Last week I had the opportunity of getting to visit the headquarters of Wilton for a peek inside their operations, a bit of cake decorating instruction and a look at the frenzy of the annual Wilton tent sale. It was pretty neat.
The first thing I learned? I’m not so great at wielding a frosting tip. It’s going to take a great many more hours of practice. We learned stars, rosettes, zig-zags, shells, vines, leaves and buds. I am only confident at leaves.
We learned how to do that nifty basket weave! It’s more simple than you might suspect and is therefore worthy of showing off and pretending like it was a lot of work.
This is the camera crew who was around all day. At first I found it disconcerting but by the end of the day I might or might have not have been looking straight into the camera while wearing a tablecloth tied around my neck like a giant bib and saying “I like my dress more than I like my dignity.” You may never know.
One of the new-to-me things from the day were these shaped rubber bands that easily hold the end of your pastry bag. So easy to use! So smart!
I also learned that I’m not a natural when it comes to working with fondant. I’m supposed to have a whole bunch more finished objects on that yellow square there. My final flower had a lot of assistance from the instructor. As in: she did it for me.
We got to take a tour of the props rooms, the photography studio and the studio space where the designers create camera perfect cakes (we weren’t allowed to take photos in there since they were getting ready for future things, but oh my gosh I wish I could show you what their cake closet looks like, it’s amazing.)
Then we had a short cake decorating competition! We had an hour to come up with a theme and decorate some pre-made papier mache cakes. Our team went with what we knew how to do, basket weave (learned about three hours earlier, mind you) and making use of the many pretty sugar flowers offered on the tables. You know what seems easier and faster than it is? Cake decorating. Know what’s worse? Cake decorating with a film crew in the room. We barely finished in time. I have heaps of new respect for those people in the cake decorating competitions I see on television. I have to admit, though, it was a lot of fun.
We took a tour of the official Wilton School where they hold all the classes, and there was a class going on so it was really cool to get to see works in progress. They have a great setup with overhead cameras and giant screen so you can see the instructor’s hands. I intend to return and learn how to blow sugar bubbles next year. The picture above is the only one I grabbed, it shows foam hair curlers propping open pieces of a fondant bow while it drives. Clever.
Afterward we took a tour of the test kitchens were Wilton assures that their recipes will turn out the same in your kitchen. They have a two sided kitchen, one with a gas stove and the other side with an electric stove. We were all crowded into it so I don’t have a decent photo, but it was reassuring to see that they use the same household appliances we do.
One of my favorite things was the wall of Wilton history. Apparently the company was started to teach people how to decorate with boiled and pulled sugar! This black and white photo shows off decorated cakes that one must actually crack the surface of to get inside. (I so badly want to do this! A pinata cake, how fun!) Later they joined forces with frosting decorators and formed classes closer to what we’d think of today. In the Depression they practiced using mashed potatoes instead of buttercream since sugar was rationed.
We happened to be there during the annual Wilton Tent Sale. (Did you know this was a thing? I did not!) It was enormous, like visiting a Costco on Saturday afternoon full of nothing but cake decorating supplies that are 75% off. The best sellers? Clear vanilla and parchment paper, smart shoppers those. Not shown: the giant whoopie pie pans, and a whole stack of my personal favorite, the skull cake pan. I talked two casual browsers into buying the skull cake pan while I stood there. Seriously.
Then it was off to dinner where all our cakes were displayed.
And our cake won an award! Ok, everybody’s cakes won awards! We got “Most Contemporary”. Go team contemporary! Huge shout out to Nosh With Me and Mommy Hates Cooking for being quick with the frosting and having quite the eye for flower placement. These awards were made from real fondant and frosting and somebody put a lot of work into making about thirty of them, so thanks, they were lovely.
You know what I didn’t get? A lot of photographs of all the awesome people. Here is everybody I met (some in person at long last, some for the first time, everybody was amazing):
Thank you Wilton!
One last note: if you’re ever going to take a cake decorating class don’t wear a mostly-white dress. Trust me on this one.