Cake Decorating Classes: Where to Start?
Have you ever wanted to learn more about cake decorating, but you weren’t sure where to start? With the explosion of digital learning, there are so many options available today for novice bakers, professional cake decorators, and everyone in between. But finding the right class and channel to learn can be a bit overwhelming, so we’ve narrowed down some of the options for you. From traditional in-person cake decorating classes to online learning platforms, here are some suggestions to steer you in the right direction. You’ll be learning from the best in no time!
Online learning platforms have taken the internet by storm and have helped democratize learning. Students can now be instructed from the comfort of their own home, at their own pace, by some of the leading teachers and designers in the world. In the cake decorating world, Craftsy is one of the leading platforms for online instruction with over 7 million users and 550 courses across 16 different categories. Craftsy's market segment focuses on do-it-yourselfers. While Pinterest is the place for visual discovery and platforms like Etsy allow you to buy all the wonderful things you can discover on Pinterest, Craftsy is being positioned as the place for those who want to learn to build and create all the great arts and crafts that are available on platforms like Pinterest.
For the cake decorator, Craftsy offers classes in baking, sculpting, cake, and cookie decorating and more. The classes are rated by other students and include previews and content timetables so you can get a taste of what you’re purchasing. Most of the classes follow a tutorial format where the teacher focuses on one or more projects and teaches by example. Our team of cake artists have taken many Craftsy classes and have posted in-depth reviews on Pink Cake Box University.
Another online class platform for cake decorating is CakeMade. CakeMade is similar to Craftsy, but focuses primarily on cakes and baked goods, whereas Craftsy offers instructional courses in many different forms of art, baking, crafts and photography. With CakeMade you can preview videos, read reviews, and browse classes, but their library of content is a little smaller than Craftsy’s. However, some would-be learners might prefer this, since they have less classes to sift through and can narrow down their choices from the suggested topics.
Beyond these two platforms there are a host of other options for online instructor lead classes. We'll profile some additional options in the 'Online Cake Schools' section later in the article.
What are the benefits of online instruction?
Well, you can learn from the convenience of your own kitchen, for one. The classes you purchase on Craftsy and Cakemade are yours (at least as long as the service is around...). You can refer back to them whenever you need to, from any computer or mobile device. If you have children or a tight work schedule, online instruction offers you the ability to learn whenever you want, even in the middle of the night! You can learn from real instructors, accomplished, respected cake decorators from bakeries and schools you would not otherwise have access to.
And unlike 5 to 10 years ago, technology has advanced beyond simple video playback and often includes immersive and community-driven features with complementary class materials, interaction with instructors and students, and the ability for users to share and comment on projects. From a technology perspective, the production value of the videos are typically top notch with HD quality and multiple camera angles. And with the rise of smartphones, tablets and other devices, companies like Craftsy have done a good job ensuring their content is available across all these channels.
Cost is another big benefit to online instruction. These platforms offer high quality classes for as little as $20.00. We'll also profile online cake schools later in this article which have membership fees as low as $30 for access to hundreds of online tutorials and videos. These platforms have disrupted the traditional model of face-to-face learning and really helped bring high quality cake decorating skills to the masses.
What are some of the drawbacks of online video cake decorating classes?
So while we love these new platforms, there are some drawbacks that are worth highlighting. The first is the inability to ask real-time questions. While Craftsy offers a rather unique interface for asking questions for the teacher, replies can take several days in some cases. Another drawback is it can be rather difficult to quickly scan through an entire video to get the overall gist. In contrast, having a tutorial in written and/or pictorial format allows you to scan through the written lesson rather quickly to parts that are most relevant based on your experience and interest. While you can do that with video and the videos are logically structure in chapters, it's generally more efficient to scan through with written instructions.
When compared to in-person class instruction, online instruction does not offer the professional setting that most physical classes provide. You'll need your own tools, and if you make a mistake, you don't have a teacher available in real-time to steer you back on the right path. In addition, being in a classroom setting can be a strong motivator to stay focused on the task at hand. Sometimes it is all too easy to get distracted when viewing a class online. But in the end, online decorating classes are often significantly cheaper that in-person instruction, so for many the trade-off is worth it.
How does Craftsy compare to Cakemade?
CakeMade is a newer site — so it's not quite at the Craftsy level in terms of the technology and user experience. While the interface is perfectly fine, it can be a little less intuitive than Craftsy (which may only matter if that’s been your main learning platform in the past.).
Some differences include a lack of a 30 second repeat option and the fact that the CakeMade forum discussions are somewhat disconnected from the video. Craftsy's video player nicely integrates questions and responses along the right hand navigation of the video player. Each question and response is stamped with a time that corresponds with where you are in the lesson plan.
Craftsy also has a rather large portfolio of classes and instructors and has been smart about trying to include classes for all skillsets. You will not find as much variety with CakeMade. To some this may be a blessing as it can be overwhelming when first visting Craftsy. However Craftsy has done a good job with their user interface and filter design to aide the user in finding the right class for their needs.
Given the size of their video portfolio, Craftsy also offers the ability to search through lessons which is a big help when you want to revisit a specific technique but can't remember which lesson or class it was part of. Search results conveniently link to the section of the video where the term is mentioned. Craftsy's interface also allows you to take notes and integrates users projects nicely into the class. To CakeMade's credit, they do link out to Amazon for tools & supplies which is convenient in case you need to quickly purchase a missing tool for the class.
There also appears to be some pricing differences between the platforms - in general most CakeMade courses range from $39.99 to $59.99 while Craftsy appears to be in a slightly lower price tier. However, if CakeMade is anything like Craftsy, it's likely you'll be able to find discounts if you do a little searching. (Tip!Both our Craftsy classes are always 50% on our site.)
However, in the end, none of these differences are significant enough that they should stop someone from buying and enjoying a number of classes from CakeMade. Just give them a little room to work out the kinks and evolve their platform. In the long run, having multiple learning platforms will benefit both the teacher and student communities as the increased competition should help incentivize each platform to continue to innovate.
|# cake decorating classes as of Feb 2015||100+||12|
|Search through class videos?||YES||NO|
|Includes class materials?||YES||YES|
|Teachers availble to answer questions?||YES||YES|
|Price Ranges||$15 - $60||$40 - $60|
How about Youtube?
While we are on the topic of online videos and cake decorating we'd be remiss not to mention Youtube as an option for decorators. Cake decorators have been posting video tutorials online for years. Production value can vary considerably but there are some great channels that consistently produce quality content. And unlike the other platforms we've covered, Youtube is free. Sure, you may have to sit through some ads, but those are minor annoyances at most and can be skipped if desired.
While we offer a Youtube channel and have curated some of our best videos in our video tutorial section, our channel is more focused on showcasing our cakes for our clients. We can however recommend some of the following channels:
Lastly, unlike Craftsy and CakeMade, which have a fairly thorough process for vetting instructors, Youtube has no such restrictions. So it's best to be discerning and look for recommendations on forums like Cake Central and Facebook.
So with some patience and time Youtube can be a great tool for the cake decorator, especially in cases when you are in a bind and need a quick tip. More times than not, you'll find something on Youtube that will provide some level of help.
If you have other recommended Youtube channels add them in the comments section!
Online Tutorials (Step-by-step written & photo form)
So far we've covered learning platforms like Craftsy & Youtube which all primarily deliver instruction via video. The other area that has exploded in the last several years are online tutorials - i.e. step-by-step instructions with visuals that are generally shorter in nature than videos. For visual learners, written step by step instructions with photos may be more beneficial. As mentioned earlier, it's also sometimes easier to see all the instructions visually laid out upfront. Conversely, step-by-step instructions with pictures sometimes may skip steps and some decorators may prefer videos as typically they are more thorough just by the nature of the medium.
There are literally hundreds of destinations online where you can find tutorials ranging from free to pay-per tutorial models and membership type models. We have our own step-by-step tutorials at Pink Cake Box University, and sites like Cake Central and Cake Decor take a crowd sourcing approaching to creating tutorials and literally have thousands of tutorials in both video and written format. Even vendors are getting in the mix, with companies like Satin Ice beginning to build out their own tutorials in collaboration with cake decorators.
When parsing through all these tutorials, it's helpful to find their most popular and/or most viewed tutorials to find the most helpful tutorials. Most sites include tags or filters that allow you to do this. Sites like CakeDecor and CakeCentral do a good job bubbling up the best tutorials to the top. Pinterest can also be another good source for discovery using their search feature.
In the 'Online Cake School' section we'll profile some cake schools which also offer similar tutorials.
Some people learn by doing. If you’re the type of student who needs hands-on learning with a ‘live’ instructor present, then maybe regular class instruction might be for you. Class sizes, length and type vary based on location. When looking for a class, it's best to find a school that keeps classes small to allow for a personalized experience. Many classes will supply materials and tools needed for the class which is especially helpful for beginners who may not have the appropriate materials readily on-hand. Make sure to ask though if supplies are included. It also doesn't hurt to ask questions about the class instructor. These may include - What is the instructors qualifications? How long have they been teaching? What skill level is the class geared towards?
If you are in NJ, we do offer cake, cupcake and cookie classes for a variety of levels, most of which are available during the winter time. For a list of our classes click here. It's also worth mentioning our Eat, Drink, and Decorate classes. These classes incorporate food, drink and decorating into a more casual, relaxed and social atmosphere. These classes are geared more towards the casual decorator who is looking for a fun night out with friends and are great for bachelorette parties and corporate team building events. More information is available here.
While your local bakery, community college or culinary school is often a good source for decorating classes, another good method for finding high quality classes is through cake shows. Cake shows often have a wide variety of classes offered from many different world-class instructors. In the past, we've attended and can recommend the National Capital Area Cake Show in VA which is entering its eight year. Check out their website for show and class information. The first annual Cake Fest is also slated to take place in Feb 2015 and with its strong instructor lineup we are hopeful it will become a yearly event.
Sometimes there is nothing better than purchasing a book to learn a new decorating technique. For some it's a personal preference, and for others there may be barriers due to poor internet connection or lack of comfort using a computer. Whatever your reason, books continue to be a solid informational source for the cake decorating world. Some of the best known teachers have been writing books for years - Allan Dunne and Nicholas Lodge are two of our favorites. And even with all these new mediums for learning, talented cake decorators are continuing to release high quality print books.
Squire's Kitchen (UK based) is a great resource for finding high quality books. They produce several high quality, detailed and easy to follow books by accomplished teachers. They also run in-person classes as well.
You'll find a few additional recommendations and book reviews in our review section. Have your own favorite? Leave a comment and let us know!
Online Cake Schools
We've created this category to cover the ever-growing option of online resources that often combine videos, online tutorials, forums and sometimes even in-person classes. These one-stop cake schools are sometimes lead by individuals or are sometimes a collaboration of many cake artists. Unlike Craftsy and CakeMade, many of these schools offer a membership payment model which requires a one-time payment for a certain level of access that usually expires after a set time period. For the avid decorator, this all you can eat type option may be a more cost-effective option. Before signing up for any membership agreement, make sure you have a good sense for the release cycle of the particular site and the level of expertise they typically cater towards. Also ask what level, if any, of support the site provides you if you get stuck.
MyCakeSchool.com is one of the veterans in this category. They have hundreds of videos and tutorials online. Many are free on the blog, so you can start their to get a good sense of the quality.
A few other recommended "schools" are listed below. (Note we have not tried all these but have generally heard good things about them):
- Paul Bradford School (Based in Scotland. They over 100 free videos to start!)
- Pretty Witty Cakes (Based in UK)
- Sugar Ed Productions
Beyond this category of cake schools, many savvy decorators have released their own tutorials which you can either buy individually online through their websites or through other services like Patreon which includes fellow decorator Liz Marek. Prices and quality can vary, but a little research will help you quickly weed out the more amateur efforts.
Over the next few years, it wouldn't be surprising if more individuals continue to go the independent route to share and sell their skills within the cake community. While platforms like Craftsy have a tremendous reach, cake decorators typically only receive a small percentage of revenues from each sale. And with the advent of DIY online learning platforms like SchoolKeep and Fedora and powerful social media platforms, the technology savvy decorators has powerful tools at their fingertips to help build and promote their videos and tutorials.
If your schedule is too complex for group classes and you are not computer savvy, there is always the option of purchasing instructional DVD’s to assist you with your cake decorating. Several years ago, DVDs and CDs were the primary method of delivering education digitally, but with the advent of better internet connections and more advanced technology, digital video learning via the Internet is quickly surpassing DVDs.
However, there is still some demand for DVDs and they make a great tangible gift for that cake decorator in your life. Pink Cake Box offers two DVDs for sale as part of a cake starter kit. Cake Decorating 101 and Cake Decorating 102 offer step by step instructions for round and square cakes, adding filling, using fondant, and more.
In closing, that wraps up our guide to different learning channels and platforms in the cake decorating world. It's never been a better time to expand your craft or learn new skills, and with all of these options available, how can you go wrong?
Of course, if we missed anything please sound off in the comments!
Contributors to this article also included Debbie Zelasny, Jesse Heap & Anna Puchalski
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Anne Heap is the owner of Pink Cake Box, a custom cake studio that specializes in creating cakes, cupcakes & cookie favors. Anne began her career in advertising in 2001 after graduating from Boston College. Her passion for baking led her to the French Culinary Institute in 2005. Anne and...
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