Last week was back to class with Chef Scott, one of my favs. His absolute specialty is sugar work and he is really good at it obviously. We worked with sugar in many forms: pastillage (like gumpaste), pressed sugar, cast sugar, pulled sugar, and blown. Sugar is pretty hard to work with for many reasons. Number 1: The recipe for sugar although basic in ingredients is very precise in how it is worked out. You can only stir until a certain temperature or else the sugar will crystallize too much, you are supposed to add food coloring during a 5 degree temperature range, the sugar needs to be skimmed twice at specific times to remove any impurities that will cause the sugar to crystallize, and then glucose and acid must be added at the right time and then the sugar must be pulled off at the right temperature, then dunked in a cold water bath for just a second so that it stops the sugar from cooking much more but not from cooling too much, and finally, at least for cast sugar, the sugar has to sit for about a minute before being poured. Number 2: Pulled sugar has to be poured and then let it sit just long enough that it won't stick to your fingers but not cold enough that it begins to harden and then you have to keep all parts of the sugar at relatively the same temperature and then you have to kneed and pull the sugar just enough to get it the right shine and consistency. I rarely ever got this pulling part right because all he could say was that "you'll know when it is ready by how it looks" but it all looked the same to me and to everyone else but its just one of those things that you have to do over and over so that you begin to notice the slight differences. Number 3: The sugar is cooked to 165 degrees Celsius which is 329 degrees Fahrenheit.
So then you cool it with the water bath for one second and then it sits for two more minutes before you begin to touch it. Now I can't way exactly what temperature that would be but you start pulling at 140 C (284 F) which is way way way down the road which means you are touch your hands to sugar at around 155 C (311 F). These are small touches but nonetheless, very hot. Then you hold the sugar in your hands for about 15 seconds at a time. You may ask how does this not burn your hand? And you made the wrong assumption because it does indeed burn your hands. One of the guys in my class had a blister hanging off his thumb with another blister already formed underneath it. Sound like fun? Well it kind of is. Although it is very hot and you want to pull away, you have to suck it up because you'll never get anything without burning yourself. So for instance, when you pull a rose petal, you pull with your thumb (takes about 5 seconds), then you must pinch with your other hand on the end so that the cool of your hand shocks the heat of the sugar and causes it to break off leaving you with a small petal (so other hand now has 5 seconds of heat), but then your thumb must remain on the rose petal as you push it into the palm of your hand to shape it (5 seconds) and then while you shape the edges of the leaves (5 seconds) all of this with sugar around 260 Fahrenheit. My Chef has become completely numb to heat. He took a knife and kept turning it in his thumb print and he said he couldn't feel a thing. He also grabs pans right out of the oven. Crazy I tell you! And the last reason, Number 4: I am terrible with heat. As most of you know, I can't even sit under island lights or have fabric touch my ears or have any heat really without my ears becoming as red as a Chicago Bulls jersey (more applicable reference in my life than a tomato). I hate heat. So not only are you handling burning sugar but you also have to stand with your face about a half foot away from two 250 watt light bulbs while also holding your hands underneath them to mold the sugar. Fun huh? You can imagine my struggles if you have ever been with me for five minutes I'm sure.
So the cake that we worked on is by far my favorite decorated cake we have made so far. We used cast sugar, pulled sugar, blown sugar, and bubble sugar on this cake. Cast sugar is basically where you make a pot of sugar and pour it into a mold without doing anything else and therefore, it is cast into a certain shape. Pulled sugar is pulled over and over creating a very shiny and opaque sugar. Blown sugar is done by taking pulled sugar and wrapping it over a blood pressure pump (literally), and then blowing air into it. Bubble sugar is just done by putting a form of sugar on a pan and into the oven, sort of, and then it forms bubbles in the sugar which all melts together. Then you take it out and it hardens and you crack it into pieces, heat slightly under a lamp and bend it to be a cool shape you want. The bubble sugar and cast sugar are really easy but pulled and blown sugar are very skilled tasks that are also not often seen in a normal cake shop, even one that specializes in wedding cakes and such. However, sugar was what always amazed me the most before coming to school so I was soooo excited to start and "burn my delicate little fingers" as the chef said.
If you look at the pictures, you'll see the cast sugar is the black that is covering the top of the top tier. The bubble sugar is what is surrounding the rose in the picture above. The roses are pulled sugar and the swans (or thunder hawks as my chef likes to call them) are blown sugar. Now for the bows, which is another method of pulled sugar, the chef gave us the option of doing. He did a demonstration of how to do them for the whole class and said if we had time we could work on them. He says this is the hardest thing to do pretty much and he said if he doesn't do it consistently, he has a hard time getting back to having great looking bows (although lets be real, they look freaking awesome still). Only two of us ended up with bows on our cake. I was so glad I was able to get it although it did take a lot of help from my chef and a few tries. If only I could show you a video of how this is done; however, we are not allowed to take videos in class. It's crazy though and there are so many things you can do to make the bow look so sick. It's a pretty sweet cake and it was cool because this weekend my dad and Helene came to visit Chicago and were able to stop by the school and see the place. It was nice to have them see where I spend 6 hours every day and be able to meet some of the people who work there or are my chefs. So they picked me up from class before getting dinner and we took a few pictures in the parking lot before it had a chance to break on the drive home. However, I dropped it off at home and spent the next few days in Wheaton where my dad and Helene were staying and where Jared lives. It was a very relaxed weekend and just what I needed: close family and friends and just time to hang out and be with people who know everything about you. It makes living easy and effortless because explanations are never needed. That is one of the things I miss most about living in Virginia. But while they were here, we ate deep dish pizza, saw the city, saw Wheaton, saw a movie, and enjoyed other fabulous meals and time together. However, when I returned to my apartment, I found my cake had been destroyed my roommate's nephew so I have very very very few and not so good pictures. Here is what my cake looks likes now...I don't think I can hide the "blemishes" very well. Awkward.