Pulled Sugar Ribbons & Bows

Recently, I made a goal to improve my sugar ribbon technique. The goal was to create sugar ribbons with thin stripes, satiny shine, and minimal grains. I wished to achieve this with sugar, not isomalt.

Over the course of 2 weeks, 8 batches of sugar, and over 40 pulled ribbons, some success:

01. Pulled Sugar Bow

02. Sugar Bow03.Pulled Sugar Ribbons04. Pulled Sugar Ribbons

My patience and ability to withstand the occasional shatter was also tested. 😉 Let’s go backwards…

Disclaimer: Proper equipment and safety is a requirement in working with boiling sugar. Temperatures easily exceed 300 degrees Fahrenheit and above, and the use of open flame & gas results in the risk of burns & fire.

04b. Broken sugar showpiece

Shattered pieces are a common occurrence. Often there is no repair.

05. Sugar ribbons

Pulled sugar ribbons.

06. Sugar ribbon tutorial

Testing pulled sugar recipes. Each colour represents a new recipe.

Boiled Sugar

Interesting shapes created at the end where the ribbon is held and stretched.

Recipes:

For a basic recipe as a starting point, see Professional Baking by Wayne Gisslen, now available online on Google Books.

I compared numerous recipes using a spreadsheet. Recipes compared were from the following library books:

  • Sucre d’art, by Stéphane Glacier
  • Sugar Artistik, by Louise & Othmar Fassbind
  • Professional Baking, by Wayne Gisslen
  • The Advanced Professional Pastry Chef, by Bo Friberg
  • The Art of the Confectioner, by Ewald Notter
  • Plus various recipes from college

The basic recipe contains granulated sugar, glucose, and acid. I found similarities and patterns are found in ratios, batch weight, and temperature.

The Effect of Temperature:

I noted in the books, final boiling temperatures varied from 300F to 340F.

Higher boiling temperatures result in:

  • Better shine
  • Better ability to hold shape and firmer consistency
  • Required warming to a higher temp under the lamp to work with
  • Increased force/energy to work with
  • Increased yellowing/caramel colour

The Effect of Time:

My experiments resulted in inconsistent results in shorter vs. longer boiling time.

Perhaps boiling time affects the time the sugar is exposed to the acid, thus softening the sugar as time is increased.

On the other hand – longer boiling times also resulted in higher temperatures and less moisture, thus hardening the sugar.

The Effect of Acid:

For an in-depth look at the effect of acid on sugar, see this research article from the Center for Advanced Food Science and Technology, Korea University, “The Effect of Organic Acids on the Hygroscopity and Browning of Sugar Candies”

To summarize, acid inverts (also known as hydrolysis) sugar by acting as a catalyst, speeding up the split of sucrose (common granulated sugar), into glucose and fructose.

The effect of acid on pulled sugar art:

  • Reduces crystallization
  • Increases attraction to moisture/ stickiness
  • Increases softness/fluidity and elasticity
  • Darkens colour

Glucose also prevents crystallization, as noted in the article.

Troubleshooting:

The challenge for me was determining the cause of grains.

In my trials, grains appeared immediately upon pulling the sugar, done shortly after boiling and cooling. This led me to believe the ingredients or recipes themselves were the factors.

From my research, there appear to be multiple possible causes of grains. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • purity of the ingredients
  • cleanliness of the equipment
  • length of time the sugar is boiled
  • temperature the acid is added

Batch upon batch resulted in grains. I tried to eliminate factors one by one. Frustration began to settle in and I really began to question. Were the textbooks fooling me? Were they leaving information out? Where the images photo shopped? Did their cameras have filters and lenses that only focused on the grain-free portions of the ribbon? Was isomalt used? Was the purity of the sugar, glucose or water itself the issue?

I began modifying recipes, which created interesting results:

Grains in pulled sugar

Troubleshooting grains in pulled sugar.

08. Effect of Acid on Sugar

12 drops tartaric acid added at 275F: Sugar too soft and does not hold shape, however, fewer grains.

09. Grains in boiled sugar

(Top Photo:) Purple – acid added earlier, and then boiled to 320F. Fewer grains, but lost shape, worsening overnight. (Bottom Photo:) Orange – acid added later using the same recipe and temperature as purple ribbon. Increased grains, but shiner and held shape better. Burgundy- the grains are fewer, but the ability to hold shape is still not ideal.

The lessons I learned – slight adjustments in acid, quantities, and temperature make a huge impact on final results. There is no one correct recipe. It is more practical to take a base recipe and adjust it accordingly. This is due to the numerous combined variables of time, temperature, quantities, environment, and ingredients.

I finally adjusted a recipe to achieve acceptable results. In this recipe, a common quantity of sugar, glucose, acid was used. The acid was added somewhat earlier, and then the batch was boiled to a higher temperature:

10. Pulled Sugar

11. Sugar Ribbons

I interpreted these adjustments as:

  • Longer exposure time to the acid allows more time for the acid to act on the sugar
  • Higher temperature allows for a firmer sugar, counteracting the softening nature of the acid.

It is important to boil the sugar until the correct consistency – to slow moving molten bubbles. The boiled sugar should not be fluid, but instead a honey-like viscosity.  It is not only about reading the thermometer, but also visually reading the consistency of the sugar.

Ribbon-Pulling Technique:

There are YouTube videos on pulling sugar ribbons, such as this one and this one.

My Tips…

The consistency of the sugar should not be too firm or too soft:

  • A sugar too firm results in difficulty in sticking strands together, breakage while pulling, difficulty in folding, and greater time & temperature to warm up
  • A sugar that is soft is easier to pull and form ribbons, but will not hold shape, absorb moisture easily, and lose shine quickly.

I prefer to err on the side of a stiff sugar consistency rather than a soft one. Ambient temperature and humidity also play a factor. The ideal consistency is where:

  • Initial strands barely adhere to each other without excessive heat
  • The ribbon pulls without excessive breaking or cracking
  • The ribbon sets shape quickly without the addition of cool air (depending on thickness).
  • The ribbon holds shape overnight, without deforming.
  • When a piece is broken, the ribbon appears as round ropes stuck together:

12. Pulled Sugar Ribbon How To

When shaping, start with a minimum of 6 strands, and up to 10. I find 8 is ideal. 8 doubled up twice results in a ribbon with 32 strands. A finished 64-plus strand ribbon is possible, but may require a set of two hands because of the width.

Start with strands even in size, shape and weight. Aerate just before forming strands.

The thinner the ribbon is pulled, the greater the shine:

09a. Pulled Sugar Ribbon

Shine is also affected by:

  • Proper aeration
  • Quantity of acid
  • Temperature the sugar is cooked to
  • Storage and exposure to humidity
  • Temperature the ribbon is pulled at

There are unlimited possibilities in pulled sugar. For inspiration, check out Stéphane Klein, one of the greatest masters of sugar art of our time (warning: some images NSFW).

13. Pulled sugar rose

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Tips: How to Make & Carve a Sphere Ball Cake

I am fascinated by spheres. I find the shape of a sphere ball cake not only puzzling, but eye-pleasing.

A modified sphere shape used in a jack o’lantern cake:

Jack O'Lantern Cake

As a very angry, irate, bird:

Angry Birds Cake

In a global cake:

Globe Earth Cake

Another example in a modern chocolate cake:

Modern Chocolate Cake

Tips & Tricks

Structure:

The issue arises when a sphere is carved out of all cake, the bottom of the cake sinks and compresses due to lack of support from the inward curve:

Sphere Cake How To

This results in gravity compressing the bottom few inches of the cake over time. The bottom of the cake or fondant may bulge and/or ripple.

The secret is to construct the bottom 1/2 to 1/4 out of material other than cake. This can include a number of materials. Most commonly used are rice cereal treats, modelling chocolate, or polystyrene foam.

A similar concept is used here in the building of a cylinder shaped cake, used here as a camera lens in a cake. Here the side of a fondant bucket was used in the bottom 1/4, to allow for maximum cake content:

Cylinder Camera Lens Cake

It is also possible to create the look of a sphere using all cake. This can be done creating only the top 3/4 of a sphere, and having a flat base. Another option is to use a heavy dense cake.

Carving:

For carving itself, I prefer to carve from  sheets or rounds of cake, as they bake evenly, however ball cake pans do exist.

Here is an excellent tutorial on carving a sphere out of ice. The same concept applies for cake – start with cylinder shape as tall as it is wide, then round the shape from all angles. Another tip I have learned is to use a half circle (negative) template as a guide.

Covering:

The greatest challenge is covering a sphere cake in fondant. To give plenty of fondant to work with, if my sphere is 8 inches tall, I roll out my fondant in a circle to at least 16 inches wide. About 1/3 of this fondant will be cut away at the bottom.

Considerable excess fondant will gather around the base. From my own struggles, I have learned to pinch and cut away excess fondant using scissors, then blend in seams.

Another option is to divide the job in two, by splitting into a front and back section, then blending the seams.

Summary:

For more details about cake sculpting, the book “Cake Sculpture and Sculptered Figure Piping” by the amazing Roland Winbeckler helped me. This book contains practical directions on building internal cake structures, plus lots of detailed information on sculpting with buttercream. Also, the phenomenal Mike McCarey has specialized class events on cake sculpting.

And if you share my fascination with spheres, you might also enjoy the art of the dorodango mud ball. I made one once. It was neat.

Bottega Veneta Designer Knotted Clutch Purse Cake

Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to create the Bottega Veneta Knotted Clutch Purse as a cake.

Upon researching this Intrecciato design, I was blown away by their workmanship and attention to fine detail. I noticed that the woven texture of the purse is evenly spaced, and the knotted detail is perfectly balanced. (The knotted detailing is not only seen in the purse itself, but also in other details such as in their gift box and shopping bag.) There is even a tiny intricate Bottega Veneta logo embossed on either end of the knobs of the knot. Although it is a simple shape, the refined workmanship, timeless elegance, and lively colour of this purse really sets it apart.

It begins with the sketching process – to help predetermine the layout, any possible size/shape constrictions, and the overall feel of the cake:Purse Cake Sketch

There’s a lot of preparation that goes into planning a cake like this. Here are templates that have been made to scale. Layers of cake are baked in sheets, and the templates are used to cut pieces out:Purse Cake Templates

Filling the cake & carving. This was chocolate cake filled with vanilla icing:Purse Cake Carving

The key is to have a smooth surface of buttercream underneath. This is done by smoothing it out – one side at a time. For this cake, Swiss Meringue buttercream was used:Purse Cake Process

Here is the clutch, attached securely to the cake board and covered in buttercream, with the surface nice and smooth:Purse Cake Buttercream

The knots were made of modelling chocolate, and carefully textured to resemble braided leather and rope material. If you look closely, the knobs were indented to appear as though they are marked with the logo:Purse Cake Accents

The logo was done using a hand-cut stencil. Each letter was cut out one by one using an utility knife. A couple of tests were done with the stencil ahead of time, to make sure that it would work on the actual cake:Purse Cake Stencils

Here you can see many of the reference photos of the clutch that are required to refer back to as the cake progresses:How to Make a Purse Cake

The lines of the clutch are marked carefully using a flexible acetate strip as a guide:How to Cover Purse Cake Fondant

The snakeskin texture was created by pressing a mesh texture onto fondant. This was then hand-painted using a paintbrush ans a combination of red, brown, and orange food colouriPurse Cake Snakeskinng:

To help shape the lid of the box, strips of modeling chocolate are attached to the cake before fondant is added. Here is the cake just before finishing, with the main pieces attached to the cake board: Giftbox Cake

Here is the finished cake: Designer Purse Cake Bottega Veneta

Shopping Bag Cake Bottega Veneta

Bottega Veneta Cake Knotted Clutch

Unicorn Wedding Cake

Yes, a unicorn wedding cake:

Unicorn Cake

Let’s go into the making of this cake…

1. Preparation

I like to print out lots and lots of  reference photographs and photos for inspiration. In this case, I looked for horse sculptures – that way I could see how other artists have tackled such a shape in the past.

The first thing I did was worked on any pieces that needed to harden. In this case, the legs:

Unicorn Photos

Make Unicorn Cake

2. Carving

I’ve learned the hard way that it’s imperative that the proportions are correct in the carving step:

Unicorn Cake Carving

3. Crumb coating / Icing the cake in buttercream

I did a light crumb coat,  to hold the crumbs in, just as the name describes. Then I added a thicker coat of icing/buttercream. For this step, I like to use Swiss Meringue Buttercream, a silky-smooth buttery icing that tends to hold up well underneath of fondant.

At this point the  muscles and curves were further defined by piping buttercream on strategically, them smoothing it out. In order to have thin fondant, it’s helpful to have a very smooth surface underneath.

Unicorn Cake Making

Crumb Coat Cake

Carving Unicorn Cake

3D Unicorn Cake

3D Unicorn Cake

4. Covering the cake in fondant

I’ve been trying to roll fondant as thin as possible lately, aiming for somewhere between 3/16ths 1/16th of an inch. This not only helps reduce the cost of fondant(which can be expensive), but more importantly – it reduces the weight of the cake. It’s surprising to me how much the weight of cake, buttercream and fondant can easily add up.

The horse was covered in sections, starting on the head and working downward. The modelling chocolate legs were covered in fondant, attached, then blended in. The fondant tail and horn were added last.

Unicorn Wedding Cake

3. Decoration & Painting

Finishing touches included airbrushing and painting the cake. Edible food colouring was used to help bring out the depth and dimension of the cake.

A simple tree & mountain background was added as their wedding was in the mountains. 🙂

Unicorn Cake

Unicorn Wedding Cake

Cake Topper

Among all the cakes out there, this is what I would describe as an “epic” cake.

It was for probably one of the hippest couples out there.

Congratulations on your wedding Ali and Stephen!

Gumpaste Figures

Hamburger Cake!

I’m so excited, I’ve always wanted to make this – a hamburger cake! Not just any hamburger, but a realistic 3-D cheeseburger with fixings!

I love these cakes because it feels like I’m cooking and cake decorating at the same time. 🙂  This cake was for Pat – the perfect person for a “patty” cake!

Hamburger Cake

3D Hamburger Cake

Burger Cake

3D Hamburger Cake

Burger Cake

3D Hamburger Cake

A run down of the process:

  1. The cake board was masked into squares using tape then airbrushed with red food colouring. The tape was then removed to reveal the checkerboard pattern. This was allowed to dry beforehand.
  2. Lettuce was rolled out thinly, cut with serrated scissors to make a wavy edge, then veined. The lettuce was then painted with a combination of green and a bit of brown liquid food colouring to look more like green leaf lettuce instead of ice berg lettuce.
  3. Tomato slices were made by shaping red modelling chocolate into a curved wedge shape, then sliced using a sharp Chef’s knife.
  4. Onions were made by rolling out and cutting a strip of off white modelling chocolate, adding lines using a paring knife, then curved
  5. Cheese was rolled out of golden yellow modelling chocolate. Once the cheese was placed on the bun, some gentle “drips” were pulled down and shaped by hand
  6. Fries were made using off white modelling chocolate that was rolled out then placed in the freezer to firm up. Fries were cut out, then skins were painted on using brown food colouring and a paintbrush.
  7. The buns were carved out of cake, the covered in buttercream, then fondant. Textures, lines and indents were adding using sculpting tools, then the buns were airbrushed using brown.
  8. The patty was carved out of cake, covered in butter ream, then fondant. Texture was added using sculpting tools, then hand painted using a combination of brown and black.
  9. Sesame seeds were made using off-white fondant that was rolled into a very thin rope, cut into small segments, then squished down one by one.
  10. A little but of shine was brushed onto the surface of the patty and cheese using a thin layer of oil.

I even took a video!

On a side note – if anyone here is from Calgary, AB and if you like burgers: I suggest you check out one of my favourites places, Boogies Burgers. It’s a hip diner-styled place with HUGE burgers and the most delicious spicy fries. The burger itself is as big as the plate it’s served on, and is definitely a meal within itself. My current favorite is a single “Boog-Mac.” (The secret is to wrap the paper around the burger to eat one of these monsters.)

Fondant How To Videos from Satin Ice

How to Use Fondant Videos from Satin Ice

I just had the chance to watch some great videos on the Satin Ice website. (Satin Ice a premium brand of rolled fondant).

If you are looking for some helpful videos on how to use fondant and videos on fondant decoration techniques, check out the Satin Ice website here.

Buddy’s sheeter makes me jealous. 😀 Talk about fast & efficient!

Pizza Cake: Part II – How-To Tips and Tricks

I’ve been thinking about pizza all week. Specifically, deep-dish pineapple pepperoni pizza! This is the follow post up to a very special cake – Pizza Cake: Part I. In this post, I’m going to describe some of the tips and techniques that went into the making of the sculpted pizza cake:

  • The Pizza Base
  • Fondant Pepperoni
  • Fondant Pineapple
  • Fondant Cheese

Let’s start with some notes on the sculpted pizza base cake shape:

Pepperoni Pineapple Pizza Cake
The Pizza Base:

  1. I started with 2 round layers of cake, less than 1″ high. This time, it was moist chocolate cake with vanilla icing. (Remember to make an icing dam – I love swiss meringue buttercream for the dam – then fill with the desired filling.) The second layer of cake was placed ontop.
  2. The “crust” of the pizza was built up by piping a ring of swiss meringue around the edge. The entire cake was crumb coated, making it as smooth as possible
  3. Cake covered in fondant. Texture, lumps and bumps were added for realism.
  4. The cake was coloured. In this case, the cake was airbrushed with edible food colour using  a combination of brown, orange and yellow. (This can be done using powdered colours too.) A very thin layer of icing was spread ontop, to represent the sauce. The icing was coloured using a combination of red, brown and orange for a more natural saucy colour.

Next came preparing the decorations. AKA, the toppings!

The Fondant Pepperoni:

  1. The fondant was mixed into a “hot doggy” colour. Red, peach and brown. It was then rolled out as thin as possible, cut out circles, then edges were curled using a ball tool. The circles were let to dry.
  2. Then the pepperoni was painted with a layer of thinned red, peach, brown. For added texture, they were then dabbed with clean paper towel. After, the edges were airbrushed using brown food colouring. Lastly, shine was added using a thin layer of vegetable oil.

The Fondant Pineapple:

  1. A light yellow fondant was mixed. The colour was only partially mixed in for a slight marbling effect.
  2. A pineapple “log” was hand-shaped and then put into the freezer, just long enough to harden.
  3. After the fondant log had hardened in the freezer, uniform pineapple pieces were cut.
  4. Realistic texture added using a paring knife.

Pepperoni Pineapple Pizza Cake

The Fondant Cheese:

  1. A chunk of off-white fondant was frozen until hard. Cheese was grated on a cheese grater then immediately spread over the cake in a thin layer.
  2. Fondant cheese was melted slightly using a blowtorch.

Putting it all together:

Pepperoni Pineapple Pizza Cake

Pepperoni Pineapple Pizza Cake

Check out Pizza Cake: Part I for more photographs of the cake in its entirety.