Diary of a sugar addict…

Hi my name is Stephanie and I am a sugarholic.

You know you’re addicted to something when all you do is think about it, can’t stop talking about it and to some certain extent even dream about it. Your usual routine, chores and errands goes on hold. You then realise that there is no food at home… so you resort to eating a one (or maybe two?) day old  baguette (not even bothering to reheat it in the oven) with some butter and Vegemite just to stop the tummy rumbles (there were worse ‘symptoms’ so to speak, but let’s just leave it at the stale baguette as a petit example) and then get back to whatever it is that you’re addicted to. In my case, it’s sugar. Sugar sculpting, that is.

Sugar sculpting involves a set of techniques used to create artistic centrepieces with different derivatives of sugar. They can be used to decorate cakes, displays at restaurants, hotels, shop windows etc and competitions (that made my eyes light up) which are held world wide.

Here are some examples of the sugar sculptures I came across in the 2012 Salon du Chocolat expo in Paris. I took a stack of photos to give me inspiration and ideas:

How amazing are they?! What’s even more amazing is that they’re all edible!!

So we were introduced to this, but not to the degree of the above, in the last 2 weeks of the course because we had a 5 hour sugar sculpting exam to sit (stand in this case) before we wrap up the Diplôme de Pâtisserie. Yep. The finale. The pastry chefs at school believes that to be a well rounded pastry chef (no pun intended) it is crucial to recognise, acquire and master skills and techniques for chocolate and sugar… Ok, so they didn’t say that – it’s my own philosophy to learning. And there’s not much I have mastered apart from the art of eating. But to be honest, from my own observation and vibes from the highly experienced chefs at our school, it is important to have a good understanding of the nature of chocolate and sugar. After all, those two ingredients essentially are what you will be dealing with for your entire pâtisserie career. Anyway, back to sugar sculpting. The techniques we learnt in class were:

  • pouring or casting sugar – this involves boiling sugar with minimal water and glucose to 155℃ and then poured into a mold to create base and structural elements for the attachment of other sugar components. Depending on the colour added, it is usually translucent (extra ‘see-through’ with isomalt, which is manufactured and hydrogenated sucrose), or opaque.
  • pulled sugar – same ingredients in different quantities as above with the addition of tartaric acid to give malleability, cooked to 165℃, poured onto a silicon mat to cool, fold, pull and (sort of) knead until the colours are homogenous. The ‘pulling’ part is essential. This incorporates air into the sugar to give it a brilliant sheen. These are then used to create various ornaments such as flowers, ribbons or blown sugar objects described below.
  • blown sugar – the same ‘pulled sugar dough’ is attached on to a metal or wooden pipe and a rubber hand pump to create voluminous objects like balls and balloons or with constant sculpting you can create unique shapes, fruits and animals. The sky is your limit!
  • pastillage – made with water, powdered/confectioners’ sugar, cornstartch and gelatin. All are combined together and does not require cooking. The result is opaque and white by nature and the dough can be rolled, molded and cut into a variety of shapes. We only focused on the aforementioned three techniques so we didn’t get a chance to try pastillage.

As you can see from the photos, it would take pastry chefs many years to hone these skills and techniques to create jaw-dropping sugar pieces. And I, naturally, want to gain them overnight. Don’t blame me, blame my Leo star sign! So for the past two weeks, the ambitious lion was on a mission…

Like a lion, I stealthily snuck up on my prey (sugar, in this case), studied its very nature, understood its behaviour then pounced on the exam. Ok, so I’m talking a lot of BS. In all honesty, it’s about achieving my personal best and in doing so, I was literally hooked to sugar work so it made home practice very fun and satisfying! Ever since I was a little girl (which was not that long ago) I have wanted to take up pottery, glass blowing, welding and try wood work. Three pottery lessons in high school art class didn’t satisfy me and only made me crave for more hands on art. Now that I’ve had a taste (hah, yes, pun intended) of sugar work, I feel like I’ve rekindled a long awaited desire. Despite all the blisters and burnt fingers, the last few weeks have been the highlight of the course (I can only speak on my behalf – I know many who cursed through the whole thing and are probably disgusted by my enthusiasm).

As I’m writing this the exam is already over. All I wanted to do was finish the course, giving it everything I had. I walked in with an attitude to do my very best and enjoy every moment of it. I walked out loving every minute of it. And could do it all over again!

I’m a month behind with loading up my blogs. So over the next few days after I have organised all my photos I will be posting up bit by bit the last few weeks of my diploma and the beginning of my sugar adventure. Enjoy the journey!

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15 February 2013: Chef demonstration – Poured/Casting & Pulled Sugar

Chef D is the head Pastry Chef at LCB and he only teaches the Superieur students. All the pastries, decorations and sugar work that I’ve seen him create have been amazing and I’d love to learn skills like his. Today he showed us how to cook and mold the base & structure of our sculpture. This is what he had created. Amazing beautiful shiny roses and perfect ribbons.

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Stay tuned for the next part of my sugar adventure…

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