Monday, January 07, 2013

My review of Michael's Wilton Cake decorating classes:

Before I took the Wilton classes, I had no prior experience in cake decorating nor have I ever attempted it on my own. My tool box didn't even have a single piping bag (unless you count a sandwich bag with a corner snipped off). Watching shows such as Ace of Cakes, Cake Boss and Extreme Cake Challenge (what ever happened to that show?), had me amazed beyond belief. I loved watching chefs and artists transform simple kitchen ingredients into a breath taking piece of artwork. My new year resolution in 2010 was to do something new and exciting every month, so that's how I got into cake decorating! Me, my younger sister and best friend signed up for our first Wilton cake decorating class at our nearby Michael's store and it was life changing! Seriously!
Every Sunday at noon for 2 hours over a period of 12 weeks was such an awesome experience. In total we took all 3 courses, each course had 4 classes that were each 2 hours long. The lessons costed about $22.50 (before taxes) per course for each individual so it came to $71 (after taxes) for all my lessons. We weren't required to purchase the course kits but it was strongly recommended as it provided you with a colour booklet of your lesson plan as well as 90% of the tools and supplies required to learn cake decorating. I bought them all. Each course kit costed about $40 but I paid $20 because I'd use the weekly 50% off coupons on them. In addition, I had to purchase a couple piping tips that weren't included in the course kits but were required for some of the flower piping, colour gels and some random things here and there. 99% of what I needed was sold at Micheals. Some of the other things were found at Walmart and now at Bulk Barn (which didn't exist at that time). To save money and realizing that this hobby was going to last me for a long time, I invested in the blue/grey Wilton 50 Piece Tool Caddy which I paid about $30 for (after using my 50% off coupon).


Note: its been a couple years since I've first taken these classes. Wilton has changed their lessons a couple times and it's now 4 courses instead of 3. Prices (CAD), lessons and details will vary so please check www.wilton.com and your nearby Michael's for current prices and updated lesson plans.


Anyways, here's a break down of my courses:

(1) Discover Cake Decorating: This course gave a nice introduction to cake decorating tools, terminology, and basic techniques.You can quit after this course and still be able to make some pretty decent cakes and cupcakes (such as the ones you commonly see in grocery stores).
  • Lesson 1 - The Fundamentals: Making, colouring and flavouring basic buttercream icing. How to use decorating bags and how to prepare cakes for decorating.
  • Lesson 2 - Starting to Decorate: Decorating with star and round tips. How to pipe and write. How to do gel pattern transfers. How to make the base for piping roses.
  • Lesson 3 - Flowers and Figures: How to pipe the first petal on your rose base. Piping shell borders, figures and drop flowers.
  • Lesson 4 - Decorating with Flowers: How to pipe the rest of the petals on a rose. How to make floral accents, leaves, vines and rose sprays.  
 
 (2) Flowers and Borders: This was a really fun class because you were taught how to pipe different flowers. You would take home all your royal icing flowers home to dry. At the last lesson class, you brought a blank cake to decorate and all your dried flowers from previous lessons to assemble. By the end of this course you are able to make almost any of those grocery style cakes! You can also transfer your techniques over to cupcake decorating, adding lots of oooo-la-las to your cupcakes! This class also introduced you to royal icing, something very important to cookie decorating!
  • Lesson 1 - Build on the Basics: More on piping shell borders, rosettes, reverse shells, rosebuds, chrysanthemums, and an introduction to making royal icing and Wilton's color flow icing (which is essentially a really runny royal icing).
  • Lesson 2 - New Additions: Decorating with color flow. How to pipe royal icing apple blossoms, violet leaves, and violets.
  • Lesson 3 - Decorations in Bloom: More royal icing flower piping - victorian rose, daisy, daffodil, pansy, and primrose.
  • Lesson 4 - The Grand Finale: How to pipe a basketweave, rope, assemble cakes, and making flower sprays.
 
(3) Gum Paste and Fondant: This was my introduction to that magic edible play-doh known as fondant and gumpaste! An essential course for anyone that wants to get into more complex cake decorating. It's fun and much less messier than working with buttercream. Covering a cake is important to all decorators and even some of the most advanced decorators still struggle with it. Although the lesson didn't spend enough time on covering cakes, it does provide you with the fundamentals. I found this entire course to be pretty rushed, we were always scrambling to finish and so I think that's why this course is now divided into 2 separate courses (1 for making flowers and the other for making tiered cakes). Having worked with fondant over the years, I think one of the primary reasons my classmates struggled with cake covering was because the Wilton fondant we were using was awful! It dries and tears too easily. It's also not easy to smooth, so bumps, cracks, and wrinkles are inevitable and incredibly frustrating (I'm a perfectionist...). Wilton fondant is very discouraging to work with and I would not recommend it for anyone.
  • Lesson 1 - Introduction to using and coloring gumpaste and fondant. How to make gumpaste/fondant bow loops and how to assemble a bow for a cake. How to make bases for flowers such as mums, roses and carnations.
  • Lesson 2 - Basic principles of floral cake design, making calla lillies, petals for roses and carnations, and calyxes and leaves for flowers.
  • Lesson 3 - Making fondant daisies, finishing mums, covering a cake board with fondant, making geometric designs and using fondant cut-outs, overlays and inlays.
  • Lesson 4 - Getting started, covering a cake with fondant, making rope borders, creating eyelets, ruffles, ball borders and finally assembling your fondant decorated cake.
 
Pros/Cons based on my own personal experience and those of my classmates:
  • Pros:
    • great instructor that was very friendly, nice, knowledgeable, patient, helpful and inspiring
    • great intro to cake decorating, terminology, recipes, techniques, styles and tools. You learn tons!
    • great classmates. Everyone was nice and fun to work with.
    • inexpensive lessons! Great for those that don't have the funds or time to take culinary school!
    • convenient! I have 4 Michael's in my city that all provide lessons. Class times and dates vary from location to location making it very easy to find a schedule and location that works for you.
    • relaxed learning atmosphere. Pressure and stress free.
    • SO FUN!
 
  • Cons:
    • The classroom (their craft/party room) is not designed for cake decorating. The tables were small, wobbly, old, and dirty (from other crafting classes). We didn't always have enough seats. There was only 1 sink that was only for washing our hands. We couldn't wash any of our tools in it so we had to drag all our dirtied tools home to clean which can get pretty messy. Every now and then, someone would accidentally wash some buttercream down the sink creating an immediate clog and disuse of the sink --> gross and very inconvenient!
    • Everyone learns at different speeds so some of the slower or struggling students consumed most of the instructor's time making it difficult for you to have your fair time with the instructor which makes you waste time waiting for help.
    • The course kits were sometimes in complete. I did have to run around a bit to look for certain tips to pipe flowers.
    • 2 hours is too short! You lose 30-60 minutes per class from just setting up and cleaning up. We couldn't come early or stay late so we would have to scramble sometimes to set up or clean up.
 
Things you should consider before signing up for these courses:
  •  There is prep work required before classes that must be done at home. This could be baking a cake and preparing it for cake decorating or making icing, buttercreams and fondant. I took this course with my sister and buddy which saved us time and inconvenience. My sister and me would take turns in prepping for our next day of lessons and cleaning our stuff after our lessons. Between the 3 of us, we would also assign different colors for each person to make. So instead of each person having to make 9 different icing colors, each of us would make only 3 and then we would share!
  • Prices don't include your icing and baking ingredients. You have to make that on your own time at home before your lessons. Make sure you have time for all the homework required. If you don't do your required homework and prep work, you will not be able to participate in your class lessons unless you have a classmate that doesn't mind sharing her icing and cake.
  • This course is sooooooo fun if you can take it with a friend or family member. Some moms would take it with their daughters. It's great bonding time for anyone and can be a great gift idea.
  • Cake decorating can get expensive. After finishing these classes, I continued on to learn more things on my own (via TV, internet, books and YouTube). I've bought tons of cake decorating supplies and tools. A hobby a easily go from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars.... You can however, take all of these courses, buy a couple kits and never have to buy anything ever again and still cake decorate to your hearts content so don't think you HAVE TO spend anymore money after these lessons.
 
At the end of the day, I would highly recommend these courses to anyone interested in cookie, cupcake and cake decorating. It will not turn you into a pro but it can provide you with the fundamentals to become one....with more research, practice and time. You can give anyone paint and a canvas, but it doesn't mean they will paint the next Picasso. These courses will also give you a whole new appreciation for the work and passion that goes into cake decorating. You'll learn to critique other cake decorating work and therefore improve your own techniques. I hope this review was helpful and of course, feel free to leave any comments, questions or your own personal experiences with the Wilton method of cake decorating. :]

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for a very informative review

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  2. Do you get a certificate? Or something that helps with either a job or a college class?

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  3. No you do not get a certificate! for that you would have to go to a culinary school, this classes is just for fun and for you to get a better idea of decorating you will not become a pro.

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  4. Yes, you do get a certificate

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  5. Concurring with previous post....Yes, you get a certificate for each of the courses you complete. These courses were life changing for me as well. I live, eat and sleep cake decorating....it has become my passion!!!

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