If you are planning a special event, maybe your own DIY wedding making your own wedding cake; if you are a keen baker making cakes for a hobby for friends and family, you might be on the lookout for the perfect class to up your cake decorating skills. Maybe you have identified a particular skill you’d like to improve, like buttercream flower piping or chocolate decorations? You might even be looking for a cake decorating class as a Christmas or birthday gift.
I recently booked myself on a hand painted cake decorating course (oh yes,I keep learning all the time too). That’s reminded me of all the aspects I check each time, to make sure I book the right course. I thought it might be useful to you if you are going through the same process. So here’s a handy and practical list of 13 points to check you are about to book the perfect cake decorating (or chocolate, or baking, of cooking) class for you:
1. Check the level required –
some cake decorating classes need you to have pre-requisite skills. For example, the chocolate course I attended last year at Squires Kitchen stipulated you had to have worked with chocolate before and knew the basics about tempering for example (that’s melting chocolate the right way so it doesn’t solidify with white marks…). If that’s the case, the website or brochure should state this very clearly, like it does on this example below. Nothing specified? I’d always recommend you email the person running the course or someone in their team to find out.
2. Check the number of participants –
the optimal number of students at a chocolate or cake decorating class is a tricky point. You want enough people to attend so it feels like a good group and you can exchange feedback, tips and tricks as you run through your day. At the same time, you also want to be able to ask your teacher questions and advice, as well as be able to see what’s happening all the time, especially when your teacher demonstrates a new step or skill. I attended a training course earlier this week with Emily Hankins (I have admired her hand painting skills for a long time). There was 13 of us on the day and it was perfect: Enough cake makers (both professionals and amateurs) so that we could meet new faces and exchange stories, but not too many that we couldn’t see what Emily was doing when she gathered us around to show us how to draw a new leaf or flower petal.
3. Check the format –
I went all the way to Paris for a course on choux pastry a couple of years ago. It was a day long class at an iconic French Patisserie, headed by a super creative chef. Looking at the price of the class, I assumed it was a hands-on class. Non. It was a demo day. Whilst I still learnt a lot and the whole experience was good, I left feeling a little cheated to be honest. I think that, had I known that in advance, I would have still booked and gone, and I would have had a much better experience on the day, having managed my own expectations better. For me, a class is a hands-on experience, where you watch your teacher demonstrate a skill then have a go at it yourself at your own workstation. A demonstration is a different setting where you sit, observe and ask questions. The price should be cheaper in my view as there is a lot less prep and ingredients/equipment involved. Less cost if you want. In the middle are Interactive Demos. I used to run these with a great friend who’s got her own catering company in West Sussex. We’d demo each dish, and also invite the students to have a go at some of the skills. Whichever type of cake decorating class you book, they can all be a fantastic experience as long as you’re clear on what you’re getting for your money. Well, that’s my view at least. What do you think? (feel free to send me a tweet @lauremoyle, pop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below of course to tell me).
4. Check the teacher and their style –
It’s so easy to do a little research online. Even if you just have browse through their Instagram account, their website or their Facebook page for example, you can quickly get a feel for their style of teaching. Some people prefer a more formal environment. Some prefer a more relaxed format. I like to run a slightly more relaxed format for example, inspired from my French background. A decent lunch break, simple and delicious. A glass of Kir Royal (a decent bubbly with a touch of Crème de Cassis, my favourite aperitif), to celebrate the end of your efforts. Voila! Where the class runs also makes a difference so check this too (more on this in point 7 below).
5. Ask someone who’s been on one of the same teacher’s classes already –
You’ll get their view on the event, the style, the skills they learnt, how much fun it was… because it’s got to be fun too, doesn’t it? I often ask previous students to send me a short testimonial I can share on my future courses page for this reason.
6. Check when the class are running –
If you work, of course you might be able to take a day off to attend a special treat like a cake decorating, baking or chocolate class. But it’s worth checking the dates against your diary to make sure they don’t clash with anything important. Especially if you give the idea of the class to someone else as a present for you! It might also be that you have a special event coming up and want to attend a class reasonably close to this date to make sure you have fresh skills and advice in mind when creating your own showpiece at home. For example, if you are going down the route of a DIY wedding and making your own wedding cake, you probably want to attend a class only a few months ahead of your wedding day.
7. Check where the classes are- from 2 aspects –
how far is the venue from your home address. For logistics and costs reasons: If you have to travel from West Sussex to Scotland for a course, you probably can’t do it all in the space of a day. So you need to budget for travelling and accommodation costs on top of your course (more on the money matters in point 11). Ans also check the venue itself. Looking at the classes I have booked for myself in the past, it’s true that it has rarely be the decision making factor for booking a course or not. The last class I attended was running in a local community hall in a small village. It was perfectly fine. Saying that, if I was looking at 2 similar courses and one was running in a nicer place, or a place where I don’t need to pay for car park on top for example, it might come into play.
The perfect class? Having 1 foot in your comfort zone and 1 out
8. Check the range of skills you’ll learn –
it’s all about value for money. Too many steps listed and you might skim through and not learn a lot; too few and you might feel a little deflated coming home. For me the perfect class is one where you read through and think “I can do some of this but could do with a refresher; and those 1 or 2 extra skills listed might stretch me a bit to learn something completely new”. For me, the perfect class is having 1 foot in your comfort zone and 1 out.
9. Find out if you have a friend interested in coming with you –
I tell you why. When you step into a course with 10 or 12 people in, it can feel a little overwhelming. You want to have a good time on a cake decorating course. It’s not a school exam. If you bring a friend with you, you might find it’s easier to interact with the other people in the group, make new friends with similar interests and have a great day.
10. Decide how much you want or can spend –
The thumb rule is often that the most high profile the chef, the more expensive the class or course is. Simply because their time is worth more. You might decide that you’d rather have 1 day class with a famous chef. Or that the same budget is best spent on a run of 3 courses with a less famous chef or cake maker, but someone you admire equally. Only you know. I tend to revert back to studying the range of skills, location, style of course and dates if I get stuck on this one.
11. Check what’s included –
I’m talking about takeaway ingredients and equipment; finished product; lunch and refreshments….
This goes back to the demonstration versus hands on class point a little. If you attend a demo, you might come home with very little to show and tell. Which is fine. But if you’re like me, you want to come home and share what you’ve done…with delicious proof! And also ideally with a few supplies, ingredients or bits of equipment to practice your newly acquired skills again.
12. Check what ongoing support is available –
I got this question a lot when I ran classes in the past. It’s important you can have access to someone to ask questions after you’ve gone home, or the next time you practice. I am actually thinking of creating a Facebook group solely for my “Tres Fabuleuses” classes. Do you think it’s a good idea? Feel free to let me know in a comment.
13. Finally, better be safe than sorry –
so if you are in any doubt whether you have found the perfect cake decorating class for you, why not email the person running the course in advance with your questions? I want happy satisfied students personally so I always welcome questions like these. And I am sure all teachers would agree with this point.