Tiered and textured mad hatter cake from Sweet Art,
Oxford Street, Paddington
Oxford Street, Paddington
"Whoa" is the collective thought as we enter the hallowed saccharin doors of cake artistry that is Sweet Art in Paddington. It's the first time I've been inside, having no inclination for weddings or other major occasion in the near future. But I've certainly always wanted to check out Sweet Art and thanks to the Paddington Alive Fashion Festival (with some association with the Sydney Fashion Festival currently taking over Martin Place), not only have I the excuse to fawn over stunning cake creations, I get to play as well!
The 'Fashionably Sweet' workshops hosted by Sweet Art earlier this week were a fantastical playground for anyone with the slightest interest in cakes and decorating. I mean, I like to look at them and eat them - that counts, right? These mini workshops were designed as a taster to Sweet Art's upcoming cake decorating classes, and these girls - and guy - certainly know how to do things.
What could be better after a hectic work afternoon than working and rolling fondant icing, staining your hands with a rainbow of vegetable dyes, and wondering if free-hand cutting or intricate cutter-work is the best way to go? Sparkling wine and cupcakes. Of course.
The 'classroom' for this short workshop is set up with stainless steel-topped workbenches, an array of artsy tools and a flock of female students. In keeping with the fashion theme, the lovely Imogen tells us we're making the rather-popular-nowadays Tiffany's inspired decorations for cupcakes.
In a simple, easy to understand/remember/copy way, Imogen impresses us with basic decorating skills by turning a lump of white fondant icing into perfect Tiffany blue then whipping up variations of dainty little white bows and ribbon to put on top.
In terms of technique, it seems the basics go a long way. Baby pink fondant quickly becomes a quilted texture beneath the interlocking Cs of Chanel; simple but definitely eye-catching.
With help on hand and basics in mind, we're let loose to our own cupcakes and creativity. A table of goodies awaits: a spectrum of colourful vegetable dyes, rolling pins of all sizes, cutters and shapes, cachous and sugar decorations, top ups on the sparkling - does it get any better?
It isn't long before the entire room is wholeheartedly into action; lightly dusting the workspace with corn flour, rolling colourful fondant to delicate millimetre thicknesses, cutting and pressing out shapes, smoothing with hands, fingers and whatever else is usable. Patience is a virtue, and none more so than in cake decorating, in my opinion. It also helps to be good with your hands and have some degree of perfectionism.
It's kind of difficult to take photos when fondant is meltingly sticky in your hands or when you've got a glass of sparkling in one hand and you're selecting cachous with the other or when your hands are stained with dye. It was, however, exceptional fun and in no way pressured like one might be in a high school art class where you wonder why everyone else can draw somewhat realistically and you can't. No? Just me? Okay.
I don't think cake decorating is as messy as normal cooking, for example, but one definitely needs their space and tools at hand. And not wearing a crisp white business shirt would help, especially when playing around with the dyes.
Aside from a vanilla and a chocolate cupcake each, we're given blocks of fudge to play with and decorate into handbags and gift boxes and so on. The Sweet Art staff proffer more advice, tips and goodies, like the metallic gold paint - completely edible, mind you. It really comes down to one's own creativity and style, although the execution is the hardest part.
While I'm reasonably patient in most facets of life, I've come to accept that I'm not an artist and that I haven't the patience nor discipline for detailed practical work. "That'll do" crops up pretty early in my books in addition to my tendency to stick to the safe.
Saying that, can you guess which vertical row of decorated goodies belongs to me? Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the answer.
While my skills are lacking and limited, there was some serious talent elsewhere in the room. A few friendly fellow students created the following stunners:
It's surprising how quickly two hours goes by, but time flies when you're having fun. And with this much fun, it was but a blink. As we finish off our decorated creations and sparkling wine, we chat to the Sweet Art staff who seem to be anticipating the cake decorating classes as much as tonight's participants. There's genuine passion and love for the art, which is contagiously exciting. They're also opening a second store at The Strand - which is so ridiculously fitting - for the "CBD brides", as Imogen called it.
My lesson from the night is probably to not be afraid of fondant - it's actually quite easy, versatile and oddly durable to use, and lots of fun too as the pics below would indicate. We're now in planning for a home fondant weekend - not flowers anytime soon but art for the (beginner) sweet tooth.
And my decorations below. I had to make the Tiffany's bow rather larger to cover up some imperfections on my blue top. I did the rounded stripes using round cutters and somehow unknowingly matched it to the shirt I was wearing. And the green gift box with black ribbon and bow (you can't see here) was my efforts at the last five minutes and me going: "Oh, there's some spare black fondant - I'll just use that. And I can't think or be bothered with anything fancier. That'll do."