Monday, April 29, 2013

Craftsy Class Review: Piping Buttercream Borders

Craftsy LogoThis is a new Craftsy class that's taught by Roland Winbeckler.

When I first saw the title of this class I thought that there was no way I'd sit through this one to review it because it's SO BASIC a topic. Every decorator should already know how to pipe borders, unless you're a total noob, right? But then I started thinking about it.

This really bothers me for some reason... I realized that people don't know how to use a piping bag anymore.  With so many people going straight to fondant and not bothering how to learn to pipe a straight line or smooth out buttercream, this is something that's now considered exotic and difficult. What the heck?

Why else the recent fascination with stringwork and piped designs that look like Miss Havisham's wedding cake? I just don't get that...I see people on facebook responding to cakes that are completely done in buttercream like it's some exotic thing that they've never seen before. People post about how they wish they could figure out how to pipe a decent shell border. Really??

So I guess that piping borders is something that people who spend their time cutting shapes out of fondant with cutters really don't know how to do. If you put yourself in the piping noob category, this class should be one that you buy immediately, with some caveats.

First, you need to realize that piping takes a lot of practice. Which is probably why people don't know how to do it. In this video he shows what's basically a beginner's overview of piping class using the standard patterns and practice boards. You're not going to buy this class, watch it once, and be able to produce perfect piped borders. You'll need to actually work at it to practice the pressure and rhythm of piping even lines and shapes. Watching him take out the sheets with the practice patterns on it gave me culinary school flashbacks, and we definitely didn't spend half an hour on this to get good results.

Second, the buttercream that he uses should not, in my opinion, but used to ice a cake. It's not buttercream, it's a Walmart-special, shortening-based, no-dairy-added substance that's fit for practice icing and not much else. He has a long explanation of why he uses that, and my response is that's nasty. If I want to eat a big glob of crisco I will, but I don't, so I'll stick to a buttercream that has butter in it.

For practicing only, his crisco-creme is fine. Don't bother putting the flavorings into it, just make a bowlful and use it over and over since it's not going to rot, it will last forever. When you're done with one practice board just scrape the icing back into the bowl to use it again.

The third point to remember is that all the weirdness that he does with the piping gel at the end is kind of strange, and if you just learn how to pipe you don't need to mess with that. It can be useful, I guess, If you want to do three-dimensional items, but to pipe directly onto the side of the cake is simple enough without having to mess with dried piping gel shapes.

If you don't know how to pipe a straight line and you still call yourself a cake decorator, go buy this class NOW. If you're a good piper already you won't get anything out of it.

My final review:

Skill Level: Beginner.
Equipment You Have To Have: Piping bags, tips, couplers.
Sleep-Inducing Level: Very skip-aheadable but you should watch the whole thing if you're a noob.
What It Assumes You Already Know: Nothing.
Unnecessary Difficulty Level Of Methods Demonstrated: He uses the old-school parchment bags that you make yourself, and he obviously doesn't like those newfangled vinyl bags. I would suggest that if you're hopeless with piping you give yourself a break and use a vinyl bag. Nobody needs to be learning to handle a parchment bag at the same time they're trying to learn how to pipe evenly. He's been doing this for a long time, and they probably didn't even have vinyl bags when he started (I'm not being snotty, he said he's been doing this for forty years), so he's used to the parchment. Don't add an unnecessary level of difficulty for yourself, just use plastic bags. 
Annoying Host Habits: He's kind of jittery, but he's obviously trying to get a lot of advice in and is worried that he'll forget something. He kept referring to notes or something that he had on the counter. Other than that, he has kind of a Bob Ross happy trees vibe to him so it was a very mellow class
Level of Helpful Hints Learned: This is a thorough class for buttercream beginners, and it's basically what you'd get in a culinary school piping class. You need to work at it, though, there are no shortcuts to getting decent piping.


Click here for my Craftsy pattern shop, which has a bunch of freebies in it: A Cake To Remember On Craftsy


Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC,  online cake supplies at  www.acaketoremember.com and www.acaketoremember.etsy.com

1 comment:

Eva Farragher said...

Excellent review, Kara. This is something ALL people who want to join us in the oh-so glamorous world of cake decorating should master - PIPING SKILLS!!

Any monkey can use a modified cookie cutter to put fondant shapes on a cake. Piping is the art that makes the cake, IMO.

I deal with royal icing on fondant moreso than buttercream, but I am getting more and more orders for textured buttercream cakes and I LOVE that piping is making a comeback :-D My belief is that we will see more and more piping on cakes in coming years. Haha - no more "simple and elegant" requests?!

Good to see Craftsy addressing the basics.