Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Pastry Whirlwind: Wilton, Cakegirls, and the Swedish Bakery

Since I have neglected my page but plan to post cakes in the future, I thought I would try to bridge the gap by letting you know what I've been up to. A real transformation happened in October. I spent almost every day traveling down to the South Suburbs of Chicago to attend the Wilton School of Cake Decorating. It was my first experience decorating cakes every day. That, combined with the flood of new skills I learned, helped me to start making cakes that really represented my tastes and abilities.

The first two weeks were dedicated to the Master Course, an intensive piping regimen of flowers, figures, and borders, which resulted in my rose and pansy cake, which I posted in December. The second two weeks were with Colette Peters, owner of Collette's Cakes, in NY. Collette has a masters in painting from Pratt and worked as a designer at Tiffany’s for 10 years before becoming a decorator. Her cakes are flamboyant, free-spirited, and amazing! In her class tools were rarely used for their original purpose, and flowers were mostly called, "fantasy flowers.” It was important to me, when making cakes in her class, to use her techniques (like metallic painting and free-form carving) without stealing her style. The cakes I completed for Colette were the beetle and celestial cakes, which I also posted.

After Wilton I spent three months interning full time with the Cakegirls of Chicago. I was thrilled when they took me on because my love for their cakes verges on obsession. Chief designer Mary Maher’s cakes are stylish and artful, and she has developed a distinctive style that is regularly imitated. Mary taught me how to use molded chocolate and rice-crispy, how to add life with highlights and shadows, and when to balance bold statements with detail. Never once did she send me to get coffee or make me do dishes!

It was at Cakegirls that I learned that piping skills truly separate the boys from the men. Mary, and her sister Brenda both started out at an old-school buttercream bakery in Detroit, and as a result use a piping bag as if it’s an extension of their hand. I decided after my internship ended to apply to work at Chicago’s own old-world bakery, the Swedish Bakery in Andersonville. The place has been a neighborhood staple for 80 years, and they do everything from marzipan and whipped cream cakes to fondant and buttercream. Speed and a steady hand is my goal, and since we average what seems to be 50 cakes a day I think I’ll achieve it.

I’ve made a lot of cakes at work that I’d love to post on my blog, but out of respect for the businesses I’ll leave web-posting to the business owners and customers. When I find some time to create cakes at home, which I am looking forward to, I’ll be sure to post them here!