The only time I have iced a cake was when I lived in Australia – in fact when I lived there was the only time I ever baked cakes but that’s another story.
My first and last escapade into cake icing was on a Christmas cake on my first Xmas there – and my Santa and Reindeers sank up to their necks in the icing. I had no idea that icing in Australia is usually plastic icing because of the heat! You see ordinary icing would never set. I must admit I never tried again and bought my future Xmas cakes at the Oz equivalent of Fortnum & Mason.
So you can imagine my absolute horror when I turned up to experience the Betty’s Cookery School and found out that it was not cake baking but cake icing that was on the agenda for me!
Frederick Belmont, the Swiss founder of Betty’s, firmly believed in the principle of self sufficiency, claiming that if you want something right you have to do it yourself”. Obviously he had never seen my attempts at creating craft confectionary or trying to ice simple buns.
The Bettys Cookery School was opened in 2001 with the aim to encourage people to learn how to cook and over the years thousands of people have passed through its doors.
I gingerly found my way to the school in Hookstone Park, Harrogate and I must admit that my knees were knocking as I walked up the path into the purpose built school.
A cup or tea or coffee and a pastry welcomes all the new students served with the usual Betty’s flair – glistening crockery, gleaming silver tea pots by a waitress. Friends are seated together whilst those on their own are matched with another ‘singleton’.
It all helps break the ice and once I had donned my Betty’s apron I felt a little better but was filled with trepidation.
Our tutor Jenny gathered the small group to her bench and went through an outline of the day and then the heat was on. She was a perfectionist and a talented cake icer that was evident but she made things appear so simple
Even with Jenny’s great teaching skills I felt totally out of my depth and started to get cold feet about the whole thing. This was really hard work for a hamfisted person like myself. I watched and became more and more confused – whilst other novices seemed to take it in much quicker.
Then it was time to begin and I made my way to the large kitchen bench. Sally and Lucy were my bench buddies and they seemed very competent having iced cakes for years for their kids – bet they never had a sinking Santa!
Our first task was to make Petal Paste Decorations. I had to seek assistance from Jenny to get my colouring into the paste despite following the instructions. And I kept having to ask for re-assurance from my bench buddies that I was doing the right thing.
Eventually it was ready to roll out and cut! Even that was complicated for me as was putting my flowers on the pallet and shaping them with a cake decoration tool.
Then it was back to the classroom and we learned how to cut our cake to receive the jam and buttercream filling. How to stick it to the board and how to make sure the two halves line up. But the creaming didn’t finish there the remaining had to be spread on the top and sides of the cake with a palette know so it was ready to go into the fridge to firm up whilst we enjoyed a wonderful lunch with a delicious sweet treat completed with a glass of wine – which I needed to steady my nerves for the next episode!
After lunch we learned how to roll our marzipan and measure how much we would need to cover the cake– I will not give away any trade secrets here but it really does work.
Next was the stage that even experienced cake decorators dread rolling out the icing sugar and transferring it to the marzipan covered cake – again no trade secrets divulged here but it really does work.
And then our ribbons arrived to put round our cake and it was time to decorate the top with our petal paste decorations. Now I was panicking as everyone had twice as many flowers as I had struggled to make. They were proficient with the piping tools and very creative unlike myself who managed to create blobs on the bench.
Then I had a sudden flash of inspiration. I had often decorated hats during my theatre days and just thrown on the flowers and they always looked good. I would do the same with my flowers. No piping messages or bits and pieces just a mass of flowers on the top – and voila it worked.
Coggins cake was different! I really did surprise myself with the end result. So much so that when I sent my partner a picture of my cake he thought I had been out and bought one for the photograph.
When I looked at my finished cake it made me feel proud that I had achieved what for me was the impossible – with more than a little help from the Betty’s Cookery School and what’s more I had a really enjoyable day laced with some laughs and lots of food for thought!
For further details of the Betty’s Cookery School visit www.bettyscookeryschool.co.uk
Courses are suitable for everyone from kitchen novices to accomplished cooks and make an ideal gift, treat for yourself or experience to share with friends, family or colleagues.
These courses book up very quickly and with the exception of one on the 8th July about mastering royal icing skills to create delicious tea-time biscuits all are now full.
But the new courses for the autumn will be announced in June so do keep checking Betty’s social media channels to secure your place.