Basic 4: Masking and Piping

2005-05-02

The first thing our instructor said this Saturday was that of the ten classes, today's would be the most boring. The session would be devoted to cake decorating exercises. We began by learning how to use the mixers to make royal icing. The icing is a mixture of water, meringue powder, icing sugar and glycerin which forms a stiff icing which hardens as it dries.

The bowl, whisk and paddle must be completely grease-free, or else the meringue will not expand when it is whipped. Chef reminded us to take care of those attachments because they cost $500 each to replace. We fit the mixer with the whisk attachment, place the bowl on the stand, raise it, wheel the guard around, and start the machine at low speed. After the meringue has foamed up nicely, we gradually add sifted icing sugar until it is combined. Next, we switch to the paddle attachment, add in the glycerin and let it beat for about 7 minutes. Royal icing must be kept covered because it dries quickly.
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Our first exercise is masking. We each get a disgusting cake dummy made of styrofoam mounted on a wooden board. I actually thought it was a wheel of cheese because of the grayish exterior and knife marks. The dummy is placed on a turntable that looks like a cake stand. With an index finger against the back of a palette knife, we cover the top and sides of the “cake”. I learn that we are not supposed to push the icing around, but spread it from side to side. The side must be perpendicular to the top, and the whole thing should have as few knife marks as possible. Getting a sharp edge on the corner was difficult.

You are a man, but, you have small hands.
After the break, we re-used the icing to try our hand at piping. Our instructor demonstrated various shapes and designs and then we set out to duplicate them. To fill the bag, you fold down the top quarter, spoon in the icing, unfold the top, pinch the bag closed and twist. The bag shouldn't be overfilled, otherwise it is difficult to apply the right amount of pressure and control. I learn this first-hand when Chef comes over and says to me, "You are a man, but, you have small hands." Ha ha. We make designs on the workbench, scraping them off as we go along.

Watching Chef make the designs during the demo made it look easy. I decide to start with ladyfingers, because they are the simplest. I pipe a few out and the instructor comes over: “What are you making? French fries?” I sheepishly reply, “Um, no, they're, uh, cigars.” When he continues staring at me, I offer, “ Cigarillos?” This provokes a laugh out of him. He quickly demonstrates the technique for a variety of designs: ladyfingers are cigar-shapes that can be made thicker depending on how long you leave the bag in one position; rosettes are made by piping in a tight circular pattern; double rosettes are similar, but with a second circle above the first; S-shapes and reverse S-shapes are fairly simple; swan necks are like a question mark with an additional beak for the swan; shells are teardrop shapes. The shells were the most difficult as I can't seem to make the pointed part of the teardrop. It would be nice if the instructor spent more time discussing the angle of the bag, when to apply and release pressure, when to lift the bag away, etc.

At home the next day, I decide to practise with spritz cookie dough (I don't have a powerful stand mixer, and royal icing would be difficult to make with a hand mixer). I learn several things: a buttery cookie dough is greasy, and the grease will penetrate the seam of the bag; despite superhuman effort, the dough is too stiff to be piped out with narrow tips (Ateco 804 plain, 844 and 846 closed star). I will have to these cookies again using a wider open star or French star tip.

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