A few weeks ago I taught four days of cake decorating seminars at Ace Academy, my daughter’s school, although the seminars were for the older kids aged about 7-10. I was hoping to post some photos here of the kids working on their masterpieces but I didn’t get clearance to do so since some parents haven’t signed the school’s waiver, so I can only post photos of the cakes they made.
There were two classes per day, each just under an hour long. The first had 23 kids, the second had 20. That meant a lot of group work since there was no way everybody was going to get a personal lesson in each skill in that amount of time, using only what equipment I own myself.
For the first class, I showed the kids how to level, fill, and crumb-coat a basic layer cake. I gave them plain white buttercream to coat as well as squeeze bottles with fairly runny royal in a few colours. There was also more buttercream in green and orange with tips so they could get a feel for how tips work. Each class split into two groups for this first day, and here’s what they made:
For the second seminar, I hauled our Kitchenaid into the class to show them how I make my own fondant (my recipe is posted here). They were wowed by how little Americolor gel is required to tint a whole batch of icing, and they had fun sculpting with the small samples I handed out. I also gave them some modelling chocolate so they could compare how the two media feel. A lot of them ate the lumps of both, which is somewhat disturbing, but that’s kids and icing for you!
Here’s a photo one of the kids took of me mixing a mere three drops of blue gel into the gelatin/corn syrup mixture:
Also for this class, I brought in the Musical Mice cake, some figures from the Monty Python cake (which reminds me, I still need to get more pics posted of that one and a few others), and the head from the Wolverine cake. I hadn’t told them what that last one was when one of the girls exclaimed, “Oh my god, is that Hugh Jackman?” I now have a special affection for that student, since I’m all too aware of how I failed to capture Jackman’s likeness. I confessed to her that I call it “not-quite Hugh Jackman” but she insisted it looks just like him, so that was very nice to hear.
For the third seminar, I levelled and crumb-coated the cakes while the classes discussed what they wanted to make for the last day, when they’d be selling pieces of their cakes to parents at pickup time to raise money for the school. There’s a reason why there’s a phrase about too many cooks in the kitchen! These kids are all very bright and creative (it is a school for gifted kids, after all), so they had tons of ideas and it took serious management by their teachers to boil the themes down into cohesive plans. And by “cohesive” I mean icing stuck it all together eventually…
At the end of that third session they rolled out fondant to cover the cakes and added quick embellishments with edible-ink markers and fondant scraps:
For the last class, I said each class could have a total of three box mixes’ worth of cake in any shape desired given what pans I own. They could also each have four colours of fondant, two colours of royal icing, three flavours/colours of buttercream, and one special item (ie dragees, something sculpted in advance, melted chocolate, etc.). Some of them wanted special things not conducive to a one-hour class, especially when I had to do so much baking the day before (which is why I limited them to box mixes, because six cakes in a day plus icing is a lot for one person to make in a home kitchen), but soon their myriad ideas were nailed down into a plan of sorts.
Here’s what I made (more on how I doctor box mixes in a separate post to come):
- a strawberry cake using the Wilton duck pan, 24 chocolate cupcakes, and a vanilla 13×9 rectangle cake
- yellow buttercream, chocolate buttercream, and white buttercream (plus the leftover orange from the previous class)
- fondant in red, blue, green, and yellow
- royal in black and white
- special item: I made them a fondant narwhal horn in advance so it would be dry enough to stand upright
- a strawberry 8″ cake (two layers), and a 14″ cake made with a chocolate mix on one side and vanilla on the other (tips on how I do that in another post to come)
- two batches of chocolate buttercream, one of white buttercream
- fondant in blue, brown, white, and red
- special item: they never agreed on one
Here is what the classroom looked like before the first group arrived:
In the first class, they each got to do a cupcake to ensure their own ideas got incorporated even if it wasn’t on the main cake. The original plan was to put those cupcakes around the main cake for the sale, but many of the kids became attached to their work and wanted to ensure they got their own cupcake, so they were held back from the sale. Then, any kid who wanted to sell theirs was allowed to put it forward on the sale table, and those who wanted their parents to buy their own could reserve them safely.
Here are their cupcakes:
Their main cake was a Zombie Narwhal Pacman Duck Swimming On a Lake With A Rocket, Zombie Hand, And Mini Narduck. Behold it in all its glory:
The other class came up with a main design of cherry blossoms on a waterfall, then individual kids used cutters to make small fondant plaques symbolizing their interests and put those around the base of the cake. Given that nobody showed them how to make cherry blossoms other than me bringing a printout of a photo I found online, I think they did an amazing job! I love that they took the time to check out the detail on the photo and replicate it as best as they could. Fabulous!
Here are both cakes on the sale table just before school was let out. Almost all of the cakes were devoured for a buck a slice, raising $144 toward the school’s financial aid program.
When I went to pick up the cake platters a couple of days later after the small amount of leftovers had been consumed by school staff, I found these awesome thank you notes that made me completely squishy:
All in all, it was an exhausting project but well worth it. I was quite impressed at the dedication and creativity of these kids, and I’ve been told by several parents that there have been some extremely positive developments in their home kitchens as a result.
If you know even the basics of cake decorating, I strongly encourage you to find a school near you that will let you come in and teach some kids how to make some cakes. Turn it into a bake sale and raise money for the school in a whole new way. The power of this medium is far beyond fun and sugar: you just might transform how a kid views their food, their future, and themselves.