Madhatter Lalique Piping with Jean Michel Raynaud

Learning with Jean Michel Raynaud was probably my most rewarding workshop at the Perth Cake Convention. This was a four hour workshop which can only be described as insanity – insanely good experience and insanely character-building piping work. But more on that soon.

Firstly, a bit on Jean Michel. I would describe JM as a guy who really knows his stuff. You can tell how much pastry experience he has had because his depth of knowledge is evident even when explaining small things like saturation of icing with alcohol. You may have also eaten some of his macarons at Baroque Bistro & Patisserie which is in Sydney’s Rocks area. In fact, at one stage I think JM may have stolen the limelight from Adriano Zumbo’s infamous shops in Rozelle and Balmain because of the quality of his macarons. As a Frenchman now in Sydney, he has also been featured on Food Safari on the SBS in the French episode and was also an instrumental member of the Planet Cake team who built a record setting Opera House cake and re-created Wiliam and Catherine’s 8 tier Royal Wedding cake for Womens Weekly Australia in a mere 48 hours. You can find out more about JM at his facebook page here.

In terms of cake decorating, JM’s worked at Sweet Art and Planet Cake so his background speaks for itself. He favours a cake decorating aesthetic which he calls “organic”. I interpreted this to mean that whilst you still decorate in a very clean and polished way, it tends to look more “organic” when it is done in a less structured manner which could involve freehand piping, more visible brush strokes when applying colour (but in a deliberate manner) and generally a very natural type of finish. I think this style tends to suit more floral cakes or cakes which take their inspiration from nature. Some decorators, particularly those who are more minimalistic and favour more contemporary looks tend to do the exact opposite – solid colours, minimal designs, heavy use of geometric shapes, use of block colour etc which have been carefully traced onto a cake or conceived down to the millimetre.

Now back to the workshop and little old me…..

I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this workshop as we’d been given very sketchy details about what we’d learn (bit of feedback for the CAA team here!). But I signed up mainly because I was very interested in this technique called “lalique piping”. These were our materials for the class:

JM began with a demo of how to cover an asymmetrical tier and achieve sharp edges… nothing too new here for most people in the class but it was fun to watch JM at work. JM then showed us how to saturate and wash a pre-prepared madhatter shaped dummy cake with a pink airbrush colour mixed with decorating alcohol. The room smelled like a brewery after about 15min but we had fun practising how to achieve an “organic” look.

The design we were creating centred on piping the several trios of leaves of a lily flower on an asymmetrical madhatter cake. We weren’t given any guides or markings and were only shown the principles of how to pipe the right shapes. So for those that hadn’t piped much before there was a lot of apprehension and I daresay stress in the room!! JM also imparted the philosophy of creating “balance” on a cake and focused heavily on symmetry throughout the class, frequently giving us feedback on placement of our leaves and flowers so that we could achieve the intended effect.

We first piped the outlines of the flowers before creating extremely runny royal icing and flooding each leaf with water and icing.

Using a brush we then spread the icing around and just before it starts to set piped an extra “vein” down the centre of each leaf so it gave the impression of “melting” into the leaf. Here’s what it looks like when it’s still wet:

Piping on a bias on the side of a cake is super hard and I found it tough to connect everything evenly especially over the edge of a cake which is completely asymmetrical… the fatigue after 3 hours of piping also gets to you and lots of people in the class were complaining about how painful their hands were. I thankfully brought some chocolate and I also love piping so didn’t feel too bad… my apron was however covered in royal icing by the end of the class because of the number of mistakes I’d have to wipe off with my fingers clean on my apron…

We also got a chance to play with an airbrush at the end of class and sprayed some lustre onto the cake – so much fun!!! I’m already asking Mr Cakespeare if my next birthday present can be an airbrush gun.. teehee.

As the French say… et voila! Me with the master:

I then had to figure how on earth to take this cake home… some students from interstate had brought their own home made boxes. Luckily we all got a box to take home and I managed to get it home in one piece after using nearly a whole roll of sticky tape to secure the cake down.

Lalique piping is a really forgiving style and it gives you the freedom to make some mistakes so you can hide them later! Having said that, I really struggled with getting started. JM probably assisted just about every other student in their class to start their first leaf but me and I was happy that way as I believe the best way to learn is just to have the courage to dive right in and have a go. Even if that did mean I had to scrape mine off a few times before I got going…

Not amazing but given this was my first completely freehand piping attempt (no markers, no templates!) I’ve concluded that I really need to practice large swirls more but I’m really not too displeased with this final product!

Just want to finish up by saying thanks to Sensei JM – I know you weren’t too sure about being blogged about so hopefully I did you justice!

More workshop posts to come…

Encounters with the Cake Boss

Well dear readers it’s been a week-long recovery from a pretty huge caking weekend last week. The weekend of 5-6 February was the inaugural Everything Baking and Cake Convention which was a combination of local exhibitors showcasing their wares and a series of specialised workshops where you could learn from some of the most renown cake artists in Australia and from around the world.

My first reaction to the word “Convention” made me think of those Star Wars or Comic Book Conventions where a bunch of crazy loonies get together and indulge in a secret fantasy life or hobby that probably none of their friends or family really understand and usually just tolerate. I never thought that one day I’d be one of those people much less be blogging about the experience. Nor did I think it would be baking and cake-related.

This event was the first of its kind in Australia for so many reasons.

The biggest drawcard by far was the man at the centre of the infamous show, Cake Boss: Buddy Valastro.

The show airs on Lifestyle Food in Australia and The Lifestyle Channel (TLC) in the USA. It’s also shown in about 180 countries in the world and just started filming its 5th season. The following it has built is astonishing but if you stopped an average person on the street, chances are they may not have heard of this show. On the other hand, if you meet a fan they’ll generally say “Oh my god I love that show!” and are probably obsessed. Well imagine a few thousand “Oh my god I love that show” people gathered in one place on the other side of Australia and that was the atmosphere for about 2 days.

Day 1 of my trip was pretty amazing. I arrived the day before the Convention and actually kicked the trip off doing some real work (gasp) and made a presentation at work to our Perth team about a project I’m currently working which I spent the 5 hour flight preparing for. Presentation went great and it was my first time in Perth so I had this wide-eyed touristy look on my face even though I hadn’t even left my own country. I really was amazed at how green everything was and the laidback pace of the city.

I was staying at a hotel directly opposite the Convention Centre and in the cab on the way from work to the hotel I had one of those moments where my heart literally hit the floor. I had forgotten my tickets to the Cake Convention. “Amy, you idiot!” I hear you silently exclaiming.. yes, dear reader, in the crazy couple of days leading up to the trip, I managed to forget my tickets. So I’m in the cab trying to call the organisers and of course they’re not answering probably because they’re setting up for the convention the next day.

Pulling up to my hotel, I see a guy in a purple shirt with -lo and behold! a couple of the convention organisers pointing across to the convention centre (probably discussing his show the next day). Then I realised it was Mr Cake Boss himself. Mentally flipping out (outwardly very calm), I paid the cab driver and sauntered on over and said hello to the man. What must have been the first of about 1000 photo requests that weekend, he got one of his entourage people to take a photo of us on my phone and asked if I was going to show and where I’d come from. To which I replied I’d had a pretty early flight over from Sydney, feeling a bit jetlagged already and he said “You’re jetlagged?! how do you think I feel!” (the guy came from Hoboken New Jersey the day before).

Instead of capitalising on my 2 min conversation with Buddy and asking him for a job or something far more constructive, I was more focused on getting my ticketing issue sorted so to turned to the organisers and asked if they could help. They pointed me in the right direction but I did walk away thinking “hmm, probably could have used those 2 minutes a bit better. oh well”.

Now here’s where I need to thank Farrah who was one of the lovely event managers working for Cake Artists Australia – such a helpful lady who got me sorted in 5 minutes flat. We had a great chat about bringing the convention to the East Coast of Australia next year and I may try to help make this happen!!

Now contrary to popular belief, I had already bought my tickets to see Buddy Valastro live in Sydney before I heard about the convention so my primary reason for going all the way to the other side of the country was actually to learn from some amazing cake artists, not stalk Buddy Valastro.

To read more about my workshops, take a look at these links:

Madhatter Lalique Piping with Jean Michel Raynaud

Glamour Finishes with Faye Cahill

Baby Castle with Debbie Brown (coming soon)

For those of you who follow my Facebook page you would have seen that I also ended up on the flight back with Buddy Valastro.

So I’m minding my own business in the Virgin lounge, trying desperately to not fall asleep at what was the equivalent to 3am Sydney time before we boarded and Buddy rocks up again with his entourage of about 3 people. The funniest part is he went straight to buffet, didn’t see any food (it was 11:30pm) and walked straight back out to find a restaurant. I’d booked my flight home on Business so I could get some sleep before going back to work the next day (red eyes from Perth suck by the way) and the first thought I had was “oh crap there goes any sleep I was going to have”. As we boarded the plane, Buddy and crew rock up again! And we were literally the only 5 passengers in Business and boarded the plane first.There I was holding my two dummy cake boxes and a giant handbag and he’s all dressed up in a suit not looking like a working class baker at all.

I have to say they were a very noisy bunch, joking and laughing a lot for that time of night (it was midnight), and he did recognise me again (he must have a good memory for faces) and said “hey! we meet again!”. I think he was probably surprised that a lowly cake maker like me was boarding in Business. We chatted on the way to the plane and I may or may not have paid them out for talking so loudly (seriously if you didn’t know he was a famous TV personality you would have been like why are these people so loud!). This was one of those times I was secretly glad that I travelled so much for work as my Platinum status actually meant I was seated in front of Buddy. I never thought I would say this but the guy talked a lot. And Americans are LOUD. Sorry to my American friends reading this but maybe it’s just these Noo Joisey people. After eavesdropping on his conversation with Mauro (who btw is my FAVOURITE character/personality on Cake Boss) discussing the Superbowl, I finally plugged in my earphones to try and get some sleep… Landing in Sydney I decided I needed to try and get something to commemorate my plane trip with the Boss so he kindly signed my boarding pass and I charged off to meet my driver as I was already running late for work… a pretty fitting finale to a big caking weekend!

For my pics from his Sydney Cake Boss show at the Sydney Convention Centre, click the picture below.

So all in all, a pretty excellent trip. And my cakes got home safe and sound with only 1 broken flower on the madhatter and a slightly cracked tower on my baby castle cake to report… hoorah.

An invitation-inspired 1st Birthday Cake

Ok so I don’t know if this was trying to do too much… but 2 toppers, 12 cupcakes and a cutting tier in the same week my mum slipped at work, broke her wrist and got an operation as well as packing and preparing for a trip to Perth for was probably taking on just a little too much.

I made a resolution last year to keep things balanced and to only do 1 major project or “day out” each week so I wouldn’t overload myself. It’s only February and I’ve already broken this one in spades!!

Nevertheless, I still tried to make time to enjoy being in the moment while making this cake despite all the visits to the hospital to see mum and frantically running around like a madwoman getting supplies for my trip to Perth. I can describe this one as fun but tedious.. and I only really have myself to blame for the tedious part! This cake was for a friend who also happens to be my husband’s boss’s partner, Carolyn,…. so it had to be a good one. Carolyn wanted a 1st birthday cake for her gorgeous little girl, Grace, and the partygoers were the ladies in Carolyn’s mother’s group.

Carolyn is a pretty laidback lady and had no real restrictions on what she wanted in terms of design so this one was totally open to the imagination. I like to use things that mean something to the customer to design a cake and this case, so I asked what Grace’s favourite toy was. This cute little Snuggles Koala by Aussie company Britt was used as inspiration for a keepsake topper:

I also love using stationery as inspiration as the designs are often so interesting and easily translatable to cake designs. Little birthday girl Grace’s mum chose this “Castle Walls” invite from Tiny Prints.

So I sketched up this design and went all out with a top tier, cupcakes and a covered dummy tier to hold cake pops. In the end you can see that the design was adapted and scaled back to suit a 3 tier cake stand and I also added a touch more pink with the cupcake wrappers which were from Martha Stewart’s range.

The little castle topper which is colour matched to the invitation and a hand made number “1” is an extension of the bottom two thirds of the cake to give the cake a little more likeness to the original invitation castle and I also had to remove the base that the koala was sitting on to keep things a little more balanced on top of the cake.

Here’s a mini gallery that shows the evolution of the top tier – really simple but effective techniques of half covering a round and then individually pasting on each colour matched panel followed by applying polka dots cut out with a piping tube.

The cupcakes were fun but a little tedious. To achieve the polka dot effect I rolled lots of tiny coloured balls to create the polka dot effect on each cupcake. Strategically cutting the circles to get a variety of colours as well as placement of little balls of coloured sugarpaste were important steps in achieving this festive effect.

I have to thank my fantastic Mr Cakespeare (ie, my husband) in helping me to deliver this cake… he got it there in one piece whilst I was in Perth and was a total hero in the face of humidity, road bumps and a forgotten cake stand! “I was not built to transport cake” was his only response when I called him to ask him how it went…

On the bright side, the cake received 16 likes and about 10 comments after Carolyn posted it on her Facebook Wall ranging from “Not only did it look good but it tasted fantastic too!!!!!!” to “wow! amazing!” – all of which were just such a treat for me to read from the other side of the country 🙂

This was my last big order before I headed to the convention… coming up soon – a glamour finished cake with Faye Cahill, freehand “lalique” piping with Jean Michel Raynaud and a baby castle with Debbie Brown… stay tuned!!