Mad Buttercream Skills: Joshua John Russell’s Modern Buttercream Craftsy Course

Joshua John Russell's Craftsy class, Modern Buttercream, is a good beginner class to try.

Joshua John Russell’s Craftsy class, Modern Buttercream, is a good beginner class to try.

Last year I decided to buy some Craftsy classes when they were offering a discount through Cake Central. I also got a free class, Modern Buttercream, taught by Food Network Challenge veteran Joshua John Russell. I’ve always found this guy to be very personable and I was curious as to how I might improve my buttercream skills as I have a fear of buttercream (i.e. non-fondant) cakes. I pretty much refuse to sell one to a customer. Since I started decorating I occasionally have made buttercream-only cakes for family and friends, but the stress that results from trying to get the buttercream to look perfect is too much for me.

I was impressed with the quality of this course and JJ didn’t disappoint; he was personable and easy-going with a pretty good flow to his teaching. Possibly I’m not hard to please, but considering that this was one of the first Craftsy cake decorating classes and it’s free, I think it was more than good. A minor annoyance, much like a reality show recapping the last 10 minutes of the show after a 5 minute commercial break, was the constant reminding about the 30 second rewind button and to interact with fellow Craftsy members who also have taken the course. More endearing than annoying was JJ’s sniffing, which apparently he has been much teased about in the cake decorating world.

I was curious as to what his method would be and I was pleasantly surprised that my culled together knowledge from various sources and experimentation over six plus years of cake decorating had led me to a very similar method as Joshua John Russell. He definitely taught me a few things and the guy has mad buttercream skills.

No doubt, there are pros and cons to buttercream. It’s cheaper than using both buttercream and fondant. In theory it should be faster. I would not agree that it is faster because if you are not skilled at it, then it’s going to take longer to get it perfect for showing. It’s not going to stand up well to heat and it’s generally going to be easier to mar and dent it than fondant. I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of the sweetness of fondant and unfortunately the taste of fondant has gotten a bad rap from the varieties offered by Wilton and other companies, such as Virgin Ice. I enjoy the taste of Satin Ice, Confectioner’s Choice (Flour Confections, Pickering, ON), Fondx and Fondarific, but honestly, due to the sweetness and the calorie and fat consequences, I always pull the fondant off of cake slices before I eat it and I prefer the taste of buttercream alone, if not the functionality of it.

It should be said that I’m only referring to buttercream here because this is where JJ and I disagree on matters of buttercream. He encourages the student to add shortening to the buttercream in warmer climates and seasons and he points out that it is the only way to get a truly white icing. This is definitely a subject on which I feel strongly. I hate the taste of shortening and the mouth feel of shortening frosting (I refuse to call it buttercream). I have not used shortening in my frostings since my early days of taking the Wilton method classes. I just have to say it, “Yuck!” Okay, I feel better now. I get it, when it’s hot, the shortening will stand up when buttercream won’t. However, it’s just something that I’m not willing to compromise on. I will put the entire cake in the refrigerator before I’ll use shortening in my icings. (Cakes in the refrigerator, another cakery controversy). The paradox here is that fondant is made with shortening, but I think because it is more of a dough, the mouth feel of the shortening is not as apparent as in a frosting.

A few readers have asked where to take classes in Ottawa. There are the usual places, most involving the Wilton method. If you’re the kind of person who can learn without a teacher by your side to guide you, then Craftsy is a great alternative. It seems that I’m always trouncing Wilton in this blog, but honestly, my course left out many of the essential basics that JJ spends considerable time on in this course. For example, Wilton never taught me how important it is to trim the cakes on all sides. You simply cannot end up with a beautifully straight cake if you do not start with a trimmed cake. For this reason alone, I would gladly recommend this course. Especially since it is free – did I mention that already? I love free stuff.

Modern Buttercream Cake Trimming

My dirty secret is that I bought these courses last year or maybe even the previous fall and I hadn’t even started watching them until last night. It’s been a busy year because I have a full-time “real” job, this part-time cake business, a passion for running and other active pursuits and I’ve been travelling a lot this past year for romantic reasons (blush!). Unfortunately my blog has suffered and I haven’t been able to do as much with it as I would have liked. However, now that Craftsy has become so popular, as well as Cake Central, which offers a myriad of free tutorials from professional and hobby cake decorators, I’ve felt that many other people are much more competent at teaching than I am and this particular facet of my blog never got fully realized, the way that I had hoped. I am not giving up blogging though; I very much enjoy trying new recipes and tweaking them so I will continue to post about my experiments, as well as any useful information that comes my way for my fellow cake decorators, especially those in the Ottawa area.

I still have a few more Craftsy classes to complete and this is one of the best parts of the Craftsy set-up: the courses never expire. Good thing for a procrastinator like me!