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This is a sponsored post that contains affiliate links. Although this post is sponsored, all opinions are my own.
I first heard about Craftsy a few years ago through my friend and colleague Alice Medrich. Alice’s impeccable taste and attention to detail is legendary. When I saw that she was working with this then new company I took note. Then, about 6 months ago Craftsy came to my attention again when I saw an on-line ad. Remembering the name I clicked to get a look and low and behold I saw they had Peter Reinhart teaching bread and Giuliano Hazan teaching Italian cooking and a class with James Peterson on the classic mother sauces. I know all of these teacher’s credentials and I was stunned. They were the perfect choices for these topics. Obviously these Craftsy folks knew what they were doing; I looked into the classes further. What I found was an amazing world of on-line classes presented in an incredibly sophisticated way. I wanted in.
I contacted the source to discuss the prospect of sponsored posts and this is the first of a series. My intention for Bakepedia was always partially educational and instructional and bringing Craftsy to you made perfect sense.
There are several ways for the user to access Craftsy with classes ranging from free to $39.99 (in the cooking category). I chose a free mini-class as my first foray into being a Craftsy student – Modern Buttercream with Joshua John Russell, which you can sign up for right now. With any class you get a 100% money back guarantee, can watch the classes at your leisure and your access never expires. While you can turn to Craftsy for quilting, sewing or jewelry making, I was focused on the Cake Decorating and the Food & Cooking categories.
The platform is sophisticated and very much geared towards the user. You click on a class and are presented with many things to choose from off the bat, all organized in a very intuitive fashion. First I read about the instructor and learned that Joshua John Russell has a degree in baking and pastry arts from Johnson & Wales University, was a finalist on the Last Cake Standing and has appeared on the Food Network Challenge 15 times. He is known for his fondant as well as buttercream work; being a buttercream gal I wanted to see his approach.
The classes have a “Homeroom” and this is where you can access all that the class has to offer. The main navigation bar offers Video Lessons (the video itself), Talk (where you can chat forum-style with other users/students and sometimes get answers from the teachers), Projects (where students can post their projects to share), Video Notes (a very cool technologically advanced tool where you can type notes on what you are watching right below the video and “bookmark” the video at that point for your future reference), Reviews, and Materials (for this class this included the Recipes, Supplies (which told me everything I needed, right down to a whisk and rubber spatula), and a Metric Conversion Chart, all in downloadable PDF format.
I dove in and went to the Video Lessons. The classes are segmented, which I like. Instead of feeling like I had to watch one long video I could pick and choose from a 50 second Craftsy introduction, which I recommend, to Joshua offering a good class overview, then onto a segment on how to make his Swiss Meringue Buttercream, followed by Putting the Cake Together, Texture and Deco and a Conclusion. These other segments ranged from about 13 minutes to about 30 minutes long, making them very accessible whenever one has the time. Joshua’s style is easy and casual and I felt as though I were in good hands. I watched his entire class then I made the buttercream and frosted my cake later. You could choose to create your project along with the video and I can totally see the appeal in that! Like baking and creating with a friend.
The lesson took off with Joshua visually showing us what we need. Two items stood out for me – the PME bench scraper to smooth the buttercream and his suggestion for extra-wide bubble-tea straws to use to stack tiers. The scraper offers an extra wide smooth surface to help smooth buttercream and the extra thick straws would offer more stability than typical straws when stacking a cake. I was only a few seconds into the class and was already getting ideas. (I ordered the scraper from Beryl’s and found the straws, also referred to as slushy straws, at my local Michael’s.
He also mentions that there us a 30-second rewind function that proved to be very helpful. You can watch the videos at quarter speed, half-speed, regular speed, one and a half speed and double speed! Very handy during repeated viewings. The double speed allows you to still understand the teacher but get through the video quickly. Love this feature.
Then it was onto the actual buttercream making part of the lesson. Joshua quickly goes over baking a cake, as that is not the primary focus of this lesson. I did, however, love his idea of using the butter wrappers to line the bottom of cake pans instead of cutting parchment rounds.
I had actually done this, years ago, and had forgotten about it. It is such a simple but handy tip. Then it was onto the buttercream. Joshua thinks making Italian meringue buttercream is hard, and while I disagree I was open to seeing his Swiss meringue technique. He offers many helpful tips along the way, cautioning us not to over-cook the egg whites for example, and using his fingers to check to see if the sugar is dissolved in the warmed egg whites.
This came together quickly for me and in less than 2 minutes my sugar was dissolved. This mixture progresses from a loose egg white mixture
to a beautiful white meringue
and then it is time to add the butter. Joshua helps the viewer understand the right soft texture for the butter
but since he works in Atlanta, he also gives alternative hot weather guidelines, suggesting the use of shortening instead. For me the flavor of butter in my buttercream is paramount, so I stuck with my tried and true unsalted butter.
It occurred to me at this point that this was part of the beauty of these classes. One could follow them literally, or, if you have some experience you can take what you want in part. Having spent many hours of my career teaching people how to make buttercream I truly appreciated his words about how the buttercream might look like cottage cheese at certain points and not to be scared! He encourages the student to stick with it and it is like he is in your kitchen giving you personal attention. The video takes the student through the transformation from lumpy buttercream to its silky smooth conclusion, which is very helpful. Sometimes words are not enough. One thing that made me ponder was that he stopped short of adding all of the butter recommended saying that the buttercream had reached the point where it didn’t need anymore. I am not sure the newbie would be able to assess that. When I prepared it I added the full amount recommended in the downloadable recipe and the texture was perfect.
Joshua also adds confectioners’ sugar to this buttercream after the butter is added. I was a bit surprised as this was billed as Swiss meringue buttercream and that is a classic recipe that would have ended with the addition of the butter. I followed his recommendation (adding the confectioner’s sugar) and the texture was creamy and easy to work with. I think they should have called it Joshua’s buttercream. No matter, it proved to be a joy to work with and it you are making large, multi-stacked cakes it is definitely worth a try.
Then it was on to filling and frosting the cakes. Now you have to understand that I have made hundreds of wedding cakes; there were things Joshua suggested that I loved and other things that I wouldn’t do. So again, take the class with an open mind knowing that there are techniques for you to learn even if you don’t follow him to the letter. I don’t like to refrigerate my naked cakes; he does. He likes to torte cakes with a serrated knife; I prefer a slicing knife. That said, I love that he paused to say he “de-crumbed” his work area after crumb-coating. I do this too; get rid of any crumbs that might make their way onto or into that final coat. It is this kind of insider tip that is really helpful. You can see the crumb coat below which is always the ugly stage of cake decorating, but don’t skip it! It helps seal in the crumbs paving the way for a smooth final coat.
His recommended PME scraper was the bomb! It helped smooth the buttercream effortlessly.
Joshua very helpfully points out that you can run your cake decorating tools under hot water to warm them and how this aids in smoothing the buttercream – an excellent tip that I always employ. At this point I was thinking, man, this is a ton of info for a free mini-class! Craftsy doesn’t fool around with detail and thoroughness.
I usually use wooden dowels to support stacked cakes and as Joshua mentions, they can be a bit of a drag to cut to size. Enter the extra-wide plastic “bubble tea” straws. This was a great idea that I will be using in the future. Inexpensive to buy and easy to use.
In the image you can see that I already cut two to size and have sunk them down into the cake layer. The top cake tier will be on a cardboard round and the straws will support that tier. To get the right height you sink the straws down into the cake then lift it back up. You can see where some of the buttercream stuck to the edge of the straw that was level with the top of the cake. This shows you where to cut the straw.
This class includes some instructions on working with gum paste, making bows and using butterfly shaped molds. I watched this section and it was easy to follow but I focused on his buttercream recipe, stacking technique and buttercream application.
The Texture and Deco section was very helpful particularly because Joshua gives you options. He helps the student learn how to create a smooth buttercream but also shows how to make a very easy, “shabby chic” look, which he calls “messy on purpose”. This approach is accessible to even the most neophyte cake decorator. This part stood out to me because so many of Craftsy’s Cake Decorating classes are fairly advanced and the newer baker might not think there is anything here for them. Trust me; this is perfect for the beginner. This technique would be ideal for a child’s birthday cake, a bake-sale cake or even a casual wedding cake.
In the end I was left wanting more. If this was a mini class, what was in store with the longer formats? My head was already swimming with the possibilities. And believe me, I just touched the surface. Joshua discussed various ways to stack tiers, offered many different finishing ideas and lots of tool and equipment info. Also the Craftsy interface offers so much: closed captions, notes on ingredients and tools that pop up on the screen at appropriate times. By the time I finished this mini class I was sold on their approach. In many ways these classes are even better than attending live classes. You have a built in community with whom to share questions and answers – and the students are active! You can also revisit the class again and again to brush up on the more technical points of demonstration. I am looking forward to taking another class. Click here to enroll in Modern Buttercream for free!
Look for more posts on Craftsy classes coming in the next few months.
Both finished cake images and straw image: Dédé Wilson
Other Images: Peter Muka