With the rise of consumer interest in various DIY projects in the last decade, creativity in the food arts continues to grow. Home cooks are focused on producing everything from special party foods, quick recipes and elaborate baked goods to delving into specialty decorating.
Through the decades, Wilton Industries in Woodridge, Ill. has taken a lead in helping people enjoy and learn the art of cake decorating. The Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionery Art, established in 1929 by Dewey McKinley Wilton, was located in Chicago and later moved to Woodridge. Wilton began by teaching his method of cake decorating to hotel chefs prior to branching out to the general public.
In April, Wilton held its Sweet Up 2014 event in which company experts offered information on the new trends in decorating, recent products that have debuted in the market and also shared a history of the school, gave a mini cake decorating class and unveiled Wilton's Cake of the Year. The event attracted members of the media, bloggers and others interested in the art of cake decorating.
"I always feel great when I can show off what Wilton has to offer at the school," said Sandy Folsom, the school's director. Folsom, who has been with Wilton for 28 years, taught the mini class during Sweet Up and gave helpful tips to the novice cake designers.
"Our ultimate goal is to make decorating fun and easier," Folsom said, adding students new to the details of decorating needn't be hesitant to try their hand at the skill.
"I always tell students to put all their bad habits aside and open up their minds and be like a sponge," she said.
During the class, students learned how to make flowers, swirls, leaves and other shapes on cakes that were created by individual teams of cake fans. Students worked with icing, fondant and buttercream, practiced piping techniques and also worked with one of the new products called Candy Melts.
Folsom said while a little talent for the artistic helps and is a bonus in the art of cake decorating, "practice and patience" are of utmost importance.
In a given year, there are more than 100 classes available at Wilton on all phases of cake decorating. Students come from all locales.
"No previous experience is necessary to take a class," Folsom said.
In addition to the school being on the Wilton Industries' premises, there's also a retail shop featuring a variety of products, pans, utensils, books and more.
"It's a one-stop shopping experience," she said.
Folsom called the Wilton environment a "happy" place where she enjoys teaching individuals something that surely makes their lives better and more satisfying.
"We always try to keep on top of new trends and everything that's up to date," Folsom said.
Nancy Siler, vice-president of consumer affairs for Wilton Industries, said this year's Sweet Up is the second one presented by the company and through it they wanted "to inspire" people in the realm of cake decorating and recent trends.
The company's executive vice-president/CMO at Wilton Brands, Eric Erwin was on hand to greet Sweet Up guests and welcome them to the event, which was broadcast live online. Other experts from Wilton Industries also participated in the event.
Unveiled at Sweet Up was the Wilton Cake of the Year, made by Valerie Pradhan, one of the Wilton designers. It was created using some of the current trends including mixing blues and metallics, blending old and new and featured fondant metallic tile. Pradhan put a Roman architecture touch on the design. She also made use of the trends toward mismatched shapes in decorating and going taller with cakes.
According to Siler, the company has had students from all 50 states and about 100 countries. There's something about being able to wow people with a beautiful cake that really attracts individuals, Siler said.
"It makes you feel special after you've decorated a cake. You put part of yourself in the design," she said. "It's a creative outlet for me."
Siler said the number of students who have taken Wilton Method classes at the company's retail partners was 344,000 in 2013. Cake fans from Northwest Indiana and Chicagoland have long traveled to the school to take classes but they also will participate in cake decorating courses taught by Wilton personnel at retail stores such as Michaels and JoAnn's.
More than 3,000 people from Northwest Indiana have learned the Wilton Method at various retail shops through the years, Siler said.
To learn more about the Wilton method, classes available, products and more, visit wilton.com. Also, visit the website to see video clips from the recent Sweet Up event.