2013 Calgary Sugarcraft Guild Cake Competition

The Calgary Sugarcraft Guild is hosting it’s very first cake competition/contest at North Hill Mall from November 7th to 10th, 2013.

Youth, Adult and Professional categories are available to compete in.

Registration is due October 22nd.

Please click here for more information.

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.


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.


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

Royal Icing Practice

Royal Icing Flooding 02 Lambeth Technique 03 Piping 04 Lambeth 05 Cake Piping 06 Stringwork 07 Royal Icing Stringwork 08 Lambeth Piping 09 Lambeth Method 10 Royal Icing Lacework 11 Royal Icing Lace 12 Royal Icing 13 Australian Stringwork 14 Royal Icing 15 English Overpiping 16 Royal Icing Cake

“But all things must have a beginning, and the student who is about to embark on a career of icing and piping must study well the aspect of his own fitness for the work, his adaptability, his will to overcome obstacles, and his willingness to practice.” (Nirvana, 1953, pg. 1)

Edible Photograph Wedding Cake

(A project from Fall 2012…)

I like to say that cake is not always just cake.

It’s a symbol of the achievements of people and the relationships that we have with each other. It’s a tangible, and edible, representation of love & appreciation.

In my adventures in cake, I’ve been blessed to be part of these celebrations. This is no exception.

There is a special story behind this cake. A few years ago I made a Nikon D300 DSLR camera cake for the most amazing couple, as a special surprise birthday gift to him from her. This camera cake quickly became one of the most talked about cakes I have ever created.

I was overjoyed that not too long after, they were engaged! As a photography enthusiast, the goal for me was to create a wedding cake that featured their photos – personal photos that captured the spirit of their relationship and the special moments in their lives:

Edible Photo Wedding Cake Edible Photograph Wedding CakeCreating the look of this cake…

The plaque was cut out craft knife and template as a guide. It was then hand painted using a paintbrush:

Just Married Cake

Wedding Cake Topper

Tape was created using beige-coloured gumpaste, by rolling it out thinly, then “tearing” the edges.

Blue, red and white tacks were hand-shaped out of modelling chocolate:

Edible Photo Cake

The images were created by using a computer printer and food colouring ink to print on edible image paper. Each image was then cut out, then attached to a thin sheet of edible sugar gumpaste.

This is one of my favorite photos:

Edible Image Wedding Cake

I had the pleasure of seeing the cake cut, and was delighted when a little boy kept coming up to the table to pick up slices for his table. He was sure to pick up the slices with the edible images.

He knew that they were special.

(Congratulations to Erin & Tyler! May you enjoy many countless years of happiness together!)

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


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.


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.


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.


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.

Red Square Wedding Cake with Cream Coloured Sugar Roses

Sometimes simple is best. Secret to (my somewhat) realistic sugar roses – have a reference (real or photo), use a variety of shapes and sizes of flowers, colour centers darker, shape petals thinly, and be generous in crimping, curling, and pinching. Extra petals never hurt. Inspiration.

Sugar Roses Red Square Wedding Cake Red Wedding Cake Wedding Cake Roses Gumpaste Rose

The New World of Cake Decorating

Recently cake decorators all over the world have been creating and sharing free cake tutorials, photographs, and information online using a variety methods. These are the top sharing methods I currently see:

1. Cake Decorating Tutorials on Pintrest

Pintrest has been fast exploding with collections of cake decorating photo tutorials, allowing users to group, or “pin,” these photos onto a shared board. The photos are either hosted on an outside website/blog, or they have been uploaded by the user.

I welcome users to pin my work.

Examples of some popular boards on Pintrest:

2. YouTube

YouTube allows users to upload videos, allowing the audience to visually see cake decorating techniques. The quantity of cake decorating videos has increased substantially.

While videos are not necessarily grouped, the YouTube experience rather takes you on an adventure of video browsing by following recommended or suggested videos or channels.

3. Discussion Forums

Discussion forums are a great place to ask open ended questions. Users reply with their own personal experiences or opinions.

Anyone can ask and find the answer to any cake decorating question. My favorite discussion forums are at CakeCentral.

Tip: Instead of searching within the website, you can easily use Google to search within a website by adding “site:url.com” to the end of your search query.

For example, if I wished to find out how to make fondant shiny, but wished to search the CakeCentral website without going through the pages of the site, I would type into Google: “how shiny fondant site:cakecentral.com”

Final Notes

Because of open sharing, the skills of the cake decorating community has grown together as a whole. This is not limited to just cake decorators, but all other interest groups. I hope that the net will be used as a tool to make our world a better place, by becoming a representation of shared knowledge and wealth. I foresee people creating more quality, concise content, and by doing so with intent.

Remember, just because it isn’t online, doesn’t meant it didn’t happen. Although great to look at, it’s hard to eat cake through a computer screen. 😉