Monday, September 5, 2011

Guest blogger Pam takes us through her Basics Marathon experience...

Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourselves! It's that time of the year again.. The time that we've all been waiting for.. That's right! It's the Basics Marathon time!!! Woohoo!!!

It's now been exactly one month since the day I set foot in Planet Cake. I can still remember my first day: homesick, jet-lagged, first time in Australia, no experience in cake decorating - I was a nervous wreck. I remember myself wondering if I had made a really stupid decision, committing myself to something so alien and unknown to me, in a foreign land, away from my beloved family. But as soon as I walked through the front door, I knew that I was exactly where I belonged. With welcoming arms, friendly smiles and never-ending kindness, Planet Cake team gently guided me through my once in a lifetime journey and embraced my presence without hesitation. And here I am one month later - still having the time of my life! So when the wonderful Lesley approached me and asked if I would write a blog, "Of course!", I replied. It would be an absolute honour for me to share this incredible journey with you.

First of all, a little introduction. My name is Pam. I'm from Thailand. And I'm about to undergo a major career change, one that, I must admit, my family doesn't exactly approve of. It's been almost a year since I left the corporate world behind and began this culinary journey and, quite frankly, I still pray everyday that everything will turn out according to plan. Many people have asked me what brought me to Planet Cake. Well, it's the love of all things sweet and savoury and my passion for books that first introduced me to cake decorating. I've got hundreds of cook books at home but have never actually attempted any of the stuff from the dusty cake decorating section because I never really thought myself as being creative or artistic. But as my time at Le Cordon Bleu (Bangkok) was coming to an end, I knew that I had no choice but to make a decision about my career. Luckily, I already knew that pastry was something that I wanted to specialise in but the bad news was that you can't really go very far in this area in Thailand due to a number of reasons. So what else could I do? In between tantrums, I went back to my beloved bookshelf and desperately looked for an inspiration. And there it was! My two Planet Cake books sitting regally on the shelf in mint condition! After some research on the internet, I found that Planet Cake was about to run their infamous Marathons for both Novelties and Basics Series, which I signed myself up for almost straight away! Since then, I never looked back. I was immensely proud of myself when I completed the Novelty Series last month and really surprised myself too with some of the things that I'd accomplished! And now, it's the Basics Marathon time, oh, how I dread those corners! Are you ready for this journey? Well, hold on tight as things are about to get real serious here!

Basics 101:

I couldn't sleep last night due to a number of reasons. Firstly, I have finally reached the halfway mark and I wasn't sure whether to be excited about going home or sad to leave. Secondly, I just could NOT stop fretting about having to ganache and cover those rounds!!! Yeah, yeah, I know what you're all thinking. Rounds = EASY PEASY, right? And the rest of you must be thinking that I had nothing to worry about because I've done "LOADSSSSSSS" of those novelty cakes, right? WRONG! Hey, this is a really big deal for me. I've never ever done a round before and it's got to look neat and perfect, and it's not as if I could just 'patch it up' like when I was doing those novelty cakes. And for some strange reason, I felt really pressured to get it exactly right! (I think this might have something to do with Jess and her 'great expectation') Anyway, every time I closed my eyes, I kept seeing those crooked edges, torn icings and horrible colour combinations, and no matter how hard I tried the images just would not go away!

Having been dreading the Basics 101 all night, I walked into class filled with misery. Most seats had already been taken but I spotted an empty one at the back of the class. Perfect. Just as I was starting to blame the world for every bad thing that's ever happened, I looked up and there it was - that friendly, familiar face. One of Planet Cake's most renowned and experienced teachers, Jess, was sitting there with her cheerful smile and the sort of look that says 'I believe in you, you can do it!', which immediately assured me that I was in good hands and that the world wasn't going to end if my edges were a little crooked. We started off the usual way - everyone introduced themselves, a series of demos were shown, followed by us students getting our hands dirty! (No, literally, they were full of ganache!) By lunch time, everyone's cakes sat beautifully on the benches, neatly ganached with clean edges - ready to be covered.

Then it was time to ice our cakes! I think that most of us must have forgotten to breathe during that demo, while Jess carefully recited her numerous tips and tricks of the trade. I hate it when teachers make everything look so easy and simple. It always seems as if nothing could and would ever go wrong with their icing, no matter how hard they stretch it or how long they let it sit uncovered! I just don't understand why whenever I leave my RTR unattended for 2 seconds, it ALWAYS dries up and cracks! The next thing I knew, Jess was done explaining the steps (I swear the whole process only took her like 30 seconds or something!) and it was finally our turn to cover our cakes. Miraculously, I managed to cover my cake without much trouble and with those beautiful, sexy sharp edges too! Hooray!!!! (Let's not mention the bits under the decorations.. Ahem.) My first round ever - mission accomplished!

I would like to think that I will be able to go home and get a good sleep tonight but, unfortunately, I've now got Basics 102 to worry about (trust me, squares are like my worst nightmare!)! So I better sign off and get some rest before my big day tomorrow! Have a lovely weekend. everyone! xx

Basics 102:

Happy Fathers' Day! While everyone was out and about enjoying the day with their friends and family, I was in a constant state of panic and found it difficult to concentrate. Today is the day. Today is corners day. Today is sharp edges day. But if Planet Cake has taught me anything, it's that life is no fun without challenges!

Unlike the Basics 101, today's class is all about how to achieve those infamous sharp corners and perfect edges. Ganaching is the secret. Since you need to apply a fair bit of pressure on the cake, it is very important to give the ganache some time to set properly as this will provide a solid foundation for the icing (it's why this would never work with buttercream). For the first time, I learnt that it is much easier to over-do the ganaching at the beginning because you can always scrape off the excess later on in the process. Oh, and don't forget to keep your temp board dry and clean as moisture may cause moulds to grow in your cake (GROSSSS!!!!!)!

Jess told us that the two key things to remember when icing cakes with corners are: (i) SECURE THE TOP CORNERS before you do anything else to prevent tearing; and (ii) Spread equal love and attention when you're smoothing the surfaces. As I watched Jess work effortless on her cake, my heart was filled with envy. How long would it take me before I could get my cake to look as perfect as hers? How many damaged icings would I have to throw away before I could ice a square without causing those horrible, annoying cracks? As I started rolling out my icing, I quickly ran through the steps in my head: get rid of air bubbles, secure the corners, do all the edges, smooth flat surfaces, cut off excess icing, sharpen the corners. By the end of the lesson, I've come to appreciate those cute little cherries and ribbon decorations - what a fantastic way to hide misfortunate flaws and unattractive pin pricks! I must say that I'm not 100% satisfied with the result (yes, I am always very hard on myself!), but I guess that it's not bad for my first! Here it is!

So 2 down, 8 more to go! I can't wait to see what the Basics 103 will bring! Until next time! xx


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