Winery Visit: Wine & Cake Decorating

The new house is basically all I think about nowadays, but I interrupt my regularly scheduled wall painting and box packing program to bring you a fun snippet of an event some girlfriends and I participated in last Thursday. We ventured over to one of the local wineries in Southwest Michigan (the Winery, actually) and practiced our skills at cake decorating under the instruction of a professional pastry chef.

Mandy from Love and Macarons studied L’Art de la Patisserie at the French Pastry School in Chicago, and upon graduation worked under Bravo’s Top Chef Just Desserts winner Chris Hanmer in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Mandy is a native of Southwest Michigan, though, and her heart tore her back home. I had the pleasure of partnering with Mandy while she worked at a local restaurant along with her executive chef for one of my Wine Club dinners in the Fall of 2017, and I was so excited to see she was pairing with the Winery again. This time under her own (and new!) business. Love and Macarons was developed from Mandy’s deep love of macarons. She also designs custom cakes, cupcakes, breakfast pastries, and other candies for the residents of our little corner of the Mitten State. Her products are everywhere locally! I love seeing her custom pop-tarts at my local farmer’s market, and her macaron towers at various events around town. Her Instagram is also full of desserts that leave my mouth watering. Partnering with Dablon Vineyards, Mandy was advertising a cake decorating class hosted at Dablon’s Annex. Knowing so many ladies who not only love to be creative but also drink wine, I shared the event on Facebook and a week later we met up to take the class. Dablon Vineyards is dear to my heart for many reasons — not only because I once called it my place of employment. Dablon is a beautiful winery set on an even more awe-inspiring vineyard. And the wines are unmatched in Michigan. The grapes are hand-picked and the winemaker combines Old World methods with New World technology to make the superior wines. Their goal is to “marry European varietals with the unique terroir in Southwest Michigan to make extraordinary wine.” They are excelling. With 36 acres of estate-grown grapes planted on Dablon’s 75-acre vineyard, Dablon’s wines are made in-house and on-site, and contrary to popular belief, sweet fruit wines are not the only product coming out of Michigan. Dablon’s wines are modeled after Burgundy and Bordeaux with unique varietals such as Malbec, Carmenere, and Petit Verdot available. But don’t just take me at my word — even Wine Enthusiast rated Dablon’s 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon 90 points, a great feat for some little Michigan winery. With a tasting room featuring two tasting bars and a lounge area in front of a stone fireplace, Dablon welcomes guests to not only sample their award-winning wines but also escape from every-day life in rustic comfort. So I’ll say it again: Dablon is my favorite Michigan winery for many reasons. Given the opportunity to drink wine while being creative was like having my cake and eating it too. (See what I did there?) I arrived to the event early enough to have a glass of my favorite Dablon wine before starting the class. No matter the vintage, the Dablon Pinot Noir Rosé is my go-to. The current 2017 vintage is darker in color with hints of raspberries and nice acidity. Depending on what I’ve eaten throughout the day, sometimes there is even tart cranberry. I’ve enjoyed a few glasses of the Rosé over the summer. The class began with Mandy giving an overview of her pastry experience and background. Then we jumped straight into decorating. We began with a 4″ layered baby cake, a turntable, a tub of purple buttercream frosting, three smaller containers of varying pink frosting hues, a paint scraper, and an angled spatula. Mandy demonstrated how to apply the first layer of the purple frosting to cover the entire cake. Basically, you scoop a large amount to the top and distribute it to the sides. Easy, right? Not quite. Once all the frosting has been distributed, you then want to smooth the cake’s sides using the paint scraper. This will remove a majority of the frosting. You then repeat the first step (dolloping more frosting and distributing) followed by scraping off. The goal is to have the cake appear smooth on the sides and flat on top. It took me four turns of distributing, scraping, and repeating to have my cake appear relatively smooth. Then came texturizing. Using your angled spatula, Mandy instructed the class to choose one of the pink shades and begin dotting them onto the cake. She looked like a painter, dotting the reddish hue this way and that until she felt it was time to move to the brighter pink. Then she repeated her moves, and again with the white until her cake looked like Picasso had taken his brush to it. I’m no Picasso, friends. Instead, I chose to (what I kindly call) glop my colors on my cake. Strong, repetitive, upward strokes of thick frosting began to take shape. I had no rhyme or reason for my placement other than to make the cake look “like feathers.” I wanted texture. I wanted height. And above-all-else, I wanted a lot of frosting. I’m proud to say I succeeded in all those categories. I felt this stage in the decorating was the most fun. I could mix colors, hide mistakes, and make the cake take on the form I envisioned. Plus, I was able to enjoy my second glass of Dablon wine, this time choosing the newly released 2017 Dablon Pinot Grigio. A deliciously dry white, this Pinot Grigio offers mild acidity with light starfruit. It is one of G’s favorite options from the winery, and I’ve become accustomed to its lightness in the hot months, so it fit for the muggy Michigan September evening. The final step was what I would call accessorizing the cake. Mandy provided an array of options: vanilla and chocolate macarons, fresh flowers, sprinkles, edible glitter, and meringue. If you’ve never had meringue, you are truly missing out. It is pretty much a dehydrated marshmallow made of egg whites, salt, and sugar, and feels like you’re eating a sweet cloud. I used both varieties of macarons (because they are seriously the best!), a medium-sized meringue, and a handful of flower stems. I tried different layering techniques, and after the twentieth variation finally liked my design enough to call it good. Then I added some crushed meringue and gold sprinkles at the base of my cake, and sprinkled some gold glitter to really make the cake sparkle. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised with my final product: I don’t foresee me quitting my day job to become a cake decorator, but this event was a lot of fun. I’ve done plenty of Wine and Canvas classes in the past. This cake decorating takes the cake. (Ha, I have so many more, guys!) With Wine and Canvas, you’re shown how to paint one image which you’ll never need to paint again. With the cake decorating class, I learned techniques to decorate cakes for my friends and family in the future which I’ll actually retain. I’ve never been a baker, but now I feel comfortable enough to at least frost a cake should the need arise. In addition to expanding my creative abilities, I was given the opportunity to get out of the house — literally — and express myself in a fun manner. And on top of all that, I took a tasty treat home for G and I to split! The cake was a chocolate velvet cake made with Cabernet Sauvignon. It had some spice to it, and the buttercream filling was delicious. It definitely made the hubby happy having dessert in the apartment for a few nights. I call that a win-win for everyone involved! There really was no better way to spend a Thursday evening than with a full glass of wine, lots of laughs, and inspiration to work with in the kitchen. I love living in a community that provides little classes like this one, and I love living in an area that makes such amazing wine. I’m looking forward to more cake decorating classes in the future, either at Dablon again or exploring a new location. Can I also add how cute it is that my girls and I dressed to match our cakes? I love fun coincidences like this! Now back to moving into the new house… Until next time, friends,

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