Hi again my dear reader, today I am going to write about using sugar candy in cake artistry. This is a very dangerous topic for sweet tooth and, if you are, I give you permission to go no further.
So, if you do, then beware of I did warn you, this is a very addictive content and a lot candy like cake love.
Basic Tools Required For Sugar Cake Art
- Wooden spoons or silicon (FDA) spatula
- Candy Thermometer (they now have modern all-in-one, thermometer with stirrer, cool aye?)
- Saucepan (preferably a heavy bottomed one)
- Heavy duty gloves
- Thick Baking Apron or Protective Bakers Clothing
- Molds or items for shaping caramelized sugar on
Important Safety Notes
- Prepare the work area and make sure that no-one is using the stove or kitchen area (send all pets with kids/partners for an hour walk if you have to).
- On saying the latter, make sure that someone is at home while you make any sugar creations, in case you have an accident and burn yourself. Hot sugar on any part of your body is not pleasant and can be very be serious.
- Work area should be free of dust or pet fur and tie your hair back – any of these can stick to your sugar decorations and it will be a cross contamination.
- Floor area should be clean and no spillage of any kind.
- Always wear protective gear, for your body and hands.
- CARAMELISED SUGAR CAN BE EXTREMELY DANDGEROUS – if it sticks on skin you can be scarred for life.
Different sugar consistencies that can be checked without a thermometer:
The Thread Stage 223-235* F (106 – 113 Degrees Celsius)
Consistency – The syrup drips from the spoon to form a thin thread in the cup of water. Good for: Glacé and candied fruits
The Soft ball Stage 235-245* F (113 – 118 Degrees Celsius)
A ball is formed as soon as the syrup hits the cold water, but flattens into fudge, once it is removed.
The Firm ball Stage 245-250* F (118 – 120 Degrees Celsius)
A small stable ball is formed, but loses its shape once it is pressed.
Hard ball Stage 250-266* F (120 – 130 Degrees Celsius)
The sugar liquid holds its ball shape but remains quite sticky to the touch.
Soft crack Stage 270-290* F (130 – 145 Degrees Celsius)
The syrup forms into firm but pliable threads.
Hard crack Stage 300-310* F (145 – 155 Degrees Celsius)
The syrup cracks when snapped.
Caramel Stage 320-350* F (155 – 175 Degrees Celsius)
The sugar syrup turns golden at this stage. This is suitable for Pralines.
Glass Sugar Makes Engaging Views
What is Glass Sugar?
So what is glass sugar? Do you remember the old German fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel? Well that story had a witch that owned an amazing house made of ginger bread and candy.
I have added a cute book slide for those who are unfamiliar with the story.
The first time I heard this story read to me as a child, I listened with fixated intent as my aunt described each small detail about that house. I was literally ‘salivating’ by the time the story ended – Now that I am older it seems like a truly tragic story but everything about that house still remains imprinted in my imagination. I believe that witch’s house had sugar glass windows.
How is Sugar Glass Made?
The following recipe is a basic one and I find is the easiest to follow, you may find other recipes online also and that is fine as well.
- 1 cup of corn syrup
2 cups of water
1/4 tsp of cream of tartar
3 1/2 cups of sugar
- Heavy bottomed saucepan (or cast iron skillet – although this could be quite heavy to lift)
- Thick gloves to protect yourself from the heat
- Wooden Spoon
- Sugar Thermometer (for candy making)
- Any pre-made mold that you want to use for molding shapes into (optional)
Place all ingredients in to the saucepan.
Slowly heat the mixture to boiling point, by continuously stirring (if you heat it up too quickly, everything will caramelize and will not work (this process should be about 1 hour – so it is a game of patience and sore arm).
Use the thermometer to check that it has boiling point has reached 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you are using food color, then it needs to be stirred in just before the syrup is taken off the heat.
TIP: For those who do not have a thermometer.
Use a spoonful of candy mix and pour it in a cup of cold water. Take it out and if it breaks like glass, the mixture is ready. This would be at the ‘hard crack’ stage listed, in the list of the desired sugar consistency results.
This is wearing protective gear and using the correct tools is very important. Pour the hot liquid into your mold/s or on to a flat tray lined with baking paper (waxed paper). Leave it to cool and you have your glass to use for decorating.
- Today sugar glass can be a great addition to a themed cake. The following are a few examples:
- Snow peaks or mountains/Glaciers
- Christmas decorations
- A glass slipper for a Cinderella cake
- Sugar diamante or sugar diamonds/ different colored jewelry
- A twisted unicorn’s horn
- glass windows for a ginger bread house (of course)
- Eye glasses for an elderly birthday cake
- Halloween eye balls
- Small glass bells for a wedding or christening cake
- Glass angels
- Water themes – water gushing from a fountain/ waterfall/Lakes
- Blue ocean/sea
- fake glass bottle or beer cups
- A baby dummy
- Glass eyes for a teddy bear or soft toy topper
- Stained glass
- Colorful Sugar bowls (using balloons for the shape) – and filled with ice cream and whipped cream…mm
As you can see from the above list there are so many things that one, can easily make using sugar glass.
Spun Sugar – A Twisting Delight
Spun sugar can be the crowning glory or the twisted ornament on top of a cake. Have you seen those tall profiterole cake towers and fine sugar webs surrounding it. Those web like sugar strands is what Cake decorators call ‘spun sugar’
The recipe for spun sugar would be exactly the same as the one for glass sugar, however the temperature and end result will be different. The temperatures would need to be at the thread stage. You only need to use one or two forks to dip with and then as the syrup drips draw quickly in the air and quickly across a large bowl or an overturned metal spoon. This is repeated over and over to get fine wispy hair like sugar strands.
My written description does not do justice to how lovely this technique really is. Therefore, I have added a video by Technique de Cuisine, so that you can understand what I just wrote.
Okay I need to confess something before you watch this video, it is all in French, however, the technique this guy uses is so easy, so even without understanding what he is saying you can actually follow what he is showing – and anyway, who better than a French to show us the arts of decorating with sugar – so prendre plaisir! (enjoy! in English).
Ideas For Using Spun Sugar:
- Decorate cold desserts
- Create bird’s nests for easter eggs
- Cobwebs for Halloween cakes
- The gold parts of jewelry
- Long spun sugar strands can be used to hang off cake boards to create cascading effect in between tiered cakes – add a little light system in between and you have a gorgeous effect coming through the spun sugar strands.
- Create spirals to make cultural designs such as ferns and island dancing hair pieces or skirts as cake toppers
- Spun sugar bowls for ice cream or whipped cream (yum!)
Colorful Sugar Shapes
This is another great sugar decoration and does not need any cooking or burning. You would only need, some water, (white) sugar, food coloring, baking/waxed paper, a medium-sized container with a lid (preferably see-through/clear) and cookie cutters (any shape you want).
Basically, you fill your plastic container with the sugar, add a few (about three) drops of your chosen food color, close the lid and then shake, yup, shake, shake and shake some more…this is starting to sound like an ad jingle.
Well, the idea is to get the food coloring into all the sugar, without stirring (so that it colors evenly). The result you want is the sugar looking like fine sand that was colored.
When you are all shaken up and the sugar is all colored through, you add a few teaspoons of water and shake it again to get the water mixed right through. The best way to check is taking some in hand and squashing a bunch to see if they hold their shape. If not, you may need to add a little bit more water and re-shake the container until the sugar is completely moist.
Place it on a flat mat and use a rolling pin, to flatten it out (not too thinly) and then use your cookie cutters to cut them into the required shapes. At this point, the sugar can not be lifted (they will fall apart), therefoe use the baking paper to slide under them and move where they are not in the way.
These shapes will need to be left in the open to dry naturally and the longer the better they will hold their shape.
Unicorn Love had a guest post from Nellie Cakes, where Nellie, shows us how to make these gorgeous little sugar gems in greater detail, all I have provided is general information. I encourage you to check their post as it will inspire you to be more creative with sugar.
Image from Unicorn Love
Bend It Like Isomalt
What The Heck Is Isomalt?
Isomalt is an alternative sweetener to sugar. It has the same texture as sugar except that it doesn’t turn a yellowy color when it is at a high temperature. It makes beautifully clear candy decorations for your cakes, and will stand up to humidity better than caramelized sugar. Isomalt gives 2 calories per gram and does not create cavities in teeth like sugar or increase blood glucose or insulin levels (and all those who love sugar breathe a sigh of happiness).
Isomalt was discovered in the 1960s and created out of sucrose (sugar) and is used in both nutraceuticals and pharmaceuticals. Examples:
- Throat Lozengers
- Mixed Herbs
- To sweeten other medication
It is a product that is versatile and valuable for those who wish to make healthy or dietary choices, without missing out on the taste of sweetness.
Where Can I get Isomalt?
It can be bought in bulk from most large grocery stores. They are produced as crystals or nibs .
How To Use Isomalt To Decorate Cakes
Isomalt is one of the hardest mediums to make and handle in cake artistry. This process may need some professional training to assist with perfecting this art.
Please note that in order to get a crystal clear result, you must use distilled water, because the minerals in tap water can cause a murky effect. The amount of distilled water should only be enough to make the isomalt damp (similar to the damp sand used to make sand castles on the beach).
It placed in a pot and slowly melted by stirring gently and consistently to prevent any sticking to the sides.
The utensils used should only be stainless steel and silicon for stirring and never use less than 1.4kgs of isomalt, at a time as you do not want hot spots during the heating process (caused when using only very small amounts), which produces a yellow color.
To prevent crystallization whilst heating, simply place a foil tent on top of the pot to create internal steaming, The Isomalt needs to be cooked until it reaches 338 degrees Fahrenheit and then removed from the heat at 333 degrees Fahrenheit (this is where the candy thermometer comes in handy). The pot needs to be placed immediately in cool water to halt any further heating.
When the isomalt is at about 310 degrees Fahrenheit – food coloring (powdered, gel or liquid) can be added and stirred into until the boiling stops.
Note: Never store unused or used isomalt in the fridge or freezer – this will cause it to dissolve the produced sugar pieces.
Isomalt should be stored in a tight container, because it absorbs moisture in its raw form. I suggest that you place a some silica gels packages inside to extend its shelf life.
On the other hand cooked isomalt can only survive if kept from humidity or humid environments – it will go sticky (this is seen in hard candy or lolly pops that have wrappers missing – found stuck in fur or other stuff under kids beds).
Once the isomalt syrup has cooled enough to handle, wear protective gloves and start pulling or molding your Isomalt to whatever shape you like to decorate your cake with.
Here are a few examples of what you can use Isomalt for:
- Icicles – for children’s Frozen cartoon theme
- Star Fish
- Glass eyes
- Edible gems
- Blown Spheres
- Musical instruments – or notes and time signatures
- Cinderella glass slippers
- Birthday numbers
- Cultural Arts
- Statues and sculptures
- Glass Swans or doves
- Glass bells
Whether it be with sugar or isomalt, your cake decorations will definitely stand out in any gathering. Sugar is always going to be popular no matter what age – and as long as you still have teeth to bite them with.
Therefore, I hope that my article will give you an insight to how sugar glass, spun sugar, sugar shapes and isomalt can truly enhance and challenge you in your cake decorating.
If you wish to add your own thoughts to what I have written, ask a question or would like to just share how you use any of the above in your own decorating, please leave a comment below.
May you have a day full of ideas, and I will see you again soon.