Monday, March 4, 2013

Craftsy Class Review: Clean & Simple Cake Design

This Craftsy class, Clean and Simple Cake Design, covered the basics of a few different techniques, including the very basic skills of covering cakes smoothly.

Jessica Harris is the instructor for this class, and she says that she's not a professional., but has a cake blog , and she does cakes for her hobby. She has a very distinct style, and she uses a lot of modeling chocolate (or candy clay, since she's using candy melts) for the decorative elements. I really like working with modeling chocolate because, like she says, it holds its shape well, it cuts cleanly (with an exacto knife, yay!), and you can put flowers and other things together quickly without drying time.

It does, however have its limitations. If you're doing a cake that will be outside in the heat, modeling chocolate is NOT the best bet. I saw a cake that had chocolate roses on it that had been left out in 90 degree heat, and every single flower had melted into a saggy mess before someone noticed and brought it inside to wait for the reception. It was not pretty. If this is the situation that your cake will be in, you should probably use fondant for it and not the candy clay or your design could soften and sag.

I would also not recommend using Crisco to stick anything to a cake that will be in hot situations, so just skip that and use water or sugar glue. (I looked it up and Jessica lives in Oregon. I don't know how hot it gets in Oregon, but if I tried to do a candy clay covered cake with decorations stuck on it with Crisco during the summer it wouldn't even last for ten minutes at an outdoor venue.) Just take the weather and the humidity into account and you'll be fine.

The skills covered in this class are, as I said, really basic. If you've seen how to smooth buttercream out using a hot spatula, or you've seen how to ganache a cake using a board on top, this will be a repeat for you. This class is basically a compilation of a bunch of different basic icing techniques in one place.

The first part of the class deals with how to cover a cake with buttercream and ganache to prepare it for fondant. You could also just leave it uncovered if the client wants buttercream using the same techniques. The basic technique that she used was the upside-down method of icing the cakes, as well as using the boards on top and bottom to even out the icing. If you've never seen this done it was worth watching to see the steps that go into it.

She also shows how to use an upside-down method (or upright if you can't turn the tier over) to get a sharp edge on the cake. Now I have to say that when I ask my clients if they prefer a sharp edge or a more rounded edge, 95% say that they prefer the rounded edge. Plus, they don't want fondant, so most of what I do is buttercream. (Come to think of it, you'd have to adapt most of her techniques if you want to use buttercream, as far as the design part goes, so just be aware that this class is based on using fondant-covered cakes.) So if you're going for a softer edge, just don't do the pinching/pressing/ shaping that goes into getting the sharp edge, no big deal.

If you get a sharper edge on the crumb coat and put the fondant over that, the edge won't be totally sharp unless you keep working at it anyway. And if you don't sharpen up the edge before putting fondant on you'll get a REALLY round edge on the cake, so it all depends on the look that you're going for.

She shows how she puts her designs on the side of the cake, which basically involves using waxed paper to transfer the designs onto the cakes. This isn't anything new, I seem to remember a lot of people using this method when the Cricut first came out. If you've never done it before it might be helpful to see that it does work. I've used the same method to transfer intricate designs like custom monograms, etc., onto the sides of cakes, and it definitely helps to keep the shape of the thing that you're transferring The paper maintains the shape and prevents the piece from stretching while it's being applied.

So this was a good class with some basic skills, and it would be helpful if you have trouble with getting your fondant precise. Even if you never want to do a sharp edge, it's good to know how to get it if you need it.

Final Verdict:
Skill Level: Beginner
Equipment you have to have: Cake boards, two bench scrapers, fondant smoothers, exacto knife, waxed paper for the design transfers.
Sleep-inducing level: Not bad, she talks throughout the demonstration, so there isn't a lot of quiet time.
What it assumes you already know: Not much. Instructions for the steps were thorough and one section showed how to make the modeling chocolate and fondant.
Unnecessary difficulty level of methods demonstrated: Too much razor blade action. Get a sharp pizza cutter or a sharp knife and use that instead.
Annoying host habits: Once again, I notice the sanitation stuff...She had a bandaid on her thumb, so there should have been a glove over that sucker. I get that it's hard to demonstrate these techniques with a glove on, but Craftsy should try to set an example. Also, I don't think that "condensating" is a real word. The cake isn't "condensating," it's warming up so condensation forms. It was like listening to Buddy and his Fawn Dawnt...The whole time I kept thinking "I don't think that's a word," so it was distracting. Other than that she kept up a good pace and explained everything well. Oh, and please don't write on your cakes with pencils...Use a seam marking wheel to mark lines instead.
Level of helpful hints learned: For me, nothing, really. I know how to do all of the upside down techniques and how to pinch the edges of fondant cakes, also how to apply medallions and designs to cakes, and that's basically what was covered. If you've heard of these techniques and had never seen them done, or if you have trouble smoothing out icing, it would be helpful to see the methods in action.

So for a beginner it's worth it to pay full price. For someone more experienced you're not going to learn anything tremendously useful, but you might pick up a tip or two, so wait for a sale.

 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and

1 comment:

badbee00 said...

Before she joined Craftsy, she was on YouTube and it was free. I totally agree with you in that her class is simple and should be for beginners.