Mar 10, 2009

You say "Sugar Paste", I say "Gumpaste" (part 1)

Fondant, MMF (marshmallow fondant), sugar dough, rolled or plastic icing, sugar paste, pastillage, gum paste and gumpaste.....whew, it all can be kind of confusing, I know. And it's no wonder, it seems that although a lot of terms are used interchangeably, sometimes, can mean totally different things, depending on which country you're in or who(m) you're talking to. For example, in the U.S, sugar dough, and rolled or plastic icing are common terms for fondant. In Australia (just off the top of my head), the term "sugar paste" is used to describe what we (U.S) call "fondant". But in the U.S, "sugar paste" is often called pastillage or "gum paste" (also spelled "gumpaste"). I happen to spell it "gumpaste", if that's technically wrong, sorry, it's just how "I roll" (yeah, sad pun intended). Oftentimes, fondant and gumpaste can be used for the same things or in some instances, mixed together for particular effects. Still confused? Yeah, I was too. One thing is certain, they ALL are a paste made primarily from a powdered sugar base. However, there are specific differences, and it becomes more clear as you begin to understand their uses and the ingredients of each product. So, I'll try to keep it as simple as possible;

click on photo to enlargeFondant, MMF, sugar dough, rolled or plastic icing: In the's all Fondant. Fondant is a soft, stretchy, pliable dough that is rolled out and applied as an icing covering to cakes. Even when allowed to totally dry (if molded into a decoration), it is not structurally sound, it will crumble and it is susceptible to humidity (it will droop in heat and melt with moisture, literally). That said, you can make figures or flowers and such with fondant, if handled and stored carefully, but it can be difficult, since the product is so soft and fragile.

Pastillage: Quite the opposite of fondant, it is NOT used as a covering for cakes; it dries fast, rock hard, and is much more sturdy than gumpaste or fondant. Often used for making durable plaques, bases for sugar sculptures, and structural elements. Although edible, it's not palatable....usually not meant to be eaten....think columns between the tiers of a wedding cake. The ingredients of a "true pastillage" are similar to a flavorless fondant with cornstarch along with an acid, like vinegar or cream of tarter added for more stability. It dries fast (didn't I say that?) I mean REALLY fast, so it's not meant to be manipulated for very long. (pastillage blog entry coming soon ;) )

click on photo to enlargeGumpaste or Sugarpaste: Falls somewhere between fondant and pastillage. Firmer than fondant, but not as sturdy as pastillage. Used to create flowers, figurines, moldings, painted plaques, and general "do-dads" for cakes and decorations. Gumpaste is NOT used for covering cakes, like pastillage, it dries fast, hard and can crack if not formed quickly. You can buy it ready made (Wilton brand is popular) or you can use homemade. A "true" gum paste will contain glucose (for a drying time extender) and some sort of gum powder that acts as a binder and preservative. There are three types that are commonly used and one can be substituted for another in any given gumpaste recipe. They are:

~Gum-Tex Powder (Wilton brand name) -Gum Karaya is an extract of sterculia trees. It is used as a thickener and emulsifier.

~Tragacanth Gum Powder- a natural gum obtained from the dried sap of several species of Middle Eastern legumes used as an emulsifier, thickener and food stabilizer.

~Tylose powder- another natural gum (sap), found in various trees.

click on photo to enlargeSo when do I choose to use gumpaste? When I need to make anything that needs to either dry fast, hold it's shape while being worked on and/or painted (people or flowers are good examples). However, because of the ingredients, gumpaste is NOT palatable (at all, trust me, blech!), so I tend to use it when the items are more likely to be googled at - not gobbled up.

The "purse cake" was covered in fondant, while the handle, lipstick, makeup brush and makeup where all made of gumpaste. (Click on photo for larger view) It's great for those "keepsake" items like plaques or cake toppers. How long will a dried piece last? I dunno, I haven't personally saved any, but I have friends who have pieces that are going on 2 years now. So I'll get back to ya on that. (gasp! LOL)

So if you're sick of me babbling about it, let's get to it and make some! (I know....Yay! Finally!) Next, I'll post the recipe I use and step by step instructions. Also, in subsequent blog entries, I'll show you how to work with gumpaste, the tools I use, and follow up with the finished cake project. (woooohoooo!)

If you want to warp speed ahead, click on a link:
Gumpaste Recipe and Directions (part 2)
Working with Gumpaste (part 3, the tools and body)
Working with Gumpaste (part 4, heads & hands)
Happy St. Patrick's Day! (part 5, the cake construction)


Culinary Alchemist said...

I am all ears... anxiously waiting for the next post...

Anonymous said...

excellent blog....i would like to do i store a keepsake model made out of sugarpaste??

DDpie said...

Thanks! I've stored sugarpaste figures/keepsakes in a cardboard box and keep it in a cool dry place, at room temperature. Never store them in the refridgerator, nor in a tightly closed plastic container, they will draw in moisture and get soggy or droop. You can freeze them, but when thawing, be sure to set them in front of a fan to dry as they defrost. Hope that helps!

Iqphantom said...

Hello to ya, brilliant lady.
Love the blog and the advice.

One question about gumpaste...

What is Gum TEX ? Can I use gelatin instead of it...?
I can't find it where I live and I'm so into sugar orchids.:)

DDpie said...

have you checked for any of the other two gum powders listed above? you can order them on the internet (most cake supply sites) I'm not sure if gelatin would work exactly the same, it wouldn't be as pliable and stretchy.

sweet niece said...

Thanks so much for your very informative posts!

Anonymous said...

Your blog and information is great. I want to start doing cupcake decorating and have found your blog very helpful.

Can you help me with this question?
Your blog says you shouldn't put the gumpaste in the fridge, but what do you do when you have say a regular butter-cream frosting on a cupcake, but then you add a gumpaste figure? Wouldn't you have to store the cupcakes in the fridge at somepoint to stop the buttercream frosting from getting too soft???

DDpie said...

Good question! You have a few options, make the figures well ahead of time and let them dry completely. If they are thick enough, they won't be affected. If they are like delicate (thin pieces) like roses however, you're better to store the iced cake in the fridge undecorated, then, put on the figures just before serving or delivering. However, most sugar artists will look for icing recipes that do not need to be refrigerated when there is a lot of sugar work involved. Hope that helps.

Jamila said...

I have some left over gum paste and I rolled it and put it in the freezer for storing. I am approaching my time that I would liek to use it again but I am unaware of how do you thaw the gum paste to roll it out?

DDpie said...

Hi Jamila, as long as it is well wrapped preventing it from drying out you can just let it thaw out on the counter. Once thawed, just knead it again to soften and make pliable. Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

hi there
ok so i want to make bubblegum and my recipe calls for gum base , is this the same as gum tex ? and i cant find gum base anywhere except by ordering it online ughh hope you can answer this