Friday, October 17, 2014
Spun Sugar Decorations
Several weeks from now, I will be making a cake for a special occasion. Which means that for the past week, I've been trying to figure out how I intend to decorate it. I admit that I could probably recycle one of my old designs and no one would really care. But, the thing is that I enjoy pushing myself to learn new techniques and exercise my creative side, even if it means a little more time or effort involved. As with anything, if you want to get better at it, you have to keep going higher (or something like that).
For some reason, the one thing that stuck out in my mind was sugar decorations. You know, those little spun sugar nests or shards of sugar that look just like glass? I thought it would be so neat to do something like that, especially since the cake I'll be making has caramel filling. It would match so perfectly.
I found the recipe for the sugar syrup on the blog, Mimi's Kitchen, and it sounded so easy that I just knew I had to give it a try. Mimi actually made sugar nests, which you do by drizzling the syrup onto a bowl. But, I decided to go freestyle and just see where serendipity would take me.
First, I did the easiest one - toffee shards, which I learned how to do from HERE. Really, so simple. Once you've made the burnt sugar, you just pour it, spread it out, let it cool, and break away. After it was finished, it was a thing of beauty. It looked just like broken glass and would add such an elegant accent to any cake.
I then made a second batch of sugar syrup and decided to just play around with it. So, after letting it cool slightly in the pan, I took a fork and just started drizzling it back and forth on some parchment paper.
I just did some long streaky things, but you can let your imagination go wild and do whatever you want to do. Swirls, amber drops (which will look like jewels), squigglies. It will all look fantastic.
Finally, with some of the remaining syrup (which I had to warm up again to soften), I went for the final look - sugary threads. I know some people line up wooden spoons or broomstick handles or whatnot and then start flicking it back and forth, but I just didn't want to have to go through all that trouble, or risk getting the sugary stuff onto my floor. So, I dipped the fork into the syrup, let a small bit drip down, and then I caught onto that strand and just started pulling as fast as I could, again and again. You have to work fast or else it will all turn brittle before you've managed to even pull a couple strands. Think Rumplestiltzkin spinning straw into gold, just backwards - you're turning the gold back into straw. Ha! As long as you don't touch the big glob of syrup on the fork, you don't have to worry about burning your fingers because the little strands cool as soon as they hit the air. Once I had a mass of sugary threads, I sort of pushed them together with my fingers (gently, or the heat from your fingers will melt the threads) into a nest shape. Cute!
If you've ever had doubts/fears about working with liquefied sugar, put them to rest. It could not be any easier, I promise. And, it was super quick too. I absolutely love that I've now learned a new skill and I've also now got some great ideas that I may use for my cake. Give it a try!
Spun Sugar (Mimi's Kitchen)
1/2 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. water
Combine the sugar and water in a heavy-bottom saucepan. Heat on medium-high heat until it turns amber colored. Whatever you do, do not stir it. If the sugar is too clumped up in one spot, just swirl the pan to distribute the mixture evenly. Once the mixture is caramelized, remove it from the heat.
To make the toffee shards (from Taste)
Pour out the mixture onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread it out evenly and quickly into a thin layer (depending on how thick you want the finished product to be). Let it cool until it hardens. Use the parchment paper to hold it and break it into shards. If you use your hands, it will start to soften.
For the sugar squiggles:
After the caramelized mixture has cooled and thickened slightly in the pan (shouldn't take more than a minute or two), dip in a fork or wire whisk and drizzle the mixture back and forth onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. You'll know it's thick enough when you see the sticky strands trailing (not dripping) from the fork after you dip it.
For the sugar nest:
Dip the fork into the hot sugar mixture. Let a small bit of it drip down and grab onto that small drip. Start pulling as quickly as you can, back and forth, and the strands should appear. Keep going until you have a sufficient amount of strands. Repeat as needed. Do NOT grab onto the hot glob of syrup itself or you will get burned. Once you have a good amount of strands, use your fingers to gently mold it into a nested shape.
Note: With the exception of the toffee shards, the other methods are my own.