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Watching the petals form was almost like magic.

Working with Gum Paste

Whitney M.


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.

The Process

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.

Thoughts on Gum Paste

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”.

Epilogue

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.

…and...

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*

Happy baking!

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I disagree about your last comment regarding church potlucks. Nobody would eat my cupcakes, even though they were from scratch and really yummy, until I simply started piping on the frosting in a pretty design and carrying them in the nice two tiered carrier instead of a dinner plate. So it is worth it =)
5 years ago