At the weekend, I had the very real pleasure of being invited to attend a class with my good friend and Mr Baker’s Blog favourite, Rhianydd Webb of Dragons & Daffodils Cakes by Rhianydd Webb. Active within the cake world for over 20 years, Rhianydd is a veritable font of knowledge when it comes to cake decoration and design and, as you can imagine, I leapt at the chance to be able to learn from her.
Based in Pontypridd, in South Wales, Rhianydd has managed to find a wonderful local venue in which she hosts many of her taught classes and it was to the Pantygraigwen Community Centre that I headed bright and early on Saturday morning (after a rather early start).
Growing more and more in popularity recently, wafer paper flowers were the order of the day – in particular, a wafer paper peony, with blossoms and twisted willow twigs.
I arrived nearly an hour early (what can I say, I’m super keen!), which gave me plenty of time to catch up with Rhianydd before my classmates arrived, and I was struck by what a well-oiled machine Rhianydd’s set up was. As someone who clearly teaches a lot, she really has got things down to a fine art. I also thought it was a nice touch that she had a selection of the tools we would be using within the class available to purchase at the end. That isn’t always the case when taking a class away from a storefront, so it was nice to have that option open to us.
Once the rest of lovely ladies had arrived (yes, as usual I was the token male), it was time to get started and, having spoken to Rhianydd about the history of sugarcraft a lot over the last few months, it came as no surprise that, in addition to loads of extra tips along the way, like how to make your own wafer glue using spare wafer paper (although you can also buy it from Saracino if you would prefer – that’s what we were using in the class) and a really clear explanation of the difference between carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) and gum tragacanth, one of the things that really sets Rhianydd’s classes apart is her incredible knowledge of the history of sugarcraft. All her teaching points were accompanied by shout outs and references to the incredible sugarcrafters who came before us.
Rhianydd started by talking us through the kit we would be using and pointed out that if anyone was silly enough to cut themselves with the craft knives or scissors, they would have to wear a brightly coloured ‘plaster of shame’ (I wonder if you can guess where this is going?).
We learned a variety of different ways that one can colour wafer paper, including using an airbrush, with powder colours and more besides. The wafer paper we were using had been airbrushed for us in advance using Rainbow Dust’s ‘Rose’ colour, while the calyces were airbrushed with a combination of ‘Spring Green’ and ‘Holly Green’. Rhianydd also explained that to store heavily coloured wafer paper, we needed to separate the sheets with a layer of plastic.
Having worked with wafer paper before, I hadn’t realised how much I still didn’t know about using the material. One of the biggest things I learned straightaway was that one needs to condition wafer paper before one works with it. Rhianydd shared a variety of different methods for doing this, explaining which ones work best in different weather conditions and, of course, which legendary sugar artists developed each of the techniques before showing us her own method.
She also introduced the incredible number of individual pieces that go into making a single open peony. If I had had to cut them all out with scissors, I would probably have cried a little bit however Rhianydd had kindly used her snazzy Silhouette Cameo 3 to pre-cut them all for us.
Once we began making our own pieces, it wasn’t actually as hard as I had expected. The repetitive nature of some of the elements meant that we all had plenty of chances practice them and by the last of our wired central pieces, we were all assembling them like pros.
Of course, there is usually that one person that seems to go out of their way to make as many mistakes as possible (sorry about me!), but I like to think that I was merely providing Rhianydd with plenty of teachable moments… Right, Rhi? I’m not sure whether the highlight of my ineptitude with all-things-dainty was when I managed to use floral tape to cheese-wire straight through one of my wired central elements or when I managed to cut myself, becoming the sole recipient of a ‘plaster of shame’.
I must mention the lovely bunch of people that I met on the course too – that Rhianydd affectionately refers to as ‘my ladies’. I was sat with the lovely Tracy, who was an absolute hoot, as well as Rhianydd’s sister, Beth, who had decided to take her first ever sugarcraft class. Of course, I had to find out why, after so long, she had decided to take the plunge and give sugarcraft a go and she had this to say:
“I don’t tend to bake cakes, as I’m lucky enough to have a sister who makes fantastic cakes – I tend to leave it to the professionals (and subtly hint whenever I haven’t had cake for a while). I saw Rhi’s Wafer Paper Peony class advertised and, because it was something quite different to the norm, I signed up.
“The thing I found trickiest was getting past my nerves at the beginning, when I was unsure if I would be able to do it. But the way Rhianydd taught the step-by-step methods helped to make it much more manageable. If I’m honest, I was blown away by her knowledge and teaching skills. I’ll definitely be back for more and have already been looking at which classes I’d like to do in the future.”
Halfway through the day, it was time to break for an eagerly anticipated lunch. As is usually the case, I had failed to take a second look at the class’ joining instructions, until the morning actually arrived, but when I did, I was delighted to see that lunch was provided. As a complete Last-Minute-Larry, I usually have to make a mad dash to a local shop whenever I’m out and about on my caking adventures, so knowing that this would be taken care of for me was a very welcome surprise. And what a slap-up lunch it was too – with lots of tasty vegetarian options for me to enjoy!
After lunch, we moved on to some of the other elements of the piece including the miniature blossoms and the twisted willow twigs. I have always wanted to have a go at creating decorative twigs, so I was really excited to learn how to make the willow. I couldn’t believe how simple they actually were! If only I had discovered this sooner! I’m going to be putting twigs on ALL my cakes from now on… 😉
All too soon though, it was time for final assembly and the class came to an end. Making my Wafer Paper Peony was a real learning experience for me and I loved every second of it – well except for when I cut myself maybe!
Rhianydd teaches a huge variety of regular classes, both locally at Pantygraigwen Community Centre and nationally at a variety of locations, including Liverpool’s The Renshaw Academy. Her repertoire is inexhaustible and her current schedule includes classes on wafer paper flowers, figure modelling, sharp edges, sculpted cakes and even more besides. To find out what she has coming up next, you can visit the Classes and Demonstrations section of Rhianydd’s website.
I highly recommend learning from Rhianydd Webb because, in all honesty, the experience was fabulous. There were people on our course at all stages of their Sugarcraft journey, from an experienced BSG instructor, right through to Rhianydd’s sister Beth experiencing her first ever brush with sugarcraft – yet every single person was able to produce a stunning wafer paper peony arrangement. If that isn’t a real testament to the quality of the teaching and learning experience, then I don’t know what is.
Thank you to Rhi for inviting back to the Motherland and for giving me a fabulous experience. I really did have a wonderful time and can’t wait to have another play with wafer paper soon.