Cupcakes used to be all the rage in the U.S. and now seems to have come to Europe. I don’t get why though. I mean, it’s just simple white cake with tons of sugar on top. Who actually enjoys eating that? I mean, don’t get me wrong–I actually LOVE carbs and have downed my share of simple sugars–but would rather savor all the delectable breads here, munch on cakes, cookies, brownies, tarts, pies, muffins, tortillas… you name it. When I bake, I bake to EAT. Gimme all the yummy goodness of the food itself, not all the fluffy stuff that goes on top.
But I have a friend here who is obsessed with cupcakes and is always talking about how she can’t get them quite right. So she found a cupcake decorating class in Zürich (in English!) and asked if I wanted to join her. At SFr. 125.- for 3 hours, it was kind of steep for something I’m really not that interested in. But I didn’t have anything else going on for Thursday night, so I figured I might as well give it a shot. I wasn’t totally opposed to it–I mean, I did buy a cheapie piping set at Otto’s last month on a whim (still wrapped in its original packaging though), so perhaps it might be cool to learn how to actually use it.
So we enrolled in the Cupcakes Decorations Essentials course offered by Ribizli Sweetertainment. It was held at the Quartiertreff Hirslanden, which I could only describe as a local community center that looked like an old barn. Not that I’ve ever seen a real barn up close, but I suppose this would be what I would consider what a barn looks like. 😛 If Google Translate serves me correctly, the building was a former servant house next to the Hirslanden mill. The building was REALLY old, made of wooden planks with uneven walls and floorboards that creaked when you walked on them. But still kind of homey and cozy, painted in an assortment of colors, and I suppose a cute, rustic setting for a cupcake decorating class.
With two instructors and only six participants, we had plenty of hands-on instruction on the following:
- Working with sugar paste (AKA fondant)
- Learning how to make buttercream frosting
- Piping techniques, including swirls, rosettes
They also told us where we could buy the materials we were using. Seems that most of the equipment could be purchased in any larger Coop or Migros, but some stuff were only found in specialty baking shops or had to be ordered online. As they mentioned all the different equipment and materials with associated prices, I made a mental note in my head that this was too much stuff and too costly to buy for recreational use.
We first learned how to handle sugar paste: Don’t handle it for too long, as the heat from your hands will melt the sugar. You can buy it in boxes from Coop or Migros (usually found near your feet on the bottom shelf of the baking goods). Store it in plastic baggies when not using to prevent drying out. You can roll it out on a smooth surface, dusting with cornstarch if it gets too sticky. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters or special stamps, decorate with edible glitter or sprinkles. There were some nifty tips such as using an empty paper towel roll cut in half so butterflies could dry into a curved shape.
This was when I discovered that I’m not very creative and wasn’t sure how to match colors. In an effort to get variety, I ended up with a yellow daisy, a purple butterfly, some orange flowers, and a blue rose. Nothing matched, and I had no clue how I would use them with the colored frosting that would come later. I couldn’t figure out how to apply the pretty sprinkles properly, so I just put some on the butterfly tips and dusted glitter over everything.
We then sculpted a daffodil out of two different colors. I didn’t like how mine looked at first, but after it dried a bit and I put it on my cupcake, it actually looked kind of cool.
Next was the frosting demo. I eagerly went up to the front to volunteer to make the buttercream. Somehow something went awry, and while we were already onto the next step of putting the frosting into the piping bags, one of the instructors suddenly realized that they had neglected to add all the powdered sugar to the frosting. So while we were practicing our piping techniques with pre-made buttercream, the other instructor hastily corrected the batch that we had just made.
Open star nozzle: For swirls that looked like soft-serve frozen yogurt. Closed star nozzle: For piping rosettes. Smooth nozzle: For piping swirls of dog poo. We practiced onto a sheet of parchment paper, then scraped the frosting back in the bag and tried again.
Finally, it was time for the real thing! They brought out pre-made cupcakes, and we each got six to decorate. I tried to use all the colors and techniques, and some of my cupcakes looked a bit more pathetic than others. But then I realized that after you stuck all the gum paste decorations on it and topped everything with a ton of sprinkles, then everything looked okay. So the lesson I learned from the cupcake decorating class was: Just throw a ton of crap on the cupcake, and wah-la! Done. 😀