Believe it or not this Spring bouquet by Scott Clark Wooley is made of sugar!
During medieval feasts it was customary to serve a soteltie as a part of the entertainments. Today the tradition of decorated food is carried on with elaborately decorated bithday or wedding cakes, molded patés and vegetable carving. Sotelties can be foods of one kind made to look like another kind, or to look like something that is not even food, like a basket or a book. Medieval cooks used sugar paste to make sculptures, buildings, fountains, flowers, and other fanciful designs. They even fashioned dishes and goblets out of sugar paste that the guests could actually use, just as in the Willy Wonka song, "you can even eat the dishes!" Food coloring can be kneaded into sugar paste before it is rolled out, cut, impressed, pinched and assembled into fantastic bouquets of flowers and other fancies. Scott Clark Wooley of New York City is considered one of Americas finest teachers of this ancient art form. His book, Cakes by Design, the Magical Art of Sugar Paste is available from the publisher for a limited time at a discount. This is a good place to start learning how to make flowers, bouquets, and wedding cake designs.
A period recipe
This is from Thomas Dawson, The Second Part of the Good Hus-wives Jewell, 1597, entitled "To make a paste of Suger, whereof a man may make al manner of fruits, and other fine things, with their forme, as Plates, Dishes, Cuppes and such like thinges, wherewith you may furnish a Table."
"Take Gumme and dragant as much as you wil, and steep it in Rosewater til it be mollified, and for foure ounces of suger take of it the bigness of a beane, the iuyce of Lemon, a walnut shel ful, and a little of the white of an eg. But you must first take the gumme, and beat it so much with a pestell in a brasen morter, till it be come like water, then put to it the iuyce with the white of an egge, incorporating al these wel together, this done take four ounces of fine white suger wel beaten to powder, and cast it into the morter by a litle and a litle, until they be turned into the form of paste, then take it out of the said morter, and bray it upon the powder of suger, as it were meale or flower, untill it be like soft paste, to the end you may turn it, and fashion it which way you wil, as is aforesaid, with such fine knackes as may serve a Table taking heed there stand no hotte thing nigh it. At the end of the Banket they may eat all, and breake the Platters Dishes, Glasses Cuppes, and all other things, for this paste is very delicate and saverous." More on historical Sugar Paste.
Dragant was another name for gum tragacanth. It comes from one of the many species of the Astragalus plant. This spiney weed with tiny starlike flowers is also called goat thorn and milkvetch. The gum made from the roots of the variety that grows wild in Asia Minor (Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, etc.) has been prized for centuries for its exceptional qualities in cooking, baking, and confections.
Here is a modern recipe, or you can use a pre-mix—I have used Wilton's gum paste pre-mix with great results.
Sugar Paste (also known as Gum Paste)
1 tbsp glucose or corn syrup
3 tbsp warm water
1 tbsp Wilton Gum-tex™ or tragacanth gum
4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (about 1 lb)
In a large bowl, mix Gum-Tex™ into 3 cups confectioner's sugar. Make a well in the center and set aside. Mix water and corn syrup in a glass measuring cup and blend. Heat in a microwave oven on high for about 30 seconds until mixture is clear. Pour into well of 3 cups confectioner's sugar and mix until well blended (mixture will be very soft). Place mixture in a plastic bag and seal tightly. Let mixture rest at room temperature for about 8 hours. Knead remaining confectioner's sugar into gum paste when you are ready to use it. As you work it in, gum paste will whiten and soften. Work with only a small amount of gum paste at a time and keep the rest in the plastic bag.
Clay-like gum paste can be rolled thin and impressed with textures for fine detail. Insert wires into flowers before they dry. The paste will dry to a hard, porcelain-like finish overnight. It can also be formed and painted to make sugar jewelry boxes, beads, pendants, and rings.
Baking 911-Gum Paste Flowers
Instructions on how to make your own gum paste flowers, where to buy tools and lots more.
Pheil and Holing
Buy the ingredients or ready-made sugar paste flowers.
Sugar Paste Confections
Amazing sugar paste creations by Elise Fleming (Countess Alys Katharine, SCA) including plates, goblets, books, heraldic tiles, and coronet boxes.
Originally published February 2006 by Gael Stirler