Not Martha

a visit with Wilton

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.

· comments [27] · 06-17-2011 · categories:food ·

27 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Gabrielle - Design Mom // Jun 17, 2011 at 4:31 am

    I love this! My mom put herself through college decorating cakes and my birthday cakes growing up were always fabulous. I loved when she would pull out the Wilton tips. It was always so exciting!

  • 2 Darlene // Jun 17, 2011 at 4:35 am

    You lucky, lucky person. A cake decorating class and a sale. What could be better?

    Loved seeing all the photos.

  • 3 Lara // Jun 17, 2011 at 4:50 am

    That looks like SO MUCH FUN! And you looked gorgeous!

  • 4 Peach @ // Jun 17, 2011 at 5:13 am

    There’s such a thing as a Wilton tent sale? How am I just now finding out about this???

    Great post, I love all the behind the scenes info & pictures! My cake decorating skill is about on par with yours, so don’t feel bad… and I’ve taken the Wilton cake decorating classes, so at least you didn’t pay someone to teach you and you still stink – yours is natural!


  • 5 TEKandtheBaron // Jun 17, 2011 at 5:26 am

    I love your outfit! I even “pinned” in on pinterest.

  • 6 Scraps // Jun 17, 2011 at 6:21 am

    Aww, this makes me ALMOST miss being a Wilton Method Instructor. I still have all my tools and pans (thank goodness, since my brother asked me to do his wedding cake last year) but it’s mostly for just-in-case projects–that icing makes my skin crawl these days!

  • 7 courtneyk // Jun 17, 2011 at 6:57 am

    it’s weird to open up one of your favorite blogs and see pictures of where you work…. and i had no idea you were even in my building…. like i said weird….

  • 8 Weekly Roundup: June 13 to 17 | The Craft Blog // Jun 17, 2011 at 7:05 am

    […] Behind the scenes at Wilton (cake decorators extraordinaire), from Not Martha. […]

  • 9 Seanna Lea // Jun 17, 2011 at 7:23 am

    I have taken one of the Wilton classes at a local Michaels. I’m sure it is a little better done by one of the professionals on site. I love cake decorating, but it is definitely not something to rush. Everytime I rush I make hideous mistakes (or poor design choices).

  • 10 megan // Jun 17, 2011 at 8:13 am

    Gabrielle – You must have had as awesome parties growing up as you throw for your own kids!

    Darlene – There was so much more I didn’t get photos of, like the offices lined with all sorts of cake stands and the inside of the photo studio where they are filming for Christmas of next year already.

    Lara – Thank you! It’s a rare photo of me where I’m not making some sort of face :)

    Peach – At least we both have solid foundations of knowledge on which to practice! We’ll be great some day :)

    TEKandthebaron – Thanks! The black and white jersey dress (great for travel, no wrinkling) is from Nordstrom, cardigan and scarf are Target, the red bag is the Epiphanie Belle bag.

    Scraps – You can teach me any time, I need it.

    Courtneyk – No way! Small world :) And I’m surprised our group coming through wasn’t more disruptive.

    Seanna Lea – It’s definitely something where you need to be in a good confident state of mind. Frenzy didn’t help us!

  • 11 Andie // Jun 17, 2011 at 8:16 am

    This was a great post, definately envy inducing. I have always said that cake decorating in mostly courage- the courage to just do it and watch as things turn out. Of course, this class would help a lot to ensure things turn out!

  • 12 jaclyn @ thelateafternoon // Jun 17, 2011 at 8:22 am

    how lucky are you to have visited the wilton headquarters?!! it looks like such a fun experience!

  • 13 whoorl // Jun 17, 2011 at 9:09 am

    This is so cool! Fondant is dreamy. (You look darling, btw!)

  • 14 Lizette // Jun 17, 2011 at 9:36 am

    what a great visit. were are the wilton headquarters? i thought you were in Seattle Megan.

  • 15 ellen // Jun 17, 2011 at 10:16 am

    Ooooh – lucky girl! I’d love to take the Wilton class some day!

  • 16 Tommy // Jun 17, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Wow, and another wow! How fast can I find some cake to eat? That is a delicious looking bunch of pictures and what fun to attend. Thanks for sharing the details and highlights with us.

  • 17 megan // Jun 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    Whoorl – Thank you!

    Lizette – I do indeed live in Seattle, the Wilton offices are in the Chicago area. They flew us out and put us up in the delightful Aloft hotel.

  • 18 Star // Jun 18, 2011 at 2:36 am

    What a delightful and inspiring post! I sure wish I could have gone, too. I wonder if they’re open to visits from non-food-bloggers…guess I’ll have to check out their web site, and put a visit on the To Do list, the next time I’m in the States. Thanks for the great post!

  • 19 Beth // Jun 18, 2011 at 4:31 am

    I loved this! Thanks for taking time to write it!

  • 20 Kelly // Jun 18, 2011 at 8:33 am

    That’s interesting! I had no idea there was a Wilton tent sale. We sell Wilton products and do classes at work, so it’s interesting to see the headquarters! (And it looks like you had a good time! :))

  • 21 Monica // Jun 18, 2011 at 9:35 am

    That is a great photo of you!

  • 22 Sara // Jun 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    so fun! makes me want to bake a cake!

  • 23 JulieD // Jun 19, 2011 at 9:47 am

    It was so awesome to meet you! Maybe we’ll see each other in Nashville in October. I had so much fun at Wilton and even better to meet other bloggers. I love your pictures and how your cake turned out, it was neat to see the different designs in all of the cakes. :)

  • 24 Amanda // Jun 19, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    There was a cake decorating unit in my baked goods class in high school (a million years ago) and I remember being SO FRUSTRATED because my perfectionism did not combine well with short spurts of time :)

  • 25 herschel // Jun 19, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    My parents live right down the street from Wilton! I LOVE the tent sale — it’s just the nicest, most hilarious tent sale, with serious bakers and home cooks swapping recipes and tips. It’s just awesome fun!

  • 26 Ellen // Jun 20, 2011 at 8:46 am

    This day looks incredibly fun! And I just love that you were pimping the skull cake pans while you were there.

  • 27 Sherri S. // Jun 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Oh how fun! I just got a vintage 1967 Wilton something (catalogue? magazine?) at a yard sale and it’s FULL of decorating tips and all of the great plastic cake toppers that I so love (clowns/teenagers on the phone/plastic nurses/etc.). I’m going to be listing it in my Etsy shop soon, though I do hate to part with it!

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