’s pretty easy when you’ve got a recipe to follow. Mix butter, flour, sugar, add eggs, stir for a bit, stick in oven, take out, eat. Delish! Icing’s another story altogether, however, and I’m particularly rubbish at making my cupcakes look professional-like. I reckon my buttercream troubles are behind me now, though, ever since I signed up for a three-hour masterclass with bakery and catering service Little Paper Cakes and was shown the finer points of rose and classic swirls, and icing stars.

The class – organised by Ministry of Craft, a group dedicated to handmade education – took place in the Fred Aldous basement in Manchester and got messy straight away, colouring sugar paste to make lots of embellishments for our cakes. (I got a bit over-excited by the fact there was a bunny rabbit cutter and made loads of little Thumpers, with sugar balls for fluffy tails.)

How sweet are these:


Sugar paste is lots of fun – although you need to make sure whatever you’re not using is in an airtight container, as contact with the air dries it out pretty gosh-darn quickly – but I’ve decided I’m not a big fan of using them on cakes and prefer to keep things simple. It’s also a bit expensive, as you have to buy all cutters and the sugar paste. That said, Little Paper Cakes’ Anna Sullivan, who led the class, has done some truly funky stuff with them on some of her own bakey treats, like these little dice she made for a recent 40th birthday party.

By now, I was pretty much covered head to toe in lustre dust (I made my bunny rabbits all shiny and nice!), edible glue, glitter and food colouring and was eyeing up my piping bag with trepidation, memories of my many, many icing failures coming back to haunt me. Anna provided us all with a sheet of plastic so we could practice our piping before attacking our cupcakes with buttercream (seriously good idea, can’t believe I didn’t think of it) and, as expected, my first attempt at the classic swirl was, to put it bluntly, rubbishio. As was my second, third and fourth try.

Do or die, I thought by the fifth attempt. He who dares wins and all that. I kind of got it – Anna’s technique is to squeeze the bag with her right hand and direct it with the left, holding it directly above the cake and starting the icing two-thirds of the way down the cake and icing down to the edge then moving round to the right. When you get back to where you started lift up and continue until you reach the middle. Then as you squeeze, press down a little to get a bit of a flourish at the top of your cake.

This is what mine ended up like:


We then moved on to the rose swirl – my personal favourite. I only had to do one practice run at this and aced it immediately, I’m proud to say. You have to start in the middle of the cake for this one, moving outwards to the edge. As you go, you need to overlap the icing you’ve already done, cutting in on it a bit so you end up with a beautiful rose shape. To finish, stop squeezing and just drag the piping bag along a bit. Anna says she uses a sugar paste decoration whenever she does a rose swirl to cover up the end and to keep it all neat and tidy.

My proudest cakey moment in my baking career thus far:


Another technique we were shown (muchos easier than the classic swirl, which I think will be my cupcake nemesis for some time to come), was the star. This looks so cute when done and it’s probably the easiest of the three – all you do is fill up your icing bag, squeeze a bit out and press down onto the cake, lifting off when you’ve pushed out enough. If you use two different colours of icing, this looks AMAZING!

Check out my mad cupcaking skills, yo:

All in all, I had the best start to a Saturday morning in a long time (certainly beats vegetating on the sofa with the hangover from hell!) and have come away with some great new skills that I can now use to wow my friends with forever and ever amen.

I had a quick chat with Anna before I went on my merry way and she had a few helpful hints and tips to see you enjoy cupcaking success as well:

Put the piping bag in a glass before you fill it. It makes it a hell of a lot easier to fill.

Make the buttercream as smooth as possible by whipping and whipping and whipping it.

Only fill the bag half full with the buttercream. Any more and you will end up in a right mess!

This was Anna’s first class as a cupcake tutor (she works full-time at Manchester radio station Key 103 in the traffic department – bit of a far cry from her baking ambitions) and she did an amazing job – I definitely learned a lot and had lots of (messy, messy) fun into the bargain. I’m off to another Ministry of Craft class in a few weeks, in a bid to conquer my sewing machine. The last time I was anywhere near a Singer I was five and stuck my finger under the moving needle (dumbass), so this should be an interesting one. Check back to see if I survive my ordeal.

Ministry of Craft classes:

Ready to learn something new? Have a go with the Ministry of Craft.

1) Night Photography: Manchester in Darkness. For £35, you can find out how to take great snaps in the dark and learn some lighting tricks to get some great effects.

2) A-line Skirt in a Day. Make do and mend has come into its own thanks to the recession. Who doesn’t want to learn to make their own clothes? This course is a snip at £70.

3) Screen Stars: Introduction to screen printing. Spend £40 and learn to make an ace, personalised T-shirt, pillowcase, apron…whatever you want, really!

The rest of my cupcakey day:

One Response to “Let Them Eat Cake”
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  1. […] Paper Cakes – which just held its first cupcake-icing session on behalf of the Ministry a few weeks ago – will be on hand with some yummy-scrummy bakey […]

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