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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Just in time for Valentine's Day we're going to learn how to decorate a cake for the holiday without much fuss. And we're going to get those tips from a cake decorator to the NPR stars, Doreen McCallister. Welcome, Doreen.

DOREEN MCCALLISTER: Hello.

HANSEN: Doreen is a long-time NPR editor but she's been baking cakes for all of us here at NPR for how long?

MCCALLISTER: It's been close to about 18 years.

HANSEN: Eighteen years.

MCCALLISTER: Yeah.

HANSEN: Oh my.

MCCALLISTER: I've seen children grow up.

HANSEN: Mine.

MCCALLISTER: Exactly.

HANSEN: You made the cake for my kids' birthday I remember.

MCCALLISTER: Yes.

HANSEN: And my kids are in their 20s now.

MCCALLISTER: That's the only way I know I'm getting old.

HANSEN: There we go. Well, what are you going to show us today>?

MCCALLISTER: We're going to do a couple of things. We're going to do the star, which is very easy technique so don't worry about being able to do it. And then we're going to do a shell, which is used for shell borders. So when you decorate the top and the bottom of the cake it looks finished.

HANSEN: Okay.

MCCALLISTER: You know, if my students can do it, I have no doubt that you can do it.

HANSEN: Now, students. You are a certified Wilton Method cake instructor?

MCCALLISTER: I am.

HANSEN: Who's Wilton?

MCCALLISTER: Well, the company started in the late 1920s by a man, McKinley Wilton, and it's not Wilton Industries. And if you go to craft stores like Michael's or A.C. Moore or other places, you'll find all their items and you can also take the class.

HANSEN: So we're going to, I guess, put the piping to the frosting to the cake now. You're going to show us how.

MCCALLISTER: I'm going to give you a decorator bag full of icing.

HANSEN: Okay.

MCCALLISTER: And the key is not to fill the bag too full with icing. A lot of people in the beginning make the mistake. So when you squeeze it, it starts coming out of the end and you're dripping frosting everywhere. So the key is less is more.

HANSEN: All right. And before we begin I'll remind our listeners that they can go to NPR.org and actually see photos of your tips for cake decorating.

MCCALLISTER: Yes.

HANSEN: Okay. Let's go.

MCCALLISTER: Okay. Now, the first thing I'm going to show you is the star.

HANSEN: All right. I'm ready.

MCCALLISTER: This is so incredibly easy. Now, what you do is you just hold it in an upright position. You're going to squeeze until it comes out, stop and then pull away.

HANSEN: Oh, I have to touch the cake first…

MCCALLISTER: You have to touch the cake.

HANSEN: …before I squeeze. All right.

MCCALLISTER: There are some cakes where you don't touch the cake. You're working above it but in this case…now…

HANSEN: Mine are all flattened when I take the thing away.

MCCALLISTER: Well, it's your first time.

HANSEN: I know. They look like smooshed stars.

MCCALLISTER: See how it's…

HANSEN: Oh, it's trying to go up to the top.

MCCALLISTER: Yeah, it has a life of its own.

HANSEN: All right. Let me try that again.

MCCALLISTER: Maybe just try it with one hand.

HANSEN: One hand.

MCCALLISTER: Yeah.

HANSEN: It's like I'm leaving tread marks on it.

MCCALLISTER: You can tap dance.

HANSEN: I know, but I can't decorate a cake.

MCCALLISTER: Take that one hand. See how I'm holding it…

HANSEN: Oh, all right.

MCCALLISTER: …with the bag up top and then just come down, squeeze. Yay. I think it's beautiful.

HANSEN: It is, but it's not [inaudible]. See what you've started? You're created a monster.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Now, I heard something that you sometimes put some pretty interesting secret ingredients in your cake.

MCCALLISTER: I do.

HANSEN: What do you put in your cake?

MCCALLISTER: Well, it's a way of tormenting my coworkers because I make them try to guess anyways. I have done sauerkraut, which some people have had good luck with. You know, I find some of these things on the Internet, and you should probably not trust the Internet in all cases. But it wasn't one of my best.

There is the tomato soup cake, which is well known. And that's always a hit. And if you're looking for ways to substitute oil, can of tomato soup is really good. And I've done things, outrageous things, like ground meat brownies. Yeah, but you got to warn the vegetarians. They get upset.

HANSEN: Ground meat brownies?

MCCALLISTER: And potato chip cookies. Just weird things and I try them out on the overnight. So see how they like them.

HANSEN: By overnight you mean your supervising editor on MORNING EDITION and you work nights, overnight, what it says.

MCCALLISTER: I come in at about 12:30 and I work 'til, on a good day, 9:00. So it gives me the whole day to cake decorate.

HANSEN: Doreen McCallister, cake decorator to NPR stars and editor extraordinaire at MORNING EDITION. Thanks so much. I learned a lot today.

MCCALLISTER: Thanks, Liane.

HANSEN: Those clicks you hear are from our Web photographer, David Gilkey. Go to NPR.org to see a slide show on how to decorate a fun, festive Valentine's Day cake without much fuss.

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