Monday, March 11, 2013

Craftsy Class Review: Topsy Turvy Cakes

tiered cake decorating class at craftsy.comTopsy Turvy Cakes was taught by Richard Ruskell, who had won the Food Network shows a bunch of times. It's been a while since I watched any of that dreck, but I seem to remember that I liked him when he was on the shows since he didn't seem to be a bratty whining sore loser. His manner in teaching this class was easygoing and not too crazy like some other instructors I could mention, so it wasn't annoying to watch.
I will mention that it seems like people need to take some classes in piping skills, since this is the second class I've watched recently where the instructor is excited to tell people that they don't need any. If it's that difficult then go get a practice mat and make yourself some Crisco icing and work on it. A lot of the stuff they show in these classes could be done faster with piping.

Also, please don't use hardware store dowels...You don't know what chemicals they've been treated with. If you have to use them, cover them with melted chocolate, candy clay or fondant just to be safe. But his suggestion about using a wooden tabletop from the hardward store is excellent, those are already cut and sturdy for this kind of thing.

He said that when they asked him to do this class they said that they wanted him to do something "more extreme" than what he first proposed. He came up with a design that involves a center pole and a lot of measuring to determine the correct placement of the upper tilted tiers. The topsy turvy aspect has nothing to do with the shape of the cakes themselves, it's all in the frame and the supports. He was very thorough in showing the process that's required to make a cake that has a complicated setup.

The majority of the entire class was devoted to a lot of measuring, cutting, math, and explaining the engineering of the structure. If you're not good with figuring out numbers and measuring things this might not be the method for you, but you could still follow his measurements exactly to do what he did.

By the time he was done he was able to shake the stacked cake and it was obvious that it wasn't going to go anywhere.

The first part of the class is how to plan and build the internal structure for the cake, which he keeps saying is very challenging. The frame itself is a simple large dowel, but it's the placement of the cake plates and separators themselves that makes the planning necessary. It's challenging because the whole thing tilts in one direction...I personally prefer the cakes that tilt back and forth, not all in the same direction, but the process would be similar. He explains the changes that would have to be made if you did it that way at the end of the lesson.

The second part was decorating the cake, but in the grand scheme of things this cake is all about the construction.This class was good for someone who has interest in learning why you do certain things for cakes that seem to defy gravity. Other than that there wasn't a lot to the lesson, but to say that this cake is simple to do because of that would be misleading. It takes a good knowledge of what gravity will do to you to pull off a cake like this, and this class will give you a good basis to understand the process of planning out a design that will work.

Final Verdict:
Skill level: Intermediate to Advanced. There's a lot of information about the engineering and you'll need to have your basic skills in place before trying one of these cakes.
Equipment you have to have: Drill, boards from hardware store for the base board, foamcore boards, glue gun or another strong adhesive.
Sleep-inducing level: I fell asleep once, which is pretty good for me.
What it assumes you already know: How to cover a cake in fondant, math skills, how not to cut your finger off (there's a lot of knife use).
Unnecessary difficulty level of methods demonstrated: Not much, this is a semi-complicated topic to begin with.
Annoying host habits: Not a thing. He also won some points for answering a student question about "is the foam core food safe?" with the response "I wouldn't recommend eating it...put waxed paper over it to protect the cake if you're concerned." Hahahahahaha! Also when someone asked "how much to charge for a cake like that" he said "That is up to you."
Level of helpful hints learned: His explanations of why he was doing things would definitely be translatable to other projects. He mentioned (rightly so) that there's a lot of eyeballing and estimating that go into a cake like this, but he had taken the time to mark everything out so that there was a reason behind each step. The lessons learned here could be used to plan out other types of tricky cake designs, too.

So this class would be good for learning the basics of not only making this specific cake, but for making tricky cakes in general. Once you understand the basic principles of why this part fits onto that part, it will make the crooked cakes simple to figure out. This class was worth full price just for the structural stuff, in my opinion.

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

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