To begin with, Craftsy really needs to do something about the acoustics in their studio. The echoing when the instructors are talking is pretty annoying. In this class I'd recommend that you turn the sound down as much as you can, because it sounded like she was screaming half of the time. I suspect that the studio is to blame.
The first part of the class is all about how to make a template for the purse. Seriously? Okay...I would just say to start carving the cake away once you figure out how big the base and height has to be. But then again, she's making the handles etc ahead of time so you need to have a pretty good idea of how big things need to be if you do that. Unless, of course, you figure out how big it needs to be ahead of time and you can figure out how big the handles would have to be without too much calculation. Or if you do the details after you put the cake together, then it isn't as important to get the proportions exact.
Next we have the section about how to do the textures of the animal skins on your fondant. She starts with impression mats and then enhances the textures with piping tops, cutters and petals dusts. This could be helpful if you're clueless about where to start, but without the texture mats it could be pretty difficult to achieve the same looks.
After that she does the buckles, grommets, luggage tags, zippers etc. This was slightly unnecessarily difficult because she used a lot of templates again. If you're really unsure of your ability to look at two things and make them the same size then templates would be good. Otherwise, just eyeball it and save yourself the time.
The section on constructing the cake is the only one in the Craftsy series so far that I've seen that doesn't include a ridiculous number of dowels per tier, so thank you, Elisa. Her stacking method is kind of weird but it works with the carving.
Then comes the 20 minute sleep-inducer of watching her carve the cake. If you're experienced at carving this isn't going to be too helpful, but if you're a beginner you should watch the whole thing with your eyes propped open with toothpicks. She talks throughout the whole sequence, and gives some good basic tips, but it feels reaaaaaally slow. She uses the spackling method to cover the carved cake, so that comes next, and is the beginning of another looong sequence of crumb coating and prepping.
The covering of the cake once again involves fondarific, which is a combination of fondant and modelling chocolate. That gives you a hybrid that doesn't dry out as fast, but if you can't get it you might have a problem following her instructions. I'd combine fondant and modelling chocolate to get the right texture for this kind of thing, because it does give you a longer working time. A lot of the things that she does to model the seams etc won't work right without the addition of the modelling chocolate to the fondant.
For this particular texture she uses a specific mold/texture mat that you'd also need to buy. You could just use a different texture or a different texture mat and have a similar look if you can't get that exact mat.
The making of the zipper was complicated, but if you're only making one purse cake you could do it that way. If you plan on doing multiple cakes that need that kind of detail, I'd recommend buying a zipper mold to save yourself time.
My overall review:
Skill level: Adventurous beginner. The instructions were extremely thorough, but you'd have to be willing to try carving and fondant if you hadn't done it before.
Equipment you have to have: Texture mats if you want a leather texture (you could just make this smooth and ignore the texturing altogether), serrated knife for carving, exacto knife or scalpel, fondarific or fondant/modelling chocolate mix.
Sleep-inducing level: The carving section was kind of rough but I only nodded off once or twice, which for me is pretty good.
What it assumes you already know: Not a lot. Each step is EXHAUSTIVELY covered, which could be good or bad, depending on your skill level.
Unnecessary difficulty level of methods demonstrated: Way too many templates. You could eliminate a lot of them, especially at the end when putting the grommets on the cake. They just slow you down.
Annoying host habits: Not a lot, she's pretty good in front of the camera and gives a lot of tips while she's working.
Level of helpful hints learned: For me, not so much, but I've done a lot of carved cakes before. For someone who's never done carved cakes this would be a good lesson because it takes you step by step through the entire process. If you've done shaped cakes like this that aren't specifically super-shaped (this is basically a box shape) then this might not be particularly enlightening.
I'd give this a full-price for a beginner who's afraid of trying it, and maybe a 75% off sale if you've carved cakes before and are just curious.
Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com