Helping children create something beautiful out of everyday kitchen ingredients is Diana Hirte’s passion. Hirte, who teaches year-round cookie and cake decorating classes for children through Mahtomedi Community Education, has made a career following in the footsteps of her culinary inspiration. “My mother was a cake decorator, and I was fascinated,” Hirte says. After the cake she bought for her sister’s birthday looked and tasted terrible, something clicked. “I decided, that’s it,” she says. “It was December 19 of 1979, and I said, ‘I’m going to learn how to cake-decorate.’ ”
Hirte ended up teaching herself and creating cakes for birthdays, baptisms, confirmations, weddings and more. “I started making cakes for everything and everybody,” she says. She was asked by cake-decorating company Wilton to teach classes for them. After initially being skeptical, Hirte decided to take a chance. After hours of training through Wilton, Hirte began teaching and continues to this day.
Hirte’s classes take place at several different schools, including Wildwood Elementary and Mahtomedi Middle School. The students participate in a wide variety of activities during the classes, including creating cookie bouquets and decorating cupcakes. “I do lots of different [decorating techniques] with kids,” Hirte says. “Some cupcakes will have a theme, such as spring flowers. I did one recently where we put the cupcakes together into the shape of a tree and then we decorated them. And out of fondant, we made owls and put them in the tree, [and then] we cut leaves out of fondant and added them.”
The classes usually last around 90 minutes for elementary students, but have been stretched to about two hours for the middle-schoolers. “The kids just got better and they [added] more details. They took their time and they did finer quality of work,” Hirte explains. With about 12 students per class—second grade up to eighth grade—Hirte says working with children is exciting because kids don’t have the barriers she sees in most adults. “I’ve never had a kid say, ‘I could never do that,’ ” she says. “I’ll show them things and if I say, ‘Do you think you can do that?’ they’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah, I can do that,’ ” Hirte says. “They don’t have that hesitation that adults do.”
Thirteen-year-old Kylee Pehrson has been attending Hirte’s classes since she was in third grade. “Diana teaches us a lot about what we can do to decorate our cupcakes, cookies and cakes. She also helps us with baking tips,” Pehrson says. “My favorite thing I’ve done in a class was a cake for the Fourth of July.”
Hirte expresses the importance of children learning to decorate cakes. “It’s a lifetime skill; they can do this their whole life,” she says. “Almost every event revolves around a cake. If you look at your old pictures, you find out what it is because you look at the cake. Your grandpa is 85; that’s what it says on the cake. I just feel that it’s something really nice to know how to do.”
Hirte’s No. 1 one tip for baking with children
“One of the main things I try to teach them: clean up after themselves or they’ll never be allowed in the kitchen. I say, ‘When you’re done with the eggs, put the eggs away. You've got a dirty napkin, throw it in the garbage. So when you’re done, you don’t have a giant mess.’ ”