Mar 26, 2009

Congrats Jess! - The Blow Dryer Cake

My daughter, Jessica, (the "middle" child, poor baby!) graduated cosmetology school today and I have to say I'm pretty proud of her. Not because she's followed in her mamma's footsteps, but because she's seemed to have found her own "niche". She has a natural talent as well as a great fashion sense, I have no doubt she'll be successful in this field. Yay Jess- Way to go!

Ok, I'll stop bragging...on to the cake....I made most of the "do-dads" (comb, scissors, black nozzle, back dryer vent, plug connection w/loop, plug, and clippies) a week ahead of time with gumpaste (some fondant). They were allowed to dry and then airbrushed. The sheet cake is an 18x13 chocolate cake with white butter cream then airbrushed on the corners and sides. I wasn't feeling well the day of cake construction so I'm afraid my "butter cream work" wasn't up to par. So I just plopped some pink flowers around the sides and base and called it a day. Lesson 1: crap hides crap.

For the blow dryer; Days before I had attempted to bake 2 coffee cups of white cake (making up the body) and two soup cans (one for the handle, one for the nozzle). Now, I've baked cake in coffee mugs and cans before, but the cake gods weren't with me that day. My husband walked in and said it looked like a chemistry lab experiment had gone horribly wrong. (get the picture?) So I re-grouped and decided to use 2 - 4x9 loaf pans. One for the body and nozzle and one for the handle. Lesson 2: bake your cakes before cake assembly day.

On assembly day, I carved the body and nozzle out of one of the loaf cakes. Cool, so far so good. Then things took a turn for the worse and while working on the crumb coat for the handle, it literally fell apart on me. Not willing to go down without a fight, I frantically made Rice Krispy treats and behold, a new handle was born. Lesson 3: shit happens. deal with it.

I had assembled the blow dryer on a cake cardboard (pre-cutout) then covered it with fondant. Next, I dry fitted the back vent and black nozzle, then I airbrushed black around the base and for low lighting defining the parts of the dryer. I finished it off with airbrushing silver all over. When it was almost dry, I attached the gumpaste back vent and front black nozzle.

The scissors were modeled after my own pair of shears. I had traced the two pieces (sides) and made a pattern out of each separately, then after days of drying and after painting, I stuck them together with a bit of "fondant glue", which is fondant mixed with water to form a paste. The comb is two pieces of gumpaste with spaghetti sandwiched in between for the teeth. When I placed them on the cake, I used the comb to prop up the one (higher) blade of the shears so it wouldn't fall and crack.

The button and switch on the dryer were made the day of construction with soft fondant. They're a bit bigger (bulkier?) than I planned, but at this point, I was soooo ready to be done and the end was near! Then I stuck into the dryer the end of the cord connection/loop which was made days before. The cord and name writing I did the day of cake assembly out of fresh fondant. After writing the name, I squished (yes, that's a professional term HA!) the other end into the plug. To finish it off I scattered the clippies about.

Well, OK, they were strategically placed where needed. Remember lesson 1? I wrote the "congrats" in leftover butter cream and used a wet flat brush to smear it, giving the appearance of it being blown by the dryer. Which, btw, happened to be the very best part of my plan, because, once I got to that point I was seriously feeling bad and way too shaky to have written it smoothly. {sigh, hand to forehead, the sacrifices a mother makes}LOL

So now what everyone wants to long did it take? One day for cake baking and fondant making. 1/2 day to make the "do-dads" (although I had to wait a few days then airbrush) and one (whole, very long) day for cake assembly.
Smiles and hugs from my baby girl....worth every minute!

P.S...I seriously need a haircut and color, hint hint Jessica ;),
luv mom.

Mar 16, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day! (part 5, the cake construction)

Ah, finally, we get to the good stuff...the finished project! In this part 5 of a 5 part series, I'll show you how I constructed the beer mug cake. If you haven't been following along, and you've just happened by, you will find the links to the other parts of the series at the end. If you're just skimming, you can click on any of the pics to get a closer look. The cake is covered with MMF (marshmallow fondant)and airbrushed with silver food coloring. The leprechauns were made about a week ahead and are colored and handpainted gumpaste.

For the cake, I used 6 layers of 8" rounds. I always prepare my pans with a cake release, line them with parchment, and place a flower nail upside down in the bottom for even baking. (The nails heat up and allow the cake to bake evenly and rise evenly).

Once I had all of the cakes baked and they were cool, I placed one layer on a 6" cardboard cake round and I put a layer of butter cream icing, for the filling. I topped it with another layer and another cake round. With the cardboard cake rounds on the top AND bottom, it makes it much easier to trim them, keeping them perfectly even.

Before I trimmed them, I used my long serrated knife to cut notches all along the sides, about every 2" or so. This way, when I started trimming around the cake, the notches prevented the cake from pulling apart or tearing.

After filling and trimming the 3 tiers, I removed the top cardboard cake round piece and stacked them with only the bottom cake rounds left on. This makes for easier cutting and serving of the cake later.

cake with crumb coat
Next, I added a "crumb coat" of thinned down butter cream icing and let that dry. Once that was dry to the touch,I added another layer of butter cream all over(about 1/4" thick). 

butter cream ready for fondant layer
This served as a "cushion" for the fondant. While the crumb coat can be messy, I always take more care to make the final coat more smooth and even. Any holes or dips in your butter cream will show up in your finished fondant.

After applying the butter cream, I rolled out a long "log" of fondant for the shape of the base of the stein. An easy way to transfer it to the cake is to curl it up, then unroll it as you apply it to the cake. (I also use this method when applying fondant ribbons and such) I put a larger log on the bottom, then one a bit smaller just on top of that (smaller one not shown). The time it takes me to roll out the fondant to cover the entire cake, the little "logs" will dry somewhat and harden a bit. So that when the cake is covered, they'll hold their shape underneath underneath the fondant.

Usually, I will roll out a large enough piece to cover the entire cake and just lay the fondant over the top, drape down the sides and smooth as I work my way down the sides. For this cake however, I decided to try a different method, rolling out a rectangle shape and "wrapping" the cake in it, not covering the top portion. I rolled it out, then left it on the mat lined it up with the cake and used the mat to help wrap it. The seam is in the back and I covered it up later with dripping "beer foam". After I got it wrapped and smoothed out, I put another log on the top and brought the top of the fondant over that for the rim of the stein.

Normally, I would have used supports (cut plastic straws, pushed down into the cake) in between each tier. I didn't this time, thinking that the layers were small and light enough that it wasn't necessary. My bad. I really should have. I ended up loosing a little height as the cake settled after applying the heavy fondant. Plus, the cakes got a little "puffy" in spots. (we live and learn, huh?) Also, the "lines" in the "stein" were not part of the original plan. But I had to just "go with it" at this point, so I emphasized them turning it into more of a "mug" than "stein". LOL Next I attached the handle, which was made of gumpaste about 3 days prior, so that it had plenty of time to dry and harden. The bottom of the handle rests on the bottom of the mug, this was no accident, I had worked with handles before and knew that they need some sort of support. This proved to be well worth the extra effort, as the handle was pretty secure.

Next, I used liquid food coloring (specifically designed for airbrushes). I emphasized the creases with black and gave a very light "dusting" with the black also. Then I used silver sheen for the overall color. I had to mix in a bit of black and a bit of purple to get the "pewter" color. Sorry I don't have the steps of the airbrushing, at this point, I was ready to be finished LOL. I do plan on blogging about it sometime in the future.

Oh, and that's my "grown ass" husband in the pic....when you tell them "careful, it's not dry yet", what do they do???...."I'm not touching it..." (uhm, yeah, they're just little kids in big bodies! I swear!)

Now it was time for the foam. I had a hard time deciding what to use since I wanted it to look like foam, not icing. I thought meringue (using meringue powder, not raw egg whites), but didn't know how that would last, since I was doing the cake a day ahead. So I just ended up thinning down what was left of the butter cream and using that. The texture worked out great, but the next morning, because of the moisture, had soaked up some of the airbrush paint around the edges, turning them purple. So, I guess you could use that, only do it the day of the party, not ahead of time. Anyone have any other suggestions for me?

I put both of the little guys in place and pipped a bit more icing around the guy on top, up to the inner tube and around his legs. Then I pipped more (the foam spillage)around the side of the "drunk" guy on the bottom. I also pipped the foam coming down in the back to cover up the seam. I remember someone saying one time, "every cake has a backside". I've also learned that your do-dads and cake decorations (finishing touches) can be more beneficial if strategically placed. ;)

Well, that's it. I sincerely hope that someone finds this series and tutorial somewhat helpful. I do plan on blogging about other cake adventures in the future, please stop by from time to time and check out what I'm up to. (you can always subscribe to the emails and you'll get notified when there is a new update) And again, if you have tips or suggestions, don't hesitate to share, I need all the help I can get!

If you've missed any of the other parts of this series, here are the links:

You say Sugar Paste, I say Gumpaste (part 1)
Gumpaste Recipe and Directions (part 2)
Working with Gumpaste (part 3, the tools and body)
Working with Gumpaste (part 4, heads & hands)

You might also be interested in:

What is MMF?
Working with MMF

Thanks for looking!

Mar 15, 2009

Working with Gum Paste (part 4, heads & hands)

This is part 4 of a 5 part series. In this section, I'll give step by step instructions on making the hands, heads, and faces. I've been working on practicing different techniques and gathered tips here and there from various cake clubs that I belong to and some of the things I've discovered on my own. If you have any tips you'd like to share, by all means please leave a comment, it would be much appreciated ;)

The Hands:
First, I roll a small piece into a cone shape. I make what will be the wrist and forearm a little longer, knowing that I can always cut off the excess before attaching it to the body. In previous projects, I tried the shaping them while on the body, which was completely disasterous. Then, I tried shaping them seperately, forming them on a mat, then on a styrofoam board....again, disasterous. I ended up with either a dried out clump with the deformed fingers falling off, or, a puddle of a goobidy-globby gumpaste mess. (yes, that's a technical term lol).

So, learn from my mistakes, heed my advice, and try shaping them on the palm of your hand. In this case, I used my finger because they were so small. You can keep the gumpaste warm and wet while working, and then, transfer it to your figure or support and allow to dry. (Should I point out that I'm left handed?) I flattened the larger end of the cone and gave it a bit of shape.

Next, carefully using a (dull) exacto knife, I sliced out the thumb and fingers. Once I had the fingers roughly carved out, I went back and trimmed them so they were the correct size and shape.

With a flat brush, dampened with water, I start shaping the fingers more precisely. You can use the flat part of the brush to pat the gumpaste and "push" it around, and use the chisled end of the brush to move from the finger tips towards the creases between each finger. (seriously, I can't remember how in the world I took this picture on the right! LMAO!)

Next I attached the hand to the body by first dampening inside of the sleeve, letting it soften just a bit. I "scraped" the hand off of my finger and transfered it over with the exacto knife. Then I used the dampened brush again to shape the hand and straighten out the fingers.

At this point and time, I could have added even more detail, like the wrinkles on the knuckles or even the suggestion of fingernails. If you have decorating tips, check them out for sizes and shapes that you can use for different impressions. But I decided in this case to just to make impressions for the knuckles. Notice too, that my leprechaun figure is now on a plastic lined form, so that after the piece was completely dry, I removed the figure and peeled off the plastic, leaving all of the tiny fingers intact.

The head and face:For the head, I first took a small piece, rolled it into a little log and placed it on my "Vlad the impaler" stick. This piece only serves to keep the head from slipping down further on the stick, I removed it later and replaced it with a "neck". Next, I stuck the head on and gave it a general shape with my fingertips. Then I used a decorating tip (for a large flower petal) and made the mouth impression (crooked smile)and the other end for the cheeks.
I used my flat brush with the chisled end to make the impressions deeper and more defined. Then I took a small ball for the nose and smoothed it onto the face with the brush. After applying the nose, I applied the ears and eyes.

I allowed the head to dry then I used a powdered food coloring and gave him some flushed cheeks and a red nose. One of the things I wanted to point out is, if you are doing more than one character, make sure you give them at least slightly different characteristics. Make the heads a slightly different shape, make the facial hair different, eyes a different color or shape, etc. Also, try to capture facial expressions, it's this kind of detail that will make your work stand out. After getting the facial expressions done, I applied the eyebrows and facial/head hair using small flat pieces stuck on with water and used an exacto knife to shape them and make the (hair) impressions. Finally, I used the dampened brush to smooth out any dried crumbs and to clean it up a bit.

Once the heads were completely dry, I took them off of the stick(s) and made a "neck". I stuck it on the body first with a tiny bit of water and then stuck on the head. At this time, for the guy wearing the hat, I knew it needed some more support. So I dry fitted the hat, removed it, then made the eyebrows and back of the hair a little thicker to hold the hat up. I added the finishing touches, using them where needed as "props". Like the bowtie here, it's actually holding his chin up so his head doesn't fall forward due to the weight of the head and hat.

On the "drunk" guy, his beard served the same purpose as the bowtie above, but left no room for his bowtie under his beard. So I decided to make the untied bowtie, adding to his disshelved look. Happy accident. ;)

Well there you have it. How to make a leprechaun (or other people) from start to finish. In the next section, part 5, I'll show you the finished cake as well as the steps for the cake construction. (I know what you're thinking, geeze, FINALLY!)

If you're interested in the rest of the series, here are the links:

You say Sugar Paste, I say Gumpaste (part 1)
Gumpaste Recipe and Directions (part 2)
Working with Gumpaste (part 3, the tools and body)
Happy St. Patrick's Day! (part 5, the cake construction)

Mar 13, 2009

Working with Gumpaste (Part 3, tools & body parts)

In this section, my intent is to share with you some of the techniques I use when working with gumpaste. In this particular case, I decided that making people (ok well, little green leprechauns....close enough) would make for an interesting tutorial, because well, quite frankly, they're a bit more difficult (for me anyway) than say, inanimate objects, flowers or animals. Be forewarned, there's a lot of detail here, so if you're not all into that, skip through and just look at the pics, you won't hurt my feelings. I'm just trying to share as much as possible for the peeps who want to see every step.

Let me just preface by saying, people always ask me, "how did you do that?", or, "where did you learn to do that?". While I may take inspiration from other artists, I've never tried to make an exact copy. In fact, I go out of my way to somehow do it differently than other works I've seen. In addition, I don't think I've ever done a particular thing or project twice. I like to do new and different challenges everytime, learning and improving (hopefully) with each project. I always start with a plan, thoroughly thinking the project thru from start to finish. However, I'm also willing to compromise (sometimes concede) as I go along. Let's face it, sometimes things don't go according to planned and you just have to go with it (as you'll see later). So while sketching out a plan is a great idea, for me it's useless. I can't draw worth a lick, but I can paint and I can mold things, go figure.

So, before I get started, I thought I'd go over some of the tools and items that I use most often. (third most common question, "what did you use?") Some of my tools are conventional, some aren't. Starting from the bottom left:
  • A fondant rolling pin- with measuring bands for even rolling
  • small pizza cutter- for cutting thick pieces & trimming
  • fondant ribbon cutter- with various shaped cutting wheels and sized spacers (essential for cutting even strips)
  • ruler- one of many that I use
  • exacto knife (different shaped blades come in handy)
  • wooden dowel- bluntly pointed on one end and round on the other (I call it my "Vlad the Impaler" stick, used for shaping heads or creating holes in the body for legs and arms, heh)
  • various (green) fondant tools- used for shaping and molding
  • sewing pattern wheel- used for making faux "stitching"
  • metal nail file- for filing dried pieces or knocking off dried crumbs
  • pumpkin carving tools- small saw for cutting semi-dry parts and the hole poker (works on voodoo dolls too, insert sinister laugh here)

In addition, I use plastic styrofoam blocks (not the crumbly kind) to hold my Vlad sticks (or in some cases flowers) while I'm working or to hold a piece while it dries so that it holds it's shape. I also have a container with an equal mixture of cornstarch and powdered sugar. This acts as a "cushion", holding shaped pieces that you can't put on a stick, but don't want them misshapen from laying flat. Also, I always have a small metal container of vegetable shortening and one with water nearby when working. I also like to use a (craft) cutting mat makes for a great surface for working with gumpaste.

Probably the most used item is my high tech piece of equipment that I call the "cocoa puff". Used for the fine dusting of surfaces when rolling out fondant or gumpaste and also for dusting the rolling pin. I take a pair of stockings (yes, brand new, as if I have to point that out LOL) and cut about a 6-8" section, tying a knot in one end. Place it into a glass, folding the edges over. Fill it with an equal mixture of powdered sugar and cornstarch. Now tie the two ends together and POOF! You have a cocoa puff
For painting, shaping and molding, I have a set of artist brushes (that I only use for gumpaste/fondant work). These have very soft bristles and are "watercolor" or "floral" painting brushes. If your bristles are too stiff, they will leave marks in your finished piece. Have at least one brush that has flat bristles (a.k.a floral petal brush). I'll use this brush most often, not just for shaping and painting, but to attach dried fondant or gumpaste pieces to a finished cake. Oh, and of course a paint mixing tray comes in handy.

Now the tools are out of the way, let me get on with it. When making people with sugar art, you have lots of options. You can go the easy route and make them as simple as possible (think weebles) or you can go all out and make them realistic. I like to do somewhere in between. I like my peeps whimsical, but with some detail, somethin' a little extra special that makes them stand out.

I always start with the body because it's going to determine the size and placement of everything else. In the beginning, I tried making the individual parts (body, arms, legs and head)and sticking them all together with toothpicks.....uhm, not the best method. (wake up Ace of Cakes) Real people, especially kids and grown ass men, WILL EAT the cake people, so unsuspected toothpicks make for a dangerous situation. Besides, they don't work. The body parts fall off quicker than a zombie in a B movie. Nope, a better way is to do as much as you can from ONE big piece, carving out the legs and arms as you go. When I do have to make seperate body parts, I "glue" them together with water or a watered down gumpaste. (Of course, there are ALWAYS exceptions to the rule)  I have a few other tricks up my sleeve (heh, get it? oh never mind), I'll share those in a moment.

First, I shape a log, keeping it smaller at one end than the other, thinking in thirds (the chest, the waist and the legs), rolling it into a fat cone shape. Normally, you'd want the legs a bit longer than the waist and chest portion, but this little guy is getting boots, so the legs are "cut off" at the knees.
Next, I shape the shoulders and what will be the waist area. Then I use a small pizza cutter and "slice" up towards the middle, aiming for the crotch (watch it there girl). Then I shape and smooth the legs until they are round. I probably should also point out that he is going to have a little "pooch beer belly" when I sit him up, so I did make his body and waist a bit thicker than I normally would. At this point, you can slice up on each side, creating the arms the same way, but I wanted this guy to wear a suit, so I made the little coned shaped arms seperately. I also shaped the shoulders so that the arms would "fit" better.
I covered the arms with plastic wrap so they wouldn't dry out while working on the body and set them aside. Next, I sat him up on a styrofoam core board that I cut, folded and taped. (I knew that I wanted him sitting next to the cake) After sitting him up, I shaped his little pooch belly. A little shortening periodically on my finger tips keeps him from drying out while I work. After he was in position, I covered him up with plastic while I worked on rolling out the gumpaste for the vest and jacket.

No easy way to do this, just think "sewing" pattern pieces to make the clothing. Since he was going to be all dishelved looking (i.e DRUNK guy), I didn't spend too much time on the jacket and the tails. Next I put on his lapels and buttons. I "glued" on his arms by slightly wetting the attachment points with just a small dab of a moistened brush, then positioned the arms, shaping as I went. I used the pointed end of my Vlad stick and poked in only about 1/4 inch or so to create the "sleeve opening". Once his arms were in position, I went ahead and made his boots and attached them the same way as the arms. Then I made the hands, which proved to be a mistake. I had moved him around and they cracked. So I amputated them (gasp!) and made him new ones later, once he was all finished. (I always wanted to be a surgeon ;)

Now, the other little guy I had to approach differently. A few days beforehand, I made the black innertube so that it would be hard before sitting him in it. Otherwise, his fat butt may have blown it out. I made the legs first, and unlike before, I made them seperately. I made two rolls out flesh, the whole length of the legs. Next, I rolled out a flat piece of green, rolling up on one end for the pant cuff. Turned that over, moistened it just a bit with a brush, layed the leg in there and rolled it up, then trimmed it. I placed them in the tube. Notice he doesn't have feet? There's a reason, you'll see why later (wink wink). After getting the legs in there, I made his body the same way as drunk guy.

After both bodies were done, I had some idea of what size the hats would be. I cut strips (1 1/2") of gumpasted and molded them around a decorator tip cover. I let them stiffen up then slide them off and used the larger opening for the top. I cut circles for the tops of the hats and attached them. Then I made and shaped the brims and let those dry.

After the hats dried, I used the decorator tops again for a prop and painted the hats and lapels using a bit of vodka, mixed with pearl luster dust and green food coloring. Use vodka instead of water because it mixes well with the luster dust and it evaporates more quickly. This allows the piece to be painted without melting or getting soggy. Alternatively, you could use lemon extract.

In the next section, part 4 of this series, I'll show in detail how to shape the hands, heads, hair, and faces with cute little pinchable cheeks. Then finally, I'll show you the finished cake.

You may also be interested in:
You say Sugar Paste, I say Gumpaste (part 1)
Gumpaste Recipe and Directions (part 2)
Working with Gumpaste (part 4, heads & hands)
Happy St. Patrick's Day! (part 5, the cake construction)

Mar 11, 2009

Gumpaste Recipe and Directions (Part 2)

This is part 2 of a 5 part series on how to work with gumpaste. If you didn't catch part 1, click here, I wouldn't want you to miss out on anything ;) The links to the rest of the series are included at the end.

As promised, here is the recipe that I use. Use this gumpaste for figurines, flowers, or decorations. Make several days in advance, wrap it well, and let it sit out at room temp in order for ingredients to properly bind.

Gum Paste

1 tablespoon Gum-tex powder (Wilton)
1 tablespoon glucose (Wilton)
3-4 tablespoons hot water
1 pound (about 4 cups) powdered sugar
1 tablespoon extract (if desired)
shortening (for covering, kneading)
plastic wrap and zip lock baggie

The mixing of gumpaste can be a somewhat daunting task the first time around. If you've made or worked with fondant, you'll find that gumpaste is quite a bit different. So I decided to include the steps along with photos so that you'll have some idea of what's to be expected.

First, assemble all of your ingredients. You can substitute the Gum-Tex with Tylose powder or tragacanth gum if you prefer. Although I wouldn't personally eat gumpaste (uhm ya, edible, not so palatable), I used my homemade Bourbon Vanilla (or you could use lemon extract), if nothing else, to disguise some of the smell of the gum-tex. (it will still taste bad because of the gum powder, but at least it will smell better!) The glucose will help with the texture and is also necessary for a longer working time.

Next, measure out 3 tablespoons of hot water into a glass measuring cup. Now add a heaping tablespoon of the glucose. (this stuff is a tad bit sticky HA!)

Stir the glucose-water mixture. I use a small spatula because some will stick to the bottom. Let it sit for just a few minutes and it will dissolve somewhat.
Now add in the extract. Stir the mixture until everything is dissolved and combined. Set aside. (do you have any idea how hard it is to stir and snap a picture at the same time?)

Sift about 3/4 of the powdered sugar and Gum-Tex into a large bowl. This will insure that there are no hard lumps in your gumpaste. (which will seem like oxymoron in a few minutes, just wait, you'll see what I mean)

Make a "well" in the center of the powdered mixture and pour in the glucose liquid mixture. Using a strong spatula, mix as much as you can together.

It will start to clump up at first (see, I told ya, oxymoron), but soon it will start to come together. At this point, just give in and use your hand. LOL

Remove it from the bowl and place onto a counter top. Begin kneading, the dough will be crumbly at first but it will start to come together. It will also be stiff but it is important at this time that you do not stop. (yeah, again, voice mail is handy) Left alone, it would start to dry up in only a few short minutes.

Continue to knead the dough, gradually adding the rest of the powdered sugar until your ball is smooth and not sticky. If you do get it too dry, you may have to sprinkle in another teaspoon of water at this time, but not too much or you'll just have to add more powdered sugar.

The ball will be smooth, and yet, it will still feel a bit "grainy" from the gum powder. This is normal and the reason that you want to make it a couple of days ahead of time before using it. Once it sits for a few days, it will feel smooth with no graininess at all. Cover your "gum ball" (lol, I couldn't wait to say that) with some plastic wrap while you change gears and get ready to color it.

Now we're ready to color. If I'm doing a project, I'll go ahead and make all of the colors needed at this point, it saves a lot of time later. Also, you'll notice, that I cut off a section at a time, color it and keep everything wrapped while working. The powdered sugar is set to the side in case I use a lot of color and the dough gets sticky. I just knead in more powdered sugar. Also, you can rub a bit of shortening on your hands and that will help keep it from getting too sticky. Be careful however, do not use too much or you'll change the consistency of the gumpaste.

I tend to prefer gel colors or paste colors as they do not make the gumpaste too wet (well, not as much as liquid food coloring) If you're making darker colors, it's gonna get messy and ugly. (too bad I couldn't take a pic of that part, huh?) I use my plastic cutting board so as not to stain my counter. After kneading in each color, I shape it into a disc or brick and smear it with a bit of shortening and immediately wrap it before moving on to the next. The shortening helps prevent the gumpaste from drying out and/or forming a "skin".

Finally, I have all of my colors needed for my project. After wrapping each individual color seperately in plastic wrap, I put them into the zip lock and date it. If I have more than one project going at a time, I'll label it with that too. (I'm a ditz with a very short memory span) In the event that I don't use all of the colors, I can save them and use them later for a different project. In this particular case, I only used half of the gumpaste batch for my project, the other half I wrapped seperately, uncolored, for either future projects, or in case I need some more or run out of a color while in the middle of the project.

Remember to store the gumpaste at room temperature. If you refrigerate it, or freeze it, it will change the consistency and weaken the integrity of the product. The gumpaste will "harden" up, even wrapped tightly, don't be alarmed. When I'm ready to work with it, I just cut off a small section of what I think I'll need for the piece I'm working on, cup it in my hand to warm it up. As it warms, it becomes more pliable. Knead it a bit with your fingers to make it smooth. If it does have a bit of dryness to it, I just rub some shortening in my hands, hold the piece for a few minutes, then start working it again.

Ok, you've got to be curious by now what the heck I'm making with the colors green, flesh, orange, red and yellow, right? In my part 3 of this series, I'll show you the tools I use and how to work with the gumpaste. In detail; the body figures, heads, faces, hands, clothing etc. Later on, I'll do a fondant cake to go along with my gumpaste figures so that you can see the whole project come together.

You can click here to go directly to a section of the series:
You say Sugar Paste, I say Gumpaste (part 1)
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)

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)