Fond Memories

A sugar junkie tries to satisfy her jones, one icing wreath at a time

Sweet Celebrations
11321 Highway 7

I love sugar. I love it so much I sometimes consume it as if I were a hummingbird, dependent on sweet nectar for every shred of energy in me. I enjoy highbrow sweets as much as the next addict, but my fixation is so strong I even appreciate sugar bombs like Mountain Dew, glazed doughnuts, and pixie sticks.

As a child I learned how to sculpt icing clowns using a ping-pong ball and some red royal icing. Alas, the icing on mine always sagged, leaving my clowns hunched over and depressed-looking.

Much like the staff at a psych ward, icing is very forgiving
Much like the staff at a psych ward, icing is very forgiving

When I was a teenager, I made sugar cookies in the shape of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, complete with little Red Hots for his nose. Cute idea, right? During the baking process, the Red Hots exploded like cinnamon-flavored aneurysms, and my festive cookies ended up looking like bucks that had taken a shot to the head. (The results were a smashing hit with my intoxicated friends and family.)

Most recently I tried making molded chocolates in the shape of various Disney characters. I took special care to tap the molds to fill the tiniest spots on the small faces with chocolate. The bubbles reappeared after cooling, however, leaving Mickey and Donald looking acne-scarred.

Clearly, I need professional help.

It was a very cold day when I wandered into the Minnetonka outpost of Sweet Celebrations, formerly Maid of Scandinavia, for a three-hour icing-piping class, clutching a list of things I would need. I had heard whispers that the supply stash at Sweet Celebrations was the stuff of legends, and the surprisingly small store didn't disappoint. In one aisle I found edible glitter, miniature candy cane sprinkles, and beer- and margarita-shaped candles.

I traipsed across a bin of molds in the shape of crosses, flowers, wrenches, and dentures. There were kits for making two- and three-dimensional cakes resembling just about any character that ever graced Saturday morning TV. Most interesting were the wedding toppers--some in packages of mismatched sets of brides or grooms, and some interracial pairs. Had I entered a world of open-minded baking?

Having found the icing tips I was in search of, I joined my class: two mothers of toddlers, and a store employee looking to brush up on her cake decorating skills. Our instructor, a friendly thirtysomething, informed us that we would be working with buttercream. It's ideal for beginners because it stays softer longer than royal icing, which dries harder and works better for sculptural creations. We set about making several different types of wreaths on sheets of paper. Mine turned out fine, but after an hour, making green hoops started to get redundant. Occasionally I stole a glance at my classmates' work. I was relieved to see that I was keeping up.

An hour of silence is a long time, and it was a relief to move on to more complex shapes, such as snowflakes (since each is unique we couldn't really jack those up too badly), 3-D snowmen (three blobs atop each other do in fact equal a snowman), a Santa head, and the piece de resistance: a 3-D Santa riding a candy cane.

When my classmates finally did begin to talk, it was about their icing failures, dreams, and aspirations. One woman was planning to make an enormous three-dimensional Barbie cake for her two daughters. Another was frustrated from repeatedly failing to recreate the intricate webbing of Spiderman's mask on a giant lollipop for her son. After explaining that The Nightmare Before Christmas was one of her favorite holiday movies, our instructor teased us for making snowmen that looked more like skulls.

She then perked up and brightly informed us that she used to work at a mental health facility, and, much like decorating a cake, suicide involves special techniques. "Gosh, I guess I never really thought about it that much," one classmate exclaimed in the exact same tone she'd emitted when we were told that edible Disco Glitter could help create a fresh snow sparkle on gingerbread houses.

Much like the staff at a psych ward, icing is very forgiving, sort of like clay--though in truth mostly what we were doing was constructing three-dimensional stick figures. It was certainly a leap forward from my depressed icing clowns, but skill-wise I had only touched the tip of the iceberg.

Later that week I rolled in early for a five-hour gourmet candy-making course. Most of my dozen or so classmates this time were members of a group of super-friendly neighbors looking to make candies in mass quantities for a neighborhood Hannukah progressive. The instructor, this time an enthusiastic man in his 20s, immediately proclaimed chocolate to be his passion and handed us each a booklet with a glossy cover sporting professional-looking cordials and truffles.

Inside I was startled to find ingredients and preparation theories reminiscent of a chemistry class. Suddenly words like invertase, glucose, hydrogenated, viscosity, lecithin, and nulomoline were being batted around. This did not bode well for me. I was glassy-eyed and under-caffeinated to start with, and frankly chemistry kicked my ass in high school. Judging from the looks of panicked confusion all around, I was not the only one having pipette and microplate flashbacks.

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