I don’t head out of the Center City limits often, but last week I found myself doing just that. I have to admit, it was a week night, I was dead tired and cranky from an annoying day at work, and pretty much the last thing I wanted to do was drag my ass on the regional rail and hoof it out to the suburbs (and in the rain no less!), but I’m so, so glad I did. I got to take a break from my normal routine and learn cake decorating tips and tricks from Noelle, the owner of the (fairly new) Ella Vanilla cake decorating supply shop. And let me tell you, spending a night elbow deep in frosting was exactly what I needed!
Let me start by explaining that Ella Vanilla is not a bakery. That’s a common mistake (and one I made myself). It’s strictly a cake decorating supply shop, which is actually the coolest thing ever. Noelle has pretty much everything you might need to decorate cakes, cupcakes and cookies. And everything is color coded and super organized. It’s an OCD baker’s heaven!
What started as an online shop that sold cake decorating supply kits has spawned into a brick and mortar shop on Chestnut Hill’s main drag (Germantown Ave). Don’t worry, you can still buy the cake decorating kits, but now you can also get fondant, gum paste, all different types of sprinkles, molds and pretty much any cake supply you can think of. Plus, if there happens to be something Noelle doesn’t have stocked, she’ll order it for you.
Through my own experience, I can tell you that it’s pretty difficult to find any sort of decent amount of cake supplies, never mind professional quality ones. And when you can’t even find red sprinkles around Christmastime, you know there’s a problem. Luckily Ella Vanilla is to the rescue, bringing professional cake decorating supplies to the people one pastry tip at a time. #letthemdecoratecake
The real gem of Ella Vanilla is the decorating classes, though. Making cakes has always kind of intimidated me. After a chocolate ganache birthday cake decorating disaster, I had sworn off cakes for a bit. So I was really excited when the opportunity to take an actual cake decorating class came up. We were all skeptical of how our creations would turn out, but Noelle assured us they would look great…
The shop is tiny, so only 5 people fit in a class and Noelle teaches the classes herself. The whole thing was very intimate, and the small class size meant Noelle could give each of us one-on-one attention, if needed. Noelle had prepared some snacks (and of course there was wine), so the whole thing had a great girls night vibe, which I think exceeded all of our expectations for a dreary Wednesday night.
The class offerings including cookie, cupcake and cake decorating and range from kids classes to adult classes, with different levels and instruction depending on age range and time. For classes that deal with larger cakes, Noelle told us she goes through more tips of how to assemble a ready-to-frost cake, but for our purposes and time constraint, she already had mini cakes crumb coated and chilled.
First, we learned how to create gum paste roses. We chose colors and learned how to dye our gum paste (a messy, but fun experience). And then Noelle showed us a quick and easy way to assemble the roses (you’ll have to take her class to find out what it is!), and we each had a couple of flowers in no time. We made matching leaves out of fondant and set all that aside to dry out a bit.
In case you’re wondering…
The difference between gum paste and fondant? Gum paste is rock solid when it dries. Gum paste creations keep for a really long time, but are near impossible to bite into once they dry. Fondant is more edible, and actually tasty. Noelle told us she sells a brand of particularly delicious fondant that tastes more like marshmallow than some other brands. We all tried a bite and I have to agree with her!
Next we learned some frosting techniques. Tall Guy got me pastry tips and reusable bags for Christmas a few years ago, so I’m pretty comfortable using them, but admittedly haven’t learned any techniques with the tips. I’m great at the standard swirl (my go-to for decorating cupcakes), but everything else usually comes up shapeless. Noelle suggested I focus on releasing the pressure from the pastry bag during my decorating. We used a star tip to make a shell border on the outside of the cake. This is a simple technique that looks pretty impressive in the end. We were only frosting mini cakes and our hands were already cramping- I really got an appreciation for where the money goes when buying big cakes!
We finished off the top of the cake with grass! The grass pastry tip was so fun (and easy) to use and gave us all great results. I REALLY want a grass tip, but can’t justify the purchase until I can think of something to decorate with grass!
We topped our cakes with the decorations we made earlier in the night and voila! Beautifully decorated, professional-looking cakes, as promised!
I had SUCH a great time at Ella Vanilla decorating my cake. Noelle was the best teacher and a great host. I’m dying to go back to learn how to master cookie icing- and maybe to pick up a tube of sprinkles… or 3!
7922 Germantown Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19118
Currently open Wednesdays through Sundays