Comparing Flower Pastes

As a teacher of sugarcraft I think it is really important for me to know about new and innovative products and techniques. I also believe in value for money. Sugarcraft can be a very expensive hobby. Admittedly once you have invested in a particular flower cutter or piece of equipment, it is yours for life but it is all the other little bits that add to the cost. For example, a pot of colour gel is approximately £2.50, depending upon where you buy it from. Yes, they last a relatively long time but that is still £2.50 for just one colour.

This was really brought home to me the other day when I was teaching a workshop to a High School Year 11 class. Although the school provided the bulk of the consumables I still took my tray of colour gel pots, dusting powders and spare sugarcraft tools with me. During our tea break I was sat talking to some of the most keen pupils and explaining what various tools were for and giving a rough cost estimate for various bits of kit. One of the boys then shocked me by telling me that I had in 68 pots of colour gel in the tray which, at approximately £2.50 each, meant that there was roughly £170 worth of equipment in that single tray of colours! I didn’t like to tell him I had even more at home!

I am very conscious when I am writing my sugarcraft courses that we reuse cutters as much as possible. For example the daffodil and freesia cutters are almost identical so I tell my class to buy one or the other, not both. I do not see any point in wasting money on cutters that are essentially the same. It is with cost in mind that I turned my thoughts to flowerpaste.

When I first started sugarcraft Squires flowerpaste was pretty much the only one available. Over the last few years. however, baking and sugarcraft has become the new Rock’n’Roll. Everywhere you look there are cake decorating magazines and cookery programmes. As a consequence the availability and variety of flowerpaste and sugarcraft equipment has significantly improved. For the purpose of this blog, however, I am going to concentrate upon the three “Big Names” in flowerpaste; Squires, the new kid on the block, Beau Products and our American friend, Satin Ice gum paste. There are, of course, many other manufacturers of flowerpaste, some better than others!

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For this blog, I looked at value for money, how easy it is to work with and how well the product keeps in the manufacturers packaging. Here are my findings:

Value for money

Manufacturer

Pack size (g)

Cost per unit (£)

Cost / 10g of product

Squires

200

4.25

21.25p

Beau

200

4.09

20.45p

Satin Ice

2500

20.99

8.4p

How easy is it to work with?

Manufacturer

Malleability

Ease of use

Drying out time

Squires

Paste is quite stiff until well kneaded

Rolls out well but dries out very quickly and cracks easily

Very quick. Most flowers are completely dry within a couple of hours

Beau

Very sticky paste as it is freshly made that needs a dusting of cornflour

Quite sticky to roll out but with cornflour you can roll it very thin.

Generally requires overnight to dry completely

Satin Ice

Lovely smooth paste. It feels tacky but not sticky

A little sticky to roll out but with cornflour you can roll it very thin.

Several hours

Packaging

Manufacturer

Type of packaging

How well does it keep?

Squires

Thin foil package with a press seal at the top.   Vacuum packed

Difficult to open and then difficult to seal   effectively. The paste dries out very quickly.

Beau

Small transparent plastic tub

The pot seals well and can be reused. As long as   the tub is not cracked and the lid is on tightly the paste keeps very well.

Satin Ice

Large white plastic tub and then wrapped in   plastic bag inside

As long as the lid is on tightly the paste keeps   excellently.

Any other information

Manufacturer

Other relevant information

Squires

Good range of colours.

Widely available

Brilliant for demonstrations and for beginners

Beau

Good range of colours that keep very well.

The finished product has a porcelain-like feel   to it.

Satin Ice

Smells of vanilla.

Very light weight finished product.

Only available in white so you have to colour it   which can be difficult for dark colours.

Not readily available in the UK as yet although   the number of suppliers is increasing.

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My recommendation

Having taken the time to assess these products, I feel that each has its own merits and downfalls. I have preferred to use Beau Products but in light of this blog, I think I will be using Satin Ice gum paste for all my future sugarcraft. It is good value for money and easy to work with. I just wish it was available in a range of colours.

UPDATE:

I have had a lovely conversation with the lady from Beau Products today. She has asked me to remind people not to use any Trex or fat with her products as it affects how they perform. If like me you use a lot of flowerpaste, Beau Products also offer very competitive prices if you open an account with them.

http://www.beauproducts.co.uk/

How to make an edible Robin

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This little Robin is not one of my designs by one from Frances McNaughton from her book “20 to make Sugar Bird”. If I am honest the book is a little too basic for my own needs but it is great for absolute beginners. My one criticism of the book is that the actual stages of construction are not shown, simply text and one overall photograph which is fine it you know what you are doing but not so great for the novice.

I thought I would have a go at making the robin, partly because it is really cute but also because I have been asked to do a demonstration for the W.I. and I thought this would be something seasonal for them that they can then try at home.

One  omission from Frances McNaughton’s book, is the inclusion of either Gum Tragacanth or CMC in the sugarpaste. It is really important that you knead the powder into the sugarpaste prior to modelling as it is needed to strengthen the paste and helps to maintain the shape of your finished piece. If you don’t include it you may find that your Robin looks like he has been at the Christmas Sherry Trifle!

Equipment:

  • 25g brown sugarpaste strengthened with gum tragacanth or CMC.
  • small amount of white and red sugarpaste
  • heart cutters
  • dried spaghetti
  • Dresden tool

 

Method:

  1. Reserve a small ball of brown sugarpaste for the wings and face then mould the remaining into a teardrop shape. Flatten the narrow end and squeeze the fat end to form a headDSCF5065
  2. Roll out the white paste and cut out a heart shape and attach to the breast of the bird.DSCF5066
  3. Repeat with the red paste but remove the point of the heart with the cutterDSCF5067
  4. Add the inverted heart to the robin breast.DSCF5069
  5. Form two small cones of brown paste then flatten them. Score the wings with a Dresden tool to look like feathers.DSCF5072
  6. Add the wings at a jaunty angle.
  7. Add the eyes and a small cone to form the beak. You might need to attach the beak with a small piece of dried spaghetti or you may find that his beak will be down by his knees!                                                                                                   DSCF5083

 

Silverwood Croquembouche Set – Product review

I don’t know about you but everytime I turn on a baking show at the moment they seem to be making a croquembouche! I don’t believe I have ever had one, however,  and to be honest with you,  everyone I have spoken to recently haven’t had one either! I blame The Great Britsh Bake Off! The contestants on the show are supposed to be amateur bakers but the skills they are expected to have are way beyond the normal cook!

I bought this croquebouche set because I have a sneaky feeling that I will start getting orders for croquembouches as wedding cakes soon. It happened with cupcakes, then whoopie cakes, then macaroons, then cake pops so I’m am expecting a croquembouch onslaught shortly!

I have quite a few Silverwood products and can honestly say I have never had a problem with them. My adjustable cake tin is fantastic so I had high hopes for this set. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, however. I had visions of a big metal funnel because the ebay picture was not very clear and the description simply said a croquembouche set. That is not how it came however.  The set consits of a base, cap and flexible non-stick sheet that you wrap around into a cone shape. “That’s clever!” I thought and it is but in fairness it is a bit fiddly.

Firstly you need to make the cone shape. The sheet has a tab and slot setup but because the nonstick material is slippy the cone does not hold its shape very well. I followed the instructiosn to the letter but since they are written instructions and I am clearly a visual learner I did find them quite difficult to follow (and I’m not stupid! I have a PhD in muscle physiology!).  Eventually I resorted to using old Faithful and slapped some sellotape along the seem.

 

Although I have made Choux pastry in the past (my Nan has a thing for Chocolate Eclairs!) I promised myself that I would stick religiously to the method provided. I have to say when I read the recipe I had my doubts. I was taught that to make proper Choux you made a Roux then beat in the eggs until the “furry saucepan” stage and so on. This method was so diffierent  that I really saw this as an exercise in futility but I am glad to say I was wrong. I made up the ingredienst as per the instructions for making a large croquembouche but actually only made a small one because there is only the two of us and the profiteroles keep well enough in an airtight container.

Ingredients: (for crouquembouche formed outside the cone)

  • 375ml water
  • 150g butter
  • 175g plain flour
  • 5 large eggs, beaten

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C / 180c fan. (I deviated a bit by adding a small tray of water to the bottom of the oven because the steam helps the pastry to rise)
  2. Line several baking trays with parchment paper.
  3. Put the butter and water to be put in a pan, covered with clingfilm and bring to the boil.
  4. Remove the cling film with out getting second degree burns from the steam!
  5. Dump all the flour straight into the just boiled liquid  and beat to a smooth paste.
  6. Transfer the paste to a mixing bowl and allow to cool for 5 minutes
  7. Beat in the eggs a little at a time until the paste is smooth and glossy. (I used my Kenwood and poured the eggs in a slow, steady stream whilst the mixer was running but you can do it by hand)
  8. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a plain 5mm diameter nozzle.
  9. Pipe 5cm diameter blobs into the lined trays, allowing room for the profiteroles to spread. Use wet fingers to flatten an peaks in the pastry.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and well risen.
  11. Remove from the oven and pierce the bottom of each profiterole with a skewer to allow steam to escape (This prevents the pastry going soft).
  12. Return to the oven for a further 3 minutes the remove and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.
  13. Fill the profiteroles with either Creme Anglaise or Chantilly cream
  14. Melt togther the sugar and water and bring to a boil. The sugar is ready when the sugar thermometer reads 310F (154C)
  15. Plunge the pan into cold water to stop the sugar from continuing to cook from the residual heat in the pan. Make sure you do not alllow any water to get into the sugar as you will have to start again!
  16. Carefully dip the profiteroles in the sugar (THIS IS VERY HOT) then pile them inside or outside the cone. Inside is for a smaller croquembouche 
  17. Allow the sugar to set, at least 30 minutes, then carefully peel away the non-stick cone.
  18. Decorate with extra spun sugar if you desire.

All in all this is a decent little set. I think the company need to work on the cone a little or give better instructions on how to construct it as I clearly had issues but at the end of the day I produced a croquembouche! Plus I will be switching to this Choux recipe from now on because it was so easy!

Wilton 3D Skull cake tin – product review

I don’t know about you but I have a stupid amount of cake tins. Admittedly I do make wedding and birthday cakes for a living but there are some tins I have only ever used once. I have either bought them for a specific cake or it was an impulse buy because it looked nice! I mean, do I really need a beehive shaped tin or a Christmas wreath tin? What can I say in my defence? Nothing!

There are some shaped tins that I own, however, that I wouldn’t be without; my giant cupcake tin and a spherical tin are both used regularly. I have a feeling that this Wilton 3D Skull tin will be another. In fact I have already taken an order for a 60th birthday cake in January! I think this cake tin will pay for itself!

I am always a bit wary of shaped cake tins because invariably it does not do what the manufacturers say it does. The most common complaints being:

  • their example recipe is either in terms of shop bought cake mixes or if is simply inaccurate in terms of how much mixture is actually needed to fill the tins.
  • the cooking times are wrong or you have to cook each section separately because they each have a different cooking time.
  • the cakes stick to the tin which makes turning the cakes out very difficult and often results in the cake shape being damaged.

This particular cake tin had pumpkin spice pound cake as its suggested recipe to use. I personally am not over keen on pumpkin and certainly wouldn’t want a pumpkin flavoured cake. On review of their recipe and by converting cups to pounds and ounces I decided that my 6 egg maderia cake recipe should be a suitable alternative.

I made sure that the tin was well-greased and given a dusting of flour, preheated the oven and away I went. I split the mixture evenly between the two sections even though the one side does look like it needs more (it is a bit of an optical illusion!) and popped it in the oven at 160 C/ 140 C fan for 1 hour as per the manufacturers instructions.

Well, my first surprise was that they cooked perfectly in exactly 1 hour!

I left them in the tin for 5-10 mins then decided to turn them out onto a cooking rack. I fully expected to have to do battle with the tin to release the cakes but, surprise number 2, they turned out perfectly with no intervention from me!

Obviously the intention is for the two sections to come together to create a 3D skull shape but, as with all cakes,the tops are not perfectly flat. Wilton, however, have thought of that! They have designed their tins to have a “cutting” ridge. That means that once the cakes are cooked and completely cooled you can trim them using the cutting ridge as a guideline. The 2 sections will them fit perfectly together. I did find it necessary, however, to push a dowel through the cakes to stop the “face” cake sliding once I sandwiched them together with buttercream.

I cannot fault this cake tin! It is absolutely brilliant! I am sure that this tin will be escaping from cake tin purgatory on a regular basis! Well Done, Wilton!

 

 

 

Tarte Tatin pan – product review

Someone once asked me “If you had to die tomorrow (charming!), what would your last supper be?” To this day I still can’t decide on a main course but I knew what my pudding would be straight away: apple crumble and custard! I have a cracking recipe for toffee apple crumble that I will share with you at some point but I have to wait until I have people for dinner because it is strictly as special occasion pudding!

Now if I couldn’t have apple crumble then I would be gutted but they might be able to sweet talk me the promise of tarte tatin. If apple crumble is 10/10 then tarte tatin has definitely got to be a 9.5. The only reason I don’t make very often is the lack of a decent, affordable  tarte tatin pan. I have tried to make it by making the caramel separately then transferring it to an oven proof dish but it never seems to work as well. I’m sure it is something to do with the extremely high temperatures that melted sugar reaches.

Following a recent debate with my best friend about just that, I was on a mission to find a suitable pan. Basically it is a cast iron frying pan that can be put in the oven but finding an affordable one was proving to be a bit difficult. Having trawled around the cookware shops and various internet site I was becoming increasingly disheartened. On the off-chance I thought I would check out what eBay had to offer and was delighted to find just what I was looking for:

Victor Pre-seasoned cast iron tarte tatin pan by International Cookware Ltd.

Cost: £12.99 plus P&P

Diameter: 8 inch.

It was delivered to the house within a few days of ordering it and came with lovely clear instructions on how to use and care for the pan. Brilliant!

I have to say this is a very heavy pan! 1.4 kg in fact but it has a good solid feel to it.

Having washed the pan in hot water as directed and drying it completely I decided to give it a go using an adapted version of an Apricot Tatin from The Hairy Bikers’ Big book of Baking.

Ingredients:

3 eating apples

75g caster sugar

40g butter

300g ready-made puff pastry

Method

  • Place the sugar directly into the pan and place on a medium heat. DO NOT STIR!

  • Swirl the melted sugar around the pan and allow to caramelise.
  •  

 

  • Remove from the heat and stir the butter into the sugar using a wooden spoon. Be careful this is very hot! Continue to stir the mixture until it is smooth and toffee-like. Leave for 20 min to cool a little.

 

  • It is necessary to use an oven glove to hold the pan handle because of heat transfer.
  • Meanwhile peel, core and quarter the apples. Toss in a pinch of cinnamon if you like.
  • Arrange the apples in the pan.
  • Roll out the pastry and cut a disc large enough to cover the pan.
  • Tack the pastry around the apples and prick the top.

 

  • Place in a 200 degree C oven for 25 min or until well risen and golden brown

 

  • Allow to cool for a couple of minutes then carefully turn out onto a heatproof plate.

Aftercare for the pan:

Whilst still warm wash with hot water, NO SOAP! Dry thoroughly.

What do I think of the Victor Pre-seasoned cast iron tarte tatin pan?

I think this pan is pretty cool! It is easy to use and easy to care for. £12.99 for a pan is not too expensive and to be honest I can see me using this pan for more than just the odd tarte tatin. Thumbs up from me!