Man! Where to start?!
Well, let’s not draw it out. A lot went on and we don’t need filler so I’ll get to it.
As you may know, I’m an ambassador for Wilton. As a member of their Sweet Treat Team I’m honored to receive products of theirs to try out and tell you about. It’s an insanely simple relationship we have since I always used their stuff anyway, so when they asked me to be a part of their team I was star struck to say the least. Fast forward to now and I’m still taken aback by their awesomeness.
Because a few weeks ago, on April 23rd and 24th, they hosted the 2015 Wilton Sweet-Up! Since their first one in 2010, they’ve only had 3 others – 2011, then 2014, and this year, 2015. During these awesome events, they’ve always managed to impress those they let walk through their doors. This year, those of us from the Sweet Treat Team who were able to make it shared the experience with a number of other insanely talented and cool people from all over the U.S.
So what exactly goes down at the Sweet-Up? Lots!
Imagine it as a meet up where people get together to talk about a bunch of sweet stuff. So really, not only is it a great event, but it’s also perfectly named!
Lots of things get revealed and are talked about. Like the awesome Display Your Way Cake Stand that can be customized to fit the theme of whatever you’re baking for.
Or the magical Color Swirl Decorating Kit that gives you the mystical ability of effortlessly piping 3 different colored icings at once!
Aside from reveals of new products, every Sweet-Up consists of a few hours where the top trends for that year are talked about, then a fun filled list of activities and demonstrations take place the following day. This year, a bunch of trends were talked about. What are a few? Well I’m glad you asked!
A Merveilleux was the first thing that was listed. It’s a French pastry that’s making its way to the states and consists of meringue cookies layered and covered with whipped cream then rolled around various toppings. The result is almost ice cream like the way the moisture from the whipped cream takes most of the texture away from the meringues, leaving you with this light and airy treat that you won’t be able to keep your spoon away from. Trust me, they let us try a bit, it’s the bee’s knees.
If you’re really curious, Wilton has a really detailed video you could check out!
Smokey flavors meeting sweet desserts is something else to look out for. This is one of the trends on the list that caught my attention because there’s a ton of different ways you can take an ordinary dessert and make it stand out by incorporating some sort of smokiness to it. There’s a joke here about brownies but ain’t nobody got time for that. Next trend!
Using watercolor techniques on fondant is another one I dug. It just makes so much sense, and the end product would be such a unique and elegant looking cake. And you’re essentially doing watercolors on a cake. I mean, 5 year olds play with watercolors! How hard can it be to make a good looking cake?! (I can almost feel future-me slapping present-me right now)
Colorful confectionery is the last one I’ll talk about since there’s more I want to cover. It’s a trend that I’ve already seen hit my grocery store’s bakery. The use of color combinations you wouldn’t have normally used, creating unique and eye catching treats that look like they came off the Lost Boys’ dinner table.
Did you catch that, kids? 90’s movie reference. Educate yourself.
If you want to know the rest of the 10 trends that were talked about, you can go right here to Wilton’s blog and check out the 2015 Baking and Decorating Trends.
And that leads me to a few more things that were introduced for the first time: The Color Right Performance Color System and the Treatology Flavor System. Those are two products you seriously need to look out for. They’re cooler than candy melts… and you know how much I love candy melts!
If you ever imagined yourself making a cake that had over a hundred different colors on it and in it, first of all… what in the blue heck is wrong with you?!? Second, all your wishes and dreams are about to come true, crazyhead.
The Color System is a set of 8 concentrated colors that can be used alone or combined to create an insane amount of colors. Not only that, you can easily create the same color, perfectly, every time. Want an idea of the kinds of colors you can create? Then there just so happens to be a handy dandy chart right here.
The Treatology Flavor System works the same way, but it’s totally different (don’t stop me now, I’m on a roll)! It’s 8 small bottles of concentrated flavors for you to use in anything you’re making. Cakes, icings, drinks, whatever. These things pack a punch too, let me tell ya. Much stronger than regular extracts, the flavors you’ll get are big and should be used to showcase.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on both these systems back in March. I played with both a bit and I’m insanely impressed with their potential. Can’t wait to hear and see all the crazy combinations of flavors and colors people come up with.
We got some rest after talking trends and started the next day bright and early with Amber Spiegel, or SweetAmbs as you may know her. She was teaching us the art of cookie decorating, and it was a blast!
It had been a while since I was in a learning environment like that so it was fun. She showed us a wet-on-wet technique using royal icing and made it look all too easy.
We had everything we would need right in front of us and got to try out what she was demonstrating. We got to use the Color Right System to mix up our royal icing and I managed to get some of my favorite colors whipped up. Too bad they didn’t make my cookies look any better.
It was such a cool learning environment though, with her and her assistant there walking around, making sure we were on the right track.
I mean, she could’ve had an army of assistants and I wouldn’t have come anywhere near her skills…
But it sure as heck inspired me to keep on trying. If there’s one thing I took away from the Sweet-Up, it’s a strong urge to practice and learn more about cookie decorating.
After that first workshop, we took a tour of the Trend Room. Imagine a large room with numerous work stations, each one working on something different. We were told no one who toured it before was ever allowed to take pictures in there, but this was the first time it was permitted! I felt extremely privileged, but at the same time, I still held back from photographing Eric Erwin, Wilton Executive Vice President/CMO, proudly showing off awesome looking sketches of ideas they were working on. But I didn’t hold back from other stuff! There was A LOT going on despite there only being 5 or 6 designers working on projects in there.
From where I was standing I noticed a sweet new technique on working with fondant. Something so simple that you have to wonder why you didn’t think of it, yet when we spoke to the designer, she listed all the different ways they tried to execute the effect before they finally found the way that worked.
Conversations like is what I love about things like this. It really opens your eyes and makes you realize things don’t just happen. They don’t mystically appear on store shelves and pictures on websites. People work on projects for months at a time before it sees the light of day, and being able to have a peak at that process had me geeking out hard.
Behind me, another designer was working on snowflakes, while behind them, someone else appeared to be researching on their station’s computer. Like I said, it didn’t seem very busy in there, but there was a lot going on.
I walked around a bit and talked to another designer. She was working on stuff for Thanksgiving. I looked confused but she explained how they have to stay far ahead of holidays and times. It’s a long process to get an idea from paper to shelves so they have to stay on top of it. I thought her working on Thanksgiving was nuts, but as it turns out, the lady with the snowflakes on the other side of the room was working on Christmas. So crazy!
While talking to her I couldn’t help but notice organized chaos everywhere. Work stations, tables, carts, just everything everywhere. And I freaking loved it. I told her and I think she felt like I was being negative. But I had to quickly reassure her that I loved seeing the craziness.
All sorts of utensils and tools and papers and products and tips… Holy piper’s paradise, Batman, the amount of decorating tips everywhere.
It was all proof showing how this company that many may just think is a machine pumping out products, was being ran and maintained by humans. Extremely talented and cool humans.
I turned around and noticed everyone I was touring with was gone. I quickly thought I was part of some hidden camera show, but then I was told “oh, they’re just in the cake vault.” The cake vault?! So I go to see and sure enough, it was a cake vault!
A decent sized room filled to the brim with all sorts of goodies. Cakes, cupcakes, treats, cake pops…
Fully decorated, half way done, seasons, holidays, celebrations, characters, fondant, piped…
It was seriously like I stood in front of the Room of Requirement, asked for a room full of every cake imaginable, and boom, the door opens to the cake vault in Wilton HQ.
The decorations and such can be anything from royal icing to fondant, but sadly, there are no real cakes or treats in the cake vault. If it was a shaped cake, then it was a sugar mold. If it was a regular round or square cake, it’s styrofoam. Hello, I’m Los, spoiler of fantasies and crusher of dreams.
But still though, it’s insanely impressive and easy to spend a few hours looking at everything. I didn’t want to leave just because I wanted to see the crazy stuff I would find.
But the day had to go on! After the tour we had an impressive boxed lunch before heading to The Wilton School for Cake Decorating.
There, we met up with Beth Somers and Elizabeth Nelson and we had fun with boozy baking!
I’d get into more details but there was Kahlua involved and you know me and coffee liqueur. Hahaha, jk. Let me take that back before what I accidentally did is looked at as on purpose.. I mean, everyone misreads recipes, right? Putting the entire recipe’s worth of booze in the batter when it was just supposed to be a fraction of it is totally ok. We had to adjust the flour because it was a lot more wet than it should have been. And by adjust the flour, I mean add like 2 more cups. Haha, it was a lot of Kahlua. But hey! As it turns out, we also added double the amount of butter the recipe called for so it wasn’t completely my fault!
Tell you what though. I don’t know about everyone else’s, but our White Russian Cookies were the bomb!
We also made a Bloody Mary muffin with a compound butter. I’m not one for Bloody Mary’s, but as a savory muffin with the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes in there along with the compound butter, it was pretty good!
I loved the kitchen we were in too. It reminded me a lot of culinary school oh so many years ago.
There were a bunch of cakes that lined the tables along the back corner wall.
One of my faves was the Wizard of Oz cake, which I later learned was made by Emily Easterly, who I was talking to in the Trend Room, and who also worked on the Cake of the Year. Telling you. Some amazingly talented people over there!
After the Kahlua incident of ’15, we headed to the hallways of the school where we were given a small tour by the Director of the school.
She showed us a map of the world that showcased the different places students of the school are from. You may not think cake decorating and baking is a huge deal, but if people from the other side of the world are traveling to the little spot I was standing on when I took that picture, then you know something special is going on there. Things like that resonate with me and inspire, as they should you.
After going over all the different classes they cover in the school, she brought us to a huge wall where the history of Wilton is laid out. I could tell it’s really something to be proud of if you work there.
Being part of a company that goes back 80 years and is still respected today is nothing to sneeze at. I regret not taking more time to admire the wall and read up on the history of the company. Buuuuuuut then I found the History of Wilton on their site. There’s some good stuff there, you should check it out.
The next stop was checking out a Master’s course that was taking place. I felt a little bad about us as this huge group barging in and interrupting their class, but I can’t say I felt too guilty. I mean, it was probably annoying to the students in the middle of their lesson, but I knew it was probably the only chance I’d ever experience such a class.
So after silently walking around and admiring the work the students have laying around about the room, I tried to hang out around the front of the room where the instructor was speaking to the class.
After that, it was straight to the Wilton Store! My mom, who used to be a Wilton Instructor at Michael’s, aaaaaalways wanted to travel to Wilton HQ for 2 things: to see the school, and to shop at the store. And I must say, it was quite glorious.
After the store we headed back to HQ where we had took part in a taste test! We split off to 5 people per table and were put to the test with the new Treatology Flavor System. We were given 3 different sugar cookies and 2 buttercreams and had to figure out the flavors that were added in. Some had 2 different flavors while the last had a combination of 3 you had to guess. It was crazy fun and I sadly got 3 out of 5.
One of the 3 I guessed right was a sugar cookie that had salted caramel and cinnamon graham. I swear to you, it’s exactly what you would imagine a Bath & Body Works candle would taste like. You know, if it wasn’t made of wax. I knew automatically what it was because it’s my favorite scent. Fall time candles 4 life, yo.
After that, it was our final workshop and activity for the day. How to Dress the Perfect Dessert Table with Jenny Keller. Or, Jenny Cookies, as you may know her.
She told us a lot about how she came to do what she does now, and it was a story I really enjoyed. It was just a completely random set of events that led her to snowball into this crazy successful and awesome life. As if her inspiring story wasn’t enough, she went on to give us a bunch of great and useful tips on how to put together an awesome dessert table. I’m glad it was the last thing we did in the day because it was a perfect time to just sit down and soak in all the information and advice.
After she spoke, we had a chance to practice what she just taught us. We split off into groups again and got to choose from a huge assortment of model cakes, accessories, cake stands, and even got to decorate our own cupcakes. We had free range to do whatever we wanted to do with our table and it was fun coordinating with the team to try and make things work with what we had. We even got to play with the Display Your Way Cake Stand and learned to appreciate it’s versatility when it came to displaying your cake. Our team took home the “Lovely” ribbon and we were quite proud.
And that was the end of my crazy day! The whole group went out for dinner afterwards but I was a bum and decided to try and crash early and get some rest for the drive home. As you may or may not have read in the last post, I traveled with my family because I didn’t want to leave them home. That, and my 5 year old absolutely loves staying in hotels. So we drove from North Carolina to just outside Chicago. It was a long trip but in the end, I learned it was well worth it. If you want to hear more about the actual drive, crazy dark and scary dirt roads, and windmill farms, then be sure to check out my previous post.
I was back and forth on going to the Sweet-Up for a long time. Even when I finally decided yes and told them I was going, I had my doubts. I don’t know if you noticed, but this here is a small blog. Being an ambassador to Wilton is definitely the biggest thing to happen to me around these parts. And even though I’ve been working with them for well over a year, I’m still not used to their generosity when it comes to supporting me and what I do. My wife kept pushing me and pushing me, telling me I should go. Friends were doing the same, still angry at me for passing up the same opportunity the year before. So here I am writing this post, and I can easily say – after the doubting, the pushing, the angry texts telling me to listen to opportunity knocking – I’m so glad I went.
Yeah, it may seem like a no-brainer to go in the first place, but I didn’t notice that until after I started the journey back home. Going to the Sweet-Up was an experience that I won’t forget anytime soon. If there’s one thing that I walked away with, it’s simply inspiration. I went in with a cool head, not really sure what I was going to encounter. And I came out with my mind racing, thinking about the dozens of different things I wanted to learn more of, and practice, and create, and just do. From Amber’s cookies to Jenny’s tables, I am ready to walk down many different roads that have been untraveled by my shoes. If that’s something Wilton set out to do with the Sweet-Up, then kudos to them for accomplishing their goal. If this was an accident and just something that happened while they were trying to show us a good time, then they need far more credit than I could give them.
I know I’m rambling a bit now, so I’ll reel it in in a second. I just wanted to make it clear how humbled I am. I mean, Wilton’s backbone as a company is based off of cake decorating. Have you looked around my blog? I’m a complete sucker for their products, and always have been, but I’m no decorator. So I know I’m insanely lucky to be a part of their team. It should be a testament to how progressive they are as a company. This is a strange and beautiful time we live in, where the internet can take the smallest of voices and project them for the world to hear. To this day, I don’t really know what made them reach out to me and ask me to be on their Sweet Treat Team, but I gotta say, I’m happy and humbled they did. They found me – some dude with a food blog that he updates half as much as he’d like – invited me to their home over 700 miles away, and sat me down at a table in the same room as chocolatiers, bakery owners, and industry professionals. I don’t think it gets any cooler than that.
Here’s to hoping I don’t plateau here. Because I met a TON of amazingly cool and talented bloggers and vloggers that I’d love to learn from and grow with. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll be a great decorator and attending the Sweet-Up is what gave me the push to start practicing. Weirder things have happened in the world.