I’m really happy with my piping progress, even from the little bit of practice in the class last night. No matter how many books you read and instructional videos you watch, nothing compares to having an experienced teacher on hand to answer questions, watch what you’re doing, and help you correct your mistakes. Nor can any book tell any individual person that their hands are unusually warm and that they may need to make their royal icing a little thicker than usual.
I hadn’t been doing too badly with a plain nozzle and straight lines (I think the problems I had with the gingerbread men were more a factor of going freehand with paper bags and no nozzles), but I’ve always struggled any time I’ve attempted a shell border. I asked Marilyn for some help, she took my piping bag, and immediately exclaimed that I must have very warm hands. She checked the consistency of everyone’s icing to make sure it was stiff enough before we started piping, but my shells were collapsing and losing detail. Or maybe my piping bag just felt overly warm to her, I’m not sure. Anyway, she suggested I might need to add a little extra sugar to compensate for the icing softening in my hands.
When I piped the buttercream on Cameron’s birthday cake, I found that by the time I went through a bag, the cream was melting and oils starting to separate out of the butter. Well, body temperature is warmer that room temperature, so I figured this must happen to everyone. And with my previous shell attempts, I assumed that I just hadn’t figured out the right icing consistency yet. I did a little net surfing this morning and found a few hints… wearing cooler clothing (bugger, I hate being cold!), running your hands under cold water occasionally, and working with multiple bags and rotating them in and out of the fridge seemed to be the most helpful suggestions.
So, back to my shell border problem. I’ve been trying to form the tails by gradually easing the pressure on the bag as I pull away from the shell. Wrong! The way the teacher showed me was to stop the pressure completely then drag the nozzle away to stretch the icing out into a tail. Collapsing shells from warm icing aside, the rest of my shell border practice for the night looked a hundred percent better than it had before being shown properly. I have some icing left over, so some time in the next few days I’m going to add some more sugar to it and give the shells another try.
- Kylie Skellams
- Newcastle, NSW, Australia
- I’m a former industrial chemist, and after deciding on a career change while at home with my two young children, I’m now a qualified pastry chef. In 2009 I started taking some classes in cake decorating and other pastry-related cookery, and taught myself many more decorating techniques from books and internet resources. In 2010 I started a pastry apprenticeship, studying Retail Baking (Cake & Pastry) Certificate III at TAFE, which I completed with Distinction in 2012. I completed my apprenticeship in December 2013, and am now working as a full time Pastry chef and Cake Decorator at 'Exquisite Cakes by Lennert' in Cessnock, NSW.