Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Gum paste

Well, this week we started the Wedding Cakes section of class, beginning with gumpaste flowers. The flowers you see in the picture at right are all made of gum paste, but I'll get back to those in a couple minutes.

First, a word about gum paste. Gum paste is one of the methods used for decorating cakes, along with rolled fondant, royal icing, buttercream, etc. While edible, you would not want to eat thing made of gum paste. When working with it, it has the consistency of very stiff play-dough, but it dries very quickly and becomes very hard and relatively strong. I can't imagine biting into a gum paste flower.
Gum paste is surprising easy to make, consisting only of egg whites, powdered sugar, shortening, and Tylose powder. Incidentally, this is the only recipe at the French Pastry School that uses shortening. Tylose powder is a man-made substance that really gives the gum paste it's thick consistency.
The thing about working with gum paste is that it dries very quickly, and once it's dried there is nothing you can do to soften it again. This means that you need to work very quickly, and that you can only work on one thing at a time. So, rather than cutting out petals for a dozen roses all at once so that you can then assemble them, you can only cut out one layer of petals for each rose at a time, then place them on your rose cone, before cutting more petals for the same rose. There is really no way to turn this process into something that you can do quickly on a large scale, which makes it very labor-intensive, and ultimately makes gumpaste flowers very expensive.
The gum paste flowers made at the French Pastry School are based on the practice perfected by Nicholas Lodge. Mr. Lodge owns his own school in Atlanta, and is generally considered to be one of the best at making flowers in the world. He strives to make gum paste flowers as biogically correct as possible. So, in our flowers, you'll see all of the pieces of lillies, roses, orchids, carnations, etc. This includes the pistils, stamens, calyx, etc... I've seen flowers created by Nicholas Lodge, and they look real enough to put in a vase. He's absolutely amazing. He was at the French Pastry School a couple weeks back and did a demo for our class, and he makes all of this seem simple. And speaking of price, if you're lucky enough to have Mr. Lodge create a cake for you, expect to pay about $17 for each lilly...
So, back to the flowers you see in the picture here. First of all, understand that all of these flowers are in the works, and will not be completed for another day or two. So, as good as they are, they will look even better. Also, I took a bunch of pictures but couldn't get a good close-up, so we'll have to make do with this picture which doesn't show all of the details. Hopefully I'll be able to get some good close ups so you can see the detail.

In the picture with all of the flowers, moving clockwise, you can see the yellow roses in the back, the beginning of three white orchid "throats", three white and three peach-colored blossoms, three white daisies, and along the left, three peach-colored carnations. Not pictured are the leaves and other components we're working on.
In the other picture, I attempted to show you the detail on three of the roses. The picture is not very good, but hopefully you can see a little bit. Pictured are two full-blown roses on top, and a tighter rose on the bottom.
I'm not entirely happy with the colors I've created, but I can live with them. Some of the students have some very cool colors, but there are also others that are hideous. So no big deal. If I ever make this my chosen profession, I think I'll be relying on my lovely wife to create the colors while I contstruct the actual flowers.
OK, enough for tonight. Time to go to bed, so I can wake up at 5:00 a.m. to go make more flowers. But I'll post more pics of the completed flowers. Then, next week, you'll get to see them as the decoration for an actual wedding cake...


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