Gum paste is a great medium to use when you need to create durable, realistic flowers and other decorations.
About Gum Paste
Gum paste is a type of sugar modeling dough that is similar to fondant icing, but stretchier and, ultimately, more durable. This is due to the quality of the key ingredient, either gum Arabic, gum tragacanth or a product called Tylose. The elastic texture of the dough is very easy to work with, and it can be rolled far thinner than standard fondant and cut in shapes to create very fine elements that ultimately dry quite hard. This makes it a wonderful medium for sculpting delicate flowers and other decorations that will not wilt or become oily the way that buttercream creations sometimes do. Think of it as fondant with super powers.
There are various recipes used to create this paste, and you can even purchase it ready-made for rolling. Common ingredients used include:
- Powdered sugar
- Gum tragacanth
- Unflavored gelatin
- Egg white
- Tylose (An alternative to gum tragacanth)
It's important to note that gum paste is technically "edible", but the flavor leaves a lot to be desired. For this reason, it's best used for making decorations to attach to fondant or buttercream covered cakes.
How It's Used
Use this versatile modeling paste to create decorations such as:
Work with small portions of the dough at a time, and keep the rest sealed in a plastic bag to avoid crusting. If by chance your extra dough does begin to crust, simply knead in a little powdered sugar and it should regain it's stretchy, pliable texture.
The list of tools you can use to make your paste decorations is extensive, and new creative products are introduced all the time. However, the following list gives you a good idea of the basic tools to have on hand.
- Pasta machine - Easy alternative to hand rolling
- Glass or marble cutting board
- Small wooden roller - For rolling out thin sheets of paste
- Foam petal pad - Cushioned pad used for shaping flower petals
- Ball tool - For cupping and shaping flower petals
- Veining tool - To make realistic looking leaves and flowers
- Shell tool - Used to imprint patterns on boards
- Scriber and cone - Used to imprint dots and hollow out flower centers
- Cutting wheel - Used to cut strips of paste
- Assorted cutters - Create quick and easy shapes to assemble
- Various silicone molds - For creating shapes instantly
- Assorted formers - Used to help your decorations hold their shape as they dry
Coloring the Paste
Basic gum paste is white, but you can color individual portions by kneading in paste food coloring to achieve the colors you desire. If you are especially artistic, you can also use paste coloring to paint accents on your decorations or airbrush them for a very realistic look.
Egg white is one of the best "glues" to use for assembling individual pieces of paste together because it dries quite solid yet is clear enough not to show up in your finished pieces. You can use fresh egg white or reconstituted egg white powder. You might also choose to use royal icing to glue your creations to the cake itself. Liquid Tylose also makes an efficient edible glue.
Since gum paste requires a lot of drying time before you can add your finished pieces to your cake, it's best to plan on preparing your pieces weeks in advance of the day you'll need them. For example, if you plan on making gum paste roses, you need to create a cone for the base of your rose several days in advance, insert the floral wire into the base and allow it to dry for a couple of days before you can begin adding petals. Once you've added the petals, the flower needs to dry and harden before it is finally placed on the cake.
Storing Your Paste Creations
Gum paste ornaments can be stored almost indefinitely as long as they are kept in a cool, low humidity setting. Allow the pieces to dry thoroughly, place them in an airtight container with enough cushioning to keep them from being damaged, and they will keep quite well until you're ready to use them.
Once you've worked with gum paste, you'll see how fun it can be to create fabulous cake decorations that are easier to make than they look.