Between fondant, gumpaste, and pastillage, not to mention marzipan, Mexican paste and chocolate clay, it’s easy to get confused about sugar paste terminology. Throw in some British terms–like flower paste and sugarpaste–and it’s anyone’s guess. Below is a (hopefully) comprehensive list of the different sugar pastes used for cake design. For each, I’ve included a brief description, alternative names, suggestions for use, and my opinion as to whether it’s best to make it yourself or buy it. Note that these are the American terms. British, Australian, or other uses may be different. Know of any I missed? Please email and let me know.
A pliable chocolate paste made from just two ingredients, chocolate and corn syrup, it has the texture of a tootsie roll or marzipan and is very easy to work with. Chocolate clay can be made with bittersweet, semi-sweet, milk or white chocolate (source: www.joyofbaking.com). Overhandling it will make the oils separate, causing the clay to become crumbly. Extreme heat can cause melting, so it is not ideal for certain decorations.
Alternate terms: candy clay, chocolate leather, chocolate modeling clay, chocolate modeling paste, chocolate plastic, chocolate plastique
Used for: Most often used for figurines and to cover shapes made from rice cereal treats. Also used for ropes, braids, ribbons, ruffles, flowers, leaves, and sculpted cakes.
Buy or make: Chocolate clay is so easy to make that for small batches it probably best to just make it yourself. For large batches, it may be easier (albeit more costly–$50 for 5.5 pounds) to buy. I’ve never used Cacoa Barry, but it is the most widely available commercially made chocolate clay.
An edible sugar dough that is rolled out and used to cover cakes. Fondant dates to the Renaissance and was originally used in Britain to cover fruitcakes and seal in the freshness for shipping to the new world. Gelatin and glycerin keep the fondant smooth and pliable. Fondant dries firm, but not nearly as hard as gumpaste or pastillage, and therefore serves a different purpose.
Alternate terms: fondant icing, ready-rolled fondant (British), soft fondant (British), rolled fondant, sugarpaste (British)
Used for: covering cakes, appliques, braids. Can be used for other decor, such as ribbons or bows, but needs more drying time than gumpaste or pastillage, so it is not ideal for this purpose.
Buy or make: Definitely buy. I like Satin Ice. Here’s why.
Gumpaste is similar to fondant, but the addition of gum tragacanth (a plant-based gum; more about gums in a future post) gives the dough added flexibility, allowing it to be rolled much thinner than fondant for realistic-looking flowers. Gumpaste dries hard, unlike fondant, and is therefore NEVER used to cover a cake. It is superior to fondant for decorations that need to hold their shape, such as the handle on this purse cake on the cover of Confetti Cakes:
Homemade gumpaste flowers can take up to two weeks to dry, and need to be made well in advance of the cake decorating event. Gumpaste flowers are best stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. Heat, humidity and refrigeration can all soften flowers, even after they’ve set. Placing flowers on buttercream frosting, which contains fat, can also soften them (source: http://www.ehow.com).
Alternate terms: Flower paste
Used for: Flowers. Also used for decorations that need to dry bone-hard, such as three-dimensional decor and plaques. The plaque on top of Mia’s cake was made of gumpaste.Buy or make: Make. I never knew how easy it was to make gumpaste until I was introduced to Nicholas Lodge’s recipe. Two things to know are: (1) You must follow this recipe exactly for best results and (2) Use ONLY the CAI–Confectionary Arts International–tylose. I have found that other tylose yields different results.
4 Large Egg Whites
2 lbs 10x powdered sugar
12 Level teaspoons Tylose
4 teaspoons Crisco
1. Place the egg whites in a Kitchen Aid mixer bowl fitted with the flat paddle.
2. Turn the mixer on high speed for 10 seconds to break up the egg whites.
3. Reserve 1 cup of the powdered sugar and set aside.
4. Turn the mixer to the lowest speed and slowly add the remaining sugar. This will make a soft consistency royal icing.
5. Turn up the speed to setting 3 or 4 for about 2 minutes. During this time measure off the tylose into a small container.
6. Make sure the mixture is at the soft peak stage. It should look shiny, like meringue and the peaks fall over.
7. Turn the mixer to the slow setting and sprinkle the tylose in over a five second time period. Next, turn the speed up to the high setting for a few seconds to thicken the mixture.
8. Scrape mixture out of the bowl onto a work surface that has been sprinkled with some of the reserved 1 cup of powdered sugar. Place the shortening on your hands and knead the paste, adding enough of the reserved powdered sugar to form a soft but not sticky dough. You can check by pinching with your fingers and they should come away clean. Place the finished paste in a zip-top bag, then place the bagged paste in a second bag and seal well.
9. Place in the refrigerator for 24 hours if possible before using to mature the paste.
10. Before use, remove from refrigerator and allow the paste to come to room temperature. Take a small amount of shortening on the end of your finger and knead this into the paste. If you are coloring the paste, add the paste color at this stage.
11. Always store the paste in the zip-top bags and return to the refrigerator when you are not using the paste. Will keep under refrigeration for approximately 6 months. You can keep the paste longer by freezing. Be sure to use zip-top freezer bags. If you will be freezing a batch of paste, allow it to mature for 24 hours in the refrigerator first before placing into the freezer.
Yield: About 2 pounds
Mexican Paste is ideal for cutting out shapes and modelling. It does not contain any glucose, glycerin,or gelatin, and therefore does not stretch or lose its shape when transferring the cut out shapes to the drying board. Similar to gumpaste. Not recommended for the easily frustrated.
Buy or make: According to http://www.cakefrills.co.uk/, Mexican paste is “very easy to make as it is basically [fondant] with Gum Tragacanth. Patchwork powder is commercially available, but it is so easy and much cheaper to make your own.”
Recipe: Note: I have not tested this recipe.
8 oz (or more) confectioner’s sugar
3 teaspoons gum tragacanth (DO NOT USE A SUBSTITUTE)
In a small bowl, mix confectioner’s sugar and gum tragacanth. Add 6 teaspoons of cold water.
Stir until mixture becomes crumbly but damp enough to bind together. Add a little more water if too dry, or confectioner’s sugar if too wet. Turn out onto a worktop and knead until pliable. Place into a plastic bag and leave at room temperature for 12 hours until firm. (The paste will feel very firm.) Break a small piece away and knead between your palms. Continue kneading between your fingers and repeat until all the paste is softened. Cut the paste into small pieces after it has been softened. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and place all of the pieces into a plastic bag and place in freezer. Remove only the quantity required for defrosting. (Smaller pieces will defrost quicker.) Once defrosted, remove plastic wrap and store at room temperature in a plastic bag only. Never store the paste in a fridge. Knead the paste every third day to keep it pliable and to prevent the corners from drying out.Tips for using Mexican paste with Patchwork Cutters:
Depending on the mix, pastillage can be formed and sanded to remove any rough spots after it has completely dried.
Used for: sculptures, showpieces, three-dimensional shapes, ribbons and bows
Buy or make: Pastillage is relatively easy to make. I haven’t experimented much with recipes other than Rose Levy Berenbaum’s recipe (below) from her must-have book, The Cake Bible. Different recipes will obviously yield different results.
1 tablespoon gelatin scant
1/3 cup water
4 cups (lightly spooned into cup) powdered sugar
1/2 cup (lightly spooned into cup) cornstarch
optional: pinch cream of tarter
Sprinkle gelatin over water in a 2-cup heatproof glass measure and let stand for 5 minutes. Set into a small pan of simmering water and stir until gelatin is dissolved. (This can be done in a microwave on high for a few seconds).
Combine the sugar, cornstarch and optional cream of tartar in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the gelatin mixture and stir with a lightly greased wooden spoon until blended. Mix lightly with greased hand and knead vigorously in the bowl until most of the sugar is incorporated. Turn onto a smooth, lightly greased surface (such as Formica or marble) and knead until smooth and satiny. If the Pastillage seems dry, add several drops of water and knead well. If it seems too sticky, knead in more powdered sugar. The Pastillage will resemble a smooth, well-shaped stone. When dropped, it should not spread.
Rolled Pastillage may be used at once but seems to work more easily when allowed to rest for several hours. It is important to keep Pastillage covered to prevent it from drying. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container. It will firm slightly upon standing.
When ready to roll out, spray the work surface and rolling pin with nonstick vegetable spray.