A Bûche to Admire 

To learn the ins and outs of home treatmaking, Spun Sugar may be your ticket.

Now that the marzipan holly leaves are stamped out, the meringue mushrooms glued together with chocolate, and all the buttercreams fully whipped, the students in Spun Sugar's kitchen classroom begin assembling their bûches de noël.

Bûches de noël, or Yule logs, are common throughout the Francophone world, but here they border on esoteric. The five women wielding offset spatulas in the Berkeley classroom, though, are ready to tackle a new challenge. Some are here to create the centerpiece for a holiday party; others are professional bakers looking for a new cake to sell. The students spread a cooked vanilla buttercream frosting thickly over a slab of light, eggy cake, roll the cake into a log, then drop fat dollops of chocolate icing on top and begin slathering.

Spun Sugar is the only small-scale cake decorating and candymaking supply shop in the East Bay, and for eight of its past nine years the store has complemented its year-round course schedule with a suite of Christmas-themed classes. The small classroom, which seats no more than a dozen, is cluttered with bins, bottles, and racks. But the mixers are standard KitchenAids and the oven your basic home model -- no enameled French convection machines here. The modest equipment reflects owner Linda Morillo's approach. "We don't want to be like Martha Stewart," she says, "teaching people something that you can't easily do at home."

Morillo looks on as the course instructor, Mitchell Hughes, walks the class through each step of making the cake and frostings, and the students end up with a big cake log decorated with poinsettias, candied-pecan rocks, and love.

Spun Sugar's holiday sweets-making workshops started in November, and the season is just peaking. There's still time to take a marzipan molding class (December 17) or one of the popular gingerbread-house workshops (December 17 and 24). During Spun Sugar's annual "Holiday Fun" week --December 23 to December 27 this year -- kids seven and up can take a two-hour class each day in such educational fields as Christmas cookies, food gifts (vinegars, dry rubs, cookie mixes), and kid-appropriate candies. Holiday Fun week sometimes strains the classroom's capacity, since adults have begun to sign up, too. No matter your height, it's $35 a person.

A couple of the bûche-makers who are longtime veterans of Linda's classes say that the caramels, truffles, and turtles they learned to make from her have become much-appreciated holiday gifts. But success comes with a price: "Every holiday season now, I get phone calls from people I haven't heard from all year," Sarah Glasgow says.

Spun Sugar is at 1611 University Ave. To sign up for classes, visit SpunSugar.com or call 510-843-9192.

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