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Homemade fun is back to basics

During tough economic times baking classes fill up at Clarices Cake & Candy Supplies

Posted: February 26, 2009 11:50 p.m.
Updated: February 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.

From left, Brandi Cornell, Deborah Silverman and Shawn Weber create a candy box out of cookies.

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When the going gets tough, the tough get baking. At least that's the philosophy of Nancy Olmos, owner of Clarice's Cake & Candy Supplies. Olmos teaches four or more hands-on baking classes per month at her Newhall location, the Santa Clarita Valley's only independent baking supply store, which carries everything from edible "spray" paints to Elmo-shaped baking pans.

Baking classes are a tradition Olmos continued after taking over the store from its original owners 22 years ago. "I think people go to homemade when the country's in trouble," she said.

Full attendance at Clarice's "Cookie Madness" on Feb. 10 seems to bear her out. The theme was Valentine's Day, and nine eager female students paid $40 apiece to learn skills like edible transfers, creating cookie boxes and the fine art of fondant. The hands-on class included all materials and more than a dozen cookies per student to take home in a pretty pink bakery box.

Brandi Cornell, a stay-at-home mother in Canyon Country, attends regular classes at Clarice‘s and likes to share the sweet results with those around her.

"Because of the economy, people are going back to old-fashioned sharing from the heart. I was so excited, I made a platter of cookies last week and it only cost me $2. It didn't take much time at all," Cornell said. "Nancy gives us great ideas on how to be frugal with certain things."

Frugal, yes. Boring, no.

Edible marshmallow transfers, which are pasted onto cookies with royal icing, are currently all the cookie rage and come in designs ranging from modern pink and brown polka dots to racy tiger stripes. The students stenciled heart designs onto the transfers and cut them out for their one-of-a-kind creations.

Other clever ideas included constructing a candy box of solid and hollow rounds, cemented with royal icing and topped with a peanut M & M handle. The boxes were filled with small cookie keepsake hearts, much like the candy version.

Next a beehive-shaped cookie was piped in with honey-colored butter-cream icing, dotted with colorful flowers, and topped with a blazing yellow-and-black bumblebee.

While everything is prepared in advance for the class, Clarice's employee Barbie Campeau emulated basic dough rolling for the class, with a handy twist. Campeau used ¼- to ½-inch molding strips at the edges of the imaginary dough to show how to evenly roll it out for sugar cookies.

"It's so much less work, so much less flour," Campeau said as the audience responded with an appreciative "ooh."

These are the kinds of tips that make Clarice's classes so worthwhile, said Cornell. "Each class is different and I learn something new each time. In addition to the basics, there's lots of texture and decorating ideas I never would have thought of," she said.

Olmos herself likes to keep up on baking trends by attending regular conventions to learn new techniques.

"I always think, ‘I've got to get back to my ladies and show them this.' I love sharing my craft. It's the best thing about having this shop," she said.

Standing in front of the class before a demonstration table outfitted with a mirror so students can see every angle, Olmos used fine-quality paintbrushes for pasting of edible transfers and overall "flow" icing.

Talking as she worked, Olmos advised her students on some of the pitfalls of decorating fancy cookies. "Make sure your hands are nice and dry. This marshmallow transfer will disintegrate really quickly if it gets around any water," Olmos said.

Deborah Silverman, a hospital administrator from Canyon Country, smiled as she watched the proceedings. She comes to Clarice's classes four or five times a year.

"I haven't seen these transfers before, I'm really excited," Silverman said. "I bring my creations to work and people always ask me where I got them from. When I tell them I make them myself, they're surprised. Everything looks so professional."

Teresa Marquez, who owns Starlight Café in Newhall, intends to use that professional look to her advantage. She was planning on selling her Valentine's Day creations at her restaurant.

"Baking is my hobby, but now that I have the business, I want to do something special for my customers on the holidays. We'll see how it goes. If it's popular, maybe I'll bake cookies there more often," Marquez said.

Clarice's Cake & Candy Supplies is located at 22936 Lyons Avenue, Newhall. For more information on classes, call (661) 259-0352.

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