While taking classes toward a degree or some kind of certificate or certification always adds to personal and professional growth, there’s also a lot to be said for taking enrichment courses for no other reason than a desire to learn a new skill.
Local school districts like Wallingford-Swarthmore and Haverford, among others, offer adult ed courses so local residents can learn how to perfect a golf swing, make sushi, create door wreaths, photography, ballroom dancing, karate, kickboxing and much more. Senior centers and some colleges, too, have lifelong learning classes where older adults can learn woodcarving, line dancing, mosaic tile art and more. Craft stores and home improvement stores also hold classes to teach new skills. Plus, studios of dance, music, pottery and painting offer instruction to students of all ages.
This week, for my first time ever, I took an enrichment class at Terrain in Glen Mills, Icing and Piping 101. My daughter, the cake baker in our house, came along with me to learn some tips and get instruction from the expert pastry makers at Terrain. We were both eager students. Years ago, we took a class together in cake decorating at Michael’s craft store. She retained everything we learned. On the other hand, my cakes … well, let’s just say that no one ever questions if they are truly “homemade.”
The Terrain icing class had 12 students, all beginners, including two couples whom I thought were rather cute that they were there to learn a new skill together.
Our instructor was Robert Toland, a culinary graduate of the Art Institute of Philadelphia. He came to Terrain three years ago in the “Vetri takeover,” leaving the Rittenhouse Hotel. He is now one of the lead pastry chefs at Terrain, overseeing the café breakfast pastries and desserts in the Terrain restaurant and special event space.
The other instructor was Jadian Hartzell, a graduate of the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill. Jadian is an alumna of The Christian Academy and former resident of Glen Mills who came to Terrain almost two years ago, leaving Masters Baker in West Chester.
Both pastry chefs had their own tips and styles.
When we arrived, there was a half-dozen cupcakes at each place, along with aprons, towels, piping bags filled with pastel icings of pink, green, yellow and white, along with various tips for the bags and containers of sprinkles. The chefs taught us how to make three types of icing: Italian, Swiss and American buttercreams, explaining their personal preferences and which types work better on what designs. In fact, they gave us all kinds of “pro” advice to use in the kitchen.
We learned never to “whip” icing at high speeds on our Mixmaster but rather to use a consistent medium speed and to bring our butter to room temperature. The chefs handed out take-home icing and cake recipes, all of the ingredients listed in grams. The chefs suggested that we purchase a digital food scale for our kitchens and weigh all ingredients in grams to foster consistency. Robert said there is much inconsistency of which we are not usually aware when we measure ingredients by cups, and this can vastly throw off the success of the end product.
After the short formal instruction, we were able to have fun and decorate our cupcakes, for which we were given a take-home box for when we finished. Some classmates decided to do an on-the-spot taste test — no box needed, thank you. The instructors walked around and offered tips on making roses, using the pastry bags, creating unique designs with the tips supplied and more.
When we were done creating our cupcake designs, feeling like cupcake masters by then, we walked around the big horseshoe table to admire our classmates’ talented work. The class just so happened to take place on the first day of spring, so I think I doubly enjoyed admiring all the pastel spring colors and designs. Each tray of cupcakes was unique.
One lady, a gym teacher, had the most impressive display in our group. She confided that she hadn’t really wanted to attend the class but only went after the urging of her friend. She had never decorated cakes before, she told us, but now that she found out how good she was at it, she cannot wait to decorate more.
Everyone in class had a tray of fancy schmanzy, jazzy-looking cupcakes to take home. Even mine, I admit, weren’t all that bad. My only wish was that I took the class on Easter Saturday, instead last Wednesday, because I would have loved to see my relatives’ surprised looks if I had walked in to Easter dinner with those delicious, colorful beauties!
The class was great fun, and we picked up useful knowledge. Terrain in Glen Mills (shopterrain.com) has a few other classes coming up, like Hands-on Pasta Class on April 10 to learn tips and techniques by Chef Ryan Bloome for making pasta at home and Bread Making 102 on April 17 where participants can learn tips and tricks for yeast-driven pastries like monkey bread, brioche and cinnamon rolls. For one flat fee, Terrain supplies the instruction, light hors d’oeuvres and tastings for all classes.
Participants are welcome to bring their own wine. We did, and that may adequately explain why I thought my cupcakes were the prettiest thing on this planet, when in reality, they may have honestly been the “worst of show” in our class. But, that being said, I was personally thrilled with them, because it was something that I wouldn’t have ordinarily done.
It’s good sometimes to go outside of our boxes, to try something out of our day-to-day activities. The next time you feel bored or in a rut, sign up for an enrichment class somewhere. You may be surprised to discover a new talent like that gym teacher or learn a new skill, as mostly everyone in my class did. Decorating cakes is definitely not my talent — I found that out in that Michael’s class years back — however, the class was uniquely fun, and it certainly was "the icing on the cake" to enhance a first day of spring celebration, adding color and flavor to what could have otherwise been a drab weeknight.
Terrain Italian Buttercream Icing
Ingregients: (yields 749G) 225G sugar, 55G water, 114G egg whites, 340G unsalted butter at room temperature, 15G vanilla extract
1. Combine sugar and water in pot and place over high heat. Don’t stir the mixture. Heat to 244 degrees. As the sugar inches up toward desired temperature, begin whipping egg whites.
2. When the eggs reach a stiff peak and the sugar mixture reaches desired temperature, pour sugar into side of the bowl, not directly on top of eggs, while mixing at a medium speed.
3. Turn speed to high, and whip until the meringue cools to room temperature, adding butter in small chunks until fully blended,
4. Store in an airtight container for up to one month at room temperature or six months in the refrigerator. Enjoy!