So, gum paste. Have you tried it? It’s like fondant, but more flexible and, well, gummier. If you loved Play-Doh as a child--especially if you coveted the many Play-Doh shape-forming toy machines--you are made to play with gum paste.
Compared to fondant, gum paste rolls thinner, dries harder, and cracks less easily. It is technically edible; it just tastes like sugar, nothing unpleasant; but once it’s dry, wow. It gets pretty crunchy. (After I took these pictures, my son got to eat the flower. He claimed it was delicious, but (a) he’s four, and (b) he got to eat it before breakfast. I don’t think his is a reliable testimony.)
One major lesson from this month: you can drop a lot of cash on cake decorating tools. Or, you can be like me and improvise as much as possible...but you probably will have to buy a few basic shaping tools if you want to work with gum paste.
I followed a tutorial which called for a number of special tools I didn’t have. A dedicated gum paste rolling surface? A special rolling pin with thickness rings? In the end, I only bought three of the ten or so items she lists as “things you need”: an impression mat, a kit of shaping tools, and shaping foam (which could easily be replaced by craft foam).
I skipped the dogwood cutter, figuring I could look at the impression mat and freehand a basic petal shape with my handy new gum paste cutting tools...or, you know, a knife...and it worked, but it did take several minutes. Now I see the appeal of having special cutters, especially if you’re doing a cake that has more than five or six flowers on it.
Gel food coloring worked to replace the color dust. I skipped the pearl dust altogether because, although dogwood blossoms do have a bit of sparkle just like any flower does, they’re not glittery.
Instead of a flower forming cup, I used the lid to a baby bottle, nipple removed. A mini muffin tin might also have worked; the flower just needed a place to dry in shape after it had been formed. Setting it on a flat surface would have led gravity to flatten it out a bit.
I’d never done much real modeling or sculpting with clay; this was fascinating! Watching the petals form was almost like magic. I’m beginning to think that aspiring cake decorators should take a painting class and a sculpting class instead of (or in addition to) the craft-store canon Wilton classes. You can make stunning cakes with very little use of a piping bag; if you master basic frosting and fondant, you’ve got a blank canvas on which to build whatever painting and sculpting your artistic baker’s heart desires.
Cake, remember, does not have to be treated like cake. It can be treated like a painting, or a sculpture, or both; there’s not a reason in the world why it has to look “like a cake”.
Thus ends the twelfth, and final, Cake of the Month challenge. It’s an experiment I recommend if you’re looking to improve your own decorating skills: pick a new technique or tool every month, find some good directions on how to use it, and make a cake. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn this way.
For fun, here are two things I never would have learned if not for this year of cake challenges:
Decorated cakes taste better. They do.
People at church potlucks, when presented with an elegantly dressed layer cake perched prettily near someone’s sloppy rendition of a box cake, still in its 9x13 Pyrex...they’ll reach for the Pyrex every time. *sigh*